HC Deb 30 March 1881 vol 260 cc217-27

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the Metropolis was not so well provided with open spaces as many of our Provincial towns, and his Bill was an endeavour to remedy that defect. Anyone who looked at a map of the Metropolis would see that open spaces abounded most where they were least needed. At the West End there were many squares which would be affected by the Bill; but in the North and East, where the population was densest, and they were most required, hardly any spaces were to be found for the recreation and health of the people. London compared unfavourably in that respect, not only with some of our Provincial towns, but with Paris, which no one could see without being struck by the arrangements made for the adornment of its central portion. The Bill itself consisted of three general provisions. The first affected squares which were regulated by Acts of Parliament; the next related to squares which, for the purposes of the Bill, might be called "private squares," which belonged to the owner of the soil or the ground landlord, but in which the neighbouring lessees had rights; and, thirdly, the disused burial-grounds in the Metropolis, of which there was a great number since the Act relating to the closing of graveyards became law. Roughly speaking, the area which would be affected by the Bill was about a seven-mile radius from St. Paul's Churchyard as the centre. He had been unable to find out how many squares the Bill would affect within that radius; but within a radius of four miles from St. Paul's the squares affected would be five, regulated by Act of Parliament, 188 other squares, and 78 disused burial-grounds. In that Metropolis there were 1,114 persons for each acre of open space available for recreation, and as many as 23 acres of house property to each acre of park or open space. And yet there were nearly 100 acres of clear garden space within a four-mile radius of Charing Cross inaccessible to the public. With regard to mortality in the Metropolis, Dr. Farr had stated, in a letter addressed to the Registrar General in 1877, that the denser the population the greater the mortality. Hence the desirability of providing more open spaces in the midst of such populations. As regarded that, London was a peculiar case, because its circumference was larger and its population more numerous than those of any city the world had ever had. The portion of the Bill upon which, from some quarters, animadversion was likely to be made was that which would give to a certain majority of the lessees, with the consent of the owners, the power to dispose of proprietary rights as to the opening of particular squares. The Bill was only permissive in its character; but if it were passed and acted upon, it would put a stop to what in some of the squares might be called a considerable nuisance. One scarcely ever walked round any of our squares without seeing a number of poor children outside gazing at the flowers and longing to get in. Many connected with the squares would be quite willing to give them admission; and he would be sorry to think that any persons should be animated by a dog-in-the-manger spirit and would wish to keep them out. He was often surprised when, in summer, the inhabitants of the squares were at the seaside, that the garden space was not thrown open. The 3rd clause of the Bill proposed that, with the consent of the owner and a majority of two-thirds of the lessees, either the Vestry or the Metropolitan Board of Works might take possession of a square, adorn and beautify it, and devote it to the public use. It was for the benefit of the whole community that the squares should be used as he now proposed. There were Acts of Parliament furnishing precedents which, if not absolutely, were nearly analogous to the provision of the Bill relating to private squares. Those Acts included the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act and the General Enclosure Act, which gave the majority power to bind the minority in what approached nearly to common rights. As instances of the kind, he would refer hon. Members to some provisions embodied in an Act passed last year relating to a railway in Norfolk, and others, which had been passed under the Acts he had referred to; and he would contend that, so far from the property being depreciated by the gardens being thrown open, its value would be enhanced. He now passed to the squares regulated by Act of Parliament—namely, Trinity square, Tower Hill; St. James's Square, Lincoln's Inn Fields, Red Lion Square, and Finsbury Square. He had looked through the Act by which St. James's Square was placed under trustees, and he did not see anything in it to authorize its inclosure at present. Various efforts had been made by the Kyrle Society to obtain, both from the trustees of the square and the Metropolitan Board of Works, permission to beautify the square at their own expense; but the negotiations had fallen through, because there was no enactment under which the trustees could make such arrangements with the Kyrle Society. If, however, the Bill passed, it would enable the Metropolitan Board of Works or the District Vestry to enter into negotiations of that kind. Efforts had also been made within the last 12 months to throw open Lincoln's Inn Fields, the immediate neighbourhood of which was one of the most densely populous portions of the Metropolis, and there was much discussion in the Press on the subject. A number of charitable persons were willing to maintain it, if the consent of the trustees could be obtained. The Metropolitan Board of Works also opened negotiations with the trustees, and proposed that its maintenance should be made a charge upon the rates. But none of these efforts had been attended with success, because no power existed under any Act of Parliament which would enable the trustees to enter into such arrangements. Although the majority of the trustees would be glad to throw open the square, they found, acting on legal opinion, that they could not divest themselves of their powers; but, if this Bill passed into law, it would be competent to the Metropolitan Board to enter into negotiations with them in order to obtain the great advantage which the public desired. With reference to the Amendment of which Notice had been given by the noble Earl opposite (Earl Percy), he (Mr. W. H. James) would only say that if the Bill were read a second time he should not object at a subsequent stage, with the approval of the Government, to insert a clause by which, in certain cases, compensation might be given where it was considered that the rights of private persons were interfered with. With regard to the other squares mentioned—Red Lion Square, Finsbury Square, and Great Tower Hill—the observations he had made as to Lincoln's Inn Fields would also apply to them. With regard to the disused burial-grounds in the Metropolis, he did not hesitate to say that many of them were a disgrace and a scandal, and it was impossible to conceive anything more wretched than their appearance. Any movement to improve them, which would, at the same time, have the effect of providing open spaces for the recreation of the people, would therefore be a great public benefit. Anybody at night scampered over them. It was possible to obtain lead from the coffins, and to break the tombstones. Some of them, he was glad to say, had been converted into gardens and thrown open to the public, and he urged that power should be given to have more of them beautified in that way. Measures were being taken for this purpose with regard to St. Margaret's Churchyard, which would, no doubt, meet the approval both of hon. Members and the Government. Parochial Vestries either had no funds, or objected to apply them in taking care of these grounds, and they were now scenes of nightly desecrations and depredation. He would ask hon. Members to look at a correspondence in The Times, which showed it to be most desirable that something should be done, both in a sanitary and a social point of view, by throwing open and planting these grounds with trees and shrubs and flowers. The hon. Member concluded by moving the second reading.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. W. H. James.)


