HC Deb 23 February 1871 vol 204 cc819-27

Order for Second Reading read.

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


, though he had no intention of opposing the second reading of the Bill, wished at once to offer some observations upon it, both because the remarks he desired to make were of too general a character to be suitable for Committee, and because it might be convenient to give the Government time for considering the Amendments which he should have to suggest. He would, in the first instance, remind the House of what had been stated with great clearness by his hon. Friend and Colleague the Under Secretary of State on the introduction of the Bill, but had not unfrequently been left out of sight in discussions on similar matters, that to abstain from passing Inclosure Bills could not possibly be any interference with the rights of property, since it left lords of manors and commoners to exercise those rights as they pleased. Although, therefore, Parliament had for a long series of years given great facilities to the passage of Inclosure Bills, because it believed that by bringing waste land into cultivation they promoted the public advantage; still, if the circumstances of the country had changed, if the views of what was politic were modified, the Legislature was perfectly free to alter its course. It was perfectly free, without any possible imputation of violating proprietory rights, to refuse to pass Inclosure Bills, or to attach to the passing of them any conditions which, on behalf of the public, it might consider advisable. That this was the opinion of the Legislature, was shown by the Metropolitan Commons Act of 1866. Now, in determining how far it was conducive to the public interests that they should afford facilities to the passing of Inclosure Bills, the first question to be answered was, whether they were desirous that legislation should take such a course as should tend to as rapid an increase as possible of the population, or whether they would prefer that their legislation should tend to a somewhat less rapid increase of population, pro- vided that the people were likely to be in a better position with regard to morality, and to enjoy a larger amount of happiness. He thought the House would have no difficulty in deciding in favour of the latter alternative; and the necessary corollary of that was that stringent conditions, on behalf of the public, should be imposed on the passing of these Bills. Among the most important matters to which these conditions ought to relate were—reservations of recreation grounds, and of foot and bridleways. To footpaths and bridle-roads, which were provided for—but he thought not sufficiently—by the 9th section of the Bill, he was, perhaps, led to attach greater value from his living in a district where their unusual number had afforded him an opportunity of appreciating their advantages. It appeared to him that existence in such a district, where you might walk or ride in almost any direction that you chose, and might visit nearly all the prettiest positions, was worth twice as much as in a neighbourhood where, in walking or riding, you were confined to narrow lanes and muddy or dusty roads, and where, as a consequence of that confinement, you were excluded from many of the most beautiful points of view. Nor let it be said that this was the mere fancy of men of leisure. You had only to look at the places which the better class of workmen selected for their jaunts, in order to be satisfied that they were not insensible to the beauties of nature. Nor, again, did it require much foresight to perceive that, with the improvement of education, such tastes were likely to extend among the working classes. Let it be remembered that the love for scenery was, even among the educated, of comparatively recent growth. Passages cited by Lord Macaulay in the second volume of his History of England, showed that less than 200 years ago, the Highland hills and heaths of Scotland were subjects of horror rather than of admiration, and that even cultivated men preferred the flat and fertile pastures that surrounded Leyden. To encourage tastes, such as that for natural beauty, was, in his (Sir Francis Goldsmid's) opinion, among the best means of promoting moral improvement, and checking drunkenness and other degrading habits. To such means he looked with much more hope than to the prohibitions and penalties which were in favour with the hon. Member for Carlisle, or even to the no doubt useful Bill, about to be introduced by the Home Secretary, for subjecting to stricter regulations the sale of fermented liquors. Men must have amusements. If you wish to get rid of the low and hurtful, then encourage the elevating and innocent. In comparing the importance of increasing the home-growth of food with that of preserving recreation grounds, and walks and rides, we should remember the growing facility of importing provisions. Already we brought from the other side of the world a not inconsiderable proportion of our cereals, or—to use the American phrase—bread-stuffs. The same thing had been tried as to meat, and had, to a certain extent, succeeded. It might reasonably be hoped that this success would increase with improving means of transport, and with the advance of chemical science and mechanical ingenuity. But it was scarcely necessary to point out that no improvement in the facilities of conveyance, or in cooking, packing, or chemistry was at all likely to enable us to import footpaths or rides. The considerations which he (Sir Francis Goldsmid) had mentioned, led him to the general conclusion that, although the original purpose of Inclosure Bills—the bringing of more land into cultivation—had not lost its importance, yet in the altered and altering circumstances of the country, that purpose ought only to be pursued so far as it was consistent with, and in subjection and subordination to, the more important object of securing for our increasing population amply sufficient spaces for recreation and exercise. Nor should it be forgotten that if we, in one year, went somewhat too slowly in passing Inclosure Bills, we might, in a succeeding year, make up the deficiency. But if we went—as in some instances he believed we had already gone — too far, we could not re-trace our steps. We could not do so wasteful a thing as to throw out of cultivation land in tilling which we had, by sanctioning its inclosure, encouraged the outlay of capital. The present Bill seemed to him to be, in a great measure, framed in accordance with the principles he had ventured to indicate; but two of its clauses required, he thought, important amendments—the 3rd and 9th. The 3rd clause directed the appropriation, for the purpose of recreation grounds or field-gardens, of one-tenth of the land to be inclosed, unless such tenth should exceed 50 acres, and in that case of 50 acres only. Now it appeared to him most unreasonable that although, if the land inclosed comprised 500 acres, 50 would be appropriated to the purposes mentioned, 50 acres, and no more, should still be the quantity if the inclosure extended over 1,000, 2,000, or 3,000 acres. It would, he suggested, be much more rational that the appropriation for recreation grounds or field-gardens should include one-tenth of the first 500 acres to be inclosed, one-twentieth of the second 500, one-thirtieth of the third, and so on for any greater quantity. His objection to the 9th clause—which related to the highly important subject of the setting-out of paths, rides, and drives—was, that it gave to the Inclosure Commissioners a permission only instead of a direction. The existing enactments as to recreation grounds and field-gardens had been of comparatively little use, because they were merely permissive; and accordingly the framers of the present Bill proposed to substitute for these the compulsory provisions of the 3rd clause. A similar reason existed for making the 9th clause also compulsory. There was one other point to which he wished to refer; and that was, that when land was extremely valuable there were continual instances of lords of manors doing illegal acts under pretence of legal rights, and the result was that many illegal inclosures has been made. It was a difficult matter, of course, to frame a clause to check such proceedings; but the matter was one which, in his opinion, well deserved the consideration of the Government.


