§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. HALSEY
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he could explain in a very few words certain land which was formerly common unenclosed in the parish of Tring. It was inclosed by an Act of Parliament which was passed in 1797; but a piece 593 of about 100 acres was allotted for the benefit of the poor inhabitants of Tring, and was vested in the hands of certain trustees. The land had ceased to be uncultivated and uninclosed; it had been now inclosed and cultivated for many years; and the custom had been—under the Inclosure Act, he believed—to let it on lease for five or six years at a time by public tender, and the proceeds of the lease were applied and expended in providing fuel for the poor people. Well, that land had been valued. He held in his hand a return from an inhabitant, a surveyor of the parish of Tring, whom he knew to be a man of great experience, and one who could be depended upon, and that gentleman told him he had known that piece of land to let for as low as £30. The land was situate on a hill, a long way from the town of Tring, and at this time it was let to Baron Rothschild at about £150 a-year. Being close to Baron Rothschild's estate, it was a great advantage to him; but it could not be conveniently used either as a public recreation ground or as allotment gardens for the people of Tring, and the rent now paid for it was far beyond any value that could be obtained from it by any other person or by letting it in allotments. In fact, Baron Rothschild sub-let it to a tenant of his at a much lower rent. Now, an offer had been made—and that was the object of this Bill—to carry out an exchange, by which Baron Rothschild would either convey to the trustees, in place of this land, other land of the value, not of £150, but £200, or Consols of that amount; so that the poor who benefited by this fund would be advantaged by at least £40 a-year, which could not be obtained in any other way. He believed it would have been unnecessary to come to this House for an Act for that purpose, but for the 19th section of the Commons Inclosure Act of 1876, which had a special provision that in certain cases, such as fuel allotments for the poor, after the passing of that Act, it should be lawful for the Charity Commissioners to authorize the use of such fuel allotment as a recreation ground and field gardens, or for either of those purposes. Well, now, in this case that would be perfectly useless. He knew the district very well himself, and that the land was at the top of a high hill, a long way from the town of Tring, and that it was perfectly useless for the 594 purpose. In fact, it never could be used either as a recreation ground or for the purpose of allotment gardens. Therefore, it appeared to him that in this particular instance a case had been made out by which, on this occasion and under these circumstances, the 19th section of the Commons Act might be passed over with advantage and benefit to the poor people of Tring. He might add that provision was taken under the 6th section of this Bill to give power to the trustees, with the consent of the Charity Commissioners, to purchase, or to procure by exchange, other land for those purposes, and for the benefit of the poor of Tring, if the trustees had an opportunity of doing so within a certain number of years; and also, he should point out, that no exchange or other transactions under this Bill could, by the 7th section, be effected, without the consent on full inquiry of the Charity Commissioners, who might cause an inquiry to be made before they consented to that sale or exchange. It therefore appeared to him that the interests of the public and the benefit of the poor of this parish were amply protected by the Bill, and that the Bill would be productive of great advantage to them the advantage of giving them practically a certain endowment of £200 a-year, instead of a much smaller endowment which was somewhat precarious, because it was entirely dependent on the value of the land, the will of a particular individual, and circumstances generally which might change from time to time. He was of opinion, on those grounds, that the Bill was one which might well be passed by this House, and to which any objections might be fairly considered in the usual manner of Private Bills by a Committee upstairs. He therefore begged to move the second reading.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Halsey.)
