HC Deb 29 February 1844 vol 73 cc421-32
Lord Worsley

said, it would be in the recollection of the House that he had, last Session, brought forward a measure for facilitating the Inclosure of Commons, but in consequence of the late period of the Session he had not persevered with the Bill. It was important, in considering this subject, to bear in mind the resolution which had been passed by the House, and adopted into the Standing Orders, with the object of reserving a certain portion of every tract of waste land on its inclosure, for the health and recreation of the people residing in the vicinity. He believed that a very erroneous impression existed as to the effects with which the inclosure of land was attended, in reference to the interests and to the amusements of the humble classes of the community. It was his opinion that if the management of the waste lands were placed under a Board properly constituted, the result would be found to be, that in many places where there was now very great difficulty in finding employment for the poor, there would be, in the course of eight or ten years, a very large number of persons employed in draining the land and inclosing it; that additional encouragement would be given to the poor to cultivate the land, to say nothing of the increased produce they might expect to obtain from it. He was connected with a county in which agricultural improvements had been carried into effect to a very great extent. Looking to the state in which that county now was, and its condition thirty years ago, and to the facilities which modern science placed in their hands for further improvements, he did not despair of seeing a very large portion of England, which was capable of being cultivated, brought into a high state of tillage, and that, be it remembered, by employing persons who were now lamentably in want of employment. He had obtained much information from persons who were well acquainted with the great changes which had taken place in the course of the last generation in the agriculture of this country, and had received communications from persons who were well entitled to be considered as authorities on this subject, which all tended to confirm the views he had endeavoured to express. It might be said, why do not parties now come to Parliament for power to inclose lands capable of improvement? The answer was, that the expense of passing an Act for that purpose through the House was so great as very generally to deter them from doing so; and he believed that this was the reason why parties did not oftener apply for Inclosure Bills. He had received a letter from a gentleman of the county of Norfolk, which said, There is a piece of common in this parish, on which feed asses and three-quarter starved horses and cattle, which are a disgrace to the county. All the owners interested are anxious to inclose the land, but are deterred by a dread of the enormous expenses of an Act of Parliament and the lawyers' charges. I have now before me a statement of the expense of procuring an Act for a small inclosure in this neighbourhood. The items were as follow:—

Parliamentary Agents £309 13 5
Solicitors 336 15 2
Ditto Clerkship 206 1 10
Ditto Award, &c. 168 12 10
£1,021 3 3
Commissioner, Surveyor, &c. 692 13 9
£1,713 17 0

This business might have been completes by the Tithe Commissioners for less than 500l. There was a Return presented to the House last year, showing the great amount of land which was still in a waste state throughout England and Wales, but referring only to those districts in which the Tithe Commutation had been effected. It appeared from this Return, which was delivered in June, 1843, that of 6,718,523 acres in England, there were 1,358,419 acres of common or waste land; and of 1,877,502 acres in Wales, there were 501,815 common or waste. He had a letter from a gentleman of much experience in North Wales on this subject. He had written to this gentleman, being fearful that what he had heard might not be correct, as although there was much waste land in Wales capable of cultivation, still there were large mountain tracts in Merionethshire and other counties which were not susceptible of tillage. That gentleman said, It is true that large tracts of mountain land in Wales cannot be cultivated as corn-land; but these tracts, comprising the greater part of the counties of Caernarvon and Merioneth, would not be affected by the contemplated Inclosure Bill, as they are already held in severalty as distinct sheep-walks, many of them even being inclosed with stone walls. The Snowden range is all thus already private property, and most of the higher hills. The emaining mountain pasturage, which might not perhaps be well adapted to tillage, would experience the great benefit of being allotted in severalty, like the Snowden range; by which each proprietor would be enabled to ascertain his lands, and the contention caused by the disputes perpetually arising as to rights of common extinguished. Large portions of the lower hills, which would be the object embraced by the Bill, are capable of great improvement, and this comprises all the range in a circular direction round the great mountain masses, from the promontory at Lluyn, in Carnarvonshire, through the counties of Denbigh and Flint to Montgomeryshire. Certainly, many of the best parts in this district have been enclosed under special Acts of Parliament for that purpose, but the operation of them has been so expensive as to check any probable continuance of such measures. There still remains much that would be essentially benefitted under the operation of some of the provisions of the Bill. There probably may be in North Wales 100,000 acres or more remaining, for which the measure would be applicable.

