HC Deb 23 July 1875 vol 225 cc1940-52

, in rising to call attention to the Reports of the En- closure Commissioners; and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is expedient that the schemes of enclosure mentioned in such Reports should he proceeded with, said, there was before Parliament a Bill for improving the supply of the food of the people, and the subject to which he now called attention had an intimate connection with that measure. The question really was whether we were to enclose the waste lands of the country? According to the Report of a Commission, there were something like 1,000,000 acres of land in this country fit for enclosure and cultivation. In 1845 an Act was passed constituting the Enclosure Commission, a body to whom all applications for enclosures were to be addressed, and who decided upon the conditions. The Commissioners, from that date down to the year 1869, exercised their functions with satisfaction to the public and credit to themselves. During that period they sanctioned enclosures to the extent of something like 620,000 acres, which had been brought into cultivation; but, on the other hand, within 20 years, owing to the growth of towns and the extension of railways and other public works, there had been a decrease in the productive area of the country of about 700,000 acres. But for the operation of the Act of 1845, the country would have been deprived of a food-producing area to the extent of the 620,000 acres to which he had referred. In 1869 the operations of the Commissioners received a sudden check. Exception was then taken to their Reports in regard to two particular commons; one in the county of Somerset, the other in the county of Surrey. The hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) had, no doubt, done good by preventing certain enclosures to which public attention had been called; but he had carried his objections to the in-closure of commons, in some instances, almost to a Quixotic length. Objection, however, was taken in the two cases to which he had alluded, that the Commissioners had not allotted sufficient space for the recreation of the public, or for the labouring poor of the district. The Act of 1845 provided that where the parish had a population of 10,000, the area allotted for recreation should be 10 acres, and so on down to four acres for a population of 2,000. It also gave the Commissioners a discretion as to the allotments to the labouring poor. Each case ought to depend on its own merits, and not be governed by a hard and fast rule. A Committee was appointed to consider the Reports of the Commissioners and their operations generally, and the consequence was, that the two enclosures to which he had adverted were specifically stopped, and certain others were allowed to go on. In 1871, a General Enclosure Bill was brought in, and an attempt was made to lay down certain rules and regulations under which enclosures should be made. It was referred to a Select Committee, and when it came out, it provided that allotments might be made for the poor to the extent of one-tenth of all commons enclosed. It also made provision as to places of recreation, but the Bill was not further proceeded with, and the matter remained in this unsatisfactory position to the present time. These unenclosed commons differed very much in character. Some were on mountainous land, and others on flat ground in the neighbourhood of towns. From the Report of the Commissioners, it appeared that there were ready no less than 34 schemes of enclosure, embracing 83,000 acres, and that many of these schemes had waited five or six years for the sanction of Parliament. The Commissioners stated, moreover, as he had before observed, that there was something like 1,000,000 of acres in this country, at present unused, which might be turned to profitable purposes of agriculture. It seemed they were now discouraging applications for enclosure—and well they might, considering the discouragement which had been received from Parliament. He did not say that these schemes ought to be approved. All that he asked was that each of the 34 schemes should be considered individually, and that they should not lay down a hard-and-fast line that there should be no more enclosures. Let there be allotments for the labouring poor, and also for recreation; and he was quite sure that the lords of the manor were anxious that there should be reasonable provision in that way. He must say that he was astonished when Gentlemen who professed to be social reformers set themselves against further enclosures of commons, which might be made available for the production of food for the people. Take one case in point, which was reported upon by the Commissioners—namely, that of Rinell, in the fertile vale of York—where there was a common of 1,200 acres that might be beneficially enclosed for the production of food. He remembered that Swaffham Heath, a number of years ago, was a coursing ground, and that he had shot over it. He saw it lately covered with corn; so that a tract of waste ground, that was thronged with hares and rabbits, was now converted into fruitful fields. In conclusion, the hon. Member expressed a hope that Government would next Session propose some scheme which would have the effect of giving to the population the benefit of some portion of the 1,000,000 acres which were now lying waste. He begged to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.


told the hon. Gentleman that, by the Forms of the House, his Amendment could not put.


