HC Deb 18 February 1876 vol 227 cc525-43

Order for Second Reading read.

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


in rising to move, as an Amendment— That this House considers that the Bill does not provide sufficient facilities for the regulation and improvement of commons in their present open condition, and is of opinion that, after the recent decisions given in regard to Epping Forest and other cases, where inclosures have been illegally and arbitrarily made, no inclosures should be permitted except under the special sanction of Parliament, said, he had been under the impression in listening to the excellent speech of the Home Secretary in bringing in this Bill that it was substantially the same measure as that of 1871, which was referred to a Select Committee and received the sanction of that House, but which was rejected by the House of Lords. The right hon. Gentleman, however, disclaimed that comparison, and rightly so, because it differed on many important points from the Bill of 1871. In some respects he was bound to admit that it was an improvement on that measure, but in other and more important respects it was far behind it. The clause which remitted the matter to the consideration of the Inolosure Commissioners before they gave their assent to any inclosure was a good one, and had been framed with the obvious intention of limiting inclosures as far as possible. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, seemed to be far from anxious to extend inclosures, and evidently wished that lands which could not be inclosed to the advantage of the public should remain uninclosed. He would not, however, enter upon any invidious comparison between the two Bills; but, having given much attention to the matter, and having done something to hasten on the progress of public opinion on this subject by those rapid strides which the Home Secretary had referred to, he might claim a right to criticize the measure. Its defects were these—The Bill did not provide any remedy for the protection of the public against the violent and arbitrary inclosures of common land of which they had had so many illustrations in past years, and which at a great expense had been declared illegal. The clauses for the regulation and improvement of commons would be nugatory and useless, and sufficient security was not provided that the interest of the agricultural labourer when inclosure took place should be properly protected. Before discussing these defects, he desired to say a few words on the extent of our commons and manorial wastes, and the history of legislation affecting them. Their extent had been estimated, sometimes at 5,000,000 acres and at other times at 7,500,000 acres; but we were now informed by the Home Secretary that the Inclosure Commissioners had come to the conclusion that the waste lands did not exceed more than 2,500,000 acres, of which only 800,000 acres were improvable. Since then an apparently more careful estimate had been produced in the Return of landholders, which had been called the second Domesday Book, and, according to that, the aggregate amount of uninclosed places and waste lands was only 1,500,000 acres, of which 1,200,000 acres were in England, and 300,000 acres in Wales. The Return showed the distribution of this waste land in the respective counties, and it appeared that Cumberland, Westmoreland, Yorkshire, and Devonshire, and the other mountainous counties, contained 960,000 acres, leaving only 266,000 acres for the other counties; and when 60,000 acres were subtracted for the New Forest, which Parliament had decided should be left open, and 40,000 for the Surrey Commons, the westerly winds over which contributed so much to the salubrity and health of London, and which the Home Secretary had admitted ought not to be inclosed, it would be seen that the quantity of land available for inclosures was reduced to a small amount. The Returns from Bedford, Bucks, Oxford, Hants, and other counties showed that that was the case, and that, as he had said, there had been great exaggeration as to the amount of these waste lands, and they ought to take care that the Government did not give any unnecessarily due facilities for these inclosures for private purposes by private persons. He quite agreed with the Home Secretary's statement that any food that could possibly be produced by the inclosure of these lands would be but a mere trifle, and that they must depend under unaltered circumstances on supplies from other countries, while the wastes and commons should be looked upon as health reserves for the benefit of the community at large. The difficulty in dealing with the question of commons arose from the fact that the legal position of the public and of the agricultural labourers was not in harmony with practice and facts. According to the strict technical law, invented by the feudal lawyers—and superseding a much wider and more popular law, under which undoubtedly the commons were the common property of the village or community—the commons were the property of the lords of manors, and the tenants of their manors, and the public had no right to them, no matter how long or how much they had used them for recreation, no matter how necessary they might be for the health of the district. It was true that the law had recognized the right of inhabitants of a village to the village green acquired by user and by the custom of playing games and dancing; but the law seemed to have drawn no analogy between the village and its green and the populous town or district and its common, no matter how close that analogy might be. By a miserable technicality a custom must be limited to a limited class or to a limited custom, and it was said that a custom for all the world to recreate and play games on such a common as Blackheath or Hackney, which were, in fact, playgrounds, was bad because it was too general. Technically, also, commons might be inclosed with the consent of lords of manors and their commoners, but in practice this consent could not be obtained; and by the old Statute of Merton, passed in the interest of agriculture, a lord of the manor could