§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [23rd February], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. FAWCETT
said that there appeared to be at length some prospect of Parliament giving to this important subject a portion of the attention which it deserved. Probably amongst the many shortcomings of this Parliament, and its predecessor, there was nothing which posterity would more entirely condemn than the fact that the inclosure of lands had been left to an irresponsible department, which, as he would prove, had neglected the interests of the public with wanton recklessness. Up to the year 1845 inclosures were carried on by Private Bills, and by this process, in a century and a-half, 7,000,000 acres of land were inclosed. The late Duke of Newcastle, a distinguished friend of the present Prime Minister, who carefully investigated this subject, stated, with regard to those 7,000,000 acres, that in almost every instance the public and the poor had been most shamefully neglected. Since 1845 a different system had been introduced. This House had taken upon itself the responsibility of considering the inclosure of lands, and it was almost unnecessary for him to describe the way in which they had discharged that duty. In regard to this question, there was no difference to be drawn between Conservative and Liberal Governments—they were all alike. The most passionate declamation about interest in popular rights, strong vociferations that the Government were anxious to prevent the people from being divorced from the soil, were forgotten; and a Liberal Government, in a householder's Parliament, used its whole influence to force Inclosure Bills through the House without comment or discussion. Anyone who had considered the condition of the agricultural labourer must be perfectly well aware that no inconsiderable portion of the present unsatisfactory state of things was to be traced to the manner in which inclosure of land had 1149 been permitted. This was abundantly proved by a great mass of evidence collected by the Commission which lately inquired into the condition of women and children employed in agriculture. Mr. Kebbell, summing up the evidence in a book which he had recently written, came to the conclusion that in the middle of the last century the agricultural labourer, so far as the power of obtaining the material necessaries of life was concerned, was in a far better condition than he was now; and this opinion was corroborated by almost every writer on political economy. The Rev. Mr. Davis, writing at the end of the last century, stated that the proprietary rights of agricultural labourers in the soil were greatly lessened, owing to the inclosure of land, and a class once possessing independence was being gradually reduced to the position of miserable Pariahs. The same process had gone on unchecked during the present century. It was no justification, but rather an aggravation, of this state of things to be constantly repeating platitudes about agricultural prosperity. What was the use of saying that the land was better cultivated, that wealth was rapidly increasing, that rents were rising, and farms were actively competed for, when, as a background to this glowing picture, there was a class of labourers eking out a miserable existence on 9s. or 10s. a-week; sometimes living in houses which did not deserve the name of human habitations; their children growing up in a state of ignorance, which could not be greater if England had lost her Christianity and her civilization; living day by day uncheered by hope, with no other prospect before them than that when their work was done they would have to become supplicant mendicants for the pauper's dole? It was true that during the last 10 years wages had been increased by 10 per cent; but in the same time there had been a rise of 20 per cent in articles of food consumed in the rural districts; while, in consequence of improved means of communication, prices had been, to a great extent, equalized throughout the country, so that the labourer could scarcely live more cheaply in the country than he could in the metropolis. Before the opening up of the railway system, 25 years ago, articles such as milk, of essential importance to the labourer, could be 1150 obtained in the rural districts for nothing; but now, labourers' families suffered greatly from the difficulty of obtaining milk. Formerly there was a common in nearly every village, on which the labourer could keep cows, pigs, or poultry; but in the present day it was a rare thing to find a labourer who was able to keep a cow. Probably it would be said that this Bill would remedy the evil, and if he thought so he would cordially support it. He did not blame his hon. Friend who had charge of the Bill (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), because a subordinate Member of the Government, to a great extent, sacrificed his individuality; and he was sure that if the Prime Minister gave the hon. Gentleman despotic power in this matter, he would bring in a measure which would fully satisfy those who hold the most extreme views. His fundamental objection to this Bill was, that it still left the whole question to the irresponsible department of the Inclosure Commissioners. It might be said that securities were taken to prevent their neglecting their duties in future; but he would show that powers far too great were left to them, and that if the Bill passed it would be more difficult than ever for the House to resist improper inclosures. He had intentionally spoken in strong terms of the Inclosure Commissioners; and when the House had heard a few facts which he had to mention it would agree that it required a more accomplished speaker than himself to find language of sufficient severity to condemn their conduct. Hitherto he had been obliged to call attention to this subject at 2 o'clock in the morning, when the reporters had left the Gallery; and, therefore, he intended to avail himself of the opportunity of a Morning Sitting to show what the Inclosure Commissioners had done in the past, and then he was sure the public would require the House to prevent such proceedings in future. Two years ago an Inclosure Bill was introduced to the House, proposing to inclose 6,900 acres of land in different parts of