HC Deb 17 May 1854 vol 133 cc503-11

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, he should take it for granted that, with the variable climate, and with different soils in this country, the question of drainage, as far as it fell within the province of the Lerislature, was one of great importance. The seasons of the past two years, and especially the autumn of 1852, when persons were unable to get on heavy wet land to prepare it for the wheat crop, must have dispelled all doubts on the subject, if any doubts existed. If, therefore, the importance of affording every Parliamentary facility for land drainage were conceded, the principle of this Bill was conceded. He trusted he should not be met with the objection that it was interfering with the rights of property, and he made this declaration especially to his right hon. Friend (Mr. Christopher), who had threatened him with opposition to the measure. He was as anxious as any Gentleman to maintain the rights of property, and he believed they were never safer than they were now, because, whilst the legitimate rights of property were admitted, what might be called the obstructive rights of property were no longer recognised by the Legislature. The principle of the Bill had been already sanctioned in Lord Lincoln's Act, but Lord Lincoln's Act was found to be practically inoperative. The landowner wishing to avail himself of it was obliged to send a complete plan of the system of drainage to the Inclosure Commissioners, the preparing of which plan was often very expensive, and the Commissioners might afterwards decide that the works ought not to proceed. He proposed in this Bill that a mere outline of the drainage should be sent to the Inclosure Commissioners, which would be scarcely any expense at all. The six weeks' delay to give notice in newspapers, and various other cumbrous proceedings, rendered Lord Lincoln's Act all but inoperative. Another great difficulty had arisen from Lord Lincoln having embodied in his Bill all the clauses of the Land Clauses Consolidation Act. That Act was passed with the view of protecting landowners from the aggression of powerful companies, and was so framed as to be very favourable to the landowners and very unfavourable to the companies. His opinion was that the companies had been as much victimised by the landowners as the landowners had been by the companies. However, the Act was not applicable to cases between landowners and landowners, between neighbours who were in a perfectly equal position. If a landowner wished to obtain an outfall through another person's land, the Land Clauses Consolidation Act, being embodied in Lord Lincoln's Drainage Act, made it necessary for him to give notice as to the land required to be purchased; and having given that notice, the lawyers held that he was bound to complete the purchase. It was binding on him to purchase, but it was not binding on the other to sell, except upon the terms which a jury might award. That might be very fair between a powerful company and the landowner, but not between landowner and landowner. The land clauses limited the time for purchase to within three years of the passing of any Act; but as this Bill was for all time, that provision was struck out. It was proposed by this Bill that the lnclosure Commissioners, having examined the case, should state what was the fair amount of compensation; and having done that, should give a certificate to the landowner on his application. He did not wish to deprive the dissentient landowner of the security of the Land Clauses Consolidation Act. The Bill, therefore, further provided that he might go to a jury; the jury might assess the amount of damage; if that amount of damage exceeded what the Commissioners stated was a fair amount, then the landowner, having paid all the expenses, was allowed to withdraw his proposal; he was not tied down to go on with his plan should the expense be found to be extravagant. In all cases of entailed estates, where the charge of drainage was to be a charge on the inheritance, under the Acts of existing companies it was necessary to show the Inclosure Commissioners a clear improved value more than covering the outlay. That could not be done while the amount of compensation was uncertain. Therefore he had taken power in this Bill to abandon proceedings when a jury awarded that which appeared to the landowner and to the Inclosure Commissioners themselves an exorbitant compensation. Those were the principal provisions of the Bill. A very important power in Lord Lincoln's Act for clearing and scouring watercourses had not been inoperative. He had introduced similar provisions into this Bill, only he had gone a little further, and instead of only providing for cases of neglect, had provided that where obvious improvements could be made by widening or deepening the stream, and the landowners could not all agree, one of them should, by application to the Inclosure Commissioners, be entitled to make the improvement. To show that the Bill was not of an expensive nature, where the amount to be charged to the non-assenting person amounted to more than 50l., or the amount of compensation was more than 50l., the proceedings for improving the watercourses before the Inclosure Commissioners were to come to a close. The measure was a humble, but he considered it a useful one; and if it left untouched the great question of arterial drainage, it would greatly facilitate a measure for that purpose. That was much too important a measure to be brought in by a private Member. He hoped, therefore, that it would be seriously taken up by the Government, and he was quite sure this little effort, so far from standing in the way, would be found to have prepared men's minds for it, and rendered it more easily carried. The Bill, of course, proposed to save the rights of the Crown and of the Admiralty. It was suggested there were many important local jurisdictions which might be affected by the Bill as it now stood; but he had a clause already prepared for the purpose of saving all their rights, at the same time giving them power, with the sanction of the Inclosure Commissioners themselves, to make use of the provisions of this Bill. It was not intended that any man with a crotchet about drainage might invade the property of his neighbour. It must be done by a Board, with various provisoes, which ought to dispel all alarm on that account. At present our relations with those countries from which we derive a supply of food were interrupted, and would be interrupted as long as the war continued. He, consequently, had proposed to the House a measure which would render our home resources more available, and he trusted hon. Members would, at all events, consent to the second reading.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


