HC Deb 22 February 1878 vol 238 cc142-52

Order for Second Reading read.


, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that in its main provisions it was most virtually confined to a very simple object—to enable the high authorities of Govan to take and turn to account a number of small strips of waste and common land scattered about the burgh; many of them in the middle of the town, and which, in their present state, were not only actually waste, but were a deformity of the burgh. The Bill proposed that the authorities of the burgh should have power to turn these pieces of waste land to account, and to lay them out as ornamental grounds, or to sell them and apply the produce to the creation of a public park, which would be a benefit to Govan and the neighbourhood. That object was an object which he thought was in strict conformity with the powers conferred upon the burgh Commissioners by the general Act under which they were constituted. The Bill had certainly undergone considerable alterations since it was first introduced, for originally it was an Omnibus Bill embracing several objects. In consequence, however, of the opposition of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate, these other provisions had been withdrawn, and the Bill now simply stood with the provision he had just explained, and another in regard to the regulations of the traffic upon the tramways. Personally, he gave up those other provisions with regret, although he admitted there was some force in the objection which had been raised against them. In the first place, they proposed to extend to the burgh of Govan the provisions of the general Act with regard to the extension of boundaries, and also to increase the number of Commissioners, so as to enable them to discharge the onerous duties now resulting from the increase of the burgh itself. He readily admitted the force of the objection which was made by the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate, that it was inexpedient to deal in a private Bill with questions that were affected by the general Act. That principle, however, he was afraid might be strained too far; and, considering the dead-lock at which our legislation had arrived, and the difficulty of passing a general Bill, some indulgence ought to be allowed to those who attempted to legislate in a private Bill for the public benefit. However, he advised the promoters of the Bill not to sacrifice a valuable object for the sake of other objects which were regarded as objectionable, and which might give rise to discussion. Opposition had also been notified by the authorities of the city of Glasgow, and there was also an important Petition against the Bill from the Trustees of the Clyde Navigation. He held in his hand a letter from the agents of those two bodies stating, that in consequence of the withdrawal of the objectionable provisions, they had decided not to offer any opposition to the present stage of the Bill. Therefore, the Bill stood upon the Papers up to the previous day as an unopposed measure; but his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) now came forward, and said—"I have some objections to urge to the Bill." But for that unexpected opposition, there had been every reason to expect that the Bill would have passed the second reading without a division. Until he know upon what grounds the opposition of his hon. Friend was to be offered, he was perfectly in the dark. Inasmuch, however, as the authorities concerned, and all those who felt an interest in the matter, and who notified opposition to the Bill in the first instance, owing to the impression that their property in the burgh might be injuriously affected—inasmuch as all these persons had withdrawn their opposition—it remained for his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow to show the House some reason why he was induced to take a stop which, if successful, would remove the Bill from the investigation of an ordinary Select Committee—a tribunal quite capable of dealing with any interest which might be affected. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

