MR. ASSHETON CROSS
, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill for facilitating the Regulation and Improvement of Commons, and for the amendment of the Inclosure Acts, said, that no one could have read or looked at the Report 187 of the Inclosure Commissioners for the last year without being struck with the very great number of inclosure schemes, passed by the Commissioners, which had been silently waiting for their confirmation by Parliament. For years past Parliament had practically come to the conclusion, without an absolute vote, that it would not confirm any further schemes of that kind until the law regulating the inclosure of commons had been, to some extent, revised; and also that it would not undertake the revision of the law on that subject until it had had laid before it as accurate an account as could be obtained of the quantity of land which yet remained uninclosed, pointing out how much of it could be cultivated and how much could not, together with certain other particulars respecting those lands. All those particulars were now before the House, and he thought it was quite time that an end should be put to that which had become a disgrace to the legislation of this country—namely, that there should be a law passed for the inclosure of commons, and that people should go to a certain expense to have their lands inclosed, and should then find it practically impossible to get their schemes confirmed. Therefore, he thought that the House would probably be of the same opinion as the Government—namely, that the period had arrived when that question should be undertaken, and in a somewhat broad and comprehensive spirit, so as once for all to put the matter on such a foundation as it might rest upon, they hoped, for a long term of years. The Report they had had placed before them as to the extent of land which still remained uninclosed, and otherwise was most interesting. He found that the total amount of that land was about 2,632,000 acres, of which about 883,000 acres were apparently capable of being brought into cultivation; while nearly 1,500,000 acres were unsuited for cultivation, and about 250,000 acres might be called common field land. Now, what had really been the reason why Parliament had held its hand in confirming inclosure schemes of late years? It was briefly this. They had not been satisfied that sufficient compensation had been given to those who had admittedly no proprietory rights over the commons, but who, nevertheless, practically incurred a loss by the 188 fact of the commons being inclosed. Out of 587,000 acres inclosed since the passing of the Inclosure Acts, only something like 4,000 acres had been made into allotments for gardens, recreation grounds, &c., although about 414,000 were available for that purpose; and this he believed was one of the main causes which had brought the operation of the Inclosure Acts into some disfavour, and had led to public opinion demanding the revision of those Acts. He was not going to trouble the House with a discussion of the ancient laws relating to commons; but he thought it right to call attention to the origin of some of the first Inclosure Acts which had been passed. Up to 1845 no in-closures occurred without the sanction of Parliament, except by private Acts; but towards the end of last century Select Committees were appointed to consider the inclosure question. In 1801 the Inclosure Clauses Consolidation Act was passed, the object of which was in the first place to increase the supply of food for the people, the extent of uncultivated land being very great compared with the population; and, secondly, to furnish employment for the soldiers returning from the war of that time. So matters went on until 1845, when, after considerable inquiry, a general Inclosure Act came into law. This Act was intended to facilitate the inclosure of lands by the great saving of expense effected by public instead of private Acts, and by having inquiries conducted locally instead of by Committees of the House, which was more convenient for those whose interests were concerned. Still, there was no doubt the object of the Act of 1845 was, in the main, the increase of the food of the people; and the Commissioners, he believed, had done their duty most faithfully and honestly according to the intentions of the Parliament of that day. The Act of 1845, however, did not recognize any right of the public at large to the commons, which were practically the property of private persons, and no legal decision had ever been given to that effect. But the Act contained certain provisions in order to secure for the public some compensation for the loss of the enjoyment which they individually suffered by the commons being inclosed. Provision was also made for the allotment of gardens, recreation grounds, 189 &c. Under this Act, inclosures went on to a large extent; but, as he had said, out of 414,000 acres subject to allotment, rather less than 4,000 acres had been allotted. Circumstances had, no doubt, greatly altered since the passing of the Inclosure Act of 1801, and even that of 1845. The feeling of the country had changed on the subject, and the reason for it was not difficult to find. In the first place, the necessity for increasing the food supply of the people by the cultivation of commons was not by any means so pressing as formerly. Indeed, the amount of food that could be supplied by the commons if put under cultivation would be but as a drop in the ocean compared with the supplies that now came from abroad. Then the general increase of the population was so large that in discussing the expediency of inclosing lands they had to consider, not merely how to increase the food supply, but what was really best calculated to promote the health and material prosperity of the people of this country. Whatever could be done in this way without interfering with private rights, it was their duty to do; and the question of commons, viewed in this light, was perhaps of even greater importance now than it was in 1801 and 1845. But it was worth while to consider whether there was no other reason than that he had mentioned for the disfavour into which the Acts had fallen. One point was that under the Inclosure Act there was no security that land which was inclosed would be applied to the purpose to which it was intended—namely, cultivation. It might be employed for building or planting. Again, the provision of the Inclosure Acts for the protection of the community had become practically inoperative. Until recently it was undoubtedly the acknowledged practice of the Commissioners to look upon inclosures as private improvements, and he believed those gentlemen had acted from