HC Deb 14 February 1871 vol 204 cc275-9

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to Inclosures of Commons, and to provide for the management of Commons situate near Towns, said, that in most respects it was the same as the Bill which was introduced last year by his right hon. Friend the Under Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen, but which, like so many other Bills, failed because its passage was blocked by other business. That Bill was founded on the Report of a Committee moved for in the previous Session by his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) in consequence of numerous complaints being made that in recent inclosures the rights of the public and of the labouring poor had not been sufficiently considered. He would not now enter into a disquisition on the law of commons. It was sufficient to remark that the commons, which formerly formed so essential a feature of rural life, were lands which have remained open from time immemorial in consequence of numerous rights possessed by the inhabitants—such as turning out cattle and digging turf. It was also clear that, except under very special circumstances, inclosures could not be effected without the sanction of Parliament, and Parliament had either refused or given that sanction according to whether it would benefit the public or the reverse. The Inclosure Act of 1845 was passed with the double object of facilitating the inclosure of these lands which were better suited for cultivation, and of providing that the interests of the public and of the labouring poor should be more carefully looked after than they had been up to that time. In the Report of the Select Committee appointed in 1843 it was stated that in the inclosures which had been affected for many years prior to that date the interests of the public had been systematically disregarded. Now, the Act of 1845 instructed the Inclosure Commissioners, in the first place, to decide on the general expediency of each inclosure, and if they deemed it expedient they were to set apart a certain portion of the land, defined by the Act, for the purposes of recreation, while another portion was to be converted into allotments for the labouring poor. Since 1845 about 500,000 acres of commons had been inclosed under that Act, of which 364,000 acres were subject to common rights, and 3,671 acres had been allotted to the labouring poor. The Committee which sat two years ago was of opinion that the Act of 1845 was of too restrictive a character, and recommended various amendments to be made in it. Now, as regards the commons in agricultural districts, the Government were of opinion that no obstacle should be placed in the way of their inclosure; but that when they were inclosed the interests of the public and the labouring poor should be regarded in a more liberal spirit than heretofore. It was found very difficult, however, to lay down any general rule with regard to recreation grounds and allotments. The rules in the existing Act had, to a certain extent, failed already; and it was extremely difficult to frame any rule which would not be unequal and arbitrary. It was thought better, therefore, to require that a certain proportion should be allotted in all cases. By the present Bill he proposed to enact that one-tenth should be appropriated, according to the discretion of the Commissioners, either to public recreation or as allotments for the labouring poor. Last Session, however, he found that considerable opposition was raised to this proposal on the ground that, if in some parts of Wales, where the commons consisted mainly of mountain lands which were not generally appropriate for allotments, as much, as one-tenth were required to be thus appropriated, all inclosures would be practically put an end to. In the present Bill, therefore, he proposed to make this restriction—that the amount so allotted should in no case exceed 50 acres. With regard to the quantity of land likely to become subject to inclosure or to be converted into allotments, no certain data were procurable; but from estimates made in 1845 it appeared that about 8,000,000 acres of land in this country were unenclosed and subject to common rights. Since then about 500,000 acres have been inclosed—that would leave about 7,500,000 acres at the present time; but it should be borne in mind that a considerable proportion of this was situate in the mountainous districts of Wales, Westmoreland, and Cumberland. Still there was in the cultivated districts a considerable quantity of land which might be enclosed. The estimate was that from 25 to 30 per cent of the land in the mountainous districts was unin-closed, and about 11 per cent in the cultivated districts. When those lands were in the vicinity of large towns there was a general feeling that it was desirable to leave them open instead of subjecting them to inclosure and cultivation. Consequently, the Bill of last year provided that where it was proposed to inclose commons in the neighbourhood of large towns, the Inclosure Commissioners should not act except with the consent of the local authorities. At the same time, his right hon. Friend the Member for South Hants (Mr. Cowper-Temple) brought in a Bill to extend the operation of the Metropolitan Commons Act of 1866 to the commons in the neighbourhood of all large towns, to prohibit the Commissioners from entertaining any proposal for the inclosure of lands within a certain distance from large towns, to provide for their better management, and for the prevention of nuisances upon them. That measure passed the second reading by a considerable majority, and most of its provisions were incorporated in the Bill which he now asked for leave to introduce. The chief objection to the right hon. Gentleman's Bill was that it had reference not merely to commons in the neighbourhood of large towns, but also to commons of which only a very small portion might be within the proposed limits. An example of these might be found in the large common known as Cannock Chase. The limits within which it was proposed by the Bill that inclosures should not be made were one mile from the centre of a town of 5,000 inhabitants up to five miles from a town of 100,000 inhabitants. There would be no invasion of rights already possessed, but simply a restriction of the facilities for inclosure which had been granted by Parliament in the belief that inclosure was to the interest of the public. Now that Parliament had come to an opposite conclusion, it would simply withdraw the facilities it had granted, and would direct the Commissioners not to entertain applications for inclosure within those limits. With regard to commons near large towns, means were taken to provide for their improvement and the abatement of nuisances. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.


said, he was sorry the Government had not gone more boldly to the task. Any restrictions to be placed on the facilities for inclosure recklessly granted by Parliament in bygone years would be welcomed, for those facilities were given not for the protection of existing rights, but for the acquiring of new ones at the expense of the public. The process of inclosure was one which, sooner or later, must come to an end; it was one in which generations to come were interested, but in which they would find they had no voice.


said, although there might have been instances in which the public had suffered by inclosure it should be remembered that it was very desirable that waste land should be brought under cultivation. The bringing wild and common land into agriculture was of advantage equally to the labourer to whom it gave employment, and to the public who derived an increased amount of food. The distinction in this measure between rural and suburban commons made it an improvement upon the Bills of the last two Sessions.


said, it could easily be proved that reckless inclosure was one cause of the unsatisfactory condition of our rural population. Up to this Session successive Governments had treated the subject with contempt, and any effort to prevent the passing of Inclosure Bills was regarded almost as unparliamentary. Two years ago, when it was proposed to enclose 6,900 acres, only six were reserved for the poor; and yet it was necessary to resort to all forms of Parliamentary procedure to impede the progress of such a Bill, and it was with the utmost difficulty that it was prevented from passing into law. The hon. Member in charge of this Bill would certainly do as much for the poor and the public as his Colleagues would permit him to do. In some cases the allotment for the poor ought to be more than a tenth, and therefore, after the passing of the Bill, watchfulness would still be required to see that the public did not suffer through the adoption of an arbitrary line.


said, that six miles from Birkenhead there was a hill which commanded a fine view of the estuaries of the Mersey and the Dee, and from which the Isle of Man could be seen; this hill had been inclosed because the local inquiry was confined to the spot, whereas those who suffered by the in-closure were the people living within a radius of half-a-dozen miles. Nor had care been taken to preserve the pathways that were open for Saturday afternoon walks.


pointed out that great care ought to be taken to preserve footpaths and rights of way over the mountainous districts of Wales and the North of England, or great loss and inconvenience might arise to the inhabitants, and hon. Members might find their autumnal enjoyment interfered with.


said, the Bill provided for the cases just named, and greatly increased the powers of the Commissioners in respect of roads and footpaths across places proposed to be enclosed. Power was also given to allow anyone who wished to do so to leave his allotment open to the public. In no case would the allotment for the recreation of the poor exceed 50 acres.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to amend the Law relating to Inclosures of Commons, and to provide for the management of Commons situate near Towns, ordered to be brought in by Mr. SHAW LEFEVRE and Mr. Secretary BRUCE.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 32.]

STANDING ORDERS—Select Committee nominated.

SELECTION—Committee nominated.