HC Deb 20 March 1866 vol 182 cc623-40

said, that he rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to make better provision for the improvement of commons in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, and the protection thereof from nuisances. One of the fortunate circumstances in connection with the position of London was, that this capital was surrounded by a circle of fresh and breezy commons, where furze and broom flourished, and possessing the natural and unpretending charm of land never brought into cultivation. Within a radius of fifteen miles of London there were 180 commons, containing in the whole 10,500 acres. Prom the earliest times some of these had been village greens, used for the recreation and amusement of the people, and though the law did not acknowledge any right of the public in these commons unless the right had been restricted to some particular body, long usage had enabled the people to enjoy those commons without the risk of being dealt with as trespassers. No institution handed down to us from our Saxon forefathers had contributed more to the happiness of the people. The maintenance of those open spaces was important for the inhabitants of the metropolis at large, and they were essential to the success of the Volunteer movement by affording ground for drilling and prize shooting, which, but for the existence of commons, it would have been difficult, and, in some cases, perhaps, impossible to obtain. It must be remembered, too, that as in London are found the rulers of the Empire, the representatives of the people and the guides of the nation in science, art, and literature, whatever conduces to its salubrity and enjoyment is of national concern. But in proportion as the great Babel was encroaching on the country—just as those commons were becoming more valuable for the enjoyment and recreation of the people, they were being more menaced by the builder and the railway engineer. It was, therefore, a matter of moment to develop, as far as we could do so, the means of preventing them from being engulfed in building operations. The public policy in respect to these matters had been for years directed to encouraging the inclosure of waste lands. At the end of the last century there were seven million acres of land untouched, and large portions of these had since been cultivated. In an agricultural point of view inclosure was desirable; because in the present day no farmer liked to put his cattle on our commons. The commons in the neighbourhood of large towns, although not particularly valuable for agricultural purposes, were of immense importance as places of amusement and recreation, and in the Inclosure Act of 1845 a distinction was drawn in respect of all waste lands within a radius of fifteen miles round London, and in respect of all waste lands within a smaller radius round other towns. It was provided that as regarded waste lands so situated Parliament should have a more direct and particular control. He proposed by the Bill which he was about to introduce to renew that distinction, and provide that the Inclosure Commissioners should not take within the operation of their office any waste lands within fifteen miles of the metropolis. The proposal was to establish a Board of Commissioners who would act like the Inclosure Commissioners, with a different object. 'A careful examination into the circumstances of the commons round London showed that the dissatisfaction existing with regard to them mainly arose from the condition in which they were suffered to remain. They were ill-drained, boggy, cut up into gravel pits, frequented by tramps and disreputable persons, so that respectable persons wishing to resort to them were debarred from their enjoyment. The lord of the manor, upon whom the responsibility rested of keeping the common in order, ordinarily derived but a very small income from it, and was not prepared to spend his own money in draining and levelling the ground, from which improvements the benefit would be reaped by the commoners who turned out their cattle upon the improved pastures, rather than by himself. In the case of the Epsom Common it was represented to the inhabitants that they could derive little enjoyment from the common in its then boggy and swampy condition, but that the rates of the parish would be diminished by the increase of houses. It was stated that the lord of the manor had no pecuniary advantage in the inclosure; and therefore, merely because the common was damp, it was proposed to deprive the residents in the vicinity, as well as the people of London, who frequently resorted there by railway, of a fine, open, healthy space, abounding in beautiful views. Wimbledon Common, of which so much had been heard, last year appeared to have been taken in hand for pretty much the same reason. Lord Spencer stated that numberless representations had been made to him as to the want of drainage and police regulations upon the common. In accordance with those representations he thought it right, as lord of the manor, to consider in what manner the necessary expenses might best be met. Giving to the noble Lord the fullest credit for a desire to benefit the public, he yet took a course on that occasion which, under the circumstances, seemed unnecessary. For, not contented with taking steps to drain the common, he wished to improve it and make it into a park, obtaining the funds necessary for that purpose by the sale of portions of the common alleged to be particularly useful to the inhabitants. These latter, meanwhile, were quite willing to be rated for all purposes of necessary expenditure, so that the proposed outlay by the lord of the manor became quite unnecessary. There were many lords of manors who desired to render commons more useful and beneficial to the public, and one of the objects of his Bill was to call forth local energy, and facilitate the raising of money for drainage and other improvements which would render commons more suitable for purposes of recreation. The Board of Commissioners contemplated by the Bill was intended to consist of five persons, of whom one would be the First Commissioner of Works, another the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works, a third, one of the Inclosure Commissioners, and the two remaining members would be nominated by the Crown, as persons interested in the subject, who would give their services gratuitously for the benefit of the public. The Commissioners would have the corporate power of holding land, if any should be given to them, for they knew by the evidence given before the Commission that several persons were desirous of giving over the rights which they possessed to any competent authority which might be established. Mr. Alcock, for instance, whose name was entitled to public respect, had expressed his wish to give over his rights, as lord of the manor, to upwards of 1,400 acres on Banstead Downs. The Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's were prepared to surrender their rights as lords of the manor over Barnes Common for the benefit of the public, and there