HC Deb 18 July 1856 vol 143 cc1048-55

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clauses agreed to.


said, he wished to propose, after Clause 19, the following clause: — The Court shall be at liberty to grant any application under this Act in any case where the applicant, or any party entitled, has previously applied to either House of Parliament for a Private Act to effect the same or a similar object, and has not obtained such Act. His object was to prevent the decisions of Parliament from being overruled by the Court of Chancery.

Clause brought up, and read 1°.


said, he hoped the Committee would reject the clause, because it sought to exclude one individual from the benefits which the measure would confer on all the rest of Her Majesty's subjects. The object of the advocates of the clause—although they had not the manliness to avow it—was to restrict Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson in regard to his Hampstead estate; and the words proposed would reach that gentleman, and that gentleman only, quite as effectually as though they had specified him by name. The circumstance that Sir Thomas Wilson had applied for a Private Act and been refused it was seized upon as a means of fixing him, a proceeding no less arbitrary or capricious than if they had hit upon that gentleman's stature, and declared that no man of that particular height should enjoy the advantages of the Bill. The covert design of the clause was, no doubt, to protect the public against the enclosure of Hampstead Heath—a thing, if possible, to be avoided; but, if the heath was common land, it could not be enclosed; and if it were private property, which it was desirable should be kept as it is for the use of the inhabitants of the metropolis, let the public purchase it. Certainly, nothing could be more unjust than that Sir Thomas Wilson, merely because he had an estate in a very agreeable situation, should be deprived of the power over it which all other owners of land were to be permitted to exercise. The Bill, although one of the very highest importance, had passed rapidly through the House, because its benefits were to be extended without distinction to all Her Majesty's subjects; and why, at the last moment, was the discussion to be embittered and the impartiality of the measure blemished, by the invidious exclusion of one individual from its benefits? The property belonging to Sir Thomas Wilson was not built upon, because, by the will of his father, he had not the power of granting leases; and when he applied to Parliament to confer that privilege upon him, it was denied by reason of a prejudice respecting the enclosure of Hampstead Heath. That privilege would be extended to him in common with every other proprietor by the provisions of the Bill, unless the very objectionable clause of the hon. Member for Sheffield was carried. It was a delusion to suppose that the proposition of the hon. Member would protect the public. Sir Thomas Wilson was not a very young man; he was the tenant for life, and, in the course of nature, would soon be succeeded by the tenant in tail, who could easily obtain the fee simple, and then snap his fingers at their endeavour to prevent him from granting leases.


said, the Lord Chancellor had no objection to the clause. The noble and learned Lord had said, his objection was not to its principle——


said, he must remind the noble Lord, that the course he was taking was irregular.


said he could, at all events state, that the opinion of the Lord Chancellor was in favour of the clause in principle.


said, he rose to order. Surely it could not be regular thus to appeal to the opinions of noble Lords with respect to a Bill under discussion.


said, he thought there was no danger of that House being brought into collision with the House of Lords by the adoption of the clause, for he was able to state that not only the Lord Chancellor, but Lord Campbell and Lord Brougham were in favour of the clause. The Earl of Derby had likewise stated, that he did not consider this the case of a Private Bill at all. He believed, therefore, that if the clause were sent up to the House of Lords they would be willing to accept it. The hon. and learned Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins) seemed to imagine that his (Lord R. Grosvenor's) constituents wished to inflict an injury upon Sir Thomas Wilson by obtaining his property for less than it was really worth, but he could assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that they were desirous of paying its fair value. Arrangements were now in progress which he (Lord R. Grosvenor) hoped might lead to the purchase of the property upon just and equitable terms. All his constituents objected to was, that the House should, by passing a retrospective measure, give a fictitious value to the property in question. He, therefore, hoped the hon. and learned Solicitor General would assent to the adoption of the clause. As regards the principle of the clause, it could not possibly be impeached, for surely the Court of Chancery ought not to be permitted to reverse the decision of Parliament.