the country. The Inclosure Commissioners were bound, by the most solemn obligation, to reserve a proper quantity for the public and the poor. How did they discharge that duty? Out of the 6,900 acres they reserved three acres as recreation ground for the public and six acres as allotment gardens for the poor. Not only did the Commis- 1151 sioners do this, but the Government—a Liberal Government—did not utter one word of protest against their proceedings. They introduced this Bill, read it a second time, forced it through Committee, and it was only on the third reading, and with great difficulty, that it was stopped and referred to a Select Committee. The Government evidently thought an hon. Member was travelling out of the usual forms of the House in venturing to express a dissent from measures which they seemed to consider ought to be passed merely as matters of form. The Bill was eventually referred to two Select Committees. One of the commons proposed to be inclosed was in the metropolitan area at Wisley, and the proposal with regard to that common was referred to a separate Select Committee. The common consisted of 380 acres, and the Inclosure Commissioners reserved two acres as recreation ground for the public, and nothing for the poor. The Select Committee examined witnesses from the neighbourhood, and as the result of their deliberations proposed to increase the reservation ground by 300 per cent, and unanimously decided that the poor should have the utmost that could be allowed as allotment gardens under the Act. But he would mention a still stronger case. It was also proposed in the Bill to inclose another common at Withypool of 1,906 acres, and out of that number of acres the Inclosure Commissioners reserved one miserable acre as recreation ground for the public. The Committee sent for evidence from the neighbourhood, and being a Member of the Committee, he wrote for the parish clerk and the village schoolmaster. In giving evidence before the Committee the Inclosure Commissioners justified their extraordinary reservation upon four distinct grounds. In the first place, they said that a larger recreation ground was not used; in the second, they asserted that the common was never resorted to by the inhabitants of Withypool; thirdly, that there were numerous other commons close to it; and, lastly, that only one acre was reserved because the rise of the ground was so steep that it was impossible to find any other ground suitable for a place of recreation. In answer to their precise allegations, the parish clerk and schoolmaster, whose evidence was not shaken, stated, firstly, that the miser- 1152 able reservation of one acre had caused the greatest possible discontent in the neighbourhood; second, that the common was constantly and repeatedly used, that the friendly societies held their meetings there, and that on summer evenings there were generally 50, 60, or 70 people walking about on it; thirdly, they proved by maps that the nearest other common was five miles away; and, fourthly, they proved by plans that the acre reserved was in the corner of a triangular piece of 10 acres, the remaining 9 acres being in every respect identical with the character of the soil and their elevation. Was it necessary for him to say more in order to convince the House that these Inclosure Commissioners could not be safely trusted; that their statements must be narrowly watched, and their proceedings carefully scrutinized? Possibly the supporters of the present Bill might say that it provided security against the misdoings of the Inclosure Commissioners; but that he denied. It came out in evidence that the local inquiries were a farce and a delusion, because they were almost invariably held at half-past 11 in the morning, when none of the labouring poor could attend. No notice of that practice was taken in the Bill. Again, there was no provision to ensure the public, who were interested, being invited to these inquiries to give evidence on the wants of the neighbourhood. It would be said that the Bill proposed, in every instance, to reserve the fixed proportion of one-tenth; but such a provision would not satisfy the requirements of every case. The Prime Minister the other night said it was necessary to pass the Bill, because its delay paralyzed the activity of the Department. What did that activity mean? The very moment this Bill should be passed another Bill, which was ready in the Department, would be introduced, proposing to inclose 28 commons consisting of 18,000 acres. He wished to check that kind of activity. Amongst those 28 commons was one of 70 acres, in the heart of a most populous district, surrounded by the hard-working population of the Potteries. The common possessed great natural beauties, and was much resorted to by the inhabitants of the neighbourhood; but what would the present Bill effect with regard to that common? It would take away all the 70 acres, with 1153 the exception of three and a-half acres for allotment gardens and three and a-half acres for recreation ground, and would also deprive the population of the enjoyment they derived from the natural beauties of the place. However difficult it had been to fight the Inclosure Commissioners in the past, it would be more difficult to fight them in the future, if the present Bill was passed, because it would be said that the House was bound to pass Inclosure Bills with a reservation of one-tenth, as that was the arrangement sanctioned by Parliament. Inclosures would then go on more rapidly than ever, and that House, composed in a great measure of landowners, wrapping itself up in self-complacency, would be able to say that it had done all that was required in reserving one-tenth of the inclosures for the public. The Inclosure Act of 1845 was described in its Title as "An Act to facilitate the Inclosure and Improvement of Commons and Lands held in common." He wished to have the policy of the past reversed, and to retard inclosures. It was of the utmost importance that all waste land should be surveyed; that such parts as had great natural beauty should be reserved for the public. This was the proposal of his hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department; and he was quite sure his hon. Friend was far too sound a politician to change his position.