were other lords of the manor inclined to follow their good example. The lords of the manor of portions of Clapham Common and Blackheath were favourable to some measure of this description, though they had not actually declared their approval of the provisions of this Bill; and there could be little doubt that many lords and commoners would avail themselves of the opportunity to surrender to a permanent body, acting as guardians of the public, rights which at present were only burdensome in their own hands, and which they had no wish to use in opposition to the public interest. Then, with reference to local management, the Commissioners that the Bill will constitute would proceed as the Inclosure Commissioners did, only with a different object. It was the business of Inclosure Commissioners to facilitate the inclosure of commons, whereas the Commissioners under this Bill would exist for the purpose of keeping them open, and of creating a local management to do what was necessary in the way of levelling, draining, preserving, and protecting the commons for the benefit of the public at large. Upon the receipt by the Commissioners of a memorial from the lord of the manor, or from the commoners—[Mr. POWELL: Not from inhabitants?] No, only from those having rights on the common, the supposition being that if improvement were absolutely necessary, some commoner would be found to set the machinery in motion. The Commissioners, on receipt of such a memorial, would empower the Assistant Commissioner to hold a public meeting of all persons having rights in the common, and to report as to how far the scheme put before him was acceptable to the persons concerned, according to the value of their property. It would be his business to specify whether the scheme would interfere in any way with rights of property, so that these might not be affected without ample notice and full consideration. The scheme, if adopted by the Board of Commissioners, would then be presented to that House in the form of a confirming Bill. It was provided that the expenses should be defrayed from local sources, and that the inhabitants of any district might, if they chose, agree to be rated. There was also a proviso empowering the Metropolitan Board, in case they thought fit, to add to the local funds by a contribution from the general funds of the metropolis, just as they were accustomed to do in the case of public improvements, where one-third was often contributed from the general fund of the metropolis, when the remaining sums were levied from the actual district. The principle of the Bill was to provide machinery to call out and give organization to local activity and effort. These commons were to be mainly enjoyed by the people who lived near them, and it was only fair they should pay a considerable proportion of the expense. But they were also enjoyed by the inhabitants of the metropolis, and it would be fair that the whole of the metropolis should also contribute to their maintenance. The circumstances and commoners rights of each common varied so much in the details, that it was impossible to lay down any general rule applicable to all. The attempt to include all in one Act of Parliament would therefore be a failure. The rights of the lords of the manor and of commoners, and the customs in each case varied, but the persons who would be the natural guardians of the commons would be there to secure the public interest. By giving those locally interested the management there would be always on the spot a conserving element ready to resist encroachments, and to keep these places of public recreation free from nuisances. When the confirming Bill came to the House the same course would be adopted as in the case of Inclosure Bills. Where a petition was presented against the measure it would be treated as a Private Bill, and the opportunity would be given to parties to he heard by counsel and witnesses in Committee against the Bill. Where there was no such petition, the measure would pass in the ordinary way. The Bill embodied the recommendations of the Committee of last Session, which was moved for by the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Doulton), and presided over by the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke). An alternative proposal was considered by the Committee, which embodied a resolution of the Metropolitan Board of Works. That Board were willing to undertake the management of all the Commons and open spaces around London if the funds were found to enable them to purchase the rights of the lords of the manors and of the commoners. These funds they proposed to obtain partly by the sale of a portion of the land of the commons, and partly by the imposition of a new tax on the ratepayers. To the sale of these commons, however, he (Mr. Cowper) and many others entertained the strongest objection. It was an awkward way of preserving a common to begin by selling and alienating the portion most adapted for building purposes. The plan must fail, too, in a pecuniary point of view, because if the rights were to be purchased upon the principle embodied in the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, not only the full present value, but the possible value would probably be given by the jury to the persons having an interest in the commons. If so, the sale of the property would only produce the sum of money that would be paid over, and no surplus would remain to the Metropolitan Board of Works. The chief objection, however, to this scheme was, that the Metropolitan Board of Works would require to have a central management over all these commons, while they were, in fact, placed beyond the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Beard, because the area of the jurisdiction of that Board did not extend over half the area of the metropolitan police district, which included a fifteen mile radius round London. So that it was proposed to impose upon a Board already, according to the statement of its own members, too hardly worked the duty of watching over and managing these various commons and open spaces, and this duty he could not hope they would be able satisfactorily to discharge. The Select Committee, after consideration, came to the decision that the only practical solution of the question was that embodied in the Bill. It would not effect all that one could desire, but would do what was at present possible. The Central Board would call into existence local action; it would be the natural enemy of encroachments, and it would be safely consulted in such cases. It would not be required to intervene in the proceedings which startled the public the other day at Berkhampstead, where the commoners showed fight against the lord of the manor, for that was a common not within the metropolitan district. The Board would give organization to local effort and co-operation with local authorities. The hon. Member concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Hill to make provision for the improvement of commons in the neighbourhood of the metropolis and the protection thereof from nuisances.