inclose provided he left sufficiency of common to the commoners. This statute was practically obsolete and only applied to common of pasture. The lord could not avail himself of it, and as the onus of proving that a sufficiency of common was left for the other commoners lies with the lord, it was admitted that this could never be done. In all the great cases which had occupied the Law Courts of late years, although the Statute of Merton was always pleaded, it had never since been attempted to show that a sufficiency of common had been left. Now, this being the very unsatisfactory state of the technical law, practically the case was very different. The commons were kept open by the adverse interests of lords of manors and commoners, by the impossibility of getting consents, by the uncertainty as to what the rights were and who were entitled to them; and it was the experience of ages that commons could not be lawfully inclosed without the sanction of Parliament. If it were not so, why the many hundred private Inclosure Acts, why the General Inclosure Act, why this Bill? So long as the commons remained open the public enjoyed them. The public were what the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) had called "dispunishable trespassers." In respect, however, of the commons in populous districts, this difficulty had arisen. By the growth of populations enjoying the common without stint or without any power on the part of the lords and commoners to restrain them, the circumstances of the commons greatly altered, and it became impossible or un- profitable for the commoners to exercise their rights. They ceased to turn out their cattle upon them, they no longer burnt the turf. People took the place of cattle, they were down the grass in lieu of browsing on it, the turf was more useful for games than for burning. The law, however, had not been pliant enough to recognize this practical transfer of user and custom, or to legitimize the public user which had thus ousted the private user. In ancient times, the commoners were, for the most part, copyholders, who were mere tenants of the will of the lord liable to be ousted at any moment, villeins and serfs who had no rights of any kind; but by degrees these customs of the copyholders ripened into right, and the lawyers of those days recognized that long-established custom gave sanction to right, and the conversion of villeins and tenants-at-will into customary copyholders with certain tenure, had always been looked back to by our law-writers and historians as an act of great justice and most advantageous to the country. But now-a-days the law failed to grasp the same principles, and to recognize the customary user of the people as one equally deserving of consideration. The Home Secretary very rightly dated back the change of opinion with regard to commons to the year 1865, when a very important Committee investigated the subject of the Commons round London. Though this Bill did not apply to metropolitan commons, yet the principles laid down by that Committee applied equally to all commons, or, at all events, those within reach of other populous places. It was contended before the Committee by the agents of the lords of manors that by the disuser of rights the commons practically belonged to them free of rights, and that they could inclose at will. The Committee, however, was of opinion after hearing much evidence, that the rights of common of the commoners, though disused, still subsisted at law sufficient to prevent inclosure, and that the commoners might be expected to put them in force to prevent inclosure. They rejected, therefore, a scheme for the purchase of the commons which would have involvedpaying£6,000,000 to £7,000,000 for that which the public had always used, and they recommended the scheme under which the commons might be placed under proper regulation and management for the prevention of nuisances and the maintenance of order, and under which the ratepayers' money could be applied for the improvement of the commons. The Committee further recommended the repeal of the Statute of Morton, on the ground that even in the agricultural districts, any attempt at inclosure of lands under the alleged authority of the statute would be entirely inconsistent with the more comprehensive legislation of the present day. The recommendation of the Committee with respect to the management of commons was afterwards adopted by Parliament and the Metropolitan Commons Act, under which some five or six commons had been placed under proper management. The Act was not without difficulties; but it would have been put into operation more frequently but for circumstances to which he should presently revert, and for the same reason the proposal to repeal the Statute of Morton was postponed. These circumstances were that immediately after the Report of the Committee there commenced a raid upon the commons near London of a most formidable character. Inolosures were made in all directions; 3,000 acres of Epping Forest were inclosed, and some 10 or 12 other commons were either inclosed or threatened. This led to a counter-demonstration. A society was formed for the purpose of resisting these inolosures, and to test the truth of the conclusions of the Committee of 1865, that inclosures were illegal and could be put down. Local committees were formed; public-spirited persons came forward; Mr. Augustus Smith sent 200 men to pull down the fences which had been erected by Earl Brownlow as lord of the manor. His hon. Friend the Member for Rochester (Mr. Goldsmid) undertook to resist the inclosure of Plumstead, which had been made by an Oxford College. In Epping Forest the battle was fought for three or four years by a brave old labouring man named Willingale, assisted by friends of the cause. In all, some 10 or 12 suits were commenced, which occupied the Court of Chancery for many years. Ancient records were searched, manorial law was furbished up, and it was found that the old law of the country was quite equal to the task of putting down these illegalities. With one exception—that of Hampstead, where a compromise was effected by the