§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. ALDERMAN SALOMONS moved that this Bill be read a second time. He said he was willing to have it referred to a Select Committee, and thus neutralize any meditated opposition. The advantage of increased facilities for crossing the Thames must be obvious to every one, and 1054 to no class would this improvement be more favourable than to the working people, who now find great difficulty in obtaining houses and lodgings on the north side of the river. In the course of a century, while the population had greatly increased, the habitations for the working classes had not borne a proportional increase, but there was a tendency rather to diminish accommodation for them. In fact, the people were now cramped and confined to an extent which was most undesirable. Something should be done by that House in order to facilitate the means of crossing the Thames. It was necessary to try to purchase the existing toll bridges before projecting new ones. The Bill now before the House was permissive, and would give powers to the Board of Works and the City of London to treat with the proprietors of Southwark, Waterloo, Chelsea, and other metropolitan bridges, including Deptford Creek, upon which tolls were charged. There were some bridges across the River Lea which he thought ought to be included, but there was such a difficulty in dealing with so many jurisdictions that he had not ventured to bring them within the scope of this Bill. Since the question of tolls had been discussed last year there had been some attempt on the part of the corporation of London to treat with the proprietors of Southwark Bridge, and a temporary arrangement had been made by which the tolls had been stopped, and this arrangement would last for two or three months longer; but if powers were not given to the proprietors to make a permanent agreement with the corporation of London, the inhabitants would have the mortification of seeing the toll-gates replaced. He might mention that while over the Thames there were only three free bridges, there were twenty-seven at Paris over the Seine, and many of those twenty-seven had been opened during the last few years, while over the Thames there had been no new free bridge opened for nearly a century. Since the tolls on Southwark Bridge had been removed there had been a great increase of traffic, and the working classes were very anxious that the tolls upon all bridges should be abolished, so that they might have an opportunity of obtaining free access between the north and south sides of the river. On the south side land and house-rent were cheaper, and there was more room for the increasing population of the metropolis. There was scarcely a stronger instance of the crowded state of 1055 the poor population on the north side than that which was produced in the late discussion upon the site for the new law courts, when it was shown that upon seven acres of ground there was a population of 4,200 persons—a number equal to the inhabitants of a moderate-sized town. It was the duty of that House to enlarge the area for the free circulation of the working classes as much as possible. Eleven years ago a Committee had been appointed, of which Mr. Oliveira was chairman, to consider the question of tolls on bridges, and in the subsequent year another Committee, presided over by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyne, reported upon the same subject, and both Committees were unanimously of opinion that the tolls upon the bridges should be abolished, and the accommodation for the working classes increased; but since that time nothing whatever had been done. He sincerely hoped that this Bill would lead to some practical step being taken. He believed the metropolis was rich enough to secure the accommodation required. It possessed rateable property of the value of £15,000,000, with a population of 3,000,000 daily increasing in numbers.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Alderman Salomons.)
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, there could be no doubt whatever as to the desirability of the object sought to be obtained by the Bill, which was to extend as far as possible the facilities for traffic between the north and south sides of the river, and to abolish the tolls. The whole question for consideration was as to the best means by which that object could be obtained. The Government had no objection to the second reading of this Bill upon the understanding that it should be referred to a Select Committee, which would have the power of inquiring into the whole subject. He hoped from the concluding sentence of the hon. Member that the City of London would be found rich enough to effect the object of the Bill without taxing their neighbours. The Government would object to the 6th clause by which an additional duty of 1d. per ton was proposed to be put upon coals brought within the metropolitan district. He should be very glad to see the whole subject inquired into, and he hoped the City of London would be found rich enough to purchase the tolls.
§ MR. LOCKE
said, he wished to make one or two observations, inasmuch as his name was on the back of the Bill. It had been placed there simply because it was on the back of the Bill of last year, which was a very different measure from that now before the House. He was not at all pleased with the present Bill, because it proposed to tax in an especial degree his constituents, who, while they would be very well content to pay a general rate levied throughout the whole metropolis for the abolition of tolls, objected to the extra duty of 1d. per ton upon coals coming into the metropolis, and the special tax proposed to be laid upon those ratepayers who resided in the neighbourhood of the bridges upon which the tolls would be abolished. The Bill of last Session was pure and simple in its object—namely, the removal of the tolls by the means of a uniform rate throughout the whole of the metropolis. No objection could be taken to that, because all who lived in London would be benefited by the measure. Placing an extra duty upon coals, he contended, was very objectionable. The manufacturing interests with which he was connected, as Member for Southwark, objected to that additional coal tax, because it would place them in a still more unfavourable position as competitors with manufacturers in the country, many of whom were enabled to obtain coals at 8s. a ton, whereas the price paid in London was generally 23s. a ton. Waterloo Bridge afforded accommodation to the inhabitants of the whole of the metropolis as a means of access to the South Western Railway. Why should a special rate be thrown upon his constituents for the opening of that bridge, which came into a corner of the borough? He could not see that any particular advantage would accrue to those living at the ends of the bridges, beyond that which could arise to the metropolis generally by the adoption of any such measure as that before the House. Again, with regard to Southwark Bridge. It was to be opened in order to relieve the traffic on London Bridge, and the ratepayers complained most strongly of the proposal to levy a special tax for this object, and he had presented petitions from vestries and all the local bodies in his constituency against this extra rate. A Bill, he believed, had already passed during this Session giving the sanction of that House to the corporation of London and the Metropolitan Board of Works purchasing that bridge, and it would therefore be taken 1057 out of the present Bill. When the twelvemonths expired for which the City had made arrangements for the stoppage of the tolls, the bridge, no doubt, would be purchased by the corporation. A Bill had also been introduced with reference to Chelsea Bridge by the hon. Baronet the Member for Westminster (Sir John Shelley). Then there was Putney Bridge, for the purchase of which, by a now company, a Bill had passed that House last year, and an award had been made that the new company should pay the proprietors of the present bridge the sum of £40,000. If it were to be understood that the extra duty on coals, and the special tax on his constituents to which he had referred, should not be levied, but that it was to go to and come from the Select Committee pure and simple as the Bill of last year, he would not oppose the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he had not the slightest objection to the course suggested by the Secretary for the Home Department. He believed it was the wish of the House that if the Bill passed a second reading, it would be on the understanding that they should not pledge themselves to a single clause in it. They merely desired to express a general opinion that it was extremely desirable that the tolls upon these bridges should be abolished, provided proper means were found for accomplishing that object without doing an injustice to any one. One objection to the Bill was that it was not sufficiently comprehensive. There was a bridge in the borough which he represented afflicted with such a toll that the collector felt it necessary to arm himself with a red-hot poker with the view of enforcing the money from those who might attempt to escape. Such a bridge as that ought to be included either in the present Bill or in any inquiry that might take place. Another omission was the toll upon roads. He could not discover the distinction in principle between the toll upon roads and that upon bridges. They were equally objectionable. Roads were found in the middle of London where poisons had to pay a rate of toll which caused a greater obstruction to traffic than that levied on the bridges. It was desirable, therefore, that in any further inquiry into this subject, the whole question of tolls on roads and bridges should be referred to a Select Committee, in order that it should be ascertained whether any means could be devised for 1058 the purpose of relieving the metropolis from all these tolls. If the House adopted this course, he felt confident that the inquiry would lead to some practical result. He would be sorry to see any increase made on the duty upon coal, or any unjust tax levied for the object of the Bill. Both the corporation of London and the Metropolitan Board of Works had, he considered, neglected their duty with regard to tolls, because, instead of the inconvenience decreasing, it had largely increased, assisted by Private Bills. The question demanded serious consideration. He suggested that the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Westminster should also be referred to the Select Committee.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he was afraid, by assenting to the second reading, that the House would be embarking upon a dangerous course of action in regard to the question involved. It appeared to him that it might be subsequently thrown in their teeth by the promoters of this Bill that the House, in assenting to the second reading, had sanctioned a principle which they considered an important step gained. The mode of obtaining the money for carrying out the objects desired was so mixed up with the main question that it was difficult to separate them. It appeared, therefore, to him that it would be a better course to appoint a Select Committee to consider the whole question of metropolitan tolls, rather than to proceed as by this measure by piecemeal. As to the mode in which it was proposed to supply the funds which would be required in consequence of the abolition of tolls, he had to remind them that there was already levied on coal brought into the metropolis a tax of not less than 1s. 1d. a ton. The coal duty was originally imposed for the special purpose of building a coal exchange, which had been accomplished, but the tax still remained, and was now applied to metropolitan improvements. This should serve as a warning against imposing any additional tax, more especially as such a proposal was opposed to all the present principles of legislation. He had some objection to the Bill, but if the House thought that the whole question would be better considered by a Committee up-stairs he should not object to that course.
§ MR. JACKSON
said, that the Bill fell short of the desired object. It did not embrace a sufficient area or include a suf- 1059 ficient number of the tolls already existing. It ought, in his opinion, to take in tolls of every description throughout the metropolitan area. A rate should be levied over the metropolitan area to purchase all these bridges, and everything else which was an impediment to free circulation in the metropolis. He presided over a Committee on this subject, and the unanimous opinion of the Committee was that a rate should be levied to buy the tolls and to improve the roads.
§ SIR BALDWIN LEIGHTON
said, he did not see why the metropolis should not be placed on the same footing as the counties throughout England with reference to bridges, where the expense of building and maintenance was paid out of the county rate. By adopting the present Bill, though the tax of 1d. per ton on coals might not be a heavy one, the poor would be taxed for the advantage of the rich. It would be very desirable if the Committee would take this point of defraying the expenses by a county rate into their consideration.
§ SIR JOHN SHELLEY
said, it was agreed on all hands that it was advisable to get rid of tolls as far as possible, whether in London or elsewhere, and the question was simply as to how the object was to be carried out. It had been agreed that this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, on the understanding that the House should not be pledged to any of the provisions of the Bill, and the Committee would simply consider how these tolls could be done away with. He had the greatest possible objection to an extra duty being put upon coals, or a special tax upon those persons who did not go about in carriages to relieve those who did. Nothing could be more absurd than the 9th clause of the Bill, which gave the Metropolitan Board of Works power to levy a special tax upon vestries and districts in which the bridges were situated. He had presented several petitions against this proposal from the inhabitants in the Strand, and he would ask how the Strand could be supposed to be benefited more than any other district in the metropolis from the opening of Waterloo Bridge to free traffic. To put a special tax upon the Strand ratepayers for such an object would be most unjust. He agreed with the hon. Baronet opposite, that a county rate ought to be levied, if necessary, for the object of the Bill.
§ Motion agreed to.1060
Bill read 2°, and committed to a Select Committee.
Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee, to inquire into the existing Tolls on Roads and Bridges within the Metropolis, and the best means of abolishing them.—(Mr. Ayrton.)
§ And, on Wednesday, May 10, Select Committee nominated as follows:
§ Mr. Alderman SALOMONS, Mr. CUBITT, Mr. JACKSON, Sir BALDWIN LEIGHTON, Mr. AYRTON, Mr. CHARLES TURNER, Sir JOHN SHELLEY, Mr. LIDDELL, Mr. LOCKE KING, Mr. STANHOPE, Mr. ADAM, Sir WILLAM JOLLIFFE, Mr. COWFER, Lord JOHN MANNERS, Mr. HANBURY, and Mr. TITE:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.