Skip to main content

Commons Bill—Bill 51

Volume 229: debated on Monday 29 May 1876

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

( Mr. Secretary Cross, Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson.)

COMMITTEE. [ Progress 25 th May.]

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

On Question, That the Preamble be postponed?

said, he did not desire to raise a debate on the general principle of the Bill, he simply rose to make some observations which were of a somewhat personal nature, and had reference to what passed in the course of the discussion on the Motion for going into Committee on the Bill on Thursday last. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department made some remarks upon a pamphlet issued by a certain society with which he (Sir Charles Dilke) was connected—

rose to Order. He wished to ask the Chairman whether it was competent for the hon. Baronet, on the Question that the Preamble be postponed, to enter into a discussion on the general principle of the Bill. He was aware in one or two instances it had been allowed; but he would refer to the authority of Sir Erskine May to show that the reason why the Preamble was generally postponed was that the provisions of a Bill might be made consonant with any Amendments which might be introduced into its clauses in Committee, and that it was not usual on such an occasion to discuss its principle.

reminded the Committee that on the Question that the Preamble of the Lands Titles Bill be postponed, last Session, he, when about to make some remarks on the general subject, had been called to Order, and that the Chairman ruled it was not competent for him to make those remarks.

said, that the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea had distinctly said that it was not his intention to raise any discussion on the general question at all, but simply to call attention to a statement affecting himself.

also understood that the hon. Baronet had no intention of entering into a discussion of the general question. He was surprised at the intervention of the hon. and learned Member for West Staffordshire (Mr. Staveley Hill).

The hon. and learned Member for West Staffordshire has correctly stated the reason which has led to the Preamble being generally postponed—namely, in order that its provisions may be made consonant with any Amendments made in the clauses of the Bill. That is, no doubt, a reason why the Committee has almost invariably been content to postpone the Preamble without any discussion thereon. The Motion has, I think, been regarded as one of those practical conveniences, enabling a question to be raised as to the proceedings, of the Minister or Member in charge of the Bill. On it a Question could be asked and answered; it is analogous to other Motions, such, as that the Bill be reported with Amendments, but it is not intended for general discussion. At the same time, I must state to the Committee that on more than one occasion this rule has been departed from. Last year there was a very notable instance of this. A noble Lord, occupying a position of great authority in the House, made a speech upon the general question, upon the Motion that the Preamble be postponed. I entertained great doubt at the time whether it was right that I should allow that course to be taken; but, on referring to precedents. I found that in one instance the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) had entered into a discussion on the principle of a Bill on the Motion that the Preamble be postponed. Therefore, I did not feel myself at liberty to stop the noble Lord, though if my opinion had been asked, I should have stated to the House what I have now stated. The hon. Baronet the Member for Wexford (Sir George Bowyer) states that on a similar question I prevented him from discussing the principle of a Bill. I have no recollection of the circumstance at this moment; but I am rather inclined to think that some hon. Member having challenged the course taken by the hon. Baronet, I may have expressed my opinion as to the irregularity and inconvenience of the proceeding, and that the hon. Baronet, with that regard which he always has to the practice of the House, had willingly postponed his observations. I did not stop the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke), because I understood his observations had no reference to the general object of the Bill, but that he was entering into something which was more in the nature of a personal explanation.

said, that was so. He wished rather to give the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) an opportunity of making a personal explanation. Beyond that he merely desired to offer a few observations to the Committee in answer to the remarks which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Having been for some years Chairman of the Commons Preservation Society, and subsequently an active member of it, he considered himself partly responsible for the statements of the pamphlet. He had read it in proof, and had attended the two meetings at which it was discussed. He thought they had a right to call upon the Home Secretary to point out the passage which he characterized as untrue, because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hants (Mr. Cowper-Temple), the noble Lord the Member for Calne (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice), Mr. Andrew Johnstone (formerly a Member of that House), and others, were prepared to stand by the statements which it contained. As to the other remark of the Home Secretary, that the pamphlet had formed the foundation of the Petitions against the Bill, a large number of Petitions were sent in before the pamphlet appeared. There had been no sending out Petitions from a central London office, and the Commons Preservation Society had had nothing to do with any organized Petitioning against the Bill.