Metropolitan Board purchasing the common for a comparatively small sum—all the cases were successful, and fully established the fact that the inclosures were as illegal as they were arbitrary and without consideration for the public. In the case of Epping Forest, the investigations of old Willingale's suit showed that the Corporation of London, as the owner of a cemetery, had rights of common over the whole forest. The Corporation, full of zeal for the public interest, was induced to put those rights in force, and it brought these suits, which ended only last year in the most complete victory, and in the practical restoration of 3,000 acres to the forest, and therefore to the use of the people. Pending these cases, he need hardly say that all questions of altering the law, or of repealing the Statute of Merton, were naturally suspended. But he thought the time had now come for a proper consideration of the question. They had practically shown that these inclosures were illegal; it was only a question of money. He felt confident that any inclosure could be put down. The question, however, arose whether the State should not interfere to prevent these arbitrary inclosures, to give greater protection against them, to stop useless litigation, to avoid the necessity of these circuitous actions, and to forbid all further encroachments, except such as received the sanction of Parliament, through the proper course of the Inclosure Commission. But of this he was confident—that no Bill would be satisfactory or lasting as a settlement of the question which did not deal with this matter by securing the public from these arbitrary and illegal inclosures. The second question he had to deal with was that affecting the regulation and management of commons, especially those within reach of populous places. The present Bill was very skilfully, he might say artfully drawn. It put in the foreground the clauses for the regulation and improvement of commons, and kept in the background the inclosure, and the Home Secretary, with perfect candour, told them that he hoped there would be many more applications for the one than the other. He wished he could think so; but he thought the right hon. Gentleman was under a delusion on that point. He knew it had been suggested by the Inclosure Commissioners that power should be taken to regulate commons; but he believed it to be an entire mistake to suppose that a lord of the manor would ever apply for the regulation of his common. What lords of manors wished to do was to inclose, and not regulate; if they could not get consent to inclose, they would not go to the expense of regulation. He would be told, however, that under the Bill local authorities would have power to initiate proceedings for regulating commons; but they must first get the consent of two-thirds of the persons interested, and as no scheme could be finally concluded without the approval of the lord of the manor, practically it came to this—that the scheme of the local authorities must necessarily be subject to the veto of the lord of the manor. That was a very poor substitute for the extension of the Metropolitan Commons Act to commons in other populous places. The true course was to extend the Metropolitan Commons Act to other populous places. With respect to the position of the agricultural labourer who was tenant of a cottage on a common, though he had strictly no legal right to the common, since such rights were attached to land only, and not to persons, still as long as the common remained open he exercised a right in lieu of the owner of the cottage which he occupied, and consequently was entitled to consideration. AH that the Bill provided to meet such cases was that it removed a limit contained in the Act of 1845 in regard to the amount of land that was to be appropriated as garden allotments or recreation grounds upon an inclosure taking place. The Committee of 1871 recommended as a minimum that one-tenth of the common inclosed should be set apart for such purposes. Many at the time objected, on the ground that that minimum was excessive; on the other hand, others thought it too small. Looking back at the miserable pittance allowed for gardens in the Act of 1845 to agricultural labourers, where inclosures had occurred, he came to the conclusion that grave injustice had been done. The Bill proposed in future to leave the matter to the discretion of the Inclosure Commissioners. He had the greatest respect for these gentlemen; they had done their duty honestly and according to the instructions of Parlia- ment; but the instincts of Inclosure Commissioners must necessarily be in favour of inclosure. For his own part, he did not desire to leave such matters entirely to the discretion of the Commissioners, and thought that it would be easier to lay down at least a minimum in the Bill. In conclusion, he would point out what appeared to be three grave defects in the Bill—1. It provided no remedy whatever against arbitrary inclosures, such as we had so many examples of, and, which, although they had been declared illegal after expensive and lengthy process of law, were certain to break out again. 2. It provided no adequate means for the regulation and improvement of commons within reach of populous places. 3. It did not sufficiently secure the interest of the labouring class in case of inclosure. Unless these defects were cured, the Bill would not be that lasting settlement which the Home Secretary desired, and which was equally in the interest of lords of manors, of commoners, and of the public. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to ths end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House considers that the Bill does not provide sufficient facilities for the regulation and improvement of commons in their present open condition, and is of opinion that, after the recent decisions given in regard to Epping Forest and other cases, whore inclosures have been illegally and arbitrarily made, no inclosures should he permitted except under the special sanction of Parliament,"—(Mr. Shaw Lefevre,)

