§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. CUBITT,
in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he hoped he should be able to show, without detaining the House at any length, that it was a case in which there was no need for the House to interpose at that stage of the measure, seeing that it was a Bill of the character which the House had been in the habit of sending up-stairs to be disposed of by a Select Committee. Now, there had been so much discussion about the Bill, there had been so very much correspondence, such a great amount of Lobbying, such a vast amount of sensational articles in various newspapers, and so many deputations and counter deputa- 320 tions to Ministers of the Crown, that he thought it might possibly surprise the House when he told them that, instead of being a great railway measure, it was a very small Bill indeed, simply for the purpose of constructing what was called a landowners' line. He thought there could hardly have been more excitement if it had been proposed to carry a line under that House in a tunnel, or to cut through Palace Yard into St. James's Park by an open cutting. It was simply a landowners' line, and it affected a not very populous part of the county of Surrey. For some years the county of Surrey had been accommodated by three great Railway Companies—the London and Brighton, the South-Eastern, and the London and South-Western; and after those great Companies completed their undertaking, he believed there was an understanding come to among them that a certain central part of the county should be neutral ground. That neutral part of the county was a sort of quadrilateral, bounded by Kingston and Epsom on the North, and Dorking on the South. After much opposition on the part of these great Companies, and after appearing before several Committees, a line was authorized from Epsom to Dorking. It touched one side of the quadrilateral, and might be described as a line from Kingston to Leatherhead and Guildford, which district had previously been without any railway accommodation. The ground in that district had been particularly in the charge of the South-Western Company. The landowners living along that line had made several attempts to get the South-Western Company to take up their grievances; and it was in evidence, he believed, that the South-Western Company had gone so far in former years as to oppose every independent line that had been suggested for filling up the gap. So things remained until this year. This year a change came over the scene. The Metropolitan line came down to Fulham on the Middlesex side of the river; and the landowners, finding that they had no hope of obtaining anything from the South-Western Company, went to the Metropolitan Company and made arrangements with them to cross the Thames, and, skirting Wimbledon Common, to go on to Guildford. The South Western Company met that proposal in a peculiar way. They did 321 not say that they thought there was no need for additional railway accommodation; but they said—"If you want fresh railway accommodation we will supply it." They happened to have an Omnibus Bill at present before the House, and they proposed to insert in that Bill a provision which would enable them to construct a rival line to Guildford. Consequently, the South-Western Company were, this Session, promoting a rival line. He believed their scheme would be brought before the House tomorrow; but, as far as that stage of the matter was concerned, he thought the House would be of opinion that the South-Western Company were out of court, and that it was not for them to oppose the present Bill, but to show before a Select Committee that their line was superior to the one it was his duty to ask the House to read a second time. There he might now leave the question of the South-Western Railway, and he would come at once to one or two general objections raised against the Bill. The first was that a better line could be constructed, and that it could not be properly worked into London. That, he need not tell the House, was a question which it was quite impossible for them to consider and settle at that time; but it was a question to be fought out before a Select Committee. He would, therefore, pass over that and all the other general objections to the Bill, and go to another point; and that was, how far the proposed line interfered with the common lands in the county of Surrey. That question divided itself into two parts. Hon. Members who knew the county of Surrey knew that it possessed more common land than almost any other county in England, and a great deal of it was of a very beautiful character. There was a considerable amount of very hilly scenery there, with natural woods; and the whole locality was becoming year by year more and more a place of recreation for the hundreds of thousands of the inhabitants of the Metropolis. Although he could not agree with everything the Open Commons Preservation Society proposed, he should not be prepared to move the second reading of the Bill if he thought that one iota of the beautiful commons in Surrey would be destroyed by the construction of this line. If the Bill were likely to occasion serious injury of that 322 kind, he should be among the first in that House to oppose it; but he believed that these common lands would be in a very small degree affected by the Bill; and be would not trouble the House further upon the matter, for this reason, that he understood the promoters of the Bill bad undertaken to provide an equal extent of land to that which they proposed to take, and to make up any loss which the commons might experience. The whole quantity of common land proposed to be taken by this line was only 3½ acres; and he thought the House would agree with him that a very great story had been made out of very little. He was glad to see that the Motion which had stood on the Paper in the name of the Chairman of the Commons Preservation Society no longer appeared there, and that it was not the intention of the hon. Member to move the rejection of the Bill. He hoped that further investigation had convinced the hon. Member and the Society that there was really no ground for their interference in this case. Lastly, he came to what he believed to be the most difficult point in regard to the Bill, and that was its interference with Wimbledon Common. The Wimbledon case divided itself again into two parts. First of all there was the commons question, and then the supposed interference of the Bill with the rifle ground. He did not hesitate to say that when the line was first proposed great objections might have been made to the mode in which it was proposed to cross Wimbledon Common. It was proposed partly to cross the common in a cutting, and partly by a covered way. But the promoters had been anxious, as far as possible, to meet the objections of the Conservators of Wimbledon Common, and they had made a great divergence, which he would proceed to describe to the House, and which he believed the House would think ought certainly to satisfy them. The promoters had applied to a neighbouring landowner to assist them in avoiding Wimbledon Common, and that landowner at once acceded to their request. The present state of the case, as far as Wimbledon Common was concerned, was that the line would skirt Wimbledon Common without touching it at all, and would cross Beverley Lane, which was an approach to part of Putney Heath, by a bridge of one span, and then would proceed under Putney Heath by 323 a tunnel, the level of rails being at a depth varying from 50 to 80 feet beneath the surface. He was told that the tunnel would be so deep that no harm would be done, either to the vegetation on the heath, or to the drainage of any part of the common. He hoped he had shown that there was nothing to be apprehended in regard to the destruction of Wimbledon Common as a place of recreation. In saying that, he must remind the House that Wimbledon Common had been already adopted as a place of recreation, and was no longer simply the property of the people of Wimbledon, as they seemed to think it, but that the inhabitants of this great city who had means of access to it were also interested in it. Lastly, he came to a point upon which he professed not to be very fully acquainted, and his want of knowledge of military matters rendered it an extremely difficult one for him to touch; and he did so with more hesitation, because he believed that upon that point he should be encountered by one who had very great knowledge of the subject—namely, the noble Lord the Member for the County of Haddington (Lord Elcho). It was alleged that although that line did not touch the common, it would yet interfere seriously with the rifle practice on Wimbledon Common. All he could say about that matter was that the promoters, in the early part of the measure, had introduced clauses which secured the National Rifle Association, and the various Volunteer Corps who used Wimbledon Common, from any interference; and they had offered to make further arrangements in order to carry out the same idea. He thought the Bill ought to be allowed to go to a Select Committee, so that the promoters might be able to show both the Committee and the Association that all adequate protection would be given to the rifle practice, and that ample protection would also be afforded to the public who would use the line. There was one point more, and then he had done. He had said that he could not venture to cope with the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire in knowledge of the Volunteer Associations, yet it was rather a strong fact that the landowner, who had so cordially met the wishes of the promoters of the Bill by offering his land, was no less a person than His Royal Highness 324 the Commander-in-Chief. The Volunteers had no reason to say that the Duke of Cambridge had over thrown cold water upon their movement; and, therefore, if His Royal Highness was willing to facilitate this line, he thought the House might conclude that, in the opinion of the Commander-in-Chief, the Bill would not do much damage to Wimbledon Common. He merely pressed this point for what it was worth, in anticipation of the arguments which he knew would be used by the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire. He believed he had now exhausted all he had to say. He wished he could think that any appeal he might make to his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Surrey (Sir Henry Peek) would be useful, and would induce him to withdraw his opposition to the Bill. He could assure his hon. Friend that the promoters would give every weight to the arguments of the Conservators, when they came before a Committee of that House; and he believed that his hon. Friend would consult the interests of the Conservators, as well as the time of the House, if he would not now persevere with his Amendment. At any rate, if he felt justified in saying, as a Wimbledon man, that Wimbledon should be preserved for inhabitants of Wimbledon only, he (Mr. Cubitt) believed he would find himself deceived if he anticipated that he would be supported by any other Member interested in the locality. He begged now to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Cubitt.)
