§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS moved the second reading of the Chelsea Bridge Act Amendment Bill. He said the House would remember that in 1846 the Exchequer Loan Commissioners were authorized to advance certain sums for the erection of a bridge at Chelsea, and the laying out of a park at Battersea, and the embankment of the Thames at that spot. The Commissioners had advanced £120,000 for the latter object, and £80,000 for the bridge. The cost of the bridge and the interest up to the day of its being opened, was £97,000. Considerable dissatisfaction had been felt by the inhabitants of Chelsea at the imposition of a toll on all foot passengers over the bridge. The late Government proposed a Bill to abolish the tolls, and it was referred to a Select Committee, who reported against it. The present Bill was a compromise. He proposed that when the capital sum of £80,000, together with the interest at 4 per cent to the day at which the bridge was opened, amounting to £97,000, was paid off, the foot-toll should be abolished. The other tolls would then, he hoped, be sufficient to keep the bridge in repair. With regard to the other sum, he did not find that there was any engagement that it should be repaid, and he did not propose to make any provision with regard to it. Indeed it would be totally impossible that the tolls should repay both these sums. The interest on the £80,000 was £3,200 a year, and the total estimate of the tolls was only £6,000 a year, and therefore both charges could not be repaid out of the tolls. The House would naturally say, "What hope is there of ever paying off the £80,000?" So far as they had experience, there was reason to believe that could be done. The bridge had been open ten weeks, and the tolls had averaged £130 a week, though he did not suppose it would be so much in the winter months; and when they added to that the sum which the Commissioners calculated on receiving from the sale of certain portions of land which they were authorized to sell be thought, there was a reasonable prospect. 1992 that in a term of years the sum he had mentioned would be paid off.
§ Motion made and question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. BLACKBURN
said, he had not had the advantage of having heard one word that fell from the noble Lord, and he begged to say that very few communications that passed above the gangway were heard below it. As far as he had heard the proposition he objected to it as an attempt to break the bargain that had been made on the building of the bridge. He contended that the parties who had borrowed the money ought to pay it back. A Select Committee on the Bill brought in by the right hon. Baronet (Sir B. Hall) last year, reported that the toll should be continued on the bridge; but the proposition of the noble Lord was like putting in the small end of the wedge, the object being to break through the bargain that had been made. Then there had been another large sum advanced for which no provision was made. He thought every district ought to provide itself with bridges and pay for them. He moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ 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."
§ SIR BENJAMIN HALL
was understood to say that his proposition was to take off the foot toll, which was calculated to produce £4,000 a year, and the noble Lord's proposition was to forego the interest, which was £3,200 or £4,000 a year.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
explained that the Exchequer Loan Commissioners advanced £80,000 for the bridge, and charged 4 per cent interest, which up to the opening of the bridge raised the sum due to £97,000. In addition £120,000 was voted at four different times for the purpose of the embankment and the streets but he could not find there was any engagement to repay that sum.
§ MR. ALCOCK
deprecated the proposition of the noble Lord because it gave no hope whatever of the bridge becoming free within any reasonable time, certainly not within 60 or 70 years. He did not think the House should vote one penny for any local object, and he did not think there 1993 was any necessity for doing so in this case, as he believed that the land which the Commissioners held, and which belonged to the nation, would, if sold, pay all that was borrowed for the bridge and the park. The total expenditure was about £350,000. Now he asserted, as a fact, that by the sale of land that sum might be made up. The late Commissioner sold some of the worst land for £3,000 an acre, and as there were about 100 acres, there could be no difficulty in making up such a sum as would enable the noble Lord to do away with these tolls. The Chief Commissioner was not justified in putting a toll on the people if he could sell this land. The noble Lord put as great a tax on the poor people who passed over this bridge as the Chancellor of the Exchequer did on the cheques of the rich. The noble Lord ought to tell the House that he would free this bridge, and make it the beginning of freeing the other bridges of London. That would tell as much in favour of the present Government as a triumph in foreign diplomacy. By keeping a toll on this bridge a monopoly was given to Lord Westminster, Lord Cadogan, and other proprietors on the Middlesex side, for no one would build grand mansions on the Surrey side with a toll on this bridge. The noble Lord acted as a dictator in this matter, but he (Mr. Alcock.) should not permit him to do so. He should move in Committee that the toll be abolished.
§ MR. P. O'BRIEN,
as a member of the Committee, reminded the House that the question really was, whether the general public were to pay for this great metropolitan improvement and convenience. He thought that there could be but one answer. The bridge should be paid for by those who used it, by means of the toll. Faith had not been kept with the public in this matter. Why should Chelsea Bridge be made free more than Waterloo Bridge?
§ SIR JOHN SHELLEY
said, that this Bill could not be said to have been brought forward at the instigation of the metropolitan Members. He had done his best to have the foot tell taken off the bridge; and he believed that the 134 acres on the other side of the river would be improved so as to make up for the loss of the toll. This toll was not put on by the noble Lord, as his hon. Friend seemed to suppose—but by Act of Parliament; and although the Bill rather disappointed him in not going so far in the way of relief to the public as he could desire, yet it probably went farther 1994 than some of the noble Lord's friends wished. He could have wished that the toll should be immediately taken off; but it was a mistake to suppose that Battersea Park stood in the same position as the other parks. Battersea Park was intended not only as a place of recreation for the people, but to remove a great public nuisance. Having made the park, it was found advisable to build the bridge, because the majority of the people who would use the park lived on the north side of the river. The park was not now used by the working classes on Sunday, but by the higher classes. A large sum of money had been already spent on the park, and the question was whether, as practical men, they would allow the whole thing to be a failure and a bankruptcy without hope of repayment. He hoped to see the toll taken off, and he should support the second reading in the hope of going further in Committee.
