§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE,
in moving "That the Bill be now read a second time," said: Sir, the "Commons Protection Bill" is so named by a mere mistake which occurred in the printing office of this House. It is all but a verbal copy of the Bill of last Session called the Public Lands Bill. The long title—which is in both Bills the same—gives a far more accurate impression of the nature of the Bill than does the short. It describes it as "a Bill to provide for the better security of the Rights of the Public in Lands and Commons, and for the beneficial management of public Lands and Commons." The Preamble is the key to the reasons which have led to the Bill being brought before the House. It states that a large part of the lands of England have become vested in corporations for purposes more or less public in their nature; that such lands are often not administered with due economy and profit; that, from the absence of constant supervision, some such lands, common rights, and rights of way have been withdrawn from public and converted to private uses; and that the concurrent management of such lands, where lying together, would afford means for great public improvements. With regard to the first portion of the case, it is impossible accurately to assess the amount of land that is at present vested in corporations. We should, I think, be justified in assuming that much more than what the Bill implies by the phrase "a large part;"—indeed, a vast proportion of the land of England—belongs to corporations. It was stated in 1863 by the present Prime Minister that the income tax on the property of the endowed charities alone would—if paid—amount to £100,000 a-year; which would mean that the income of those charities was £4,000,000. The income of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and of the colleges of those Universities, has, I believe, been estimated at £500,000, chiefly derived from land. The landed property of London Companies, and of the Church, is of vast extent. The Returns as to charitable endowments of the smaller kind which 584 have lately been laid upon the Table of the House show, for instance, that in the county of Kent alone there are 14,000 acres belonging to Kentish charities—that is, without including lands belonging to Kentish charities in other counties, and without including lands situate in Kent and belonging to the charities of other counties. Almost all of North London and almost all of South London belongs to charities, and the value of the public lands of England has been set as high as £500,000,000. With reference to the second statement of the Preamble—namely, that these lands are for the most part not administered with due economy and profit, I think there will be no difference of opinion. It is undoubtedly true that some of them are administered with strict economy and with much profit; but I think no one will contend that as a whole, or even in general, they are so administered. But there is another statement in the Preamble which is capable of easy proof—that these lands are not administered with due regard to the public interest. Not to go far for an example, I would refer to statements lately made within these walls with regard to the Finsbury Prebend Estate. A complete contradiction was given on behalf of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, by the hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Thomas Acland), to the charges made by the medical officer of Shoreditch. But The Times of the 13th May returned to the subject, and, after going into much detail, spoke as follows:—It seems plain that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners did not enter upon possession of this great estate with any definite policy to guide them in its management, or with any just idea of the magnitude of the interests at stake. They have done nothing which was not strictly within their right; but they have failed to show either the intelligence or the public spirit which might be fairly expected from trustees for the public.So much for the present management of the public lands. The third statement which it is my duty to make good is that, from the absence of constant supervision, some lands have been withdrawn from public and converted to private uses. This, again, is a statement which no one who is acquainted with the subject will controvert. If, however, there be need for examples, I would point to the gradual swallowing up of the public rights in the lands of Dartmoor, by the action of the Duchy of Cornwall, without the 585 sanction of this House. In the Reports, too, of the Charity Commissioners there are many cases given in which lands and rent-charges appear from, documents in their possession to have been granted which cannot now be found or identified, and are lost to that public use for which they were designed. An account of the Prison Charities of the City, printed in 1870, states a singular case of the loss of charitable lands. The report is in the following words:—Certain tenements near Paul's Wharf in the parishes of St. Benet and St. Peter were left by John Fuller in 1592 for poor prisoners. In 1780, the Society for the Relief of Prisoners—for small debts—filed an information against the lessees of the property, no rents having been applied for the prisoners since 1764. An enquiry was directed to find who was the heir-at-law to the last trustee, in order to get new trustees appointed. The matter was neglected until 1862, when the solicitors of the Attorney General were advised that some one had no doubt acquired an adverse title by long possession, and that it would be useless to take any proceedings to recover.Thus much have I said of special reasons for legislation. I next would come to speak of the particular form of legislation, which it is that we propose. The Preamble of the Bill sets forth that the concurrent management and disposition of public lands that lie together would be for the public advantage, and it instances the case of lands in London as an example of what is meant. We might compare what has been done by Lord Westminster in Pimlico and what has been neglected, which, under this Bill, might easily be effected, upon the vast charitable estates of Finsbury, by the