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


said, that his hon. Friend (Sir Edward Colobrooke) had stated that he was quite in the dark as to the cause of his (Mr. Anderson's) opposition to the Bill. On that he would endeavour to enlighten him. His hon. Friend had also stated that the authorities of the city of Glasgow had withdrawn their opposition to the measure. On certain conditions they had withdrawn their opposition to the Bill at that stage; but in no sense had they withdrawn their extreme dislike to the measure, and to all Bills of this character. "While he admitted that it was an exceptional thing to reject a Bill on the second reading, he thought he should be able to show that there were in this case strong and valid reasons for adopting that course. The burgh of Go van, which had attempted to get through this Bill, was one of those burghs which had been constituted under the general Police Act of Scotland. That Act was intended to enable centres of population to establish for themselves police powers and jurisdiction. But if it had been contemplated that the Act was to be used in the way in which it had been used, he doubted very much whether Parliament would ever have passed it. It had been used in a most objectionable way in centres of population, which were in no sense self-dependent populations, to make clusters of small burghs around great towns. Glasgow had suffered very much from this cause. They had become completely hemmed in by a number of small parasite burghs, who really fed upon them, lived upon them, who were immediately around them, and were mostly, but not all, non-industrial centres. In this one there was some industry going on, but most of them were not industrial centres. They were chiefly residential centres, and men who derived their whole income from Glasgow lived outside Glasgow, con- tinuing to reap all the benefits of the taxation of Glasgow while escaping any corresponding contribution. In these small burghs the expense of police was very small, indeed, because, they depended upon Glasgow in the case of ah emergency. If a large fire broke out in any of them, they were utterly powerless to put it out without the assistance of the Glasgow fire brigade. In case of a riot, they depended entirely upon the Glasgow police, for they had no police sufficient to quell any considerable disturbance. Altogether, this was a description of burgh which had to be tolerated, seeing that it was perfectly legal under the Act, but which ought not to be encouraged by the House, except where it sprung from a self-supporting centre of inhabitants, whose industry created and maintained them within the burgh itself. This particular burgh came to that House now for the purpose of escaping from the general Act which created it, and of actually arrogating to itself, by means of a private Bill, all the powers and privileges appertaining to Royal burghs. That was so preposterous an idea that it could not be entertained for one moment by the Government, and that part of the Bill they saw at once it was necessary to abandon. And when those clauses were abandoned, there remained not a great deal of the Bill, but what did remain was very bad. The principal part was, as the hon. Baronet had explained, to enable the promoters to appropriate what they were pleased to call certain "common lands," and to appropriate, also, some money lying in the bank. But neither those "common lands," nor the money lying in the bank, belonged to them; yet they wanted to take these common lands, and to take this money which belonged to others, and to appropriate them to the uses of the Police Commissioners of the burgh of Govan. Now, under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, there was a special arrangement for common lands, and some years ago a part of these common lands was bought by the Clyde Navigation Trustees; and as the Commissioners could not give a title to the land, and as the feuars could not give a title as a third party, the heritors of the parish also claimed them. Under the general Act the money was deposited in a bank, and the general Act provided that the Court of Session should direct to whom the money was to go in such cases. The remaining clauses in the Bill were thus to supersede a general Act, which provided for cases of that kind, and to ask the House to deal with the common lands and with the money under such circumstances, just as if no such Act existed. These Police Commissioners could have no claim to the land. It was not as yet known who it belonged to, or to whom the money belonged. Certain parties claimed them as being the heritors of the parish. If that claim was good, it belonged not to the small burgh of Govan, but to the whole of the parish of Govan, which was an enormously large parish. If their claim was not good, then it belonged to the original feuars of Govan, who were a comparatively small body of poor men mostly. And if the Commissioners went to the Court of Session to get it decided by a declaratory action, which it was competent for them to do, the decision would be arrived at at infinitely less expense than it could be by fighting the question before a Committee of that House. Everybody knew what the expense was of fighting a private Bill before a Committee of that House. It was proposed by that Bill to bring a number of very poor people up from Glasgow to fight for their rights, when, at the same time, there was an Act of Parliament in existence under which it ought to be dealt with by the Court of Session. The promoters of the Bill wanted to override that Act, and, on pain of forfeiting their rights, to bring these poor men to London to defend them. This was the strong ground on which he opposed the Bill. It had been represented to him by the feuars of Govan that they could not come to London to fight the Bill, and that they would otherwise be simply robbed of their rights; whereas if they proceeded in accordance with the Statute by trying a declaratory action, this Bill would, be entirely unnecessary. There was one other clause remaining in the Bill which he might refer to, because his hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire had not alluded to it. In his view, he thought it was a still more objectionable clause—he meant the Costs Clause. The Bill had now become a very small one—so small, that it was not worth while for the Commissioners to fight for it at all if it were not for this fact—that if the Bill were carried, even with only that one clause in it, it would be possible for the Commissioners to throw the whole Parliamentary expense of getting the Bill upon the ratepayers, which they certainly ought not to have the power to do; but which, if they passed any part of it, they would have. In the interest of the ratepayers of Govan, he objected to Parliament enabling these Commissioners to saddle the ratepayers with the expense of getting this Bill, which, in the form it was now reduced to, was utterly and completely unnecessary. He understood that the Bill was really promoted only by the clerk of the burgh and certain Commissioners, and that it would benefit nobody but themselves. For these reasons, and because he thought that if the burgh of Govan were to be allowed powers of this kind it would prejudice the ultimate good of Glasgow, the neighbouring city, he should oppose the second reading of the Bill.


