HC Deb 09 April 1869 vol 195 cc545-57

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


said, it was not his fault that he was obliged to bring on a discussion on this subject at so late an hour. On the previous night an undertaking had been given by the Govern- ment that the Bill would not be brought on after eleven o'clock; and why eleven o'clock should be too late on Thursday night and half-past eleven o'clock early enough on Friday night he was at a loss to imagine. This Bill had been hurried through its earlier stages just after the Irish Church debate, when Members were leaving town; and the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department actually attempted to lay down the doctrine the other evening that Inclosure Bills ought to pass as a mere matter of form. He was told at once that any Government which attempted to enforce such a view would contravene the spirit of an Act of Parliament. There was no portion, in fact, of the authority of the House which he would not rather delegate to Commissioners than the power of enclosing land. If a bad law were enacted or an unjust tax imposed, the law could be altered or the tax repealed; but if the labouring poor suffered an injustice by the enclosure of land, the evil continued and the question passed at once and for ever out of the hands of Parliament. Inclosure Bills were based upon an Act, passed in 1845, and the distinguished statesman who was mainly instrumental in passing that measure laid it down again and again that a special object of that Act was to insure to the House the opportunity of fully and adequately discussing year by year the Inclosure Bills that were brought in. In that opinion Mr. Buller was supported by the late Duke of Newcastle, who said, that, without making any accusation against Select Committees, he had come to the conclusion that, in nineteen cases out of twenty, the interests of the poor had been systematically neglected by those Committees, it being absolutely impossible for the poor to appear before them personally or by counsel. The Act of 1845 was based upon the Report of a Select Committee appointed in 1843, of whose recommendations one of the most important was that, in every enclosure where it was possible some land should be retained by way of allotments for the labouring poor, that this land should be let to the poor at a fair agricultural rent, and that the proceeds be handed over to the parochial authorities towards payment of the rates. The Committee justly concluded that if this were carried out a great been would be conferred upon the poor, and a great relief afford- ed to the local rates. Since that time 320,000 acres of land have been enclosed; and what has been the result as regards the labouring poor? Why, that their interests have been systematically neglected; the whole amount of land recovered has been 2,000 acres. But this Bill is even worse than its predecessors. Excluding Wisley, as had been done, the Bill proposed to enclose 7,000 acres, and the quantity reserved out of this large tract has been the insignificant, contemptible amount of four acres. The House ought not to pass the Bill until they obtained further information regarding it. He made no accusation against the Inclosure Commissioners, but the reasons given in support of these enclosures in their Report ought to be much more explicit. Of the fourteen enclosures proposed to be sanctioned this year, it was stated in one case as the reason why no land was reserved that it was "too steep," but a little further on, as a reason why it should be enclosed, it was said to be admirably adapted for agricultural purposes. If it was too steep to be cultivated by the spade husbandry of the poor, how was it at the same time fitted for the plough? As to another common, the reason assigned for not preserving any portion was that it was overstocked. What did that mean, except that the demand for common land among the poor was such that they put too many animals to graze upon it? In another case the common was said to be too far off, lying about two miles from the village. But why did not the Commissioners exercise the power of exchange, which they possessed, securing for the poor by this means a slice of land near the village? The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the condition of Women and Children employed in Agriculture described the state of our labouring rural population as most unsatisfactory, and not so comfortable in many respects as it was four centuries ago. Between 1760 and 1845 no less than 7,000,000 acres of land were enclosed, and the Commissioners stated that in the great majority of instances the interests of the labouring poor had been completely neglected. Had these enclosures been made with proper care for the interests of the people, he believed it would have made the present condition of our labouring population very different from what it was now. One great lesson these facts ought to teach the House of Commons, and that was to scrutinize narrowly every fresh proposal for enclosure as it came before them. He based his opinions on the doctrines laid down in 1845 by Sir Robert Peel, who said that the House ought to look after the rights of the labouring poor and their successors. That eminent statesman remarked that, although a man might receive a pound or two by way of compensation for the abolition of his right to turn a horse or a cow on to a common, yet the money would be spent in a few weeks, and nothing would be left for the poor man's successors. He (Mr. Fawcett) was determined that in future these Inclosure Bills should not pass unchallenged. This was a matter which did not affect the agricultural labourers only, for the Commissioners themselves said that, with regard to allotments, the working men in large towns were, perhaps, even more deeply interested than the labourers in country districts. Allotments placed within the roach of the artizan many luxuries and comforts, besides giving him healthy recreation, which would benefit him physically and morally. The agricultural labourers had no direct representatives in that House—he wished they had—but that was the very reason why their interests should be earnestly and closely watched over. He was most anxious that those agricultural labourers who possessed rights in the soil should no longer have those rights ignored and neglected without a protest being made in the House of Commons, and he therefore moved that the Bill be re-committed.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the words "Bill be" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "re-committed, in order that from the proposed Inclosures some land may be reserved as allotments for the labouring poor, in accordance with the provision of the Act 8 and 9 Vic, c. 118, sections 30 to 34,"—(Mr. Fawcett,) —instead thereof.