concurrent management of charitable lands. One fourth of the whole area of London is in public hands. I consider it fortunate that the House will have the advantage of hearing the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) on this occasion. I believe that the hon. Member is treasurer of the Foundling Hospital, and as such must be well acquainted with the large estates of that institution. The trustees of the Foundling Hospital have 40 acres of land in perhaps the most central part of London, including all the streets and houses between Russell Square on the west, Gray's Inn Road on the east, Regent Square on the north, and Great Ormond Street on the south. It comprises many squares, streets, courts and mews, let on about 200 different leases, most of which will expire in about 20 years 586 time. The ground-rents are upwards of £5,000 a-year, and the value of the estate was estimated 40 years ago at upwards of £50,000 a-year. From the increase in the value of property in the midst of London, it will probably be worth £100,000 a-year when the leases fall in. Many of these smaller streets, courts, and mews might be greatly improved in the accommodation they would afford as dwellings. No doubt, many of these leases could be advantageously purchased for the short residue of the term, and the sites applied to improved dwellings with vast social advantages, as well as greater profit to the institution. The Committee of the Foundling Hospital, with the responsibility of administering wisely these large funds, could not be expected to embark in any schemes of public improvement. The overseers under whom the estate would be placed by the present Bill would not be limited to improvements on this property alone. The Foundling Hospital estate nearly touches on the property of several other wealthy institutions; near it are the estates of the Tonbridge School, the Aldenham School, Seckford Hospital, and many others. The powers thus united would afford means of metropolitan improvement of incalculable value, which could never be obtained by a multitude of separate proprietors acting without concert, if not in hostility to one another. The first action of this Bill would be to startle those who have not hitherto been interested in the subject, by making known the extent of the lands over which public rights exist. As Mr. Hare put the case in an article which appeared in The Fortnightly Review, the public wants, first information and then access—a knowledge of the property it possesses, and then an opportunity of competing on fair terms for the occupation of these estates in a competition in which no prejudices, no private interests, and no personal favour will be allowed to prevail, and in dealing with which there shall be no place for any other than the single object of the public good. We might point to the management of the Greenwich Hospital Estates by John Grey of Dilston, as explained in Mrs. Butler's life of her father. That is the model which in this Bill we have taken for imitation. The Bill directs the administrative bodies of the public lands, within each district, to elect an 587 overseer for the management of these lands as one estate, and it then goes on to lay down the duties of the overseer. The district contemplated by the framers of the Bill would be of such a size as would allow of its being covered in a morning's ride from the office of the overseer at the centre. The overseer's first and not least important duty would be to prepare a new Domesday Book for his district, with a view to the preservation for the future, and to the concurrent management of all public lands within it. When he had got his district mapped out it would become his duty to disseminate the knowledge he had obtained, and next to administer the public lands under his charge for the benefit both of the corporations directly, and of the public indirectly but ultimately interested. I believe that the result would be that by management, both skilled and concurrent, the corporations themselves would derive far greater advantage from their lands, on the average, than they do at present; and that on the other hand, the public, now wholly ignored in the management of these lands, would, for the first time, have security that their interests would no longer be neglected. The overseer might be partly paid by a percentage on the rents made over by him to the corporations, and this would ensure his due attention to the interests of these bodies, by whom, moreover, he would have been elected. He would, too, relieve the corporations from expense, for most of them possess small detached properties in different places, and even in many counties. On the other hand, the overseer would have to report to Government, and his reports would be of a public nature—provisions which would probably be found sufficient to secure his attention to the public interest. It would be his duty to encourage the occupation of the lands themselves—other conditions being equal—by the largest number of tenants; and the Bill directs him also to consider the public interest in the matter of roads, drainage, irrigation, and public health. We think it desirable that as large a number of persons as possible should have an interest in the soil. We believe that by this scheme, which touches no private property, which affects only land held for public purposes by trustees, and which offends no principle of political 588 economy, we offer the only safe means for enabling the poor to compete on equal terms, so far as their means allow, for the occupation of land with the rich. Offering, then, as we do, this security for the management of public lands in the public interest, we think it only fair to put an end at the same time to the prohibition of the dedication of lands to public uses. The logic of these restrictions is destroyed should the first part of the Bill pass into law. There can no longer be any danger to the State in the holding of lands in mortmain when you have provided for their management in the public interest. When you have done so, it becomes an injury to the poorer classes of the community that you should continue to place impediments in the way of the dedication to their use of lands. The mortmain laws were never passed for