said, he rose to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. He would concede to his hon. Friend the principle contained in the preamble of this Bill—namely, that it was necessary to increase the facilities for draining the land of this country, but he was prepared to maintain that there was hardly a clause of the measure to which valid objections might not be sustained. In the first place, although the hon. Member for Dorsetshire stated that he did not wish to interfere with the rights of property, one of the leading clauses of the Bill would enable a man to take the land of his neighbour without his consent. The object of Lord Lincoln's Act was to create the same powers with respect to draining as had been conferred by the measure of a former colleague of his (the Earl of Yarborough) with respect to inclosures. Now, it would be competent, under the present Bill, for any landowner to make the necessary application to the Inclosure Commissioners without the assent of the neighbour upon whose land the improvement was to be carried out. He strongly objected to the 13th clause, which empowered the Commissioners for the purposes of the Act to constitute themselves proprietors of any land, where the real owner should be a lunatic or otherwise disqualified. Such a course was a direct violation of the rights of property. He confessed he had not the same veneration for a central Board of Commissioners as had the hon. Member for Dorsetshire. He must confess he had confidence in the present Inclosure Commissioners, but the appointment of Boards falls to the Government of the day, and he must say he should not like to have any land of his dealt with by a body like the Sanitary Commissioners. He objected to the Bill, in the first place, because it gave the Commissioners power to possess themselves of lands without the assent of the proprietor; and, in the second, because in certain cases that body might adjudicate without any investigation on the part of an assistant Commissioner. More intricate calculations than those which entered into the question of drainage could not be conceived. He did not observe any clause in the Bill excepting from its operation the jurisdictions under which nearly 200,000 acres in Lincolnshire had been drained, with a gradient of only four inches in a mile. He objected to the power of taking land without consent upon another ground, that it would inflict great injustice on small freeholders. He knew a district of 25,000 or 30,000 acres of land, the owners of which numbered about 2,000, and there was nothing in. the Bill to prevent the drainers taking possession and annihilating their property almost without their knowledge, and merely giving that compensation which the Inclosure Commissioners might think fit to award. Now, instead of giving the Inclosure Commissioners greater power as to drainage than they possessed with regard to inclosures, he contended that they ought to be diminished. His hon. Friend proposed to save the rights of proprietors in Lincolnshire, but he (Mr. Christopher) trusted the Government would pause before they gave their sanction to a proposal which would place in the hands of a central board the power of forcibly taking a person's land for the purposes of the Act without that individual's consent. There was nothing arbitrary in the Bill of Lord Lincoln, and he was not disposed to go beyond the principle of that Bill with respect to power of drainage. Believing, however, the present Bill to involve a violation of the rights of property, he should move its rejection.


seconded the Amendment, for the purpose, he said, of raising discussion; but he thought the Bill might be allowed to proceed to a second reading if the hon. Member for Dorsetshire would introduce a clause saving the rights of parties under local Acts, and protecting their works and machinery from interference. He considered his hon, Colleague might then withdraw his Amendment, as most of his other objections could be dealt with in Committee.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."

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


said, he considered the principle of the Bill to be one of great importance. It was the duty of the landowners to bring their land into the best possible condition, and in ninety-nine cases out of 100 the draining of one man's land conferred a benefit upon his neighbour. He approved of the Inclosure Commissioners as a body to carry out the Act, and with regard to the measure generally he trusted the hon. Member (Mr. Ker Seymer) would listen to the suggestion of the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Trollope), so that the Bill might be read a second time, and be subsequently considered in Committee.


said, he believed that the objection of the right hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Christopher) would be entirely met by the clause which his hon. Friend (Mr. Ker Seymer) had prepared. His right hon. Friend, if he referred to Lord Lincoln's Act, would find that all the powers which were given by this Bill to persons to approach the property of others to and with the consent of the Commissioners, to take a portion of that property for the purposes of drainage, already existed under that Act. The only difference was, that under the existing law the difficulties in carrying these provisions into effect were far greater than they would be if this measure should pass, but the principle was in both cases the same. He would call the attention of both his right hon. Friends to this, that in the county which they represented, and in some others, facilities already existed to a much greater extent than would be given by this Bill, and that they had already had the advantage of them. He thought, therefore, that if they were protected from any other interference—as they would be by the clause which his hon. Friend would introduce—they ought not to object to give the other parts of England the same facilities.


