HC Deb 04 June 1880 vol 252 cc1201-17

rose to call attention to the present position of the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain, and to the desirability, in view of affording increased facilities for the transfer of land, of the immediate completion of that Survey. Now, the Survey had not yet been finished, and if it were worth finishing at all, it was desirable, he contended, that it should be completed as soon as possible, according to the last Report presented, which came down to the 31st December, 1878. Turning to that Report, he found that it was the opinion of practical surveyors that the Survey, on what was termed the 25-inch scale, was adequate for all practical purposes; and there could be no doubt that they were a great convenience to the landowners of those counties for which they had been published, and that, altogether, 31,380 square miles, out of a total area of 50,000 miles in England and Wales, had been mapped on that scale. But his object in calling attention to the subject was far wider. The Government had held out to the country the expectation that they would be able to deal with the Land Question in all its branches; and he knew that his right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), whom he saw below him, was anxious to give facilities for the acquisition of small properties. Now, the real difficulty in the way of the operation of all the Land Transfer Bills—such as those of Lord Cairns— which had been proposed was the question of the identity of the land with which it was intended to deal; whereas, if an authoritative map, containing a description of the land, could be consulted, the difficulty would, to a great extent, be removed, and half the battle would be won. Every other nation in Europe had a cadastral map; and if we possessed a cadastral map upon the scale indicated, which should be accessible, at a small cost, to anyone who chose to go to an authorized office to look at a plot of land offered for sale, all those visits which were now paid to the property, for the purpose of ascertaining its metes and bounds, would be dispensed with, and the transference of the plot of land be made as simple as the transfer of a ship. This Ordnance Survey had been going on for over 20 years, and it was calculated that it would go on for 20 years longer, at a cost of something like £100,000 a-year. Now, would it not be better, he would ask, to grant a lump sum once for all, and have the work done quickly? There was no doubt it could be completed in three or four years at the most, if the Government only chose to supply the necessary means. It would be not only a great advantage to landowners, but would effect a real and substantial improvement in the system of land transfer, and with little trouble might be made to show by whom the land was owned. He begged to move— That it is expedient that provision he made for the immediate completion of the Ordnance Survey of England and Wales.


seconded the Motion. His opinion, founded on practical knowledge, was that the work might be completed in four years, or in five at most. He believed, too, that the work would really cost less if done quickly than if dawdled over, while its advantages, which every purchaser of land in a county where the Survey had been completed could appreciate, would be experienced immediately. He suggested that in the mining districts of North Wales the scale of the Ordnance Survey maps should be so adjusted as to admit of ready comparison with that of the plans of the seams of coal and iron.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the -words "it is expedient that provision be made for the immediate completion of the Ordnance Survey of England and Wales,"—(Sir Henry Jackson,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he represented one of the counties which had been for the last two years undergoing the process of being surveyed. In the spring of 1878 the Ordnance Survey sent their men down to the county in question and put up a large number of poles with flags on them; but nothing had been done since, and now most of the flags had been blown off the poles. If they were to wait another 24 years before this Survey was completed the process of surveying would have to be begun again—so many new roads were being constantly made, new fences planted, new railroads constructed, and new buildings erected; so that by that time the surface of the earth would be considerably changed. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would see his way to completing the Ordnance Survey in the course of the next four or five years.


pointed out that there would be a continual return for this outlay, which, therefore, ought not to be regarded as money thrown away. In some eases, non-commissioned officers engaged on the Survey had been taken away for all sorts of other Government purposes. The staff being thus reduced, it was, of course, impossible to go on with the Survey at a proper rate of progress. It was very important to have the boundaries of parishes properly defined, as in his own county difficulties had arisen by reason of there being no authoritative map which could be appealed to in case of dispute. He hoped the example of their friends in Scotland would be followed, and that this important improvement would be carried out without delay.