regretted that the Committee which sat in 1869 had their inquiries limited to only one portion of the subject—that was, the quantity of enclosed land which had been given to the labouring poor. He had long been of opinion that a full inquiry into the operation of the Enclosure Act of 1846 would be most useful. The commoners had more interest in this matter than even the lords of the manors. There was no doubt there were two different sorts of enclosures—one of which was suburban, and the other consisting of large tracts of land in the North of England and in South Wales. He believed that in that part of the country which he represented (Radnorshire), the commoners were to a man in favour of enclosure. Indeed, the general feeling in South Wales was favourable to the enclosure of these extensive waste lands. Much local crime resulted from them. They encouraged sheep stealing, from the difficulty of tracing the offenders; and the disputes to which they gave rise led to bad feeling, and caused many aggravated assaults. As the waste lands had become enclosed, crime had greatly diminished. There were no people so much interested in these enclosures as the small freeholder. He had rights in common with the large farmers, but the law of the strongest prevailed, and he was at their mercy. The large farmers kept three or four "fighting shepherds," who drove off the sheep of the small freeholders. Diseases among sheep also were often spread in consequence of the sheep of so many different persons being turned out upon one large common. At the last General Election he owed his seat to the interest taken in this subject more than to anything else, for the small freeholders voted for him against the late Government, who had stopped these enclosures. Although, by the Forms of the House, the Amendment could not be put, he trusted that the Home Secretary would hold out the hope that the Government would early next Session deal with a subject of such great importance.


said, that the Select Committee of 1869 made many important recommendations, the last but not least of which was that further enclosures should be suspended until the Act had been passed to give effect to their views. They also pointed out that Enclosure Bills required the constant attention of the House. It appeared that out of 368,000 acres of land enclosed only 2,223 acres had been allotted to the poor, and not more than 1,742 for recreation grounds; so that enclosures had not greatly ameliorated the condition or promoted the comfort of the poor. There were reasons why the principle of the Enclosure Act should now be re-considered for the present circumstances were very different. In 1845 the protective system existed, and the Legislature believed that it was for the public interest to promote the enclosure of land for the food supply of the people. We now drew upon other countries for our supplies, and the health and recreation of the public might receive a large amount of consideration.


said, that, in considering the question of enclosures there were two opposite interests which required to be dealt with with the greatest delicacy, these were the interests of the public and the interests of proprietors, and no doubt a great deal of land had been enclosed by which the public had benefited, while much had been enclosed without proper consideration for the interests of the public, as opposed to those who claimed to have proprietary rights. The Select Committee of 1868 found that the public interests had not been fully considered, and upon the whole he thought that they were amply justified in recommending that further enclosures should not be carried on until the whole system of enclosure law had been re-considered, and some broad line had been laid down upon which enclosures should be effected. The outcome of the feeling which prevailed upon the subject was that Committees had recommended that it was desirable no further enclosure should be sanctioned until the general law had been fully considered. He hoped his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would give the House an assurance that an opportunity would be afforded them of fully considering that general law. The question was one of enormous interest to the public, and if Her Majesty's Government undertook to deal with it they would, he believed, receive support at both sides of the House. At the hands of his right hon. Friend he had no doubt the subject would be dealt with in a large and comprehensive manner; and if his right hon. Friend applied to the question that broadness of principle which had been brought to bear upon other questions, he was certain that when a General Enclosure Bill was brought forward the House would have reason to be satisfied with the measure.


said, he was surprised at the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sandwich, when he recalled that although that right hon. Gentleman, when Under Secretary for the Home Department, had had ample opportunity of carrying out the recommendations of the Select Committee, he had, nevertheless, failed to do so, from not having, as he (Sir Walter Barttelot) thought the courage of his opinions. [Mr. KNATCH-BULL-HUGESSEN: No. Yes. The right hon. Gentleman, in the nature of his office, must necessarily have had the Enclosure Bills brought before him. He believed the right hon. Gentleman had considered the subject, and had not arrived at a just or right conclusion with respect to it. At any rate, the Government of which he was a Member had an opportunity of dealing with the question, and had signally failed to do so. They were, in fact, afraid to undertake the task, because of the opposition of the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett), then Member for Brighton. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), who succeeded the right hon. Gentleman at the Home Office, also feared to grapple with it. What were the facts? The Committee to which reference had been made, as a fair compromise, recommended that, in most cases, one-tenth of the enclosed land should, on the whole, be the proportion reserved for the poor—a large and liberal allowance, in his opinion. Why, then, was not a Bill brought in by the late Government? The reason was because great opposition to the measure came from below the Gangway, and up to the present moment nothing had been done, though the hon. and learned Member for the City of Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) was of opinion, at the time, that the Report of the Committee was a very fair and satisfactory one. There was the framework for a satisfactory measure, and he commended it to the consideration of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had spoken of a right which he said the public had in these enclosures, but he had not told the House what that right was. The right hon. Gentleman was a large owner of property, and he (Sir Walter Barttelot) wished that he would get up and explain what right the public had in these enclosures. He did not deny that there was a moral obligation on the part of the owners to do something in favour of the public, and he, for one, was prepared to fulfil that obligation; but he wished to have the right of the public in these waste lands more clearly defined, and that was a matter which, as he had said, the right hon. Gentleman had never taken the trouble to explain. What he wished to point out was, that where the authorities of large towns were anxious to obtain possession of these unenclosed lands, they might have them by paying a fair and moderate price for them, and the whole difficulty would then be got rid of. [Mr. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN: Pay whom?] Why, pay those to whom the land belonged—the lord of the manor and the commoners, without whose assent the enclosure could not be made, and who, he was sure, would make a considerable sacrifice in favour of the public. He was quite ready to admit that there was a great difference between the case of commons in the neighbourhood of the great circles of industry and the case of those which lay in the open country; but still, if there was a piece of vacant land in any of those towns, the property of the corporation or of an individual, they, or he, got the best price they could for it as building ground, and he did not see why they should not be made to pay for those rights which they wished to obtain over open and unenclosed lands beyond the borough boundary. Then there was ample protection in the fact that two-thirds of the commoners, with the lord of the manor, must give their assent before land could be enclosed. With respect to commons not situated near large towns, the right hon. Gentleman would not say that such commons ought not to be enclosed. [Mr. KNATCHBULL-HUGES-SEN observed that he had said that in certain localities they ought to be enclosed.] All he advocated was the system recommended by the Committee, and on which the Bill was founded. There were many enclosures which would be of great advantage to different towns, and it was an unfair thing, where they would be of advantage to a district, to say they should not be enclosed. In many cases it would be for the interest of towns, and of all parties concerned, that the arrangements which had been recommended, and for which provisional orders had been granted, should be carried out.