their economical, but for their political and social effects. What cause can you assign for so gross an interference with the public freedom as the prevention by Act of Parliament of the leaving of lands by will for public purposes? I can understand either of two views upon this point—either that you should discourage altogether the existence of endowments, upon the principle that when it is of public interest that something should be done, the State should do it; or that—and to this principle I should be the rather prepared to give adhesion—you should say, there are many objects deserving of public aid which may with advantage to the people be endowed from private sources, provided that the objects and management be submitted to State revision from time to time. So much for the provisions of the Bill. I will now turn to the consideration of certain special reasons why legislation is desirable at the present time. This Bill is an experimental proposal—a middle way between that advocated by those who aim at making all land public, and that of those who wish that every acre should be in private hands. This experiment we propose to try upon lands which are already public. If the experiment is to be tried at all, surely it should be tried first upon such lands as these. What has been the objection raised against State management of land? That State management will be inefficient or corrupt. But the management of these public lands is already, from the absence of personal interest in 589 the managers, very much, in the position in which State management would be when at its worst. Even if the experiment of State management were to fail, its failure upon these lands could hardly give us worse results than those against which we have already to complain. We propose an experiment which may logically receive support as such even from, those who do not believe that it would succeed. We ask only, at all events, that the experiment should be tried. The State already controls one great Department at least as well as it could be worked by persons privately interested in its success. In other countries, not more pure than this, the railways have been placed under State control with much advantage. Under this Bill, the State would not—in the ordinary sense of the word—manage the public lands at all. Its province would almost be limited to the receiving of the rents. The strongest attack that has been as yet directed against State management of land was that made last year by Mr. Newmarch; but his only proof that State management would be corrupt was that management by the Ecclesiastical Commission, by colleges, by companies, by corporations, and by the Court of Chancery is inefficient or corrupt. He asked whether the promoters of this Bill had heard of "Bleak House;" but we answer that "Bleak House" is our case. Here are great properties, we say, mismanaged at the present time. We cannot well make matters worse if you let us try upon these admittedly mismanaged properties, the experiment of State control. Those who are the most desirous of keeping land in private hands, if they are right in believing that State management will fail should look with pleasure upon the trial of the experiment by us. If the failure prove to be as complete as they expect that very failure will give to them, security far more solid than any which they now possess. There are many incidental, but at the same time great advantages of this Bill upon which I will not dwell. There are others who are far better acquainted than I can pretend to be, with its bearing upon co-operative tilling of the soil. My hon. Friend who sits for Plymouth (Mr. Morrison) may perhaps give the House the benefit of his great experience upon this point. There are other advantages 590 of a less important character which—although very real—need not be dwelt upon at the present time. The only one of these that I will mention is the value that would belong to the public lands as a means for giving scientific instruction to the people. Mr. Hare once pointed out that by utilizing in our schools the facts about public land, of which by this very Bill we propose to you the collection, we should be providing for the people that practical training in the affairs of life which the wealthy draw from the management of their own estates. The only other point upon which I will at present speak is one to which already I have referred. It is our proposal fearlessly to repeal the laws which impede the dedication of land to public uses, and to urge the House to promote rather than to retard the disposition of individuals to convert private into public property. The Committee of 1851 reported that the law of mortmain is systematically evaded by the creation of secret trusts. Our proposal for its repeal must, however, not be looked at as standing by itself, but as a part only of our scheme. The law of mortmain may or may not have been a necessary law in the past; it may or may not be needed at the present time; but it cannot be contended that it will be anything but an encumbrance for the future if you pass the first portion of this Bill. It is idle to pretend that you need this law to prevent the exercise of undue influence over persons in their last extremity. How is it that you do so well without any such special law concerning death-bed dispositions of property of other kinds? Apart from any such statute, you have an ample protection against improper wills. Whether you repeal the law or vote for its continuance, a will is invalid if obtained by fraud, or by "undue influence"—a phrase to which the widest interpretation has been given. The operation of the present law of mortmain is capricious in the extreme, and the result has been a bewildering confusion of decisions and litigation—wasteful beyond all precedent. I have yet to hear the arguments by which can be justified the distinction made by the Mortmain Acts between land and money, and the grounds upon which, if public control were once secured, you would continue to prevent the nation benefiting by even the death- 591 bed liberality of the individual. It is in what I humbly conceive to be the public interest that I move the second reading of this Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Charles Dilke.)
said, the hon. Baronet had, in opening his case, confidently affirmed that no man would dare to doubt the fact stated in the second paragraph in the Preamble of the Bill, that the lands in the hands of large corporations were badly managed. He (Mr. Gregory) ventured to challenge that allegation. He maintained that the lands in the hands of great corporations, so far from being mismanaged, were administered very successfully. He had some experience in this matter, and he could say that there were no lands in a better state of cultivation, or on which the tenantry were in a better condition. The hon. Baronet had stated that the Foundling Hospital had an estate of about 40 acres in this metropolis, producing a rental of about £5,000 a-year, being let on long leases on ground-rents. He was treasurer to the Hospital, and he sat every week as a member of the committee for the management of its affairs. He and almost every gentleman on the committee were resident on the estate, and passed over it nearly every day of their lives, and therefore they should know something about it. Besides, they had an inspector whose duty it was to report every Saturday on any dilapidations or changes that might have occurred, and to make suggestions. They had also a surveyor, and they found no difficulty whatever in dealing with the estate. It was true that at the end of 20 years the leases would fall in; but he was afraid the rental would be nothing like what the hon. Baronet had stated. The committee were contemplating a scheme for the future management of the estate when the leases should fall in; they might realize an income of £20,000 a-year, but it would not be until a considerable time had elapsed. As the hon. Baronet had taken the Foundling Hospital estate as a test in support of his Bill, he begged to meet him on the point, and to leave it to the House to decide whether he had made out his 592 case. One great objection he had to the Bill was that it proposed to supersede the present managing Bodies by a new officer called an "overseer," and he would invite the attention of the Members of the Local Government Board to what they had to do—namely, to determine the qualifications of the gentlemen who were to act in that capacity. But who were to compose the constituency? That was a dilemma from which he hoped some of the hon. Gentlemen in charge of the Bill would extricate him. Were the commons to be represented in the election of these overseers? He could not regard the proposed inquiry into all estates as short of a revival of the Star Chamber, because all interested were put on the rack at the instance of the hon. Baronet. But perhaps the most extraordinary clause was that which gave powers for the unlimited purchase of land. Speaking from a solicitor's point of view, nothing would more benefit his profession, and therefore he hoped he would get credit for the most disinterested motives when he opposed that clause. In conclusion, he was constrained to move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Gregory.)
§ MR. MORRISON,
in supporting the Motion for the second reading, said, he agreed with the hon. Baronet who introduced the Bill, that property belonging to great corporations was not nearly so well managed as that which was in the hands of private owners. Let them go into any tumble-down district of that great metropolis and inquire who were the owners, and they would generally find that the property was held in mortmain. He had always taken a great interest in the co-operative movement, one of the difficulties in the way of which was the existence of prejudices of a social kind which existed against working men in trying to acquire land. To a certain extent there was an honest assumption that working men were not able to carry out these operations, and it was notorious that a feeling of antagonism was springing up against the spread of co-operative associations which might in future seriously hamper their 593 operations, and which, it was desirable in the public interest to remove. In answer to that objection, however, he would say that the Bill did not propose to give to them any advantage which private persons did not equally possess. It should be recollected that the overseer would not have the power of himself to let the land or other property to any individual. He would only have the power of recommending individuals to the Boards, and it would be for them to decide on the matter. But if the Boards dissented from the recommendation of the overseer, they would be bound to give their reasons; and if the overseer suspected a job, he would have the right of appeal to the Local Government Board. The hon. Member who had moved the rejection of the Bill (Mr. Gregory) said he viewed the clause which gave the overseers full power to inquire into estates as a sort of revival of the Star Chamber. The hon. Member forgot that Acts of Parliament and legal tribunals which were constituted in bad times Courts of Inquiry of that kind were obsolete. But all the clause practically did was to confer on the overseers various powers of inquiry which had been conferred from time to time on the Charity Commissioners, and to enable them to take the place of the present Governing Bodies of charities. There was a special reason for considering at the present time the question of the management of charity lands, because there was a large amount of property which, under the Endowed Schools Commission, was being transferred from the hands of those who had held it hitherto. The object of the first part of the Bill was to substitute skilful and professional management for management by Governing Boards, which was generally admitted to be very inefficient, especially when dealing with landed property scattered over wide districts, for the practice against which the first Charity Commission was appointed to guard—namely, that of