said, he wished to point out to the House one point which had not been adverted to. He was sure that his opposition to the Bill had nothing to do with the general opposition to the measure, for he had heard nothing in regard to the Bill except what he had heard in the course of the debate. His hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) said the Bill originally proposed that Govan should take to itself all the privileges possessed by Royal burghs; but that such a proposal was so inadmissible that the clauses had been struck out at the instance of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate. Now, he desired to call the attention of the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means to a part of the Bill which still remained, and which he thought was much more objectionable than anything which had been struck out. It altered the general law of Scotland in regard to the letting and feuing of land of any kind whatever. By the law of Scotland, no Royal burgh could let for more than one year any bit of land, however small, except by public auction; and no Royal burgh could feu any quantity as a site for a house except by public auction. That law was established by an Act passed about the year 1820, known in Scotland as Sir William Rae's Act, Sir William Rae being the then Lord Advocate. He wished to call the attention of the hon. Gentleman to the part of the Clause 14, from line 10 to line 13, enabling the promoters to dispose of the land—to sell, exchange, feu, set, or let on lease such, other portions of the said commons as they may-think fit, either publicly or by private bargain. That was contrary to the law of Scotland, and the law was established for good and sufficient reasons; because parts of the property of the burghs had been a fore-times so jobbed as to reduce the burghs almost to the condition of paupers. The effect, however, since that time had been to preserve all existing rights. He could speak of his own knowledge that, at least for more than 40 years, no one bit of land in the Royal burgh of Edinburgh had been sold or feued except by public auction. Then the clause went on to say that the produce of the feudities and rents received for the same should be laid out in the purchase of such other lands as the Commissioners might think suitable, to be set apart and used, along with any lands which they might obtain in exchange for any portion of the said commons, as a public park or recreation- ground for the use and benefit of the inhabitants of the burgh. And then came in a very insidious passage at the conclusion of the clause— Clause 14—which was worthy of the notice of the House— And may lay out, maintain, manage, and regulate the said roads, pleasure-grounds, and park, or recreation-ground, and make and enforce bye-laws with respect to the use [thereof; or may apply the said prices, feu, duties, rent, and interest in such other manner as they may judge best for the use and benefit of the inhabitants of the burgh. Public parks seemed to catch the eye, but the concluding lines of the clause gave the Commissioners complete power to deal with the money as they thought fit. For these reasons, he thought the Bill ought not to be read a second time. He was quite sure that if the attention of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate had been called to this clause, he would never have allowed it to stand.


said, he had intended to oppose the Bill on its second reading, both upon general grounds, and in deference to the interests of the city of Glasgow, he should have moved the curtailment of the provisions of a very pretentious Bill, which was entirely wrong in principle. Indeed, it was held out that it was in- tended to annex Glasgow, instead of Glasgow, one day, annexing it, But since Notice was given of opposition by the hon. Member for Glasgow, the promoters had been before the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means, and they had agreed to withdraw from the Bill all the objectionable clauses. He understood that his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow had opposed the Bill entirely in the interests of Glasgow, but now he seemed to oppose it in the interests of the people of Govan itself. They all knew that the Commissioners of Govan could not have come before the House without having first obtained the consent of the inhabitants of Govan. But the Bill still had another opponent. The hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) found out some flaws in the Bill, but surely it was not possible to deal with them here. The alterations could be made before a Committee of that House. He agreed very much with what his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow had said with reference to those little ulcers in the immediate neighbourhood of Glasgow, and he hoped the day was not far distant when these little burghs would be absorbed in the Royal burgh of Glasgow. But so long as Govan was a separate district, so long as there were Commissioners of Govan, surely they were entitled to come to that House for powers to improve the place; and this was a very great improvement, to sell a number of small bits of land which they said they had a right to. If they had no right to it, the Committee would soon ascertain and decide the point. If they had a right to it, then, he thought, they ought to sell these small bits, in order to realize sufficient to enable the burgh to have one large park. Now, if Govan were united to Glasgow, it would be an advantage to the people to have a large park for the recreation of the people. He hoped, therefore, that his hon. Friend opposite would allow the Bill to pass its second reading.