said, that in the Committee to which reference had been made, very little assistance was received from the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Walter Barttelot), and it was owing to him and some other hon. Members who acted with him, that the proceedings were delayed so long that the Bill could not be proceeded with. In the following Session the same Bill was introduced by Lord Kimberley in the other House, and rejected on the third reading by the Conservative Party. The hon. and gallant Baronet, therefore, was not justified in saying that the late Government had not courage to carry out their own views, and signally failed in carrying their Bill. The hon. and gallant Baronet had spoken of that Bill as a very fair one. He was glad to hear him say so, but it was certainly the first time that he had done so. It proposed to deal differently with commons in the neighbourhood of large towns and those in rural districts. It was intended that the Metropolitan Commons Act should be extended to the case of other commons in the neighbourhood of large towns, and provision was made for the maintenance of such commons and the prevention of nuisances; and it was framed upon the idea that enclosure should not take place without the assent of Parliament. With regard to rural districts, where commons should in future be enclosed, it was proposed that a very much larger proportion should in future be devoted to recreative grounds and garden allotments. Many commons had been enclosed where enclosure was not justified, on the ground of benefit or convenience to the poorer classes, or in the interest of agriculture, but simply for the purpose of adding to gentlemen's parks and preserves, and therefore the Committee held that every case of enclosure ought to be inquired into by a Parliamentary Committee, even after it had been approved of by the Enclosure Commissioners. The only question now before the House was, whether they should recommend the Government that the schemes presented by the Enclosure Commissioners should be at once confirmed without waiting for a General Enclosure Act. He thought it would be unwise on the part of the Government to take any such step. Their wisest course would be to bring in a Bill to amend that Act, and if it was founded on a sound policy, he had no doubt it would meet with the approval of the House. He thought the hon. Member for East Sussex had exaggerated the amount of land which could be advantageously dealt with under a General Enclosure Bill, and that it did not amount to 1,000,000 acres.


explained that the Commissioners in their Report stated that more than 1,000,000 of acres were available.


said, that the most startling and incorrect statements were made with regard to the commons. These enclosures were facilitated and encouraged not by the great landowners, but by small common-holders. The public, in the sense in which it was used by hon. Gentlemen opposite, had very little right upon these commons. They had a right of crossing them, and in the case of commons near large towns, they might have acquired rights through small commoners not being able to maintain their rights. In such cases compensation ought to be paid to the small commoners. Nothing could be more unjust than to deprive owners, large or small, of their interest in commons out of consideration for assumed rights of the public.


referred to the late decision of the Master of the Bolls with reference to Epping Forest, as a proof that many large landowners were disposed to make unjust enclosures of commons. Every large town ought to have secured a good piece of common land for the use of its inhabitants, and in every city there ought to be a watchman to give warning of encroachments such as these which the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex and his Friends seemed desirous of having the power to make.


said, he should not like to see every acre of land enclosed, whether for the purpose of adding to already large estates or with a view to cultivation. Due regard ought to be paid to the agricultural poor in the neighbourhood of commons, and enclosures should be jealously watched so that the interests of these poor people should be protected. If there was anything that added to the beauty of a country, it was the commons; and the commons of England were amongst its greatest ornaments.