a sense of public duty. Latterly, however, inclosure schemes had come to be regarded as affecting the material interests of the public, and great strides had been taken in that direction by Parliament. In 1865 a Committee was appointed to "inquire into the best means of preserving for the public use the Forests, Commons, and Open Spaces in and around the Metropolis," and in the following year an Act 190 was passed, and was now law, regulating those commons and dealing with them in quite a different way from the manner in which they had been dealt with before. In 1869 a further inquiry was made, and the Committee on this occasion made certain recommendations which had never before been put in force. In the inquiry care should be taken that public objects as well as private objects should be considered by the Commissioners, and that some information should be laid before Parliament not connected with any particular inclosure, but with the general question, in case an Inclosure Bill were passed. He would not detain the House for a moment in discussing those plans in 1870 and 1872 dealing with the proposals of the Commissioners. The history, if he might so call it, of the legislation down to this point would lead many of the Members of that House to some of the following conclusions:—In the first place, it was absolutely necessary that a Bill should not be brought in having the effect of preventing the further inclosure of commons; in the next place, that any Bill brought in should secure to landowners and those interested in commons the same facilities that they hitherto possessed to make inclosures by a comparatively inexpensive process; and although it should not, any more than any of the previous Acts, recognize in any way proprietory rights, unless where they really existed, it should maintain strictly all the private rights of those interested in the commons. When those persons came before Parliament the effect of each inclosure should be carefully ascertained by the Commissioners and brought before the cognizance of Parliament before Parliament was asked to deal with it. There was one more conclusion to which he thought they ought to come—that it was no longer the interest of the State—at least, to nothing like the extent it was some years ago—to interest itself in the multiplication of inclosures. They must now rather consider inclosures as schemes for private improvement, the State seeing that the public interest did not suffer by the inclosures. If the Act of 1845 had been brought forward in the present day, probably greater effect would have been given to it, considering the temper of the country. He did not believe, how- 191 ever, that the full effect of the Act of 1845 was generally known throughout the country. There was no doubt that in that Act there were very strong provisions, and he pointed to one of the sections which required full information from the applicants as to the effects of the inclosure, &c.—its advantages and its results, so far as the poor were concerned. A Report had to be made by the Assistant Commissioner as to whether he considered the inclosure expedient on private and public grounds. He could not forget that when they came to deal with this question, to settle it they must go upon the lines of the Act of 1845, taking care that the provisions to which he referred should be fully carried into effect. If the House would permit him, he would explain what was the intention of the Government in regard to this point. They started in the Preamble by setting out the provisions of the Act to which he had referred, and by stating that which he believed to be emphatically the truth—that it was expedient to give further effect to the provisions set out in the Preamble. They must take into consideration that which the people of this country wanted almost as much as food—the air which they breathed and the health which they enjoyed. It might be that a great deal should be done with these waste lands; but in a very great many cases it was no doubt necessary for the people of the country that inclosures should still be made, but he believed it would be still more necessary that these commons, in a great number of cases, should not be inclosed. He, therefore, provided that they should be dealt with not only under the old Inclosure Acts, by inclosing them separately, but by keeping them as commons, and giving the greatest facility for their regulation and improvement. The Bill provided that the Commissioners might entertain an application for a Provisional Order—first, for the regulation of a common; and, secondly, for the inclosure of the common; and he sincerely hoped, if that Act became law, as he trusted it would, that more applications would be made for the regulation of the commons than for their inclosure. As to the regulation, he divided it into two heads. In the first place, all that might be wanted was simply the practical adjustment of 192 the rights of those interested in the commons. There were, no doubt, many cases where the rights were undefined, and where disputes led to great misunderstanding. He would take the case of commoners' rights. In the matter of pasture he would not deprive any man of his rights; but there were rights of trover and estrover which might be detrimental to the common, and then he would give power to compensate those with whose rights they would interfere. He would give compensation in kind or in money. As to improvement, it was clear that there were a great number, such as the commons of Surrey, which no one would think of inclosing, but which were in a lamentable state for want of all sorts of things being done, which there was nobody to do, and for which no funds could be found. He would give all those interested power to apply to the Inclosure Commissioners for a scheme by which a common might be improved, or by which some portions of it might be sold and some sort of rate levied on the holders for the purpose of having the necessary improvements effected. When an application was made under the Provisional Order in considering the expediency of that application, he wished to tie down the Commissioners more closely than had hitherto been the case to the desirability of seeing whether the proposed improvements would be really for the benefit of the neighbourhood as well as for the advantage of private rights. By the benefit of the neighbourhood he meant whether they would tend to the health and comfort of the inhabitants of any city or populous place in or near any parish in which the land proposed to be inclosed was situated. That was merely practically re-enacting the words which were to be found in the Act of 1845, and enabling the Commissioners to put in