§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [3rd August], "That the Bill be now read, the third time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. W. M. TORRENS
presented a Petition from the inhabitants of Blooms-bury in favour of a restriction being placed on the power of the Metropolitan Board of Works to sell more than one-twelfth of land to be taken from Fins-bury Park.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, that in rising to move that the Bill be re-committed, he had no wish to put an end to its progress. His object was to have the incidence of rating under Clause 22 defined more clearly. The sewers rate had been always regarded as a landlord's rate, and in the absence of a special agreement to the contrary, the tenant had always deducted it from his rent. If, however, the Bill passed in its present form it might happen that the small occupiers who held their houses from year to year would be called upon to pay the new rate that was to be substituted for the old one which was paid by the landlord. He wished to insert the following proviso after the word "board" in line 8—Provided always, That such first mentioned proportion shall be assessed and raised in like manner, and subject to the same provisons as the sewers rate, to be made under the Act of the eighteenth and nineteenth Victoria, chapter one hundred and twenty.He therefore moved that the Bill be recommitted.
To leave out from the words "Bill be" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "re-committed to a Committee of the whole House in respect of a proviso to Clause 22, and a new Clause for restricting the sale of park lands," —(Mr. William Henry Smith,)
§ MR. W. M. TORRENS
said, that if the Bill were re-committed, he should like to ask the opinion of the House on a proposal similar in object to, though somewhat different in terms from, that 1336 which he submitted to the Committee a few days ago. He desired to take from the Metropolitan Board of Works the power of selling or letting any greater portion than l–12th part of the lands vested in the Board for the purposes of any park within the metropolis. The Committee decided by a majority of 6 that a clause to that effect should be introduced into the Bill; but that clause was subsequently struck out by a majority of 23. The supporters of the proposal had been told they were making a claim on behalf of particular metropolitan parishes to have a new tax imposed on the whole community for the benefit of local interests. That assertion had been strenuously denied, though the majority appeared to think that the allegation was well-founded. It should be borne in mind, however, that the preponderance of unofficial Members was in favour of the proposal, which was negatived by a majority comprising 26 hon. Gentlemen who held Office. Twelve metropolitan Members, including the two Members for Middlesex, voted in favour of his proposal, and but one solitary representative of the metropolis recorded his vote against it. Up to the present time there had not been a single indication, whether by Petition, public meeting, or remonstrance in the Press, that the inhabitants in the metropolis were adverse to the proposal. He might remark that the Act of 1857, which was promoted by the Board of Works itself, set forth in the Preamble that the plans, maps, and specifications of the lands about to be taken for the two parks at the East-end of the metropolis, at the north and south sides of the river respectively, had been lodged with the Clerk of the Peace for Middlesex, and had been approved by Her Majesty's Commissioners of Public Works. It was thus stated beforehand what the arrangements were to be, and the matter was not left to the mere discretion of the Board of Works. The 8th clause, indeed, stated the exact number of acres —250—purchased for the parks. The Act stated that when the purposes of the Act had been sufficiently accomplished, and the lands had been imparked, the Board of Works should be at liberty to dispose, at most, of one-twelfth part of the land it had acquired for the park. Let the House, then, hold the Board of Works to its bargain, and to 1337 the litera scripta of the Act which had been passed. Let it now enact by a clause that that Board should not have power at most to sell more than that proportion of the lands in their diminished area which it was not empowered by the Act of 1857 to sell out of the greater area. It was a mockery to tell the districts affected that they might bring in a private Bill next year. The part of the land which the Board of Works proposed to sell for building purposes, and which the President of the Poor Law Board argued the other night was worth £76,000, was the best part, the cream, in fact, of the whole. Parliament gave that to the people of the East-end of the metropolis. Let it keep it for them, and not tell them it was willing to sanction bad faith. It was not fair or just towards the inhabitants of those crowded districts to deprive them of almost their only means of obtaining healthful recreation and breathing space. He asked on their behalf for nothing unreasonable from the House. Never had a greater misrepresentation fallen from the lips of man than had fallen — unintentionally, of course—from those of the Prime Minister, when that subject was last under discussion. The right hon. Gentleman had been led most erroneously to believe he was justified in saying that that was a project to levy a new tax on the metropolis at large for the benefit of two localities. He denied in every sense which language permitted that the fact was so. Those two localities did not ask 1s. either from the public Treasury or from the metropolis at large. The Board of Works was the common trustee for the interests of the whole of London; it had taken its large powers under certain stipulations in an Act of Parliament; and it was not at liberty to go back from those stipulations now. Parliament had created the power of that Board, and was bound under the highest dictates of political honour to see those whom he represented out of that difficulty, and to show that it had just as much regard for their interests, although they might be comparatively powerless, as if they really composed one of the great parties or factions in the State. He therefore hoped the House would interpose its authority between the inhabitants of the East-end of London and an irresponsible body, and insist on inserting a 1338 clause in that Bill literally carrying out the stipulation of the Act of 1857, by which the Board of Works was not empowered to sell more than one-twelfth part of any land vested in it for the purpose of forming any public park in the metropolis.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, his hon. Friend had, no doubt, exhibited great pertinacity in pressing his views on the consideration of the House, and he had not hitherto thought it necessary to enter into a discussion of the accuracy of the statements his hon. Friend had made to induce the House to adopt his conclusion. He had not done so because he regarded his hon. Friend's Motion as wholly inopportune, if not entirely irregular; for it was an attempt to introduce into a general measure a clause for the benefit of his hon. Friend's constituents—a proceeding contrary to the spirit of the Standing Orders of the House applicable to Public Business, and also of those applicable to local business, which declared that where they sought to alter the provisions of a local Act for the benefit of a particular locality they could do that only by private Bill, when they had to make their statements of fact before a Committee upstairs, which decided impartially. The speech they had just heard afforded an excellent illustration of the wisdom of that rule, and the necessity of adhering to it; because, otherwise, they would have an hon. Member, who himself knew nothing of the subject, inspired by anybody, by any of his constituents, by vestrymen and agitators, who gave him instructions, on which he was, of course, compelled to act without having the means of obtaining authentic information. That was the unfortunate position in which his hon. Friend had been placed. [Mr. W. M. TORRENS: No!] Well, let them see what were the facts. The vestry of Islington, through their clerk, promoted a Bill to have a park, in which they proposed that the Government should make a grant of £50,000 or £60,000 in aid of their scheme. By that Bill they proposed to get 300 and odd acres of land, and gave to their own commissioner an unlimited power of selling any part of the land to be so taken. The House of Commons, in the most unmistakable manner, in a full House, by a very large majority, condemned that project, and no further progress in it was made. But 1339 the Metropolitan Board of Works introduced a Bill of a different kind, by which it was proposed that Board should have a discretionary power to make a park as large as they should think fit. [Mr. W. M. TORRENS: No!] He had the Bill there; his hon. Friend had not got the Bill, but only the Act, and probably he had never seen the Bill. The Bill proposed that the Metropolitan Board of Works should make a park as large as they might think fit, within the limits of their compulsory powers to take land, which went to the extent of 250 acres. Under that Bill the Metropolitan Board of Works proposed to sell eighty acres of the land. Therefore, when his hon. Friend set up his theory that the Metropolitan Board of Works adopted the principle in the face of the public that they would deal with only twenty acres out of 250, the fact was they proposed to deal with eighty acres, and that quantity they were to sell at their discretion out of the land they were to take, which was not to exceed 250 acres. His hon. Friend told the House there was a public engagement not to sell more than twenty acres. What happened was this — The landed proprietor appeared before the Committee, as he had a right to do, to oppose the Bill, and said—" You shall not compulsorily take my land from me to sell eighty acres again. You shall take only twenty acres more than you propose to make into a park, because you have no right to dispossess me of my land in order to speculate with it." He carried his opposition further, and got a clause introduced providing that the land which was re-sold should be re-sold to himself. So the compact was between the owner and the Board of Works, that they might take twenty acres more than they intended to use for the park, but that they should sell it back to him. And how? Why, ten years after the park was made, at the improved value it would then have acquired; so that they would then have a means of indemnifying themselves, in part at least, for the expense of making the park. His hon. Friend had represented that to be a compact between the Board of Works and the public that the Board should be allowed to sell only a twelfth part of the land. The Bill and the Act, as passed, gave the Board of Works a discretionary power to make a park as big or as little 1340 as they pleased within the limits of their compulsory authority to purchase. It was not a compulsory Bill as regarded the Board; it was only a permissive Bill enabling them to take the land. After the Board of Works had got the Bill it had to consult the opinions of the ratepayers of the metropolis, who were so adverse to embarking in the enterprize, that the Board for six years did nothing, and they were not bound to do anything at all. They had an absolute discretion in the matter; although, of course, being elected, they were responsible to their constituents, the rate-payers. At the end of six years they appointed a surveyor to consider what should best be done to carry out the Act. The surveyor investigated the value and convenience of properties in the north of London, and made a report — which he then held in his hand—suggesting that they should buy a certain property; and as an inducement to them to buy it the surveyor called their attention to the fact that they would be able to appropriate and sell twenty acres. That report gave the value of the twenty acres on the conditions under which they were likely to sell them; and the surveyor pointed that out as a source from which they would be recouped. The Metropolitan Board proceeded upon the faith of that report, and made the purchase. When the Metropolitan Board had done so, and spent the money of the rate-payers, his hon. Friend now said that the House ought not to proceed with this Bill unless the rate-payers of the metropolis would make a present of land to his constituents. [Mr. W. M. TORRENS: I never said anything of the sort.] Not in so many words, but it came to that. There could be no greater breach of faith than such a transaction would involve. Now, what was the solution of the difficulty? His hon. Friend's constituents were most anxious to have a larger park than the ratepayers were willing to give them, and therefore he wanted to alter the law in order that his constituents might get the benefit. But was the House to stop the progress of a Bill for the benefit of the inhabitants of the metropolis generally until this concession was made to his hon. Friend's constituents? His hon. Friend knew very well that the Metropolitan Local Government Act was passed on this principle, that the Metropolitan 1341 Board should alone regulate the expenditure to be paid by the rate-payers at large, because they are elected by the rate-payers at large; but if any district thought that a particular improvement was more for its own benefit than that of the metropolis it would have to pay for that improvement; but it might apply to the Metropolitan Board to know how much the district and how much the metropolis should pay. When an improvement was made in the City, for instance, it was usual for them to say to the Metropolitan Board—" We will pay two-thirds provided you pay one-third." That was constantly done. And now his hon. Friend had presented a Petition from his constituents, saying that they wanted a bigger park. By all means let them have it. They could buy the twenty acres from the Metropolitan Board, subject, of course, to the owner's right of pre-emption. As far as the Metropolitan Board were concerned, those who represented the district had only to say—" We want more land than the rate-payers are willing to give us, and we are ready to pay for it." That was the proper solution of the difficulty, and it was in the hands of the vestry which his hon. Friend represented. The parish of Islington was very rich, and its rates were very low. He submitted to the House that they would encourage the very worst principle if at the end of the Session, when Bills might be delayed, they were to recognize the right of Members to come down and ask for grants to their constituents out of the money of the ratepayers at large.
§ MR. MACFIE
said, that Liverpool, with about one-sixth of the population of London, and not at all so wealthy, was expending about £1,000,000 on parks for the people, and the whole population were benefited, though these parks were distant about two miles from the central and more populous portion of the town. And now they were told by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) that this park was for the benefit of the East-end of London. He had been accustomed to live near lakes, but what would lakes be if they were huddled behind great houses? Let not the Seven Sisters Road be shut out from the park by houses, but let the people there have a sight of the cheerful omnibuses and carriages 1342 passing by. He hoped that for once this Session the Government would be left in a minority.
§ COLONEL SYKES
said, the accumulation of words had mystified the question very much. He had thought he had understood it, but he perceived he had something to learn. However, the question appeared to him to be this. It was thought it would be for the benefit of a certain crowded part of the metropolis noted for its poverty and wretchedness that a certain portion of land should be bought for a park—he cared not what the number of acres were or by what means they were to be got, they were to give fresh air, and the means of recreation for the people. An Act of Parliament was passed for the purpose, and had his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) quoted rightly from the Act or not, that only one-twelfth of the land could be sold? If he had, and if the portion of land was only 120 acres, then the Metropolitan Board would have only ten acres to sell, and not twenty; but, honestly, if the land was bought for a park, it should be devoted to a park.
§ SIR WILLIAM TITE
said, that the original Bill gave the Metropolitan Board power to buy 230 or 250 acres, he did not remember which; and for a long time they found it very difficult to get land at all. At last they obtained 120 acres. Originally the price was to be £500 an acre for 250 acres, but the Government were to find half the money ["No, no!"] He said "Yes." He heard Lord Palmerston, then standing in his place, say that the Government would pay £60,000; but the House did not allow him to carry his intention out. Well, the Metropolitan Board had to buy the land themselves, and they bought these 115 or 120 acres. And now they were going to sell twenty acres; the Act of Parliament did not empower them to sell more, and there were two plots—one fronting the road, the other fronting the railway, but the only point in dispute was as to ten acres abutting on the road. The parties who had opposed their buying it in the first instance had now purchased the land opposite and wanted to have the benefit of the frontage which the park gave. Therefore, they came and opposed this Bill. These persons said— "Don't take the frontage from us and prevent us from making a great deal of 1343 money by it. Don't sell it and don't build on it yourselves." Now, nobody in the world wanted the money more than the Metropolitan Board. And while his hon. Friend on the one hand said— "Don't increase the rates, and don't add another shilling to our burdens," he also said he would not let the Metropolitan Board have the means of recouping themselves to the extent of £70,000, which they might without doing harm to anybody. The Metropolitan Board had the power to sell the land, and had the right to sell it, and to interpose to prevent them would be most unfair.
§ MR. C. DENISON
wished to say that, although he had voted with the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) the other night, the explanation offered by the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Ayrton) and the hon. Member for Bath had changed his opinion on the subject.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.