It would be convenient to the House if the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government would be good enough to state after what hour it is not proposed to go on with the Commons Bill this evening, and also whether, in any circumstances, it is intended to proceed with the third reading of the Merchant Shipping Bill to-night? The right hon. Gentleman, of course, will not be prepared to answer the question immediately; but it would be convenient, I think, that the House should know shortly what are the intentions of the Government with regard to the Oxford University Bill. I therefore give Notice that I will tomorrow ask whether he can name any day for proceeding with that Bill.
We do not intend to take the Commons Bill to-night after half-past 10, or, perhaps, 11 o'clock, nor to proceed with it to an unreasonable hour to-night. I do not see that I shall be able to-morrow to give the noble Lord a more satisfactory answer with regard to the Oxford University Bill than I can to-night, and therefore I may as well answer his Question at once. It is quite clear that we cannot proceed with that Bill at present. It must be taken after the holidays, and then I shall be able to give a more satisfactory answer to the noble Lord. The Appellate Jurisdiction Bill must be proceeded with before the Oxford University Bill can be taken.
said, that the answer given by the Prime Minister to the Question of the noble Lord was so unusual that he must, most reluctantly, take the course of moving the adjournment of the House. The other night the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he could not tell whether the Commons Bill would be brought on at 10 o'clock or at half-past 10, and, therefore, Members did not know whether it would be brought on at 10 or at half-past 10. And now the First Minister said it might be brought on at 11 o'clock. That was not a reasonable hour for bringing on that very important Bill, and, if it were brought on at 11 o'clock, he (Mr. Fawcett) would move an adjournment. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the adjournment of the House.
Moved, "That the House do now adjourn."—( Mr. Fawcett.)
said, the Government attached great importance to the Commons Bill, as was manifest by the mention of it in the Queen's Speech. They were perfectly aware that the Bill when it came on at the next stage must give rise to a good deal of debate, and they had no wish to bring it on at a time inconvenient to the House. But it was very inconvenient to be asked questions with regard to precise hours and half hours, especially when such questions might lead to discussions which might, perhaps, take up a quarter or half-an-hour. The object of the Government was to get on with business and to bring forward their measures at a proper time. The Commons Bill had originally been put down as the first business of the day; but it was quite obvious that no time should be lost in proceeding with the financial measure of the Government, and there- fore the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill was put down for progress in Committee as the First Order of the Day. He hoped the House would get through that Bill at a time which would enable them to proceed with the discussion on the Commons Bill. If the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill should occupy the House till a time when it would be too late to proceed with the Commons Bill, of course the Government would not wish to press it against the wish of the House. But suppose the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill should be disposed of at 10 or half-past 10, he did not think they ought to be precluded from proceeding with the Commons Bill by anything that was said in the beginning of the evening. With regard to the Question of the noble Lord as to the Merchant Shipping Bill, that Bill stood for a third reading. He did not know whether it was likely that there would be much discussion on the third reading; but if it were not reached by half-past 11 it would not be proceeded with to-night, unless there was a general desire on the part of the House that it should be read a third time.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Customs And Inland Revenue Bill—Bill 124
( Mr. Raikes, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. William Henry Smith.)
Bill considered in Committee.
(In the Committee.)
Clause 1 (Short title) agreed to.
Customs and Excise.
Clause 2 (Grant of Customs duties on tea.)
protested against the clause because it continued the duty on tea. His objection to this was on the ground that it limited the consumption of tea, which was a necessary of life, and raised the price of it to the consumer to an amount larger than that of the duty itself. The effect a reduction of the duty produced upon the consumption was shown by the fact that while in 1840, when the duty was at a high rate, the quantity consumed per head of the population was 1·22 lb., now it was 4·23 lb. per head, an increase in the consumption of four-fold. He trusted that the duty would be repealed at the earliest possible moment.
thought that before the tea duty was further reduced there were other small duties which might with advantage be swept away—the duty, for example, on marine insurances, which, he contended, had a tendency to drive business out of the country. He would remind the hon. Member for Burnley that the general increase of wages in the country no doubt had much to do with the increased consumption of tea.
admitted the right of the hon. Member for Burnley to call attention to the tea duty on a proposal to re-impose it without alteration; but he thought the hon. Baronet was hardly in Order in introducing on a clause relating to the tea duty the question of marine insurance; and it would be very inconvenient to discuss the whole question of our taxation with the relative incidence of direct and indirect taxation upon that clause. They were not now in a position to deal with this subject; but he might remind the hon. Member for Burnley that the present Government, since they had been in office, although they had not reduced the tea duty, had taken off the whole of a very cognate tax—the sugar duty—a measure which had a considerable effect in stimulating the consumption of tea.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 (Customs duty on cocoa paste and chocolate.)
moved the omission of the clause, which had been originally introduced to regulate the duty on chocolate and cocoa paste after the repeal of the sugar duties. Inquiries had shown that a large proportion of these substances did not contain sugar, and the Government had come to the conclusion that they would by this clause create a great inequality on one side by attempting to remedy one on the other.
Motion agreed to.
Clause struck out accordingly.
Clause 4 (As to bottling spirits in a Customs or Excise warehouse for expor-
tation only); and Clause 5 (Restriction of term "male servant," in s. 19 of 32 & 33 Vict. c. 14) agreed to.
Clause 6 (Grant of duties of income tax.)
rose to move an Amendment of which he had given Notice—namely, in page 2, line 38, to leave out "three pence" and insert "two pence-halfpenny." He had perfect confidence in the Estimates laid before the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he would take them as the basis of his observations. The right hon. Gentleman estimated the Expenditure of the current year at £78,044,000, and the Revenue at £77,270,000, leaving a deficiency of £774,000. To meet that deficiency the right hon. Gentleman proposed to add 1d. to the Income Tax, from which he expected to realize this year £1,168,000, leaving a surplus of £394,000, or, including the loss of the duty on boys occasionally employed, £368,000. If his (Mr. Hodgson's) proposal of a half-penny addition to the Income Tax were adopted, he calculated that it would give this year £857,000, which, would meet the deficit of £774,000, and leave a balance of £83,000. If, however, he adopted the exemption of all incomes under £150, that would cost the Exchequer £135,000, and thus leave a trifling deficiency of £78,000—a deficiency which, looking at the extreme prudence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's calculations, he did not think at all serious. He could only hope to succeed in his Amendment if he could touch the heart of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and induce him to give to all payers of Income Tax the boon which the right hon. Gentleman offered to only a certain portion of them. Even if the extra remissions which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to give to the possessors of the smaller incomes were taken away, an equivalent advantage would be conferred upon them by this Amendment in the form of a reduction of the extra 1d. to a halfpenny. His calculations might appear very close, but it was to be remembered that he should have no Supplementary Estimates—at least, he hoped so. As to the question of exemptions, he would only remind the House that the Government proposals had been pronounced to be a step towards graduated taxation, which had always been the dream of the Communists and revolutionists. His own view was that they ought to strike off from incomes a uniform sum of £150 or say £200—in fact, the price of subsistence. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Amendment.
Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 38, to leave out the words "three pence," in order to insert the words "two pence halfpenny,"—( Mr. Kirkman Hodgson,)—instead thereof.
said, he fully recognized that no one had a better right to address the House on this question than his hon. Friend, and no one could have brought forward, his Amendment more moderately, but his proposal was not one which the Government could safely accept. Even assuming that the exemptions were retained at their present level, the hon. Member's scheme would not leave the finance of the country in a satisfactory position at the end of the year. The arrangements proposed by the Government had been decided upon after very careful and anxious considetion. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) claimed no credit for himself in that matter; but he could say that the heads of the responsible revenue branches of the country had been in constant communication with him for months before the Budget was settled, and that up to the last moment their calculations were revised and re-revised, and turned in every possible way. Therefore, what he had laid before the House as a prospective estimate of our finances was one by which he was prepared to stand in every particular. There was nothing in the progress of the Revenue during the last six or seven weeks to induce him to change his estimate in any respect. There had been some slight falling off in one thing and some slight improvement in another, but taking all things together he was prepared to stand by his original estimate. According to his (the Chancellor of the Exchequer's) proposal the sum of £5,218,000 would be received for Income Tax in 1876–7; if the figure proposed by the hon. Member were adopted it would yield £4,792,000, or £476,000 less than was estimated by the Government. This would leave them a deficit of £108,000, and if they added to that, as the hon. Member suggested, the exemption of all incomes under £150, the whole deficit would be something like £250,000. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) thought the House would agree with him that it was a very dangerous thing, under any circumstances, to commence the year with a deficit, and without making any allowance for Supplementary Estimates. His hon. Friend hoped no Supplementary Estimates would be needed; but he could never be secure against accidents which might diminish the productiveness of the Revenue. The Government had made cautious estimates, and he felt bound to say that the sanguine anticipations of his hon. Friend were not such as could safely be shared in by a Chancellor of the Exchequer. He could not take upon himself the responsibility to advise that they should commence the year with a deficit such as the hon. Member proposed; therefore, in any case it would be his duty to resist this proposal, whatever might be the view the House would take upon the question as to exemptions. He preferred to discuss the question of the substitution of a halfpenny for a penny irrespective of the question as to exemptions; and therefore, in opposing the reduction, he at present abstained from entering into the discussion of exemptions.
said, it appeared to him the right hon. Gentleman had not satisfactorily disposed of the figures which had been propounded by his hon. Friend the Member for Bristol. His hon. Friend contended that the halfpenny, calculated at the rate adopted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, would produce sufficient to meet the deficit and very nearly enough to meet the exemptions up to £150. The right hon. Gentleman had apparently challenged that calculation by allusions to the amount of Income Tax collected within the year. He was at a loss to understand why the Chancellor of the Exchequer should estimate the third penny to produce less than either of the two other pennies. The right hon. Gentleman estimated, in his Budget speech, the first and second pennies to produce this year, as last year, respectively £2,054,000, but he estimated the third penny to produce only £1,800,000. No explanation had been given of this, and he should certainly assume that the third penny would produce as much as each of the two first pennies; and he was fortified in that by the Budgets of 1868 and of 1871, when the Income Tax was raised from 4d. to 6d., and in each case the additional pennies were estimated to yield as much as the original pennies. The right hon. Gentleman now said the third penny would only produce £1,800,000, and that the exemptions would reduce the product of that penny to £1,400,000. The right hon. Gentleman in his Budget speech further reckoned that one-sixth of that amount would not be collected within the year. That appeared to be a large sum to strike off for non-collection within the year. But on the 7th April the right hon. Gentleman said he would throw off one-fifth for the sum that would not be collected within the year, and according to that calculation his surplus would be not £368,000, but £318,000. Now, whether the amount thrown off was one-sixth or one-fifth, it was a very large amount. In 1871, when the tax was raised from 4d. to 6d, the Chancellor of the Exchequer estimated the amount of non-collection for the year at one-tenth, and the result justified that calculation. If one-tenth was thrown off for the present year the proposition of the hon. Member for Bristol would produce £924,000, against the right hon. Gentleman's deficit of £774,000. This would practically leave the Chancellor of the Exchequer margin enough to remit the duty upon servant boys, and to exempt incomes under £150 from Income Tax. No doubt there might be Supplementary Estimates, and it should not be forgotten that the Supplementary Estimates last year amounted to £1,400,000, whilst in the preceding year the amount was £1,600,000. If such Supplementary Estimates were to be produced this year, neither the proposition of the hon. Member for Bristol nor that of the right hon. Gentleman himself would be sufficient to cover them. The fact was that no increase of taxation would be needed this year but for the sinking fund which the right hon. Gentleman established last year. The payment it now involved of £570,000 turned the scale against the right hon. Gentle- man, and obliged him to come down to the House and propose an increase of taxation. He ventured to think that his hon. Friend the Member for Bristol had made out his case, and showed that an increase of a halfpenny would be sufficient to meet the right hon. Gentleman's necessities for the year. It certainly would be if no exemptions were made. Then, if a halfpenny were enough, why did the right hon. Gentleman ask for two halfpennies? It came to this: the halfpenny without exemptions would be amply sufficient to meet the expenses of the year. The second halfpenny was the purchase-money which the right hon. Gentleman was willing to pay to obtain support for the increased charge. He gave those abatements up to £400,000 to reconcile a large number of parties who accepted that. The right hon. Gentleman had been remarkably studious in minimising the amount of the tax to be derived from the additional penny during the year. If the amount received should be larger than the right hon. Gentleman had stated, he might be enabled to redeem the promise given to the hon. Member for Leicester of further relief to local taxation; but, if not, the hon. Gentleman would have to be content with an I O U. He hoped that the House would, on further consideration of the matter, give a considerable amount of support to the proposition of the hon. Member for Bristol.