said, that if the Bill had been founded on the recommendations of the Committee which sat on the subject two years ago, he should not dissent from its provisions. It, however, went far beyond those recommendations, and incorporated the proposals entertained in the Bill of the right hon. Member for South Hampshire (Mr. Cowper-Temple) which ought, he thought, to be dealt with in a different manner. Under those circumstances, although he should not oppose the Motion for the second reading, he hoped the Bill would be referred to a Select Com- mittee not for the purpose of delaying, but rather of facilitating its progress. He thought it was desirable the Commissioners should be allowed to judge of the requirements of a particular locality, for they were perfectly competent to decide what allotments should be given to labourers, and what land should be set aside for the purposes of recreation. How much better, too, he would ask, would it not be that where ground was of a swampy and bad nature it should be drained and properly cultivated than left as it was, paying nothing in alleviation of those local rates which pressed so heavily on particular districts? He was, of course, far from saying that allotments should not be given to the labouring poor, and as to the commons, of which the hon. Baronet who had just spoken seemed to think the great landowners and lords of the manors got the lion's share, he might instance the case of one inclosure in his own immediate neighbourhood in which the lord of the manor got only a sixteenth part. Under all the circumstances, the proper course, in his opinion, to pursue, was to send the Bill to a Select Committee.


said, he hoped the House would not accede to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's proposal. He felt very grateful for the introduction of the Bill, because it recognized the principle that the people had a real interest in the public lands of this country. Before the year 1845 the rights of the poor in connection with waste lands were systematically and absolutely ignored. No less than 4,000 private Acts had up to that time been passed for making inclosures—2,000 in the last century, and 2,000 in the first half of the present century. The Bill of 1845 directed the Commissioners to authorize inclosures only when expedient, and contained provisions with respect to recreation grounds and allotment gardens. Under it, about 500,000 acres had been inclosed, yet only an infinitesimal portion had been set aside for recreation grounds and allotments; nor did it appear that the Commissioners had ever stopped any inclosure on the ground of the interest of the public generally. The Act of 1866 provided that, within a certain distance of the metropolis, commons should not be inclosed under the Inclosure Acts at all, thus recognizing the interests of the general public as against those of the lords and the commoners. The present measure extended this provision to all large towns. It also improved the earlier provisions as to allotments and recreation grounds. The Bill did not go quite far enough, however, for it only considered the interests of the public in the particular locality in which, the waste lands were situated. We were only beginning to open our eyes to the sanitary conditions under which our immense population was living, and perhaps hon. Members were scarcely aware of the growing extent in which our increasing population was pent up in towns. Those growing masses of the people had an immense interest in the little that was left of the waste lands of the country; and the Legislature would be recklessly improvident if it did not consider the interests not only of the present population, but also of the very much larger population which would follow them. It was not enough to provide for the interests of the locality, around, for instance, the Malvern Hills, Helvellyn, or Snowdon; such places were frequented by the public from a far wider range, whose interests were entirely unprotected by the Bill. He did not think the interests of the landed proprietors of the country were more adverse to the public interest than were those of any other class; perhaps they were less so. But he asked them to recollect that their number in this country was constantly diminishing; that estates were growing in size, and getting into fewer hands; that the occupation of land was also getting into fewer hands, and that as farms became consolidated and the use of machinery increased, fewer labourers would be employed on the land. He did not complain of this; but what would be the result if the number of persons brought into direct contact with the land as owners, occupiers, and cultivators diminished in number while the population increased? Those persons who favoured the present system should, therefore, consider how it might be made most tolerable to such as had no land. If all land were inclosed, and the rights of property strictly exercised over it, the people being kept to the public roads, living in England would become intolerable. At present, the liberal use of their parks and of private waste land allowed by certain landed proprietors was a miti- gating circumstance. As a landless man and an habitual trespasser he gratefully acknowledged this. But the public had an interest in the use of the public waste lands