§ Order for Second Reading read.733
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(The Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Broadhurst.)
§ MR. E. N. BUXTON (Essex, Walthamstow)
In rising to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time upon this day six months, I may say that I was not aware that my hon. Friend who has moved the second reading of the Bill intended simply to make that Motion formally and without comment. I am told that it is a somewhat unusual proceeding to move the rejection of a Bill of this kind which has received the approval of one of the Departments of the State. I, therefore, apologize to the House for the course which I feel myself compelled to take. But there are exceptional circumstances in this case which justify a departure from the usual course in dealing with Bills of this nature. In the first place, it seems to me that this Bill proposes, under the guise of a law, and a very useful law, to inflict a great injustice on the inhabitants of this district and on those of the neighbouring town of Portsmouth. The inhabitants of the district are very strongly opposed to this scheme. As an illustration of the feeling against the proposal, perhaps I may read an extract from a letter which I have received from the Vicar of the parish, who has constituted himself the champion of the cause of his poorer neighbours. He says—In fact, it is not too much to say that there is not one single inhahitant in its favour, apart from those persons who are either personally interested or who are under the influence, direct or indirect, of the promoters. There are a large number of parishioners who are afraid of offending somebody if they take an active part; but nevertheless they are sincere in their opposition to the measure, which threatens to rob them of that free, unrestricted use of a common which has been their undisputed right for centuries.The inhabitants of the parish have sent a Petition to this House, passed by a large majority at a public meeting, in which they say—I will not read the whole of the Petition, but merely a few words—It is not desirable, in the interests of the commoners and of the public generally"—[Cries of "Order!"] I was not aware that I was not in Order in quoting the words of the Petition. I am sorry 734 that my want of experience of the Forms of the House should have led me into error; but if I am not able to read the actual words of the Petition, I believe it will not be irregular to state that the Memorial urges in the strongest language that this scheme is designed only in the interest of one or two individuals, and that nobody will benefit by it but those individuals. That Petition was carried in a public meeting, at which I believe 113 voted for the Petition, and only 39 were induced to vote against it, even after the strongest pressure had been brought to bear by those who are personally interested in the scheme. Then, again, although this scheme was brought before a Committee of the House of Commons, and was passed by that Body, yet I would urge that that Committee was anything but unanimous in the matter. It was carried by the casting vote of the Chairman, the Committee, as a whole, being equally divided. I should be very sorry to say anything against the Land Commissioners, who have sanctioned the scheme. They are public servants, and I am quite sure they are actuated by the strongest desire to do that which is for the benefit of the public. I disagree with them in the proposal; but I would be the last person to say anything against public servants who have not an opportunity of replying in this House. But, notwithstanding this, and speaking not only of this scheme, but of other schemes which I have seen and examined, I think they are a little too much inclined to overrate the rights of the wealthy landowners, and to underrate the rights of the commoners. I also think that they are a little too much permeated with the traditions—the unfortunate traditions as I look upon them—of the Inclosure Commissioners, which still, to some extent, seem to govern their proposals. Those traditions as to the importance and desirableness of inclosing as much land as possible, no doubt, had their justification some 40 or 50 years ago, when it was of importance to cultivate as much land as possible in order to produce as much food as possible; but circumstances have altered, and now it is, in many cases, more expensive to grow food than to import it. Another argument, which is of more importance now than formerly, is the necessity of keeping open the lungs of the great towns by 735 means of these open spaces. It was only the other day that the House rejected, and justly rejected, another scheme—a scheme of the Governors of the Charterhouse. It related to an ancient historical building; the present scheme relates to an ancient common. There is this difference between the two schemes—that whereas the promoters of the Charterhouse scheme were actuated only by the purest of public motives, although many of us thought them wrong, in this instance the Bill is promoted only by those who would get a certain personal and selfish advantage from it. I think, therefore, the House ought to reject it by even a larger majority than they did in the previous case. Now, this common is a most beautiful one, facing