Question put, "That the words 'three pence' stand part of the Clause."
The Committee divided:—Ayes 227; Noes 142: Majority 85.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 7 (Provisions of Income Tax Acts to apply to duties hereby granted) agreed to.
Clause 8 (Exemptions where income is under £150, and abatement where income is under £400).
said, he had an Amendment to propose which was of an entirely different character from the last. That proposed to land the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a deficit. He, however, was anxious to land him with a surplus; and to do so by carrying out at the same time the general feeling of the House, expressed in the debate of the other night. On that occasion there were three points under consideration. One was the entire remission of the tax upon incomes up to £150;and the other two were an increase of the abatement from £80 to £120, and an advance of that abatement upon incomes from £300 to £400. It was perfectly plain, the ground on which the House admitted and accepted the absolute exemption of incomes of £150. There was, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, an administrative difficulty which made it impossible to collect the tax on incomes below that amount. Against necessity there was no law; and without admitting for a moment that persons receiving £150 a-year ought not to pay their quota towards the expenses of the government of the country, he bowed to the necessity, and threw upon the Government the responsibility of the declaration that it was impossible. It was, however, exceedingly necessary to be clear as to the principle on which exemptions were made. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said something about exempting weekly wages, but what had that to do with the question? Could he say that a man with £500 a-year, who received it in weekly wages of £10 a-week, should be exempted? In truth, the only admissible argument was that of the impossibility of collection. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it was only fair that the exemption of weekly wages should apply also to clerks receiving a similar amount who might be paid quarterly, and he thought that that argument prevailed with the House in agreeing to the total exemption of incomes under £150. With regard to the second and third points, to which he had referred, they were of a different class altogether; and here, again, it was necessary to find out the principle on which they were proceeding. The real and only rule to govern the amount of exemption was the cost of subsistence for unskilled labour. It was perfectly clear that unless labour was remunerated beyond the point of subsistence it could not be taxed, and, as that rule had been established, how did the matter stand? At first £50 or £60 was considered a fair sum; but for many years past £80 had been fixed upon; and that he considered was a liberal allowance as the cost of subsistence for unskilled labour. The next point was how to deal with incomes above £150 a-year, which would be entitled to a certain remission, and those incomes, it was now proposed, should be carried up from £300 to £400. The hon. Member for West Cumberland said if there was no socialism in abatements up to £300 there was none in abatements up to £400. There was no vice in figures—there was no vice in £300 a-year or in £400 a-year—but they must look at the motive on which the change was to be made. If the sum had originally been £400 there could be no objection; but the question now was, why should it be raised to £400? If there was no motive beyond the fact of £400 being a higher figure, what was to stop them from going to £500 or £600, or, indeed, to stop at all? There was distinct socialism in going from one sum to the other simply because it was the higher. The duties on wine, tea, and spirituous liquors could not be varied from year to year according to the wants of the Treasury, and it must be further remembered that these were spontaneous contributions to the revenue. No one was bound to drink whiskey or brandy and water, and these taxes were gifts to the general exchequer. The difference between them and the Income Tax was that the taxpayer gave his contribution to the Exchequer through indirect taxation, but his contribution through direct taxation was taken from him. The Income Tax properly adjusted, was the fairest, wisest, and best tax the country could have. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said the other day to a deputation that he could make no promises, because taxation depended upon circumstances which arose from year to year. But that was most unsatisfactory, as we should be obliged to place our fiscal system on accident. On the contrary, this question of the Income Tax ought to be dealt with on its own merits. As regarded the exemption of £150, that was capable of being justified on administrative grounds, and did not touch the principle; but if without necessity, and without change of circumstances, they increased the amount of abatement and then enlarged the incomes to be exempted, they were taking a step towards favouritism of classes which could not but have the most unfavourable consequences on the whole fiscal system of this country. His Amendment was directed to one point only, but it would save time if the House would consider that it was dealing at the same time with all three questions, and the decision upon the present clause would then settle the whole matter. He trusted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in the discussion of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Hodgson) had evinced so laudable an anxiety to secure a surplus, would not refuse the contribution of a few hundreds of thousands which by the present Amendment he proposed to make towards that surplus. If his Amendment were accepted, it would save the House from what he was certain would be hereafter a source of unending regret and self-reproach. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving, in page 3, line 21, after "and," to leave out to "pounds," in line 24.
said, he was rather surprised at the very remarkable amount of importance which was attached to the proposals contained in the present Bill, as though they were of a novel character. They had been spoken of by the right hon. Gentleman as if they were the introduction of a new system of exemptions; but if hon. Members would bear in mind the history of these exemptions they would find that there was nothing novel in them, but that they were in entire conformity with the principle with which Parliament had been long familiar. He should like to refer, by way of contrast, to the system of exemptions introduced by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone), of which the present was only an extension, and to the circumstances under which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) gave further extension to those exemptions. When they proposed those exemptions they rested the argument for them upon grounds that were now said to be fraught with evil; whereas he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) rested his argument on other grounds, and grounds of an arithmetical and practical, and not a sentimental character. In 1862, when the right hon. Member for Greenwich made these deductions from incomes of a small amount, he said that in principle there was no injustice in his proposal, but only a wider and larger kind of justice. That was the language the right hon. Gentleman employed when proposing to make the original deduction of £60 from incomes under £100. The year after he had done that he still spoke of the stringent mode in which the Income Tax operated upon the lower classes of incomes; subsequently, some years afterwards, the right hon. Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) introduced into his Budget a proposal to further extend this relief by raising the amount from which deduction was to be made to £300, and the amount of deduction from £60 to £80;and the ground on which he made the proposal was that there was no class of taxpayers who felt the pressure of taxation so severely as persons whose incomes were under or about that amount. He did not find fault with these right hon. Gentlemen for proposing to make these remissions; they were assented to by Parliament without anyone breathing a word about socialism; and he was bound to say that since that time public opinion had not been stimulated in that direction. Well, if he chose to follow in the wake of the other side, he might say there was a precedent for the course he had adopted. But he begged to assure the Committee that his proposals had been made upon wholly different grounds. He had never in his arguments admitted the principle that his desire was to show any particular favour or mercy to the particular class of the community with which he proposed to deal. He had carefully abstained from anything of the kind. The Government were not so soft-hearted as to try and conciliate one class at the expense of another. He had simply started upon the assumption that the total remission of Income Tax should be carried from £100 to £150 a-year. That alteration he proposed upon purely practical grounds, because there was very great difficulty, and in some cases an almost impossibility, of levying the tax from persons whose incomes were below a certain amount. Well, that point having been reached, the next question to be considered was merely one of an arithmetical character. Exemptions being granted up to £150, the question arose, what was to be done with incomes immediately above that amount? Were they to be subjected to full taxation? This was the principle acted upon originally by Sir Robert Peel; but it made the tax fall heavily on incomes just above the amount of exemption. With a limit of £150 it meant, for incomes just over that, 150 and odd pence for every penny of tax, or more than 450 pence with a 3d. tax. This was too sudden a jerk, and it was objectionable on the ground that it exposed men to the temptation of endeavouring to keep under the margin by offering so large a bonus. The hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Captain Nolan) suggested that £150 should be deducted from all incomes; but that was open to the objection that incomes just above £150 would have to be taxed upon one or two or a few pounds, which would be impracticable, for it would not be worth while to collect the tax upon the first £10; and it was open to the further objection that it would be absurd and involve an unnecessary waste of revenue and a great deal of unnecessary trouble to deduct it from incomes of thousands a-year, the possessors of which would not feel it. There remained the third alternative—to adopt the system at present adopted, make £150 the total limit of exemption, and above that amount deduct such an amount as would make the first payer of Income Tax pay upon something like a sensible proportion of his income. With the deduction of £80 from £100, the first payer paid upon £20, which at 3d. was 60d. more than the man who paid nothing. With the deduction of £80 from £150, that income would pay three times 70d., or 210d. more than the income that did not pay at all. It appeared to them that was too great a difference, and that by raising the deduction to £120 the income of £150 would pay upon £30, or, at 3d., 90d. At present the first who paid would, at 3d., pay 60d.; at the £150 limit he would pay 210d.; but by raising the deduction as proposed to £120, he would pay 90d. These were the reasons why it was considered the raising of the limit of exemption ought to carry with it the alteration of the limit of deduction and the amount of deduction. At present the man of £300 paid on £80 more than the man below him; this was a difference of about 26½ per cent. If he paid on £120 more the difference would be 40 per cent, which would be too great a jump; but by carrying the limit of deduction up to £400 the difference, which was now 26½ per cent, was only raised to 30 per cent. These were the calculations on which they proceeded in fixing the limit of deduction at £400. The result might be arrived at in another way—they raised the limit of exemption from £100 to £150, or 50 per cent; raised the amount to be deducted by 50 per cent, or from £80 to £120; and might have raised the limit of deduction by 50 per cent, which would have brought it to £450. That did not seem to be a reasonable amount to propose; it lay between £400 and £500, and they gave the benefit of the doubt, in the anti-communistic sense, by putting it at £400. Until the matter came to be discussed in the House, he did not think the feeling or interest of any particular class was ever mentioned. For a considerable time past the matter had been discussed outside the House, and various suggestions had been made in favour of some extension of exemption and deduction in respect of small incomes; and he believed it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to have resisted altogether some Motion in that direction. He, therefore, believed the Government had acted wisely, if only with the view of settling the question, in making proposals of a moderate character, analogous to the existing arrangements, and containing no elements of danger. It was said, without much reflection, that they were doing a dangerous thing in not calling upon a large number of persons to bear some of the burdens of the country. That objection might possibly be taken with regard to those who were exempted altogether; but it must be remembered that persons with incomes between £150 and. £400 were not exempted altogether, but only to a certain extent relieved. He had now told the simple history of this proposal, and he really did not think there was anything in it which should call forth the alarm which had been expressed. He fully agreed that if it were proposed to tax the poor more lightly than the rich it might lead in a dangerous direction at some future time, but that was not the principle on which they proceeded. The principle on which they proceeded would be rather a safeguard against such a proposal, and the power of maintaining an equal balance between direct and indirect taxation would be strengthened.
said, he hoped the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer had removed the doubts which had arisen in the minds of hon. Members who sat on the benches behind him in regard to this proposal; but he must say he had puzzled many Members on both sides of the House by his arithmetical calculations. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman appeared to have some difficulty in explaining his arithmetical puzzle to himself. The result of the proposal, however, was that they were to lose a large tax-paying power between incomes of £300 and £400, and exemptions were to be extended when a considerable body of taxpayers were called upon to bear additional burdens. The right hon. Gentleman had said that his right hon. Friends the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) and the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) had in their exemptions placed the argument on sentimental grounds while he placed it on arithmetical grounds; but why did he not adduce that argument on introducing his Budget? He then spoke of the struggling tradesman, the widow and the orphan.
