HL Deb 06 July 1876 vol 230 cc1029-39

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


I wish, my Lords, to say a few words in reference to the measure to which I shall ask your Lordships to give a second reading, because I consider that few measures have been brought under the consideration of this House which affect more closely the interests of so large a proportion of the people of this country. In the first place, a Bill of this kind affects the lords of manors, it affects the rights of the commoners, and it affects the general public, who have, so to speak, no legal right in the commons, but who have for a considerable period had all the advantages and benefits which may be derived from large open spaces in the way of recreation, enjoyment, and health. When Her Majesty's Government came into office their attention was called to the state of matters with regard to in closures in this country, and I am bound to say that we found them in a most unsatisfactory condition. We found that many schemes had been recommended by the In closure Commissioners, and that those schemes had not been ratified by Parliament. We found, in fact, that since the Report of the Committee of 1869 no scheme had been passed by Parliament; that there was a General In closure Act which was passed in 1845, and that no inclosures—at all events, no in closures within a very recent period—had been made under it. Practically, therefore, the Act of 1845 had become a dead-letter; and persons had been put to expense in carrying out all the preliminary and necessary inquiries required by that Act, while, at the same time, they derived no benefit from the money so spent, Parliament having indicated in a manner not to be misunderstood that until the general law relating to in closures was amended and revised no scheme for in closure would be sanctioned. This unsatisfactory state of affairs naturally led to injury as well as disatisfaction. The Committee of 1869 also intimated that it would be necessary that accurate information of all the uninclosed waste lands of the country should be furnished to Parliament before Parliament could be expected to deal with the matter. That Return has now been presented, and it appears from it that there are in high districts 520,356 acres apparently cultivable, 1,425,336 acres unsuited to cultivation, and 34,585 acres of common field; while in low districts there are also 363,633 acres apparently cultivable, 59,140 not suited to cultivation, and 229,722 of common field. Therefore, the information which was deemed necessary before Parliament should deal with in closures having been obtained, it seems that now is the proper and fitting time to take up the subject. Previous to this Return being furnished in the Report of the Commissioners, the Secretary of State for the Home Department in 1874 brought in a Bill for the purpose of confirming a number of schemes which were waiting for confirmation, and, although some of these schemes were not objected to, my right hon. Friend felt that to pass the measure which he then had in view would occupy the whole of the Session, and accordingly he reluctantly gave up the Bill in that year and devoted his energies to a measure for the purpose of amending and revising the law, and this measure is the one I am about to ask your Lordships to read a second time. Before going into the details of the Bill I may mention that this is a question which has been occupying the attention of Parliament for a very great number of years, and that very interesting inquiries have been instituted from time to time—and even at the close of the last century and the beginning of this century—with respect to the in closure of commons; the object being, at the earlier period to which I have alluded, to encourage in closure as much as possible with the view of promoting agriculture and so increasing the food of the people, and also in order to find employment for the soldiers who were then about to be discharged at the close of the war. With your Lordships' permission, I will read two short extracts from the Reports of two Select Committees which sat at the close of the last century, because they are interesting as showing what a remarkable change has come over this country on this very subject of the in closure of commons. The first Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Waste Lands in 1795 said— As there is reason to believe that by taking early measures to promote such, improvements those lands might not only be speedily brought into a state of cultivation, but might be improved in such a manner as to yield a considerable addition to the stock of provisions for the maintenance of the people in the course both of the next and of the succeeding years, and, more particularly, to furnish a very large additional supply of potatoes, when such aid is peculiarly desirable—namely, before the produce of the ensuing harvest can be ready for consumption, your Committee thought it necessary to lose no time in submitting to the consideration of the House the general information to which they have already referred, together with the opinion they have been led to form thereon. Two years after that—in 1797—the Select Committee reports in the following way:— Your Committee cannot too strongly recommend to the House an immediate attention to this important subject. Every means (they are of opinion) ought to be taken for adding without delay from at least 150,000 to perhaps 300,000 acres to the land now in cultivation, as the only effectual means of preventing that importation of corn and disadvantages there from by which this country has already so deeply suffered. Matters have certainly very much changed since that Committee sat. They go on to say— It is more particularly necessary to carry such a measure speedily into effect, because it might be of the most essential public service as soon as the present war is concluded to have so important a resource opened at home for the employment of our gallant soldiers, who must be dismissed when such an event takes place, and to whom the cultivation and improvement of the territory of the country would furnish by far the most valuable and useful of all occupations. Therefore, in those days the object of the in closure of commons was first of all to set this country perfectly free from the necessity of looking to foreign countries for the importation of corn, and next to provide employment for our soldiers when they were no longer wanted. Of course the amount of land then not in cultivation was very great; and although it was at that time a question of food for