HC Deb 30 March 1874 vol 218 cc399-406

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time,"—(Colonel Hogg.)


, who had given Notice of an Amendment "that the Bill be read the second time that day six months," said, that he did not intend to press that Motion, as he had boon able to come to an arrangement with the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board with reference to the Bill, which dealt with multifarious matters, He left that part of it which related to Finsbury Park to the hon. Members for Finsbury. The provisions in it to which he objected threw upon the metropolitan rates the cost of certain structures which were erected in Hyde Park and on the Holborn Viaduct by the Metropolitan Board of Works on the occasion of the National Thanksgiving in 1872. Objection to these erections at the public cost had been taken at the time by the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), and himself (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice.) Notwithstanding that, the expenditure took place, and upon the objection of several ratepayers it was disallowed by the Auditor; but owing to a flaw in the Metropolis Local Management Act it was not easy to recover the amount so disallowed. Recourse was then had to the Court of Chancery and at this moment a suit was pending on the subject. Hence his chief ground of objection to the Bill, for it seemed to him that for that House to step in when a suit was pending in the Court of Chancery, and by an off-hand use of its jurisdiction practically to prevent the Master of the Polls giving his decision, was a most unheard-of proceeding. It was the 20th clause of the Bill which proposed that the sum disallowed by the Auditor should be paid out of the rates. The 21st clause, so far as he could understand, proposed that the Metropolitan Board of Works should have power to impose similar charges in future, for it relieved the Members of the Board of Works from all personal liability for any act whatever done by the direction of the Board, and the 22nd clause, which consisted of six sub-sections, gave an appeal to the Board from the decision of the Auditor to the Court of Queen's Bench; and by the fifth clause an alternative appeal to the Secretary of State. He (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) had gone into this matter with the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board (Colonel Hogg), who had met him, he must say, in the most frank, fair and straightforward manner, and had immediately agreed that this alternative appeal to the Secretary of State should be given up in toto, and that the power of appeal given by the 22nd clause should be extended to every ratepayer in the Metropolis, so as to give the same rights to ratepayers against the Board, as it now gave to the Board against the ratepayers. The Chairman of the Board had also agreed to give up the 21st Clause entirely, and to insert words at the end of Clause 20 providing— That nothing in this Bill contained shall give any powers to the Metropolitan Board of Works, Vestries, or District Boards to incur expenses and charge thorn to the rates beyond those contained in any existing Acts. Each party to the suit would bear its own costs. The Board saw that they had made a mistake, and he now thanked the Chairman for the honourable way in which he had met him in the matter. The suitors had agreed to the compromise, believing it to be a fair one, and were prepared to withdraw from the suit in Chancery. Under these circumstances he trusted that the House would allow him to withdraw the Amendment of which he had given Notice. At the same time, he wished to point out the practical inconvenience of which this Bill was a fresh instance, of mixing up heterogeneous matters in an "omnibus" Bill, and of incorporating important public legislation in what was only a Private Bill.


also bore testimony to the very fair manner in which the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works had agreed to strike out all that was most objectionable in that part of the Bill to which the noble Lord had referred, and especially that portion of it which appeared to give power to impose on the rates in future expenditure similar to that which the Auditor had disallowed. It had also been agreed that Clause 22 should be modified, so as to give a fair and equal right of appeal to the Court of Queen's Bench both to the ratepayers and to the Board against the decision of the Auditor. He was, on the whole, satisfied with the agreement that had been come to, and therefore thought the noble Lord had exercised wise discretion in not moving his Amendment.


said, he objected to that part of the Bill which related to Finsbury Park, and had no other course but to oppose the Bill altogether. He objected to that part of the Bill, because, as described in the "title," it contained powers nominally to make a road "near" Finsbury Park, when, in fact, it proposed to make an encroachment on the limited area of 126 acres set apart for the public. He had no other means of protecting his constituents but to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. The word "near" meant outside, not inside, and in this respect the Bill was delusive. If the House overlooked measures with deceptive and misleading titles like the present, he should like to be informed where they would come to in a short time. This was by no means a new question. It had been fought before both in the last and the preceding Parliament. It would be a gross and a glaring injustice if the Bill wore allowed to pass in its present form. The road which the Board of Works sought powers to make was through a portion of the Park, and not, as the Bill would lead people to believe, near its boundary. He hoped the House would support his Amendment and negative the second reading.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. W. M. Torrens.)