in rising to move, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, he agreed with much that had been said by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. W. H. James) as to the desirability of an increased number of open spaces in the Metropolis; but the Bill did not propose to add one single open space to the Metropolis. They heard a great deal now-a-days, both in the House and outside, about the superior and advanced spirit of the people of the towns; but he (Earl Percy) could not help expressing his opinion that for England the country was better, both physically and morally, than the crowded cities. Therefore, he was prepared to go further in the direction of the Bill than its proposer went. He believed in the old proverb that "God made the country and man the town." He would, therefore, bring the country more within the reach of those in large towns; but he did not see how the Bill would do so. Neither could he see how, with all deference to Dr. Farr, ozone, nitrogen, and oxygen would be created by pulling down the railings of squares, or by giving access to them to those who were now excluded. The hon. Member for Gateshead had not once named the Act of Parliament which he proposed by the Bill to amend. That Act enabled the Metropolitan Board of Works to purchase the rights of those who were owners of any open spaces, which might then be used as places of recreation or exercise. That measure was a most admirable one, which had received the support of all sides of the House. But this Bill was really a measure of confiscation, and what he chiefly objected to was the power the Bill gave to confiscate the indefeasible rights of a minority. He was unwilling to deprive the poor of any of the open spaces to which they had a right of entry; but, at the same time, he was equally averse to deprive the rich of what was their undoubted right. Another strong argument against the Bill was that if these squares were thrown open many persons would be deprived of that solitude and quietude which they now had. The hon. Member said that such enjoyment was a matter of little moment, and might be easily given up, if compensation wore provided for time owners and lessees of the property; and he also mentioned that the throwing open of these spaces would be no detriment to the houses in the locality; but it should be remembered that in London great advantage was taken of the squares by those who inhabited them for the exercise of their children, and it was saying too much to assert that the letting value of the houses in such localities would not be deteriorated. If the squares were thrown open rents would certainly fall. He further objected to the Bill because it proposed to override all Acts of Parliament. It also gave a majority of two-thirds of trustees, or others present at a particular meeting, power to control the other third. In fact, it gave power to a two-thirds majority to hand the property over, no matter what the views of the one-third minority were. No such compensation as that indicated could be adequate in such a case. Not content with giving such powers to the Metropolitan Board, it would also enable Vestries and smaller district bodies to increase the rates by planting and decorating the opened spaces. To all that he objected. He thought that there would be a great increase in the rates in consequence; and it might be well to throw the cost upon the Consolidated Fund, if it were true, as alleged last night, that that fund was got chiefly out of the labour of the country. With regard to the state of the disused burying grounds in the Metropolis, it might be quite right that measures of improvement should be adopted; but if the malpractices referred to had taken place in some churchyards, it was rather a matter for police regulation than for changing the ancient churchyards of the country into places of amusement and recreation. It was all very well that St. Margaret's should be improved, because there was a road through it; but that was no reason why a road should be driven through every other disused burying ground in the Metropolis. He looked upon them as sacred and consecrated ground, and he did not see why they should be secularized in the manner proposed by the Bill. He trusted that the House would pause before they passed the Bill, because, although he understood the hon. Member for Gateshead to be willing to accept the principle of compensation, he (Earl Percy) did not think that adequate compensation could be given, since the value of the houses surrounding the square would certainly be deteriorated. It would be far better that the position of each square should be considered and dealt with separately by the Board of Works. He had hoped that the hon. Mover would have been more explicit in his statements as to many points, and he should most like to know how the Act now in force had failed in its object. Finally, he objected to having a Bill of that character introduced and pushed through the House on a Wednesday afternoon; and, therefore, he moved its rejection.


. in seconding the Amendment, said, his objection to the Bill was that the Act of 1877 conferred on the Metropolitan Board of Works sufficient powers with respect to the open spaces referred to in the Bill, as that Board could take such open spaces for the benefit of the public, with the consent of all the owners and occupiers affected. The power proposed now to be conferred upon Vestries and district Boards would be objectionable, looking at the way in which those bodies conducted their business. It should be remembered that the occupiers of houses in the squares had paid for the privileges which they possessed in having these open spaces, because they paid a higher rent than others in the locality. But that was not his chief objection to the Bill. He objected to two-thirds overriding the minority of one-third. The Bill was permissive as to two-thirds, and compulsory as to one-third of the owners and occupiers; and nothing would be easier than for some crotchety person to call a meeting when most of the occupiers were out of town, and thus to secure the throwing open of a square in the absence of those immediately interested. Great injustice would thus be done. Again, many houses which looked into squares behind would become uninhabitable, their privacy being invaded by allowing the public to wander about at will. He strongly objected to this, which was certainly not the first attempt this Session to override the voice of minorities.

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

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


hoped that the House would affirm the principle of the Bill, as nothing loss than an Act of Parliament would enable the trustees of Lincoln's Inn Fields and other places to negotiate with the Metropolitan Board of Works for throwing them open to the public. There was a vast difference between being on the outside of a square in the dusty street, and being inside a square, as it might be made by the conservators. In supporting the Bill, he could not, however, but remember that in Inclosure Acts the rights of a minority were provided for in the arrangements made. The Bill was all the more appropriate as coming from his hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Mr. W. H. James), who had taken the lead last year in the endeavours to throw open Lincoln's Inn Fields to time public. His hon. Friend had quoted a number of precedents in favour of the Bill; but he (Mr. Peel) did not wish to cite as precedents cases which were not strictly in point. It was said that by the Bill the House was asked to allow a majority of two-thirds of the occupiers to override the rights of the minority of one-third; but did not hon. Members believe that, in the case of a West End square, where there was such identity of associations and feelings among the inhabitants, the consent of two-thirds of the occupiers would practically amount to a unanimous consent? The noble Earl (Earl Percy), in asking that the consent of every person interested should be obtained before the space was thrown open to the public, was asking for that which it was impossible to obtain, because there were always sure to be some few persons who would reject any proposal of the kind. He (Mr. Peel) would urge the House to confer this enormous boon upon the poorer classes, subject, of course, to such restrictions and regulations as it might be deemed expedient to adopt. On the question of the depreciation of property, he might say that some ground landlords were contemplating a change of the kind proposed by this Bill; while as to the other point he had referred to, there might be such careful regulations as to the time of day and year during which the public would be allowed to make use of these squares, that the upper classes, as some of their Representatives feared, would not suffer any inconvenience from allowing the privileges granted by the Bill to be legalized. He had not any apprehension that there would be the least clashing of interests by the throwing open of the squares referred to in the Bill, while it was absolutely certain it would be a great benefit to the poorer classes; and, therefore, he trusted that the Bill would be read a second time, on the understanding that the necessary provisions with regard to compensation were introduced into the Bill in Committee.