the people and of employment for the Army, the matter, I think, now assumes a very different aspect, and the object which one has in a great degree in view in dealing with this subject is the health and recreation of the great body of the poorer classes in this country. In fact, what we desire is the regulation of commons more than the in closure of those spaces; and this we have set out in the Preamble of this Bill, which says that— inclosure in severalty as opposed to regulation of commons should not be hereinafter made, unless it can be proved to the satisfaction of the said Commissioners and of Parliament that such in closure will be of benefit to the neighbourhood as well as to private interests, and to those who are legally interested in any such commons. These are the views with which we have brought forward this measure; and our object is the regulating of spaces which may be convenient for purposes of health and recreation. In 1801 an In closure Act was passed called the Inclosure Clauses Consolidation Act. That Act was to be incorporated with every private Bill that was passed for inclosures; and I think that within the last 40 years no fewer than 20 Acts have been passed relating to this subject. Passing down from 1801 to 1845, we have the General Inclosure Act, in which the proceeding by Provisional Orders was established, those Provisional Orders having subsequently to be confirmed by Parliament. That General Inclosure Act it is our duty now, as we conceive, to endeavour to amend and revise. In 1865 a Select Committee sat to consider the question of the open spaces near the Metropolis, and the result of that Committee was that an Act was passed commonly called the Metropolitan Commons Act, which excluded from the General Act all those places within the Metropolitan Police District; and by the operation of that Act the lords of the manors cannot in close except by means of a Private Bill or by the Statute of Merton, and also with the consent of all the commoners. It has been suggested that we could accomplish the object we have in view by extending the Metropolitan Commons Act to all the other parts of the country; but that plan does not commend itself to us as a proper mode of dealing with the matter, and we have put it entirely on one side. The Committee I have previously referral to, which sat in 1869, went very carefully and fully into this matter, and made various recommendations of a most important character, and it is upon the Report of that Committee and upon their recommendations that this Bill has been specially framed. We have looked most carefully into the Report of the Committee of 1869, and I believe it will be found that the provisions of this Bill most strictly and accurately carry out all the recommendations which were made by that Committee. My Lords, the principles upon which we have acted in preparing this Bill have been, in the first place, to maintain all existing rights. We preserve the rights of lords of manors, we preserve all the rights of commoners, and we set up no new rights. We do not propose by this Bill in any way to prevent inclosures being made. We think the same opportunity should be afforded to lords of manors and others under this Bill as they have enjoyed hitherto for making inclosures. We say, if lords and commoners are satisfied with the existing state of things, we are content to leave them entirely untouched: but we say, if they are unsatisfied with the existing state of things, and if they want to come to Parliament to obtain a remedy, we do not think it unreasonable that in the interests of the public, the health of the people, and on general sanitary grounds, some arrangements should be made with them for the comfort and enjoyment of the poorer classes. We give, therefore, to the Urban Sanitary Authority a right to appear before the Inclosure Commissioners, and we give them the power to undertake the management of commons. We also allow them to contribute out of local funds, as the subject concerns the health of the people. It is not my intention to weary your Lordships by going through the various clauses of the Bill, but your Lordships will observe that due regard is given in it to the rights of all parties, and especially to all sanitary points. These are the general principles on which we have drawn the Bill—mainly, as I said before, upon the Report and recommendations of the Committee which sat in 1869. We think that the mode in which we deal with the procedure under this Bill is one which ought to commend itself to your Lordships' approval. We wish that every possible facility shall be given to all parties who may be affected in any way by a proposed inclosure or regulation of commons. In the first place, the parties who seek to have alterations made are to apply, in the first instance, to the Inclosure Commissioners, and if the Inclosure Commissioners think that a primâ facie case has been made out for complying with the request, they may send down Assistant Commissioners to investigate the case upon the spot. Every care is taken that due notice shall be given in order that all parties interested may have an opportunity of stating their case for or against the proposal; after the Assistant Commissioners have so taken evidence upon the spot they will report to the Inclosure Commissioners, who will weigh the evidence thus brought before them, and if the Inclosure Commissioners think that the proposal ought to be made the subject of a Provisional Order, and subsequently be included in an Act of Parliament, they will certify that to Parliament. It is proposed that this Provisional Order shall undergo the investigation of a Select Committee, which might be appointed at the commencement of every Session for the purpose of dealing with these matters. In fact, we propose that the inclosure and regulation of commons shall be dealt with exactly in the same way as turnpikes are now dealt with in the other House of Parliament. From the experience of the manner in which that system has worked, we think it would work equally well and beneficially in dealing with the inclosure and regulation of commons. I do not think that I should be justified in going further into the details of the Bill:—those are matters which are better dealt with in Committee—but I may express a hope that your Lordships will give this Bill a second reading, because if you do so you will confer a great boon upon all the poorer classes of the community, and add very much to the health, the recreation, and the enjoyment of the people.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord President.)