said, there was no such statement in his Budget speech. When he made that statement it was in reply to a Question which had been put to him.
accepted the explanation. The right hon. Gentleman had himself resorted to the sentimental argument, and his arithmetical puzzle was only produced when hon. Members opposite seemed to think the subject had been sufficiently discussed. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had been guilty of a little mystification; and if his scale meant anything it meant graduation of the Income Tax. He (Mr. Goschen) thought it was deeply to be regretted that such exemptions were to be granted at a time when the majority of the ratepayers were to have fresh burdens imposed on them. There were many who, with incomes above £150, would actually be paying less with a 3d. tax than they did before. It showed how dangerous it was to advance from step to step and point to point. They should look at the matter broadly and clearly, and ask if it was right to raise a new class of exemptions from £300 to £400. That was the real issue. The only excuse which the right hon. Gentleman had to offer for his policy was that the Liberal Party had set him the example, but that was really no excuse at all. He hoped the Committee would not be carried away by the arithmetical calculations of the right hon. Gentleman. He should support the Amendment of his right hon. Colleague.
regretted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer declined to give way on this point. For his part, he had a very strong objection to these exemptions. He thought that they had carried too far the principle of exemptions. It was one not to be justified, and he hoped it would not be extended.
said, that the speeches made on the opposite side ignored the most important element in the case, and that was indirect taxation. They had now two systems of taxation, the direct and the indirect, between which, as had been shown, there was this diversity, that under direct taxation a man paid in proportion to his means, while under indirect taxation he paid in the inverse ratio; the tax falling heaviest on the smallest means. He did not think it came well from perhaps the richest Assembly that ever met in the world to say to the necessitous classes of their countrymen that if they gave up all the little luxuries of life they might exempt themselves from taxation altogether. Taxation upon tea, which was now in almost universal use, might be regarded in the light of a tax. Tables had been elaborately made out which showed that the poor man with £50 or £60 a-year paid in indirect taxes 8, 10, or 15 per cent on his income, while the loudest complaints were made in that House over a three-penny income tax, which amounted of course to 1¼ per cent only. It was idle, therefore, to talk of the introduction of socialism by means of exemptions, when those who were exempted had to pay 10 or 15 per cent on the articles they consumed. He did think that as there was to be an increase of taxation the Government had chosen the right mode of laying on the increase and of extending the exemptions.
moved, in page 3, line 26, to leave out "is less than," and insert "does not exceed," on the ground that it had been found that, wherever the former words were used, they led to numerous evasions.
was reluctant to change the words as they stood, though he did not think whichever set of words were used it would make any material difference.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 9 (Certain offices to continue chargeable under Schedule E, and other offices transferred to Schedule D).
said, it was proposed in this clause to do away with an easy, cheap, and simple mode of collecting the tax, in order to substitute a most expensive, offensive, and objectionable mode of collection. The Income Tax paid by clerks in the Bank of England and in the Departments of the Civil Service, by officers of the Army and Navy, and by persons in the employ of joint-stock firms, was now collected by the authorities or by the respective firms under Schedule E, and handed over in lump sums to the Income Tax Commissioners. It was now proposed by Clause 9 to abolish that system in the case of joint-stock firms, and to bring the clerks in these cases under Schedule D, when they would have the benefit of being allowed to be taxed on the average of their previous three years' income, instead of being taxed upon that of the single year. Thus the clerks in the Bank of England would be treated differently from the clerks in the London and Westminster Bank; but if it were an advantage to them to have the three years' average, why should not the Bank of England clerks enjoy it as well as those in the London and Westminster and in other Banks? In his opinion, the system of a three years' average of income was meant for persons in trade, who suffered from the vicissitudes of trade, and might have profits amounting to £1,000 in one year and no profits at all in the year following. The system was not meant to apply to clerks whose salaries were either fixed or were subject to an annual increment; but if the system were an advantage to clerks it was unjust to make it exceptional. Another objection to the clause was that it would greatly increase the labour of collection, for in the City of London alone 18,000 persons would be separately assessed under Schedule D who were now returned by the heads of 50 or 60 establishments in which they were employed. He should propose to leave out the whole of Clause 9.
said, this was a matter which had been suggested to him by the Board of Inland Revenue. There appeared to be considerable inequality in the manner in which clerks and other persons employed by private firms were treated, as compared with such persons when they were in the service of joint-stock companies. The absurdity had frequently occurred that when a private firm became converted into a limited company, the clerks employed by it were immediately transferred from Schedule D to Schedule E, and so lost the advantage which they had previously enjoyed of having their incomes calculated upon an average of years instead of upon a single year. It was not a matter of very great importance as affecting the receipt of revenue; but he was told by the authorities of the Inland Revenue, who must be the best judges of the matter, that the proposal in this clause would greatly simplify the working of the Act, and that the balance of advantage was in favour of making the change, which would, no doubt, operate more in the City of London than in any other place. Nobody would be the worse for the proposal, and it would meet a certain number of cases. He had referred the matter to the Board of Inland Revenue.
said, they ought, no doubt, to accept with great respect the opinion of the Inland Revenue authorities; but, at the same time, he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not met the arguments adduced by his hon. Friend (Mr. Hankey). Indeed, he did not think the right hon. Gentleman had thoroughly mastered those arguments. If the change would benefit one class of clerks, surely it ought to be extended to all clerks. His hon. Friend had had such great experience in this matter in his official capacity as a Commissioner of Income Tax that his opinion might be fairly set against that of the authorities of the Inland Revenue. He trusted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would re-consider the matter.
thought the proposed change was greatly to be deprecated. It would be injurious to the tax and unjust to the taxpayer, and therefore he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would accept the Motion of the hon. Member for Peterborough.
said, that this was really a matter of a technical character, and as he was quite prepared to admit that the hon. Member for Peterborough had a very large experience in the collection of the tax in the metropolis, where the change would operate most forcibly, he attached great weight to what his hon. Friend said. Although he found that the officers of the Inland Revenue were not satisfied with the arguments which had been adduced, and although they thought the loss of advantage on the one side was more than counterbalanced by the gain on the other, yet the arguments were so fairly balanced that the Government would not be doing an ungraceful thing by accepting, at least for this year, the advice of his hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough, as the matter was one of comparatively little importance.
Remaining Clauses agreed to.
moved, in page 2, after Clause 4, to insert the following Clause:—
"(Alteration of duties on licences to retail wine for consumption on the premises.—Section 14 of 6 Geo. 4, c. 81, repealed as respects wine licences.—Alteration of scale of abatement to meet alteration of duties.)
"(4a.) In lieu of the Duties at several rates now payable under the Acts of the sixth year of the reign of King George the Fourth, chapter eighty-one, and of the third and fourth years of Her Majesty's reign, chapter seventeen on licences to retailers of foreign wine, and under the Act of the twenty-third and twenty-fourth years of Her Majesty's reign, chapter twenty-seven, and the Act of the same years, chapter one hundred and seven, on every licence to any licensed keeper of a refreshment house to sell therein by retail foreign wine to he consumed on the premises, there shall be paid for each such licence the uniform duty of £2 4s. 1d.
"So far as regards any such licence as aforesaid to be granted under the said Act of the sixth year of the reign of King George the Fourth, chapter eighty-one, the provisions contained in the fourteenth section of the said Act are hereby repealed.
"In lieu of the scale of abatement contained in section nine of the Act of the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth years of Her Majesty's reign, chapter ninety-one, the following scale shall be substituted, and the said section shall be read as if the said scale therein contained had been as follows (that is to say):—
|"Where the house and premises in respect of which such licences shall be granted shall in England be under the rent and value, or in Ireland under|
|the value, of thirty pounds||£|
|a-year, an abatement of||0||7||4|
|"And where the same shall be of the rent or value of thirty pounds or upwards, an abatement of||0||17||10"|
The right hon. Gentleman said, that the object of this clause was to substitute a uniform system of taxation for the privilege of retailing wine, and to place it at £2 4 s. 1 d. There were two scales of wine licences at present. If a licence to sell spirits was taken out, then the wine licence was £2 4 s. 1 d., but if there was no wine licence then there was another duty. It appeared that, in point of fact, there were very few cases in which the distinction applied, but it told rather hardly on some classes of persons. The loss to the Revenue would be less than £5,000;but the abolition of the distinction he considered to be necessary. The duty of £2 4 s. 1 d. would apply to all houses retailing wine.
asked, was the object of the clause to abolish the distinction which existed in the licences paid by the owners of houses rated under and over £50, £5 5s. in the one case, and £3 3s. in the other? He should like to have some further explanation of the proposed provision. Was the object to abolish this distinction, and make all pay £2 4s. 1d.?
said, that was the object.
thought they should have an explanation why the higher rate was to be abolished and £2 4s. 1d. substituted.
said, he was sorry the Home Secretary was not in his place at the present moment. The fact was the Board of Revenue had suggested this clause to him, and he had referred to the Home Secretary for the purpose of ascertaining his opinion, whether it would in any degree affect the principle of the licensing law, because he was aware it was the intention of the Revenue authorities to make no distinction in that respect, and he understood from the Home Secretary that he saw nothing in it which would create any difficulty as to the rating of the houses. As to the third class of licences to which incidental allusion had been made, he should make inquiry on the subject to see in what manner they would be effected by the alteration of licence duty, and mention the matter on the Report.
said, that wine retailers in houses under £50 a-year paid for a £3 3s. licence, and those over £50 for a £5 5s. one, whereas licensed victuallers paid for a £2 4s. 1d. one. The object was to place wine retailers and licensed victuallers on the same footing, but the beerhouses had nothing to do with the matter. The clause was a just and equitable one, and he hoped it would be agreed to.
thought the clause did not go far enough. Something ought to be done to make the licences more equal.
Clause read a second time.
On Motion "That the Clause be added to the Bill,"
expressed a hope that the words of the clause would be made more clear than they at present appeared to be.
Clause agreed to.
moved the following clause:—
(Gun licences, exemption for farmers.)
The hon. Member said, that the depredations committed on farms in Scotland, and no doubt in England, every winter and summer by wild birds were so extensive that it was necessary to have some one employed with a gun for their protection. Owing to the protection which had been afforded to wild birds by the Legislature, their number had enormously increased and they had become a source of irritation to the farmer, as often as he saw the damage which they did to his crops. It was quite true that the farmer had power under the Act of Parliament to use a gun with his own hands; but it was specially provided that he should only use it for the purpose of killing vermin or of scaring birds away. If the farmer shot a bird, and did not possess a licence, he was subject to a penalty. There was great difficulty felt by farmers in Scotland in getting boys to scare away the birds from the farms, and the farmers considered that they had a grievance. He appealed to the Vice President of the Council, who was opposed to the employment of young children, whether farmers, in the existing state of things, should not at least be allowed to use firearms, either themselves or by some one they might employ, for the purpose of protecting their crops. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had told him last year that he did not consider that it was a grievance to the farmers that they should have to pay this 10s.—that it was a matter of little consequence. But the right hon. Gentleman had dealt with a much smaller grievance in the matter of the Income Tax, for the 10s. licence on a gun was equal to the income tax on an income of £160. The grievance the farmers experienced was keenly felt because the tax was an unjust one. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might count upon the patience with which farmers bore this taxation, and the other grievances to which they were subjected; but he would venture to warn the right hon. Gentleman that to this patience there was a limit, and he had no doubt that by-and-by, when the farmers found that they could not get redress, they would give effect to their views. He did not propose the total abolition of the licences, because on former occasions he had not been supported by the Representatives of boroughs, although it was a matter which concerned such hon. Members to a considerable extent; but irrespective of other interests concerned, he based his clause for exemptions on the grounds that it was necessary in the interests of the farmers. There was no reason why a farmer should be prevented from using a gun, either himself or through his agent, in the terms of the clause, exclusively for protecting his crops, unless the licence was intended to be an additional Game Act. He had no doubt that in many instances it had that effect, and hon. Members opposite no doubt knew that it had considerable effect in the protection of game."Guns used by farmers or persons employed by them exclusively for the protection of their crops, shall be exempted from Licence Duty."
New Clause—( Mr. James Barclay,)— brought up, and read the first time.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
reiterated his often repeated statement that he would be glad to see the gun tax abolished, and supported the clause. He had frequently advocated the transfer of these taxes and others of a like character from the Imperial Exchequer to the localities, and he reiterated this advocacy. He thought if the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not see his way to a remission of the tax, both the gun tax and the dog tax might be collected and used for local purposes, and in diminution of the grant now so unwisely made from the Consolidated Fund in aid of, or rather, it might be said, as an encouragement to local extravagance in outlays. This, he thought, would be a financial benefit, inasmuch as the taxes would be made to realize larger returns than at present, for with the assistance of local knowledge it would be easy to graduate the rates of the two taxes, so as to levy high rates on those who kept useless or pet dogs, and those who kept and used guns for luxurious or enjoyable objects, in contradistinction to low rates on guns and dogs now obliged to be kept by parties for useful purposes. These changes would prevent evasions of the tax, and remove much of the dissatisfaction that existed among farmers with regard to both.
reminded the Committee that every person who carried a gun was liable to a small tax, with certain exceptions, and among them this—that gun licences need not be taken out by the occupier of any lands for the using or carrying a gun for the purposes of scaring birds or killing vermin upon such lands, or for any person so using the gun upon any lands the occupier of which should have a licence for killing game. The object was to tax the farmer who required the gun for other purposes than these. He thought that the law provided sufficiently for the protection of crops, and any person who required a gun for other purposes should pay the tax. The Amendment would not limit the use of the gun to the particular lands, nor to the scaring of birds or to the killing of vermin. Under the Amendment a farmer might invite any number of friends, saying he employed them, to have a day's rabbit shooting for the protection of his crops. This would break down the whole principle of the Bill, and therefore he could not assent to the Amendment.
said, he had always looked upon the gun licence as a game-law in disguise, and the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer confirmed him in that opinion. The hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) complained of the want of support from the borough Members; but he (Sir George Campbell) willingly supported any proposal directed against the gun tax, and wished that his hon. Friend as a county Member, had extended his exemption to boroughs, and not restricted it to his agricultural constituents.
said, that the tax operated unjustly upon small farmers, who were prevented by it from using means to protect their crops. He took exception to the use of the word "persons," believing that this might indirectly encourage poaching by affording an excuse for that class to carry guns under the pretence of protecting their crops. He suggested that "farm servants" should be used instead of "persons."
The Committee divided:—Ayes 44; Noes 106: Majority 62.
Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.
Commons Bill—Bill 51
( Mr. Assheton Cross, Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson.)
Order for Committee read.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—( Mr. Assheton Cross.)
, in rising to move—
complained that no adequate opportunity for discussion had been afforded upon the second reading of the Bill, and that it had been kept upon the Paper night after night, all that could be got from the Government being simply that it should not be brought on at an unreasonable hour. The matter had been most carefully considered, and after that consideration, he contended that there were five cardinal objections against the Bill. In the first place, it gave no security against inclosures being illegally made, and without the sanction of Parliament; secondly, the provisions which the Bill contained for the regulation, as distinguished from the inclosure, of commons were most unsatisfactory, and would prove inoperative; thirdly, the Bill contained no adequate security that when an inclosure was sanctioned the interests of the public, and especially of the poor, would be adequately cared for; fourthly, the Bill left an indefinite discretion to the Inclosure Commissioners, gentlemen who had hitherto always pursued the policy of doing everything in their power to favour the inclosure of commons; and, fifthly, on a subject as to which the law ought to be made clear and simple, the law must become confused and unintelligible, because that Bill was based on the Preamble of the Act of 1845, which declared that it was expedient to facilitate the inclosure of commons. How had the Government met those objections to the Bill? The Government had pursued an unusual course, and one which was not calculated to promote good legislation. The Home Secretary assured the House, when he was moving the second reading of the Bill, that he would be the last man in the world to "steal the common from the goose." The intentions of the Home Secretary or of the Government were never doubted; but it was not with intentions or wishes that the House had to deal. The intentions of the Government, however good they might be, were beside the question if, as he contended, the Bill would operate in exactly the opposite way to that in which the Home Secretary wished it to be regarded. It would be little satisfaction to the hard-working artizans and the dwellers in large towns, when they found themselves deprived of the enjoyment of their accustomed places of re creation in the suburbs or in the country, to be told that that injury had been inflicted upon them contrary to the intentions of the Home Secretary. That right hon. Gentleman had accused him, on the last occasion when that subject was under discussion, of having made a personal attack on absent men, because he had commented on the conduct of the Inclosure Commissioners. Now, he would assume that the Commissioners had faithfully carried out their instructions. They might say that they had been appointed to administer an Act of Parliament which told them in its Preamble that it was desirable to facilitate the inclosure of commons; but if that line of argument was adopted, what became of all those professions made by the Government in regard to preserving the use of those commons for the hardworking dwellers in towns, when the Preamble which constituted the instructions of the Commissioners in the past, and which was put forward as the justification of their inclosure policy, was to continue in full operation in the future? The Commissioners must be guided by what was embodied in the Act of Parliament, not by the speeches which had been made about it. The spirit of encroachment was abroad, and there was nothing more difficult to resist. Take, for example, the beautiful commons around this metropolis, every one of which had been in imminent peril of being sacrificed to this spirit of encroachment by the lords of the manors. Plumstead Common was saved by the energy of the junior Member for Rochester (Mr. Goldsmid). Wimbledon Common was saved by the public spirit of the hon. Member for Mid-Surrey (Sir Henry Peek). Berkhampstead Common, by the interference of the late Mr. Augustus Smith, and Epping Forest had been saved by the Corporation of London, at an expense of £20,000, from the accidental circumstance of their purchasing a burial ground which gave them the right of common. Encroachment was an illegal act. Why, then, should it be impossible to resist encroachment, unless a commoner happened to have sufficient wealth and public spirit to involve himself in a lawsuit for the protection of public right? The remedy for that state of things was to a certain extent contained in the Bill itself. According to Clause 22, an encroachment on a village green was to be deemed a public nuisance, and he believed it was open to any person to proceed against a person who committed an offence of that description. Consequently, if the principle of Clause 22 were applied to all commons, it would not be necessary, as it was under the present law, that encroachment should be resisted only by commoners. So far the Bill went in the right direction. It was proposed also that cases should be tried, in the first instance, in the County Court. No doubt that provision would be of some utility, but it was defective in certain vital points. In the first place, it did not give an ordinary person the locus standi of a commoner for the institution of proceedings against an encroacher; and, secondly, it allowed an appeal to be made to a higher Court. With respect to the latter point, it was perfectly certain that if a poor commoner attempted to resist an inclosure, he would be threatened with an appeal, and thus practically reduced to silence. The Home Secretary had declared that the object of the measure was to retard the inclosure and promote the regulation of commons, but these intentions were not clearly expressed in the Bill. According to the Bill it would be found that in order to obtain a Provisional Order it was necessary in the first instance that application should be made by one of those who were legally interested in the commons, and that when the Provisional Order had been framed it was necessary that it should obtain the consent of two-thirds of those who were legally interested before it could be put in operation, and also of the lord of the manor. Now, it was evident that the lord of the manor would not be pecuniarily interested in the regulation of a common, but would be pecuniarily interested in its inclosure, and the public interest would consequently suffer. When a scheme of regulation was brought forward the lord of the manor would probably withhold his consent to it, and then the Commissioners, seeing no chance of regulating the common in question, would come to the House and say it was in a very unsatisfactory condition and that the only way of improving it was to have it in closed. What chance would independent Members then have of successfully opposing the recommendations of the Commissioners? Another objection to the Bill was that in cases where inclosures were sanctioned it did not sufficiently provide for the protection of the interests of the public, and especially of the rural labourers. Again and again inclosures had been made in which no provision had been made for the public wants. Not many years ago the Commissioners proposed to inclose 7,000 acres of land, and six acres only were reserved for the poor and three for the public. Was it necessary to say more to show that great caution ought to be exercised in dealing with this subject? Every one of these Bills for the inclosure of commons, it was said, would be referred to a Standing Committee of that House. He did not think that would be sufficient to meet the requirements of the case; for, although a Standing Committee might very well decide whether or not an inclosure should take place, it would be cumbrous and difficult for such a Committee to determine what should be the exact amount of common reserved for the public and the poor. A great amount of public feeling existed on this question out-of-doors. A spectacle altogether without a parallel had lately been witnessed in that House. The conduct of the Government on a certain matter was called in question. How did the Government think they could best maintain their position? They knew they would have an overwhelming majority, but they thought a great additional strength would be given to their position if a great number of Petitions were presented in their favour. The entire country was ransacked from one end to the other; every Conservative Association from Land's End to John o'Groat's was brought in aid by the active exertions of St. Stephen's Club. But the result of all these efforts was that they got from the entire country only about the same number of Petitions declaring confidence in the Government that were presented from the rural labourers against the present Bill and the injustice of giving them so little protection under it. The labourers knew, and the House knew, that if they had had 50 Representatives there this measure would not have been treated in the manner it had been treated. No Prime Minister would have come forward to say that a reasonable time for discussing such a Bill as this was an hour before the House broke up. It should be borne in mind that when a common was once gone the labourers, as a class, lost for ever valuable rights of property. Some years ago, in many of the rural villages, most of the labourers kept a cow, some poultry, and pigs. Throughout those villages now a single labourer could not be found who had a cow or a pig. He had heard clergymen and others say that one of the most crying wants of the rural districts, one of those from which the poor suffered most severely, was the difficulty of obtaining milk; and that had arisen from the inclosure of commons. Compensation might be given to the present generation, but the next would get nothing, whereas the right of common attached to the locality and could not be bartered or sold. Within about a century no fewer than 5,500,000 acres of common land had been inclosed in this country, and all that the rural poor had got was a beggarly fragment of a few thousand acres. What had become of those 5,500,000? They had gone from the poor and the public, and were added chiefly to the estates of the great proprietary. This policy, of which he complained, was inflicted upon the rural poor as long as 80 years ago. The fourth objection he had stated to the measure was, that it left too much discretion to the Inclosure Commissioners, whose policy in the past had been to facilitate inclosures. They had acted on the principle that inclosures should be made, whatever might be the change of circumstances, whatever the expression of public opinion, whatever the wants of an increasing population. This was no exaggerated description. He would mention a fact that would throw a most instructive light on the conduct of the Inclosure Commissioners. In 1872, when the late Government were in office, an Inclosure Bill was brought before the House. How were those who opposed it met? The Report of the Inclosure Commissioners was brought up against them. What did that Report say? It said they were only going to inclose a few hundred or thousand acres out of 8,000,000 acres, the amount of common land in England, or one-fifth of the entire area of England and Wales. Something occurred to induce the belief that this estimate was wrong, and two years afterwards, in 1874, the Inclosure Commissioners, being pressed for more precise information, said the common land of England was only 2,700,000 acres. How did they obtain this information? From the Tithe Commutation Report. Yet that Report had been open to them when they two years before so egregiously misled the public and the House by their extravagant estimate of 8,000,000 acres. He, therefore, said, after that fact, it would be unsafe to entrust great discretion and power to such a body. But that was not all, for, on reference to a recent official Return, he found that the quantity of common land was only 1,500,000 acres—that was to say, less than a fifth of what it was on the authority of the Inclosure Commissioners only four years since. To show that the Inclosure Commissioners were not in the least degree influenced by expressions of opinion in that House, or by the almost unanimous opinion of the Press of this country of all shades of political opinion, he wished to direct the attention of the House to the Report for, the present year of the Inclosure Commissioners. That Report showed that no fewer than 34 commons in different parts of England, containing more than 18,000 acres, were scheduled for inclosure. Some of them were in the heart of the most densely-peopled parts of our manufacturing districts. Others of them presented some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. On reading the Report no one could come to any other conclusion than this, that the Commissioners brought forward every fact and circumstance that could justify inclosure, while—whether by accident or design he would not say—every fact that could induce them not to sanction the inclosure was omitted. Take, for instance, the common of Wisley, containing about 375 acres. The Commissioners said it was "covered with rough grass and heath." Could the most lively imagination conceive that the common thus described had been conclusively shown before a Select Committee to be one of the most beautiful commons in England, and that if its inclosure were sanctioned, they would deprive for all time to come the millions who lived in London of some of the most beautiful moorland scenery in Surrey? Another common of 31 acres was situated in the heart of the Potteries, in the midst of a population of 40,000, and within two miles of a hard-working closely-confined population of 200,000. That common was also scheduled for inclosure, so insatiate was this greed for land. They would find in the Schedule another common of 3,000 acres, and it was only proposed to reserve four acres for the recreation of the people. He had something still worse to tell. There was a charming heath at the Lizard, and out of 600 acres it was proposed to reserve a strip to allow the public a stand point from which they might view the beautiful scenery around Kynance Cove. There was another common in the neighbourhood of Sheffield of 225 acres, and one of the reasons given for inclosing it was that it was used by people from Sheffield for training for foot races. This might not be a very elevated amusement; but was training for foot races worse than shooting tame pigeons at Hurlingham? There ought to be a little consistency if they persisted in carrying out this crusade against the amusements of the people. Another common, situate in the parish of Wolverhampton, was asked to be inclosed because it was covered with gorse and ling and heather; but he asked why it was that the working classes in these densely-populated districts should not enjoy beautiful heather and gorse as well as other people? But the reservation in that case threw a remarkable light on the policy of the Commissioners. Out of 287 acres of this common in a densely-populated locality four acres were reserved for a recreation ground, not enough for a cricket ground! They made that reservation, they said, because it was sufficient for the people in the immediate locality. They treated people who came from a distance as trespassers. He wished to know how it happened that the Home Secretary exempted the commons scheduled in the Report of the Inclosure Commissioners for this year from the operation of this Bill? If the object of the Home Secretary was to resist inclosures and to promote the regulation of commons, surely these 34 commons ought to be brought within the operation of this Bill. His fifth objection to this Bill was that it would repeal only seven clauses of the Act of 1845, and, consequently, more than 70clauses of that Act would still continue in operation. This was a question on which legislation should be simple, clear, and precise. It dealt with the rights of the poor and they ought to know how those rights were to be protected. But they would be lost in a mass of hopeless confusion if they attempted to discover what portion of the Act of 1845 had a bearing on this Bill. If, as the Home Secretary said, the House was going to reverse its past policy, and would no longer encourage but retard inclosures, would it not be better to repeal all legislation which was based on an entirely different policy, and to embody in this Bill the new policy which the right hon. Gentleman said he proposed? No one would rejoice more than himself if the interpretation he had put upon the Bill should prove to be incorrect. The Government might and would pass away, and their intentions might be forgotten; but this Bill would, for good or evil, affect the interests of millions yet unborn. When the Conservative Party was led by a great statesman 30 years ago he declared that there was no subject on which it was more important to exercise watchfulness and caution than in sanctioning the inclosure of commons. The blunders of a Government might be repaired, an unjust law might be repealed, an unjust tax might be remitted; but a common once lost was lost for ever. No money could restore it, and no effort would bring it back. Once this Session the Prime Minister taunted some of those who sat on this side of the House with being mere economists; but he (Mr. Fawcett), and others along with him, were determined, resolutely and persistently, to maintain the principle that the worst and most mischievous of all economies was that which, for the sake of aggrandizing the few and making a paltry addition to the productive wealth of the country, would sacrifice those open spaces where the toiling millions could breathe the fresh air of Heaven and behold the beauties of Nature unspoiled by man. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Amendment."That, in the opinion of this House, this Bill does not give adequate protection to the interests of the rural labourers, and does not provide proper securities against the inclosure of those Commons which it is desirable to preserve in their uninclosed condition for the use and enjoyment of the people."
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, this Bill does not give adequate protection to the interests of the rural labourers, and does not provide proper securities against the inclosure of those Commons which it is desirable to preserve in their uninclosed condition for the use and enjoyment of the people,"—(Mr. Fawcett,)
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
said, that no one who had heard the speech of the hon. Member for Hackney could doubt his zeal and anxious desire to promote what he believed to be the interests of the people; but he (Mr. Goldney) felt obliged to take a totally contrary view to that of the hon. Member, whose Amendment, if carried, would be injurious to the working poor, and especially to the rural population. The hon. Member assumed that the one person most anxious to en- courage the inclosure of commons and to shut out the people was the lord of the manor. Now, he had known a good deal of the public working of the Inclosure Act in large ranges of country, and especially in Wiltshire and Somersetshire, where there were a great number of commons, many of which had been inclosed. In all these cases the interest of the lord of the manor had been infinitesimally small—not exceeding a sixteenth, an eighteenth, or a twentieth part, and the parties who were favourable to the inclosure were the commoners, who thought they had not the enjoyment of the commons to which by right they were entitled. The lord of the manor had the right of sporting and general control over the commons, and, as a rule, he was glad to keep it its former uninclosed state. The hon. Member who had made so touching an appeal to the House ought to divest himself of the idea that it was the lord of the manor who wished for inclosure. Since these obstructions had been raised to inclosures a large number of commons had been inclosed without the necessity of troubling the Inclosure Commissioners at all. Under the general term of commons were included a number of lands that did not answer to the general acceptance of the term. There were a great number of towns where the freemen only were entitled to the exclusive use of pasturage, and that was one of the cases with which this Bill proposed to deal. It enabled the locality to appropriate public funds to the purchase of those interests, and to separate land, appropriating one portion to recreation purposes, and another to the providing of gardens for the poor; and he thought nothing could be more satisfactory than the carrying out of such objects. One of the principal arguments of the hon. Member for Hackney, in which the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) concurred, was that no common at all should be inclosed, and that everything should remain in its present state. If they looked into the Domesday Book they would find that the common land exceeded in some counties one-fourth of the whole area of the county. There were large tracts of common land at the present moment in Cumberland, Westmorland, and the North Riding of Yorkshire, with an exceeding small population, and were they to be told that nothing was ever to be done to bring these tracts of land into cultivation? He could not understand those who professed to represent the interests of the great body of the people contending that tracts of hundreds of thousands of acres were to be left in their present state, except such portions of them as happened to be in the vicinity of large towns; and he hoped it would be long before Parliament would ignore private rights when a Bill was introduced to facilitate the purchase of them for the public advantage. The Commissioners had no interest in the matter, and construed the Act according to the best of their ability, and although they might differ from the views of the hon. Member for Hackney it should be remembered that their proceedings had been endorsed by Parliament when Provisional Orders made by them had been adopted. Now, if the Commissioners had acted for a long series of years in conformity with the views of Parliament was it right to say that they had been pursuing a wrong course? As to the common near Sheffield mentioned in the last Report of the Commissioners, he believed there was a strong feeling in the town in favour of the inclosure of it, and that some of the inhabitants had petitioned for its inclosure. It might be inferred from speeches that had been made in the House adversely to this Bill on its introduction that it mainly affected village greens, which rich men were trying to appropriate; but it was a Bill of a much more comprehensive character. It provided for every interest being heard and even called upon to express its views, and it would not allow anything to be done within six miles of a town of 5,000 inhabitants without the authorities of that town asserting the claims of its population. A valuable provision was that, in the interests of the public and with public funds, the interests of commoners might be brought up; and it was of no use to attempt to ignore private rights, as was done in the case of Leicester Square, until they were affirmed by a Court of Law, when the generosity of a private individual rescued it from its dilapidated condition. Allusion had been made to the great commons in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, and a considerable amount of censure had been cast on the lords of the manors. Now, if ever an act of public spirit had been shown in this country it was by the lords of the manors and the holders of land on the great commons of Wimbledon, Blackheath, and Hampstead, where they had given up their rights to the public for nominal considerations ["No, no!"] and it was poor encouragement to others to do likewise if they were to be taunted with having endeavoured to rob the public. A valuable part of the Bill was that it was to be an essential part of every inclosure scheme that full consideration was to be given to allotments for gardens and recreation; and if the parties concerned were content and came to arrangements for their own advantage and that of the public, a Bill to enable them to do so was surely a salutary measure. The rejection of the Bill would sacrifice many advantages which its provisions would secure.
said, there were three courses open in dealing with the subject of commons; one of these was the question of inclosure; another was to regulate them, and the third was to leave them alone. Inclosure might be best financially for private parties, regulation best for them and for the public too, and to leave the commons alone best for the public. In former days, when there was a prospect that the produce of the United Kingdom might not be sufficient for the support of the population, there was a great inducement to increase their produce; but now, when so large a portion of the corn and meal consumed in this country was brought across the Atlantic or from the Eastern parts of Europe, there was not that pressing necessity to get as much food as possible out of the soil of the country. What the public desired was not so much that a large portion of food should be produced in this country instead of being imported from abroad, but that they should be able to use the land that would not be profitable in tillage but would suffice for the recreation of the people; and, looking at the interests of the public, he thought that a great portion of waste lands had better remain waste than be converted into private property. People talked as though by stopping inclosures you took away property. This was not the fact; but, on the other hand, by allowing inclosures you substituted private for joint rights, and thereby gave to individuals property of marketable value which otherwise they would not enjoy. The conditions under which commons now existed were far more beneficial to the poor than inclosures could be. It was true that if a common were inclosed the commoners for the time being received some trifling compensation; but their successors received no compensation, and lost all the advantages which they would otherwise have possessed. It was also of great public advantage that open spaces should be left open to all the world for purposes of health and enjoyment. He hoped that the portion of the Bill relating to inclosure would not be proceeded with. Let them try what could be done by a complete system of regulation. The Commissioners might occupy themselves with the regulation of commons. If this failed, it would be time enough to legislate on the question of inclosure. He was confident that all the public objects which were to be derived from inclosure would be obtained by a good system of regulation, leaving the commoners' rights undisturbed, and providing for the proper and satisfactory use of the commons.
said, he quite agreed with the hon. Member (Mr. Fawcett) in thinking that the Bill did not go far enough, but he asked whether the objects of the hon. Gentleman might not be secured by allowing the Bill to go into Committee? He confessed that the more he had considered the measure the less he liked it. It did not carry out what he was sure was the object of the Home Secretary—to prevent the inclosure of commons. The objections to the existing law were that it gave undue facilities to the lords of manors, because of the expense and uncertainty attending any attempt to resist inclosure. This was the defect which must be remedied by any new legislation; but the Bill was not well framed to accomplish this end. It would have been far better, in his opinion, to repeal preceding Acts on this subject, and to lay down clearly what should henceforth be the law relative to it. At present there were 14 statutes already in existence, and the present Bill, if it passed, would have to be construed with reference to all of them. What would then be the position of the poor commoner? The Bill and the Acts would be a puzzle for the Attorney General himself, and much more so for him. It bore evidence of the conveyancing mind having been applied to it, and the tendency of that mind was to make the law confused and unintelligible. When the hon. Member for Hackney objected to the conduct of the Inclosure Commissioners he scarcely did them justice, because they had only done their duty seeing that the Act of 1845 declared that it was the policy of the Legislature to promote inclosures. The whole advantage of the Bill was, in his opinion, contained in Clause 8, which gave a locus standi and power of purchase to sanitary bodies. The great advantage of that might be seen in the fact that it was owing to the City of London having a locus standi in the case of Epping Forest that rights of the public in that forest had been asserted and maintained. He had himself a few years ago proposed a clause of a similar nature. Notice had been given of an Amendment that for the future no inclosures should be legal which had not parliamentary sanction. That was going too far, because it would be only reasonable that commons should be inclosed with the consent of the lord of the manor and of the commoners. But what he would suggest was that no inclosure should be made except with the authority of Parliament, or by the lord of the manor going before a properly constituted authority and showing that he had the consent of all persons possessing manorial rights. He held that the need which might formerly have existed for inclosures existed no longer. They might import corn, but they could not import open spaces; and when once commons were inclosed that was taken away which could not be supplied again. It was the duty of the Legislature, and especially of this branch of it, which nominally at least represented popular rights, distinctly to affirm that it would in the future regard with a vigilant and jealous eye all measures for the inclosure of those open spaces which were so valuable for the comfort, the health, and enjoyment of the people.