§ MR. FAWCETT
meant the present Under Secretary for the Home Department (Mr. Winterbotham). He very well recollected his hon. Friend's speech. The most plausible arguments in favour of inclosures were supposed to be furnished by political economy; but probably no other science had ever had so many bad things done in its name as that had. He ventured to assert that after inclosure had attained a certain point, and one which was long since attained in this country, political economy did not supply a single argument in favour of inclosure; but, on the contrary, its principles, if worth anything, would tend to show that inelosure, if not stopped altogether, should be carried on with great care and caution. One of the most remarkable changes in the rural districts was that within the last 1154 25 years there had been a strong tendency in favour of having pasture land. The reason was this—we obtained corn from all the world—India, Australia, California; but for dairy produce and such perishable commodities we had to rely chiefly on our own soil. The consequence was that produce became inevitably dearer with our progress in wealth and population. Much of the common land that had been inclosed was some of the best pasture in the kingdom; and if it should be said that whilst common it did not, from want of drainage, produce so much as it might, he would remind hon. Members that that argument might be extended to private property, which in many cases did not certainly produce the utmost of which it was capable. Again, it might be said that commons were ill looked after; but that was an argument for better management, and not for inclosures. Why not issue some kind of Commission, and treat all the commons in the country in the same way as those within the metropolitan area, providing some means for their improvement by means of a rate? If a common was not used for the purpose of recreation the whole rate should be paid by the lord of the manor and the commoners who used the common. If, on the other hand, the common was used for the purpose of recreation, then it was only fair that a considerable portion should be thrown on the rates of the neighbourhood. It was said that the inclosure of commons promoted the production of wealth and gave employment to the poor; but this remarkable fact came out in evidence—that in many localities where the largest inclosures had been made the population had absolutely diminished since these inclosures had been effected. What was the reason? Nothing could be more erroneous than to suppose that this desire to inclose land was solely promoted by philanthropical anxiety to increase the productive resources of the country. In thousands of instances the commons inclosed did not produce a single blade of grass or a single ear of wheat more than when they were an open space; the only difference between their inclosed and un-inclosed condition was this—that now a privileged few could shoot tame pheasants and hares and rabbits over them, whereas before they could be enjoyed 1155 alike by the whole public. It was said that we should have better securities in the future against improper inclosures; but what securities would there be if this Act were passed? In the present Session a Bill would be introduced to inclose 28 commons, and last Session there was an Inclosure Bill, which they had to fight night after night to prevent the Government from sneaking it through the House at 2 o'clock in the morning. It was quite by accident he discovered that, if that Bill had passed, it would have destroyed, as far as man could destroy, two of the most lovely pieces of scenery in the kingdom—it would have destroyed the beauty of the Lizard Point and Kynance Cove. There could be no satisfactory legislation until the method of procedure was entirely changed. Every Inclosure Bill introduced ought to be referred to a Select Committee, which should have power to take evidence from the locality. If they did that they would not be legislating in the dark as at present. When the Government were trying to pass an Inclosure Bill at 2 o'clock in the morning, he used to think of their platform speeches about elevating the people and not divorcing them from the soil. How could they more effectually divorce them from the soil than by inclosing every bit of common land, and what was the use of trying to elevate the people when they shut them out from those open spots where they could enjoy nature in her most beautiful aspects? All they did to elevate the people would be of no avail if they assisted those whose desire was to make this country as ugly as they could, instead of rendering assistance to those who wished to enjoy the invigorating influence to be derived from conversing with nature. It was said this Bill incorporated the provisions of the Bill of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Cowper-Temple) for the preservation of urban commons; but even if the commons were brought within the Metropolis Act, that would not give a security againstinclosure. Commons might be inclosed either by common law, or by means of Parliamentary interference, and there was nothing in the Act to prevent an inclosure at common law. This being so, every common in the country would be in imminent peril; and, indeed, every common might be inclosed unless commoners, sufficiently public-spirited and sufficiently wealthy, 1156 were found to resist it. The commons of Berkhampstead and Plumstead—two of the most lovely in the country—would have been inclosed but for the efforts and expenditure of two gentlemen—Mr. Augustus Smith and the junior Member for Rochester (Mr. Goldsmid)—who spent in legal proceedings many thousands of pounds. What he desired was that the survey suggested by his hon. Friend the Under Secretary for the Home Department should be carried out with the least possible delay. We should then know all the commons that were worth preserving on the score of natural beauty or proximity to large towns, and the Government might be left to take on itself the responsibility of preserving them—always bearing in mind, as at Wimbledon, that lords of the manor should be amply compensated for any rights they might have. He should be sorry to be misunderstood on that point, anxious as he was to preserve commons. He never would be a party to any such proceeding without compensating all those who had a legal interest in them. He begged to thank the House for the great patience with which they had listened to what he feared had been too long a statement. Every Inclosure Bill ought to be referred to a Select Committee, and that should take evidence from the neighbourhood of the land proposed to be inclosed. These waste lands offered areas for the present enjoyment of those who possessed privileges over them, and they ought to be further regarded as reserves which might be used for promoting the future well-being of the country; for instance, after those who possessed rights over them had received proper compensation, it was possible they might be used for trying great social experiments in co-operative agriculture. He would vote with the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot) for referring the Bill to a Select Committee, for, although their views might be different, it was impossible to have a more straightforward opponent than the hon. and gallant Member was, and time only could show which of them would gain most by further inquiry. This was a matter on which the House was bound to act with the greatest care, because if any mischief were done it could never be repaired the same as an ordinary error of taxation or legislation. If a common were improperly inclosed, the evil would be con- 1157 tinuous for all time, and would be absolutely irrevocable. A great statesman, whom many in the House aspired to follow, said there was no subject on which the House ought to act with, greater care and circumspection. If these words had been heeded, an incalculable amount of mischief, which could never be remedied, would never have been committed, and the public would not have been, deprived, as they had been, of privileges which money could not restore. This was not a question of a day nor of an hour, nor for to-morrow only, but for all time. Not the least valuable of what we had inherited from our predecessors were portions of the country in which nature had not been spoilt by man; and let us be careful that we were not less generous to those who would come after us, for no amount of vaunted civilization, no accumulation of wealth, could justify us in the eyes of posterity if we left this country shorn of the beauty with which it had been endowed by nature.
