HC Deb 29 May 1908 vol 189 cc1439-71

Order for Second Reading read.

MR. PIKE PEASE (Darlington)

said that in view of the fact that two Bills had been withdrawn quite unexpectedly, and that a large number of Members interested in this Bill were not present, he thought the consideration of the Bill should be adjourned.

MR. TREVELYAN (Yorkshire, W.R., Elland)

thought it would be rather unreasonable not to proceed with the Bill, because it was one which dealt with only one or two and not any very vital points in connection with the laws for the regulation of commons, which he thought the House was quite capable of deciding. He had been asked to move the Second Reading of the Bill by the hon. Baronet the Member for Northwich, whose name was on the Bill. The object was to facilitate the regulation of commons. There would, he thought, be no difference of opinion as to the desirability and value of the general regulation of commons so that they might be used to the best purpose. Constantly it was found that commons in various parts of the country required drainage or fencing, that there were rights of the commoners which needed to be regulated, that arrangements were desirable for recreation of various kinds, for fencing in cricket pitches and golf greens, and for preventing the destruction of birds' nests or injuring the timber, and for preventing fires, which were of very frequent occurrence where no proper regulations were made. There was in existence at the present time means for providing regulations by Provisional Order after careful consideration, in the first place, by the Board of Agriculture, then by a Select Committee of that House, and then by Provisional Order passed in that House. Regulations could not be undertaken at all unless one-third of those interested in the common desired them, and a Provisional Order could not be brought forward unless two-thirds, of the commoners interested were ready to accept the Provisional Order proposed. Besides that, the lord of the manor could exercise an absolute veto, and prevent regulations being made. What the Bill proposed to do was not very revolutionary. It was simply to abolish the veto of the lord of the manor. He said it was not revolutionary because in the case of the London commons, by an Act of 1866 the veto of the lord of the manor was abolished. It was left entirely to the commoners and to the Board of Agriculture, irrespective of any veto of the lord of the manor, to make regulations if desired in London, and there did not really seem any reason why that should not be extended to country districts. It had been calculated, he thought with fair accuracy, that the interests of the lord of the manor in commons averaged out at about one-fifteenth of the general interests in such common lands, taking the commons all over the country, and it seemed unreasonable that a man with one-fifteenth of the interest should be able to exercise an absolute veto as against very likely the whole of the rest of the commoners. Those who had been interested in providing regulation schemes told him that the veto of the lord of the manor exercised a considerable effect in preventing the regulation of commons. He thought that would be obvious to the House when he mentioned the fact that there had been only thirty regulations of commons carried through in the last thirty years, and that the veto was a considerable bar to proper regulations. According to a Report in 1836 by the Lands Commissioners, who discussed why the regulations of commons in the last ten years prior to their inquiry proceeded at such a very moderate rate, they came to the conclusion that the right of the lord of the manor to veto application for regulation which was given by the Enclosures Act was a hindrance to regulation. He, therefore, hoped the House would accept the general principle of the Bill, and he thought they would find, if they looked into it in detail in Committee, that all reasonable rights of the lord of the manor were properly preserved in the Bill. In the first place the rights of the lord of the manor were not prejudicially affected by the Bill, and he was able to exercise his influence as owner of part of the common rights together with the other commoners, and he would be able to exercise that influence when it was a question of deciding whether these regulations should be undertaken or not. He had his share with the other commoners. Finally, the House might feel that it was not likely that the rights of the lord of the manor would be in any way prejudicially affected, because that House itself had the most complete control over any schemes made under the Enclosures Act. In the first place there was the Select Committee to which the schemes would have to go, and, secondly, all these schemes had to pass by way of Provisional Order Bill through that House. He, therefore, hoped that this small amendment of the law would be accepted fairly readily by the House. He did not think that he need go into the other clauses, because they were mostly of a minor character and consequential.


Will the hon. Member explain the meaning of Clause 8? It is very difficult to understand.


The practical effect of Clause 8 is that it will give to the parish councils the use of any exhausted parish lands for recreation grounds.


Exhausted parish lands—what are they?


They are lands which have been used for quarries and worked out. I beg to move.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