said, he seconded the Motion. He congratulated the Government on having grappled with a difficult subject, but could not help regretting that the First Commissioner had not enlarged the radius from fifteen to twenty-five miles. He also thought that power of originating action should be given to the inhabitants of the district, as well as to commoners and lords of the manor. He could hardly go so far as to advise the extension of the Bill to the whole country, although he was aware that the Inclosure Commissioners, while paying regard to the interests and rights of the manor, had often exhibited but little care for the rights of the people. He could mention cases within his own knowledge where the spaces devoted under the Inclosures Act for recreation and other like purposes were so situated as to be useless for those ends. In the case of Clapham Common negotiations had been entered into between the lord of the manor and the inhabitants, and the result was that the common was open to the public for all purposes of rational enjoyment, while it was at the same time preserved against nuisances. It was quite time that some thing should be done, because a process of encroachment was going on around London. In London the legal rights of the people were extremely narrow and limited. At tempted encroachments on Hampstead Heath had been defeated by the House, not without injury to the individual, who desired to build on other parts of the property he held by the same tenure. He would mention one case which he found in the evidence. Mr. William Thompson was lord of the manor of Tooting. He was, probably, a liberal and philanthropic indivi- dual, but his mind appeared to have passed through "the seven ages" of Shakespeare. Never was there a witness examined before a Committee who revealed the workings of his mind with more refreshing simplicity. At first he purchased the manorial rights with a view only of benefiting his neighbours. He had lived on the common for eighteen years, and thought the manorial rights of no value, except to prevent any nuisance from occurring. Next he found that the rights had some value, and, passing through a series of mutations, ended by believing the whole to be his freehold. This gentleman having bought the land for a small sum, and having made a certain arrangement by way of compromise, now said he gave up to the public land worth £20,000. He did not say whether this was or was not an accurate estimate, but he did say, that when these rights could be appropriated by any one man to the exclusion of the public time, for Parliamentary interference had arrived. Moreover, it appeared from the evidence taken before the Committee that, on the grounds of strict law, the rights of the people should be promptly vindicated. He could not venture to pronounce any opinion upon the Bill which had been introduced, without having further time to consider its provisions, and the new authority which Government proposed to create. As to the nature of this new authority, it must be an authority strong, vigilant, and able to adapt itself to circumstances as they arose from time to time; and it must, moreover, be an authority competent to resist the Committees upstairs, and the plans brought before them by engineers, promoters of companies and others. In order that that end might be obtained, the Bill should be most carefully drawn, so as to show distinctly that the duty of the Commissioners was to protect commons for the benefit of the public against railway companies and all others who might seek to encroach upon them. It was in the interest of the poorer classes that this law should be passed, and he hoped that its provisions would secure to them the blessings of fresh air; that the next generation, instead of being weaker, might be more powerful; even better able than men of this age to discharge the duties of public life.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the Improvement of Commons in the neighbourhood of the Metropolis, and the protection thereof from nuisances."—


said, he had listened with satisfaction to the observations that had fallen from the hon. Member who had just spoken, and ventured to say that this Bill would not answer the purpose which all admitted should be kept in view. He had heard with pleasure at the commencement of the Session, that it was the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill for the better preservation of the commons and open spaces around London, but as far as he could gather from the observations of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper) the Bill now introduced would not add one tittle to the protection of those places. If the Bill were to become law, it contained nothing to prevent the shameless inclosures that were taking place on every side of the metropolis. The