He had heard yesterday, on this subject from a gentleman in the county of Surrey, in which it appeared there were upwards of 60,000 acres of waste land. Although he did not pretend to say that all this could be cultivated, he was assured that there were many large pieces of ground, now useless wastes, which could be brought under cultivation and which would well repay the expenditure necessary for that purpose. In the Bill he now moved for leave to bring in, he should propose to give power to those who were to carry it out, not only of inclosing, but also of regulating the right of pasture on the commons. He would refer to a letter from a Gentleman in Wales, which he held in his hand, showing the necessity of such a provision. He said:— During the last year a neighbour of mine, who kept about 1,500 sheep on a range of hills called Radnor-forest (absorbing thereby the pasture on which very many others had rights), kept two men for the whole year as fighting men, in addition to his regular shepherds. It was their duty to quarrel with and challenge any shepherd or farmer who attempted to put sheep on the hill engrossed by this man. One of the men was convicted for an assault and frightened away, but I believe the evil still prevails.

Thus it was evident that the rich were very often benefited by these wastes. In the Report of the Committee that sat last year upon allotments to the labonriug poor, there was some evidence by Mr. Mott, which showed not only the vast extent of uninclosed land in the north of England but also that a great deal of it might be brought into cultivation. A farmer in Yorkshire also deposed that some of this was very good land, and would be profitable if properly cultivated; but that in consequence of the great expense of an application to Parliament, there was no intention of inclosing it, although there was great anxiety to do so. The same witness, alluding to other populous places in Yorkshire, stated his opinion that the greatest benefit would accrue from bringing the land into cultivation, and that if the first expense were got over parties would be ready to invest their capital. There were 18,000 or 20,000 acres of waste laud around Bingley, a great deal of which was good, and a petition had been presented by the Board of Guardians stating their strong impression of the importance of a measure for general inclosure. Mr. Mott stated, that he believed there were in Lancashire 200,000 acres of uncultivated land, and in answer to the question whether the improvement of the land would repay the outlay, be stated that land valued at 30,000l. would be worth 50,000l. What he (Lord Worsley) wished to propose was, that Commissioners should be appointed as Inclosure Commissioners, mid that some such plan should be adopted, as that if two-thirds in value of the parties interested in the land, either as common laud, or land in common, should wish to have it inclosed, there should be a meeting called, and that then they should make an application to the Commissioners, who would send down Assistant Commissioners who would take into consideration, not only the interests of the parties, but the locality and the general advantages to he derived from the inclosure. Then, if they should be of opinion, that it would be advantageous to have the inclosure, they would so report to the Commissioners. A day would then be appointed for hearing the claims, and after award should have been given upon them, a certain notice should be given to enable the parties to ob- ject. Then if one-fourth of the parties objected to the inclosure being proceeded with, they should petition the House of Commons, and give notice to the Commissioners not to proceed until six weeks after the meeting of Parliament, or after the date of the notice. He thought that plan would prevent all hardship upon the parties, by giving power to that House to adopt the inclosure if they thought it right, and if not, it would prevent great expense and loss. He assured die House, that he had endeavoured to form the Bill with a strict regard to the rights of the poor commoners, also considering well whether it would be advantageous to the parties to whom the property belonged, as likewise to the population of the surrounding districts; and he hoped the House would allow him to bring in the measure. Much evil had arisen from local acts not having in some instances been fully carried out, and in others unfairly, the consequence of which was, that many persons holding common lands, but really having no title, had been put to great inconvenience in the sale or transfer. He proposed, then, that instead of putting them to the expense of applying to Parliament for powers, an application to the Commissioners should be sufficient. Some hon. Members were anxious that provision should be made for allotments to the poor; and he conceived that a general inclosure measure was so much wanted, and would be of so much benefit to the country, that if a majority of the House should be of opinion such a clause ought to be added, he would not abandon the bill on that account, although he might not approve such an addition. The noble Lord concluded by moving for leave to bring in A bill to facilitate the Inclosure and improvement of commons and lands held in common; the exchange of lands, and the division of intermixed lands; to provide remedies for the defective or incomplete execution of the powers of general and local Inclosure Acts, and to provide for the revival of such powers in certain cases.