thought that the House would agree that the Bill of which they had just concluded the discussion in reference to rights of way was one as to which the mover had taken them into his confidence, explaining every portion of it in a clear and concise way. In this case, they had a Bill of first class importance thrown upon the House without a word of explanation such as was usual with a Bill of this nature. The measure was brought suddenly upon them owing to the previous two Bills on the Paper having been ruled out of order. It affected all the commons throughout the country, a fairly wide subject; besides which it went in for legislation by reference. He himself had had no opportunity of turning to the Acts named in the Bill, and for all the House knew about those Acts, which had been in force for some years, they might be of the most revolutionary character. Yet this whole question was brought before them and they were asked to discuss it though they had not had the least idea that it would be brought forward by the hon. Member, who was perfectly able and clever enough to have given them full details. The Radical Party, who backed the Rights of Way Bill, had also supported the Bill in regard to deer forests last Friday, and they would have backed up another Bill that day if it had not been ruled out of order by Mr. Deputy Speaker. Every Friday they had some proposal from the Radical and Labour Party to take property which belonged to somebody else. Whatever else underlay these Bills, that was really what they came to. The hon. Member who had moved the Second Reading had said that every precaution had been taken that the rights of the lord of the manor should be preserved. He thought that the hon. Gentleman, having felt a qualm of conscience, had corrected himself by saying that all "reasonable rights" should be preserved to the lord of the manor. On that practically turned the whole question of whether or not any of them would be in favour of this Bill. The hon. Gentleman had said at first that the Bill would preserve all the rights of the lord of the manor, and then in the next breath he said "all reasonable rights." But it was just there they found so much difficulty in appreciating the Bill, and it was just there that he personally wished to take the opportunity of moving its rejection. They had now got access to mountains; they had got the rights of way under the control of the various local authorities, and now they had the question raised of what they were to do with the commons. It was a most revolutionary proposal. The hon. Member said that all reasonable rights would under this Bill be preserved to the lord of the manor. What were the rights of the lord of the manor now as compared with what they would be under this Bill if it became law? So far as he knew the lords of the manor now had the veto or last word with regard to any change proposed to be made in the commons, and there was no exception to the lord of the manor having the last word as to any agreements which were made for the convenience of the commoners. He presumed he was correct in saying that, but if he was not perhaps some hon. and learned Member would correct him. But this Bill took the veto away, and therefore the hon. Member's statement that it preserved all the reasonable rights of the lord of the manor seemed to him to be somewhat contradicted by the Bill. If, for instance, Clause 8, which was passed over in such a perfunctory manner by the hon. Gentleman, was studied, hon. Members would see that the lord of the manor had not a word to say with regard to what should be done in respect of exhausted parish lands; indeed, all through the Bill there was a depriving of the lord of the manor of ancient rights and privileges. Was any body of men in the country more interested in seeing that the commons were properly supervised and used to the greatest advantage of the commoners than the lords of the manor? The lord of the manor was practically lord of the soil to a considerable extent, and he had to take into consideration the whole of the property of the neighbourhood and see that it and the commons harmonised. That was what had been done hitherto, and it was that which gave the country parts of England their prosperous and beautiful appearance. But it seemed to him that this Bill, looking at it superficially, which was the only way they had an opportunity of looking at it, would imperil that harmony, peace, and quietness which had hitherto characterised the relations between the lords of the soil and the commoners. It was neither right nor reasonable that the House should have thrust upon it on a Friday afternoon, without notice, an intricate Bill without at all events some explanation. The character of the commons might at any time by a wild move on the part of a certain number of commoners be hastily changed if this Bill were passed, whereas from time immemorial they had been cautiously watched by lords of the manor. The lord of the manor was a sort of Upper Chamber ready at all times to veto anything of a radical nature proposed by the commoners, and he proved a valuable safeguard for the preservation of those rights, such as grazing, shooting, and occupying, which had been handed down from generation to generation. The present generation, he thought, ought to be very chary of making any alteration. If cricket pitches and football grounds and other facilities for enjoyment were wanted on commons, it was very easy to apply to the lord of the manor. There were very few instances where a lord of the manor refused such requests or interfered so long as everything was fair in the interests of himself and his successors; and it would be very unwise indeed to make a change at such short notice. He had occasion earlier in the afternoon to protest against the absence of any Law Officers for Ireland to answer undoubtedly important legal questions as they affected Ireland; and in this Bill also they had no Law Officers for Ireland present to keep them right. After all, the law relating to commons in Ireland was very distinctive indeed; it was absolutely useless to go on discussing a Bill which referred to Ireland unless they had a Law Officer of the Crown for Ireland or the Chief Secretary present to answer questions. On that ground and also because the House was, not prepared to legislate on such a large and important subject he moved the adjournment of the debate.

SIR PHILIP MAGNUS (London University)


Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the debate be now adjourned."—(Captain Craig.)


hoped the House would assent to the Motion for the adjournment. It seemed perfectly reasonable under the circumstances. It would not be a moral lesson to those who were sometimes accused of talking unduly, if they were told, as a punishment for restraining themselves in regard to one Bill, that they were to be made to pass another Bill which they had not had the opportunity of studying. After the Rights of Way Bill, there was the Coal Mines (Check-weighers) Bill. It was one which he had looked into, and, seeing that it was a measure that would divide hon. Members, and would be likely to last the rest of the sitting, he did not think it necessary to inform himself of the other measures on the Paper. It was not quite fair to hon. Members to undertake the discussion of a measure of this description when no one had any notion that it would come before the House that afternoon. Those who had had an opportunity of reading it, would see that the Bill was one of all others which certainly ought not to be brought up without proper warning and consideration. It was a remarkable instance of the vice of legislation by reference, and it was all the more remarkable because on the back of the Bill was the name of the hon. Baronet the Member for the Northwich Division of Cheshire who was known as a very violent, and justly violent, opponent of that kind of legislation. He would give some of the instances of this legislation by reference.


The Motion for the adjournment having been moved, no discussion can take place on the Bill.


said he was only trying to give reasons why the debate should be adjourned.


If the noble Lord refers to the clauses of the Bill, he will be discussing it.


said he would not discuss it more than to say that if hon. Members would read the Bill they would see that his observation was well founded, and that the clauses were exceedingly complicated and difficult, and made reference to a large amount of other legislation. It was, he thought, a double offence against legislative propriety to bring such a Bill before the House without any kind of warning, and without giving hon. Members an opportunity of considering it at all. It was one thing to be able to master the contents of a single Bill, but it was another and a very much more difficult thing if one had to read and digest a very large amount of other legislation. He could not help thinking that the House would be better advised on that warm afternoon to take the opportunity of enjoying the fresh air than to press forward with the Bill. If that course were taken, hon. Members opposite would not have cause to repent of their consideration. He really thought the House would be ill discharging its duty if it insisted upon passing a measure of this description without warning.

MR. LUPTON (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)

said that several Members opposite had commented on the fact that there were no Law Officers of the Crown present. It seemed to him of great importance that in discussing measures of this kind they should have the assistance of the Law Officers. They ought to have the best legal information to assist them every day they were there. He did not mean that all the Law Officers should sit all day long on that bench, but they always ought to be at hand, and some of them ought always to be on the front bench. They did not get the legal assistance to which they were entitled, though that was not peculiar to this Government. He hoped the time was not far distant when they would as a rule see the Law Officers for Scotland, England, and Ireland always upon that bench, so that when a Bill was brought in dealing with the whole kingdom it should not be thrown in their face and urged as a reason for delay that the Law Officers were not present to guide the House.