§ MR. BONHAM-CARTER
, having heard the evidence given in relation to Withypool Common, on the borders of Exmoor, thought it desirable to correct the impression produced by the reference made to the case by the hon. Member for Brighton. The acre of land spoken of as all that had been reserved for recreation purposes was only set aside as the playground of a very small school. The population of the village was only from 120 to 150. The number of houses was about 30; there was no other village in the neighbourhood, and it was only once a year that a friendly society resorted to the common. He believed that the inquiries of the Assistant Commissioners were conducted in a proper manner, and that, when all circumstances were considered, the results were generally satisfactory. It was desirable that local authorities should have power to buy land required for parks, but to take land without purchase was unjust. He believed that the Inclosure Department had served the country well; and as to the interests of the poor, he could quite understand the labourer saying, in reference to common land, that he could earn good wages from it if it were under the plough. He believed that the present law worked beneficially.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
entirely demurred to some of the statements made by the hon. Member for 1158 Brighton, and there were three points to which he would more particularly refer. First of all, he told the House that it was largely representative of landowners; but he would ask the House to consider the provisions of the Bill proposed to be brought in the previous night by a right hon. Gentleman who commanded a large majority in this House of landowners. The hon. Member for Brighton also told the House that the pasture land was diminishing, and that consequently the produce of pasture land was more expensive to obtain. He also descanted upon so much property being turned to private use. Now, with regard to the whole subject, it appeared to him (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) that much of the difficulty which had obtained in this measure was owing to the uncertain and vacillating conduct of the Government. Two Sessions ago the hon. Member for Brighton had objected strongly and successfully to the consideration of the Inclosure Bill; and his objections had been so strongly pressed that he secured the appointment of a Select Committee to consider the whole question, and his hon. Friend the Member for Sandwich (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen), the then Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, represented the Government on that Committee. He would with confidence appeal to the hon. Member for Brighton, and those who supported him on that Committee, if the hon. Member for Sandwich had acted in a retrograde spirit. Had not all his wishes been embodied in the Report which had been presented? And having done that, the hon. Member for Sandwich brought in a Bill last Session, which not only comprised the recommendations of the Committee, to which he, for one, had no objection, but which very seriously interfered with the rights of property. And this Bill which was now brought in was, to a very large extent, a copy of the Bill of last Session. He did not blame the present Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) in the matter, as he had acted in perfect accordance with the opinions he had held at all times. This Bill had been introduced by him when Under Secretary of the Home Department; but the hon. Member who succeeded him at the Home Office could not be supposed not to have devoted his attention to this question. On the contrary, on the se- 1159 cond reading of this Bill he laid down his views at very great length. And what did the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Winterbotham), the present Under Secretary, say? He told the House that the present Bill which was now before the House did not go far enough; that it only recognized the interests of the locality; and he laid down as his opinion that no inclosure ought to be made until the Secretary of State was satisfied that the interests of the public at large would not be injuriously affected. These might be the opinions of the hon. Member; but if they were, it was extremely odd that he should be obliged to sit on the Treasury Bench and hear another Member of the Government advocate a Bill connected with his own Department, and with which he himself did not agree. [Mr. WINTERBOTHAM: I do approve of it.] The hon. Gentleman went beyond it. It seemed to him a most anomalous position for any Member of the Government to be placed in, as he believed the rule was that Members of the Government were in the habit of proposing measures with which they concurred. He was willing to leave the question in the hands of his hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), and he believed it would be better dealt with by him than by the hon. Member for Stroud; because the views of the hon. Member for Reading were moderate in comparison, and were more likely to commend themselves to the House than those of the hon. Member for Stroud, which, if adopted in legislating on more important subjects, might seriously interfere with the stability of Her Majesty's Government. He would now briefly refer to the principles of the measure which were not recommended by the Committee of the year before last. The 3rd clause took away the discretion which Parliament had hitherto vested in the Inclosure Commissioners. The hon. Member for Brighton did not consider that this went far enough, and wished to see the Commissioners abolished altogether. But these inclosures could not be properly considered generally; and the merits of each case required to be gone into by some body like the Commissioners. The Bill provided that in every case an allotment not less than one-tenth of the whole land inclosed, except where it would exceed 50 acres, should be set apart for recreation ground 1160 or field garden. Now, in a thinly-populated district it was possible there might not be 50 persons living within a reasonable distance who might be able to take advantage of that allotment. An allotment to that extent was simply waste ground, and he could not see any purpose whatever to which it could fairly refer. Then, the 4th clause dealt with, land of a description which had never before been subject to an allotment of this kind, because under the old Acts only land subject to the rights of common were subject to allotment. That clause provided that—Where the public have been in the habit of using any commonable land at any time of the year for the purposes of exercise and recreation, and such commonable land is proposed to be inclosed, the Commissioners shall, in their provisional order relating to such land, specify, as one of the terms and conditions of the inclosure thereof, the appropriation free of all charge of an allotment for a recreation ground.But what did recreation mean? Did it mean that a small number of people by simply strolling over commonable land all the year round should be entitled to claim an allotment for the purpose of exercise and recreation, which, probably, would be of no use to them? Then, again, it was proposed to keep up public paths, rides, and rights of way. He was glad they were going to keep these up, as they were of very much more use than recreation ground could possibly be. It seemed to him that the Bill proposed to set apart allotments for the purpose of field gardens, in utter disregard of the number of the poor. He was in favour of allotments for the benefit of the neighbouring poor, but he would like to know of what service these allotments would be if they were too large for a labourer to cultivate during his spare time, or if they were so far distant from his cottage that he could not convey to them manure, or reach them within a reasonable time. In every ease they would be of no service at all. Disagreeing with the hon. Member for Brighton, he held that inclosures were, as a rule, very beneficial to the country. He certainly admitted that there might be cases, and frequent cases, where a common, or part of a common, would act as the lungs of a great town, and in such cases it would be by no means desirable to inclose them. But, as a general rule, inclosures were beneficial, because they directly increased the number of the proprietors 1161 of the land in the country. In the second place, they increased the produce of the country, and therefore were of service to the whole of the population. In the third place, they provided work for those who might be otherwise unemployed, and that was a purpose, to his mind, of very great use. All those benefits taken together, greatly outweighed the advantages to the professional vagrant, if he might use the term, to the professional man who wanted a right to ramble over a common, and who was rather disposed to claim a "knapsack title" to property which did not belong to him. But even after the commons there were plenty of mountains which he could wander over wherever he would. While he was in favour of the Bill, he should like to see it referred to a Select Committee, in accordance with the Notice of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot) because he believed it could be better considered by such a body than by the whole House, and would thereby stand a better chance of being made fair and equitable in its provisions.
