HC Deb 28 June 1864 vol 176 cc431-7

, in moving a Resolution on the necessity of preserving open spaces in and around the metropolis, said, few questions were more interesting to the mass of the industrial population, not only to those in the metropolis itself but to those residing in the suburban districts which were fast becoming connected with the metropolis. The importance, and he would say the absolute necessity, of preserving open spaces for the recreation of the people would not be denied by any one; but, in order to prove it, he would call attention to some very striking facts connected with the large increase of population in the metropolis. In 1851 the population of what was termed the metropolitan district was 4,700,000; in 1861 it was net less than 5,600,000, or an increase of 900,000 in the short space of ten years. In the same period there was an increase in the number of houses to the amount of 103,000; that increase was still going on, and he questioned whether at any time during the ten years it advanced at a greater ratio than at this moment. But the important point was this—that while the necessity for open spaces was increasing, the difficulties of obtaining control over them were increasing also. That was not the first time that the question had been brought forward, though not in the same form as that in which he submitted it to the House that evening. But whenever it had been considered, whether in reference to Hampstead Heath, or to the places to which the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Peacocke) had called attention, there had been almost an unanimous expression of opinion in favour of the preservation of those spaces. A very few years ago London might be said to have been belted with these natural parks. Many of the commons on the south and north sides of London had become entirely extinguished, being appropriated for building purposes; and others were in process of extinction. In dealing with this matter there were two questions—the question of the forests and that of the commons and open spaces in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, and those questions ought to be kept distinct. The question of forests had already been dealt with by Parliament, which had decidedly expressed its opinion by addressing the Crown, praying that the forestal rights of the Crown might be preserved. Subsequently a Committee was appointed, which reported that it was absolutely necessary, for purposes of recreation, to preserve these forests. The Government, however, had taken no action in reference to the matter until within the last few days, when a communication was sent to the Metropolitan Board of Works by the Secretary to the Treasury, asking that Board whether they were prepared to purchase the rights over Epping Forest, with an ultimate view to the cession of the rights of the Crown. He would presently show that the Metropolitan Board of Works had no power to deal with the matter, but, if they had, there was no necessity for throwing that duty on them. The commons rested on a different tenure, for the rights over them belonged, not to the Crown, but to the lords of the manors, the copyholders, and the commoners. With respect to the inclosure of commons, ap- plication was generally made to Parliament through the Copyhold Commission, but there were some startling exceptions to that rule, and Wandsworth Common, one of the largest and best on the south side of the metropolis, was being appropriated for building purposes, though no application to inclose it had been made to the Copyhold Commissioners, and, consequently, the case had never come before Parliament. Therefore, the fact that lords of manors were able to inclose commons showed the necessity of Parliament to deal with the question. The Secretary to the Treasury had suggested, in a letter, that the Metropolitan Board of Works should take up the matter; but, as he had already intimated, it was neither in their power nor was it their duty to do so. The best proof that it did not possess the power was that whenever it had considered it desirable to carry out the construction or formation of any park it had been under the necessity of applying to Parliament for powers for that express purpose. It was true that the Act of Parliament constituting the Board authorized them to form Public Parks by purchasing land by agreement, but nobody who knew the nature of the negotiations for the purchase of land would dream of the Board forming a park in the neighbourhood of London, unless they had such compulsory powers as they did not possess. The Metropolitan Board of Works were told to maintain Epping Forest for the purpose of public recreation, but, as that was beyond their jurisdiction, the forest must be preserved at the expense, if the Board determined to undertake the task, of the inhabitants of the metropolitan districts; and the inhabitants of the neighbourhood of the forest beyond the jurisdiction of the Board, while enjoying great benefit from the preservation of the forest, would not contribute one farthing towards the expense. He would also take the cases of Mitcham and Wimbledon Commons, and he asked what would be the result if the Metropolitan Board of Works undertook to preserve them as places of public recreation. With regard to Mitcham Common, the inhabitants of the healthy and increasing town of Croydon would derive great part of the benefit, and would not contribute in any degree to the expense. So with regard to Wimbledon Common, the inhabitants of Richmond and other large towns would receive great advantage from the common being preserved, but would not be called on to pay one farthing. The Metropolitan Board of Works had already incurred liabilities for improvements to the extent of between £8,000,000 and £9,000,000. That very large expenditure was to be defrayed by the metropolitan ratepayers, and it was impossible to go on imposing fresh rates on the metropolis, the Metropolitan Board having no other means of raising funds except by direct taxation. If that Board were to be called on to preserve these open spaces—a duty which he thought more properly belonged to the Government—the House ought not to be so chary in giving the Board the same powers to tax the metropolis as were exercised in provincial towns. In bringing the question forward, he did not wish it to be understood that he was desirous that these open spaces should be transformed into neatly trimmed and laid out gardens and parks. His object was to have them preserved in all their wild and uncultivated condition, and it would be a pleasant sight to see the boisterous enjoyment of the working people in places where there did not exist those restrictions which were natural and proper enough in well laid-out gardens. He did not wish that the money for this purpose should be taken out of the Consolidated Fund, but he asked the Government to introduce a Bill giving the necessary taxing powers to the Metropolitan Board of Works to carry out the object. He concluded by moving the following Resolution:—

Moved, That it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to provide for the preservation of open spaces in and around the Metropolis within the limits assigned by the 14th section of the Inclosure Act of 1845."—(Mr. Doulton.)

Motion made, and Question proposed.


said, it would be a cause of much regret if none of the open spaces around, and, more especially, those in the metropolis, should be preserved; and he owned that it was the duty of the Government, more particularly in those cases where the intentions of Parliament had been expressed, to attend to those things. In an ordinary case, where there was an open space in which different persons had an interest, as commoners, tenants, or lords of the manor, the inclosure of such land, if it was within a certain radius of the metropolis, could not be effected without an Act of Parliament. On such an application being made, therefore, Parliament could either refuse it or grant it under certain conditions, as, for instance, with regard to the reservation of so much ground for the recreation and health of the public. When an inclosure was recently authorized in Chigwell parish, fifty acres were allotted for the use of the public. It was a mistake to suppose that there had been any very considerable diminution in the open spaces in and around the metropolis. It was nearly twenty years since the Act in regard to inclosures within the metropolitan radius of fifteen miles was passed, and during that time not more than about 1,500 acres had been inclosed, the greater part of which was upwards of ten miles from town. On the part of the Crown there had certainly been no disposition to deprive the inhabitants of London of any rights to which they were fairly entitled in that respect. He was willing to admit that in the administration of Crown property regard should be had to the effect of open ground on the public health, even in preference to the benefit which the public might otherwise derive from the disposal of the land. In Epping Forest the Government did not feel at liberty to convert the Crown's forestal rights of sporting and hunting as an instrument for virtually depriving individuals of their property. As a proof of the anxiety of the Government to give due consideration to the claims of the public in regard to open spaces, he might refer to the parks of London, and especially to the new ones, Victoria and Battersea, which had in recent years been added to the number. With respect to the commons, which were the property of private persons, it was not the duty of the Government, and it would be quite impossible for them, to deprive the owners of the right to use the ground in the same manner as other owners of private property were entitled to do. At any rate, it could not be done without giving compensation to the owners, many of whom, moreover, having only a limited interest, could not sell if they wished. The Government would also require to be armed with special powers for the purpose. The chief, and crowning difficulty, however, was the source from which the expense of preserving the open spaces should be derived. He could not admit that it was the duty of the Government to provide the means out of the public purse. There ought to be no difference in that respect between the metropolis and the other large towns of the country. As to the suggestion that further powers should be given to the Metropolitan Board of Works, it would receive the consideration of the Government. As to the Resolution he did not see how it would advance the object the hon. Member had in view, and he could not agree to it on the part of the Government.


said, he could not agree that the Government had carefully guarded the rights of the public with regard to Epping Forest, because a number of houses had been built, and gardens and grounds attached to them, upon and from land taken from the forest, and over which the public previously had a right to roam. Therefore, he said, the Government had not sufficiently performed their duty. The object of the Motion was to make the Government more careful for the future. There might be some difficulty in providing parks and open spaces in the metropolis— from what source the necessary funds should be furnished for the purchase of the land and for compensation to those whose property was interfered with; but he did not think there was any analogy between the metropolis and large towns in the provinces, because the metropolis was spread over a vast space, and comprised within a certain area between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 of inhabitants; besides, the whole country had an interest in the capital, to which all were from time to time attracted either for business or pleasure. For these reasons it was most essential that its health and ornament should be provided for by the nation. Parliament was in the constant habit of legislating specially with respect to improvements in the metropolis; and that was a further reason why a portion of the funds should be furnished by that House. From time to time there had been encroachments round about the metropolis, which could not occur in Dublin, for instance, where the people had the Phoenix Park, and could get into the country almost immediately. A railway had been carried through the centre of Wandsworth Common, and when that had been done he presumed any other nuisance might be introduced. Tooting and Streatham had also been subject to encroachments. The Resolution was intended to promote the desirable object of preserving those open spaces which were so essential to the public health; but it would not embarrass the Government by pledging them to any particular mode of doing so. He thought the Resolution deserved the support of the House, and hoped his hon. Friend would press it to a division.


said, it was much to be regretted that the open spaces in the neighbourhood of the metropolis had been allowed to be cut up by railways. When those railways were constructed, if there had been a public officer to protect the interests of the public, in all probability they would either have been stopped altogether or forced to take another direction. Until such an officer were appointed he was afraid the recreation grounds around London would continue to be encroached upon.


observed, that persons claiming to be lords of the manor were in the habit of laying hold of hundreds of acres in Epping Forest and elsewhere, without any steps being taken on the part of the Government to protect the rights of the Crown and of the commoners. It was high time that the Attorney General should be instructed by the Treasury to interfere in such cases.


said, he entirely agreed with his hon. Friend that it was most desirable that some means should be taken to preserve the commons round London from inclosure at the rate that was going on. Wandsworth and Mitcham Commons, to say nothing of Epping Forest, had been largely encroached upon; but he thought his hon. Friend would not be advancing his object by the Resolution which he had proposed. The Government was not obliged or required to suggest a solution for the difficulty which was felt in the matter. Last year an Act of Parliament was passed which threw on the Metropolitan Board of Works the duty of looking after open spaces within their jurisdiction; but he believed they had not yet done anything in the matter, and he suspected that the present Resolution, if passed, would not remedy their failure. It would be far better to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into the whole subject, and endeavour to ascertain how the difficulties now experienced could be overcome.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 79; Noes 40: Majority 39.