three most important commons around London were Epping Forest, Hampstead Heath, and Wimbledon Common, and he asked the right hon. Gentleman what there was in the Bill now under discussion that would prevent their being enclosed? In the case of Wimbledon Common, of which Earl Spencer was the lord of the manor, which of the provisions of the Bill would prevent the noble Lord from coming to an arrangement with the copyholders and freeholders of the manor for its inclosure? There would be no necessity in the case of either of those commons for the lord of the manor, if he came to an arrangement with the copyholders and freeholders, to apply to the Inclosure Commissioners now proposed to be appointed for the special protection of the public. A strong power should be created to deal with this matter, not by confiscating the rights of the lords of manors, hut by purchasing those rights on behalf of the public. One great defect in the Bill was, that it did not even provide for raising the necessary funds for defraying the expenses incurred in preserving the commons from nuisances. The right hon. Gentleman, indeed, said that the object of the Bill was to bring into action the local machinery, but he did not think that the inclosure of commons could be prevented by local efforts. They ought to buy up the rights which existed, because they could not with more justice confiscate those rights than they could appropriate any other kind of private property. Those rights, though not of great value, were certainly worth something, and it would be the duty of anybody constituted for that purpose to buy them up and dedicate them to the service of the public. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down alluded to the case of Tooting Common Tooting Common was now being enclosed, and it would continue to be enclosed if this Bill passed, because the lord of the manor had made arrangements with the copyholders and commoners by purchasing their rights, and he could proceed with the inclosure therefore without being compelled to go before the Commissioners. Then take the case of Epping Forest. At the present time there were miles offence on the ground, and in the course of a few months the forest would be enclosed, and there would be no power under this Bill to prevent it. He hoped that before the second reading of the Bill the right hon. Gentleman would consider whether a clause could not be added, which would not only recognize the evil, but provide a remedy. The right hon. Gentleman said the Bill would do something, and therefore it would be well to let it pass; but he (Mr. Doulton) said no, it would do harm, because it would prevent better legislation.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the Improvement of Commons in the neighbourhood of the Metropolis, and the protection thereof from nuisances."—(Mr. Cowper.)


said, that when the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Doulton) objected to the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman he should have told the House what his own plan was. The plan of the hon. Gentleman was laid before the Committee, and the Committee rejected it, while the plan upon which the Bill was founded was carried. The hon. Member's plan was a Metropolitan Board of Works plan to compensate everybody, whether they had anything for which to compensate them or not. [Mr. SANDPOKD: Oh, oh!] He (Mr. Locke) should like to know what course the hon. Gentleman who cried "oh!" took in the Committee. It was difficult to say, for he was first up and then down. He first advocated one side and then the other. A more inconsistent Member of a Committee, or one more obstructive, he (Mr. Locke) had never had the lot to meet since he had had the honour of a seat in that House. He cheered compensation now as a delightful thing. What did he propose in the Committee? That the statute of Merton should be abolished. He and his statute of Merton were the clog on the Committee throughout. They must look at the two propositions that were made in Committee. One was made by the hon. Member for Lambeth, and it was that the Metropolitan Board of Works should have the power to compensate all the lords of the manors, and all the commoners upon every common throughout the metropolitan radius, and for that purpose they should have the power of selling portions of the land of those commons, and besides that of levying what Sir John Thwaites called a property tax upon the metropolis for the purpose of paying for it. [Mr. DOULTON; That was not my proposal.] That appeared to the Committee to be a strange measure; they did not like it, and they thought that some other scheme might be adopted. The scheme they did adopt was that which was contained in the Report of the Committee, and which was in a great measure embodied in