HC Deb 24 May 1866 vol 183 cc1278-88

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, its purpose was to meet a wish which had been very strongly expressed by the public for some legislation to prevent the destruction now so frequently observed of places of natural beauty, health, and enjoyment around the metropolis, which were being encroached upon by buildings and railways. The subject was admitted to be one of considerable difficulty and complexity, and the difficulty arose mainly from the great alteration that had token place since the wastes were first established, in agriculture and the mode of feeding cattle. The change in the feeding of cattle had rendered obsolete the uses for which these commons were originally set apart, while the growth of this gigantic city and the progress of railways had given them advantages and uses which they did not formerly possess. The principal provision of the Bill was that the Inclosure Act should not apply to the suburban commons within the metropolitan police district, which was also the district for levying coal dues, and which included all the parishes within a radius of fifteen miles. The other object was the establishment of a machinery by which in each particular case a local management might be set up according to the particular circumstances of the common. The General Inclosure Act ought not to apply to the suburban commons which were in the immediate vicinity of London or of other large towns. The purpose of that Act was stated to be to promote the cultivation of land, to increase the employment of labour and the food of the people; it was intended for the public good, and not to increase the possessions of the lords of the manor. But the commons in the neighbourhood of London were not generally inclosed for the purpose of agriculture. The temptation arose to inclose them for the purpose of building, and consequently if the Inclosure Acts were applied to them, that which was intended to be a public good would become a public evil. The framers of the General Inclosure Act were fully alive to this difference, because they inserted a clause by which all waste lands which were to be inclosed within fifteen miles of the metropolis, and within four, three, or two miles of other towns, were not to be inclosed under the provisions of the Act without the special authority of Parliament. It was fair, and in accordance with past legislation, that they should no longer give the benefit of the Inclosure Act for the purpose of the commons round London being built upon. The present Bill would not deprive the owner of waste lands of any rights of common or any authority or right that he now possessed. Every lord of the manor or commoner was left in possession of all the privileges and rights he now held independently of the Inclosure Act. There was nothing to prevent inclosure by agreement between the lord and commoners, and nothing to prevent inclosure by the statute of Merton. The statute of Merton, however, had very little effect with regard to the commons with which they wished to deal, as it applied only to rights of pasture. Of course, the lord of the manor or the commoners would still have the ordinary power of introducing a private Bill. There were some commons like Hampstead Heath and, perhaps, Peckham Rye, which being in close proximity to populous districts, and being places of great resort, ought to be treated like parks and made the subject of compulsory purchase by the Board of Works, and thus secured for the benefit of the public for ever. The Board of Works had recently purchased ground to make two parks, north-east and south-east of London, one Finsbury Park and the other Southwark Park, and he hoped they would introduce a Bill to enable them to purchase the rights of Sir Thomas Wilson over Hampstead Heath and the adjacent parts; but that of course would only be done by a private Bill. The commons chiefly to be dealt with by this Bill were those beyond the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Board, and were commons which neither the lord of the manor nor the commoners desired to inclose for building purposes. The intention was to enable action to be taken by those who had rights on the commons, assisted by the funds of the parish or the public at large; and the cases were very numerous where the enjoyment of commons was entirely spoilt from the want of proper regulations. He might instance the case of Wandsworth Common, where holes had been dug in which the water was so deep that unfortunately men had been drowned there. It was therefore proposed to deal with such commons under the Bill. Other commons were frequented by persons who were a nuisance to all respectable people, and prevented any satisfactory enjoyment of them. With regard to some of the commons, an arrangement had been made between the inhabitants and the lord of the manor that an annual sum of money should be subscribed, and proper provision made for keeping the commons in order—for instance, at Peckham Rye and at Clapham—but in those instances it had been found there was a want of power to enforce any regulations which might be made by this self-constituted body. The object of the Bill was to enable a local management to be set up in the case of such commons where such local manage- merit was required. The question was how local provision was to be made. The customs and circumstances of each manor varied, and it seemed reasonable that a provisional scheme should be made in each instance, and that that should be confirmed by an Act of Parliament. It would be necessary to establish a new body of Commissioners who would make the inquiry necessary in each particular case in order to prepare the different schemes. That body would be selected in a manner to secure full responsibility without the necessity of incurring any large expenditure. There would be five Commissioners—three being official persons, and two selected from their knowledge of the subject, and having leisure to attend to its details. The official Commissioners would be—the First Commissioner of Works, who would be in Parliament, the Inclosure Commissioner, who would be responsible to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works. He believed this scheme would be found to work well. It went on the principle of local management with central organization; but if the Metropolitan Board had been selected the management would have been central, and he thought that action might prove injurious because they could not expect a body of forty-six persons sitting at Spring Gardens would give the same attention to commons as the inhabitants who were resident near the spot.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time." —(Mr. Cowper.)