of the country; and if you allowed no vent to the indescribable longing for a country life among the town masses of the population, there would be a growing feeling of discontent which would operate much more seriously than the advocates of inclosure were aware of. One point he wished to bring under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, who praised the liberal administration of the Crown lands. There was no private proprietor who used the rights over waste lands in so grudging and so niggardly a manner as the Crown and the Duchy of Cornwall. The Crown lands were coined into the last farthing; and what might give enjoyment to thousands would be sold for a halfpenny if no more could be got for it. He would, therefore, make these practical suggestions—First, the Crown and the Duchy of Cornwall should be expressly restricted from inclosure. Next, no inclosure should be allowed anywhere except under the Inclosure Acts, so that under no circumstances could the lord and the commoners, acting together, or the lord alone under the Statute of Merton, evade the intentions of the Legislature. Again, no inclosure ought to be made until the Secretary of State, or some other responsible person, was satisfied that not only were local interests satisfied, but that the interests of the public at large were not injuriously affected. Parliament was asked to legislate very much in the dark on this question. In 1844, Mr. Blamire's estimate of the extent of waste lands in England was 8,000,000 acres. Another estimate was 6,000,000; but we now really had no accurate knowledge on this point, and the extent of land available for the public use was probably much smaller than was supposed. He suggested, then, that there should be a survey of the waste lands of the country, and under the direction of the Ordnance Department such a survey could be made with very little difficulty or expense. Until a survey had been made they ought to hold their hands, and he therefore trusted that his hon. Friend (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) would consider favourably the Amendments which he should place upon the Paper for pro- posal in Committee, with a view to prevent inclosures without the sanction of the Secretary of State, and to provide for the survey of the waste lands of the country.


said, he had no great fault to find with the Bill. In the county which he represented (Radnorshire), where there were a great many waste lands, they were regarded as unmitigated nuisances. Not only did they give rise to a great deal of local crime, but they especially afforded facilities for sheep stealing and harbouring of vagrants. They were also a fruitful cause of bad blood and feuds, in consequence of disputed rights of pasture. So much was this the case, that shepherds were frequently selected not because they were well skilled in the management of sheep, but because they were proficients in pugilism. It would, therefore, be a source of congratulation if those lands were inclosed on fair terms. Nearly every class in Wales was in favour of their inclosure; but that the lord of the manor should not have the right of veto different to that enjoyed by the Commissioners. Although not entertaining that view, he considered it was one that might be advantageously submitted to a Select Committee. He believed, however, with the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Winterbotham) that no lord of the manor was so hard a taskmaster as the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. Indeed, the encroachments made by the Commissioners were constantly increasing, and but little, if any, attention was ever paid to the rights of the commoners. He should not vote against the second reading, but he should support, at a later stage, the proposal of his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Barttelot) to refer the Bill to a Select Committee.


moved the adjournment of the debate.


said, he hoped that his hon. Friend would not press the Motion. Looking at the business before the House, he feared it would be many a long day before so good an opportunity could be found for the discussion of the question, and it was still early.


supported the Amendment for the adjournment of the debate. The hon. and learned Member for Stroud (Mr. Winterbotham) had propounded a most extraordinary doctrine —namely, that the waste lands of the country were to be reserved for the enjoyment of tourists, or rather gentlemen excursionists, rather than for those who had a pecuniary interest in them. The whole matter might become a question of compensation, and if the Malvern Hills and similar lands were to be reserved for the public it might, perhaps, be worth consideration whether a demand in respect of them might not be made upon the Consolidated Fund.


said, he thought these commons ought not to be treated as if the lords of the manor and the other persons possessing particular rights in them were the only interested parties, as it should be borne in mind that the public in general had a right to pass over them. He objected to the Bill being referred to a Select Committee, thinking it would be better to consider its provisions in the ordinary way in Committee of the Whole House.


said, he would not resist the Motion for adjournment.

Debate adjourned till Monday next.