Colonel Sibthorp

knew that it was considered in this House uncourteous to oppose the bringing-in of a Bill, and regretted that he considered it his duty to oppose the Motion. He assured the noble Lord that he gave him every credit for his desire to support the landed interest, and for being an excellent landed proprietor, but when he looked at the Bill he could not but oppose it. It contained 140 clauses affecting the country generally. Innovation was at best a dangerous thing; and he had seen in his own time so many dangerous results from innovations—for instance the Reform Bill, which had done everything to cause revolution-railroads, and other dangerous novelties—that he felt disposed to oppose everything savouring of innovation. The noble Lord attempted to force this Bill through in a former Session of Parliament, though on its introduction he (Colonel Sibthorp) might have counted out the House, had not courtesy prevented him from doing so. The Bill was brought in on the 2nd of June, 1843, and read a second time on the 14th, but afterwards fell to the ground. Why, he knew not, except that the noble Lord found that the House did not approve of it. His great objection to it was, that it was too general an Act to be brought in by any private Member of the House, and that if it were a measure deserving of consideration, and for the public good, it should be left to the Government to bring, it in. Hon. Members opposite talked much of the rights of the poor, but why bring in a Bill to deprive them of the means of recreation and amusement? Why not let them play with their boys and girls, and enjoy the manly and healthful sports of foot-ball, cricket, bowls, and hurling, as they and their fathers had enjoyed for ages? There was another question he would wish to ask. The noble Lord the Commissioner of the Woods and Forests was every day labouring to open wide streets to give free air to the people of the metropolis; but by enclosing these commons they would not only deprive the poorer classes of their pastimes, but in some degree deprive all classes in the neighbourhood of the free circulation of air which they had hitherto enjoyed. Then they were to have a host of Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners and Clerks, and, as a matter of course, a fair amount of jobbing. Who was to pay the Commissioners? This Bill would diminish the protection which the farmer and occupier of the soil now enjoyed, as it would give a power to any one proprietor to call a meeting at any time or place he thought proper, and there originate proceedings for enclosure, which would deprive others of their rights, or, in defending these rights, entail on them heavy and indefinite expense. There was another objection to the Bill—that it gave an absolute veto to the Lord of the Manor, and enabled him to say to the other proprietors, "Unless you accede to my demands, you shall have no enclosure." That was a power none but a Dey of Algiers would require. There were many other objectionable provisions, to which it was unnecessary for him then to allude. The noble Lord had quoted a few letters from Surrey, Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Wales, but was that sufficient to justify the House of Commons in reading, even for the first time, a measure so extensive and novel? It was a dangerous precedent to allow such a measure to emanate from a private individual. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department, should take it up, and assure the noble Lord that his endeavours should not be forgotten on so important a measure. As a public servant he felt it his duty to oppose this Bill, and should take the sense of the House on the first reading. He had gone to a division only on one occasion; and on that he had not been so unfortunate as not to hope for success now. The noble Lord might urge that the Bill should be allowed to pass the first and second reading, and that it might be fully considered in Committee; but he had seen enough of the mode in which business was managed in that House to know that nothing was better than stopping such a measure in limine, for if it went through the first reading, vires acquirit eundo. Many a wicked man would have been saved from the commission of numerous crimes if he had been only hanged for the first one.