allowing charity lands gradually to disappear—had not yet entirely ceased. With regard to the statute of mortmain, he admitted that that law had in other times been of the greatest possible value; but he thought that the danger which Parliament had formerly to guard against had now passed away, and the giving of land for public uses should be encou- 594 raged in every possible way, because if, at any time, evil arose therefrom, Parliament would be able to put a stop to it. They must not forget the Socialistic cries raised, he regretted to say, with regard to land and other subjects, and the cry which was getting up for the impossible theory of the nationalization of the land of England. It would, however, be of great benefit if, taking their place in a sort of half-way house, they could meet some of the demands coming from outside. He should deprecate the management of the public lands by the State, but the present Bill would create a class of officials who would have the advantage of being disconnected with all party. The Bill proposed the appointment of overseers of public lands as registrars, stewards, surveyors, and managers for the administering Bodies, and as those administering Bodies would no longer benefit by the profits, it could not but happen that the property would be much improved by the expenditure which must of necessity be laid out upon it. Another provision was that these overseers should not, unless for exceptional cause, have a greater area to superintend than 200 square miles, and the Local Government Board was to determine the qualifications of the candidates for the office of overseer, who were to be elected by the administering Bodies, as well as the area and extent of the several constituencies. It must not be forgotten that land would rise and money would fall in value, and they had no right, in order to save themselves a little trouble, to allow property which was destined to grow to an enormous value to be disposed of or lost. It was principally with a view to prevent such a result that he had been induced to place his name on the back of the Bill.
§ SIR FRANCIS GOLDSMID
said, that having taken a great interest in the protection of commons, he must express his regret to see the title of the Commons' Protection Bill applied to so crude a measure as the present. He admitted that public lands were worse managed than private lands; but the hon. Mover of the Bill, who stated himself to be as thoroughly convinced of the mischiefs of the general system of the management of public lands, proposed to repeal the Mortmain Act, and by removing the restrictions contained in that Act to cause the public lands, the management 595 of which he denounced as execrable, to become much larger still in extent. What was the general scheme they were called on to discuss? It was difficult to make out what were to be the constituencies for the first election of the overseers under the Bill, for the interference of the Local Government Board was required for defining the area and other particulars of every such constituency. But it was still more absurd that each of the constituencies obtained with all this difficulty was never to act but once, since every vacancy among the Overseers was to be filled up by the nomination of the Local Government Board. Thus, the ardent and radical Reformers by whom this measure was brought forward, proposed to hand over all the public lands in every district to the almost uncontrolled management of an officer selected by the Government. Then, again, in case of difference between any overseer and an administering Body as to the acceptance of tenants of public lands, the matter was to be decided upon by the Local Government Board, though it was difficult to understand how that Board could acquire sufficient knowledge to judge between the overseers and the administering Bodies scattered all over the country. His hon. Friend declared that it was not in the least intended to give a preference in granting leases to co-operative Bodies, but the 15th clause of the Bill gave them a preference in express terms. The hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Morrison) was somewhat indignant at the observation of the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) that the Bill proposed to give to the overseers the powers of the High Commission Court under King Charles I., and thought that this could not be, because those powers had long been repealed. But this only showed that the promoters of the Bill had not read their own clauses, one of which (the 23rd) would give to the overseers all the powers of inquiry, not only which are now, but also which have heretofore been possessed by any Commission or Commissioners. It was difficult to devise words more apt for reviving the powers of Charles I's. High Commission. The Bill was altogether a most ill-considered measure, and the House could not do better than to agree to the Amendment.
said, that having been asked by some of his constituents to sup- 596 port the Bill on the ground that it would facilitate the acquisition of land by the working classes, he had looked into it, and was obliged to tell them that it seemed to go in the opposite direction, for, as the hon. Member for Sussex had shown, it would prevent land coming into the market. Even supposing it would facilitate the acquisition of small holdings, it was doubtful whether the subdivision of land would operate here as well as in France, where small holders managed their affairs with greater prudence than he was afraid could be looked for in England. In this country land seldom came into the market in sufficiently small lots to enable working men to purchase it; and when it did it fetched a price equal to 35 or 40 years' purchase, and paying less than 3 per cent, which placed it out of the reach of the working man, who wanted a greater return for his money.