MR. LANE-FOX (Yorkshire, W.R., Barkston Ash)

said the Speaker had ruled that they were not entitled to discuss the Bill at that particular moment, and he was not anxious to discuss the Bill. But hon. Members did not thoroughly understand its provisions for the reason that they had had no opportunity of discovering what they were. From a cursory glance it appeared to him that the Bill might cause very great danger to the beauty of the country. They had come to the House intending to vote on other Bills which were first, second and third on the Paper, and which were now out of the way. It was perfectly impossible for them or for hon. Members opposite, who often claimed a larger share of intelligence, to bring intelligence to bear on this Bill. The mover of the Bill no doubt thoroughly understood its provisions, but he had not taken the least trouble to explain many of them, and it was impossible by a cursory glance at the Bill, without referring to the passages which were embodied in it, to come to a decision on it. He had got hold of two of the main statutes which were alluded to, and it was perfectly impossible to see in the few minutes he had had how they affected the main provisions of the Bill, and to what extent they were embodied in it. He hoped in the interests of intelligent legislation the Motion for adjournment would be carried and that they would not go on considering Bills which they could not understand, on which they could not give an intelligent vote, and which might lave consequences which none of them could foresee.

MR. WHITLEY (Halifax)

said he was very reluctant to interfere on a private Members' day, but when he heard that the two intermediate Bills were going to be ruled out of order he had taken steps to gather what was the view generally in the House with regard to further proceedings. It seemed to him the general view was that this Commons Bill, being on almost the same subject as the Bill already dealt with and largely the same persons being interested, should be proceeded with. He gathered also that it was the general feeling of the House that after this Bill others of a different character should not be taken, and he thought it would be the view of the Government that if this Bill went through they should not proceed further. With regard to this Bill the Law Officers of the Crown were in attendance. The Solicitor-General had listened to the only speech made in criticism of the Bill, and was in attendance to deal with other criticisms if they should require his reply. Under those circumstances he would suggest that the House might proceed with this Bill, and that other Bills should not be proceeded with. He hoped the Motion would not be pressed.


said he was very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the trouble he had taken in ascertaining the wishes of the House as to what Bills should be proceeded with. He was evidently of the opinion that it would be inadvisable under the circumstances to proceed with other Bills, but he made an exception with regard to this because the general opinion was that it should be proceeded with. Might he ask whether the hon. Gentleman had taken the opinion of the Opposition, and if it was not consistent with all traditions of Parliament that the minority, however small and insignificant, should be consulted upon a question as to what business was or was not to be taken?


I did consult the other side of the House. I was expressing the general opinion after having spoken to all parts of the House.


said he was much obliged, but he did not know whom the hon. Gentleman had consulted on that side of the House, because the right hon. Gentleman who was, he presumed, the Leader of the Opposition at the moment, was against proceeding with the Bill, as was everyone else on those benches. They were entitled to some consideration on an occasion like that. He had made research into the Check-weighers Bill, and spent considerable time and study in preparing his notes thereon, because he always endeavoured before addressing the House to master the facts of the question to be considered. In these circumstances, and not having any idea that the Bill was out of order, it was absolutely impossible for him to have mastered the contents of the present Bill. He did not intend to allude to them because he did not know what they were. That was his argument —that they were asked to discuss a Bill about which they knew absolutely nothing, and on which it was impossible for them to have informed themselves. He saw the name of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Northwich on the back of the Bill. Where was the right hon. Baronet? Surely it was the invariable custom that the Member whose name appeared first on the Bill should nave something to say as to whether it should be taken or not. He had as much right to say he believed the right hon. Baronet was opposed to the Bill being taken at that hour and under those circumstances as the hon. Gentleman had to say he was in favour of it. They neither of them knew what his views were. The hon. Member for Market Harborough was not present either. In fact he could see only one Member whose name was on the Bill.


said he was particularly asked by the right hon. Baronet to introduce the Bill because he knew he could not be present.


said that that was a proof that his contention was right. The right hon. Baronet had asked the hon. Member for two reasons—first, because he could not be there; and, secondly, because he knew the Bill was not coming on. All he wanted the hon. Member to do was to say "Monday" or "Tuesday" when the clerk called the name of the Bill. The last division showed there were, he believed, l73 Members present. A simple calculation showed that there were 500 away. They were asked to pass an important Bill in an hour and a half when 500 Members were away, none of whom could lave expected the Bill to come on. The proposition was so self-evident that it was unnecessary for him to say anything more. He hoped the House would adopt the Motion on the understanding that when it was carried the House would rise. He would not go into the question of it being a fine summer afternoon. He was always willing to be present whether it was wet or fine. He had a great love and admiration for the House of Commons, and he did not want to see it make itself ridiculous; when it passed legislation he wanted it to be in a state to understand the legislation it was going to pass. He should heartily vote for the Motion.

SIR J. JARDINE (Roxburghshire)

thought many of the objections taken to proceeding with the Bill were really matters which could be dealt with in Committee. The absence of 500 Members on a fine summer's day was not a reason why they who were at their places should be debarred from seeing the Bill read a second time. He would like to have spent the afternoon on one of the numerous commons round his home in Surrey, but he knew too well that they wanted regulating. There were many things to be done about these commons, and therefore he and no doubt many of his hon. friends were there to do a piece of business if the Rules of the House, without any particular strain, would permit. Far would it be from him to insist on hasty legislation or anything that might come within the term "sharp practice," but they were only following the ordinary procedure of the House. As to the difficulties of legislation by reference, he thought in the present case they hardly existed.

MR. FELL (Great Yarmouth)

said there were two proposals before them. One was whether they should adjourn and enjoy these commons which it was proposed to discuss, and the other was whether they should spend the afternoon in, as far as he could see, trying to destroy them. The hon. Baronet proposed that they should go and enjoy themselves on those commons, and he heartily supported him. The Bill had been sprung on them. Were there half a dozen gentlemen who had read it, who had gone through all the references and read the Acts to which it referred, and were therefore in a position to speak and vote on it? Was there anyone who knew what it meant and could vote on it honestly? The hon. Member for Cambridge University was entrenched with books which he believed contained some of the Acts referred to. He might in half an hour with his legal knowledge be able to master it, but was it possible for them all similarly to obtain copies of the Bill and thoroughly master it? Was it reasonable? Had they ever done it before? On these grounds he heartily supported the proposal that they should adjourn.


thought it would not be foreign to the present debate to ask that at all events some reason should be adduced in answer to the various arguments which had been put forward by Members of the Opposition as to why they should not proceed with the Bill. It had been said that no one expected the Bill to come on, and that there was a great deal of legislation by reference, and various other points had been made, and they had heard no reason at all why these arguments should not be accepted by the House. The hon. Member for Halifax had stated that the opinion of the House was in favour of proceeding with the Bill, but the minority had not been consulted on the question, as it ought to be, however small it was. There was nothing important in the Bill that could not wait—nothing of such vital importance that they should pass it without any knowledge of what it contained. There was extraordinary unanimity on that point. They had heard no one who said he understood it. Some of his colleagues were the most industrious Members the House contained—the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, for instance—and if he did not understand it he did not

suppose there was anybody in the House who did. Small as they were in numbers, at all events they were as intelligent as hon. Members opposite. Perhaps that was going rather a long way, but they might hope to attain to it, and they might ask for some reason in favour of proceeding with a Bill which no one expected to come on or understood in the least. He should like to know what the mover had in mind when he placed his name on the back of the Bill. Had he studied it? Had he gone into the statutes, and was he of opinion that it was of advantage to the idea he had in his mind that they should proceed to discuss it?

MR. HUNT (Shropshire, Ludlow)

said that hon. Members opposite wanted the House to buy a pig in a poke. It was perfectly absurd to suppose that anyone could understand the Bill unless they had given very serious consideration to it. Would anybody on the opposite side get up and say they really thought a dozen Members in the House understood anything about it? It was a very strong order to try and shove a Bill through under such conditions, perfectly well knowing that nobody knew anything about it.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes, 48; Noes, 161. (Division List No. 110.)

Acland-Hood, Rt. Hn. Sir Alex. F Fell, Arthur Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington
Arkwright, John Stanhope Gibbs, G. A. (Bristol, West) Powell, Sir Francis Sharp
Ashley, W. W. Gooch, Henry Cubitt (Peckham) Rasch, Sir Frederic Carne
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Gordon, J. Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel
Beckett, Hon. Gervase Hamilton, Marquess of Sassoon, Sir Edward Albert
Bignold, Sir Arthur Hardy, Laurence (Kent, Ashf'rd Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)
Bottomley, Horatio Helmsley, Viscount Thomson, W. Mitchell-(Lanark)
Bowles, G. Stewart Houston, Robert Paterson Walker, Col. W. H. (Lancashire)
Carlile, E. Hildred Hunt, Rowland Watt, Henry A.
Castlereagh, Viscount Kerry, Earl of Williams, Col. R. (Dorset, W.)
Cecil, Lord R. (Marylebone, E.) Kimber, Sir Henry Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-
Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E. Lane-Fox, G. R. Younger, George
Courthope, G. Loyd Lockwood, Rt. Hn. Lt.-Col. A. R.
Craik, Sir Henry MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Captain Craig and Mr. Meysey-Thompson.
Cross, Alexander Magnus, Sir Philip
Dalrymple, Viscount Mildmay, Francis Bingham
Dixon-Hartland, Sir Fred Dixon Morrison-Bell, Captain
Du Cros, Arthur Philip Nicholson, Wm. G. (Petersfield)
Acland, Francis Dyke Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight) Beale, W. P.
Ashton, Thomas Gair Barker, John Bellairs, Carlyon
Atherley-Jones, L. Barnes, G. N. Benn, W. (Tw'r Hamlets, S. Geo.
Bennett, E. N. Henry, Charles S. O'Shaughnessy, P. J.
Bethell, T. R. (Essex, Maldon) Herbert, Col. Sir Ivor (Mon., S.) Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)
Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine Herbert, T. Arnold (Wycombe) Pease, J. A. (Saffron Walden)
Boland, John Higham, John Sharp Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.
Bowerman, C. W. Hobart, Sir Robert Price, C. E. (Edinbgh, Central)
Brigg, John Hodge, John Price, Robert John (Norfolk, E.)
Brocklehurst, W. B. Holland, Sir William Henry Priestley, W. E. B. (Bradford. E,)
Brooke, Stopford Hope, John Deans (Fife, West) Raphael, Herbert H.
Bryce, J. Annan Howard, Hon. Geoffrey Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Byles, William Pollard Hudson, Walter Rees, J. D.
Cameron Robert Idris, T. H. W. Richards, Thomas (W. Monm'th
Causton Rt. Hn. Richard Knight Illingworth, Percy H. Robson, Sir William Snowdon
Cawley, Sir Frederick Jacoby, Sir James Alfred Roe, Sir Thomas
Cheetham, John Frederick Jardine, Sir J. Rowlands, J.
Clancy, John Joseph Jenkins, J. Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland)
Cleland, J. W. Johnson, W. (Nuneaton) Sandys, Lieut.-Col. Thos. Myles
Clough, William Jones, Leif (Appleby) Sears, J. E.
Compton-Rickett, Sir J. Jowett, F. W. Seaverns, J. H.
Corbett, C H (Sussex, E. Grinst'd Joyce, Michael Seddon, J.
Cotton, Sir H. J. S. Kekewich, Sir George Shaw, Rt. Hon. T. (Hawick B.)
Cox, Harold King, Alfred John (Knutsford) Sheehy, David
Crooks, William Laidlaw, Robert Silcock, Thomas Ball
Cullinan, J. Lamb, Ernest H. (Rochester) Smeaton, Donald Mackenzie
Davies, M. Vaughan (Cardigan Layland-Barratt, Francis Snowden, P.
Davies, Timothy (Fulham) Lupton, Arnold Stanger, H. Y.
Devlin, Joseph Luttrell, Hugh Fownes Steadman, W. C.
Dewar, Arthur (Edinburgh, S.) Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester) Strachey, Sir Edward
Dickinson, W. H. (St. Pancras, N MacVeagh, Jeremiah (Down, S. Strauss, E. A. (Abingdon)
Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles MacVeigh, Charles (Donegal, E.) Summerbell, T.
Dillon, John M'Arthur, Charles Sutherland, J. E.
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness M'Callum, John M. Taylor, John W. (Durham)
Dunn, A. Edward (Camborne) M'Crae, George Tennant, H. J. (Berwickshire)
Elibank, Master of M'Laren, H. D. (Stafford, W.) Torrance, Sir A. M.
Esslemont, George Birnie Marnham, F. J. Verney, F. W.
Evans, Sir Samuel T. Masterman, C. F. G. Vivian, Henry
Everett, R. Lacey Menzies, Walter Walker, H. De R. (Leicester)
Findlay, Alexander Molteno, Percy Alport Ward, John (Stoke upon Trent)
Flynn, James Christopher Montgomery, H. G. Wardle, George J.
Gladstone, Rt. Hn. Herbert John Mooney, J. J. Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)
Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford Morrell, Philip Waterlow, D. S.
Gooch, George Peabody (Bath) Murray, Capt. Hn. A. C. (Kincard. White, J. D. (Dumbartonshire)
Grant, Corrie Murray, James (Aberdeen, E.) Whitehead, Rowland
Greenwood, Hamar (York) Nannetti, Joseph P. Whitley, John Henry (Halifax)
Gulland, John W. Napier, T. B. Williams, J. (Glamorgan)
Gwynn, Stephen Lucius Nicholls, George Williams, Osmond (Merioneth
Halpin, J. Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncast'r Williamson, A.
Hardy, George A. (Suffolk) Norton, Capt. Cecil William Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Worc'r) Nussey, Thomas Willans
Harwood, George Nuttall, Harry TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr. Trevelyan and Mr. Lyulph Stanley.
Haworth, Arthur A. O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Helme, Norval Watson O'Connor, James(Wicklow, W.)
Henderson, Arthur (Durham) O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)