said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had attempted to throw discredit upon the Petitions which had been presented against the Bill, because they were founded upon the statements in the pamphlet, which he characterized as untrue. There was no foundation for that statement of the right hon. Gentleman, for 228 Petitions out of 240 were presented before the pamphlet appeared, and there had been an entire absence of anything like an attempt to raise up opposition to the Bill amongst the agricultural labourers. With regard to the pamphlet itself, he (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) had written a certain portion of it, and the remainder was written by Mr. Hunter, who knew more about the subject of commons than any person in this country, and who had been professionally engaged in the great Epping Forest suit, and in all the other recent suits affecting commons. He affirmed that the pamphlet was a true, candid, and fair statement, and that the Home Secretary's extravagant language had no reasonable foundation. The right hon. Gentleman should credit his opponents with good motives, and not launch out into extravagant language about untruthful statements.

said, he was glad there was some such Society as a Commons Preservation Society, and no one would be more ready to join it than he, if its objects were practicable. He had always stated that great care should be taken that no common should be in closed which ought not to be so treated. With regard to the question raised in the Petitions, he was glad to hear what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman who had spoken; but he must add that the practice which was growing of central associations in London sending out Petitions over the country to be signed would not enhance their value. With regard to the pamphlet, what he meant to say was, not that its statements were untrue, but that it gave an untrue and unfair description of the Bill. There were a great many things in the Bill which were not to be found in the pamphlet, and when a pamphlet of the kind was put forward on behalf of a society, it would have been wiser to give all that was to be found in the Bill. For example, the pamphlet made no reference to the fact that he had embodied in the Bill the 10 recommendations of the Select Committee of 1869; it drew no distinction between inclosure and regulation; and it omitted all allusion to the fact that he intended to propose a Standing Committee to deal with these inclosure schemes, and to the great feature with respect to the presentation to Parliament of separate Reports, with verbatim copies of the evidence, upon each case that was dealt with by the Commissioners. He would, however, willingly withdraw the word "untrue" and substitute "unfair." His great object was to see that no inclosure should take place which ought not to take place, and which was not approved of by the calm judgment of the House. That he believed the provisions of the Bill would accomplish.

said, that he was in no manner responsible for the words and terms of the pamphlet, having been absent from the meeting of the Commons Preservation Society at the time it was prepared, owing to illness. He disclaimed all intention on the part of the Commons Preservation Society to prejudice or misrepresent the case of the right hon. Gentleman, but he believed they had not made any misrepresentation as to facts.

explained that the reason why he and his Friends opposed the Motion for the postponement of the Preamble was because they felt that the observations of the Home Secretary in reference to the pamphlet cast undeserved reflections upon them. He could assure the Committee that every line of that pamphlet had been most carefully considered and submitted to Mr. Hunter. He complained that the Preamble of the Act of 1845, which said it was desirable to facilitate the inclosure of commons, was left unrepealed, while, as the Home Secretary had explained, the Preamble of this Bill was to retard inclosure and facilitate regulation. Thus there would be two Preambles of co-existing Acts, such Preambles being quite contradictory. He wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman meant to repeal the Preamble of the Act of 1845?

said, that what the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Fawcett) evidently wanted was a declaration in the Preamble that there should be no inclosure. He had raised precisely the same point in the Committee of 1871–2, when he made a proposition which was supported by no one but himself, the other 11 Members voting against it. In the legislation proposed, the Government were taking a perfectly intelligible course. They were introducing a Bill which professed to give no facilities for inclosures; but, at the same time, they were not prepared to say that there should be no inclosures at all. He deprecated the strong reflections recently cast by the hon. Gentleman upon the Inclosure Commissioners, who had simply acted in conformity with their instructions and with the spirit of the Act of 1845.

said, he was far from blaming the Inclosure Commissioners, but the defence just offered for them furnished the strongest reason for repealing expressly the Preamble of the Act of 1845, under which the Commissioners had acted.

thought that the words contained in the Preamble of the Bill, that in future inclosures regard should be had to the benefit of the neighbourhood as well as to private interests, were quite sufficient to show the bearing of the measure.