said, that, when a similar measure to the one now under discussion was introduced last Session, he was informed that strong opposition would be offered to it because it would afford facilities to Sir Thomas Wilson to accomplish objects which he had previously been unable to attain. He (the Solicitor General) was, however, enabled to allay the apprehensions which were felt upon the subject, and he stated then, as he would state now, that, while he entertained the strongest objection to the introduction of any clause in a public Bill which amounted to a privilegium in the case of a particular individual, he knew no reason why any particular individual should be exempted from the operation of such a measure. He stated, also, that if the House of Commons approved the principle that propositions which Parliament had deliberated upon and rejected should not be reviewed by a court of justice, that principle should be embodied in the Bill, and that any Member who supported such a principle ought to be able honestly, candidly, and sincerely, to pledge himself that he believed the principle a just one, and that he did not advocate the introduction of the clause with the view of accomplishing any remote or sinister object. The notion that the Bill would give Sir Thomas Wilson the opportunity of doing what he had hitherto been unable to do was altogether idle and unfounded. Hampstead Heath would not be in any danger if the Bill were passed; but, if Sir Thomas Wilson had any private property adjoining the Heath which he could not now lease for building purposes, he would be enabled by the Bill to apply to the Court of Chancery for power to grant such leases. Why should the fact of Hampstead Heath being adjacent to Sir Thomas Wilson's property deprive him of that right? There might be many other cases in which applications had been made to Parliament, and such applications had been referred to the Judges; for, when a Private Estate Bill was proposed, it was generally referred to the Judges for their opinion, and if the Judges had reported Against such applications, and they had afterwards been rejected by Parliament, he thought it reasonable that the question should not be re-opened. If hon. Members were of that opinion, then they might vote for the insertion of the clause; but, unless they could conscientiously say that they supported it on that ground, the clause ought not to form part of the Bill. In any case he thought the clause could not stand as it was proposed by the hon. Member for Sheffield, because it simply rested on the fact of a Bill having been brought in, and not obtained. The clause, if inserted at all, ought, instead of the words, "has not obtained such Act," to read thus, "and such application has been rejected on its merits, or has been awarded against by the Judges to whom the Bill may have been referred." He hoped, however, the hon. Member for Sheffield would not persevere in the clause. He did not believe the Court of Chancery would ever grant an application that had already been adjudicated on by Parliament through the medium of a reference to the Judges.


said, he thought that, if the provisions of the Bill were correct, they should not be swayed by the circumstance that they might possibly affect the case of a particular individual. The object of the Bill was to substitute applications to the Court of Chancery for applications to Parliament, and, though he approved generally of the Bill, he knew the difficulties with which such applications to the Court of Chancery were beset—difficulties which rendered it almost impossible for the Judge to come to a sound judgment regarding them. He would, therefore, vote for the clause, should the hon. Gentleman press it to a division.


said, the question was brought to a very narrow issue. The House of Lords had given up their privileges, and consented to vest them in the Court of Chancery, and the point was, would the House of Commons do the same?


said, he considered the Bill as a measure attacking private property. It was an attempt, aided by a newspaper cry, to obtain Sir Thomas Wilson's property with or without his consent.


said, his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Malins) did not say one word as to the general effect of the clause, but argued it solely on the ground of its application to a gentleman whose name had been drawn into the debate. Everybody, however, knew that the application of the clause would be much wider. Those Estates Bills were always rejected by the House of Lords, and the clause would apply to any such case. If he thought it could affect some one individual only the clause would not have his support, but it was a general clause, as the hon. and learned Solicitor General had clearly shown to the Committee. If it caused inconvenience to A or B, it could not be helped. It had been whispered about, though it could not of course be true, that the Bill would never have been heard of had it not been for the rejection of a private Bill. Such things were said, but no one of course could believe it. He hoped the clause, as amended by the hon. and learned Solicitor General, would be assented to by the Committee.