said, he rose to move the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr, Ayrton.)


expressed his surprise at such an Amendment coming from the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, who complained the other night of a Motion of a similar kind being moved at a much later hour than that at which they had now arrived (five minutes to twelve o'clock) The House would listen with attention to anything he might wish to say on the subject treated by the Bill. He hoped therefore the hon. Gentleman would withdraw his Amendment, and allow the Bill to proceed.


also trusted the hon. Gentleman would allow the discussion to proceed.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question again proposed.


said, he was glad to receive an assurance from the Government that they intended to persevere with the measure that night. The right hon. Gentleman had taken the opportunity to repeat the speech he had made on introducing the Bill, and to restate the grounds upon which it had been introduced. He was glad to see that they were all agreed as to the objects of the Bill, and he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that he had no intention to interpose any obstacle to the accomplishment of those objects. All they had now to discuss was whether the measure contained ample methods for carrying out the purposes for which it was introduced. He felt as strongly as any one the necessity which existed of preserving the open spaces for the recreation of the inhabitants of our large towns, and especially of the metropolis, whose inhabitants had to pass over miles of roads before they could find a green shrub or tree uncontaminated by the smutty nature of the London atmosphere, but they ought also to take care that their proceedings were not at variance with the tendency of our present legislation. Above all, they ought to hesitate before consenting to the appointment of that which had been so generally condemned for many years past a dilettanti and irresponsible Commission for the purpose of doing work which, it appeared to him, required the attention of some responsible persons—a responsibility which might be secured by the appointment of either an officer of the Crown or of some local authority, either of which seemed to guarantee an efficient and satisfactory administration. It was a most objectionable proposal to appoint a Commission, comprising not only Members of different departments, none of whom could he responsible for what took place, but to add to the Commission several persons who, from the fact of their receiving no salary, could treat the subject in any manner they pleased, without being in any way made responsible for the course they might adopt. All our experience showed that such bodies had signally failed in carrying out the objects for which they were appointed, and the question he wished to raise was whether it was expedient to establish such a body as that proposed by this Bill, or some more recognized responsible authority. The right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works had hardly given a satisfactory idea of the character of the Bill, because, so far from its being likely to prove beneficial, he believed that some of the provisions of the Bill would tend rather to frustrate than to further the objects they had in view. The Commissioners were only to be set in motion by a memorial presented by a lord of the manor or a commoner, but it did not appear who was to pay for the expenses of the inquiry. If the expenses had to be borne by the memorialists, the memorials presented would, he thought, be extremely limited. Then, again, it was difficult to understand how anything could be done with the Commons when it was provided at the conclusion of the Bill that the Commissioners were to do nothing that would affect the rights or the interests of the lord of the manor or of the commoner. Any scheme recommended by the Commissioners would probably in some way or other affect such rights or interests, and on the petition of the person aggrieved it would be the duty of the House of Commons to reject the plan proposed by the Commissioners. The proceedings of the Commissioners might, too, be instituted solely for the benefit of places within fifteen miles of London, and yet one-half of the entire expenses of the Board and its proceedings might be defrayed under an order of the Treasury by the Metropolitan Board of Works, and would thus fall upon the ratepayers of the metropolis. The other half was to be defrayed out of the revenue of the country, and if the principles of the measure were agreed to he could not see why every county in England should not have a similar Commission framed for the benefit of the inhabitants of the large towns, entailing a serious increase on the public expenditure. It was by such bad precedents that our civil charges had grown to their present height. The Government had been compelled to give way to some slight demand which, bad in itself, had been made a precedent, and had led to acquiescence in general demands of a similar character. Before embarking on the proposed scheme they were bound to satisfy themselves that it was absolutely necessary. They already possessed an efficient body in the Inclosure Commission, to whom the working of the Bill might be safely intrusted. That body had an efficient staff and cost the country about £20,100 per annum; and he believed that body was the best and most efficient body that could be found to discharge any duties Parliament might think fit to impose on them in reference to this Bill. The Inclosure Acts contained a number of clauses providing for the permanent appropriation of open spaces for the people, but they did not enable the town authorities to extend open spaces by purchase. If this were altered and powers were given to the local authorities to appear before the Inclosure Commissioners