§ MR. SIDNEY HERBERT
said, this was simply a question of contract with the Exchequer Loan Commissioners. They had advanced the money, and they were to receive 4 per cent. for it; but the Bill said that, after having capitalized the arrears of interest, and increasing the principal by that capitalization from £80,000 to nearly £100,000, from that day forward not one farthing interest was to be paid on that sum. Besides, he did not know what security there was for the Exchequer Loan Commissioners getting back that money.
§ MR. JOHN LOCKE
denied that the question was a miserable one of pounds, shillings, and pence. The bridge and park had been established by public money for public purposes, and there was a stipulation that it should be repaid by the proceeds of the toll. The question was, whether the purpose was useful and ought to be carried out. He had been down there on a Sunday himself, and he had observed, that instead of crossing the bridge to the park, the working classes, their wives, and children, were compelled by the toll to remain on the esplanade by the banks of the river, which, as everybody knew, could not be conducive to their health. By taking off the toll, not simply on the foot passengers, but on horses and carriages, there was no doubt whatever that the value of the property on each side of the water would be greatly improved; and he thought that in consequence the Government were fully justified in not parting with the land at present, It ought to be the endeavour of 1995 this House to make London as handsome a city as Paris, or any other city on the Continent. This was the first bridge the Government had ever attempted to erect over the Thames for the accommodation of the public; and as a step in the right direction he should vote in support of the Bill.
§ Mr. SPOONER moved the adjournment of the debate.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
hoped the House would come to a decision upon the question. The only fault he found with the Bill was that it postponed to an almost indefinite period the time when the working classes would have the enjoyment, not of the bridge, but of the park. It had been said that the question was one involving good faith with the public. Now if the money had been borrowed from some foreign country to which the faith of England had been pledged, there might be some force in the argument; but the debt had been incurred by ourselves, and we were free to remit the toll if we thought proper. The matter was one which affected the health and comfort of a great labouring population. On one side of the river there was a park which had been formed for the recreation and the benefit of the health of the people; on the other side were the people wandering about like shades on the banks of the Styx, unable probably to find the obolus to fee some Charon to ferry them over. They and their wives and children were tantalized with the sight of a park which they could not reach. He really hoped the good feeling of the House would lead them to free the bridge from the foot-toll at least. He disliked the Bill because it postponed the benefit so long; but he would take it if it was all the Government would grant. The carriage and horse tolls were preserved; and if the park proved as attractive as hon. Gentlemen believed, they would, no doubt, prove very productive. Even if they did not, and some sacrifice of public money was required, he hoped they would have a sympathy with the large working population, and free the bridge from the foot toll.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
said, he had objected to the construction of the bridge when it was first proposed, because he foresaw what had since happened, that the moment the bridge was built there would be an agitation to remove the toll. The noble Lord who pleaded so eloquently the cause of the working classes of the metropolis, forgot that the expense of it 1996 came out of the pockets of all the working classes of the kingdom. There was no reason why Middlesex and Surrey should not pay for their bridges as every other county did. Much was said about the value of the land, but then the Government was entitled to that on account of the money spent in the construction of the park as well as the bridge. He thought the Bill a poor one, opposed to public principle, and he would vote against it.
§ MR. JACKSON
said, he was on the Committee last year, and felt obliged to vote against the Resolution to make the bridge toll free. He did not see any relief in this measure; it was a partial one, and only relieved from the interest. He thought it was a matter for a compromise. If the two counties would guarantee that the bridge should in future be maintained and repaired, let the Government generously take off the toll. Every other county paid for its bridges, and they ought to consider whether they should not make the two metropolitan counties throw open all the bridges over the Thames. He calculated it would only require a rate of one penny in the pound. This was particular legislation on a subject which ought to be dealt with as a whole.
§ MR. AYRTON
thought, that as a Commission had been appointed to inquire into the subject of metropolitan tolls, it would be better to defer further proceedings until the Commission had reported. It had been said that Chelsea Bridge was for the benefit of the poor; but be thought of all the bridges of the metropolis it least deserved that description. It was only a holiday affair, while there were other bridges which poor persons had to cross to get to their work, and for which they had to pay toll. He did not consider that the bridge was designed for the advantage of the poor man, but rather for the benefit of a few wealthy people whose property it improved.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Jackson) had raised a new point, which was well worthy of consideration. It would, therefore, be better at that late hour to agree to the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made and Question put, "That the debate be now adjourned."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 139; Noes 51: Majority 88.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
thought they might come to some 1997 agreement among themselves that, after Twelve o'clock, when any order of the day was likely to lead to a discussion, it should not be proceeded with. That would, in his opinion, conduce to the general convenience.
§ Debate adjourned till Monday next.
§ House adjourned at a quarter after One o'clock till Monday next.