§ MR. WHALLEY
supported the Bill, maintaining that all they had to do with at present was its Preamble, which truly asserted that there was great abuse in the management of lands devised for charitable purposes. He maintained that the Communistic suggestion of the noble Lord about the division of the land of England into small portions was not within the four corners of the Bill. It was most important that the land of the country should be under the notice of the public eye, and under the control of its hand, and he did not think any greater service could be rendered than by giving a Bill like this a fair consideration.
MR. HINDE PALMER
said, he would at once admit that land devoted to public purposes had not been fitly managed, and the accounts had not been properly rendered, or made public to the extent that they ought to have been. He thought, therefore, that it was desirable that greater facilities should be afforded for securing the better management of charity lands, and for the right rendering of the accounts. But the Bill went beyond these requirements. He thought the Bill objectionable because it started with the supposition that the gift in mortmain of all corporate property was of necessity bad in principle, and then by repealing the statute of George II., it went on to facilitate the acquirement of such property to a far greater extent than it existed before. No doubt the Bill was framed with a good design, though it 597 contained so many things objectionable. For instance, no one could deny that greater publicity with regard to the management of public land was desirable; but the 23rd clause gave too much inquisitorial power to the overseer whom it was proposed to appoint; and it never could have been expected that the House would pass the next clause, which gave him power to purchase land on public account, and to pay for it with any money in the hands of the Charity Commissioners, without regard to the locality or particular charity to which such money belonged. Anything more inconsistent he could not conceive. He did not think it desirable that wherever laxity existed they should be called upon to appoint a public officer to remedy the shortcomings of local authorities. The Charity Commissioners had power to undertake investigations, if set in motion by an expression of local opinion; and the misfortune was, that sufficient interest was not taken in the management of public property. If the Bill were capable of Amendment in Committee, he would vote for it; but, with all the crudities and inconsistencies there were on the face of it, he was obliged to oppose it.
§ MR. LEEMAN
said, he hoped none of the hon. Gentlemen whose names were on the back of the Bill had anything to do with the drafting of it, for it seemed as if the object of the draftsman had been to take care that there should be no connection between the Preamble and the enactments. Even the title was a delusion and a snare.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, the promoters of the Bill were not responsible for the printed title, because that which they furnished to the House printers was "Public Lands and Commons Bill."
§ MR. LEEMAN
continued by saying that the full title was no better than the shorter one. He asked the House to listen to the wholesale character of the Bill. From the title, as furnished by the hon. Baronet, and the speech which he had made, it would be supposed that it referred mainly to the common lands of the country; but when the 1st clause came to be explained by the interpretation clause, it was found that the Bill applied to all lands under the superintendence of Parliament, under the Commissioners of Woods and Forests and Public Works, the Ecclesiastical or 598 other Commissioners, lands vested in any corporation or trustees, or any other person or persons, for ecclesiastical, collegiate, municipal, charitable, or other public uses or purposes, or held in perpetuity for any use not private. Well, that was about the most modest proposition that he had ever heard in that House. The hon. Gentleman proposed that an overseer be appointed for every 200 square miles to take charge of all the public lands within that area. As a member of a municipal body, and speaking, he was sure, the sentiments of the other municipal bodies of the country, he did not ask the interference of the hon. Baronet in reference to the management of the property belonging to those Bodies; and of all the propositions he had ever heard, that which asked that an overseer should be appointed to take under his control the whole of the public lands, including the ecclesiastical lands of this country, was the most extraordinary. He must tell the hon. Baronet that the land managed by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had been well managed by them, and no overseer of the hon. Baronet's appointing would manage it better than it was managed now. The municipalities which had large landed property, such as Liverpool and Leeds, and many other large towns, had never asked for this Socialistic Bill. It was a great mistake to say that there was no publicity in reference to the management of the property aimed at by the Bill, and the hon. Gentlemen who drew it up could have known nothing whatever of the mode in which public property was managed. It had been said there were abuses with regard to charity lands. Well, there was already a tribunal to which to appeal; there was a body of Charity Commissioners, who had dealt with these abuses in a great many instances, and the hon. Member could surely never have read the Reports of the Charity Commissioners to that House. If he had, the hon. Member would have found that those Commissioners had stated in their last Report that they could act only when put in motion by local action, and that it would be desirable that they have