the sea, on Hayling Island, opposite the Isle of Wight. It extends over the whole length of the southern side of the Island. Colonel Sandeman, the chief promoter of the scheme, in his evidence, said with regard to one part of the common which it is proposed to enclose, that—"It was proposed to do so mainly because no other use can be made of it," and that it was "uneven with nothing but shingle and gorse upon it." I cannot agree with the opinion that common land is of no use because it has nothing but shingle and gorse upon it, and is uneven. In my belief the common is a most picturesque one, facing as it does the sea—a most beautiful sea—and it is seen to the highest advantage at the present time. If I could only picture it to hon. Members as it is now, I am satisfied that I should insure the success of my Motion. This gorse, if of no use, is, at this moment, an object of the greatest beauty; and I venture to think it is a great mistake—and a view too commonly held—that these wastes, as they are called, are of no use. Then there is this other point in regard to the proposal. I have examined very carefully the deposited plans of this proposal, and I have visited the district in order to look at all the surrounding circumstances. I find, to my great surprise, a circumstance which was not before the Committee of which I was a Member—namely, that the deposited plans excluded from the common, as they did not form part of it, certain recent illegal inclosures. I certainly do not blame the Commissioners for this. One of them told me they had no option 736 in the matter, and that they could only deal with that part of the common for which they had a requisition from those who applied to them; and, of course, in this case, the promoters did not include these illegal inclosures which they have themselves illegally made. At the same time, however, I think the House should be very cautious in sanctioning and stereotyping such illegal inclosures, which would greatly strengthen the hands of those guilty of such illegalities and weaken the power of their poorer neighbours in the district. It is proposed to take out of the common, in addition to the illegal inclosures to which I have referred, one acre, four and a-half acres, and 10 acres. I have not very much to say against the proposal to take the one acre. It is proposed to reserve it for the purpose of paying the cost of the maintenance of the common. I do not think that the price even of one acre is really required for that purpose. I do not think, using the words of the promoters of the scheme, that it is necessary to improve the common at all; all that is required is to leave the common as it is. I do not believe that the promoters can improve the common which is already sufficiently beautiful by constructing a Marine Esplanade. Then it is proposed to take four and a-half acres for the purpose of paying the costs of obtaining this scheme. Now, I do think that those who are to benefit by it should themselves pay the cost of getting it; and I cannot see why so large a piece as four and a-half acres should be taken from the common for that purpose. Why take four and a-half acres? These four and a-half acres are a beautiful hollow in the common which happens to lie in front of the residence of the Sandemans, who are the chief promoters of the scheme; and if this portion is inclosed it would project in a most offensive way into the common. Anyone coming along in future upon the landward side of the common would have to make a considerable detour in order to get round these four and a-half acres. But why should it be proposed that these four and a-half acres, if they are necessary to be sold for the purposes of this scheme, should be sold to the promoters and to no one else? If it is really desired to get the greatest amount of money for the purpose mentioned, surely 737 the land ought to be sold by public auction. Then it is proposed to take 10 acres of the common in exchange for allotments for the poor. This proposal has a captivating sound about it, and it might be thought, without examination, to be beneficial to the poor; but, as a matter of fact, no allotments are required in this district. There was evidence before the Committee that there were very few cottage gardens or field gardens. Now, I have caused a very careful inquiry to be made, and I find that almost the whole of the cottages which are without gardens, that are actually on the common, are used by lodging-house keepers, and are let to visitors in the summer. They are mostly kept by widows who could not keep up a garden if they had one. A considerable portion of the cottages which have gardens are unlet, and it is therefore clear that there is no necessity for the proposed allotments. But the question is, is it a fair exchange? It is proposed to give, in the neighbourhood of good agricultural land, 10 acres in exchange for a similar acreage taken from the common, and to turn the latter into building land with a frontage to the sea. In the first place, it is not only proposed to take 10 acres from the common, but it is also specially provided by the Bill that the 10 acres that are necessary for the development of building are to be taken out of the common. That shows the spirit in which the scheme is promoted. It does not mean 10 acres, but a great