HC Deb 02 August 1869 vol 198 cc1127-34

(Mr. Dodson, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Goschen.)


Bill, as amended, considered.


moved the addition of a proviso at the end of Clause 22, defining further the relative rights and liabilities of landlord and tenant with respect to the payment of rates.

Amendment agreed to.


said, he wished to call attention to the clause which was introduced into the Bill on Saturday on the Motion of Mr. M'Cullagh Torrens— That it shall not be lawful for the Metropolitan Board of Works to sell or let, whether on lease or otherwise, any portion of the lands now vested in said Board for the purpose of a park or other place of recreation. The clause as it stood was extremely ambiguous, and it was difficult to know what interpretation ought to be put upon it. The Act authorizing the Metropolitan Board of Works to purchase land expressly declared that they should be empowered to purchase such land as they might think fit for the construction of a park, and that they should be at liberty to sell any surplus land not required for that purpose. Such were the provisions contained in two Local Acts already passed—one for the construction of a park at Finsbury, and the other for the construction of a park at Southwark. Now, it was quite obvious that the Board, on the faith of those Acts, had been encouraged to make larger purchases than were necessary for the mere construction of a park, in each case feeling that they might reimburse themselves by the sale of the surplus lands. Of the authority to sell them, however, the present clause was evidently intended to deprive the Board, and the Government ought not, he thought, to acquiesce in such an arrangement, especially when it was borne in mind that some hon. Members had, as he had been informed, voted for the clause with the idea that it was necessary for the preservation of the parks themselves intact. If that were its only object he should offer no opposition to it, although even then he should look upon it as entirely irrelevant and as by no means required. But it affected the rights of the rate-payers of the metropolis, by declaring in effect that a special grant should be made for the benefit of two or three parishes. If the parishes in question wished to make any application to Parliament, with the view of having the surplus lands in question appropriated to particular purposes, it was open to them to do so next Session. He had the authority of the Metropolitan Board of Works to say that no step would be taken between this and the next Session of Parliament for dealing with that surplus land, in order that the parishes might have the opportunity of prosecuting their views in the only way in which they ought to do so—namely, by Private Bill. Therefore there was no ground for that hasty and unjust legislation, and with that assurance he hoped the Committee would have no difficulty in striking out that clause. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving to leave out the clause.

Amendment proposed, to leave out Clause (Park lands vested in the Metropolitan Board of Works.)—(Mr. Ayrton.)


said, that before putting on the Paper notice of his intention to propose the insertion of that clause, he had consulted the Chairman of Committees as to its strict regularity, as, without the sanction of that authority, he should have hesitated to take a step so important as to move the clause to which he had the good fortune to obtain the assent of the House. He must at once join issue, as he did on Saturday, with, the Secretary of the Treasury (Mr. Ayrton), and deny that that was an attempt by a clause in a Public Bill to deal with that which was first enacted in a Local and Private Bill. When he introduced to the first Commissioner of Works, in April last, a deputation from the neighbourhood affected by that question, he took care to go to the officers of that House, who were its officers when the Bill of 1857 was originally passed, and inquire what was the nature of that Act. He learnt that it was a hybrid Act, and that, consequently, its Amendment might be sought by a Bill like the present one. He denied that the Act of 1857 could be fairly described as a Local Act. It was introduced during the Ministry of Lord Palmerston; and Lord Palmerston, no inexperienced authority as to the rules of that House, volunteered, on behalf of his Government, to move a large grant of money in aid of the objects then contemplated. The Bill was promoted by the Metropolitan Board of Works, and was carried by their influence, with the assistance of the Government. It was not a Private, but a Public Act, and it belonged to the class of measures familiarly called "hybrid Bills." The Reports of the Board of Works, on which it was supported, were to the effect that they sought powers from Parliament to complete the drainage of the metropolis, with the promise and upon the undertaking that they would create public parks, where they were expedient and necessary, in the metropolis. After that Bill passed, the Board of Works, in the following Session, came to Parliament for new powers, including the power to mortgage 3d. in the pound of the metropolitan rates to raise £3,000,000; and the inducement held out to the House to pass that Bill was composed in part of the promise made officially that the Metropolitan Board of Works intended to devote £216,000 to the formation of a park in Finsbury, and a further sum for a park in Bermondsey. His case was that that Board had broken faith with Parliament and with the people of London, because, instead of so expending those sums, on the faith of expending which they obtained the power of mortgaging 3d. in the pound of the metropolitan rates and raising £3,000,000 sterling, they had expended the money neither in the one case nor in the other; and he asked the House not to rescind its vote of Saturday, because, to do that, would be to encourage breaches of contract by municipal bodies. On the 18th of April, 1859, after they had got that Act on those pretences and promises, the Chairman of the Board of Works wrote a letter to the Home Secretary for the time being, in which he recurred to the conditions on which the Act had been passed, and stated that among the most important objects of the measure was the establishment of those two parks. The people of London, therefore, did not come now to that House to sue in formâ pauperis, but they asked that they might not be robbed of their own money. And he hoped the House, after the vote it had given within the last forty-eight hours on that matter, would not now undo that act of justice. It was not true that the Board of Works had a discretionary power to sell portions of that land as they thought fit. The words of the statute, which were very careful and precise, enabled the Board only to dispose of such lands as were not required for the purposes of the park. But was anybody prepared to stand up and tell the House that 115 acres were too much for the purposes of the health and recreation of a part of the metropolis whose inhabitants were to be counted by hundreds of thousands, and that twenty acres might be taken away? The metropolis was divided into nine Parliamentary cities and boroughs. The poorer population of the East-end, comprising the Tower Hamlets, the City, Hackney, Finsbury, and Southwark, was considerably over 1,500,000. Yet for parks they had, on the whole, only 460 acres; whereas, the genteel end of the town, with a smaller amount of population, and including Westminster, Lambeth, Chelsea, and Marylebone, had 1,460 acres in the shape of parks; or 1,000 acres more than the unfortunate people of the East-end of London, who were entitled to no less care and attention from that House than the inhabitants of the West-end. It was unworthy of a great and powerful Government to bring its gigantic power to bear on particular localities in this way; and he was sure they would not have long to wait before they would find discontent cropping up if they were to do acts of this kind.


said, he would ask the House to decide simply on the merits of the question. It appeared that in all cases in which the Metropolitan Board had taken land for the purpose of parks, it had always got power to sell a small portion, and why? Not to diminish the area of the park, but that the valuable frontage which would be created by the formation of the park should be reserved for the benefit of the rate-payers of the whole metropolis. Then there was this other point. It struck him that there was considerable force in the argument that where land for a park was taken in a populous district, the Board should have power to make what he should call "a fringe" to the park itself—that was, should have power to build a decent class of houses around the park, instead of allowing the miserable tenements that might be in the neighbourhood to stand around it, or contractors to come in and run up a wretched description of houses. It was a most expensive proceeding to construct parks in the midst of populous districts, and the least that could be done was to reserve a small portion of the land for the purpose of recouping some of the expenses incurred. He was informed that the land in question in the neighbourhood of Finsbury and Southwark Parks was worth £76,800, and that was a sum worth consideration. His hon. Friend complained that twenty acres were taken out of 115 and said it was too much. [Mr. M'CULLAGH TORRENS: Out of 250.] His hon. Friend would not allow that any one corner of the parks should be built upon now or at any future time. He agreed with his hon. Friend in much that he had said; but he thought he might ask the House not to vote for the retention of so stringent a clause. The difference between them was simply this—whether the hon. Member for Finsbury would not tie the hands of the Board too much, and thus really defeat the object he had in view. His hon. Friend would find that some of the metropolitan Members who supported him on a previous occasion would not now do so, because since the last division they had found out that the views of their constituents did not coincide with those of the hon. Member. MR. HENLEY said, he was sorry the Government had tried to reverse what the House had done the other day. There was a very great, rapid, and unprecedented increase of population in the neighbourhood where these parks were, and whatever might have been considered suitable a few years back, everyone must admit that the spaces now open were not too much. There was a good deal of force in what the right hon. Gentleman had said about the profit that might be made by "a fringe "around the frontage. They all knew that the frontage near a park was very valuable; but "a fringe" was a very wide term, and when they came to talk of a fringe all round they might reduce the area very considerably. When they considered how densely the people were packed, what the effect upon their health of that dense packing was, how every day and every hour the population was increasing, and how the country and fresh air were being put further away from them, it was very unfortunate now that open spaces had been obtained, that every morsel of those spaces should not be kept open for the health of the people.