Original Question again proposed.

SIR A. ACLAND-HOOD (Somersetshire, Wellington)

said he desired to put a few questions to the Solicitor-General, not on behalf of the lords of the manor or of any sporting rights, but purely on behalf of the existing commoners who held common rights. He was not speaking of the sort of commons or village greens which were found in Surrey, but of large tracts of land, covered with herbage and underwood, over which certain commoners had rights, such as turbary, stocking, and cutting under- wood, to which they attached considerable importance. He would have no objection to the Bill if it recognised and scheduled those rights, and prevented unauthorised persons from using them. One of the greatest grievances of owners was that these rights were always being infringed by unauthorised persons. It was a difficult thing to say who had got these particular common rights, because few of these poor people had any title which they could show. He believed the law was that those rights only attached to a particular tenement and lapsed when the tenement was removed. He wished to say a few words as to the rights of the lords of the manor. He had shown how valuable those rights were to a commoner, but supposing anybody infringed the rights of these poor commoners, how were they going to fight their case? In a case which had come within his own experience a man began to build a house on such a tract of common land. The commoners did not know what to do. They could not combine, because they were not sure of their legal status. The only person who could do anything was the lord of the manor. They went to him (the speaker) and he did the common-sense thing, for he took his own men with him and pulled the house down. He thought those commoners had supported him at the poll ever since. In all villages there was a tendency to take vacant farm houses and cottages and turn them into residential buildings, and the first thing they wanted to do was to make a lawn tennis ground. Often they came to him to ask for power to take turf and he refused on the ground that it deprived the people of their stock runs and the hills of their wild beauty. Under this Bill the lord of the manor would have no such powers, and he very much doubted whether the parish council would exercise the powers that were given to them. The framers of the Bill must have had in their minds the ordinary common of the sort that was to be seen in Hampshire. They had not in mind those great tracts of land which were the ordinary adjuncts to the villages in the counties of Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall. There was a large population in his division who lived on the edge of the hillside and provided a source of very valuable labour for the farmers during the summer months. In the winter time they got their living by making brooms and cutting and selling underwood. He earnestly appealed to the House not to pass any legislation which would take away from a very poor but deserving class, their principal means of livelihood, and transfer very old and valued rights to an entirely new community at the discretion of the parish council.


said that the right hon. Baronet had, apparently to a great extent, misconceived the object of the provisions of the Bill, and he could assure him that, if it passed, it would have none of those injurious effects of which he had spoken with so much alarm. The main object of the Bill was to prevent one man stopping the regulation of the common under the Commons Act of 1876, when the very large majority of the commoners desired to have such regulation. Within such objects as were laid down in that Act there was no interference whatever with the right of any single commoner, and those rights were specifically expressly preserved in this Bill and by the Acts of 1876 and 1899. His right hon. friend need not therefore be afraid that there was anything in the Bill which affected the interests of the commoners or of any lord of the manor, except in one particular. Before any provisional order could be made by the Board of Agriculture there must be a local inquiry, at which the Board, through its representative, must be satisfied that they had got the consent of persons representing at least two-thirds in value of the local interests of the common. The order made by the Board of Agriculture had then to be confirmed by Parliament, so that every possible means was given to everybody to see that nothing unjust or unfair was done. If the order had been made with the consent of two-thirds in value of those interested, it could, at the present moment, be prevented from taking effect by the mere veto of the lord of the manor. It could not reasonably be desired that the lord of the manor by his own individual veto should thwart the wishes of the vast majority of the persons interested in the common, and go against the recommendation of the Board of Agriculture, after the fullest local inquiry. That was the main provision of this Bill. If Members wished to maintain the right of absolute veto by one man without his giving, or possibly having, any reason for it, they should vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. He did not, however, think anybody could rightly say that where there had been a local inquiry and an expression of opinion of the vast majority of the commoners it ought to be in the power of one person to exercise a veto in virtue of an old title.


asked a question as to the protection of the existing commoner against the new commoner.