—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that as a Member of the Inclosure Committee of 1869 he had gone carefully through this Bill with the Report of that Committee, and so far as he could find out the Resolutions and Report of that Committee had been fairly and honestly brought forward in the Bill. So far as he could see the Bill was one which, after the Amendments it might undergo in Committee, would be a very great improvement on the present Inclosure Act—bearing in mind the principle that they were endeavouring to keep the commons open for public use, and to provide suitable recreation grounds and garden allotments for the agricultural poor. The hon. Gentleman had urged three objections against it. He alleged that it would not prevent inclosures; but he had, while admitting the efficacy of the means already available for that purpose, failed to specify the remedy he would substitute for it. The hon. Gentleman said proceedings in Chancery were attended with great expense, but where questions of land arose, it was impossible to deal with them without calling witnesses into Court; but when those proceedings had been taken, substantial justice had been obtained. The next point urged by the hon. Gentleman was that the regulations for the improvement of the commons would prove nugatory, as the consent of the lord of the manor would have to be obtained; but then, if the lord of the manor refused his consent, the common would remain as it was—still an open space. With respect to the privileges of agricultural labourers, his hon. Friend admitted that a great improvement in their position would be made by the Bill; for not only would they, so long as they tenanted their cottages, enjoy the garden allotments, but the Inclosure Commissioners would have power to pay the original expense of bringing the allotments into culture. His hon. Friend had talked of the rights of the agricultural labourers who might have occupied a cottage near a common for six months; but his hon. Friend would find it very difficult to give such a labourer the same rights as a freeholder. The conclusions from "Domesday Book" were anything but reliable, as he had found it very inaccurate in every instance in which he had had occasion to consult it, and he feared a great deal of money and of pains had been lavished upon it without producing any very good result. The Bill, so far as he could see, carried out the recommendations of the Committee, by whom great attention was given to the subject, was simple in its character, and was calculated to do a considerable amount of good.


observed, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) had given the House a learned speech on the subject, which he had listened to with much interest. But he must take exception to what he said respecting public rights. If by that expression he meant the rights of the inhabitants of the vicinity of the common, he was ready to assent to his view. He thought, however, the expression might be interpreted to mean the rights of the public generally, though resident in places which might be very distant from the public locally interested. He (Mr. Pell) thought that the great feature of the Bill—the feature which ought to give the greatest satisfaction—was, that it made provision for keeping open within reasonable limits all the open spaces in the country. That was a result which could not fail to be productive of good. Another good point in the Bill was, that whilst it would thus reserve to the use of the people places of much natural beauty, where they could enjoy seasonable and healthful recreation, it would disabuse the minds of the people of the very great prejudice and misconception that they had indefinite rights and interests in the property of commons where they had no such rights whatsoever. As regarded the labourers, nothing the House could do for them would place them in the position they formerly enjoyed before they lost the advantages attending the ownership of common rights; but because the Bill did not do that for them, it was was no reason why it should not still be accepted. He hoped that the hon. Member for Reading would not press his Motion to a division, because his speech contained nothing that was really hostile to the Bill.


said, that his objection to the Bill rested not on what it contained, but on what it omitted. The Bill was satisfactory so far as it embodied a great number of recommendations which had been made by three Committees; but he hoped that when the Home Secretary introduced this Bill he would have made a full settlement of the question by complete provisions for dealing satisfactorily with the subject. The omission which he thought the most grave, and which he wished to see remedied, was that relating to suburban commons. The Bill maintained the principle of the Act of 1845, and amended the procedure and ensured a fuller consideration of the interests of the Commoners, but it entirely ignored the principle of the Metropolitan Commons Act, which had preserved for the enjoyment of the pub- lic so many open spaces. The preservation of commons in the immediate vicinity of towns would devolve upon Town Councils and local Government Boards. Those bodies would be the only safeguards. They would have power to appear before the Inclosure Commissioners or Assistant Commissioners; but might often omit to undertake that difficult task in cases where inclosure ought to be resisted. Many of the provisions of the Bill were ineffective for their intended purposes, and there was no guarantee that a larger portion of land would be appropriated for allotments or gardens for the working classes than under the existing law. He would ask, if this Bill was to provide a complete system for inclosing land, why the Government should not prevent inclosure by any other means? The Statute of Merton, which was unfitted to present circumstances, but was often abused, ought to be repealed. If this Bill could provide for a full and fair adjudication on all right and claims other modes of inclosure ought to be prohibited. In his opinion, the Bill would not be perfect unless it contained some indication as to the manner in which inclosures were henceforth to be made.


