HC Deb 10 June 1881 vol 262 cc224-30

Order for Consideration read.

Bill, as amended, considered.


said, that in rising to move the omission of Sub-section D of Clause 4 of the Bill which sanctioned the construction of a branch of this Railway, he could only express his regret that the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Bryce), who had also given Notice of his intention to move the omission of the sub-section, was not in his place. It was thought that the Bill would be amended in certain particulars, and a prospect was held out that modifications would be made to meet some of the objections which had been urged. he ventured to think that a simple statement of the facts of the case would show at once how reasonable the opposition was that was now entertained to this part of the Bill. Great and Little Bookham Commons formed one continuous open space of about 400 acres, and were of great beauty, being well wooded, and containing several sheets of water. The proposed railway passed through the centre of the commons for a distance of nearly a mile, and the injury to these commons might be imagined from the results of similar encroachments on the commons of Wandsworth, Barnes, and Mitcham. It was needless, in these days, to speak of the value and importance of protecting and preserving open spaces of this kind for recreation grounds. On that point there could be no higher authority than the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross). In his speech in introducing the Commons Act of 1876, the right hon. Gentleman dwelt upon the sanctity of the commons. He observed— That there were a great number, such as the commons of Surrey, which no one would think of inclosing."—[3 Hansard, ccxxvii. 192.] And again, on the second reading of the Bill, he spoke as follows:— The other object of the Bill was to prevent, as far as possible, the inclosure of commons, and to give facilities for keeping them open for the benefit of the people; so that not only those having rights in those commons should enjoy them, but that the people enjoying the use they had hitherto had of these commons might have them improved, drained, and levelled for their enjoyment. The House would remember the old rhyme— ' The law condemns the man and woman, Who steal the goose from off the common; But does not punish what's far worse, To steal the common from the goose.' He had no intention of stealing a common from any goose, but to give every facility for the continued user by the poor labourer, the artizan, and the dweller in large towns of that beautiful scenery which they had hitherto enjoyed, but in an improved state."—[Ibid., 543.] Again, in answer to a deputation of I agricultural labourers on the subject of the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman was reported to have said— That he believed the practical effect of the Bill would be to put a stop to the inclosures; in fact, it was drawn with that object." The encroachments of the Railway Companies had done much to injure the commons of the country, and it was to be regretted that of all the interests that were represented before the Committee which sat upon this Bill that of the hundreds of thousands of artizans of the Metropolis whom it so nearly concerned should alone have been left without direct or adequate representation. He certainly thought, after the words uttered by the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary, that he might venture to expect the support of hon. Members who sat on the opposite side of the House. He would venture also to hope that those who succeeded the late Government as the guardians of the popular rights—the right hon and hon. Gentlemen who now occupied the Treasury Bench—would display a like regard for the maintenance of those rights. It was not necessary that he should apologize for the course he had taken in bringing the matter under the notice of the House. He did so mainly because the rights of the public had found no voice before the Select Committee upstairs, and because he felt that the House was under an obligation to exercise a full supervision over every measure of this kind that was brought down from a Committee. Even from the standpoint of the promoters of the Bill themselves it could not be urged that any great injury would be done to the Railway Company by asking for the abandonment of this part of the scheme. It simply authorized the construction of a branch line; which might very easily, without detriment to the interests of the Railway Company, be allowed to stand over. There could be no doubt that a little more consideration would enable the promoters so to plan their line as to prevent this spoliation of one of the most lovely of the suburban commons; and he begged, therefore, to move the omission of subsection D of Clause 4.

Amendment proposed, in page 9, line 14, to leave out "sub-section D of Clause 4."—(Mr. Cheetham.)

Question proposed, "That sub-section D of Clause 4 stand part of the Bill."