said that in any order they would have to consider the local interests of the commoners. The common would have to be regulated for those who were interested in it. They were not dealing with the question of trespassers at all. He did not condemn in any way the action of the right hon. Gentleman in pulling down a trespasser's house. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman would, as a magistrate, take care to avoid being guilty of a breach of the peace. As long as this precaution was observed he had acted quite within his rights, and probably had done very cheaply and expeditiously what could only be done otherwise after a great deal of trouble and litigation, and he was not surprised that in this he had the full approval of his commoners.


called attention to the unsatisfactory way in which he considered some of the clauses were drafted, and if the Bill went any further than the present stage he hoped some steps would be taken to make them more intelligible. The main part of the Bill was contained in the second section which was in the following terms— Notwithstanding anything contained in the Inclosure Acts, 1845 to 1899, the Board of Agriculture may certify the expediency of a Provisional Order for the regulation of a manorial common without obtaining the consent of the lord of the manor to such Order or to the draft thereof. That was not a very convenient way of legislating. It put on anyone who wished to know what the provisions of the Bill were the duty of searching through the Acts from 1845 to 1899, but he admitted that there were considerable drafting difficulties in putting it more simply. He happened to have personal knowledge of the working of the Inclosure Acts. His right hon. friend the Member for the Wellington Division of Somerset had pointed out how very conveniently a meadow might be managed without infringement of the commoners' use of it by the lord of the manor if he was left to deal with it without undue officialdom and red tape. He would tell the House his experience of a considerable common in the South of England, known as Ash-down Common, Sussex, which was under the control of a Board of Conservators by an Act passed some time in the early seventies. There had been disputes over and over again between the conservators and the commoners, and a serious state of things had arisen. The Solicitor-General had told them that the right of commoners would not be interfered with under any regulation scheme of the Act of 1876. That might be so technically, but it was not so in the case of the Ashdown commoners. He did not pretend to know who was right or who was wrong, but there was a most bitter dispute going on. The commoners claimed the right—and they had the right—of feeding their cattle on the common. They also had the right to the fodder and to take it home. That was undisputed. They further claimed, however, the right to sell it, and the conservators objected to this, hence the whole dispute. The commoners declared they had had the right to sell this litter and fodder for many years and that it was a gross hardship on them that their rights should be interfered with in that respect. If the matter had been in the hands of the lord of the manor what would have happened would have been that the commoners would have sent a deputation to him, and in all probability the matter would have been settled by mutual concessions. But under the conservators, the whole matter was in the hands of the clerk, who lived miles away in a distant part of Sussex. Before the commoners could go to the conservators they had to go to this gentleman; and he would have to bring the Question before a meeting of the conservators, and matters would never get any "forrarder." The result in this particular case had been that a dangerous feeling had sprung up in the district. The existing state of things there was really an outrage on civilisation. If it had occurred on the other side of St. George's Channel it would have given rise to many Questions in this House and very properly so, and the Chief Secretary would have had many anxious hours. Year after year great tracts of this common were burned by incendiaries, who poured paraffin or some such stuff on the heather, and when the fire sprang up they were a long way off and it was impossible to detect who had caused the fires. The conservators were powerless. They had appointed a second ranger, but how could two rangers effectively watch a common twenty miles long and many miles broad? These fires occurred whenever there was a dry season, and whenever the gorse and heather were in a condition to be burned. Serious danger often threatened the houses bordering the common. All that arose from the faulty nature of the government of the common. All these things might have been avoided if the law of the common had been allowed to remain in its pristine condition of elasticity. He could tell of many other disputes which had arisen. There was a part of the common upon which golf was played, and the disputes over this portion had been enormous. Sometimes the commoners objected to the golf-players, and at other times the conservators had raised the question whether the golf club was not infringing their rights. Quite recently the lord of the manor, who was thought to be dead, had risen again and developed rights of his own, threatening to turn the golf club off the common altogether unless they were prepared to pay a large sum of money. These troubles had arisen largely by reason of the regulation of the common, and he doubted whether it was a wise thing for those who were promoting the Bill to insist on the regulation of commons. He did not know that by regulation they would get advantages which they did not get by leaving the management in the hands of the lord of the manor. If the lord of the manor stood in the way of what was for the public advantage, no one would be doubtful of the necessity for the measure, but when they came to look into the matter more closely they saw that there was grave doubt whether any advantage would be got by regulating commons in the way proposed. The House was entitled to more elaborate reasons in defence of the desirability of regulating commons before they took away one of the obstacles which at present existed. They should be shown that what was in itself desirable had been prevented by the operation of the present law. If it could be shown that regulation was a desirable thing, then the mere question of the rights of the lord of the manor, protected as they were by provision for compensation, ought not to be absolutely conclusive in the matter. He had still a dislike for regulations of all kinds. It seemed to him that it was too often forgotten in that House, particularly by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that a rule or regulation was in itself an evil. He agreed that the Socialist view was that the more regulations we had the better—that individual freedom was a mistake. That was the position of the despot. The despot and the Socialist were agreed, but he was neither one nor the other, and he disliked all laws and regulations, though he sometimes supported them because it could be proved in some cases that the evil of being without them was greater than the evil of having them. But those who supported regulations had to show that they were going to do positive good, and he should certainly oppose in this House any further interference with personal liberty unless it was shown that it would do good. He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—(Lord R. Cecil.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