deal more, that the commoners will have to give up. Again, the labourers are expected to pay rent to the lord of the manor for their allotments; but the lord of the manor is not asked to pay rent—he is to have the land for nothing. I endeavoured, but found it difficult, to get from the witnesses examined before the Committee any evidence as to the actual value of land fronting the sea. I failed to get any satisfactory answer; but the chief promoter of the scheme said that it had only a prospective value. The solicitor to the lord of the manor said that it was only worth 10s. an acre to let except for its prospective value. Now, will the House believe that at that very time when this evidence was given on oath before the Committee the lord of the manor, whose solicitor swore to this fact, anticipating the decision of the House 738 of Commons, had agreed to sell a portion of these 10 acres to the chief promoter of the Bill at the rate of £400 per acre? I am perfectly aware that it is what is called an accommodation price, and that it is only about half-an-acre that the lord of the manor has agreed to sell in this way; but what value can you attach to the evidence of the man who spoke of the land as being worth £50 per acre when he had only sold one-twentieth part of it for £200? The agreement says—and if the House is curious to know how I got the information, I may say that I have it from the son of the lord of the manor himself, who is strongly opposed to the scheme—the agreement relating to the title to the land says that there was no title whatever. The one only argument I have been able to hear for granting this scheme is, that unless it is approved the lord of the manor will arbitrarily inclose the whole common. This argument is used in a letter to The Times this morning by one of the solicitors engaged in the case, who asserts that the common is the absolute property of the lord of the manor and of the copyholders; but the writer loses sight of the fact that a single copyholder can prevent any in-closure, and that any of the commoners who have rights of pasturage, turbary, of cutting furze, and of digging gravel can assert those rights, and prevent any illegal inclosure. An attempt was made last week to force the hands of the House of Commons, and to impress these arguments upon them by actually inclosing a portion of the common, A body of workmen were brought over from Portsmouth or Chatham, or somewhere from a distance, for they hardly ventured to employ local workmen, for the purpose of erecting a fence upon the common. I do not think it ought to be described as a lawless proceeding, although it was so described to me this morning; but I am told that the commoners took the matter into their own hands and asserted their rights by pulling down the fence. Well, Sir, I very much doubt whether if these commoners had been wealthy and powerful any attempt would have been made to inclose the common; but it is because the wealthy landowner presumes upon the weakness and poverty of his neighbours that these encroachments are made. There is a very strong feeling, not only 739 in this district, but throughout the country, that there has been too many of these encroachments by lords of the manor. It is not suprising that in these days we should hear something of a cry for restitution. I have heard the word "ransom" lately. It is a word I do not particularly approve of, and it does not commend itself much to hon. Gentlemen opposite; but this is a case in which ransom is demanded by the rich from the poor; it is a case in which a wealthy lord of the manor says in effect to his poorer neighbours—"Unless you give me this bribe, I will take the whole into my own hands, and, no matter what your rights may be, I will inclose the common." I do not think the House will be prepared to sanction such a course. In his letter to The Times this morning, the solicitor says that if property is not to be deprived of its rights, this Bill ought to pass. I think the use of that expression is a mockery. It is a mockery to talk of rights of property when the scheme ignores rights as real as those of the lord of the manor, but which the commoners are not in a position to maintain in a Court of Law. I am sorry to have taken up so much of the time of the House; but it is not only in regard to Hayling Common that I have felt it my duty to bring this question before the House. The House must remember that this is only a typical case, and that it has been, or will be, reproduced in numerous instances all over the country. It is highly desirable that this kind of thing should be stopped by the House of Commons. I myself would like to see the law strengthened, and the presumption of law made against the man who incloses, instead of leaving it to the poor and weak to assert their rights, if they desire to do so. Those who make these encroachments are indulging in nothing less than a game of brag, in the hope that nobody will be bold enough to resist them. I trust the House of Commons will throw out the Bill, not only on behalf of the commoners of Hayling, but also on account of the numerous poor commoners throughout the country, whose rights are similarly threatened. Those hon. Members who are in favour of the preservation of open spaces will certainly support the rejection of the Bill.
§ MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
I have great pleasure in seconding the 740 Motion of my hon. Friend, the object of which is to prevent, as far as possible, an encroachment upon the rights of the public. This is an attempt to take away the land of the poor, and to give it to wealthy English landowners. I hold that no one has a right to sell that which belongs to posterity; and I hold further that the system we have adopted of allowing private persons to inclose common lands is a false one. I trust the Government will see its way to place on the Commission someone more directly connected with the working classes than any present Member of it. I am thoroughly opposed to any further encroachments of this kind. We have had more than enough of them already, and I hope that the House will support my hon. Friend in resisting the further progress of this Bill.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Edward Buxton.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. T. M. Healy,)—put, and negatived.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, North-West)
I know how much the House dislikes anything like a discussion on a question of this kind; but I also know how anxious the House is to arrive at a just conclusion. I am one of those who never for one moment put myself in opposition to the views or wishes of the House. Therefore, I propose to be as brief as possible in the remarks I feel it my duty to make upon this question. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex (Mr. Buxton) has stated an undoubted fact—that it is seldom, indeed I believe this is the only time, a question of this kind has come before the House on the second reading of a Bill of this nature. I do not object to its being brought forward when there are good grounds for it; but I hardly think my hon. Friend has put those grounds before the House as fairly as he might have done. I think he will 741 admit—I am quite sure he will not deny—that the Committee on the Bill, of which he was a Member, did, as far as I, who was the humble Chairman of the Committee, was able to judge, their best to endeavour to elicit from the witnesses all the evidence that could be collected. We cross-examined the witnesses minutely and most carefully; and I think that if hon. Members had heard the evidence of those who were opposed to the scheme, they would agree that, as far as the Committee were concerned, they were fully justified in passing the Bill. I would like to say one word in reference to the Commissioners. My hon. Friend has made a strong statement about them. He says that the Commissioners very often look to the interests of those who are rich and large landowners rather than to the interests of the poor. Now, I have served upon the Committee which took this Bill into consideration for many years.
§ MR. E. N. BUXTON
The hon. and gallant Baronet has somewhat misunderstood me. I said they gave too much weight to the rights of the lords of the manor and rather undervalued the rights of the commoners. I do not mean to say that they have been intentionally guilty of any act of unfairness.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
There are several questions to be considered. In the first place, the rights of the lords of the manor. I do not think there is anybody in this House who is prepared to deny that where the lord of the manor has rights, he ought to be compensated for those rights if they are taken away. In this case, the lord of the manor has not asked to be compensated. The lord of the manor has agreed—and I think the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Arch) was rather taken with this point—that land shall be provided for allotments for his poorer neighbours. We are all anxious upon the subject, and the Committee endeavoured to obtain the best land that could be procured in Hayling Island for allotments for the poor. I am glad to see that the hon. Member assents to that proposal. The lord of the manor agreed to give up 10 acres of the best agricultural land in his possession on Hayling Island, to be selected by the Commissioners. It is freehold land worth £75 per acre, and the land on the common that he is to receive is 742 absolutely worth nothing. ["Oh!"] Yes; that is the absolute fact. It is worth nothing unless building speculations are carried out. I thought I said that at the commencement. If these building speculations are not carried out this land is worth absolutely nothing. It is not worth at this moment £5 an acre, and no man would give 5s. an acre to rent it. All that I say is, that the Committee had, in the first place, to consider the proposal by the Commissioners that 10 acres of agricultural land should be exchanged for the 10 acres it was proposed to give up. I think the Committee were perfectly justified in agreeing to that proposal, because they knew very well that if building speculations are to be carried out there will be a large employment of labour; and they had reason to believe also that the cottagers want some land for their allotments. Therefore, it was provided, and we thought it right to agree to the proposition, that the lord of the manor should have 10 acres somewhere else for the 10 acres he was prepared to give up. We may have been, right, or we may have been wrong, but we thought it was only an act of justice to the lord of the manor. As to the rights of the commoners, they have been carefully looked after, and will be absolutely maintained intact. It was also agreed that, as far as the parish was concerned, no extra rates should be placed on the parish without its consent, and that three conservators should be elected by the ratepayers, and three by the copyholders. Then comes the question of the interests of the general public in the matter. I am anxious in the interests of the general public that all these open spaces should be preserved; but the present is not a case of inclosure, but of regulation, and I venture to say that the regulation of that common would be of great advantage to the prospect of South-sea, Portsmouth, and the neighbourhood. Will anybody get up and say that at the present moment this common is not in a terrible state, covered with glass bottles, old hats, and rubbish, all of which the inhabitants would be glad to see cleared away? I venture to say that in the interests of the public, in the interests of the copyholders, and in the interests also of the lord of the manor, it will be a wise thing to settle the question while we can. I do not know what 743 my hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees (Mr. Courtney) may have to say, or whether he will suggest that if the House disapproves of this arrangement the Bill should be referred back to the Committee for reconsideration; but I am afraid, that if such a course is taken, the lord of the manor may refuse to give his consent to relinquish rights which he is now willing to dispose of, and I am afraid that he and others who have power over the common may find it to their interest to agree among themselves to the inclosure of the whole of the common. I can only say that it was with the view of doing the best I could in the interest of all parties concerned that I, for one, gave my vote as I did in the matter.