said, he had no doubt that the Home Secretary was actuated by a highminded and honourable wish to settle a question which the more he considered it the more he must admit to be surrounded with intricacy and difficulty. The law of inclosure was bound up with ancient statutes and customs, and however easy it might be in this House or elsewhere to appeal to the jealousy of large assemblages on the subject, when a responsible Minister of the Crown had to deal with such a question down to its smallest details the difficulty of the task ought to be acknowledged; therefore, though it was his misfortune to differ from the Home Secretary, he felt that the right hon. Gentleman had made an honest, manly, and straightforward attempt to settle the question, and that in the speech in which he introduced the measure he was not open to the charge of making an attempt to mislead the House. He felt bound to add, with regard to the Inclosure Commissioners—although he thought their policy a mistaken one—that they also had been actuated by an honest and sincere desire to do their duty; and when they read the Preamble of the Act of 1845, under which they proceeded, it would be seen how difficult it was for them to take any other course than that they usually followed. He could not consent, therefore, to bolster up a cause which he believed to be good by attacks on a Minister or a Commissioner. But what had happened this evening? It appeared from the speeches of hon. Members that the Bill had got no friends. All, with one exception, had attacked it and said the more they looked at it the less they liked it, the sole and solitary defender of the measure being the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney). His hon. Friend had good reason for his language. His hon. Friend had told the House that inclosures might be made otherwise than by the fiat of the Inclosure Commissioners. He, like his hon. Friend, had the honour of being an inhabitant of the county of Wilts, and not long ago he had been asked for some advice for the protection of the people living in the neighbourhood of a common which once existed, but which existed no longer, against what they believed to be the illegal and arbitrary conduct of the hon. Member for Chippenham. The statement made to him by a man of the highest honour was that if the case could be tried at law, a certain inclosure made by his hon. Friend, or by his advice, would be declared illegal. If an examination was made of all the inclosures which had taken place since 1755, when the rage for inclosure first set in, it would be found that they were almost invariably made at the wish of the lord of the manor. The lord of the manor believed he had certain rights, and in exercising those rights he naturally said to those who opposed him—"If you object to my exercising them the Courts are open to you;" and theoretically the Courts of Law were open to rich and poor alike. The House, however, had to recollect that the commoners, who were generally poor and ignorant, had to go through an expensive, a long and roundabout process in order to establish their rights; this required the accumulated toil and learning of experienced lawyers to render it of any use, and they generally declined to adopt any such course. A fence was then run round the common by the lord of the manor, and remaining undisturbed gradually gave him a good title to what was really the property of others. If this Bill, indeed, was to be looked at solely as a measure for regulating inclosures subject to the fiat of the Inclosure Commissioners, it might be commended, but more was required. In proportion as they made inclosures difficult under the Inclosure Commission they would add to the temptations of every lord of a manor to carry out his inclosure himself—to snap his fingers at the Commissioners, to run up his fence, and take his chance in the Courts of Law. That was an undesirable state of affairs, and therefore he had agreed to oppose the Bill. In order, however, to really understand this question in its broader aspect hon. Members must go much further back than the Act of 1845, and the mere claims of the lords of the manor and the commoners—they must look to the ancient statutes which regulated the law of inclosure—the statutes of Merton and Westminster, and of Edward VI. Those statutes marked important eras in the law of landed tenure in this country. The noble Lord then proceeded at considerable length to sketch the history of inclosures in England from the earliest times to the present day, showing that originally the inhabitants of every parish were regarded as having a right in them, that these claims were gradually ousted by the exclusive claims of the lords of the manor and the commoners, but that the idea of the right had never perished from the minds of the people, and that the clauses of the Act of 1845 which enabled the Commissioners to set out allotments and recreation grounds could not be defended on any other supposition, otherwise they could only be regarded as a partial confiscation of the property of the lords and the commoners. He then went on to say he agreed with the hon. Member for Chippenham, that in the long run everything which benefited the landlord was good in the long run for the tenant, and eventually for the labourer. Yet he would appeal to the Report of the Commission on the Employment of Women and Children in Agriculture to show that there probably never was a period when the labouring classes of England were, on the whole, so prosperous as during the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, when inclosures were at their minimum; or a period when their condition was so miserable as during the latter part of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, and the first part of this century, when inclosures were at their maximum. It was that condition of affairs which led to the insertion in the Act of 1845 of the clauses he had just mentioned. He was now asking that those permissive clauses of that Act should be made compulsory, and that all inclosures, without exception, might be brought under the control of the Commissioners. It was true that no one had done more than the hon. Member for Chippenham for the poor in Wiltshire in the way of setting out allotment grounds; but still a rental was charged for them, and they were not to be compared to the allotments set out on an inclosure. This question had been thrashed out by two or three Committees, and the last accepted a compromise proposed by the Secretary to the Treasury, which was almost exactly the same as the Amendment now on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), providing as a condition of every inclosure that one-tenth of the whole common should be set aside for recreation grounds or gardens. It could not be supposed that any proposal of a Communistic or revolutionary character could come from a distinguished Member of the present Government. Yet this Bill did not make the slightest use of that suggestion. In "another place" a Bill founded on the recommendation of the same Committee was only thrown out on the third reading by a majority of 2. He acknowledged, however, that that Bill contained nothing on the subject of illegal inclosures. He had been very anxious to state his views on this subject. He knew that no rights could vest in the public. He did not suppose that the people of Dover could have rights in a common near Sheffield; but there were rights exercised over commons by the persons residing there, other than the commoners, and these had already been to a certain extent recognized by the Act of 1845. That recognition he desired to carry further, and also to stop illegal inclosures so as to protect the agricultural poor generally, and the consumers also.
said, the noble Lord who had just spoken had, he doubted not inadvertently, completely misrepresented the state of landed property at the time of Edward VI. and the other Tudor Sovereigns. So far from its being a period of inclosures, it was the time when extensive clearances (similar to those which had taken place in Scotland during the last century) were made all over England. Henry VII. abolished the feudal system, and the nobles and large landowners soon found that money and not men would in future be their chief necessity. For the next century and a-half the Statute Book teemed with Acts of Parliament having for their object the prevention of clearances. From the Preambles of some of these Acts they learnt that villages, and even towns and churches were pulled down, and the country devastated, to make place for enormous flocks of sheep belonging to the lords of the soil. One Act especially set a limit to the number of sheep that one individual might possess; another said that for every cottage pulled down another must be built. Numberless were the expedients which were tried and failed. The clearances continued until the much misrepresented Settlement Act of Charles II. put a final stop to them. By that Act a poor family turned out of their home might be carted back to the parish they came from, which was bound to find them in food, lodging, and maintenance. He (Mr. Knight) would not follow the noble Lord into his antiquarian researches. At the time the Domesday Book was made every acre had an owner. There was no land belonging to the public, and it was enough for him that since the Norman Conquest the titles to waste lands had been quite clear. The soil had been the property of the lord of the manor, subject to certain perfectly defined rights of the commoners. He (Mr. Knight) had gone to the root of the matter in several manors, and he could tell the House how the existing state of things had arisen. Every manor had originally been a single property under a grant generally from the Crown to one indi- vidual as lord. The lord had from time to time sold or leased off some portion or all of the inclosed lands, granting to the holders of such lands the right of depasturing their cattle, with various other easements, on the lord's waste, as the uninclosed part of the property or manor was called. By the common law, confirmed by several statutes, the surplus of the waste not required to satisfy the rights of the commoners or holders of the land so disposed of, remained the property of the lord. No one, except the lord and the holders of the land possessing such rights, could have any possible claim to the common. Such rights could not from their nature attach to any person, but to certain specified lands and houses only. In 1845, when the Inclosure Bill was brought into the House of Commons, no English Member had any doubts as to the law of commons, or urged any claim on behalf of the public. The opposition to the Bill came from an Irish and a Scotch Member. Now as there never was a manor or anything resembling one in Ireland or Scotland, it was hardly possible that such Members, however well versed in rural matters, could know anything about English manorial law. Mr. Sharman Crawford, the Irishman who moved the rejection of the Bill, said—
But no man, rich or poor, could turn his cow upon a common, unless he held land that gave him a right to do so. It would doubtless be of great benefit to the poor man if he could turn his cow in Windsor Park, and he had as much right there as on a common. The hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett), had made use of the same argument about the poor man's cow, and had made a similar attempt to raise a feeling in the House about a claim that did not exist. Mr. Sharman Crawford's arguments were not against inclosures, but in favour of them. He thought the commons belonged to nobody, and he wanted them to be divided into infinitesimal plots, and to be given to the poor. Mr. Hume, the Scotchman, who seconded him, evidently knew as little about it as the Irishman—"If the pasturage of cows on commons was subject to proper regulation, it would be of great benefit to the poor man."—[3 Hansard, lxxxii. 15.]
These speeches were answered, and the law of the case was laid down by Viscount Palmerston, then sitting on the Opposition benches. He said—"In his opinion, and as he interpreted the law, they (the commons) comprised lands never granted to any individuals, but belonging to the Crown, for the benefit of the public. But he had taken the precaution before speaking to consult a legal friend, and he was sorry to have learned from him that commons were all private property."—[Ibid., 23.]
The hon. Mover of the present Amendment (Mr. Fawcett) had repeatedly referred with great approbation to the speech of the hon. Member for Reading on the second reading of this Bill. He (Mr. Knight) could not agree with the arguments of that hon. Member. He advocated the confiscation of the property of one set of men, who were so unfortunate as to have incurred his displeasure, in order to give it without compensation to another class, of whom he constituted himself the champion. The hon. Member knew, however, what he was about, for he told the House that unfortunately both common and statute law declare that commons were private property. This did not please him. He said he thought the law as it stood was "opposed to the spirit of modern legislation." The House ought to be highly obliged to the hon. Gentleman for having gone on explicitly to state what he meant by that expression. He meant, he told them, "opposed to the spirit of the first French Revolution"—opposed to the spirit of the decrees of the National Convention of 1794—that glorious year of the triumph of murderous and unbridled liberty which he asked the House to emulate. The facts were these—At the beginning of the French Revolution, in 1788, the National Assembly decided upon getting rid of all feudal rights and properties, of which manorial wastes very similar to our commons formed a part, but they decided at the same time that the owners of such property should receive compensation for their loss—the compensation was never paid. In 1794 the National Convention abolished the compensation and gave the commons to the communes. He (Mr. Knight) went far with the National Assembly. If it were necessary for the health of our great wealthy and ever-increasing urban population that certain commons should belong to them, by all means let them have them. But let them make full and fair compensation to their present owners. This was not, however, what the hon. Member for Reading asked them to do, such half measures did not suit him. He asked them to step over the first stage of compensation and jump at once to the decrees of the Convention of 1794. How far did he wish them to follow that body? Their next decree was to confiscate all corporation property; then all Church property; then all the landed property of the nobles; and then they confiscated the heads of the owners of all these properties, lest at some future turn of the wheel they should come back and claim their land again. He (Mr. Knight) could easily show the House that half measures would not suit the hon. Member for Reading. In the Committee of 1865 on Open Spaces near the Metropolis his hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Sandford) moved the following Resolution:—"Nothing, he believed, could be more indisputable in point of law than that the common land of the country does not belong to the community at large, but to a certain number of individuals resident in the neighbourhood. There was no question but that all the commons in the country were the property of some one, or of some set of persons…..As to this Bill being to the prejudice of the labouring classes, he considered that it was a Bill essentially for the interest of the agricultural labourers…..Setting aside the temporary employment that would be afforded before the inclosures could be completed in the draining, the fencing, the ditching the lands, and in the erection of the variety of buildings which would be consequent upon the inclosures, there would be a permanent additional employment to the agricultural labouring classes to the extent of one labourer and his family finding employment for every 50 acres of land.…It should be called a Bill for the improvement of the condition of the agricultural labouring classes."—[Ibid., 26, 27, 28.]