MR. LEVESON GOWER
said, he would like to see some modification of the Bill; but, at the same time, he could see that these modifications could be introduced in a Committee of the Whole House, and therefore he would vote against the Amendment. He was also certainly anxious that fuller inquiry should be made into the subject. He had been a Member of the Inclosure Committee which sat two years ago, and he regretted that the scope of the inquiry had been limited to the operation of the Inclosure Act. He thought it would have been desirable, if they had had it in their power, to inquire into the general policy of inclosures. Such an inquiry was most desirable, and he did not see why such an inquiry should not be made independently of this Bill. He thought that his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) in referring to this Committee, had been a little hard upon it, for he had listened to the evidence brought before it, and he could not come to the conclusion which had been come to by his hon. Friend, as he believed the Committee had exercised its duties in a satisfactory manner. He agreed with the hon. Member in lamenting the condition of the agricultural labourers of this country; but he did 1162 not think he could go the length of concurring with him in his statement that their condition had deteriorated. He could say from his own experience that their condition had decidedly improved. They were now better lodged, clothed, fed, and educated than they were only a few years ago, and they had the great advantage of cheaper and more abundant fuel. Still less could he agree with his hon. Friend that inclosures had injured the condition of the labouring classes; in fact he held an entirely opposite view. He held they had been of benefit to the community, and had conferred important advantages on the labouring classes. He generally found that the labouring poor in the neighbourhood of commons were in a less satisfactory condition than where no commons existed. In the county with which he was connected there was a desire among the people that the waste lands should be inclosed, and the poor people were very anxious indeed, in many cases, for inclosures; they felt they would be benefited. It was true that philanthropy was not the motive which caused inclosures of commons to be wished for, but the converse was equally true, for, after all, the people who obtained the greatest enjoyment from the maintenance of large open tracts of land were those who could afford to take the greatest amount of equestrian and pedestrian exercise upon them. Much as he desired a general inquiry into the question, he desired the passing of the Bill more, and he should therefore support the second reading as against the Motion for reference to a Select Committee.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, he thought, if this Bill was passed in its integrity it would forestall the greater part of the inquiry which was desired by his hon. Friend who had just sat down, and for this reason he intended to support the Amendment of his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Barttelot). The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) had asserted that the agricultural population owed their present position very much to the fact of these inclosures. But, in general, it could be shown that the cultivation of the soil did not always improve in proportion to the small holdings which were created, and there was a very remarkable instance of that in the state of cultivation in Ireland. The great difficulty 1163 in raising the cultivation of the soil there, in many instances, was the difficulty of bringing labour into the country, because the soil, in every part of the country had been divided into small holdings, and the inducement had not been sufficient to import capital into the cultivation of the soil. Further acquaintance with the Bill had not increased his admiration of it. There were some parts in it of which he could not approve, and he should wish to see it referred to a Select Committee. The first part of the Bill dealt with commons in rural districts; and, with respect to them, he thought the Bill laid down too hard-and-fast a line. In preventing inclosure they would prevent a considerable addition to the arable land of the country, and thereby the employment of much labour, whilst the portion set apart would, in many instances, become the haunt of tramps, and of no benefit to anyone. When he came to consider the second part of the Bill he was still more impressed with the notion that it was desirable that a Select Committee should consider it. He maintained that the principle of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hampshire (Mr. Cowper-Temple), which had originated this part of the present Bill, had never been properly investigated, and he thought that the details of this measure called for the most careful consideration. As the provisions of the Bill then stood, he thought it would operate very prejudicially in many parts of England; and on this point, especially, it was that he desired to see further inquiry.