SIR HENRY CRAIK (Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities)

said that the Bill was one of those measures which it was just as well should be exposed. Nominally it was a Bill for securing public rights, but practically it was a Bill to secure the exclusive use of commons to the middle class. He had had experience of the use of these commons by that class. The common he had in his eye had been used to a large extent under sufferance, and the users of it were only kept within certain bounds by the right of an appeal to the lord of the manor. He referred to the common of Berkhampstead. To a large extent the lord of the manor had allowed golfers the use of the common. The royal game had been filched from his own country, vulgarised by the English, and turned into a subject of betting, until it had become an epidemic of madness south of the Tweed. It was threatening to spread over every unoccupied district and to destroy the solitude of many places which were formerly pleasant. In the case of the common to which he had referred the vast mass of the poorer inhabitants were to be deprived of their common rights, and they were to exercise no authority over, or interfere with, the use of the common in future. The Solicitor-General had quoted the limitation provided for by Clause 2, that the Provisional Order should not prejudicially affect profitable or beneficial rights. That was all very well, but there were other rights. The great mass of the inhabitants of the town of Berkhampstead had benefited by the use of the common as a place of recreation, but it was absolutely destroyed, especially on Sundays, by the selfish action of golfers, who practically monopolised the place. It was therefore impossible for the inhabitants to establish any beneficial or profitable right to the common, where they had been accustomed for generations past to walk about with their wives and children. That, however, was not profitable, and the Provisional Order might set such a claim as theirs altogether on one side. He was perfectly certain that not in one case only but in many cases these commons had been caught hold of by a certain class who entirely disregarded the interests and the rights of the class below them. The rights of this lower class would, in his opinion, be far safer in the hands of the lord of the manor, because he would have nothing to fear from the selfish use of the common by those who would be just the people to dominate the parish councils. In the case of Berkhampstead he did not believe there were half-a-dozen of the poor people who would dare to stand up against the parish council. It was only the knowledge that the lord of the manor could interfere and stop their use of the common, which kept selfish people within limits. He supported the Amendment.

MR. C. H. CORBBTT (Sussex, East Grinstead)

said he was sorry he was not present to hear the whole of the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone. He only heard the end of the speech. He was one of the unfortunate conservators of Ashdown Forest at one time, and he knew the conservators were not great favourites with the noble Lord. There had been a great deal of bickering, and they had never been received with great favour. He did not think the noble Lord should be so hard on the conservators.


said he did not intend to attack the conservators. He merely wished to point out that as a result of the system a series of disputes had arisen which the conservators had, in fact, been powerless to allay.


said he apologised. He did not hear all that was said by the noble Lord. He quite agreed with him that the regulating of Ashdown Forest was by no means perfect. It was a bad system, but the conservators had to use the regulations given them, and were quite powerless to alter them. That, however, was not a reason for not regulating the commons; it was a reason for regulating them properly. Let the House consider the scheme. Who elected these conservators? They were elected by men who had a vote in respect of the acres over which they claimed common rights. Some of these men had 1,200 votes, whereas ordinary commoners to whom the common was of some advantage had only two or three votes each. Was there not some difference between regulating a forest or a common so that all the people interested had some voice in the election of the conservators, and leaving it practically in the hands not of one lord of the manor, but of half-a-dozen? If the Bill could only apply, therefore, to Ashdown Forest, he thought it would be a great improvement on the present regulation. The noble Lord must remember that this regulation was the result of a law suit between the lord of the manor and the commoners. The commoners thought the lord of the manor was trying to deprive them of their rights, and they appealed to the Law Courts to get this regulation. With regard to golf courses, there again there was always a difficulty when strangers came down into a country district and wanted to use a common over which the commoners thought they had exclusive control. The Ashdown Golf Links, however, had been situated on the common for many years, and in his opinion they were likely to be there for many years to come. He was not at all sure that some of the complaints raised by the commoners with regard to these links were not like many other similar complaints, simply made to get better terms out of the golf club.

MR. JAMES HOPE (Sheffield, Central)

said he intervened because of the speech of the noble Lord the Member for East Marylebone. The noble Lord said he was neither a despot nor a Socialist, and the impression gathered from the definition he gave of his own opinions was that he was an Anarchist. He told them he desired to be subject to no rule or regulation, and he must say that that was quite in keeping with what he knew of the noble Lord's antecedents. Speaking as one of the conservators of Ashdown Forest in Sussex, he was bound to say that the noble Lord showed great restiveness and his replies to the correspondence were certainly more facetious than respectful. The noble Lord made a road which he should not have made and the conservators told him that he had no business to do so, and that they were there to protect the forest. The reply they received was that he had every right, and when he had said that the conservators, in common parlance, were "done," because if they had summoned him, he would at once have set up a defence on a point of law arid they would have had no power to take the matter to the High Court. He thought the conservators should have the power to sue and be sued. What he would suggest was that the Bill should be read a second time, and then sent to a Select Committee of which the noble Lord should not be a Member and on which he himself should have a seat. He thought that very soon they would come to a scheme which would pass sometime in the ensuing session.

VISCOUNT HELMSLEY (Yorkshire, N.R., Thirsk)

said that no reason had been given for taking this Bill at the present time. All the speeches which he had heard so far from hon. Gentlemen opposite about the Bill, assumed that the lord of the manor was the only person whose interest was concerned. That was not his opinion, from his reading of the definition of "lord of the manor," in Clause 1. That definition included "any person or persons interested in a common which is the subject of a Provisional Order." That, he took it, meant any other commoner than the lord of the manor. He could not claim the extensive experience of commons possessed by the noble lord, or by the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, but he had known cases where the authoritative representatives of commoners had agreed to a particular way of using a common which had been very much against the wishes of the commoners, and the latter had shown their disapproval by adopting, as a protest, the summary methods just mentioned by the hon. Member for Somerset. Therefore, he did not think they could conclude that because a parish council was in favour of certain regulations for a common, these were approved of by all the commoners. This proved that representation was, as a matter of fact, but a make-shift way of trying to find put what the, people wished for. They had seen the evil in larger matters than in the representation on parish councils. It could not be said for one moment that a parish council actually represented the opinion and wishes of the commoners, many of whom probably never voted at a parish council election, took no part in any of its proceedings, and did not know that such an important body existed. The House should be very chary of taking away the rights of the lord of the manor and the commoners, and handing them over body and soul to either the parish council or any other body. This Bill adopted the same principle as other Bills introduced by hon. Gentlemen opposite, of taking away the control from local people and centralising it as far as possible. He was quite surprised that subsection (b), Clause 3, did not contain provisions for setting up a commission. That would be in accordance with the usual procedure of Bills emanating from the same quarter, but it went as near as possible to doing it. The Bill had the vice of centralisation common to many Bills of its kind. It gave to the county council the power of directing and overruling the district council, which, as a rule, had a greater knowledge of what was required than the parish council, and had some work to do. Moreover, those who elected the district council usually paid some attention to the choice of their representatives, which was not the case with parish councils. The Bill contained no provision for assessing the compensation to be given, and settling the rights of the lord of the manor, or of the various commoners who came under the definition of "lord of the manor." Perhaps the promoters of the Bill would have something to say upon that point, because it was very obscure. These he regarded as valid objections to the passing of the Second Reading of the Bill that day. He quite agreed that if, as the Solicitor-General had said, this was only a measure to prevent an obstreperous lord of the manor from not allowing the wishes of the commoners to be carried out, he should not vote against it; but it went very much further than that by allowing a parish council to do things which might be quite contrary to the wishes of the commoners, or the majority of them. Commoners were people who liked to be let alone; they did not want other bodies than themselves to deal with the rights which had been theirs from time immemorial. Therefore, he would support the Amendment of the noble Lord, not because he objected to the principle of the Bill as explained by the Solicitor-General, but because it was brought on at a time when it was not expected, and hon. Members had not had sufficient opportunity of making themselves acquainted with its provisions or of giving it adequate discussion.