Mr. Trelawny

should not have addressed the House on the present occasion, had he not opposed the Inclosure Bill brought in by the noble Lord last year. He was prepared, however, to support the introduction of the present Bill, in consequence of an understanding he had received, that provision would be made in it for the healthful recreation of the working classes. It was evident, that if all the land now unenclosed became enclosed without reference to this, hereafter large towns would grow up near which the people would find no place to enjoy themselves. It seemed to him that a small tax would be levied on parties proposing to enclose in order to create a fund by which ground might hereafter be purchased when required for towns not now in existence. One thing should not be forgotten, that the speculation ought to be profitable without the aid of a Corn-law. For, looking at the present state of public opinion, no one could believe that law would stand; of course, there was always this advantage in enclosing, that the consumer must gain if the speculation be economically sound, to the extent of the expenses of the importation of a given quantity of corn. Under all circumstances, then, he would support the Bill on its first reading, on the understanding, that if, on attentive perusal, it seemed unsatisfactory in the points interesting to him, he should be at liberty to oppose it in a future stage.

Lord J. Manners

supported the Motion, but he should be most anxious, at a future stage, to promote the introduction into the Bill of provisions, for securing that which he believed in his conscience was the equitable right, and if not the legal right, ought to be so, of the poor.

Mr. Sharman Crawford

opposed the Bill, and said, that if the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln (Colonel Sibthorp) divided the House, he should vote with him. From the explanation of the noble Lord, he found the Bill did not essentially differ from that of last Session. He was of opinion, that no land should be allowed to be enclosed in this country without securing allotments for the working-classes. The recommendations of the Allotments Committee ought not to be disregarded. They recommended, that in any general, or even private Enclosure Bill, that might hereafter pass into a law, provision for making allotments for the poor should be introduced. He cordially agreed in that opinion. The report went on to state, that from the evidence examined before the Committee, it appeared, that the effect produced on the labouring classes by their being enabled to hold land on their own account was most beneficial; that their condition was bettered; and that great advances were made by it in reforming the criminal and dissolute. He thought, therefore, that the House, before allowing this Bill to be brought in, ought to consider how enclosures might be made effectual for these purposes. With regard to establishing playgrounds for the people, he despised the idea, if it was to be the sole idea for which provisions in favour of the poor were to be introduced into Bills of this nature. Allotments would give occupation, and pleasing occupation, to the manufacturing and industrious classes at times when they were discharged from work. That occupation would supply the remedy against their going on the Poor-rates. In places where the system had been adopted, the effect had been greatly to reduce the demands on the Poor-rates. Among other persons that he might mention, who had tried the system with eminent success, was Mrs. Gilbert, who had given great encouragement to the Allotment system in Sussex, with the best effect. The House ought not to go on enclosing land without considering the best means of effecting this great object. Considering that Enclosure Bills, almost without exception, were calculated to give a monopoly to the rich at the expense of the poor, he was opposed to this Bill among the rest.

Sir C. Burrell

was understood to say, that according to the law of England, no man had a right to take from any one that to which he had by law a right in order to give it to another. With respect to manorial rights, the fact was, that a very great part of those rights belonged to poor persons who had claims on the manor. He knew a very large tract of land in Sussex, which it would have been most beneficial to the parish to have had inclosed, but the inclosure was prevented by the copyholders and free tenants. While persons were so ready to object that too little corn was grown in this country, he could not see how they could at the same time object to the enclosure of waste land, but he thought great injustice might be done to the country and to the poor, and industrious classes, if full consideration were not given to a measure of such importance as this. Even where land had been enclosed at great expense, he had known instances where the enclosure had been eventually of great benefit. Near Horsham lands had been enclosed, which he himself had never thought would pay, but they now produced as large crops as some of the very best lands. Considering how great would be the advantage of being able to enclose waste lands at a small expense, instead of the present enormous expenses of obtaining an Act, he should support the Motion.

Mr. Bright

looked upon this Bill with considerable suspicion, and especially when it ran to the length of 140 clauses; but it appeared to him, as the noble Lord had taken the trouble to prepare such a Bill, it was only fair, that it should be submitted to the House, in order that every Member should have the opportunity of seeing it. He was much gratified at hearing the hon. Member for Sussex express his anxious desire to preserve what he considered a great constitutional principle—that the property of one man should not by law be given to another; that property should not be taken from the poor and given to the rich. He trusted, that in some subsequent discussions in which the hon. Baronet might be engaged before long, with respect to the proprietors of land, he would keep the opinion which he had this night expressed in view.

Leave given.

Bill brought in and read a first time.