§ MR. T. HUGHES
concurred in thinking that further inquiry was necessary. He thought that great confusion would result if the Bill were adopted as it then stood. It must be remembered that this Bill would affect every village where there was common land to be dealt with. This Bill would have to be considered with a number of other Acts which were not easy of interpretation, and which it would not be easy to reconcile with each other. If passed into law as it stood, it, in conjunction with the Acts referred to in the schedule, would form the inclosure law of the kingdom. The aspect of the British vestryman sitting down to consider these 12 Acts with a view to their interpretation—especially considering that portions of several of them were repealed by the Bill now 1164 before the House—was not very cheerful. No person, not a skilled lawyer, could interpret them satisfactorily; and he thought there should be some codification of these various Acts, so that the law upon the subject might be made clear. In the present day, when historical monuments were beginning to be valued, the question was of peculiar importance as regarded some of the spots in the country rendered most famous by events of historical interest. He regretted to hear that so interesting a spot as the Roman camp at Wimbledon was about to be broken up, and the site to be used as building ground. The battlefield of Newbury, near which he had lived for many years, was classic ground; and he regretted to say that the spot where Falkland was killed, and the spot where the train-bands of London had made their famous stand, with Essex and his white hat and plume in their centre, had been inclosed, and the mounds where the dead were interred cut through and defaced. If the question were taken to a Division, he should vote for the Motion of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot). With respect to what had been said as to the advantage of inclosing these wastes, in order to give industrial employment to unemployed labour, he did not think that was a very strong argument. Inclosure would throw all these lands into private hands, and that policy had gone too far already in his opinion.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
declined to take notice of invidious comparisons drawn between himself and his Colleagues further than to say that it was untrue that he had sacrificed his individuality to their demands. Many hon. Members were aware that he had always given great attention to the subject of commons, and he would be wanting in self-respect if he had consented in office to support a Bill inconsistent with his professions out of office. But this Bill he entirely approved; it was a liberal and practical measure, although it did not respond to the full extent of the wishes of his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett). The House would bear in mind that this question was one of considerable difficulty and delicacy. Two classes of opinions had been expressed on this subject. Some persons contended generally that the commons 1165 should remain as they were, and that, at all events, it was an almost absolute necessity that commons in the neighbourhood of large towns should be kept open. On the other hand, there were persons who entertained an opposite opinion, and who contended that, for the sake of the employment of the labouring classes, all available land should be brought into cultivation. The Bill was framed so as to meet the views of both to same extent. It would not interpose difficulties in the way of inclosure in rural districts, but would, in all such cases, insure greater regard to the interest of the labouring classes and the public than had heretofore been the case, and as regards the commons in the neighbourhood of towns, it prohibited inclosure through the Inclosure Commissioners. His hon. Friend the Member for Brighton had hardly done justice to the Inclosure Commissioners under the Act of 1845 in respect of the allotments they had made for public use. The duty of those Commissioners was undoubtedly to inclose, and they were bound by very narrow restrictions as to the amount of allotment they could set apart; and it should always be remembered that their orders had, in all eases, been submitted to Parliament, so that Parliament was as much, if not more, responsible for any errors of the past than the Commissioners. The Bill under consideration dealt with allotments in a more liberal spirit than the Act of 1845, and required one-tenth of any land dealt with to be set apart for recreation ground or labourers' allotment. It contained, however, a proviso that the allotment should not exceed 50 acres, This restriction was not originally contained in the Bill, but had been inserted at the instance of the hon. Member for Radnorshire (Mr. Walsh), who had pointed out the case of commons, consisting of mountainous lands in Wales, which it was desired to inclose rather for the sake of separating the sheep and cattle than for the purpose of increasing the production of the land; and where, if so large a proportion as one-tenth were required, no inclosure would take place. The proposal to set apart one-tenth would yield a much larger proportion of land for the public than that yielded under the Act of 1854. But it was necessary to fix the maximum of land reserved to 50 acres, or owners would be disinclined to sacrifice so large a proportion to achieve their object in the case 1166 of wastes of above 500 acres. The difference between the operation of the Act of 1845 and this Bill was easily seen. Of the 370,000 acres inclosed under the Act of 1845, 3,700 acres only, or 1 per cent. had been reserved for labourers' allotments and recreation grounds; but 14,500 acres would have been reserved if the provisions of this Bill had been adopted. That part of the Bill dealing with suburban commons had been framed upon the model of an Act passed in 1866 having reference to metropolitan commons only. The Select Committee which had considered that Bill unanimously inserted a clause extending its provisions to the suburbs of all large towns; but the clause was struck out by the House of Lords as being foreign to the Bill. London was perhaps more fortunate than any other town in the country from the great number and beauty of the commons in its vicinity. There was no fewer than 140 or 150 commons, varying in size, but comprising altogether some 13,000 acres, within 15 miles of the metropolis. The Committee of 1865 made a careful examination into the condition of those commons. As regarded the legal position of the public, they reported that, although the law recognized the right of every village to its village green, founded upon user, yet it did not seem to have pressed the doctrine further in respect to commons in the neighbourhood of large towns—so that commons like Blackheath were not to be considered analogous to village greens. Well, what was the prospect of those commons remaining open for the public? They had hitherto remained open in consequence of the conflicting rights between the lords of the manors and the commoners; and the Committee thought there was every probability that the same causes would operate to keep them open in the future. The Report of that Committee and the Metropolitan Commons Act of 1866 was followed by very important consequences. The lords of the manors