said, he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Government had no desire whatever but that simple justice should be done, and he put it to the candour of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) that his statement as to the acreage of the parks available for the East-end and West-end of the metropolis respectively did not fairly represent the merits of the case. The Green Park, St. James's Park, and Hyde Park had not been purchased by the public money; they were Crown estates made over to the metropolis. And here he would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the whole of his speech appeared to be founded on a principle diametrically the reverse of what Parliament had deliberately adopted. The right hon. Gentleman had made an appeal to compassion, and said—"Assuredly you don't think these acres too much." But was Parliament to make parks for London, or was it not? If Parliament was to make parks for London, the cost must come upon the Consolidated Fund. But Parliament eight or ten years ago deliberately and advisedly set up a system of local government charged with the execution of public works, and, among others, with the formation of these parks. Surely that was a most important consideration. It was a most serious thing for Parliament to take this course, and then to say that the local authority so constituted should not deal with the matter in accordance with the rules already laid down, but that Parliament itself should step in and say upon what terms parks should be made. If this were done the rate-payers would not let the point rest there. Parliament had distinctly declared that the funds of the country at large should not go to make parks for London, that London must attend to its own wants in this respect, and had provided machinery for the purpose; if Parliament, however, interfered, a responsibility would be entailed which it must not shrink from discharging.


said, he thought the Prime Minister had over-stated the case in dealing with it as if the country did nothing for London. The country at large had done much for Battersea Park and the Royal Parks, and having thus contributed a rate-in-aid, the people of the country had a right to be heard when they expressed an opinion on the subject of parks to be made at the East- end. He hoped, however, that his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. W. M. Torrens) would so modify his proposal as to allow a smaller portion of the park than twenty acres, say ten acres, to be placed within the power of the Board of Works for appropriation.


said, he should sup- port the original proposition, giving the Board power to sell, because he desired other parts of London besides Finsbury to have parks; he could point out places in London which would be thankful for a fourth of the space Finsbury would gain by the Bill as it originally stood.


said, the only argument in favour of the sale of the twenty acres of land was the fear that the rates on the metropolis at large would be increased. As he thought the richer portion of the metropolis—the West-end —could afford to bear a heavier burden in order to give the poorer portion—the East-end—a better park, he would vote with the hon. Member for Finsbury.


said, the question was not one of policy, as to how much the House would feel disposed to give or withhold, but was one of simple justice. A piece of land had been divided into two portions; one had been given to the people of Finsbury for a park, the other to the Metropolitan Board, as representing the rate-payers, and when the Board of Works came to Parliament asking for facilities to borrow money, the hon. Member for Finsbury asked the House to rob the rate-payers of their portion of the land in order to give it to the people of Finsbury; he, in fact, asked the House to impose a heavy burden on the rate-payers, in opposition to a bargain solemnly agreed to by Parliament.


said, he had heard no reason whatever to justify him in voting in a contrary direction to that in which he voted on Saturday; though he thought the clause might be modified. It was never intended to divide the ground into park and building land, and he objected to describing the twenty acres as surplus land, because "surplus land," as applied to schemes ordinarily before Parliament, referred to land beyond what was necessary for the object in view, and this twenty acres was not more than sufficient for the park. The Finsbury Park Act gave power to the Metropolitan Board of Works to take 250 acres and to sell the surplus; but that Board only required 115 acres, and they now asked to apply to building purposes the proportion of twenty acres to 115, though the proportion originally named was that of twenty acres to 250 acres.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." The House divided:—Ayes 56; Noes 79: Majority 23.

Another Amendment made.

Bill to be read the third time To- morrow, at Two of the clock.