said, that for a long time this question had been annually pressed on the attention of different Governments during the discussion of the Estimates. Last year his right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland (Mr. Gerard Noel) said 17 years must elapse before the Survey could be completed. Why could they not vote £300,000 a-year for this work, and complete it during the next six years? It was a home concern, and one essential to the well-being of the people— especially at a time when so much was said about affording facilities for the sale of land. He had known many small proprietors who had had to pay considerable sums to valuers for making plans of their property; whereas, if the Ordnance map had been completed, the land might have been much more cheaply identified and transferred. No one could go through any district without seeing that vast changes were being effected on the surface of the land; and it was desirable, on that account, that there should be no further delay in the completion of the Survey. He trusted his right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works, who had on different occasions displayed so much energy, would turn his serious attention to this important subject.


said, that in the county he represented the want of this Survey was severely felt. In those counties which had been surveyed there was less litigation in regard to boundaries than was the case elsewhere. He could say, from his own experience, that there was a general desire for the Survey. Assessment committees were sometimes unable to determine within 100 acres or so how much land a farmer held; and there were cases in which the boundaries of parishes were not accurately known. He would not discuss the relation of the Survey to the transfer of land; but it would probably do more to facilitate that transfer than many Bills that might be brought before the House. This was one of the few questions on which there seemed to be no idea of grudging the cost; and, considering the numerous useful purposes which would be served by a completed Survey, he earnestly trusted that it would be proceeded with without further delay.


said, that no one who took an interest in the question of land reform could doubt the importance of a satisfactory Survey, without which the transfer of land could not possibly be facilitated. Having from time to time put Questions as to the progress of the Survey, he had come to the conclusion that the scheme had hitherto been hampered for want of ways and means; and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. Adam) would make a raid upon the Treasury in search of sufficient funds. It had always been said that it was difficult to obtain a sufficient staff of surveyors; but he believed that, if adequate funds were forthcoming, that difficulty would be surmounted—especially as it was always easy enough to engage surveyors for the most extensive railway undertakings. He might ask what efforts had been made to procure a sufficient staff for the Survey? Had any advertisement ever been issued asking for competent surveyors? It was the duty of the Government to show by their actions that they were doing all that they could to obtain efficient persons. He had no doubt that the Chief Commissioner of Works would recognize the want as one that ought, if possible, to be supplied.