hoped the House would not accuse him of any want of disrespect if he declined to connect him-self or the Government to any particular course of action with regard to this matter. He was bound, however, to say that the Government were quite prepared to accept the legacy left them by their predecessors. For the purpose of testing the view of the House, he had advised the Government that a measure should be introduced, treating simply of matters to which there was no objection; but when he found that the feeling of the House was that the question should be dealt with in a more comprehensive spirit, he did not think it right to press the Bill. He hoped, however, before long to introduce a Bill which would in most respects carry out the views of the Enclosure Commissioners. He regretted that the Government had not been able this year to take up the matter. It was very pressing, and had engaged a large share of his attention, but, as he had said, be hoped before very long to remedy the evil. But the question was one which, when it came to be dealt with, would have to be dealt with upon broad principles. There was not the slightest doubt that enclosures would go on, if anyone chose to enclose. There was no reason why commoners and lords of the manor should not introduce Bills to enclose their commons if they saw fit to do so. The only effect which the existence of the Enclosure Commissioners had was to provide machinery by which the enclosures could be made at a cheaper rate. The law of the case was this—It was able to protect everyone in the possession of his own rights, whatever they were. Well, so long as people were content with their own rights the law would not interfere; but it was only when they claimed something else that Parliament had the right to interfere, and impose its own conditions. As to the food question, there were, no doubt, waste lands capable of producing more than they did at present, and legislation might effect something in this respect. The reports of the Enclosure Commissioners did not always afford ground for a satisfactory conclusion, and he thought it was a great hardship that the Minister who happened to be in office at the time should be compelled, simply on the recommendation of the Enclosure Commissioners, to take up Bills and push them through Parliament. He thought the Minister ought to be allowed to exercise his own judgment, and ought not to be dependent upon the ipse dixit of the Commissioners as to what was or was not for the interests of the public. The result of all the schemes passed since 1869 was as yet very small, and he cordially agreed with hon. Members that it was a matter which ought to be dealt with, and he would do so at the earliest possible moment.


considered the statement of the Home Secretary a most satisfactory one, and he hoped he would next year be able to introduce a comprehensive Bill. He was glad that the right hon. Gentleman practically recognized the changed position of the country since the passing of the Enclosure Act in 1843, the importance of preserving open spaces for the health of our rapidly-increasing population, and the duty of placing obstacles in the way of enclosure and making those who demanded it prove their case. The information hitherto afforded by the Commissioners was insufficient to enable the Government and the House to form a judgment upon any particular case; but that was due to the strictly administrative character of the functions assigned to the Commissioners. The Home Secretary had invited lords of manors to enclose by means of private Bills; but the enclosures that were made by private Bills before 1843 were not carried out in such a way as to warrant a recurrence to that practice. He remembered a case in which it was proposed to enclose a common of 1,960 acres, and the Commissioners thought two acres of allotments and one acre of recreation ground sufficiently represented the rights of the public and the interests of the poor. He might quote numberless cases of the same kind. The last attempt to effect an enclosure by a private bill reached its third reading, but was then rejected, and in that it was proposed to enclose 6,900 acres, and out of that quantity of land only to allow five acres as recreation ground, and one acre as allotment gardens. The late Duke of Newcastle once said that 1,000,000 acres of common land had been enclosed before the Enclosure Act of 1843, and after a searching inquiry he had arrived at the conclusion that, without a single exception, no enclosure had taken place without great injury to the public, and that the interests of the poor were systematically ignored. Whether enclosures were attempted to be carried out by private or by public Acts, he believed the general feeling of the House to be that the principle laid down by a Select Committee would equally apply, namely—That it was inexpedient to sanction any further enclosures until the Enclosure Act had been amended. However powerful a Government might be, it would find it difficult to pass an Enclosure Act through the House unless it recognized the right of the public in the matter. There was a strong feeling throughout the country amongst men of every political party that these open spaces should be preserved.


said, he deprecated statements and discussions which were calculated to suggest the idea that large tracts of land were likely to be obtained for profitable cultivation by enclosures of wastes and commons. He had also to complain of the exaggerated statements frequently put forward with respect to enclosure schemes on the one side or the other, and in which they were held up as a great hardship upon the poor. One thing was certain that the persons who were desirous to have those waste lands enclosed would give any amount of land necessary for garden and recreation grounds for the poor.


wished to explain that he did not use the expression attributed to him by the hon. Member for Hackney, that he would early next Session bring in a Bill upon the subject. What he had said was, that it was a matter pressing for consideration, and that it should receive it.