asked the House not to refuse to give a second reading to the Bill. With regard to the word "near" used in the title of the Bill, and objected to by the hon. Member for Finsbury as deceptive and misleading, he would beg to point out that a Bill was not construed only by its title, and he would assure the House that in framing that title the Metropolitan Board of Works had no intention to deceive or mislead Parliament or the public. He trusted that the Bill would be permitted to go before a Select Committee and be tried in duo form. Being an "omnibus" Bill this was all the more essential, inasmuch as apart altogether from the question of the Finsbury Park Road, the measure was designed to deal with other important matters, such as the inclusion of the South Hornsey district in the metropolitan system of sewage, and the improvement at Newington Butts, where a church was to be removed and the thoroughfare widened. The Metropolitan Board had no wish to take away from Finsbury Park any portion of the ground of which it was originally proposed that it should consist. By the Act of 1857, 116 acres were set apart for the Park, out of which 20 were allotted for building ground; but, instead of building on those 20 acres, the Board decided on having them thrown into the Park He might add that the Bill of 1857 was opposed in the strongest manner by certain landowners, to whom concessions had to be made. The Board gave them rights of way through the Park; but the landowners who had pasture-lands to the west and north insisted on the Park being kept open by night as well as by day. Now, in the daytime it was found very inconvenient by the women and children who frequented the Park that cattle should be driven through it at all sorts of hours; while during the night cases of immorality were frequent—he could give an idea of the extent of this evil by the statement that there had been about 40 cases of prosecution within the last 12 months. The road now proposed skirting the Park on the northern and western sides, would not only be a great convenience to the neighbourhood, but would help, by providing a more direct and better lighted access, and by enabling the gates to be closed at night, to diminish those cases of immorality which had been so much complained of. That was an evil which the Board deemed it to be their duty to use their best exertions to remove, and the whole ground which would be taken away from the enjoyment of the public in order to secure that object would not be more than four and a-half acres. As to the question of the construction of seats in Hyde Park and the Holborn Viaduct on the occasion of Thanksgiving Day, and the disallowance of the expenses by the Auditor, he could assure the House that the Metropolitan Board of Works had never proposed to themselves to erect any structures upon ground outside their own jurisdiction. He would state exactly what the facts were. Previous to the Thanksgiving Day it was notified to the Board that Her Majesty intended to return along the Embankment, and they, as the local authority, had to consider what it became them to do on such an occasion. After due deliberation the Board decided to erect seats, not for themselves as had been stated, for they had places in St. Paul's, but for the accommodation of members of vestries, and district boards. Contracts were entered into, the timber was on the ground, and the work actually begun when it was notified that, the route had been changed. Under these circumstances great disappointment would have been caused, and a considerable sum of money wasted, had not Mr. Ayrton, the First Commissioner of Works, kindly offered a site in Hyde Park which was gladly accepted, and the stands were transferred to Hyde Parle from the Embankment. He thought the Metropolitan Board of Works had ample precedents for what they had done. He held a list of 10 in his hand, but would only mention three. In 1863, when the Princess of Wales, then the Princess Alexandra, made her triumphant entry into London, seats of a similar character to those which had been disallowed were erected. The expenditure on that occasion was allowed by the Auditor, and no one made any objection. Again, in 1865, on the opening of the Sewage Works, in the presence of the Prince of Wales and Members of both Houses of the Legislature, and in 1870, when the Victoria Embankment was opened by His Royal Highness, seats were erected, and the Auditor then also allowed the expenses. No doubt the Auditor had disallowed the expenditure incurred on the occasion of Thanksgiving Day, and a few ratepayers thought it their duty to put the Metropolitan Board of Works in Chancery for the purpose of compelling them to pay the amount out of their own pockets. But, in the face of the House of Commons, he said it was not fair to so mulct a body of gentlemen who had devoted their time and talent gratuitously to the public concerns, and with what success those who looked at what had been done throughout London for the last 16 years would be able to judge. Perhaps, misled by the precedents, the Metropolitan Board had erred in this expenditure: perhaps, on the other hand, the Auditor—a most honourable man-had erred in disallowing it, and what the Bill proposed was that for the future where the Auditor disallowed any amount there should be an appeal to the Court of Queen's Bench. If the Bill went before a Committee, the Board of Works would be prepared to go fairly into the discussion of that question; but they determined boldly to come before the House of Commons, in the confident hope that, if they had erred in following precedent in this matter they should not appeal in vain to it, not to permit the error of the body to be turned into an injustice to the members.


pointed out that, with regard to the proposed new road at Pins-bury Park, there was a serious discrepancy between the clause in the Bill and the details of the plan. Instead of skirting the Park, it appeared from the plan that the road would go straight through it, and would consequently take away a great portion of the laud which otherwise would belong to the Park. An inaccuracy of this description ought, at all events, to be removed before the Bill was allowed to pass the second reading. There had already been a good deal of land taken away from the Park. First it had contained 250 acres, then it had dropped down to 116, and afterwards 20 more had been taken away. Taking this melancholy position of the Park into consideration, he thought the House should, as far as possible, protect the public from the course which the Metropolitan Board of Works was now taking.


said, the proposed road was described in the Bill as "near" and as "skirting Finsbury Park on the northern and western sides;" whereas, when he came to look at the plans, he found that it encroached very considerably on the Park, destroying two cricket grounds which to the great advantage of the neighbourhood at present existed. A very strong feeling prevailed in Finsbury against this encroachment. It was mite unnecessary to make a new road; for if the present one were properly fenced and lighted a great deal would be done to check the immorality unfortunately existing in the Park, and thus one of the chief objects in view would be met. For his own part, he should give the Bill every opposition in his power.


said, he hoped that, after the expression of opinion which had been elicited from both sides of the House, the objection to the second reading of the Bill would not be pressed. It was necessary that some forbearance should be shown by hon. Members who objected to particular parts of the Bill, in order that the passing of others to which no objection was made might not be jeopardized. Surely, the most convenient course would be to have the Bill considered by a Committee, which could have the various plans before it to which reference had been made, and without which the House could hardly arrive at a satisfactory solution of the different questions involved. He saw no reason to fear that the Metropolitan Board of Works Mould not act in a considerate spirit with regard to parts of the Bill that might be found to be objectionable. The House should, at the same time, bear in mind that while the Metropolitan Board had engaged to withdraw some of the provisions to which objection had been raised, there was nothing to bind the Committee from striking out any of the remaining clauses if they should think proper. As to the new road to which reference had been made, he thought there was a great deal to be said in its favour, It would be the means of withdrawing from the Park the general traffic which rendered it necessary to keep the present road open during the night, and if this result were obtained it would be possible to take steps that would promote decency and propriety in the Park. Perhaps the correct description of the proposed road was not that it skirted the Park, or ran through it, but that it passed through the skirts of the Park. This matter, like others, could be satisfactorily investigated in Committee after the second reading. He trusted the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Torrens) would not press his Amendment.

Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed.