HC Deb 21 February 1862 vol 165 cc606-14

House in Committee.

London Coal and Wine Duties, &c., considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


said, he rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the London Coal and Wine Duties Bill, 1861, to authorize the formation of a road between Kensington and Bayswater, and to apply the proceeds of the Metropolis Improvement account towards defraying the cost of the construction of such a road. It was universally admitted that a road across Hyde Park was one of the earliest and most urgent wants of the Metropolis. Formerly there was no necessity for such a road, but very large and thickly-populated districts had arisen during the last few years both on the northern and southern sides of the Park—Paddington, for example, having a population of 70,000, and Chelsea of 35,000. A communication between the north and south had therefore become a matter of urgent necessity to the inhabitants of these districts. That necessity would be more especially felt during the current year, when a doubt was entertained whether the visitors to the Exhibition would be able to reach it. Those who desired to reach it from the north would be stuck fast in one of two narrow roads—either in Park Lane, the narrowest part of which was twenty-four feet, or in Church Lane, which was nineteen feet wide only at the narrowest. Her Majesty, with that interest which she always took in the wants of her subjects, had therefore given her permission for a road to be made across Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park in such a manner as not to interfere with the enjoyments, convenience, and recreation of those who frequented the gardens and the park. It would be remembered that about half way between the east and west sides of Kensington Gardens was a broad walk entered from Lancaster Gate on the north, and from Rotten Row on the south by some gates that were erected in 1851, the year of the former Exhibition. It was proposed that that broad gravel walk should be appropriated for the purpose of a sunken road, and that those who now used it for the purposes of a footpath should have a walk on each side of it, as side avenues to the road. Those persons would, he trusted, find a much more agreeable promenade than the gravel walk now was, in these side avenues. The road would be sunk below the level of Kensington Gardens, so that carriages and cabs would not be visible to persons a little distance off. By that means persons would be enabled to enjoy the quiet and retirement of the gardens without being aware of the passage of vehicles beneath the surface. The sides of the roads would be of sloping turf. One end of the road reached Rotten Row, and, as it would be very inconvenient that that part of the park should be interfered with, it was proposed that the new road should be carried under Rotten Row, so that those who were riding there would not be aware that carriages were passing under them. The road, after passing by a tunnel under the carriage drive of the southern boundary of Hyde Park, would then reach the Exhibition building either by the Exhibition Road or Prince Albert Road. He would not discuss the alternative routes, because the road he now proposed was the only one that would meet the convenience of the public and of the pedestrians in the Park, and that could be made within the time and at a moderate expense. He would next advert to the question of funds. A good deal of delay had taken place, because he was anxious to see whether the money for constructing the road could not be obtained from parties directly interested in the formation of the road. He first tried whether the parishes which would derive the chief advantage from the road would not take upon themselves the burden of making it. There was at present, however, no power by which these parishes could levy a rate to defray these expenses; and even if the parishes of Paddington, Marylebone, and Chelsea had the power to make such a rate, it would not have been easy to say what portions of those parishes benefited, and what portions derived no benefit from the road. Having come to the conclusion that it was impossible to get money from the parishes, he had next to inquire whether the Commissioners of the Exhibition of the coming year would not supply the funds for a purpose which would so greatly benefit the undertaking? He learned that the Commissioners of the Exhibition of 1862 had no power to employ their funds for any such purpose. If, at the end of the Exhibition they should have a surplus, that must be disposed of according to the decision of those who guaranteed the Exhibition against loss. The Commissioners considered, therefore, that they had no legal or equitable power to spend their money in making the road. He then turned to the Metropolitan Board of Works, who had the legal power of levying a rate for the purpose. He believed that they considered the subject a few days ago, and that they decided against making the road by means of direct taxation for that purpose. There was, however, a sum of money which was available if the House should approve the plan he had now to propose. By an Act, the 8th and 9th of Victoria, the proceeds of the penny duty were invested in the names of the Commissioners of the Board of Works, and the proceeds were directed to be kept invested for such improvements as might be directed to be made. These investments amounted to £34,434 in the Three per Cents, and that sum would defray the expense of making the roads. That money was intended by an Act of last year to be applied for the purposes of the Thames Embankment; but owing to some peculiar arrangements and forms of the Bank of England, which were not considered at the time the Act passed, the sum in question was not now in the hands of the Treasury or carried to the account of the metropolitan embankment, but remained in the same position in which it had been since 1859. The Bill would give power to the Commissioners of Works to sell that stock and pay it over to the Metropolitan Board of Works, who would employ it in making the roads. Although there was some pressure for other improvements, those who looked at the metropolis as a whole must feel there was no manner in which the money could be better applied. If such a road were not made, they would have to endure the national disgrace and be reduced to the ridiculous position of inviting all the world with great pomp and ceremony to visit a building at Kensington Gore, and then, after people had achieved a journey from the end of the world, perhaps from Australia and Asia, they would find themselves stopped in Park Lane or Church Lane. [Sir JOHN SHELLEY: How much will the road cost?] About £30,000. If the Committee should not agree to the Bill, there would be no road, and the inhabitants of Paddington, Chelsea, and Kensington would not have the facilities they required at all times, but which they would especially need during the coming year. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving— That the Chairman be directed to move the House, that leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the London Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Act, 1861, and to authorize the formation of a Road between Kensington Gore and Bayswater, and to apply the proceeds of the Metropolis Improvement Fund Account towards defraying the cost of the construction of such Road.

Motion made, and Question proposed.


said, he wished to know whether it was to be a public road in every sense of the word, or whether it was to be a trench cutting through Kensington Gardens?


said, the road was to be a sunken road, and would run below the level of the surface of Kensington Gardens. It would be, in fact, an open cutting, the bottom of the road being 10½ feet below the surface. The Metropolitan Board of Works were to have the power of making the road out of the money he had described, but they would be bound to make it according to the plan and sections that might be approved. The road, when made, would be severed from the park and gardens. It would be divided from them by a fence. The road itself would be, to all intents and purposes, a public highway, open to all; the soil, however, would be reserved to the Crown That provision would meet all the necessities of the case, and as the roadway would be separated from the park, any difficulty as to giving the public a right to use the park they did not now possess would be avoided.


said, it was impossible the work, as the right hon. Gentleman had described it, could be executed between that time and the opening of the Exhibition. There were not between that day and the 1st of May more than forty clear working days. He pledged his practical experience that the thing was perfectly impossible. It would require about ten days to pass the Bill, and by the time all the arrangements for commencing the work were made nearly three weeks would be lost. There would not be more than twenty-five working days left. The result would be an inextricable confusion instead of a benefit. He suggested that the better plan would be to make a short junction road from the Victoria- gate, in the Bayswater-road, above the Powder Magazine, to the top of the bridge over the Serpentine, and then use part of Rotten Row as far as Queen's Gate, close to the Exhibition. The loss of that portion of Rotten Row might be compensated by letting its frequenters go down by the Serpentine, and pass under the bridge. The total expense of the small junction road from the Powder Magazine to the Serpentine Bridge would be some £200 or £300; and everything might be done in time. He assured the right hon. Gentleman that the plan he had described was a perfect impossibility. To make the sunk road would require the removal of many thousand cubic yards of earth. Then, there were the bridges to construct, one of them the whole width of Rotten Row. Judging by the rate of progress of the Government works in the Italian garden, the plan was more likely to occupy two years than to be finished in the time available. He hoped the Bill would not be pressed, but that the Government would consider a simpler way of meeting the question. He would give his best assistance in a committee, or otherwise; but if the right hon. Gentleman imagined the plan he proposed could be carried out in twenty-five days, he would find, instead of benefiting the Exhibition and its visitors, that they would be involved in inextricable confusion.


said, he concurred with what had been stated by the hon. Member for Finsbury. He wished to see a road carried across the Park from the Paddingtta side; but the proposal to cut Kensington Gardens in two by a sunk road was so objectionable that he should be disposed to offer it every opposition. It would be an eyesore to the gardens, and a regular trap for the children or the nursery-maids, or perhaps both, to fall into, and be driven over by the traffic. But, if the road was made out of the proceeds of the coal-tax, it should be made clear that it was open to traffic of every kind, without any exception whatever. And, if so, let them consider what an amount of it there would be, what noise, and what danger. The plan of the hon. Member for Finsbury was good, sound, and practical. He believed a permanent road could be made nearly on the line he suggested; but that could be easily proved by making it first, as a temporary and experimental road, for the present summer; and, if it answered, there would be no objection on the part of the public to widen the bridge across the Serpentine. He hoped the Government would reconsider the plan it had now proposed.


said, he thought if the plan had reference to the Exhibition alone, it was clear the Government had no right to touch the fund—namely, the Coal Tax—appropriated so recently as last Session to another purpose. If, on the contrary, it was a permanent metropolitan improvement, then it entirely rested with the Metropolitan Board. He conceived that the duty of the right hon. Gentleman, as representing the Crown, was only to take care, in making over the land for a public highway, that the arrangements would be carried out as they would be by any other landlord. The whole difficulty might be met if his right hon. Friend would bring in a Bill making over a certain portion of the Crown property for a high road. Then power might be given to enable the two parishes of Kensington and Paddington to rate themselves to meet the expenditure; each might contribute one-third of the expense; and nobody would complain if the Metropolitan Board contributed the other third. But if proper advantage were taken of the roads now existing, there was actually at that moment, more capability of approaching the Exhibition even than the late Exhibition in Hyde Park. He believed firmly that there was quite sufficient accommodation to meet the requirements, and there would be time enough to look into the question of the road which was to be a permanent improvement to the Metropolis. At all events, to suppose that they could make a sunk fence, to be commenced some three weeks hence, in time for the Exhibition, seemed to him one of the wildest schemes that could be imagined. The very attempt to lay hands on the money showed how dangerous a thing it was to collect a fund in the hands of the Government, as there was such temptation to appropriate it to another purpose than that for which it was originally designed. It was only last year that Parliament decided that the balance should be applied to the Thames embankment, and, if report spoke truly, the right hon. Gentleman had pledged himself to an embankment on the south side of the river also, so that all the funds that could be collected out of the Coal Tax would be required. If the road in question was a national work at all, it ought to be paid for out of the Consolidated Fund. He protested against the Government putting their hands upon funds raised for a different purpose.


said, he represented a district very distant from the Exhibition, a district which had contributed very largely to the coal-tax, and he was sure that the contributors would look with astonishment on the application of the fund to the wealthy portions of the Metropolis to which it was proposed to devote it. He was sure it would tend to make the Government exceedingly unpopular.


There are two things which almost everybody admits—the one is, that access to the Exhibition should be provided by the 1st of May; and the other, that a permanent communication is required between the town on the north and on the south side of Hyde Park. My right hon. Friend has asked leave to bring in a Bill to accom- plish both those purposes. My hon. Friend I behind me (Sir Morton Peto) says that the thing cannot be done within the time. Well, that is a question to be settled between the Metropolitan Board of Works and the contractors. If a contractor is willing to undertake to complete it either by the 1st of May or June, which would probably be time enough, I know that an abundant supply of labour would accomplish things which those not accustomed to it might consider very difficult. The question is for leave to bring in a I Bill, and I really hope the House will agree to the motion. The matter is very important in all its bearings and ought to be discussed in a fuller House than this, [About thirty members only were present.] The Bill, if brought in, would be read a second time on a future occasion, and then the question of the comparative importance of one line and another might be discussed. But then, it is said, "Take advantage of the present roads." But what are called the present roads do not exist. What is wanted is a communication from the north to the south, and there is none. Some hon. Member has said, "Let the carriages go in at the Bays-water-road, and so along the sunk fence and the bridge to the Exhibition." But there is no road fit for heavy traffic beyond the bridge; and the bridge, as it now is, would not admit the traffic which would then have to pass over it. Therefore, the proposal to take advantage of the roads that now exist does not apply. I hope, then, that hon. Members who may entertain a different opinion as to the scheme will not object to the motion, and at a future time they will have an opportunity of comparing the different methods by which the same object may be attained.


Though I cannot take the grand parochial view of this matter, still, as being one who takes what I call a Consolidated Fund view, I wish to say a few words. The hon. Baronet the Member for Westminster said, "Let's take a pull at the Consolidated Fund." Now, having a slight interest in the Consolidated Fund, and having heard the exposition of the right hon. Gentleman, I have come to a very different conclusion from that at which he has arrived. If experience is to have any weight in this debate, we probably have heard the most experienced man in this country as to the cost of this "sunk fence," for "sunk fence," Sir, I call it. The hon. Baronet the Member for Finsbury (Sir Morton Peto), who, I believe, was engaged in making that celebrated Balaclava road, and who has a pretty good idea how long they would take to make the proposed road, has told this skeleton of a House what he thinks of the sufficiency of this £30,000. And, indeed, any one of any experience must know that the making of this road, which is upwards of two miles long—[Mr. COWPER: Three-quarters of a mile.] Well, three-quarters of a mile. I was going to put the cost at £70,000—but will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House that he will make this road for £30,000, or that he will do it in two months? The whole thing is perfectly ridiculous. It cannot be made for that sum, and it cannot be accomplished in that time. Now, what is the necessity for this permanent road at all? For the last Exhibition we had no new road. The right hon. Gentleman says it is to be a short cut from Australia. That is a reason certainly for inducing this House to consent to the Bill. He said, "What will the people from Australia think if they don't find this road open?" I have no great geographical knowledge, but I do not think the people from Australia will make any remark if this road is not made. We have had the most forcible testimony given by a gentleman who knows more about earthworks than any other man, that it cannot be made in time. Well, we have got this great earthwork scheme which is to form the great work of the Session. I call upon the attenuated House, if they have any spirit left, to throw out the Bill at once. The manifest thing is a temporary road for this purpose. As for the proposed Bill, let us throw it out at once, and so hear no more about it.

Question put:—

The Committee divided:—Ayes 17; Noes 12: Majority 5.

And it appearing that Forty Members were not present, Mr. Speaker resumed the Chair.

House counted, and Forty Members not being present,

The House was adjourned at half after Twelve o'clock, till Monday next.