the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. It seemed to be assumed by the hon. Member for Lambeth that the rights of lords and commoners were defined rights; that everybody knew what they were, and that they were so clear that everybody could understand them. But those rights were in many instances extremely doubtful. If they adopted the proposal of the hon. Member for Lambeth, and held out to the lords of manors that the Metropolitan Board of Works, with the property tax and the coal tax at their back, were ready to compensate everybody who chose to ask for their money, he would like to know what the demands might be. The scheme now pro posed was one which at all events ought to be tried, and it was that recommended in the Report of the Committee. It was extremely difficult to ascertain the title to numbers of commons around the metropolis. The lords of the manors would certainly have enclosed the commons long before now had they known exactly what their rights were; but as it was, if they attempted such a thing the commoners at once stopped them, because the property of the lords and the interests of the commoners in the commons were undefined. It was treated as a trifling matter that Mr. Alcock and the Dean and Chapter had come forward with an offer of their lands, to beheld for the benefit of the public. It had been stated that Lord Spencer's powers over Wimbledon Common were not so great as he claimed, and an attempt to enclose a portion of it had been resisted by knocking down the fence. In that case an action was commenced against the person who destroyed the fence, but it was not proceeded with. The hon. Member for Lambeth began everything with an "if." "If 'ifs' and 'ands' were kettles and pans"—but they knew the rest of the old saw. "If" the lords of the manors could get all the commoners to go with them, they would enclose all the commons. Why, of course they would. But that "if" was most unfortunate. To take an example: Did the lord of the manor of Wimbledon get the commoners to agree with him? Did they not rise up when he sought to obtain a Bill to enclose the common, and say that Bill should not pass? Was not that Bill sent to a Select Committee, and also to a Committee of that House? And had Lord Spencer been able to enclose the common at Wimbledon, after all? He thought this Bill ought to be brought in. If the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Sand-ford) wished to make it more stringent, lot him do so—it was elastic enough. The hon. Member for Lambeth might also introduce some of his clauses, if he liked, in order to make the Bill perfect. It was the most beautiful skeleton ever seen on the face of the earth as it stood, and it could be fitted up in any way the hon. Members might choose. One subject that his right hon. Friend (Mr. Cowper) had not touched upon was the question of the Crown rights. When they found Mr. Alcock handing over his property to any Board that might be established for the benefit of the public, and leaving his commons open to; them, should not the Crown hand over its rights? But how did the Crown use its rights? The Crown had rights over a portion of Blackheath, the other portion being owned by Lord Dartmouth. The representatives of the Crown told the Committee that the only object they had in view was to make all they possibly could out of the heath. Seeing that Scotch gentlemen used it for playing golf, that donkeys were always running over it, and every kind of amusement going on, what profit could the Crown make out of it? Why, a man was allowed to dig gravel and; make great holes in the heath at a gain to the Crown of £56 a year. Then with regard to Epping Forest, how had the Crown behaved? The Crown used to grant licenses to persons selling its forestal rights, until that House passed a Resolution that it should no longer sell any of those rights. But did that make the Crown better behaved? Far from it! Instead of selling any of its forestal rights it withdrew all its officers of the forest, and allowed people to encroach just as they pleased. The Crown, in abandoning its own rights, had abandoned the rights of the people. When they were establishing a Board for the purposes of protecting all the places of recreation around the metropolis for the benefit of the people, they ought not to forget the Crown lands, which he believed were as large in extent as all the rest put together. He would like to have some statement from his right hon. Friend as to what course would be pursued by the Crown. If they were to have a body to whom the conveyances of these rights and privileges were to be made, and to establish for ever those open spaces around the metropolis for the benefit of the public, they ought, when considering what private persons might do, to know what the Crown would do.