was very sorry that the hon. Member who presided over the Committee was not in his place. The Committee sat for a long time, and gave the fullest consideration to all the evidence that was brought before them. The Chairman was himself very much interested in the question of the preservation of commons, and was exceedingly anxious for their protection, and jealous of any step that might interfere with their enjoyment by the public. He was also at great pains in visiting and going over every part of the country likely to be affected by the proposed line; so that the Committee had the I advantage of consulting with his hon. Friend, and hearing the evidence that was brought forward. In regard to the commons now in question, it must be understood that the proposed railway did not affect any very beautiful or attractive portion of the land. One part of the common was very beautiful; another part was extremely useful; but in the middle there was a swamp, the land lying low and being very wet, unprofitable, and, at times, impassable. It was through that particular part that it was proposed to construct this line of railway, and a clause was placed before the Committee by the promoters of the Bill, which placed the construction of the railway, and all proceedings in reference to it, so far as regarded this common, under the complete direction of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. That clause was carefully considered before it was adopted, and he believed it was as strong a clause as could possibly be worded. Although only a small piece of line, the proposed branch formed the connecting link between the new South Western line and Leatherhead and Epsom, and, indeed, formed a most important part of the scheme. The Committee had also before them the question of Wimbledon Common; and more than half the labours of the Committee were devoted to the consideration of the protection of these common lands. They were as anxious as any Members of that House could be that the commons should be protected in every possible way. In regard to Wimbledon Common, the hon. Member for Mid Surrey (Sir Henry Peek) attended the Committee, and told them he was perfectly satisfied with the arrangements which had been made for the protection of that common, and for those who might go upon it. The objection of the hon. Member for North Derbyshire (Mr. Cheetham) had reference to the commons of Great and Little Bookham. In regard to those commons, the Committee had before them all who were interested in their preservation; and it was represented that all, or nearly all, were in favour of the proposed line, and had made representations to that effect to the Home Secretary. Further, he might inform the House that the In-closure Commissioners, in their Report, did not condemn the line. They suggested that there might possibly be an improvement in regard to it; but it was pointed out, in confirmation of what he had said, that the line passed through an unserviceable part of the common, and that it did so in the way most conducive to the public interests. He would remind the House that before the Bill was read a second time there was a discussion upon this part of the scheme; and no w that the Bill had come down from the Committee, if they were to enter upon a discussion of every sub-section or part of a clause contained in it, he confessed that he could not see an end to the questions that might arise upon every Bill that might be sent up to a Select Committee. The Business of the House was sufficiently overcharged already—indeed, alarmingly overcharged with pressure upon Imperial questions; and if Select Committees, sitting under a most experienced Chairman, and one who had always taken the deepest interest in the preservation of commons—such as the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Evans)—if, after sitting for nearly three weeks, patiently hearing all the evidence tendered to them, they were then to have their decision overruled by hon. Members who had had no opportunity of hearing the evidence or the arguments, or of having the able assistance and. advice of the Committee—then, he said, a blow would be struck at the proceedings of Committees which would seriously impair their efficiency and responsibility in future.


said, he rose, as he did the other day on a somewhat similar question affecting a Private Bill, to appeal to the House not to continue the present discussion. The Government had fixed a Morning Sitting, in all good faith that an opportunity would be afforded for making progress with the Public Business of the country; but if they were to get into the habit of re-discussing Private Bills in the House after they had been settled and determined by a very competent Committee upstairs—and nobody would say that this was not a very competent Committee—it was impossible to say what injury and delay would be occasioned to matters of Imperial importance. This was the second discussion they had had upon this Bill; and, without sinning against the Rule he asked the House to adopt, he called upon the House to set its face against the re-discussion of Private Bills of this kind, and to support the Committee in the decision which, after three weeks' patient investigation, they had arrived at.

An hon. MEMBER said, that, as a Member of the Committee, he wished to corroborate the statement of the hon. Member for Norwich opposite (Mr. Tillett) that the Committee were unanimous in deciding that the construction of the proposed line would be of great public advantage. He regretted the absence of the Chairman of the Committee, and hoped the House would support the decision at which the Committee had arrived.


had no wish to prolong the discussion; but it would be unfair if the impression went abroad that his hon. Friend (Mr. Cheetham) who had raised this discussion was not fully justified in raising it, even if he abstained now from going to a division. He would certainly not press his hon. Friend to go to a division unless he was anxious to do so; but, unless they were to abandon the discussion of Private Bills altogether, he could not accept the dictum of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He fully admitted that the pressure upon Imperial Business was very great, even exceptionally great, and that no hon. Member ought to take upon himself, if he could possibly avoid it, the raising of a discussion upon a Private Bill. He would even go further, and say that it was un-advisable even to raise a discussion upon a public matter unless it was absolutely necessary. But the inclosure of common land in this particular case was proposed to be carried out in a manner so detrimental to the interests of the public that he thought his hon. Friend was fully justified in entering a protest against the Bill. Considering what the nature of the last Report of the Committee of that House was in regard to the inclosure of commons, no blame could attach to his hon. Friend for calling the attention of the House to the question. But after what had fallen from the Home Secretary, he would appeal to his hon. Friend not to divide the House; and he made the appeal chiefly from this reason—that the time could not be far distant when the Report of the Inclosure Commissioners would come up for consideration, and then the whole question might be gone into. Not only were the Railway Companies becoming more encroaching and oppressive in this respect every day, but the ordinary law with regard to the inclosure of commons in the country was being carried out in a manner most injurious to the interests of the populations of our large towns; He thought it would be desirable to consider at some early day whether the Standing Orders of the House might not be amended, so as to give the public a locus standi when the rights of common lands were affected. At the same time, in regard to the present Bill, he would advise his hon. Friend not to divide the House.


begged to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made.

Bill to be read the third time.

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