said, it was very agreeable to find the House for once absolutely unanimous. He could assure hon. Members that the Government willingly recognized the importance of the Survey, and wished, if they could, to accelerate its progress. The hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Sir Henry Jackson) had spoken of the rate at which the Survey had gone on. He might mention that this year the number of square miles already surveyed amounted to 32,915, the area surveyed during the year 1879 being 1,577 square miles. It was to be remembered that the surveyors had a great deal of other work to do besides the actual survey, and that their services in connection with many of the Public Offices prevented the employment of the whole staff on the Ordnance Survey. The hon. and learned Member for Coventry had always been an enthusiast on the question, and had done good service on the Committee that had been presided over by the present Judge Advocate General (Mr. Osborne Morgan) by putting questions to the Lord Chancellor and other witnesses of which the effect had been to elicit the great importance, from a legal point of view, of an adequate survey. He himself would not discuss the matter from that point of view, but would speak of it only as far as it affected his own Department. The hon. and learned Gentleman was led too far when he was led to believe that the mere money question would have the effect of hastening the Survey. The Government wished to see the Survey completed as quickly as possible; but it was not merely a question of money. They agreed with the words of the Resolution, and wished they could adopt it; but, considering the difficulty of finding skilled labour, could not accept it in its entirety. It would be for the convenience of the House that he should state the present position of the Survey and the means of accelerating its progress. Hon. Members were aware that the Survey of England had originally been begun on a one-inch scale, and many of the Southern counties had been surveyed on that principle; afterwards a six-inch scale had been adopted; and, finally for the counties, surveyed at first on the small scale, a scale of 25 inches had been employed. On that latter scale the Midland districts and the South Eastern counties had been surveyed, together with Devonshire, Buckinghamshire, and some others of the Southern counties. Norfolk and Suffolk were now being surveyed; and the map of the latter county, being prepared at the instance of the War Office, would not be long delayed. He was sorry to say that, according to the present rate of progress, the Survey of the whole of England could not be completed before the year 1898. ["Oh!"] He repeated—at the present rate of progress. The extent of country surveyed in each year was about 950,000 acres; and as there were ten divisions under the Survey Department, the average rate of working in each was about 100,000 acres a-year. At that rate, as he had said, he was afraid that the Survey could not be completed before 1898; but he trusted that some measures might be taken to increase the rapidity of the operation. The great difficulty was in getting skilled labour for the Survey; therefore, he could not hold out any great hope of its expansion. It was sometimes said that there was nothing that money could not do. Even if he were granted £500,000 to make a sudden expansion of the Survey, it would hardly be possible for him to do it. The present annual grant for the Ordnance Survey was £133,500, and the annual amount available—after deducting certain special expenses—for the direction of the work was £113,000. The different directors of the Survey had successively given their opinion that even with additional grants the absence of a sufficient amount of skilled and special labour would always impede the work, and that they did not see their way to obtain such special and skilled labour. Years would have to elapse before civil servants could be trained to the work. This opinion, which had been endorsed by the present head of the Department, whom he had consulted on the matter, was expressed by the late General Cameron in the following terms:— I do not think it would be possible to complete the Survey of the whole of England and Wales in nine years. There would be great difficulty in obtaining the additional number of Sappers which would be required, for we cannot get a sufficient number of eligible men for the Survey at present, owing to which the strength of the Survey Companies has been for many years below the Establishment—and, supposing even the number of men to be forthcoming, years must elapse before they could attain to the Survey experience and efficiency of the present force. The number of civil assistants could, no doubt, be increased more readily; but, as in the case of the Sappers, the new employés would have to be trained, as no sensible numbers of trained men can ever be obtained from outside, and the process of training requires considerable time, especially in some of the branches of the Survey—the engraving, for instance. I do not think, therefore, that even if the annual votes for the Survey were increased considerably, the period of completion could be accelerated more than three or four years. It would entail considerable additional expense to attempt any further saving of time beyond this, and might lead to very unsatisfactory results. (Signed)"J. CAMERON, Lt. General. 19th May, 1878. An examination of all the circumstances appeared to him to make it very difficult to give any promise that the Survey could be advanced as rapidly as his hon. and learned Friend (Sir Henry Jackson) wished. The Government was most anxious to advance the Survey, and he should report the matter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the view of getting an increased grant to do as much as could be done. Even if that additional grant were given, he was still afraid they must not expect the Survey finished in the rapid way that many hon. Gentlemen seemed to expect. The matter would have the close attention of the Government, and no effort would be wanting to try to bring the Survey to a completion.


said, the House was greatly indebted to the hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Sir Henry Jackson) for bringing this subject under the consideration of the House, and also for the favourable response it had met with. What his hon. and learned Friend urged was that this Survey, which was one of the greatest benefits that civilized Governments could confer on civilized nations, should be proceeded with as rapidly as possible. When the cadastral Survey of England was commenced, we had been the only civilized country in Europe that had not one before that. His hon. and learned Friend had got the usual stereotyped answer—the answer which, perhaps, our Representative who had gone as Special Ambassador to Constantinople would receive from the Turk—"Non possumus" —and his right hon. Friend had rather chosen to put his "Non possumus" on the score of want of skilled labour than of liberality. The right hon. Gentleman had rather horrified the House when he told them that, at the present rate, the Survey would not be completed till 18 years hence. In the first place, he had told them that all the money in the world could not hasten the operations; but later on, and warming with his subject, he had said that, at any rate, he could somehow or other, even without spending money, reduce it by three or four or even six years. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman would seriously dispute that if the grant were increased to half as much again, in due course of time— although, perhaps, not next year or the next—the work would be soon completed. The answer given by the right hon. Gentleman amounted simply to this —that the Government admitted the importance of the question, but were not inclined to increase the Civil Service Estimates by adding largely to the Vote. One hon. Member (Mr. Rowley Hill) had referred to Scotland, and said that England should press this question on the Government in the same way as Scotland had done, whereby they had secured a complete Survey before England. He wished, as a Scotchman, to explain the real history of the matter to the hon. Member, in order to show him what a long-suffering and patient race the Scotch were, and what injustice they had put up with. The whole of England, with the exception of the six Northern counties, was surveyed before a sapper had done anything in Scotland. This led to a Commission being appointed in 1851 to consider the subject of a Scotch Survey, and at that time they were disposed to be content if they could get only a one-inch map, as the whole country up to that period was quite unsurveyed. It was deemed advisable to have a six-inch map also; but the Commission condemned the six-inch map, and then the question had to be re-considered when his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) was Chancellor of the Exchequer. His right hon. Friend was then a Liberal-Conservative, and so was he. They were both in Lord Aberdeen's Government. He, happily in his stupidity, had remained pretty much what he was, not having been able with his limited vision to see those lights which constantly broke on the vision of his right hon. Friend. However, at that time his right hon. Friend, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, referred the matter to him, and in considering what should be done, the best advice was called in by the Treasury, and they came to the conclusion that a great error had been committed originally in not having had a proper cadastral Survey at the time of the Tithe Commutation Acts. The most important question was that of the scale on which the maps were to be, whether it should be one of 26 inches or of 25 inches to the mile. He fully agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Coventry that the question was one of great importance in connection with the transfer of land, and he hoped that the House would press the subject on the Government's attention.


was much disappointed at the answer of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Commissioner of Works, in which he thought there was "as much won't as can't." The right hon. Gentleman had said there was great difficulty in getting skilled labour. But if more money were forthcoming, who could doubt that the labour would be forthcoming? They were led to hope that next year a good system of transfer of land would be introduced, and yet the House was told that the Survey would not be completed till 1898. The present system of land transfer was disgraceful to the country; and he had read in a book of Mr. Caird's that the legal expenses attending the transfer of land were equal to a charge of several years' purchase on the land of England. An essential preliminary to a good system of land transfer was that there should be a proper map; and if they had only the courage to start on right principles, and had some person recorded as the freeholder of every acre of land in the country, there could be no difficulty. What was wanted was more courage, so that difficulties might be overcome, not avoided by doing nothing and saying that nothing could be done. He was astonished to hear about 1898. One could hardly believe one was living in the 19th century, when one heard, after working at this Survey for 25 years, they were to wait 18 years more for its completion. The fact was that the work ought to be done at a blow, even if that were not possible in some very short space of time; and the House would gladly vote the money instead of wasting time and money in the way things were being done. He trusted that more attention would be given to the matter than had been the case in the time past, for in 1869 almost precisely the same statement had been made by Mr. Ayrton as was now made by the First Commissioner of Works. He thought the thanks of the House were due to the hon. and learned Member for Coventry for bringing the subject before the House.


said, he had not intended to make any observations on the subject; but the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner was so extraordinary, that he felt bound to say that he thought the figures given to the right hon. Gentleman must have been furnished to him by a gentleman who was thoroughly incompetent. In the present age, when it was considered that they had a high class of talent—in fact, he might almost say that they had too much talent—he ventured to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman when he said that it was impossible to get gentlemen who were competent to discharge the duties of completely surveying England. Most hon. Gentlemen would be aware that when a Water Bill or a Gas Bill or a Railway Bill, or any Bill involving large interests, was coming before the Committee, there was any quantity of talent to be obtained both for and against the promoters. The sappers and miners had produced a large number of clever and able men, and many of these men were now in private employment, and their services could be obtained. There was another institution which produced a great number of able men, and that was the Valuation Staff in Ireland, presided over by Sir Richard Griffith, many of them as good men as England had ever seen. He thought there would be no difficulty among those men in obtaining a sufficient amount of talent to survey every county in England. With regard either to buildings or men, there were plenty of either to be had if they were required. He believed that the House was ready, and even anxious, to provide the means for completing so important a work as that under discussion. If they advertised in any county in Ireland for a county surveyor, and the appointment was open to competition, he ventured to say that for a situation worth only from £100 to £400 or £500 a-year there would be hundreds of applicants, and that was sufficient to contradict what the right hon. Gentleman had said about the difficulty of obtaining skilled men. There was another fact which would make them not satisfied with the prospect of the Survey not being completed before 1898. It was that most hon. Gentlemen in the House, and most gentlemen who took an interest in the legislation of the country, agreed that they must have some new land laws and some legislation on the subject, and the beginning of the end of the evil in regard to conveyance of land was a good map. He ventured to say that if the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Department was willing to have the work done, and the House was willing to grant the money, plenty of good men could be found to do the work.