feared that some portions of the speech of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) would mislead the public; and for his own part, he approved of the decision of the Law Courts—that people should not simply by wandering over property gain a right to roam upon it habitually. The best legal opinion had arrived at the conclusion that the Statute of Merton was nothing more than a declaration of the common law, and, therefore, that would remain even were the statute repealed as suggested. The only practical objection which had been raised bore upon the difficulty, in point of expense, of resisting the encroachments of lords of the manor, and the hon. Gentleman had spoken of the advantage arising in the case of Epping Forest from the Corporation of London happening to have a locus standi; yet when he (Mr. Sandford) proposed, in the Committee of 1865, that power should be given to the Metropolitan Board of Works of purchasing manorial or commoners' rights in the neighbourhood of London, so as to give them a locus standi, that suggestion was resisted by the hon. Member himself. [Mr. SHAW LEFEVRE dissented.] Let the hon. Member turn to the record of the proceedings—how his Motion was lost by only a small majority. In justice to the Members of the Committee who voted against him, however, he might say he believed they did not very well know what they were objecting to. He intended, in Committee on the Bill, to raise the question whether it would not be beneficial to give corporations of large towns power to purchase some commoners or manorial rights in their neighbourhood for the purpose of giving them a locus standi for the preservation of commons. As for the Amendment, it was hardly worth while, in his opinion, to divide the House upon it, for it did not assert any principle which might not be brought forward in Committee. He had the greatest confidence in the Home Secretary. During an experience of that House, extending over a quarter of a century, he had never known a right hon. Gentleman make himself so thoroughly master of the subjects with which he had to deal as the right hon. Gentleman, and he was sure the right hon. Gentleman would cordially agree to any practicable suggestion for further protecting the rights of commoners. The appointment of a Standing Committee was a most important matter. It appeared to him that the whole protection of the public depended upon that, and he hoped the Committee would be formed of the most independent Members. If the appointment of that Committee were entrusted to the Committee of Selection or left in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman himself, he should be perfectly content.


said, a remark of the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) threw light on this difficult and complicated Bill. The hon. Member said there were notions abroad that people living in large towns away from commons had a right to wander over those commons, and those notions he described as monstrous. The hon. Member said the object of this Bill was to restrain that right. He could not have more happily described the contents of this Bill. He (Mr. Fawcett) contended that those commons, although nominally belonging to lords of manors and commoners, were a great and valuable possession to be enjoyed not by the people in the particular locality, but by the people of the entire country, who liked to wander to those commons to see beautiful scenery or seek for recreation, health, and fresh air. If it was not the intention, it certainly would be the result of this Bill, if it passed as it stood, to curtail the rights which the entire people now possessed in the comparatively few open spaces which remained to us. When the Home Secretary rose to reply he hoped he would reply to the interpretation which had been put on his measure by one of his own supporters. He (Mr. Fawcett) had no wish to cast the smallest suspicion on the intentions of the Home Secretary. He read carefully the speech of the Home Secretary on the Motion for leave to introduce this Bill, but he was glad he was not in the House when that speech was delivered; because, captivated by the admirable sentiments of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, he might have committed the mistake of expressing approval of a Bill, simply from the speech by which it was introduced. Nothing could be more admirable than the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, who had, no doubt, intended that his speech should carry out the sentiments of his Bill. If the right hen. Gentleman could prove that the Bill would carry out what he said in his speech, he would find no more cordial supporter than he (Mr. Fawcett) would be. The central point of his speech was that he wished these open spaces to be preserved for the enjoyment of the public. He did not say anything about the monstrous idea of the public having any rights in commons. He (Mr. Fawcett) had read this Bill with the greatest care, and to aid him in the reading of it he called in a high legal authority. They had put the best interpretation on the Bill they could, and they had come to these conclusions—first, that the Bill provided no adequate security that the rights of the rural poor and of the public in rural districts would be adequately secured in the future; secondly, that the Bill provided no security that commons in the neighbourhood of populous towns would not be inclosed; thirdly, that as it stood the Bill rendered all those clauses which read so remarkably well with regard to the regulation of commons in the neighbourhood of towns inoperative; fourthly, the Bill continued to place confidence in a body of men—he spoke of them not personally but officially—in whom no confidence ought to be placed—namely, the Inclosure Commissioners, under whom, during the last 20 years, 400,000 acres had been inclosed, leaving only 2,000 acres for the poor, and 2,000 acres for public purposes. Yet everything was left to the mercy of the Inclosure Commissioners. If the Inclosure Commissioners had acted in the spirit of the speech of the Home Secretary the monstrous abuses that had been committed in the past