any scheme for inclosure any of those conditions which they might deem to be suitable: such as that free access should be secured to any particular path; that particular trees should be preserved or destroyed; and where no ground for the purposes of recreation was reserved the privilege of playing games at such times and on such parts of the inclosure as might be thought expedient should be secured, so that due care would be taken that injury was not caused to the commoner. He must make some reference 193 to the question of suburban commons. A Bill had been laid before the House with the view of applying the Metropolitan Act to all the great towns throughout the country. That was an Act, however, which it was very difficult to work, and what he wished to see done was that in dealing with inclosures in the neighbourhood of populous places ample security should be taken that a full statement of the facts in each case should be brought before Parliament, and that those who were locally interested in opposing any inclosure should have the opportunity of putting forward their claims and objections. He therefore proposed that notice of any application in the case of a suburban common situated within six miles of a populous place should be served on the urban sanitary authority, and that he should have a right to go before the Assistant Commissioner and ascertain the views of the Board on the question. It was further provided that the urban sanitary authority might acquire by gift or in any other legitimate way a common or any part of it, and the number of persons who would, as he already stated, be required to make an application to the Inclosure Commissioners in the case of an inclosure in severalty might do so in the case to which he was now referring. He did not know whether he need enter further into the details of the Bill; but anyone who had looked into the procedure clauses of the Act of 1845 would see that the question of private rights and public interests was mixed up in a way which was not very clear, and it was, he thought, very much better that they should be practically separated. He had found it very difficult to embody in the clauses, as they stood, of the Act of 1845 all the recommendations of the Committee which sat in 1869; but he had adopted all the recommendations of that Committee, and had inserted the whole of the procedure in the present Bill, repealing, for the purpose, the few sections of the Act of 1845 to which he had just alluded. Hon. Members would, when they saw the Bill, at once find the difference which was established between the evidence relating to questions affecting the benefit of the neighbourhood, and that having reference to private rights. The Government were desirous that on any application for a scheme there should be 194 produced before the Assistant Commissioner all the evidence in favour of the advantages which would be conferred upon the inhabitants of towns as well as that in which private rights were concerned. Then provision was made, not that the Inclosure Commissioners should once a year make any general Report to that House, but that every scheme which came before them, should be separately reported, and, together with the scheme, all the information which they had received in respect to it. It was further proposed for protection of village greens, which were so essential in many parts of the country, that the provisions against encroaching upon them should be strengthened. In a number of old Acts proceedings in such a case could only be taken by certain recognized officers, and the Government had thought it right to make every encroachment on a village green a public nuisance, and to enable any one to proceed against the persons so offending. There was only one further point which remained to be noticed, and that was when the schemes were passed by the Inclosure Commissioners how they were to be dealt with. Now, that was a question of procedure in that House. Originally when the Secretary of State brought in the schemes of the Inclosure Commissioners, his function was one which was purely ministerial in regard to it. Of late years, however, greater interest was taken in the subject, and the Secretary of State for the time being not only brought in those schemes, but had sometimes to force them through the House, although he might never have had an opportunity of pronouncing a judgment as to whether he deemed them to be wise or not. Now, he thought some better plan might be devised, by means of which those schemes might be more carefully watched. He did not regard it as right that the Government should be mixed up with them in the way he had just mentioned, and what he should propose was that some such plan as that which had hitherto existed, in the case of the expiring Turnpike Acts, should be adopted. Those Acts were scheduled, and when the next Session commenced they were referred to a Standing Committee of the House, who reported upon them, and then it was that the Government stepped in, and the recommendation, he might add, of the Committee of 1871 was, that all such 195 schemes as those with which he was now dealing should he laid before a Committee of the House of Commons. Such, then, was the way in which the Government proposed to deal with the question of the inclosure of commons. He believed it was not expedient that an inclosure should take place without full information, and without all objections being heard. It was much more expedient that a large number of commons should be regulated without inclosures; and he hoped when the Bill was considered it would be found that all vested interests had been most carefully guarded, and that people would also see what was equally essential—that we should make greater provision to ensure that the other part of the case would be looked to—namely, the health, comfort, and convenience of those who lived in the neighbourhood of commons, the welfare of small commoners, and the comfort of the labouring poor who were in the habit of frequenting them for the purpose of recreation. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, that the inclosure of commons was certainly an important subject; but it had not been hitherto regarded as one of such overwhelming interest as to entitle it to a place in the Queen's Speech. If any public interest was felt in the subject, it was in the direction of keeping the commons open rather than inclosing them. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, however, was rather taken from the point of view of lords of manors. The right hon. Gentleman had given an interesting account of the question, but had stopped short at the year 1869. In that year a Committee sat on the question, and came to the conclusion that under the inclosures which had taken place for many years the interests of the public had been gravely neglected; and they drew up a Report recommending that in any future inclosures the interest of the public and neighbouring poor should be carefully guarded. In 1871 he (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) brought in a Bill founded on that Report. That Bill was, to a certain extent, a compromise, and was the cause of something like a rupture between himself and hon. Members sitting below the Gangway on his own side of the House. The measure was referred to a Select Committee; which 196 reported in its favour; but it was so vehemently opposed by hon. Members sitting on the other side of the House that it was impossible to proceed with it. In the Session following the Earl of Morley brought in an Inclosure Bill with similar provisions, which was more discussed in the House of Lords than almost any measure of the Session. It had reached a third reading, when it was opposed, and on the Motion of the Duke of Northumberland rejected, on the ground that it interfered with the rights of property. As he understood the Bill now before the House, it was very much the same measure as that brought into the House of Lords. Why, therefore, was not this Bill introduced in the other House? Why should they waste their time in discussing a measure of this kind with the almost certainty that when it went to the House of Lords it would be rejected? [Mr. ASSHETON CROSS: No.] The Bill certainly did not embrace the clauses relative to suburban commons; but otherwise it was substantially the same. [Mr. ASSHETON CROSS: It is a very different Bill.] He (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) must remind the right hon. Gentleman that great strides had been made by public opinion on this subject since 1870, and that he, for one, should not be satisfied with the compromise which he was ready to accept in 1870. Various law suits relating to the commons in the neighbourhood of London, especially that of Epping Forest, had since been brought to a conclusion, and the decisions of the Law Courts in regard to the commons at Hampstead, Berkhampstead, and Tooting, had thrown a flood of light on the subject. Moreover, during the last three years a very important movement had been going on among the agricultural labourers, who at all their meetings laid great stress upon their grievances arising out of the inclosure of commons, and no measure would satisfy either them or the public which did not deal with the question in a broader, wider, and more comprehensive spirit than the Bill of 1871. What had to a great extent preserved the commons hitherto had been the uncertainty as to the rights of the various parties. He did not know whether the Bill provided for the regulation as well the inclosure of commons.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that if any application were made for the 197 regulation of commons under this Bill, any scheme of improvement would come under the notice of Parliament.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, he believed that very few applications for the regulation of commons would be made under the Bill, and that they would be principally made for inclosures. He should look through the details of the Bill with interest; and if they were really framed on a wide basis, he should give it his cordial support.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
wished to know whether he had understood the Home Secretary to state that the recommendation of the Commission of 1869—that an increased proportion of the land should be reserved—would be followed?
§ MR. GOSCHEN
feared that this left the matter at the discretion of the Commissioners and took away the security from the public.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
remarked that the removal of the limit gave the greatest possible security, because that particular fact of the proportion of land reserved must be brought before the notice of Parliament.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, this would be one of the points to which the House would direct its attention when the Bill came before it for consideration.
§ MR. WHITWELL
said, he hoped the country would have time to fully consider the Bill before it was further proceeded with.
§ MR. LEEMAN
thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he had introduced the Bill, and ventured to think that the measure was one which would give great satisfaction to the country. He had no hesitation in stating that much good for the general public was foreshadowed in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and he believed that all rights would be protected and preserved. The Government were entitled to thanks for taking up a question which had been hung up so long a time, and, in particular, for attempting to provide regulations for large suburban commons, the magnitude of which was out of all proportion to the number of the surrounding population who could make use of them, and the result was they were neglected, to the detriment equally of lords of the manor and of those who had quasi rights over them. 198 If the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) could see no difference between the Government Bill and that which he introduced in 1871, in the name of reason why did he now oppose the Government Bill? If his propositions were right then, they were right now. The mode of dealing with the commons in the neighbourhood of London could have no influence on the legislation required for commons in the remote districts of the country. He hoped the Home Secretary would proceed with all despatch with a Bill which seemed to contain the elements of good for all concerned.
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK
said, he had listened with some little astonishment to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken; because, if there was a Member of the House who had done much for the preservation of commons, it was the hon. Member for Reading, and it was not his fault, nor that of the late Government, that they could not carry all their measures. No one he was sure would be more anxious than the hon. Member for Reading to give fair consideration to a Bill aiming at the objects which he had so long laboured to promote.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill for facilitating the Regulation and Improvement of Commons, and for the amendment of the Inclosure Acts, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Secretary CROSS and Sir HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON.
§ Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 51.]