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


would readily admit that the object of the hon. Member for Brighton was most excellent, but thought the hon. Gentleman had promoted it in such a manner, and at such a time, that the result would be detrimental to the very object he had in view. The question that had been raised was a very large one—namely, whether the poor had been sufficiently well treated under the provisions of the Acts of Parliament relating to enclosures. His hon. Friend had truly stated that in the debates of 1845, when the present General Inclosure Act was brought in, Gentlemen of eminence and ability asserted that the interests of the poor had been neglected. But it was for that very reason that, in the interest of the poor, the Bill of 1845 was introduced. Prior to that time all enclosures which were effected by Acts of Parliament were effected by means of Private Bills. But it was impossible for the poor to be at the expense of appearing before Private Bill Committees of the House of Commons, and they were therefore placed at great disadvantage. The object of the Act of 1845 was to remedy this evil and to provide a cheap and local inquiry which should precede the enclosure of common lands. He (Mr. Knatchbull Hugessen) would beg the House, and those Members especially who had not made themselves acquainted with the existing system, to consider for a moment what that system really was. The Commissioners could initiate nothing until application had been made to them by persons interested to the amount of one-third in value of the lands proposed to be enclosed. They then sent down an Assistant Commissioner, who, after due notice, summoned a meeting to hear any objections to the proposed enclosure, and after full and careful enquiry, made his report. If that report was in favour of enclosure, the Commissioners made a provisional order, of which again full notice was given—another meeting was held to obtain the consent of those interested, and nothing could be done unless the consent was obtained of those interested in two-thirds of the value of the lands proposed to be dealt with. Then, after ample opportunities had been given for objections to be raised, a Bill was introduced into that House to confirm the previous acts of the Commissioners, and when that confirmation was given, the matter went on. But now, after all these preliminary acts had been done without any objection, the hon. Member for Brighton wished to step in and refuse to allow these enclosures to proceed, on the ground that the poor had not had awarded to them sufficient allotments. But there had been no complaint whatever of this kind with regard to any of the commons with which this Bill proposed to deal. If the hon. Member had brought forward any specific charge relating to the case of any one particular common, he (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) on being satisfied that there were any fair grounds for such charge, would have acted as he had done in the case of Wisley Common, and would have withdrawn that case and referred it to a Select Committee. But there being only a general idea of wrong to the poor expressed by the hon. Member for Brighton, it was hardly desirable that he should enforce his views by obstructing the third reading of the present Bill. Those who wished for an alteration of the law would do better to propose that alteration in a definite manner, or move for a Select Committee to consider the whole question of enclosures. Now, it was a great mistake to suppose that the Commissioners did not entertain and fully consider the question of allotments to the labouring poor. They did so in every case to which the allotment clauses of the Act were applicable, and they exercised the discretion which was left to them by the Act. It might be doubted whether that discretion should be so left to them; but if the House took a contrary view, and wished that, in every case, without reference to local circumstances, a certain quantity of land should be set out as allotments, let them make that alteration in the law, and the Commissioners would doubtless be ready to carry it out. Now, with regard to what had been already done, he (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had made careful enquiry, and indeed, long before the Notice of the hon. Member for Brighton, the attention of the Home Office had been called to this matter by the Report of the Commission appointed to inquire into the condition of Women and Children employed in Agriculture. The Inclosure