with an application for additional land, the Commissioners might estimate the value of the land required and grant the powers asked for. If that were done, the Inclosure Acts would be sufficiently amended for the purpose of providing sufficient open spaces for the people. It might be said that in the case of the metropolis a portion of the commons would not be sufficient, as the metropolitan authorities required that no land whatever should be inclosed. Still that did not prevent their applying to the Commissioners to purchase the rights of the lords of manors and the commoners. It was a reasonable proposition that the Metropolitan Board of Works should be enabled to acquire power of the Commissioners to purchase spaces for the people of the metropolis, because the ratepayers, who would find the money for the purchase, elected the members of the Board. It could not be admitted for a moment that the Commissioners had a right to seize the rights of the lords of manors; and the whole matter resolved itself into the simple question whether it was desirable to sit up a new and irresponsible Board of Commissioners, who would necessarily be an expensive body, or whether the Inclosure Commissioners should be given some few new powers. He would remind the House that last week they had been legislating precisely in the opposite course to that proposed by the Bill under consideration, inasmuch as they had very properly enacted that Epping Forest, or rather what was left of it, should be vested in the hands of the First Commissioner of Works, because it was the property of the Crown. He thought it would produce a most lamentable result, if, instead of encouraging the Metropolitan Board to proceed in the providing, of open spaces, the House should pass a law which was offensive to them. The Board were asked to pay the expenses incurred under a Bill to which they objected, and they would be, therefore, naturally indisposed to take any action under it. Two parks had been provided under the present Act, and there was a disposition to proceed further in the same direction; but the effect of the Bill now before the House would be to discourage these endeavours to procure open spaces for the recreation of the inhabitants. He contended that the whole matter should be investigated by a Committee upstairs. He desired to preserve the power of the Inclosure Commissioners, and to prevent as far as possible application for local Acts. He begged to move— That it is inexpedient to transfer the duty with which the Metropolitan Board is by Law invested to an irresponsible Board, having power to incur expenditure and to charge the same on the ratepayers of the Metropolis; but it is desirable to amend the Inclosure Acts so as to enable the Metropolitan Board and local authorities in towns, with the aid of the Inclosure Commissioners, to acquire, by purchase or gift, rights in Commons, in order that the same may be kept open for the recreation of the inhabitants of the Metropolis and such towns.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is inexpedient to transfer the duty with which the Metropolitan Board is by Law invested to an irresponsible Board, having power to incur expenditure and to charge the same on the ratepayers of the Metropolis; but it is desirable to amend the Inclosure Acts so as to enable the Metropolitan Board and local authorities in towns, with the aid of the Inclosure Commissioners, to acquire, by purchase or gift, rights in Commons, in order that the same may be kept open for the recreation of the inhabitants of the Metropolis and such towns,"—(Mr. Ayrton,) — instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the! Question."


said, he did not rise for the purpose of opposing the Bill, but of expressing his surprise that the right hon. Gentleman had not offered a single reason which appeared in any way conclusive for the passing of such a measure. The legislation contemplated was totally foreign to anything that had hitherto been done in regard to the commons of the country; and he asked why the Inclosure Commissioners could not perform all that was requisite in the metropolis, seeing that they discharged similar duties throughout the country. Too much had been said as to the power of public opinion in this matter, for it had not been able to protect the public against the injustice of the Department of Woods and Forests. The Government had neglected their duty with respect to Epping Forest; and what had been done in the neighbourhood of Woolwich and Blackheath? At the latter place, for the sake of £40 or £50 a year, the public had been deprived of one of the most frequented commons. The complaints of the public were not against the lords of the manor, but against the Government, and the manner in which the Department of Woods and Forests had discharged its duty. Then, if any alteration was to he made in the existing law, the large towns of the country had as much right to be considered as the metropolis. Even in small places, by the aid of the Inclosure Commissioners, most beneficial measures had been adopted. In the town he represented fifty acres of land had been devoted to public recreation, not one farthing being charged on the ratepayers. The Commission proposed would entail considerable expense; and, taking all the circumstances into consideration, he could not help thinking that the Bill now before the House was altogether unnecessary. There was no reason why there should not be an enactment passed for a survey to be made of all the commons, and that they should not be interfered with till an Act of Parliament was brought in, in which provision should be made for necessary and desirable recreation. If such a measure were brought in as an amendment to the Inclosure Act, the whole thing would be settled, and he believed that course would meet with the approval of the lords of the manors.