around London appeared to have been roused to the vindication of their supposed rights, and a considerable number of the commons near the metropolis were shortly afterwards inclosed. As had been anticipated by the Committee of 1865, in all these cases the commoners took action against the lords of the manors, and either brought suits in equity to restrain their inclosing or resorted to the ancient and constitutional 1167 practice of pulling down the fences. [A laugh.] The Master of the Rolls in one case affirmed that that was a constitutional practice, declaring, in answer to observations made upon what at first sight seemed to be rather a bold proceeding—namely, the sending down of 200 men from London to pull down the fences in the well-known case of Berkhampstead Common, that it was a perfectly legitimate transaction. Other suits in equity were brought through the unfortunate differences between Lord Spencer and the commoners of Wandsworth, and much light was thrown on the relations between lords of the manor and commoners by those proceedings. In all the cases that were tried out the decision had been that the lords of the manor were not justified in inclosing. In some cases compromises had been effected, as in the instance of Hampstead Heath, the Metropolitan Board of Works having agreed to give £45,000 for the lord's right, which was about one-tenth of the sum asked by the late lord, Sir Thomas Wilson; and in respect to Wimbledon and Wandsworth Commons, Bills were now before the House for dealing with these Commons, Lord Spencer agreeing on very liberal terms to resign his rights to trustees for the benefit of the public. He hoped to see that arrangement carried out. In the case of Plumstead Common and Tooting Common, the Master of the Rolls, he believed, had decided that the inclosures were illegal, but appeals to a higher Court were now pending in respect of them. The result, however, of that litigation, as far as it had gone, was not, indeed, that the lords of the manors had no right of inclosing, but that if any single commoner objected, the inclosure was practically impossible. It was, however, impossible not to admit that there was something curiously out of date in these suits. They were instituted ostensibly for the purpose of vindicating rights of turfing or of turning out cattle, but really in the interest of the public for the purpose of preserving them for recreation. The rights asserted by the commoners of cutting turf, lopping trees, and turning out sheep and cattle on those commons had long ago ceased to have any value to them. Everybody knew that on all the commons around London no cattle or sheep were turned out, no trees lopped, no turf cut by the commoners, and therefore the rights of the commoners were of an unsubstantial 1168 nature; but they were of the greatest value, so far as they could be used to prevent inclosure, and it might, therefore, be a question whether the law should not be amended so as to prevent illegal inclosures by lords of manors. He had frequently asserted his opinion that it would, be competent for Parliament to step in and either recognize practically what had been the user of the public or to prevent such inclosures as he had mentioned. At the same time, he would not recommend that clauses to that effect should be introduced into the present measure, because such a proposal, even if adopted by that House, would probably be rejected in the other House, and the Bill as it stood contained provisions of such value that he would be sorry to see it postponed until a more comprehensive measure had a fair chance of passing. The litigation to which he had alluded had somewhat deferred the operation of that part of the Bill of 1866 relating to the metropolitan commons, which had reference to schemes for their management. At the same time, two such schemes had been framed under that Act, from which they might judge of what was likely to be the effect of the Bill now before them in regard to the commons near other large towns. Those schemes related to Blackheath and Hayes Commons. The first was for enabling the Metropolitan Board of Works to drain and generally to improve the aspect of Blackheath, and the second, in respect to Hayes Common, was to much the same purport. The Bill before the House as to suburban commons extended the policy of the Act of 1866 to all commons within certain prescribed distances from towns in the country. The distances specified in the Bill were so moderate that he thought it reasonable to extend the measure to commons so situated. Formerly almost all our towns of importance were surrounded by commons on which the freemen had the right of turning out cattle; but those rights had either been lost to a great extent or the land had been inclosed; but there still remained a considerable number of commons in the neighbourhood of towns which it was desirable to keep open. In conclusion, he admitted that the subject was one of considerable difficulty, and therefore, looking at the general opinion that had been expressed by the House, he should not oppose the proposal for sending the 1169 Bill to a Select Committee after it had been read a second time, upon the understanding, however, that every endeavour would be made to pass it this Session, for, as had been stated the other evening by the Prime Minister, the action of the Department was altogether stayed by this Bill, and there were already about 30 cases of provisional orders waiting for the enactment of this measure.
§ MR. COWPER-TEMPLE
, in reply to observations respecting the principle of the Bill, denied that the measure would interfere with the rights of private property. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Bonham-Carter) seemed to forget that the rights of property in the lords of the manor never was of the same description as those which they had in their private estates. From the earliest time the lord of the manor had the fee-simple of that portion of the waste used for the enjoyment of the tenants of the manor; but he had never any right of excluding them, and practically now he could not exclude the public from it. If Parliament, in the exercise of its legislative power, conferred rights on the lords, the public ought not to be left without adequate compensation for being deprived of the use of the land. The allotment made to the public since 1845 had been insufficient; but the appropriation of one-tenth of the inclosed common to the use of the public, would not always be suitable, the quantity of land so set apart being sometimes above and sometimes below the requirements of the district. Under the circumstances, he was glad that the Government had assented to the proposal for sending this Bill to a Select Committee. The health and happiness of the inhabitants of towns would suffer if suburban commons ceased to be used for the recreation of the public. A Select Committee would make inquiry as to whether the prescribed area around towns could not be extended. Many suburban commons became a nuisance for want of management; a local authority enforcing order and expending rates in improvement, would convert them into people's parks for innocent amusement without infringement of rights of property; and the House would be guided to take that course most advantageous to the public interests while dealing justly with all parties.