, admitting that the Bill was a step in advance for a Conservative Government, which was due to the subject having progressed by rapid strides of late years, said, it nevertheless followed too closely a direction in the Act of 1845 which had not worked satisfactorily, and had led to the wholesale inclosure of commons.

said, he had put on the Paper an Amendment which, if it was accepted, would make clearer the declared intentions of the Government.

said, no Preamble had any binding authority, but was simply an interpreting document. There was another matter to be considered besides the Preamble, and that was the title of the Bill. The Act of 1845 was an Act to facilitate the Inclosure and Improvement of Commons. That was entirely an Inclosure Act, and accordingly such open places as came under it ceased, by the very terms of the enactment, to be commons, and were treated as inclosures, whereas the present was, on the contrary, a Bill for facilitating the Regulation and Improvement of Commons, and Amending the Act relating to the Enclosure of commons. By this Bill commons, in coming under its operation, did not cease to be commons, but had that character preserved to them by being "regulated" as such. It was very unfair to infer the policy of the Commissioners, when they should have to administer an Act for preserving commons from that which they had pursued when administering one for the cessation of commons.

said, the Bill was really an extension of a regulation Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) in 1861, and the only reason for having a Preamble was to draw special attention to its object. When they came to discuss it, he might have no objection to the introduction of words to make it more elastic within certain limits.

again urged that his objection to leaving the Preamble of the Act of 1845 unrepealed was not answered. The Preamble of that Act had been acted upon by the Commissioners, and when the Act itself was quoted as having influenced their conduct, he wanted to know what security there would be, if that Preamble remained unrepealed, that it would not have an influence on them for the future.

said, a Preamble could not be repealed. Such a thing had never been done.

thought they were fighting a shadow. All the Preamble did was to recite the operative part of the Act of 1845. It did not recite the Preamble of that Act, nor could any Preamble have effect, so far as it was inconsistent with the subsequent provisions. The present Preamble then went on to say that further provision for the protection of commons was desirable, and the Bill contained those new provisions: so that both the Preamble and the Act of 1845 were entirely overridden, and only so much of the machinery of the latter adopted as would be convenient in carrying out the latter enactment. He regretted the attack made on the Inclosure Commissioners by the hon. Member for Hackney. In his (Mr. Gregory's) opinion they had zealously and usefully performed their duty. In order to show the unfairness of the attack he would take two of the cases which had been referred to. The first was a common of 31 acres in the parish of Wolstanton, no doubt in the immediate neighbourhood of large and populous towns, but what was stated as the reason for its inclosure?

"That the land was wet and marshy; the turf peeled. The frets and open drains receptacles for refuse, and breeding places of fever, ague, and rheumatic complaints, epidemics frequently prevail, and the marsh in its present condition is a nuisance."
The other was a common alleged to be in the vicinity of Sheffield, whereas it was in fact several miles from that town, and never resorted to by the inhabitants of it, who had large tracts of common land almost up to their very doors, but being on the borders of three counties—Notts, Derby, and Yorkshire—it was much resorted to for training, prize and dog fighting, and other illegal purposes, and had become a perfect nuisance to the neighbourhood. The hon. Member for Hackney further said, that the Commissioners had out of 60,000 acres only set apart 7,000 acres for recreation; but the fact was that they had set apart 14,000 acres of the best land for the construction of roads, the erection of schools for recreation, and other purposes, which tended greatly to public advantage.

said, he had no wish to attack the Inclosure Commissioners, but he thought they had taken a narrow view of their duties, in facilitating every inclosure without taking into consideration the benefits arising from lands in their uninclosed condition.

Question put, and agreed to; Preamble postponed accordingly.

Clause 1 (Short title) agreed to.