said, it was agreed on all hands that something must be done on this subject, and he was glad that the Government had brought forward this measure. It was to be observed that a very few years ago there was an outcry for inclosure—it used to be said if the waste lands in this country were given to the poor to cultivate, it would prevent the necessity of emigration to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Well, that delusion had been dispelled by the discovery that the greater part of the land open to inclosure was not worth cultivating. We had, therefore, now got to another stage of opinion, a little too much on the other side. For instance, it was now provided that, in the case of commons within six miles of a town, the inhabitants should have a right of interfering on a question of inclosure. A common at six miles' distance from a large manufacturing town in the North of England might be of great use to the inhabitants of that town, but he could not imagine that an inhabitant of one of the towns in the West of England, after a day's work, would walk 12 miles to have a game of cricket. The distance named was excessive. He regretted to perceive that the Bill preserved what was called the right of turbary. He thought that was a defect in the Bill—"turbary" was simply paring away the turf in such a manner that it would take a hundred years to recover—which, in fact, revived the common without giving as much turf for fuel as was worth cutting. Another defect of the Bill was that, whereas at present a lord of a manor who owned one or two farms adjoining a common could make a small inclosure for the purpose of building some cottages thereon, under this Bill he could not do so without publishing a notice that he intended to make such inclosure. With regard to commons near considerable towns or populous places, he thought it was most desirable that they should be kept for the recreation of the people: but he thought the Bill in some respects went beyond that. However, on the whole, he agreed with the principles of the Bill.


hoped their Lordships would receive the Bill as a settlement of a question which had engaged the attention of Parliament for a considerable time. He trusted the Government would not, in consequence of the observations of the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset) be disposed to make the Bill less effective than it was. He regarded Clause 8 as containing the most valuable provisions of the Bill. He did not agree with the noble Duke that the proposal to bring within the operation of the measure all commons within six miles of any town was too extensive. Comparatively small towns were daily increasing in size, and if commons within six miles of them were permitted to be in closed we should find in a short time that all the open spaces that were so necessary for the recreation and the health of their inhabitants had been built over. Under these circumstances, he thought that the six mile area should be maintained. He had heard with regret the remarks of the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) with regard to the clause relating to inclosures by consent, because he had intended to propose an extension rather than a limitation of its provisions. He thought the provisions of the Statute of Merton in this matter required revision. Inclosures by consent had been carried into effect very largely, and had in many instances, such as in that of Plumstead Common, given rise to riots and disturbances. He desired that the rights of all parties should be preserved, but that they should be enforced in a legal and orderly manner; and, therefore, he should propose that in all cases where commons were situated within six miles of a town having 5,000 inhabitants the Urban Sanitary Authority should have power to interfere, and, if necessary, to obtain an injunction against parties who were attempting to in close such commons illegally. Great advantage would result from there being a public authority who would have power to interfere to prevent the illegal inclosure of these open spaces, which there was a great temptation in the neighbourhood of large towns to devote to building purposes. The advantage of having such bodies who were in a position to resist encroachments of that character had been exemplified in the case of Epping Forest, which would have been in closed had it not been for the course taken by the Corporation of London. When the Bill got into Committee, therefore, he should move an Amendment giving the Urban Sanitary Authority a power such as he had indicated. The principle of the Bill was new, and was very good, it being based upon the doctrine that inclosures were not of themselves desirable, but should only be permitted in cases where the Commissioners were of opinion that they would be for the benefit not only of the lord of the manor and of the commoners, but of the neighbourhood generally. He trusted that the measure would speedily become law.