MR. WINGFIELD BAKER
expressed his gratification at the prospect of lords 1170 of manor becoming general benefactors of the public under the provisions of the Bill; but he wished their real position to be understood. Under the Bill, one-tenth of the proposed inclosure, not exceeding 50 acres, was to be set apart for recreation grounds and gardens for the public. He asked the House to look how they would act with an inclosure of 400 acres at the rate of £1 per acre, from which 40 acres would be deducted as the tenth of the whole quantity. These 40 acres at £1 per acre would, at 30 years' purchase, be worth £1,200, equal to three years' purchase of the whole estate. Nobody could doubt this was a large contribution on the part of the lords of the manor. Then came, besides, the expenses of drainage, fencing, levelling, together with the expenses of passing the Bill through the House, which might be put at two years more purchase on the whole value of the inclosed 400 acres. What, he asked, was, that the state of things should be considered, and that the lords should be put in the same situation as the public, and as they got their 40 acres without paying any Parliamentary fees, the lords—the donors—should be put on the same footing as regards paying no fees.
said, that having during many years had occasion to assert the rights of the public, he was glad that this Bill had been brought forward though he did not think it went quite far enough with regard to those commons which were in the suburbs of large towns. He hoped the Committee would consider what would become of a common which the lord of the manor desired to inclose without application to the Inclosure Commissioners, no commoner being in a position to oppose him in consequence of the enormous expense of legal proceedings. That was almost the condition of Plum-stead Common when he took up that case on public grounds; for the authorities of Queen's College, Oxford, knowing that the consent of the commoners had once been refused, had actually began to inclose the common without any application to the Commissioners, and also without the consent of the commoners. He hoped that an attempt would be made in Committee to solve this problem; for as frequently it was impossible that a lord of the manor should be opposed by one commoner, who could only apply to the Court of Chancery, which. 1171 had been proved by experience to cost an extravagant sum of money, it was most expedient that a lord, who thus endeavoured to exercise entirely illegal (so-called) rights with a high hand, should be met by a summary method of proceeding.
§ MR. ASSHETON
objected to the principle of the Bill, although he would not move its rejection, as it seemed to be the general feeling of the House that it should be read a second time. He should not be doing justice to his constituents, however, if he did not express his opinion that the Bill would be a very bad one. We had had Inclosure Law Amendment Bills repeatedly since the general Act of 1845, having for their object the facilitating of the inclosure of land. From the provisions of this measure, and the speeches delivered in its support, he thought it might have been more appropriately entitled a Bill for securing a certain amount of open spaces in the neighbourhood of large towns. Certainly it was a great national object to obtain fresh air and recreation grounds in the vicinity of populous places; but there were two means by which that object could be accomplished more aptly than by those contained in the present measure. The burden ought to be undertaken by the people who brought the population there, and who made money out of the manufactures of large towns; yet there was no proposition to tax them; or it might be imposed upon the landowners whose land in the neighbourhood of busy and thriving towns had enormously increased in value without any effort having been made towards that end on the part of the proprietors. The Bill contemplated provision being made for the wants of populous places by a small class—namely, the joint owners of commons lands; and consequently, if passed, this would, be class legislation of the worst type. He did not wish to use unparliamentary language, but, altogether, he looked upon it as a very curious Bill.
§ MR. WHITWELL
said, in the county in which he resided 33 per cent of the whole land was uninclosed, and he thought this a most valuable Bill. On the first reading a promise had been made that the rights of the public should be fully considered; but so far as footpaths over mountainous districts were concerned, there was only power taken to set up such foot-paths for the people 1172 in the neighbourhood. That power ought to be extended, as no injury could be sustained by the pasturage, and he hoped that portion of the Bill would be altered. The right to prohibit inclosure on the part of any single individual should be abrogated; more than 50 acres should be taken as the quantity for the benefit of the community, and the expense of the dividing walls should be diminished. He hoped these points would receive the best attention of the Committee.
§ Question put, and agreed to; Bill read a second time.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
, in moving that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, wished it to be distinctly understood that the Committee should have power to send for persons, papers, and records. He did not desire to impede the progress of the Bill, knowing that it was absolutely necessary that some Bill should be passed; but it was important that evidence should be taken as to the quantity of land proposed to be taken for recreation grounds and garden allotments, and as to the commons around large towns where there might be minerals.
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, he hoped that the stipulation of the Secretary to the Admiralty about no delay taking place would not be held as controlling their freedom of action. Whether this measure passed this Session or not, above all things it was most important that there should be a thorough, complete, and searching investigation. The Government must understand that there was no pledge whatever to pass the Bill this Session as it came from the Committee.
§ COLONEL SYKES
expressed the hope that the Select Committee would have due regard for the rights of those labourers who had cottages and gardens on commons, and take care that they were not disturbed. The right to graze a donkey enabled the labourer to convey the produce of his bit of garden to market; and his wife enables him to eke out his scanty wages by the sale of a goose or two and a few fowls.
thought that, instead of agreeing to the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot), it would be better to refer the Bill in the ordinary way to the Committee, who, if they required 1173 further information, would take the necessary steps to obtain it.
Bill committed to a Select Committee.
And, on May 3, Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. COWPER-TEMPLE, Mr. LIDDELL, Mr. CHARLES HOWARD, Mr. WALSH, Lord EDMOND FITZMAURICE, Sir MICHAEL HICKS BEACH, Mr. VERNON HARCOURT, Mr. WILLIAM LOWTHER, Mr. JULIAN GOLDSMID, Colonel BARTTELOT, Mr. FAWCETT, Mr. SIMONDS, Mr. MARLING, Mr. WILLIAM HENRY SMITH, Mr. DIXON, Mr. KNIGHT, and Mr. SHAW LEFBVRE:—Seven to be the quorum.