said there was nothing revolutionary in the proposals of the Bill as had been suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for East Down. The whole object of the Bill was to put rural commons on the same footing as Metropolitan commons in regard to the veto of the lord of the manor. He did not understand that any hon. Gentleman opposite took objection to the lord of the manor being over-ruled by the Metropolitan councils, and, therefore, he took it that there had been no grievances in these cases; and there was no reason to anticipate any grievances and difficulties arising from the extension of the right to rural parish councils. Grievances there were when in opposition to the wishes of the great majority of the commoners and of the inhabitants of the district, an obstreperous lord of the manor exercised his veto to prevent a useful regulation being applied to a common. The noble Lord the Member for Thirsk had said that he had no very great faith in parish councils.


said that what he, had stated was that the commoners had no great faith in the parish councils.


said that he would not go into that question at the present moment, but as his hon. and learned friend the Solicitor-General had pointed out, there was ample protection to the lord of the manor and the interests of the commoners, inasmuch as a Provisional Order would require the approval of the Board of Agriculture and the sanction of Parliament. Therefore, all interests were thoroughly safeguarded. The Bill was really intended to prevent the abuses of public commons referred to by the hon. Member for Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities, and if that was not the case he would not assent to it. The Bill secured that where the veto of the lord of the manor was over-ruled in the general interest of the public, the lord of the manor would have compensation for any loss he suffered. The question before the House now was whether or not they agreed to the principle of the Bill. If they were agreed on the principle they should give the Bill a Second Reading and send it to a Committee upstairs, where the details would be carefully considered, and fair play would be given to the interests of the lord of the manor or to any alleged legitimate grievances of the commoners. He therefore hoped that as the great majority of the House accepted the principle of the Bill, it would be given a Second Reading.

MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

said that the hon. Baronet the Member for Somerset had failed to understand the effect of the Bill, or he would not have said that it proposed to do for rural commons what had been done for the Metropolitan commons. He (Mr. Stuart Wortley) opposed the Bill because it sought to impose upon the lord of the manor and the local people the will of strangers to the place. That was the vice of the measure. The mover of the Bill had very carefully covered over all facts very necessary to be known. There were three parties interested in the question. In the first place, he supposed the lord of the manor must be alluded to. He knew a common—he supposed it was one which had been referred to in the course of the debate—where the sporting rights of the lord of the manor had been exercised by himself and his friends without any injury to anyone in the neighbourhood. These were just the sort of rights which no compensation could replace. If these rights were taken away, or practically extinguished, no one in the locality would be benefited, but a great many persons would be deprived of their means of livelihood. Then, in the second place, there were the commoners or villagers who should be considered. A majority of two-thirds of them would by no means give the necessary security that the proposed regulation was a good thing. The interests of the minority and of the lord of the manor might be over-ridden by outsiders who wanted to make use of the common. The hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill wanted to impose his will and get his pleasure at the expense of others. That had been the case in the New Forest as between the claims of a Commons Preservation Society and the rights enjoyed for over a century by the villagers. The third party was the stranger, who in these days was getting to be more powerful than he used to be, or ought to be. He meant the people who came from a distance, and wanted to filch away the rights of the villagers in the use of the common. He would vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.


said he did not wish to speak in a hostile way of the Bill. With great respect to the Solicitor-General, he begged to differ from him from the point of view that there were more interests involved than the hon. and learned Gentleman had stated. There was a great difference between a country waste and a suburban common, and he could give instances where serious injury had been done to the rights of commoners as well as to the lord of the manor by schemes of the kind proposed in the Bill. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill had told them that there was not the slightest difficulty in understanding it; but there were a great many references to Acts of Parliament which made the proper understanding of the measure an exceedingly difficult matter. He did not wish to oppose the Bill, but he entered his protest against a highly technical and complicated measure such as this being introduced on a Friday afternoon without adequate explanation being given in non-legal language as to the effect of its provisions. The additional difficulty did not occur in this case as in the Bill first discussed that afternoon with reference to Scotland, inasmuch as the Bill only applied to England and Wales.

MR. ASHLEY (Lancashire, Blackpool)

said he would vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, because of its principle, that commons should be regulated as far as possible so that they might be used by the people. He, however, did not agree with many of the details of the Bill, which he thought were too sweeping. He did not see why the sporting rights of the lord of the manor should be interfered with, but he did not object to the regulations of grazing rights and the cutting of timber, if compensation was given.


said he honestly objected to the discussion of a Bill which contained difficult provisions when they had not had an opportunity of considering them. After the speeches which had been made he began to see a little light, and to understand What it was the hon. Members who introduced the measure wanted. They wanted to take away something he had got. He Was afraid that the Bill contained that principle in essence. It might be fortunate or unfortunate for him as a lord of the manor to have a veto on proposed regulations for a common.

And, it being Five of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded to interrupt the Business.

Whereupon Mr. TREVELYAN

rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.