The Resolution was defeated by a bare majority, and by whom did the House suppose the casting vote was given? Why, by our French revolutionist—by the hon. Member for Reading—and yet the Resolution pointed to the right direction in which legislation ought to move. A clause had been introduced into the Inclosures Act Amendment of 1852 which permitted 50 acres of any common to be sold with the consent of the lord and two-thirds of the commoners. If 50 acres, why not the whole common? Some commons were not 50 acres in extent. Why should not Parliament do its utmost to facilitate the acquisition by purchase of suburban open spaces, by urban authorities, under the superintendence of the Inclosure Commissioners? That was not, however, the view the hon. Member for Reading took of the matter. He was for stepping over the timid counsels of the National Assembly, and boldly proclaiming, with the Convention of 1794, that the oldest and longest established rights of property in these islands, titles which were at least as old as the Anglo-Saxon race, were to give way, without compensation, to claims which he himself allowed were opposed to all common and statute law—claims which he had himself, in great part, invented, were to supersede titles to the ownership of land which had existed for centuries before the tenure in fee-simple by which we now held land was ever thought of. Nothing short of that would satisfy the hon. Member for Reading, and the party who was acting with him. The ownership of a common was nearly allied to corporation property; though the titles were far more ancient. It belonged in certain undivided shares to certain individuals. If their rights were invaded by Parliament in favour of what the hon. Member for Reading called the public, he (Mr. Knight) would ask what corporate property would be safe for a twelve month after such a precedent, if the public wanted it? He would now read to the House a very curious letter received since the last debate from a neighbour of his, a capital sportsman. He said—"Your Committee are of opinion that power should be given to the Metropolitan Board of Works to purchase manorial or common rights over commons within 15 miles of the metropolis."
the writer forgot which. His correspondent added that he had to ride about collecting men to beat out the fire, but they did not succeed in extinguishing it before the burning of about 130 acres. [Mr. Shaw Lefevre: What year?] The letter did not say. Great part of this common was now devoted to the service of the public. It was devoted to the maintenance of the wild red deer. Persons were kept off the common during eight months of the year, and during the other four months the public were free to gallop over it. He (Mr. Knight) did not say that municipalities should be prevented from obtaining commons near great towns, but there should be facilities for inclosing in other places. A Committee of the House of Commons could distinguish perfectly the places were commons should be inclosed and where they should not. He believed that this Bill, if it conferred more assistance upon towns to acquire this kind of property, would be a very good Bill indeed."Dear Mr. Knight,—Having seen in the newspapers that there is a Commons Inclosure Bill before the House of Commons, I wish to bring before your notice a case which happened on my father's common several years ago—viz., that a tourist then staying at Lynton was roaming about our common, and, after sitting down to his lunch, he set fire to the most valuable part of the common for black game and the wild red deer. We found out where he was staying at Lynton, and he gave his name as a Mr. Shaw Lefevre, a son of the Speaker of the House of Commons, or his nephew,"
assured the House that he would not detain it at very great length; in the first place, because his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) had covered the whole ground, and, in the second place, because he addressed the House at some length on the second reading of the Bill. He was quite prepared to bear most ample testimony to the good intentions of the Home Secretary. Nothing could be more satisfactory than the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman on various occasions. He had declared that the main object of the Bill was to put a stop to inclosures, and to regulate rather than inclose commons; and he had quoted the well-known lines, which, he believed, were taken from Hudibras, though he (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) had never been able to find them—
"The law condemns both man and woman
Who steals the goose from off the common,
But does not punish, what's far worse,
Stealing the common from the goose."
The last two lines should run—
"But lets the greater felon loose
Who steals the common from the goose."
said, that the Bill did not appear calculated to carry out the intentions of the Home Secretary in three important lines of policy. In the first place, it would not put a stop to illegal and arbitrary inclosures not sanctioned by Parliament. In the next place, the Regulation Clauses would not, as the right hon. Gentleman hoped, be put into operation by the lords of manors and the commoners. He had some experience of regulation schemes for commons. The Metropolitan Commons Act had the ad- vantage that such schemes might be applied for by any single commoner, any six ratepayers, or any local authority, such as the Metropolitan Board, or the vestry of the parish in which the common was situated. But notwithstanding such facilities, very great difficulty had been found in getting any one to apply for a regulation scheme. Under the Regulation Clauses of this Bill it was necessary that one-third of the commoners interested should apply, that two-thirds should consent before the scheme was finally approved by the Commissioners, and the lord of the manor had a veto on the scheme. With all these provisoes it would be found absolutely impossible that any regulation scheme should take effect under this Bill. In fact, the Bill, so far from putting a stop to inclosures, was likely to promote then, and it was remarkable that there was not an Amendment on the Paper by any hon. Member who was in favour of the inclosure of commons. They had accepted it as an Inclosure Bill, and they had supported it as such. But the greatest objection to the Bill was that it did nothing to stop inclosures made not under the Inclosure Acts but arbitrarily and illegally. It was true that in the neighbourhood of London attempts of that kind had been resisted with success; but it was at enormous expense. In short, these inclosures could not be abated except at the enormous cost of a Chancery suit. The hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Mr. Knight) appeared to look upon him (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) as an incendiary of a double dye. He had accused him, in the first place, of setting fire to a common in Devonshire. Now, all he could say was that he had not been in the neighbourhood of Lynton since he was an Eton boy, and if the circumstance took place he was not aware of it. His second incendiary act was alluding to what took place at the French Revolution. He had merely referred to that as a matter of historical interest, and perhaps a warning to Members like the hon. Gentleman. He reminded them that before the Revolution similar disputes arose between the lords and the people in respect to the commons of France, and that all these disputes were settled by an Act of the French Convention, which handed over all those commons to the communes. Another objection to the Bill was that it was entirely contrary to the recommendations of the Committee of 1871, of which he was Chairman, and which, after much evidence had been taken and full deliberation, recommended that no common should be inclosed without leaving at least one-tenth of the whole free from all charge for the use of the public. All these matters were by this Bill to be left to the discretion of the Inclosure Commissioners, The Home Secretary believed that the Bill would have great effect in promoting regulating schemes instead of inclosure schemes; whereas Gentlemen on the Opposition side believed that as regarded the promotion of those schemes the measure would be practically nugatory. He would, however, suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should confine his Bill at present merely to regulating schemes, and postpone the whole question of inclosure for a certain period. He should suspend the operation of the Inclosure Act for five or 10 years, and during the interval try what would be the effect of his regulating schemes. He thought that that, on the whole, would be the best practical solution of the present difficulty. It could matter very little if inclosures were put off five or 10 years longer; and it was far more important that the regulating schemes under the Bill should have a fair chance. He did not go the length of saying that there should not be any inclosure at all. There might be cases in which it would be beneficial, but it would certainly not be promoted by this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that the question of commons had made rapid progress; but possibly its future progress would be still more rapid. He fully admitted that the Bill would be an improvement of the law as it at present stood, but that was not the question the House had to consider. What they had to consider was how to put the matter at rest for ever, whereas by passing this measure they would still leave it open. If the hon. Member for Hackney went to a division he would vote for his Motion.
said, he was very glad that they had had that discussion on the Bill, and he had listened to the speech by which the debate had been introduced with great pleasure. As to the suggestion which the last speaker had been kind enough to make—namely, that the Government should confine the Bill to the regulation of commons, and leave the question of inclosures alone, he thought it was better to say at once that that was advice which it certainly would not be possible to accept. The hon. Gentleman had given two conclusive answers to his own suggestion. The hon. Member had first said—"Pray stick to the regulation clauses," and then afterwards observed—"If you do they will be absolutely useless." The hon. Gentleman further suggested the adoption of the regulations under the scheme of the metropolitan commons, because he said they were better than the regulations proposed in the present Bill; but it should be remembered that under that scheme no right could be taken fro many man except with his consent, and that although three or six ratepayers might start the scheme, yet it could not be carried out without such consent, or without compensation being given under the Lands Clauses Act. That was a very different scheme from the one now before the House. The hon. Member further said that the inclosure part of the scheme was not proceeded with. But he himself answered that observation by saying that if inclosures under the Inclosure Acts were stopped, lords of the manor would press their power to inclose without coming to Parliament at all. He (Mr. Cross) would only add on that point that no one had studied the subject more deeply than the hon. Member, and that he was only sorry his name could not appear on the back of the Bill. The noble Lord who had addressed the House on this subject (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) had complained that he (Mr. Cross) had on a former occasion gone too far back into history; but the noble Lord had himself referred further back still, to the earliest period of English history, while the description he had given did not convey a correct impression of the actual state of things at the period to which he had adverted. It had been contended that unless certain proprietary rights in the commons were possessed by the public, the Act of 1845, in providing recreation grounds, &c, practically sanctioned confiscation. But that was not the way in which Parliament had looked at the matter. What Parliament had said was this—that people would be protected in their existing rights so long as they were content with them, but that if they wanted additional rights they might obtain them on the condition of doing something for the public. A bargain in fact was made by Parliament with the possessors of certain rights. That was the principle of the Act of 1845 and of the present Bill. After hearing all that had been said in the debate, the conclusion to which he had come was, that every hon. Member who had spoken against the Bill did so because the Bill was so good. More than one hon. Member on the other side of the House had said that in so many words. They had said the Bill was so good that it would actually stop inclosures under it. [Mr. Shaw LeFevRe: Who said so?] The hon. Member for Maldon, amongst others, had said so. [Mr. SandfoRd:No.] The principal ground of the objection of hon. Members opposite was that no provisions had been inserted in the Bill to stop what they called illegal inclosures. The first objection of the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) was that there was no protection in the Bill against illegal inclosures. This was not the first time the question had been before the House. Bills had been brought in by Members of the late Government, and in none of those measures had there been the slightest shadow of an attempt to deal with illegal inclosures. They had dealt simply with the amendment of the Inclosure Acts—what they had professed to deal with—and this Bill was framed in the same spirit. It was objected that the Bill would tend to facilitate inclosures. The existing Acts gave too great facilities for inclosures. The present Bill was intended to put restrictions upon those who applied for inclosure, and to provide safeguards so that no inclosure should take place unless it was one that ought to be permitted. The hon. Member for Hackney asked why they did not prevent the illegal inclosure of commons. No doubt there were illegal inclosures; but there were a great many which were perfectly legal. The lords of the manor and the commoners had certain rights, and there was no power to deprive them of such rights unless compensation was given to them. He hoped no British Parliament would ever consent to a scheme of pure confiscation such as was involved in many of the proposals that had been made. Suppose the case of a manor, with one lord and one commoner only, would anyone justify an attempt to prevent these persons agreeing to an inclosure if they wished to effect it? It had been stated that several commons had been saved for the public by the exercise of power possessed by single individuals, yet it was now sought to deprive such persons of the power which had been exercised to so much advantage. It was most important in dealing with a question of this kind that great care should be taken not to interfere with the undoubted rights of individuals. It had been urged that no question of more importance in reference to this subject could be raised than the prevention of illegal inclosures. But it seemed to be forgotten that the Bill proposed to deal with this very question and also to give power to local sanitary authorities to purchase such manorial and commonal rights as were saleable in order to provide recreation grounds for the people. The hon. Member for Hackney asked why he had not applied the same rule to the commons that he had applied to the village greens. There were two reasons. In the first place, the village green practically belonged to the village; and, in the next place, there could be no possible difficulty in defining the boundaries of the village greens. If they could define all the boundaries of commons there would be little difficulty in dealing with the matter. The whole question as to regulation of commons resolved itself into one of compensation or no compensation, and he could not consent to any proposal which would involve the taking of property without affording proper compensation. Then the hon. Member said—"You will never get anybody to go for regulation; everybody will go for inclosure." But the hon. Member had overlooked one provision of the Bill. When the lord and commoners came for a scheme, they might either apply for an inclosure or for a regulation scheme. If they applied for an inclosure scheme the Commissioners would require special information, as to the advantages which the applicants anticipated from inclosure as compared with regulation. In other words, the applicants must make out a special case for inclosure as against regulation, and they must also state the reasons why an inclosure was expedient when viewed in relation to "the benefit of the neighbourhood." These words were interpreted in the Preamble to mean—