said, he could not understand how it could be contended that, by throwing open these open spaces, either they or the surrounding property would be increased in value. It had been urged by some hon. Members that these open spaces, and particularly the disused graveyards, if thrown open, would become the play-grounds of the children of the poor, and that the provisions of the Bill would thus be conducive to their health. The air surrounding graveyards, however, was far from wholesome. In fact, no places could be worse for children to play about in than disused burial-grounds. He must protest against this proposed invasion of the rights of the minority, especially at a time when they were trembling on the brink of a democracy.


said, that, as representing a large urban constituency, he felt bound to testify to the importance of preserving these open spaces for the benefit of the public generally. A Bill of the sort under Notice ought to commend itself to all who were interested in the health and well-being of the poorer classes. He hoped, therefore, that after the assurance given by the promoter, that persons injuriously affected should receive compensation, the noble Earl (Earl Percy) would not persist in his Amendment, but would allow the Bill to go into Committee.


thought that, if the Bill became law, it would show that Parliament was anxious for the welfare and the health of the poorer classes. Having travelled abroad, he had often heard comments to the effect that the state of the cemeteries and the spaces inclosed from the general public was disgraceful to this great city and people. He hoped the selfishness of a few would not be allowed to prevail against the good of the many.


said, he must congratulate the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. W. H. James) upon the success his Bill had met with. Even the noble Earl opposite (Earl Percy), who had objected to the measure in no very strenuous manner, did not appear to regard its principle with very strong disapproval. He (Mr. Courtney) himself rose to express on behalf of the Government their approval of that principle, subject to the understanding that provision for the compensation of those whose interests were injuriously affected by the Bill was to be introduced in Committee. If such an understanding was not come to, it would be impossible for the Government to assent to the Bill; but the introduction of such a provision into it in Committee would entirely transform its character, and in the event of that course being adopted Her Majesty's Government would be prepared not only to assent to the Bill, but to assist in it passing. He did not share the views of the noble Earl opposite that graveyards would be desecrated by throwing them open to the public. They would not be converted under the operation of this Bill into places of amusement, but into places for walking and for quiet recreation. He trusted that upon the hon. Member for Gateshead entering into the proposed undertaking, that a provision for the compensation of those whose interests were injuriously affected by this Bill should be introduced into the measure in Committee, the noble Earl opposite would withdraw his Amendment, and would permit the Bill to be read a second time.


said, he had heard with great satisfaction what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, and was himself prepared to give his most cordial support to the Bill. In no other country, so far as his observations extended, were the labourers called upon to perform such hard work as in England. The House was bound, therefore, to promote in every way it could the recreation of the humbler classes. There was nothing so exhilarating after fatigue as exercise in the open air; and if that could be provided the working classes would not require that stimulus which they now often found in the public-house.


said, that although he objected to the Bill, yet the clauses providing for compensation somewhat reconciled him to it. He therefore proposed, with the permission of the House, to withdraw his Amendment for the time, reserving his right to oppose the measure at any future stage.


said, he most willingly gave his undertaking not to move for the committal of the Bill until the Amendments suggested by the Government had been placed upon the Paper.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday 26th April.