said, that the people of Wales had paid a large sum towards the Survey, and until it was completed they would derive no benefit from it. The counties which had the most active Representatives in that House had been the first to benefit by the Survey, because they had worried the Government. In Wales they had been backward in that respect, and consequently they were punished. It was absurd to say that there was not sufficient men for the work at a time when many surveyors were without employment. He prophesied that if surveyors were advertised for, from 150 to 200 applicants would come forward without delay. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer would give him the requisite sum of money, he would undertake to have the Survey completed in five years. To talk of 18 years as being necessary to its completion was simply childish. Why, more than one-half of them would be dead before then. The most expensive part of the work was finished, as the thinly-populated counties were the only parts of the country now requiring attention. He hoped the First Minister of the Crown would give his attention to this matter, and insist on the work being pressed forward with adequate promptitude.


suggested that the sum required should be raised by the issue of Terminable Annuities and the amount spread over the period of 20 years, which it was said the work would take at its present rate of progress; £100,000 a-year would balance in that time the sum of £2,000,000. That would get rid of the money difficulty; and, no doubt, skilled civilians might be obtained if the money were forthcoming, so that the work could be speedily got through. He hoped the Government would give the House reason to expect that something would be done next year.


said, it was with some regret that he had heard the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adam) explain to the House that the resources of Great Britain were incapable of supplying sufficient strength for completing the Survey of the parts of England yet unsurveyed in less than 18 years. It was a disgrace to the country that such a statement should have to be promulgated. It had already been going on for the last 40 years. The right hon. Gentleman said there were difficulties in the way; but that was always the cry raised by the Departments when any proposal was made to change the system which had hitherto prevailed. Apart from the necessity of having the Survey promptly completed with the view of providing facilities for the transfer of land, he thought there was some reason to complain that, although the Survey of Scotland was completed two and a-half years ago, it appeared that the right hon. Gentleman had no force adequate to complete the engraving of the maps. The money, therefore, which had been expended during many years in completing the Survey of Scotland was wholly unproductive of any good to Scotland, and must remain so till those maps were given to the public. If the right hon. Gentleman had economy in view, he would point out to him that he might expect considerable returns from sales of the maps, if he would only complete them. He thought it was very hard that although the Survey of Scotland was completed two and a-half years ago, the maps of more than three-fourths of the Kingdom were not yet published. He thought nothing more discreditable than that could be conceived. If it was said the resources of Great Britain were not sufficient to complete the Survey and engraving of these maps, then the House of Commons had better not trust to any Department, but advertise for the work being done by contract. If the offer was made to engravers throughout the country to engrave the maps of all Scotland, it would be done at, perhaps, considerably less expense, and in a less number of months than the right hon. Gentleman wanted years. He trusted the"Non possumus" ground of argument adopted by the Government would not prevail, otherwise they would be disgraced in the eyes of foreigners by professing their inability to accomplish a task which only needed energy and attention.


did not wish it to be supposed he had said that the 25-inch map had been completed. He believed there were five counties not yet ready for the engravers.


observed, that according to the Report of the Survey presented to Parliament, the whole of Scotland was completed by the 31st of September 1878.


said, that with regard to the abstract proposition there could be no doubt. Anybody who knew anything about real property law was aware that the difficulty of identifying land was a great obstacle in the way of its cheap and simple transfer, and a really good map would in nine cases out of ten obviate that difficulty. On one occasion within his own experience the identification of a farm which he disposed of was made by means of an Ordnance map, and the entire expense was 4s. 1d. He was perfectly prepared to agree with those who contended that it was of the greatest possible consequence that the cadastral Survey should be pushed on. Without a good map they could not have a good system of land registration and land transfer; but there were practical difficulties in the way of giving effect at once to the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend behind him. The question, after all, was one of money, and if the House wanted to have the thing done it must be prepared to pay for it. For himself, he admitted that, in his opinion, it would be one of the best investments for money which could be found; but to say that it was possible that the Survey could be completed in three or four or five years was, he thought, going too far. He was sure that the House might safely leave the matter in the hands of the Government, than whom nobody could have a greater interest in the completion of the Survey.