said, he did not rise for the purpose of opposing the Bill, but he felt called upon to remark that the hon. and learned Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) had by his remarks confirmed him in an opinion which he had formed when sitting in his company upon the Open Spaces Committee, an opinion shared in by a large majority of the Committee, that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not quite understand the subject with which he was dealing. The hon. and learned Member had thought proper to state that he (Mr. Sandford) had carried a proposition for the repeal of the statute of Merton against the wish of a great portion of that Committee; but he held in his hand a record of the division upon the occasion referred to, and it showed that ten Members supported him in the proposition and four voted against him. Not only so, but one-half of the Report upon the subject, which was drawn up by the hon. and learned Gentleman himself, was occupied by an elaborate defence of the repeal the Committee had decided upon. It was certainly most extraordinary conduct on the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman to retort upon him for having carried a proposition to which he had himself devoted four or five pages of his Report. [Mr. LOCKE: It required so much defending.] The statute of Merton permitted the lord of the manor to enclose all the waste that he pleased, provided he left the commoners sufficient pasturage. If the rights of the commoners were encroached upon by the lords of the manor, their only remedy was in an expensive lawsuit; and, as that was the sum and substance of the statute, the House would not be surprised that the Committee had desired to repeal it. He would not address himself to personal questions further than to say that the general opinion of the Committee as to the hon. and learned Gentleman's conduct in the chair would, if described by him, be anything but agreeable to his feelings. Proceeding to discuss the Bill, he would inquire of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper) whether he had submitted his measures to the Law Officers of the Crown? [Mr. COWPER: No.] He thought not, and recommended him to do so at once. He had never heard of a measure framed in such complete ignorance of the existing state of the law. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that the lords of the manors had mere property in the soil, and the commons were to be enjoyed by the public in the vicinity. But the lords of the manors had absolute control of the soil, subject to certain rights of the commoners. The inhabitants of the neighbourhood of the commons, with the exception of the commoners, had no right upon them except by permission, and without permission they were trespassers. He regretted this state of things as much as the right hon. Gentleman did. But he understood the right hon. Gentleman to say also that the Commissioners were to have power to tax the people for the purpose of taking care of the commons. Had he taken the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown upon that? Then the Bill did not appear to make any provision for the raising of money to purchase rights. It was absolutely nugatory in this respect in all points but one. It proposed to empower certain Commissioners to receive the munificent donations of such persons as Mr. Alcock. No praise could be too great of Mr. Alcock for the princely way in which he had dealt with his rights, and it was meet that some provision should be made for placing the gift in proper custody; but beyond power to receive these rights the Commissioners had nothing. They would not have a shilling at their disposal. He did not intend to throw out any alternative suggestion. Possibly hon. Gentlemen were naturally jealous of the Metropolitan Board of Works. He confessed he had no great confidence in it, but they should consider it was the only body in the metropolis empowered to raise money, that it was not advisable that such a power should be created in a fresh body, and that it was desirable that the rights in the commons should be purchased for the use of the people. The Bill, as it stood, would amount to a com- plete confiscation of the rights of lords of manors.


said, he thanked the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper) for having brought in this Bill, and regretted that the hon. Member for Lambeth should have so hastily condemned it, from misapprehending its scope or purport. The Bill was founded on the Report of the Select Committee, and it would neither confiscate the rights of the lord of the manor, nor touch those of the commoners and the public. It was certainly a matter for consideration whether some of these rights should not be purchased, but having been a member of the Select Committee, and since then having paid much attention to the subject, he had come to the conclusion that it was not desirable that the rights of the lords of manors should be purchased at once; because he believed there were very few commons with which the lords of the manor could deal either with or with out the consent of the commoners. He found that with regard to all the commons around London the interests of the commoners were opposed to the lords of the manor, and that there was no possibility of obtaining the consent of the latter. The commoners still claimed the right of turning out cattle upon them; but they used them for the purpose of keeping the commons open as against the lords for the benefit of the public, and not for feeding cattle. As to the rights of the public in these commons, the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Sandford) appeared to revel in the notion that the public had no such rights It might be so; but that was an undetermined question of law. There could be no doubt that in regard to many of the smaller commons, such as village greens, the public had rights. Therefore, in the present state of the law and of the titles to all these commons, it was not desirable that the Metropolitan Board should at once proceed to purchase them. The question was—What steps should be taken to prevent tin deterioration of these commons by nuisances of all kinds? The evidence of Lord Spencer in respect to Wimbledon Common showed the very great difficulties under which lords of the manor now laboured in preventing encroachments and nuisances of various descriptions upon commons. Great nuisances and deterioration were going on on almost every common around London, to the injury alike of the lords of the manor, the commoners, and the neighbouring inhabitants. If these commons were to be purchased under compulsory powers, they would have to be bought at building land value, which could hardly be less than from £300 to £400 per acre. As there were about 10,500 acres of common in the neighbourhood of London, a sum of nearly three millions of money would be required for that purpose. The South-Western Railway Company had recently to pay £5,000 for twelve acres of land on Barnes Common, and to show that the rights of the lords of the manor were not so great as were generally supposed, in that case the Court awarded one-fourteenth part of the purchase money to the lord, and the remaining thirteen-fourteenth parts to the commoners Then it had been proposed that they should sell a portion of the commons to buy the remainder, but that would be a dangerous mode of proceeding, because it would entail a sacrifice of large portions of the commons and would raise all sorts of difficulty between the lords of the manors and the commoners. Three-fourths of the commons in the neighbourhood of London were beyond the Metropolitan Board of Works district. They had already heavy duties to discharge, and besides other difficulties, they would have no power to levy rates in those neighbourhoods for the purchase of the commons beyond the district. He hoped the House would assent to the introduction of the Bill.