power of their own motion to investigate abuses. Again, let the House look at the power which, this overseer was to have over the property of the whole public bodies of the 599 country. He was to be steward, receiver of rents, and manager of the whole estates over his 200 square miles. He was to have a commission, the amount of which was left blank in the Bill. He was to have charge of the whole of the properties, and he was to have power, without asking the authority of the particular locality, to purchase any land which in his judgment was for the benefit of the existing property of the trust, and he was to pay for it out of the Government or other securities held in trust for any charity or charities under the provisions of the Trusts Act of 1853. One could not conceive that any person could make such a monstrous proposition as that the overseer should purchase land, and pay for it out of charity funds belonging to somebody else. In short, the whole Bill was so full of these extraordinary propositions that, with very great deference to the two hon. and learned Gentlemen who sat on the Treasury bench (the Home Secretary and the Attorney General), he wondered they had had the patience to listen for such a length of time to the discussion; and that they had not risen long ago to put their foot on the Bill, which was one of the most monstrous, in his judgment, that could have been proposed to the House of Commons. The powers in the body of the Bill did not carry out the Preamble, so far as it purported to give to the working classes facilities for the purchase of small quantities of land, but really went to tie up all public property in the hands of this new creation of the hon. Baronet—this notable overseer. He could not but regard the Bill as a phantom which would in no way benefit the working classes, and as a measure which the House ought at once to reject as utterly mischievous and unworkable.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that after the pointed appeal which had been made to the Treasury bench he could not remain longer silent. He would, therefore, try the endurance of the House no longer, though he should have regretted to have risen earlier and deprived the House of the enjoyment of listening to the speech just made. He very much regretted that the hon. Baronet and those who were associated with him had thought fit to bring forward such a crude, idle, and destructive measure before the House. He did not feel any political or party gratitude to per- 600 sons who brought forward a very serious and important and interesting subject in a manner, to say the least, so very ill-judged. The preservation of open spaces for the enjoyment of the people and the maintenance of rights of way were matters which it was creditable to bring before, and which in themselves were well worthy of, the attention of the Legislature; but it only brought discredit on subjects which ought not to be discredited when they were handled in a manner of which the Bill gave an example. He was perfectly sure that the persons who drew the Bill must have been persons of extreme ignorance of legislation. To appropriate a saying of a person gone to his rest some time ago, if the hon. Gentlemen whose names were on the back of the Bill had read the Bill once they they had never done what they were inviting the House to do, and that was to read it a second time. The first objection he would state to the Bill was connected with the interpretation clause. By the definition there given of the word "lands" all the docks in the country, the London Docks, the Mersey Docks, and all others, would be transferred to the overseers. Could anything show more successfully the carelessness with which the Bill had been drawn, than that not only the docks, but all the public property of the country, should pass into the hands of the overseers? Another objection, which was destructive of any serious consideration of the Bill was, that as its real effect was to make the Government hold all the public land in the country in its own possession, it would soon happen that one Department of the Government would have in its hand and under its control by far the largest landed estate in the country. Now, was that a matter which could be tolerated? It would be a dangerous thing even so far as the administration of the property itself was concerned. Certain other subjects well deserving of attention did not come within the Bill at all, such as commons, with lords of the manor having large private rights over them, rights of way, and the like. The last point which he would mention as meriting consideration was, that it was proposed that in any question of right of way, all the overseers had to do was to stick up a notice and refer the matter to the Attorney General, who was to maintain the right of way at the expense 601 of the county rates. There were other objections to the Bill which he need not enumerate. The measure had evidently been very little considered by its promoters, and had been produced in such an unworkmanlike shape, that the Government could not allow it to be read a second time,
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE,
in reply, said, that it had not been thought necessary to have the approval of corporations to the Bill, because it had been advocated on public grounds, and it had been shown that the lands in the hands of corporations were mismanaged. They might as well expect an intimidating landlord to ask for the Ballot on behalf of the people, as to expect corporations to ask for a Bill like this. He should certainly go to a division, believing that the principle would come up for discussion again before long.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 17; Noes 184: Majority 167.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for three months.