said, he was satisfied with the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General—that there would be no danger of the Court of Chancery, within a short time, granting an application which had been refused by Parliament. It was a monstrous proposition to maintain that, because a person had at any time in his life applied to Parliament for a private Bill, and been refused, therefore he should for ever afterwards be precluded from applying to the Court of Chancery, under a general Act, although circumstances might have entirely changed. Such a limitation, if adopted, might in many cases defeat the object of the Bill. If any doubt were entertained as to whether the Court of Chancery would or would not, immediately after the passing of the Bill, reverse any decision to which Parliament had already come, then, no doubt, a restriction as to time might be introduced; but if the hon. and learned Solicitor General felt confident, as he had professed himself to be, that no application under the same circumstances would be granted in one place which had been refused in another, there could be no good reason for adopting the clause.


said, he must maintain, notwithstanding what had been said on the other side of the House, that in dealing with this question they could proceed upon general principles. He knew nothing of the individual to whom allusion had been made, nor, so far as he was aware, had he ever been on Hampstead Heath, unless, indeed, he had passed it on the top of a mail-coach many years ago. He therefore felt no personal interest in the matter one way or the other, but, upon general principles, he held that Parliament had a right to lay it down as a rule that, having itself already refused an application for a private Settled Estate Bill, no inferior authority should be at liberty to reverse its decision. Circumstances could not possibly vary, for the circumstances upon which Parliament had decided in any given case were those in which the property had been settled; but, supposing that a change of circumstances did take place, to whom should a renewed application be made? Surely to the persons who had decided in the first instance. They were the parties to whom the alleged change of circumstances should be submitted, in order that they might have an opportunity, if they thought fit, of altering their decision. Upon those grounds he was prepared to vote for the clause.


said, that the arguments which had been advanced in favour of the clause, if sound, would, in his opinion, be fatal to the principle of the Bill. But he was not aware that any person who had applied to Parliament for a private Bill and been refused was thereby debarred from making a second application. Where Parliament had refused it would be proper, generally speaking, for the Court of Chancery to object also; but, if it were right to empower that Court to deal with one case, why should it be prevented from deciding in all? He regarded the Bill as one of great importance. It was to extend to Ireland; and in that country he knew many properties which could not be used with advantage on account of the limited leasing powers. He should certainly vote against the proposed clause.


said, he thought that the Amendment proposed by the hon. and learned Solicitor General would be a great improvement to the clause, and he would, therefore, be willing to adopt it.


said, he would suggest that the hon. Member should also add to his clause:—"And where no material alteration in the circumstances under which such Bill was refused has since occurred."


said, that the more he listened to the discussion the stronger became his objections to the clause. If they could not trust the Court of Chancery, they ought not to pass the Bill.


said, he did not believe there was a single Gentleman in the House, with the exception, perhaps, of the hon. Member for South Nottinghamshire (Mr. Barrow), who was so simple-minded as not to see that the real object of the clause was to deprive one individual of the right of using his property as he pleased. They wished to preserve Hampstead Heath, but were in reality preventing Sir Thomas Wilson from using another property at least a mile from the Heath.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the clause be now read a second time."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 84; Noes 42: Majority 42.


said, he wished to move a clause to the following effect— That the Court of Chancery shall not be at liberty to grant any application which a Committee of the House has rejected or reported against.


said, he wished to propose an Amendment upon the hon. and learned Solicitor General's clause, namely, after the word "rejected," to add, "on its merits."

Clause agreed to.

MR. HADFIELD moved the addition of the following clause— Before making any application to the Court under this Act, the party intending to apply shall give notice of such intended application, by advertisement in the London Gazette, three calendar months before making such application, and by advertisement to be inserted once every week during such three months in a London daily paper, and also in a country paper circulating in the county where the estate is situated, and by printed handbills posted on the most usual and conspicuous places in the same county; and any person or body corporate, whether interested in the estate or not, may apply to the Court of Chancery, by Motion for leave to be heard in opposition to any such application, and the Court is hereby authorised to permit such person or corporation to appear and be heard in opposition to any such application, on such terms and in such manner as it shall think fit.

The clause, with certain verbal Amendments, agreed to.

The House resumed.

Bill reported, as amended.