§ MR. JASPER MORE (Shropshire, Ludlow)
As I consider that it has been in consequence of the vote which I gave in Committee that this subject has been brought before the House, I desire to say a word upon the subject. I think the Committee would have very little to complain of in regard to the way in which the case was brought before them, if it had not been for the fact that the opponents of the scheme were unable to go to much expense. Their case was represented before the Committee by the Vicar of the parish. He was evidently in favour of having the question disposed of, and all his evidence went in the direction of a compromise. Since that time meetings have been held in Hayling Island, at which the lord of the manor has entirely changed sides on the question, and a Petition against the inclosure has been signed by the great majority of the inhabitants. If the Committee had had that expression of opinion before them, I need not say that it might, perhaps, have materially affected their decision. As to what fell from the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell), I should like to remind him that a short time ago the hon. Member for North Paddington (Mr L. Cohen) gave us a list of inclosures which have taken place in regard to common lands. I know that there are many difficulties to be contended with in the matter, and that in some instances the landowners and lords of the manor are not to be blamed for the course they have taken.
§ MR. FINCH-HATTON (Lincolnshire, Spalding)
I desire to say a word in 744 explanation of the course which I propose to take. I should be sorry if it were thought that in giving my vote on this question I was opposed to granting allotments to labourers; but if hon. Members will look at the matter they will see that allotments are not required in this case. We have it on the authority of the Vicar of the parish, and also of an Independent minister, that there is at this moment under offer to the labourers land suitable for allotments, which cannot be so let, and that the labourers, who certainly are the best judges in their own case, prefer to retain the independent rights they possess in this common. I was very much surprised to hear the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) talk of the value of the land proposed to be given up as merely a prospective value; he cannot be aware that the agent of the property has already made an offer himself to rent one acre, not at 5s., but at £30, a-year for 99 years. That does not look as if the land merely possessed a prospective value. It is certainly not a prospective offer; but it is contingent on this scheme passing the House of Commons. I think the hon. and gallant Baronet could not have heard the remark which fell from the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Buxton) when he told the House that a small portion, comprising only half-an-acre, had been agreed to be sold for £200. It is probable that Hayling Common may require regulation; but what I object to is the price that is to be paid for its regulation. I think that the Land Commissioners, unintentionally, no doubt, misled the public when they said that this was not an inclosure scheme. It is a scheme which proposes that one-eighth of the common should be inclosed, and that is pro tanto an inclosure scheme. I shall certainly give an earnest vote in favour of the Amendment.
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON (Manchester, N.E.)