said, that he had, in the Committee which sat upon this subject, objected, and still objected, to placing the control of the commons in the hands of the Metropolitan Board of Works. That Committee had come to two resolutions:—That the statute of Merton should be repealed, and that the commons should be preserved in their present state. In their Report they suggested the different boards and bodies that might be intrusted to carry out the various provisions. Amongst others they suggested the Inclosure Commissioners and the Metropolitan Board of Works, as well as a distinct Board to be appointed for the purpose, and which they thought would be the best body of all to take charge of the subject. He was very much in favour of referring the matter to a Select Committee of that House. If the House thought that the Inclosure Commissioners were the right body to whom the subject should be intrusted, the Chairman of Committees should have the power of handing it over to the charge of those Commissioners. There was a provision in the Bill that no inclosure should be allowed to take place unless a special Bill should be brought into Parliament, and there was another provision that no inclosure should take place in the metropolis. The main scope of the Bill was that lords of the manors and copyholders should enjoy their present rights, and that the public also should retain their existing rights and privileges and be free to walk over the commons in the metropolis. It would be unfortunate if there should be any difference of opinion amongst hon. Members, because they all had the same object in view for the benefit of the public. There would be only one point necessary, as an instruction to the Committee, and that was as to what existing body should form the Board taking charge of the subject, or whether a new Board should be created for the purpose, for it would be a great misfortune if no legislation were to take place upon the subject this Session.


likewise deprecated any division of opinion on a question in regard to which they were all entirely agreed, and suggested that an Instruction to the Committee would probably cover any remaining points in dispute.


said, as it appeared to be the general feeling of Members that a Committee of the House ought to consider the points referred to, he was quite ready to accede to their wish. The only technical difficulty was that, by its title, the Bill was limited to the metropolis, and he thought, therefore, that an Instruction to the Committee would be requisite to consider the propriety of extending the provisions of the Bill beyond the metropolis to places in the vicinity of other towns in England. He would, therefore, move a Resolution to that effect after the second reading of the Bill had been agreed to. Without giving them further instruction, it would be in the power of the Committee to consider whether they would agree to substitute the Inclosure Commissioners for the Commissioners named in the Bill.


objected to the Bill as it now stood, on the ground that it was founded on a principle of exceptional legislation. To confine the operation of an Inclosure Act to commons within a certain radius of the metropolis would be nothing but a confiscation of private property. Commons were the absolute property of the lords of the manor, subject only to the rights of commoners. [Mr. THOMAS HUGHES: No !] Would the hon. and learned Member for Lambeth stand up and deny that proposition? He denied that the statutes of Merton did not apply to commons in the neighbourhood of London.


believed that the principle laid down by the hon. Gentleman—namely, that the lords of the manor were the absolute owners of commons subject only to the rights of commoners—had not been decided to be a principle of the English law.


said, he made the assertion on the authority of a former Attorney General, who stated the principle before a Committee upstairs. He wished that any Act of this kind might be a general one.


observed, that what the inhabitants of London wanted was a body of non-inclosure Commissioners—a body of gentlemen who would take care that commons were not inclosed contrary to law. The people of the metropolis justly desired the preservation of their recreation grounds. If the Committee on this Bill were to inquire over the whole country, the Bill itself would be a mere delusion.


, after the statement of the First Commissioner of Works, said he would not preserve with his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill committed to a Select Committee.

Instruction to the Committee, that they have power to consider the expediency of extending the provisions of the Bill beyond the area of the Metropolis, to lands in the vicinity of other towns in England.—(Mr. Cowper.)