would never have arisen, and there would be no necessity for this legislation. Looking at the conduct of the Commissioners in the past, it would be extremely rash not to tie them down more expressly by that Bill in the future. With reference to the rural poor, this Bill gave no security whatever that, in the case of any particular inclosure, an adequate amount of land would be reserved. It might be said that every one of the Provisional Orders would be submitted to Parliament, and that, if the reservation was inadequate, Parliament might reject the Provisional Orders. But they had experienced how difficult it was to overthrow a place of this kind, and they knew how ready both officials and ex-officials were to defend the policy of the Department. A recommendation was made that, in cases of inclosure, a minimum should be retained for necessary purposes. He wanted to know why that recommendation should be left out of the Bill. He believed that in the Committee which considered this question no one took a more active part than the present Secretary to the Treasury, who, indeed, if his memory did not greatly deceive him, constantly insisted on the importance of inserting in an Act of Parliament a minimum reservation of that kind. Again, every Member of the Committee would acknowledge that no conclusion was more forced upon them than that one of the most fruitful sources of injustice to the rural poor arose from the fact that whenever the Assistant Commissioner went down to a place to hold an inquiry he held it at 11 or 12 o'clock, or at an hour of the day when the poor were at work and could not possibly attend to state their objections. The inquiry usually lasted a very short time, and consisted of the hearing of an application for an inclosure, perhaps from a large landowner and the clergy- man of the parish. Scarcely was there an instance brought under the Committee's notice in which the inquiry was held at such a time as gave the agricultural labourer a chance of attending. He thought all that would have been remedied by the present measure. The Bill said the inquiry should be held at a "suitable time." Suitable to whom? To the landowner, or to the Assistant Commissioner himself? It did not say it was to be suitable to the poor. When they knew that these inquiries had been, so far as concerned the rural poor, an idle mockery and a farce, surely the Assistant Commissioners ought to be tied down by much more stringent provisions than those of that Bill. But the measure was still more incomplete in regard to suburban commons. The Metropolitan Commons Act of 1865 had worked admirably for the advantage of the people of London; and no argument had been advanced to show why the people of Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, and all our other great centres of population having commons in their neighbourhood should not have the same securities given to them in that matter as were enjoyed by the inhabitants of that metropolis. There was no great city in England which in proportion to its population was so well supplied as London with open spaces; and the loss of, perhaps, the only common near Manchester, Leeds, or Sheffield would be a greater injury to the inhabitants than the loss of a single common might be to the people of London. The Metropolitan Commons Act had worked so satisfactorily that any proposal to repeal it would not be entertained; and why should not privileges similar to those secured by it be conferred upon the populations of other large towns? If the proposed regulations of the Bill were likely to come into force, nothing would be better; but there was scarcely any chance that the clauses would prove operative, because a local authority could not obtain the confirmation of a scheme without the concurrence of two-thirds of those pecuniarily interested, and of the lord of the manor. Unless the Home Secretary was prepared to make radical changes in the Bill it would prove practically inoperative. Its clauses were vitiated, because it intrusted powers to Commissioners as if they had acted in the past on what the Home Secretary declared to be the principle of the Bill, whereas they had acted on exactly the opposite principle. In spite of all warnings and expressions of public opinion, they had done everything in their power to facilitate inclosure and to reserve a minimum quantity of land for recreation and for the poor; and it was this policy which it was the professed object of the Bill, and should be the desire of Parliament, to reverse. Indeed, the Bill did not repeal the Preamble of the Act of 1845, which laid down the principle on which the Commissioners were bound to act, and that was that it was desirable to facilitate the inclosure of land. But what the Home Secretary wished to do in future was not to facilitate, but to retard inclosure; and therefore his Bill ought to be based upon an entirely different principle from the unrepealed Preamble of the Act of 1845. If there had been a simple clause in the Bill that no inclosure should take place in future, except with the authority of Parliament, that would have produced a powerful effect. He knew now an instance of a common of which a few years ago not a single acre was inclosed; but every autumn lately when he had visited it there were 50 or 100 acres inclosed, and the commoners could not take any steps to resist it because a suit would cost from £1,500 to £2,000. This was not justice. It was a scandal which the House had power to prevent. Thousands of acres of land were being inclosed in this illegal and arbitrary manner. How had any illegal inclosure been prevented but by the public spirit of some influential person in the neighbourhood, who was willing to go to the expense of a law suit?—and the commons should no longer be left in such a state of insecurity. He should support the Resolution of the hon. Member for Beading, if it was carried to a division. But he hoped it would not be pressed, as he believed that the Home Secretary wished the Bill to be a good one, and that no doubt if it could be shown that the measure did not carry out his intentions the right hon. Gentleman would alter it.