also bore testimony as to the value of the Survey, but thought there was a disposition to attach too much importance to the military as distinguished from the civil element, and that if more regard was had to the latter a good deal of the difficulty would disappear. He could confirm all that had been said as to the necessity of completing the map if the transfer of land was to be facilitated. He believed if the First Commissioner of Works were to consult the body of Civil Engineers on the subject, they would put him in the way of finding a sufficient number of competent persons to prosecute the Survey.


referred to what took place in the year of the railway mania, when there was no difficulty experienced by the promoters of several thousand miles of railways in getting a sufficient number of surveyors and engravers to prepare maps that in their accuracy satisfied the Committees of the House. In Canada the Government had had the whole Dominion accurately mapped out. He did not think there would be any difficulty in completing the Survey in a very short time. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer would only provide them with the money, they could soon get it done. It was impossible to overrate its importance, and it was not creditable to this country that it should be so far behind others in this respect. In his opinion, money expended for that purpose would be the best outlay they had had for a long time.


said, that in his own experience he knew of a Welsh county, the Survey of which had been commenced some years ago and then suspended, owing to the surveyors being called off to other service. The work had not been since resumed.


pointed out that at the present moment he was very much in the position of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer—he had not a shot in the locker. He did not suppose anybody imagined that it would be in the power of the Government to deal with the subject at the present time by a Supplementary Estimate. It was not in their power, and they could not undertake it. They could not organize any of the measures which might be necessary for the extension of the present machinery and operations in such a manner as to enable them to deal with it this year. The question must be looked at, therefore, rather with reference to the future. As to the future, he was not able to give the opinion he might give if he had great practical experience in the matter. Very important questions had been raised as to the method of extending the staff now employed in doing the work and training new men for it. It had also been suggested that the Government might go into the open market and endeavour to get the assistance of professional civil engineers and those whom they employed. Upon these suggestions he would not give any opinion at present. With regard to the second, he was not aware as to what amount of practical difficulty might arise in endeavouring to combine the highest skill and training of a Public Department with those who might be called volunteers. It had also been argued that an additional staff should be trained. But the training of apprentices could only go on at a certain rate, and there would be danger of their finding themselves, when the work came to an end, with a larger staff than they could profitably employ, and anyone who remembered the extreme liberality of Parliament towards those whose services were dispensed with would see that this involved a very serious question. The Government would not, in their desire to meet the wishes of the House, overlook the gravity of the considerations they had to deal with. On the other hand, having stated these difficulties, he frankly made the admission, or rather the assertion, that the possession of a good cadastral map was quite essential to the establishment of a sound, easy, and cheap system of land transfer, and was a matter of the greatest value to any country, and it was a subject which commended itself to the Government with special urgency, because they had undertaken, with a strong sense of public obligation, to fulfil that undertaking, to examine the questions connected with the holding of land, in view of improving the conditions under which it was held, and the state of those who held it, and of benefiting the country at large. The House would be good enough to bear in mind that it was quite a mistake to suppose that nothing had been done for the purpose of extending the operations of the Survey. He had not a minute account of the annual Votes given for a series of years for the conduct of the Ordnance Survey. But the present annual Vote was £133,000, and that was a sum double what used to be voted at a former period. Therefore, the extension of these operations was not to be considered a matter that was always restricted by the Government. On the contrary, successive Governments had always been willing to extend them. He thought he had said all that his hon. and learned Friend could expect to extract from him; and he should be sorry that the declaration he had made, though general in its terms, should be found hereafter to remain without fruit.


intimated his readiness to withdraw the Amendment. ["No, no!"]


desired to say that in the event of the Question going to a division, while the Government would vote for the Previous Question, they did not want it to be supposed that doing so in any way pledged them for the future.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."