I confess, Sir, that I think the House has been put to some little inconvenience by the course taken by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson), although he is unquestionably quite within his own right with regard to this Bill. The Bill has been for some time deferred, owing, as we have been told, to certain objections taken to the measure by the learned Lord Advocate on behalf of the Government. These objections have been considered by the promoters, and they have been met. In the course of this week, when the Bill was upon the Paper for coming on to-day, the parties offered to see me, and we met and went into the rights and wrongs of this question, which they discussed very fully, and, I think, very ably. At the conclusion of that discussion, I received a communication from the agents who opposed the Bill, stating that it was their intention not to persevere in opposing the Bill as it now stands. Therefore, I can imagine that the promoters, being satisfied with that assurance, are as much surprised as I am to find that the hon. Member for Glasgow continues to persist in the Notice which he had previously given to oppose the Bill at the present stage. Of course, the hon. Member for Glasgow is justified in taking any course which he thinks proper; but I cannot but think that he has to, a certain degree, taken his opponents at a disadvantage in this matter. I do not know whether the House has followed the remarks of hon. Members closely. If the question is one of considerable technical difficulty, I am bound to say that I do not think it is one raising any question of principle, as far as I can judge from the speeches of hon. Members, which can make it desirable to oppose it at this stage. The original proposition in the Bill, when first brought in, was to raise the police burgh of Govan, practically, to a Royal burgh, and to invest it with all the privileges which attach to a Royal burgh. That was the part of the Bill to which the learned Lord Advocate objected, as he considered that it was not desirable to deal with matters of that sort in a private Bill. Wherefore, that part of the Bill had been dropped, and what is now before the House is really a very small proposal—firstly, to give these police magistrates of Govan a certain control and jurisdiction over cab drivers and omnibus drivers which they do not at present possess; and, secondly, to give them certain rights over some common land, and some money which has been paid by the Clyde Trustees for the purchase of the common lands. I daresay that some of those hon. Members who take an interest in the question of commons may suspect that there is some possibility of those sacred territories being invaded in this case. I can assure the House that, after having seen the plans, with the piece of common land referred to in the Bill, that it consists of merely very small fringes—pieces of very narrow strips of land—perfectly useless for any public purpose of recreation; and the object of the promoters of the Bill is to sell these strips of land, and acquire the funds which may enable them to provide recreation-grounds for the benefit of the people of Govan. The only question is as to the precise title of the promoters of the Bill to do this. The hon. Member for Glasgow says that they are not the persons representing the people of Govan in the matter; but I hold in my hand a copy of the resolution passed at Govan on the 19th December, 1867. It says, in effect, this— A public meeting of the feuars and inhabitants of Govan, convened by printed handbill and the public crier, to be held at the above time and place. The first resolution was that— The Provost, and magistrates, and commissioners of the burgh of Govan, and their successors in office, may henceforth promote, on behalf of the feuars and inhabitants, a scheme for improving the roads and commons in the burgh, and especially take advice so as to protect and watch over their interests in the application to Parliament of the Clyde Trustees for the purchase of these lands. And, further, it was resolved— That the Provost and commissioners of the burgh, on behalf of the feuars and inhabitants, take measures to promote next Session a Bill vesting the whole of such commons in the magistrates and the commissioners of the whole burgh of Govan in the public interests, and entitle them to receive £2,800 and the interest thereon agreed by the Clyde Trustees to he paid. Well, I do not know why that Bill was not carried through then; but it appears that the inhabitants of Govan empowered these Commissioners to act upon their behalf in this matter. They come before this House, now a few years afterwards, when the sum of money is somewhat increased; and it may be regarded as something rather like covetousness on the part of the great neighbouring city of Glasgow to now oppose it. I hope the House will see that the real question is one which can be more fitly gone into by the Committee upstairs; and if the Bill goes to a Committee, the hon. Member for Glasgow can still have his opportunity of raising his objections. I hope he will not go to a division after what I have said; but if he does, I shall vote for the second reading of the Bill.


said, he only desired to say with regard to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson), that the Commissioners had now power to go before the Court of Session, and that they must come to Parliament and promote the Bill to attain their object.


I must remind the hon. Baronet that he has already spoken on the subject.


I beg your pardon, Sir, I thought an Amendment had been moved.


On the understanding, Sir, that I may take the objection at some future stage, I will withdraw my opposition.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed.

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