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
, in moving, as an Amendment—That it is inexpedient to sanction the sale of the Tring Poor's Allotment until a local and public inquiry has been held as to the expediency of the sale, and the possibility of exchanging the allotment for other land more suitably adapted for purposes of recreation and for garden allotments for the labouring poor, as contemplated by the 19th section of 'The Commons Act, 1876,"'595 said, he had no objection to take to the facts which had been mentioned by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire. His objection to the Bill was that it was in contravention of Section 19 of the Commons Act, which was passed only three years ago, mainly at the instance of himself. The House would probably recollect that when that Bill was before the House he moved the clause to which he now referred, on the ground that it had come to his knowledge that the Charity Commissioners were in the habit of selling these poor allotments to proprietors in the parish, and the income of the money derived from them was, as a general rule, distributed in doles of coal. In many cases of that kind which had come within his own experience, he had found that nothing but mischief had arisen to the inhabitants from those doles of coal, which merely tended to pauperize and depress the agricultural labourers, and did no good whatever. It appeared to him, therefore, to be far better that ground of this kind should be appropriated either for recreation ground or for allotment gardens; or, if it was not suitable, it should be exchanged for land which was more suitable for recreation ground or allotment gardens. And, accordingly, he drew up a clause, making it illegal for the future for trustees or the Charity Commissioners to assent to sales of such lands, but allowing them to appropriate them for the public purposes mentioned, or to exchange them for other lands more suitable for these purposes. The clause in that shape was accepted by the House of Commons, and passed without any opposition on the part of the House. Now, the proposal at present before the House was in direct contravention of that clause; it practically sought to repeal that clause; and it would enable the Charity Commissioners, or the trustees, after the passing of this Bill, to sell this land of 100 acres to the landowner of the place, who was Baron Rothschild. He wished to be allowed here to observe that he had not a word to say against Baron Rothschild, who, if he wanted the land, was perfectly justified in buying the land if he could get it. His objection was solely on public grounds. He did not think it was wise that this land should be permanently alienated. If it was not suit- 596 able now for a recreation ground or for allotment gardens for the people of Tring, then, for all the House knew to the contrary, it might become more suitable at some future time, when the population of Tring had grown to larger dimensions, or, at all events, it might be exchanged for other land which was suitable. This land was allotted to the poor of the parish under the Inclosure Act of 1797, and, as very often happened in those cases, the land allotted to the poor was very distant from the inhabitants, and very ill-suited for the purpose of garden allotments, and therefore it had been let for agricultural purposes. The town of Tring was two miles off, and it was a town of 4,000 or 5,000 inhabitants, and there was no recreation ground, and no ground belonging to the public which could be let for garden allotments. He believed Baron Rothschild had been generous enough to let some seven acres for garden allotments, and that had been taken up, to a great extent, by the labouring people of the district. But that entirely depended upon the goodwill of Baron Rothschild; it was not public property; and if hereafter the owner of the land was not so generous, there would be no public land which could be dealt with in that way. Now, what he said was this—that, as a general rule, it was unwise to alienate land which was allotted to the poor for that purpose, or to part with it in that way; and that it was far better to keep it, and to run the chance of being able to exchange it for land better situated. But he had another objection to this Bill—namely, that no local and public inquiry had been held on the spot into the merits of the scheme. He had received letters from the people of Tring, stating that there had been no local inquiry—no public inquiry whatever; and that the great majority of the people were quite unaware of the transaction which was proposed to be carried out by this Bill. Now, it appeared to him to be most important, even assuming that the House should sanction a sale of this kind, that it should not sanction it until after a public inquiry had been made on the spot; so that the inhabitants should know what it was proposed to sell, what price was proposed to be given, and whether there was not a better alternative. It was useless to ask the labouring population of Tring, 597 or anyone representing them, to come up and attend before a Select Committee of this House to oppose the Bill; and, therefore, unless there was a local and public inquiry held on the spot before Parliament sanctioned this measure, there would be practically no opportunity whatever for the inhabitants to put forward their objections to it. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire had alluded to a clause in the Bill giving power to the Charity Commissioners to say whether the sale should take place or not; but they all knew from past experience that the Charity Commissioners were in the habit of giving their authority to sales of this kind without holding any local inquiry whatever. Hon. Members would recollect that last year a case of this kind was brought before the House, in the case of Burghclere. The allotment was very similar in that case; but for some technical reason it did not come quite within the 19th section of the Commons Act, and, consequently, the Charity Commissioners thought themselves authorized in agreeing to the sale of it, and they did so without any local inquiry. He had a good deal of correspondence on the subject, and he moved for its production in this House, and he threatened to bring on a Motion upon the subject, disputing the expediency of the sale. In consequence of that, the Charity Commissioners were induced to hold a public inquiry on the spot; and it was then found that a large majority of the population were opposed to it, and eventually the sale was abandoned. He quoted that as an instance of the extreme importance of consulting the public before sanctioning sales of that kind. Therefore, he said that, quite apart from the merits of this case, and apart from whether the House ought, in any case, to sanction a sale of this kind—and, for his own part, he was utterly opposed to it; but even if the House would not go to that length with him, at all events, he hoped they would go to the length of saying that no sale of this kind should be sanctioned by Parliament until a local public inquiry had been held in the parish by the Charity Commissioners, or the Inclosure Commissioners, or some public body, in order to ascertain what were the views of the agricultural labourers and other inhabitants on the subject. He would only say, in conclu- 598 sion, that this was a question upon which the agricultural labourers felt very strongly. Last year he went with a very large deputation of them, representing all parts of the country, to the Home Secretary, and this was one of the points which was brought under the right hon. Gentleman's notice, and upon which the agricultural labourers expressed a very strong opinion. They complained that in a very great number of cases poor allotments of this kind had been sold, in the past, and the money had been invested in the funds, and the income merely distributed in doles of coal, which tended only to pauperize the people; whereas they believed that if advantage had been taken of the allotments, by securing them for their proper purpose, a very great benefit would have been done to the labourers; and they pointed out that if the original lands were not suitable they might have been exchanged for other lands.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is inexpedient to sanction the sale of the Tring Poor's Allotment until a local and public inquiry has been held as to the expediency of the sale, and the possibility of exchanging the allotment for other land more suitably adapted for purposes of recreation and for garden allotments for the labouring poor, as contemplated by the 19th section of 'The Commons Act, 1876,"—(Mr. Shaw Lefevre,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be deft out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. RAIKES
said, his hon. Friend the Member for Reading was so familiar to the House as the representative of the picturesque that they always expected to see him taking an active part whenever any Bill came before the House touching in any way the question of the maintenance of common land. But he (Mr. Raikes) wanted the House to bear in mind on this occasion that, although his hon. Friend naturally bestirred himself when any question of common right appeared to suggest itself, there was in this particular case hardly the same romantic interest attaching to it that there was in many matters in which the hon. Gentleman had taken an active part. They had rather passed beyond the stage when any question of the picturesque was to be advanced.
§ MR. RAIKES
replied, that he knew the hon. Member did not raise it on this occasion; but the hon. Member had very frequently done so, as the representative in this House of a certain society.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, he never said the hon. Member had done so in this instance. All he said was that the House knew the hon. Member for Reading had a great sympathy with the society which advocated the cause of the picturesque, and that he directed his energies, in every instance, against the inclosure of common land. He quite admitted that on the present occasion the hon. Member had said nothing on that point; but he was anxious that the House should be aware that that point did not in any way enter into this particular question now before the House. The common land which was the property of the poor of Tring had been for many years past used for agricultural purposes. The proceeds of that land were, at the present time, applied to those very doles which the hon. Member condemned. Therefore, in the event of this Bill passing, even in its present form, it would not, as far as he was aware, introduce any change in the application of the revenues derived from the land. It would only increase the revenues; it would not in any way apply them to other purposes than those to which they were at present applied. The objection which had been taken by the hon. Member for Reading was that this Bill was in contravention of Section 19 of the Commons Act of 1876. Well, in form, no doubt, it attempted to carry into effect an arrangement which was not expressly licensed by that clause; but he could not but believe that he should be able to show to the House that it was not antagonistic to the spirit which animated that clause, and that, with certain Amendments, the Bill might easily be made to carry out the intention of those who passed that clause in 1876. That Clause 19 provided that there should be two cases in which the Commissioners should exercise a jurisdiction with regard to land of this sort. In one case, they might authorize the applica- 600 tion of lands of this description for the purpose of a recreation ground or allotment garden; and, in another case, they might authorize the exchange of such lands for other lands situate in the same parish or district. Well, he believed it was the intention of the promoters of the Bill, if possible, to effect an exchange; but Baron Rothschild, with whom they were dealing in this particular case, was not the proprietor of any land situated in the parish of Tring which would be more convenient than this for the purposes either of allotment gardens or recreation ground. He was, however, the proprietor of other land, more conveniently situated with regard to the town, which might be exchanged for these purposes; but which, under the precise wording of the clause, he was unable, as it lay outside the parish, to transfer, except with the authority of Parliament. Whether such an arrangement would or would not be carried out, of course, he (Mr. Raikes) was not in a position to make a positive statement; but he merely mentioned to the House what had been stated to him by the promoters of the Bill. Further than that, if his hon. Friend the Member for Reading had read the Bill, as doubtless he had, he would see that in the event of money passing in the transaction, and of the sum of £7,600 named in the Bill being paid over by Baron Rothschild to the trustees, they would be enabled, with the consent of the Charity Commissioners, to purchase other land. They would be in a position to acquire land which might be much more convenient for such purposes—which, he thought, they would all prefer to a system of doles—if the Bill passed, and in the event of an exchange with Baron Rothschild not being carried out. And, further, there was a clause in the Bill—Clause 7—which he wished his hon. Friend particularly to notice, and which he thought carried out all that his hon. Friend proposed to ask. That clause provided that the Charity Commissioners, before giving their consent to the sale or exchange of this land, or the purchase of other land, as provided by the Bill, might make such inquiry as to the conditions of such sale, exchange, or purchase, being for the benefit of the poor inhabitants as they might think fit, and if they were not satisfied they might withhold their 601 consent. Well, he presumed that in that clause "may" was to be construed in the usual fashion; but if there was any doubt, he could not see any objection to exchanging the word for "must;" so that it would be made obligatory upon the Charity Commissioners to satisfy themselves by such inquiry before anything was carried out. He did not suppose his hon. Friend had any particular objection to such an inquiry being conducted by the Charity Commissioners; and, in fact, he did not know that there was any other body who would conduct the inquiry in a more satisfactory way. He gathered that his hon. Friend put in his Amendment rather as a way of indicating the direction in which he would wish to see the scheme amended than as substituting that proposal for the second reading of the Bill. He thought that if his hon. Friend considered the clause to which he had called attention, he would see that the Bill could be so amended as to satisfy him or any other defender of common rights; and he should be very sorry, when the matter might be so very easily adjusted so as to meet objections, to see the Bill lost. Because there could be no question that the arrangement proposed was in the form of a pecuniary benefit to the town of Tring, which would be highly advantageous to the poor people, as providing for them such an equivalent as was now proposed, either in the shape of land or money, for the property which they now possessed; and although he could wish that the income of the land were applied to any other purpose than a dole, still it must be borne in mind that at present it served that purpose merely, and it came into the possession of the people of Tring simply in that view. They used to cut furze and waste on the common, and it was only of value to them for fuel; and when this portion of the land was assigned to thorn it was used for the same purposes. Therefore the House would not be in this case, so far as he could see, sanctioning any novel or improper application of the money which had hitherto accrued to the parishioners of Tring, if they sanctioned its being applied, as it had hitherto been, for the purposes of fuel, only to an increased amount. At the same time, as he had endeavoured to 602 show, he thought there was no earthly reason why, if this Bill became law, some better and more satisfactory arrangement might not be carried out. The Bill might be modified in Committee so as to meet the objections of his hon. Friend; and if he would regard this matter from a practical point of view, as he very well could, rather than a sentimental point of view, he thought his hon. Friend would agree with him that it was a pity that this measure should be lost, if there was any opportunity for making it more beneficial to the poor people whose privileges were in this particular matter concerned.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he should be very sorry if this Bill were lost; because he thought that by the very large price proposed to be given for the land the poor of Tring would benefit considerably. But he had a very strong feeling against coal doles. He thought they were a very bad substitute for allotment gardens, and that a recreation ground for the benefit of the place would be very much better than those doles. Now, as he understood from his hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees, although Baron Rothschild had no land in the parish which was convenient for the purpose, he had land out of the parish which would be much more convenient for the inhabitants than the land in question. He ventured to suggest that the House should allow the Bill to be read a second time, but upon this consideration, to which he hoped the promoters would not object—namely, that some clause should be put in to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State, in order to see that this land was either exchanged for other land nearer to the population of Tring, and therefore of more benefit to them than the present land; or, if that could not be done, that before the Bill was read a third time there should be a local inquiry held by the Charity Commissioners, in order to see what was best to be done under the circumstances. If the promoters consented to those terms, he hoped the hon. Gentleman opposite would withdraw his opposition, and allow the Bill to be read a second time.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
said, he thought the proposition which had just fallen from the Secretary of State was one which would recommend 603 itself as very just and reasonable. The opposition which had been offered to the Bill by his hon. Friend the Member for Reading was chiefly based upon the objection which he, in common with other hon. Members on that side of the House, felt to the alienation of a piece of land which belonged to the poor of a particular parish, without any certainty or security—notwithstanding that they had no doubt of the intention of the promoters of the Bill—that the money would not be invested in a form which ultimately would be objectionable. He might remind the House that they had had an exactly similar case in the case of the Burghclere inclosure. Objection was taken to that by his hon. Friend, and very similar arguments to the present were used by the promoters on behalf of the proposition; but, thanks to the pertinacity of his hon. Friend, the Bill was not eventually passed, and a local inquiry was held. It was then found that, so far from there being anything like an unanimous feeling in the parish in favour of the sale of the land, there was, to say the least, a very considerable difference of opinion. All the cottagers who lived in the neighbourhood of the allotment objected strongly to the sale, while some who lived at a distance were in favour of it; but ultimately the opposition was so strong that the scheme was abandoned. He did not wish to detain the House; but he thought the proposition of the Home Secretary was one which might fairly be accepted. He wished to protest against the language which the Chairman of Committees had used in supporting the Bill. He had observed that the hon. Member never rose to speak on a Bill of this kind without throwing stones at the Commons Preservation Society, but he did not think that was part of the ordinary practice of the House or of the business of the Chairman of Committees. He thought that when the Chairman of Committees rose to speak on a question of this kind, it was to guide the opinion of the House according to law and precedent in the case, and not to make sarcastic observations about the love of the picturesque, or other characteristics of Members on that side of the House. The Commons Preservation Society was not a society for the preservation of the pic- 604 turesque. On the contrary, he believed that by far the most useful and solid work which had been done by the society had been the protection of the rights of agricultural labourers and other persons in commons, and not merely the preservation of the picturesque from an æsthetic point of view.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, he was abundantly satisfied with the proposition of the Home Secretary—namely, that there should be an endeavour to exchange this land for other land more suitable, and, at all events, that there should be a local and public inquiry by the Charity Commissioners before the third reading of the Bill.
§ Amendment by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.