said, the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond), in moving the second reading, stated that the Bill maintained all existing rights and conferred no new rights. He desired to know how the noble Duke reconciled this statement with the 19th clause. The 19th clause authorized the Inclosure Commissioners to require allotments for exercise and recreation and for field gardens to be made upon "any inclosure of a common which is subject to restricted rights of common in like manner as where the common rights are unrestricted." It seemed to him that if the House sanctioned this clause, they not only interfered with existing rights, but set up the dangerous principle of empowering the Inclosure Commissioners to take property from those to whom it undoubtedly belonged in order to give it to those who had not the shadow of a title to it. It was not simply because three or four persons had neglected to exercise their undoubted right to in close, and had been content to let their cows pasture in common, that a part of their land should be taken from them and given to others who had no rights whatever over it. To adopt such a principle would, in his opinion, be extremely dangerous.


said, that this was really a very large question, involving many interests. There were within one mile of their Lordships' House, in the county of Surrey, 600 different pieces of uninclosed land, and there were thousands of acres which might be turned to profitable occupation. Much of the waste land was not worth cultivating, but there was a great deal that might be turned to profitable account in one way or another. Surely it would be for the benefit of the community at large that this large amount of land should be brought into use, rather than that it should be condemned by Act of Parliament to remain unproductive for ever. The property was, perhaps, of little value for agricultural purposes; but the way to reclaim it was to place on it cottages or small residences, with gardens attached, and by these means the land would certainly in the end be redeemed from sterility. It struck him, in reading the Bill, that there was one point on which injustice would be done by it. The Bill provided that all commons within six miles of a town of 5,000 inhabitants—measured, he supposed, on the Ordnance map (for the Bill omitted to state how the measurement was to be made)—were to be maintained. If they took Guildford, or Dorking, or Reigate, each the centre of districts in which there were thousands of acres of common land, it was surely not intended to give those towns a veto on the inclosure of any common within six miles of them? There were, however, difficulties in the opposite direction. It was provided by Clause 14 that, for the improvement and protection of commons a portion not exceeding one-fortieth part, or 2½ per cent, might be sold to pay the expense; but in Surrey, where these lands were of very small value, 2½ per cent would not be sufficient. If 5 per cent were allowed it would give some chance for the formation of a fund sufficient to pay the expenses of a proper improvement of the common. Again, in the Bill a valuable source of income was neglected. There ought to be a power to let off allotments of these waste lands to the poor, which, under proper regulations, would be an immense boon, and would produce a considerable sum to expend on the regulation of the remaining portion of a common. He believed that many of the poor would willingly pay a fair rent for small allotments, which might be applied to the general purposes of any park. He thought the Commissioners ought to have full power of dealing with each case as it arose, and believed that the main principles of the measure would meet the approval of all those who took an interest in the matter.


said, he was much gratified at the manner in which the measure had been received by their Lordships. He would promise that the suggestions which had been offered should be carefully considered, and, if necessary, embodied in Amendments that would be introduced when the measure had reached a later stage. He might state that the 8th clause, to which such repeated reference had been made—that giving the six-mile limit—was introduced into the Bill in consequence of the recommendation of the Committee of 1869.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.