said, that Epping Forest did not come under that Bill. The Commissioners of Woods and Forests conceived that by their Act of Parliament they were bound as trustees to administer the property intrusted to them with a view to obtain as much money as they could from it. He hoped the question would shortly be dealt with in a satisfactory manner. The same remark applied to the rights of the Crown over the waste of Blackheath, from which the Commissioners obtained the £56 that had been referred to. However unfortunate it might be that a common should be spoiled for the sake of such a small sum, yet, entertaining that view of their legal duty, the Commissioners of Woods and Forests thought they must do so. The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Sandford) had attributed to him some very erroneous views of the law of the question in relation to these commons; but he, had never doubted that the lord of the manor had the soil of the waste, subject to the rights of the commoners over the surface. The public had legally no rights. If these commons were to be im- proved and protected it was but right that it should be done at the expense of the public at large. That Bill would set on foot a system of special Acts of Parliament for each special case; and consequently each Act of Parliament would provide the power of raising the money necessary for giving effect to it. That seemed to be a more practical and intelligible course than any attempt to establish a uniform measure applying to all commons, however varying might be their particular circumstances.


said, he wished to ask if the powers of the Commissioners were to extend to all large towns?


said, they were not, but only to be confined to the metropolitan area.


said, he wished to ask whether the Commissioners would have power to spend the money on a common without the consent of the lord of the manor?


said, he thought that a suitable opportunity of noticing the highly official view put for-ward by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper) as to the relation between the property of the Crown and the rights of the people. That was not the first time when the two things had been placed in violent opposition to each other in that House. The legal representative of the Crown was supported in exacting the very last farthing in respect to every right possibly appertaining to the Crown, to the utter disregard of the wishes or the enjoyments of the people. The property in the Crown was merely nominal. For all practical purposes it was completely alienated from the Crown, and the office of Woods and Forests was put into such a position as compelled it to act in direct hostility to the wishes of the people. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he brought forward the Budget, and on similar occasions, would appeal to the feelings of the House in favour of the people, while the Government would exact the last farthing in respect of the Crown property, with entire disregard of the rights and interests of the people. Different Departments of the Government were thus opposed. This, he contended, was an anomaly which ought not to exist.


said, the hon. Gentleman who had just resumed his seat had appealed to him to prolong the debate; but the hon. Mem- ber had not consulted the convenience of the House in expatiating on topics which would have been better discussed at an earlier stage of the debate, particularly as his right hon. Friend (Mr. Cowper) in reply had not broken up any new ground, but contented himself with noticing the observations that had been made by hon. Members. It was an entire mistake to suppose that the possession of Crown property was merely nominal. As far as regarded the person of the reigning Sovereign there might be some truth in the assertion, but although the reigning Sovereign had for years parted with all pecuniary interests in the property, it was an established principle that no changes affecting the Crown lands could be made without the assent of the Sovereign. The House had no right to encroach upon them without the consent of the persons interested. The reigning Sovereign was strictly tenant for life. Any renunciation of right, therefore, would not bind the succeeding Sovereign. The Prince of Wales on his accession to the Crown would be perfectly entitled, if he thought fit, to take the management of these estates into his own hands. This was a matter entirely beyond dispute. Still less was it necessary to raise this question after his right hon. Friend had stated that the forestal rights of the Crown at Epping were under the consideration of the Government, and that he hoped very shortly to make a proposition to the House on the subject. The rights of the reigning family in the Crown lauds must be respected just as much as any other private rights. The subject of Epping Forest could not have been included in the Bill before the House, because it did not come within the jurisdiction of his right hon. Friend. In the course of a few days he hoped that the Government would be in a condition to inform the House that, without at all giving in to the doctrine of the hon. Member, they had made arrangements respecting the forestal rights at Epping, with the full concurrence of Her Majesty, which would bring them out of a state of conflict with the interests of the community, and enable the Government to deal with them at proper seasons in a manner satisfactory to all concerned.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to make provision for the Improvement o Commons in the neighbourhood of the Metropolis and the protection thereof from nuisances, ordered to be brought in by Mr. COWPER and Mr. CHILDERS.