Commissioners had lately obtained answers from 105 localities in which they had made these allotments, with the following results. In seventy cases the allotments made by the discretion of the Commissioners were reported to be perfectly ample and sufficient, in ten cases they were insufficient—that is to say, that more land could have been let, had more been allotted; in seventeen cases they were reported as being more than sufficient and found not to be used. In the remaining eight cases the answers were not explicit. Now he had inquired into the enclosures proposed by the present Bill and was assured that the Commissioners had carefully considered each case. It must be remembered that ', the circumstances of enclosures varied greatly; and it was a mistake to suppose that it was a wise and salutary thing to make these allotments everywhere without due inquiry and consideration. In certain parts of the country they might be most desirable, whilst in others they were of very doubtful advantage. For example—was a rule to be laid down that on a bare mountain side, where no labouring poor existed within several miles, allotments should nevertheless be set out for the labouring poor? But the truth was that there was another principle held by some hon. Gentlemen, upon which he would offer no opinion of his own at that moment—namely, the principle of providing allotments for a; prospective population. The Commissioners assigned as the reason why they had not made allotments in some cases, that every existing cottage had a sufficient garden. The House might alter the law, if it pleased, by directing that in all cases an allotment should be set out for every cottage in the parish or district, or a certain portion of land reserved for a prospective population; but then, let such a provision be duly set forth in an Act of Parliament, and do not blame the Commissioners for having exercised, to the best of their ability, the discretion hitherto entrusted to them by Parliament. So far as he (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) could gather he believed they had acted fairly and impartially, and with a due regard to the interest of the commoners. The hon. Member appeared to wish to deal with the question from a broad and national point of view; let him then move for a Select Committee, or bring in a Bill upon the subject, and it should receive the fairest consideration. The desire of the Government was to give every attention to the interests of the poor who were not there to speak for themselves. His right hon. Friend at the head of the Home Department had long been, and still was, as anxious as any man that the interests of the poor should be well considered in all these cases of enclosure and, for himself, he fully shared in that anxiety. The House, however, must not forget that there were other points to consider. It was easy to rise in that House and assume a popular position as the especial champion of the poor, but there were rights of property which must also be considered. Although no lawyer, he believed his law would not be disputed, when he stated that the legal right to these common lands was vested in the Lord of the Manor, and in those persons, rich or poor, having certain common rights which were of a varied character. All these persons were invariably considered, and their claims fully dealt with in the case of an enclosure. The rights of the public were really of an indefinite character—such as right of way—and did not exist to the extent which some persons imagined. Of course it was desirable to preserve open spaces near large towns; no one was a stronger advocate than himself of such preservation, and Parliament could, if it pleased, pass a general enactment that no such spaces should be enclosed within a certain distance of the metropolis and other large towns. This, however, was not the present question. Wisley having been removed from the Schedule, none of the commons dealt with in the present Bill were near to large towns, and it was hardly right, at the third reading, when no individual complaint had been made in any case, to step in and prevent persons, who had in every respect complied with the Act of Parliament and had incurred expenses in so doing, from proceeding in the ordinary way pointed out by law. Rather let them pass the present Bill and deal afterwards with the general question. In that way they would arrive at a more satisfactory conclusion than by re-committing this Bill, and he therefore hoped that the hon. Member would not press his Amendment.