said, he thought that the hon. Member (Mr. Fawcett) seemed to have argued in a circle. The Home Secretary, in this Bill, had recognized, to a greater extent than had ever been recognized before, the public rights, and the Bill contained great limitations upon the rights of owners, and also upon the Inclosure Commissioners. The objections that had been made against the Bill were groundless, and he believed that it would effect every object that could be desired.


said, he had nothing to complain of with regard to the manner in which the Motion which stood in the name of his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) had been brought forward; but he must complain that the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) had made statements inconsistent with the tenour and terms of the Bill. He did not think he was exceeding the bounds of Parliamentary language when he said that a more unjust and ungenerous description of the measure it would be absolutely impossible to give. He would mention two instances in order to show how unfair the hon. Member for Hackney had been. The hon. Member said no provision was made by the Bill to secure the attendance of persons who ought to be present, and that the Assistant Commissioner would soon be able to do as he pleased. No doubt, unintentionally, the hon. Gentleman had misread three lines of the Bill. The hon. Member said the Bill provided that the Assistant Commissioner appointed to hold the inquiry should inspect the common, and should convene a public meeting at a suitable time and place; but there the hon. Member stopped, not completing the clause, which stated that the object was to "secure the attendance of the neighbouring inhabitants and of all persons interested," and yet the hon. Member maintained that the Assistant Commissioner would still be able to do exactly as he liked. Again, the hon. Member for Hackney had made a most unfair attack on the Inclosure Commissioners, asserting that they had acted in an unjust and unfair spirit in the interests of the lords of the manor and against the interests of the poor. The hon. Member added that they would do precisely the same under this Bill, as the Government had left everything entirely to their discretion. He must remind the hon. Member for Hackney of a speech which he made in Parliament two or three years age on this subject. The hon. Gentleman stated at that time that he was not opposed to inclosures; but that what he wanted to have dis- tinctly laid down was that each particular scheme should be submitted to a Committee of this House. What was the meaning of that speech? It was that the discretion should be taken away from the Inclosure Commissioners and the matter brought to this House for decision. But what did this Bill propose? The very scheme, the very framework of the Bill was to take away from the discretion of the Commissioners what to a very great extent was left to them before, and to bring every scheme, with all particulars connected with it, and all the objections to it, under the notice of Parliament. He repeated, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman's description was a total perversion of the terms of the Bill. One object of the Bill was not to have a hard-and-fast line drawn in any special case; but in every case to come for the decision of Parliament, taking care that Parliament should have full and ample information. The other object of the Bill was to prevent, as far as possible, the inclosure of commons and to give facilities for keeping them open for the benefit of the people, so that not only those having rights in these commons should enjoy those rights, but that the people enjoying the use, they had hitherto had of these commons, might have them improved, drained, and levelled for their enjoyment. The House would remember the old rhyme— The law condemns the man and woman Who steal the goose from off the common; But does not punish what's far worse, To steal the common from the goose. He had no intention of stealing a common from any goose, but to give every facility for the continued user by the poor labourer, the artizan, and the dweller in large towns of that beautiful scenery which they had hitherto enjoyed, but in an improved state.


asked that the Committee should be postponed to as long a period as possible, in order to give the country time to consider the provisions of the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday 2nd March.