This was probably as strong a provision as could well be enacted for regulation as against inclosure. But then the hon. Member said that if the inclosure was made there was no adequate protection for the neighbouring poor, that the Act of 1845 had worked indifferently, and that though the proposal of a Standing Committee was good as far as it went, it was not satisfactory. Perhaps he might explain what was really proposed. In the case of expiring Turnpike Acts the practice had been to refer all these Acts to a Standing Committee of the House, who year by year reported what was to be done with them. The inclosure schemes would be referred to just such a Committee. At present the schemes passed by the Inclosure Commissioners were placed in the hands of the Secretary of State, who then brought in a Bill backed by the whole strength of the Government. He agreed with the hon. Member that this was an improper proceeding, and that it was high time to put a stop to it. These schemes were brought forward for private advantage, and there was no reason why the Government should interfere for the purpose of passing them into law. He proposed, therefore, that the schemes of the Inclosure Commissioners should be referred to the Standing Committee, who would report what schemes should be placed in the Bill. The evidence which the Committee would have before them would be the same as was required for the information of the Commissioners, and would include the parish or place in which the common was situated, the population of the neighbourhood and the distance of the common from any town, the intention of the applicants in inclosing, the statutory provision as to the benefit of the neighbourhood, any ground other than the common which was available for the recreation of the neighbourhood; and the site and suitableness of the allotments, if any. The Committee were also to inquire whether the application ought to be acceded to, having regard to the benefit of the neighbourhood. Every safeguard was therefore taken that the Committee should have every information before it. The hon. Member for Hackney, in order, as he said, to show how strong was the feeling against the Bill, stated that there were as many Petitions against it as in its favour. Now he thought very highly of the right of petitioning Parliament, but he was also of opinion that it was very much abused, and if the present system of getting up Petitions went on some check would have to be put upon it, but only for the purpose of giving force to all Petitions from private persons, and that were not got up in the manner to which he referred. All he could say was that if these Petitions were based upon no better foundation than a book published by the Commons' Preservation Society, they were not worth the paper they were written on, because if there ever was a description given of a Bill that was untrue, and which concealed everything in favour of the Bill, it was the pamphlet he held in his hand. The hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) said that the Bill contained no protection for the labouring poor. He must remind the House that a Committee sat to consider this subject, and they made certain recommendations, every one of which had been put into the Bill. Some of those recommendations were of the greatest possible importance. The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) had made a complaint of the absence of any statutory limit as to the proportion of every common assigned for recreation. He admitted he had not inserted the statutory limit, but he claimed credit for having taken it away, and he thought it very much better that every case should be judged of by itself and on its own merits. The hon. Member for Hackney said that the Inclosure Commissioners included all these schemes in their annual Report. All this, however, was changed, and under the Bill every scheme would be presented separately with the fullest information in regard to each. The only other objection was that the Bill left too much discretion to the Inclosure Commissioners, who, the hon. Member declared, were always crying "Enclose! Enclose!" His answer was that he had put the strongest possible control over the Commissioners by means of the authority of a Committee of that House. Wherever an Inclosure Act was now applied for the parties concerned had only to agree, and they could come to Parliament and ask for a private Act of their own. The Bill would put a stop to that system. Was it not infinitely better also not to put the persons who objected to an Act to the expense of bringing their witnesses to London, but to let the Commissioners go down and call a meeting on the spot at which every person who had an objection to raise could be heard? He must say he thought the hon. Member for Hackney had been too hard on the Inclosure Commissioners. One of the first Commissioners was Lord Lincoln, who brought in the Act of 1845. He agreed with the hon. Member that a great number of particular schemes ought not to have become law. But when the hon. Member asked him to make these schemes an exception from the Bill it would be necessary for him to see the provisions of these schemes, and to satisfy himself before he confirmed the Provisional Order, whether they ought not to be set down again. The only other objection raised to the Bill by the hon. Member for Hackney was founded on the Preamble. The hon. Member said it was a great pity not to consolidate the whole of the Inclosure Laws. He would have been very glad if that could have been done; but he must add that those Acts had been framed with great care, and he did not think they could be improved. He had also taken care to see that everything unnecessary had been struck out, and there would be no difficulty in dealing with them. The objection to the Preamble appeared to be that it did not state—"whereas it is not expedient to go on inclosing," but the Preamble did say—"whereas it is expedient to bring under the notice of Parliament any circumstances connected with proposed schemes of inclosure having reference to public as well as to private rights, and whereas it is expedient to give further facilities to the Inclosure Commissioners," &c. Such, at all events, were the intentions of the framers of the Bill, and when they came to the Committee if the hon. Member for Hackney had any Amendment to propose in the Preamble he would have the opportunity of bringing it forward. No one on this occasion had found fault with the details of the Bill. The hon. Member for Reading said why not put off inclosures for 10 years, and by that time they would know what the country really wanted. But they knew that already from the speeches of the hon. Members for Hackney and Reading, and the opinions of those who had published the book to which he had referred. Everything they had hitherto asked was granted in this Bill, and what they now wanted was that there should be no inclosures except under this Bill. That being so, they came straight to the question of property, and he was not prepared to come forward and prostrate the interests of those whose rights were affected. He need not detain the House any further. He hoped and believed this Bill would carry out everything he had stated on its introduction. He was much obliged for the good intentions which had been ascribed to him. He valued good intentions only so far as they were embodied in the Bill. He believed the Bill did carry out those intentions; it would be a great safeguard for the future, and he hoped would insure for the people the free use of those commons for a long time to come."The health, comfort, and convenience of the inhabitants of any cities, towns, villages, or populous places in or near any parish in which the land proposed to be inclosed, or any part thereof, may be situate."
stated that he was mainly responsible for the Report which had been denounced by the right hon. Gentleman in strong terms. He wrote the greater part of it, and he stood by every word of it. It contained nothing more than he had said in that House on the second reading. ["Order!"]
informed the hon. Gentleman that, having already addressed the House, he could not make a second speech.
The House divided:—Ayes 234; Noes 98: Majority 136.
Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
Bill considered in Committee.
(In the Committee.)
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Preamble be postponed."
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—
—( Sir Charles W. Dilke.)
said, he did not wish to proceed with the Bill in Committee at once. He simply wished to dispose of the Preamble, after which he should be perfectly willing to consent to Progress being reported.
objected even to that, as there would be a most important discussion on the Preamble. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members did not appear to know how much this question would be discussed. Although beaten in the division which had just taken place, they would not be disheartened.
The Committee divided:—Ayes 89; Noes 185: Majority 96.
Question again proposed, "That the Preamble be postponed."
moved that the Chairman leave the Chair. It was said by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Opposition was unreasonable in the course they were pursuing; but he must say the supporters of the Bill on the Ministerial side of the House were the party who were unreasonable in trying to press the Bill on at so unreasonable an hour. He assured the supporters of the Bill that it was not by a spirit of factious opposition that he and those with whom he was acting were actuated.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do now leave the Chair."—( Mr. Rylands.)
appealed to the Opposition to allow the Bill to be proceeded with, and also to the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his Motion.
, though sympathizing with the general object of those who wished to prevent the inclosure of commons, regretted that hon. Gentlemen opposite were making a faction fight, instead of taking this opportunity of legitimately criticizing details in Committee.
hoped the Government would not ask the Committee at that hour to take any step, however formal, or show a disposition to prevent discussion.
said, of course the Government had no wish to prevent discussion; but as there had now been two opportunities of discussing the principle of the Bill, which had been affirmed by a very large majority, he trusted the Committee would allow this formal step to be taken.
The Committee divided:—Ayes 79; Noes 165: Majority 86.
said, he did not think the principle of the Bill had been fully discussed. Many Members were anxious to speak upon it; but after the Home Secretary had addressed the House they had no chance of doing so.
said, it was now very late, and as they were likely to have a very long Sitting to-morrow night in discussing the Irish Land Tenure Bill, he moved that the Chairman report Progress.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—( Captain Nolan.)
hoped the Government would not yield to what he could not characterize otherwise than as a factious opposition.
denied that the noble Lord had any right to impute factious motives to the Members on the Opposition side of the House. He considered his language most unusual.
thought that to have a discussion on the principle of the Bill on the question that the Preamble be postponed was unusual and contrary to the spirit of the Rules that governed their proceedings. He would not, however, object under the circumstances to Progress being reported.
The Committee divided:—Ayes 80; Noes 105: Majority 25.
moved that the Chairman do now leave the Chair, on the ground that it was not usual to have a Bill of that importance discussed in the absence of Cabinet Ministers.
said, they had seen a spectacle that evening which had never before in his experience been witnessed in that House. They had seen Gentlemen who were responsible for the conduct of their Party voting against the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Minister who had charge of the Bill. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Colonel Taylor) and the hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Kent (Sir William Dyke) had voted against their leaders. Such a course was inconsistent with the decent conduct of Public Business. If such conduct were persisted in, that House would soon become a bear garden. ["Oh, oh!"] They might cry "Oh," but as soon as the Conservative Party refused to follow its own leaders the conduct of Public Business would become impossible.
said, he had not withdrawn from the House, and was anxious to proceed with the Bill; yet if the hon. Baronet who had moved that the Chairman leave the Chair, would withdraw his Motion, they would then report Progress, and he would proceed with the Bill on Monday.
said, he would withdraw his Motion on the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that Progress would be immediately reported.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.
Local Government Provisional Orders, Bristol, &C (No 6) Bill
Order for Committee read, and discharged:—Bill, so far as it relates to the City of Bristol, committed to a Select Committee, to be appointed by the Committee of Selection, as in the case of a Private Bill.
Ordered, That, subject to the Rules, Orders, and Proceedings of this House, all Petitions which have been presented during the present Session against the Bill be referred to the Committee; and such of the Petitioners as pray to the heard by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents, be heard upon their Petitions, if they think fit, and Counsel heard in favour of the Bill against the said Petitions.
Parliamentary Electors Registration Bill
On Motion of Mr. Boord, Bill to amend the Law for the Registration of Parliamentary Voters in England and Wales, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Boord, Sir John Lubbock, and Mr. Grantham.
Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 169.]
Medical Act (Qualifications) Bill
On Motion of Mr. Russell Gurney, Bill to remove restrictions on the granting of qualifications for registration under the Medical Act on the ground of sex, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Russell Gurney and Mr. John Bright.
Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 170.]
House adjourned at half after Two o'clock.