MR. T. HUGHES moved the adjournment of the debate.


said, he had hoped that some determination would have been arrived at that night upon the Motion of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett); but he thought after the speech of the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen), the question had assumed an aspect which called for its further discussion by the House. The Under Secretary blamed the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) for introducing a question of that nature at the time he had done so; but it appeared to him the hon. Member was perfectly innocent in that respect, as he had only brought forward his Amendment at a stage of the Bill proposed by the Government. The Under Secretary said that if the hon. Member for Brighton would propose some distinct inquiry on the question there would be no objection to that; but that the present Bill should be passed without further discussion. Now, for himself, he confessed he was unable to reconcile the statements made by the Under Secretary. If they were clearly to understand that no complaints whatever had been brought before the Home Office against any enclosure proposed by that Bill, then there might be force in the argument of the Under Secretary; but if any such complaints had been brought before the Home Office, then he thought the Amendment of the hon. Member was justifiable in point, not only of time, but also of substance. His impression was that, at the time the Act of 1845 was passed, it was the intention of Parliament that whenever an enclosure was made there should be a reservation for the purposes both of recreation and allotment. For a time after the passing of the Act such reservations were made; but, of late years, the practice, he believed, had been very much the other way. He thought the hon. Member for Brighton had a primâ facie case for inquiry; but if the Secretary of State for the Home Department would say that no complaints had been made with respect to any one of these enclosures, then the House would have a right to ask the hon. Member to put his case in a more distinct form without reference to the particular matter now before them.


said, he hoped the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. T. Hughes) would withdraw his Motion. The discussion was entirely on a collateral issue, and the Bill ought to pass.


said, with reference to what had fallen from the noble Lord (Lord John Manners), no objection, he believed, had been made, and none could have been made unknown to him, except with respect to Wisley Common, and they had consented to its with- drawal from the Bill in order that the enclosures, to which there had been no objection, should go on. This was a matter of mere administration. The Bill had gone through its other stages in the ordinary way, it had passed through Committee, and now stood for third reading; and yet, without any intimation that injustice would be done, or any complaints being heard from the persons affected, they were asked to recommit it, in order to make special investigation and to invite objections. Under these circumstances, it was for the House to say what they would do with the Bill. For his part, he had no objection to the fullest investigation; but he would appeal to the hon. Member whether it was worth while to pursue the discussion on the Bill, and whether it would not be better to raise the question on the general principle.


said, that the Secretary of State for the Home Department had stated that no objection had been made to the Bill by the persons affected. But what the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) contended was that the persons who were likely to suffer by it would not be able to make their complaints heard, and that was the strong ground upon which he asked the House to re-consider the question. What were the facts? It was proposed by the Bill that 7,000 acres of land should be enclosed, and, in spite of the provisions of the Inclosure Acts which directed that certain allotments should be made to the labouring poor, out of these 7,000 acres only four acres was left to them. Now he would ask whether that simple fact would not appeal to the House for the postponement of the third reading? The Under Secretary had said that they had better let this Bill pass, and raise the question on some other measure. But they could not imagine that even Inclosure Commissioners would always act in the extraordinary manner in which they seemed to have done on the present occasion. Did the Inclosure Commissioners enjoy that lofty position which had been ascribed to them? The Under Secretary had said that the House of Commons had referred to these Commissioners the power of disposing of these lands. The House of Commons had done no such thing. If it had, why should this Bill come before the House? Now, what had the Home Secretary himself already done? He had struck Wisley Common out of the Schedule. But had he done so upon the representation of the poor people? Not at all; but because there appeared to many hon. Members to be what had been sometimes designated "a gross job." The Secretary of State for the Home Department had said that no complaints had been made; but how were these poor people to make their complaints heard at the Home Office? What was the hurry in this matter? Was the right hon. Gentleman afraid that something else would be found out? He hoped that the debate would be adjourned. He submitted that the judgment of the Commissioners ought not to be accepted as conclusive. The Commissioners had sent the Bill to that House; and unless they were to stultify themselves, they would pronounce an opinion upon it.


said, it would no doubt have been desirable that the debate should have closed; but, under the circumstances, the Government would offer no opposition to the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mr. T. Hughes). But if they were to adjourn the debate, they had better adjourn it at once.

Debate adjourned till Monday next.