said, he did not think that the House had clearly before them what the Bill proposed to effect. Now, so far as be understood Lord Lincoln's Act, the present Bill very much increased the powers that were there conceded, while at the same time it took away all the securities afforded by that Act. If so, that he must hold to be a serious matter for the House to consider. While, however, he did not wish to oppose the second reading of the Bill, he must express a very strong hope, that if the second reading were passed, the House would send the two measures, that is, Lord Lincoln's Act and the present Bill—before a Select Committee, before which the provisions of the two might be well and maturely investigated For what was the case? Here was a Bill dealing with the same subject, making no reference whatever to it, or in no way incorporating it. So that it might come to pass that they would have two Acts in operation containing different provisions. Now, he would call the attention of the House to some points on which the two Bills differed. Lord Lincoln's Act provided that those parties who wished to make any improvements, and to obtain a fall through their neighbour's property, should have proper estimates sent in, and even after these estimates had been sent in to the authorities in London, that it was still necessary that certain public notices should be given; so that any one living within the area of the district to be drained would have timely warning of what was going to be done, and might have the opportunity of making whatever objections they pleased. But the present Bill contained no such provision whatever. It certainly said that such notice as the Inclosure Commissioners might think fit should be given to any parties whom the proposers of the scheme said would be affected by it. That, however, he did not hold to be a proper legislative protection. The party who proposed the scheme might think a matter only affected A, B, or C, while in reality it affected D, E, and F as well; and there were other points on which the Bill went beyond Lord Lincoln's Act. In that Act the power of dealing with mill property was not included, while in the present Bill the most important extension was included. Surely, therefore, where much larger powers were conceded, they ought not to have less securities fur their proper exercise. No sufficient reason had been given for altering the provisions of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act; for if there were any difference, which he confessed he could not see, between land taken compulsorily by an individual and land taken compulsorily by a public company—it was perfectly well known that many of these large draining operations were carried on by joint stock companies for their own profit and advantage. But there was another very important matter which also required notice. The proposal asked the House to deal with the land of several persons—it might be 100 persons; but if the damage done to each of those persons, in the opinion of the Commissioners, did not exceed 100l., in that case not one of them would have the power of appeal—the power of going to a jury, with power of arbitration, so that as long as the Commissioners chose to assess damages at 99l., all persons interfered with were without appeal, and the works could go on without their consent. It was impossible, therefore, if the Bill stood in anything like its present shape, that it could pass through a Committee of that House with a likelihood of its proving a useful measure for the country, and on that account he should most strongly recommend its reference to a Select Committee.


said, he hoped that the House would agree to the second reading of this Bill, and refer it to the consideration of a Committee of the whole House, which he thought much fitter than a Select Committee for the discussion of such matters. The objections which had been urged were strictly Committee objections, relating to the clauses and provisions of the Bill, and might be made the subjects of amendment when these clauses and provisions came to be considered in detail. He wished the House to recollect that there were few matters of greater importance than this particular kind of drainage. Every one must know that whether they regarded the agricultural prosperity of the country, the health of the country, or the climate of the country, extensive drainage was of great importance. It was in vain for gentlemen to underdrain their lands unless they could have an out-fall, and an outfall could not be had on a single property. Now, they knew that cases occurred in which some small proprietor, from prejudice, or obstinacy, or interested motives, or perhaps from ignorance of his own interests, refused to give his consent; and that, in other cases, from the particular manner in which the properties were held, there were no owners whose consent could be legally given. This Bill was calculated to remove those difficulties, and he, therefore, hoped the House would agree to its being read a second time, so that any amendments which might be desirable might be made when it came into Committee.


said, he would not persist in his intention to divide the House. At the same time he must say his objections were not at all removed, or at least very slightly removed. He hoped, however, that the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) would reconsider his recommendation that the Bill should proceed before a Committee of the House, for he (Mr. Christopher) was much disposed to agree in what was stated by his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), that the subject was one much more fitted for the consideration of a Select Committee. That being so, he should certainly reserve to himself the power of moving as an Amendment, on going into Committee, that the Bill be referred rather to a Select Committee.


said, he wished merely to state that Lord Lincoln's Act was entirely inoperative for the procurement of an outfall; and that he had in his hand a clause prepared in reference to private Acts, and which would meet some of the defects urged against the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn; Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°.

The House adjourned at half after Five o'clock.