As a Member of the Committee I wish to say a few words before the House goes to a division, in order to prevent the House from being misled in the matter. It is said that the Bill proposes to take away a certain portion of common land on the Island of Hayling. But the Bill contains a provision by which the lord of the manor is to give 10 acres of his own best agricultural 745 land in exchange for 10 acres of shingle; and it is a mistake to suppose that those 10 acres are to be taken out of the common. It is extremely easy for hon. Members to run away with an idea, as the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Buxton) and the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) have, who talked about inclosures going on all over the country, and maintained that the House of Commons is called upon to put down its foot upon them—it is easy for hon. Members to express that view. But the House has provided the means of looking closely into the circumstances of this case, and I am sure that no Committee ever approached the business they had in hand with greater care than the Members of the Committee upon this Bill did. It was our desire to see that ample justice should be done to all parties, and that any opposition to the scheme should be fully brought out. It is not the case of poor men who could not be heard. A noble Lord who owns two acres of land down there was heard before the Committee. I knew his case privately, and I questioned that noble Lord most closely in order to get out everything he had to say against the scheme. He was altogether unable to make out any case against it, and he owned as much to me afterwards. The hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Arch) very frankly expressed his desire before the Committee to provide allotments for labourers; there are 67 cottages in the neighbourhood of the common which are without gardens at all, and it is proposed that 10 acres shall be given by the lord of the manor, not from the common, but taken from agricultural land in exchange for shingle, in order to provide allotments. It is altogether an error to say that there is no need for allotments, considering the number of cottages in the neighbourhood of the common which are without gardens. Personally, I would not build a cottage, nor have one built, that had no garden allotment. I cannot understand hon. Members getting up here and saying that allotments are not required. We have the evidence of the Vicar of the parish, who owned that they would be a great boon. When asked if 10 acres would be sufficient for allotments, he said that they would be quite sufficient; but he never said that allotments were 746 not required. There is no ground whatever for the assertion that this is an Inclosure Bill. It is a Preservation Bill against the encroachments which have been going on on this common, and I noticed myself on the maps a very large space indeed which has been encroached upon and inclosed, and which cannot now be recovered. The landowner is now anxious to purchase part of this land, and I beg to say that, as far as I can see, there is no reason why he should not purchase it fairly. It must be sold to somebody in order to cover the expense of this application, and why should it not be sold to him? I may remind the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Buxton) that there is such a thing as having inclosure on the brain. I am afraid the hon. Member must be suffering from something of the kind, because two other cases which came before the Committee, which were wholly unopposed, were watched by the hon. Member for a long time, as if upon some ground which was not before the Committee they must be objectionable. I say that this scheme has been fully and fairly considered by the Committee, and, although it was only carried by the Chairman's casting vote, the House would do no injustice in passing the Bill; whereas, if it is thrown out on the grounds stated, there will be a greater chance of injustice being done in the matter.
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Mr. COURTNEY) (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I will not detain the House more than a few minutes; but I think that I ought to make one or two observations. In the first place, I must point out to the House that after all this Bill comes before the House with some authority in its favour. The Land Commission approaches a matter of this kind with a good deal of experience, and, I think, with a judicial temper, and is able to examine the facts far more carefully and accurately, and to come to a correct appreciation of them better than the House can possibly do. The scheme of the Land Commission was afterwards referred to a Select Committee—a Hybrid Committee—specially appointed to consider these Bills. It was their duty to hear witnesses and sift all the facts; and that Committee, although, in this case, by the narrow majority of the Chairman's vote, approved the scheme 747 of the Land Commission, and recommended its adoption by the House. Under these circumstances, the House ought to hesitate a little before they set aside what has been thus deliberately decided. They ought to support the decision of their own Committee, arrived at after full inquiry and examination, after having received a Report from the Land Commission, and after having heard all the evidence. It would, I think, be unfortunate to set aside their decision after the case had been fully sifted and deliberately threshed out by the Committee. My own impression is in favour of standing by the Report of the Committee in a case like this. [Cries of "No!"] I am surprised at the amount of feeling shown about the matter, and to find that there are Members below the Gangway who seem to think that the decision of the Land Commission ought to be discredited in these matters. The question has been discussed as if the proposal was to inclose the whole of the common. The scheme is primarily one for regulation, with the inclosure, at the outside, of about one-eighth of the common. Out of 120 acres 105 are to be maintained as a free and open space. I have the authority of the Land Commission for saying that the whole common which it is desired to regulate has hitherto been left absolutely unprotected, and subject to spoliation of all kinds, and therefore it has been felt that it is desirable to make some provisions for its regulation in the same manner as we have regulated the commons in the neighbourhood of London. The only question before the House, therefore, is whether the conditions of the regulation are such as are reasonable or not. In order to carry out these provisions four and a-half acres of the common are, it is true, to be sold at a price to be fixed by the Land Commission. The right of purchasing is to be given to a neighbouring proprietor; but if that proprietor refuses to give the price fixed upon by the Land Commission, then the land is to be sold by auction in order to defray the expenses of the Bill. In regard to the other 10 acres, as has been pointed out by the right hon. Member for Manchester (Sir James Fergusson), they are to go in exchange for 10 acres of agricultural land; and, on the whole, the advantage will be with the inhabitants, who will get 10 748 acres of good agricultural land for allotments in exchange for 10 acres of common land. It is said that allotments are not wanted. In the evidence given before the Committee it was shown that allotments are wanted and badly wanted; and the same view was arrived at by the Land Commissioners. Since then a gentleman, who was a strong opponent of the whole scheme, has offered land of his own for allotments; and the conditions are therefore somewhat changed since this scheme was drawn up and approved by the authorities. I would, therefore, strongly urge upon the House not to take upon itself the determination of the question and the responsibility of throwing out the Bill, but to refer the whole matter back to the Committee to see what they are prepared to recommend under the changed conditions. That, I think, is the best step the House can take, and it will give all parties who are interested in the matter ample opportunity for bringing their conclusions before the Committee. I would, therefore, strongly recommend that instead of throwing out the Bill now it should be sent back to the Select Committee with an Instruction to re-examine the facts—such as those which the hon. Member for Shropshire (Mr. Jasper More) has brought under the notice of the House. I certainly do not think the House, in the absence of further information, ought to reject the Bill.
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
I notice that this Bill has on the back of it the names of two Members of Her Majesty's Government—the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Childers) and the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Broadhurst). But so far we have no information as to what course Her Majesty's Government propose to take in the matter. The hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees has thrown out a suggestion which I am inclined to think may posssibly meet the approval of hon. Members near me who are in favour of the Amendment. ["No!"] Then, if it does not meet the approval of my hon. Friends, neither does it meet that of hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, and I shall have nothing more to say upon that point. I had thought that it might be possible, by recommitting the Bill, to take further evidence, so as to prevent 749 the scheme being converted into an Act of spoliation. I, for one, should be inclined to support that course; but in the event of such a course not approving itself to the House, and in the event of Her Majesty's Government not being able to give us some assurance that the measure will not be proceeded with—at any rate, with their sanction, I shall feel it my duty, and I hope I shall be supported by the House, to resist this Bill to the utmost. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down talked a good deal about the dignity of the House, and he apparently wishes us to understand that it is altogether beneath the dignity of the House to defend the public rights against the encroachment of individuals. The broad principle upon which to argue a question like this is not whether due care has been taken in making provision for allotments, or anything of that kind, but whether you are not dealing with public rights—namely, the rights of commoners, which are the inalienable rights of the public and of posterity. Are we prepared to sacrifice the rights of posterity to suit the exigencies of the present moment? It is not the question whether the copyholders and the lords of the manor, and others interested in this common, have agreed to this scheme. The question is, "What are the public rights? The public rights descend to posterity, and they are not to be deliberately thrown away year by year by votes of this House. All public rights should descend to posterity; that is a clear issue. Hon. Gentlemen have told us that this land must be sold. I say there is no "must" about it. There is no earthly reason why you should give this land to the landowners to convert into valuable building sites. We have been told that an offer has already been made for an acre of it for building purposes at a rent of £30 a-year for 99 years. That, then, is not prospective value. It shows that this is a valuable property; and it is all very well for a landowner to pose as a benefactor to the public by offering to give away 10 acres of land, which may be worth next to nothing, in order to secure to himself the enjoyment of land which is worth from £300 to £400 an acre. That is one of the most curious instances of generosity the House has ever been called upon to witness. I am reminded of a saying of the late Earl of 750 Beaconsfield, who described a certain course of policy as one of "blundering and plundering." I think I cannot do better than stigmatize all such attempts as this—and there have been hundreds of similar cases all over the country—as a policy of robbery and jobbery.
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. BROADHURST) (Birmingham, Bordesley)
The hon. Member complains that the House has heard nothing from either of the Members of the Government whose names are on the back of the Bill. I think it is right that I should state that Her Majesty's Government have really very little authority in matters of this kind, and that they have had no part whatever in framing these schemes, which are drawn up by residents in the neighbourhood, or by those possessing common rights over the land proposed to be dealt with, with the sanction of the Land Commissioners; and the only part which the Government takes in the matter is to move the Parliamentary stages in this House of the respective schemes, very often, I apprehend, with a very slight knowledge indeed of the contents of the measures intrusted to their care. In the present instance, I should like to make the frank confession that, up to 4 o'clock yesterday, I knew nothing whatever about the merits of this proposal. I knew that there was such a scheme in existence; but as to the precise proposal, or plan, or anything of the kind, nothing has ever come before me, and there was no necessity, under the system by which these schemes are prepared, that it should. With regard to the suggestion that has been made by my hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees, that the Bill should be referred back to the Committee upstairs, that is certainly one way out of the difficulty in which we are placed; but it is for the House to determine the question for itself. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Buxton) and those who are acting with him are prepared to accept that suggestion. It is for them to decide. The Government do not wish to exercise any influence or authority whatever in disposing of the question. I suppose my hon. Friend knows perfectly well the considerable responsibility he incurs in moving the rejection of the scheme. He does it, 751 however, with full knowledge of that responsibility, and with a very large experience of similar questions in regard to commons. I presume that be is prepared to accept that responsibility. At the same time, I should like it to be understood by the House that, as far as I understand, the question of allotments is not by any means a pressing question. The Land Commissioners, who have always, as far as my experience goes, studiously maintained the rights of the residents in the neighbourhood of these commons, did in this, as in other similar cases, insist upon provision being made for allotments; and, as I have said, the necessity for providing allotments is not urgent. An hon. Friend near me stated that there has been a recent addition made to land available for allotment purposes. I have received a letter from the locality, written by a working man, who says that there has been ground available for allotments for a long time past, but that the whole of it has not been hired by those who live in the neighbourhood of the common.
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON
Because it is in the wrong place—not suitable for the commoners, while this land is very convenient.
§ MR. BROADHURST
I do not understand that to be the case; but the statement made by one of the witnesses has been flatly contradicted. I have only mentioned the matter in order that the House may have as full knowledge as possible of the real bearings of the question before the House. It has been stated in evidence that there were only 13 cottages possessing allotments. In the communication already referred to, which I received from an inhabitant, the reverse appears to be the case—namely, that there are not more than 13 cottages without allotments. That is a very different circumstance from that of a locality in which there is a large demand for allotments. However, I have only risen for the purpose of explaining to my hon. Friend that, as far as I am concerned, as representing the Government on this occasion, we have no very strong feeling either way, and it is for the House to decide whether it will accept or reject the scheme.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
As a general rule, I quite agree with my hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees that it is desirable, 752 before rejecting a Bill of this kind, to refer it back to the Select Committee by whom it has been considered; but in the present case I would remind the House that this scheme was only carried in the Select Committee on Commons by the casting vote of the hon. and gallant Baronet opposite (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) the Chairman—a Gentleman for whom we all have the highest possible respect, but who entertains an exaggerated view of the rights of lords of the manor. We have also before us the fact that one Member of that Committee has also come forward and admitted that he was mistaken in his views, and that he is now prepared to vote against the scheme. Therefore, under these circumstances, the only effect of referring the Bill back to the Select Committee would be its rejection, and the House may save the Committee that trouble by rejecting it themselves. My hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees has contended that the House ought to pay great respect to the views of the Land Commissioners; but I may say that the only way in which the Society for the Preservation of Commons, with which I am connected, has effected its objects has been by rejecting the views of the Commissioners, and fighting case after case on its merits in this House. It appears to me that in that manner only can we hope to induce the Commissioners to take a larger and more public view of their duties in these cases. I do not propose to go into the merits of this scheme; but I have come to the conclusion that as the real purpose of the scheme is not the regulation of the common, but selling a portion of the ground, I trust the House will reject the Bill.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, North-West)
I wish to say a few words in the way of explanation. I must say that when the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) makes a personal accusation against me of having unduly favoured the lords of the manor, he is unjust, and altogether mistaken. I repudiate the accusation most strongly; and I am bound to add that the right hon. Gentleman is, I regret to say, exceedingly apt to make remarks of that kind of other people.
§ Original Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.753
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.