§ SIR HENRY PEEK
said, he had not a word to say as to the tone of the remarks which had been made by his right hon. Friend; and if it was only a simple small landowners' Bill, he should not have been, for one, addressing the House at that moment. He would ask the House to be good enough to listen to him for a short time while he assured them that it was not the simple matter which had been put forward by his right hon. Friend. Twenty-five or thirty years ago, he supposed, there was not one person in 500,000 in this country who knew that there was any such place as Wimbledon Common at all. But those who lived in 325 the West of London knew it perfectly well as one of the most beautiful of all the commons of Surrey. Some 20 years ago, at the institution of the National Rifle Association, they wanted a practice ground upon which they could hold their annual meetings; and, after looking about them for some time, they pitched upon Wimbledon Common. Lord Spencer, being then lord of the manor, met them in a very fair way, and gave them many facilities; but, then, Lord Spencer thought to himself—" Here is a common of 1,000 acres of land; I am lord of the manor, and I ought to be able to do what I like with it. I will, therefore, make a proposition; if the neighbourhood will give me 300 acres in fee simple I will make them a present of the remaining 700 acres, and convert it into a park and put it under management." A great many meetings were held at Wimbledon in reference to this project, and at those meetings the people who resided in the locality declared that they were not prepared to accept Lord Spencer's scheme at all. A great many of them thought that the word "common" implied a great deal more than the interests of the lord of the manor and a few copyholders. They, therefore, opposed Lord Spencer's scheme, and a long and expensive litigation ensued. After a time it was thought desirable to close that litigation; and a special Act of Parliament was passed in the year 1871 in reference to the common. This was the Preamble of that Act—And whereas it would be of great local and public advantage if the Commons (that is Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath) were always kept uninclosed and unbuilt on, their natural aspect and state being as far as may be preserved.This case of Wimbledon Common had no parallel in the United Kingdom. It was a common that was free and open to all classes of Her Majesty's subjects; but, unfortunately for them, the inhabitants of Wimbledon living within three-quarters of a mile of that common had to find £2,600 a-year for the purpose of keeping it open. He asked the House to bear that fact in mind, that the inhabitants were taxed to the extent of £2,600 a-year in order to keep that common open for the public enjoyment. Now, how was that £2,600 expended? They had to pay in perpetuity £1,200 a-year to Lord Spencer for all his rights. 326 They had to borrow £5,000 in order to pay the expenses of the law suit and the cost of getting the Act of Parliament through both Houses. They owed every farthing of that money now. They had to provide for the general management of the common, to make bye-laws, and to provide for the maintenance of the common. They had to find part of the police of the common; and last, although not least, they had to pay the Crown 30s. a-year for estovers formerly enjoyed by the Crown tenant as a Commoner; and all they got in exchange in pounds, shillings, and pence, was £100 a-year from the National Rifle Association, and a few casual receipts which never amounted to more than £200 a-year. By the stringent terms of the Act they were prevented from inclosing it for any purpose whatever. Some three or four years ago the Royal Agricultural Society were anxious to hold their show upon Wimbledon Common. They would have given the Conservators a considerable sum, he had no doubt, for the privilege of temporarily inclosing 30 acres of the common for that purpose; but the terms of the Act of Parliament were so stringent that they could not take the money of the Society, nor could they take the money of any other person. He might mention another thing in order to show what the people of the locality got for that sum of £2,600 a-year. They only had two days in the week upon which they could enjoy the common. There was no firing on Sundays, and there was no firing on Wednesdays; but on every other day for five hours, certain rifle corps paying nothing, among them being the London Scottish Rifle Corps, had the privilege of practising upon the common, by which means they rendered fully one-third of the enjoyable part of the common highly dangerous and, therefore, useless. He thought the House would agree with him that the ratepayers got very little in return for their £2,600 a-year; and the question would naturally arise, why were they so anxious to fall in with that arrangement? Now, he had not the least hesitation in telling the House that it was public spirit alone, and public spirit entirely free from the least taint of selfishness, that induced them to take the course they did. They saw 1,000 acres of the most beautiful common land in the whole of England, con- 327 sisting of wood and water, and a magnificent open plateau, and they wished it to be maintained for the general enjoyment. They were quite willing to pay that very large sum of money per annum in order that they themselves, and the public generally, might enjoy this common. Perhaps the House would allow him to read three sections of the Act of Parliament which related to the duties of the Conservators, of whom he was one named in the Act. From the passing of the Act till a fortnight since he had been Chairman of the Conservators; but he was now retiring from the Board, and should cease to be a Conservator in a few days' time. Section 34 of the Act of Parliament stated that—The Conservators shall at all times keep the Commons open, uninclosed and unbuilt on, except as regards such parts thereof as are at the passing of this Act inclosed or built on, and shall by all lawful means prevent, resist, and abate all encroachments and attempted encroachments on the Commons and protect the Commons and preserve them as open spaces, and resist all proceedings tending to the inclosure, or appropriation for any purpose, of any part thereof.Section 35 said—It shall not be lawful for the Conservators, except as in this Act expressed, to sell, lease, grant, or in any manner dispose of any part of the Commons.And Section 36 enacted that—The Conservators shall at all times preserve, as far as may be, the natural aspect and state of the Commons, and to that end shall protect the turf, gorse, heather, timber, and other trees, shrubs, and brushwood thereon.If those sections did not lay down the duties of the Conservators in very plain terms he failed to understand what they did. He said just now that they were actuated by public spirit. The Wimbledon people and the Putney people had eyes. In that district there were other commons. They could see the present state of Wandsworth Common. He recollected Wandsworth Common when it was a beautiful open space of 300 acres. And now what was it? They could see Barnes Common with a railway running across it, and completely spoiling it. Mitcham Common was very little better. The railway facilities, as they were called, had absolutely ruined that common. They preferred Wimbledon Common in all its natural beauty; and he had no hesitation in saying and assuring that House that for 10 years they had done the best they could in 328 that way, and that the common was never in such an excellent condition as it was now. That common, as he said before, was a unique common; and he thought the House would agree with him when he said that he believed there were flowers and insects to be found on Wimbledon Common which were scarcely to be found on any other common in England. He knew an entymologist who went down there—a working man—and he could earn as much as £1 a-day by collecting, in certain seasons of the year, rare insects. They might find there partridges, pheasants, hares, rabbits, kingfishers, moor-hens, glow-worms, and all kinds of harmless snakes. There were birds of all kinds, and he himself had bought, not very long ago, a live badger, not one that had wandered on to the common, but one that had been dug out of his lair there. Then, again, many hon. Members of that House would bear him out when he said that the common offered to pedestrians unequalled advantages; it further offered to all persons opportunities for cricket and fishing; and it must be borne in mind that these advantages were given not to the Wimbledon ratepayers, or to the Wimbledon residents alone, but to all Her Majesty's subjects who knew how to behave themselves. The common offered opportunities for cricket, fishing, football, hockey, la crosse, polo, quoits, and many other games. It afforded to equestrians miles of turf; and it afforded to all the very best of air, with cheerful rural surroundings, which he hoped would be long maintained. Such was the position now. Then, what was it that had disturbed their serenity some six months ago? They received a notice that a railway was coming. It became at once their duty to inquire what the railway was; and they found that it proposed, as had been done in the case of other commons, to cut off some 60 or 80 acres from the main common. It further proposed to erect a bullet-proof screen in order to protect the passengers by the railway from the bullets of the National Rifle Association, and he believed power was taken to put up other additional works. Directly the plans were out, the Conservators put themselves in communication with the promoters. He, as Chairman of the Conservators, called a meeting, and asked the engineer to come down and bring any persons with him 329 who were interested in the measure. He came down, and they had a four hours' interview with him; and they then and there told him that they were determined, at every stage of the measure, to oppose that or any similar proposal. Nothing was done for a long time; but when it was found that the original proposition was altogether too violent, modified plans were brought forward, and only last Friday these modified plans passed the Standing Orders Committee. He quite agreed that the modified plans minimized the evil; but the result was, still, to leave a belt of railway and a screen which was perfectly hideous round the edge of the common for nearly a mile. Further, there would be a tunnel under the common, which would be certain to injure the trees and dry up the springs. There was an old well on the common, which had been there since the time of the Romans, and which was enjoyed by hundreds every day; but springs were capricious, and if the tunnel wore constructed, those on the common would probably all be dried up. The ponds, which during a great part of the year were used for fishing, and which during the winter were used for curling and skating, would be drained. And then this tunnel was to be a mile long; and, therefore, it was sure, sooner or later, although they were not proposed now, to be furnished with large ventilating shafts thrown up on the common, and these, as all hon. Members would see, would hardly add very much to the beauty of the place. As his right hon. Friend had said, this proposal had created quite a storm in the neighbourhood. Yesterday they had an election of Conservators; and it was a fair stand-up fight on the question of railway or no railway. Well, the votes given to those who supported the railway averaged 600 per man; whilst, on the other side, the votes given to the opponents of the railway averaged over 3,400. That was to say, where one person voted for the railway—and, of course, in such a neighbourhood there were sure to be a few ratepayers who would be benefited by the little money that would be brought into circulation by the line—there were seven who voted against it. As he said before, they had been charged with selfishness by the promoters of the railway; but a more baseless charge was never made. In 330 this Act of Parliament, they excepted all ratepayers who were rated under £35—that was to say, those residents who paid over £35 per annum took the whole burden on themselves. Then they were charged with selfishness with regard to the working man. He (Sir Henry Peek) joined issue, with pleasure, on the working man argument. He never did toady to the working man yet, and he never intended to toady to him. He respected the working man—he was a working man himself—but he would not toady to him. There were two kinds of working men. There was the working man who did not trouble himself about other people's enjoyment as long as he could, enjoy himself, and go where he liked, and have his pipe and his pot. Let this man go to Wandsworth Common. He could get there for a few pence, he need only walk a hundred yards from the railway, and there were a dozen public-houses for his enjoyment. But there was another kind of working man who thoroughly appreciated the advantages for himself and his family which he (Sir Henry Peek) had described. Such a man avoided Wandsworth Common, and wont to Wimbledon Common, which to him was really in the country as much as though it was 200 or 300 miles from London. He could get the fresh country air there, and it satisfied his wants. Working men would come from the East End of Loudon—they would walk all night in order to take up their position, at day-break, at the ponds on Wimbledon Common. The other day he saw some odd-looking men, whose conversation he could not understand, standing there. He went up to them, and made inquiries, and he ascertained that they were Spanish porters, attached to a wine house, who, once a-year, came to Wimbledon Common for their treat, because it reminded them of the beautiful parts of their own country. What did he see there on the following Sunday? Why, he saw a man, sitting on one of the benches provided for the public by the Conservators, reading his book. He said to the common-keeper, "Do you know that man?"—he thought his appearance was somewhat familiar to him—and the keeper replied—" Yes; he is a clerk—he comes here every Sunday of his life, and brings his sandwiches and sherry." The working man had 331 been quoted; and, what was more, the working men, or a body said to be fairly representative of the working men, waited upon the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. Now, with reference to that deputation, the Secretary of the Gilders' Society, a body 80 years old—wrote to him (Sir Henry Peek), and said—Permit me to say there is a considerable difference of opinion on the subject (of this railway). A very large number of workingmen, particularly those belonging to the higher class of trades, are quite opposed to the extension for many reasons, amongst which may be mentioned the want of necessity for such extension (there being more railway accommodation through the county of Surrey than in most counties of the same characteristics), and the ample means of reaching Wimbledon Common from any part of London in less than one hour, and less than a mile walk; whilst the plain fact remains that the opportunity of seizing common land is the temptation too strong to be resisted in the railway speculator's mind.These were not his own words, but words addressed to him by a perfect stranger, Mr. Robert Francis, the Secretary of this Society. Well, he wanted to know why the railway wished to come to Wimbledon Common? The inhabitants of Wimbledon were not against the railway per se. They had shown the promoters an alternative plan, and he had no hesitation in saying that it was a better plan; but, unfortunately, they proposed that the line should be run through property which, although it was not built upon, was in private hands, and would have to be paid for; whereas, if the railway could come through Wimbledon Common, the promoters would get, at any rate, one mile of their distance towards London for nothing at all. He hoped that he had made out to the House that, at any rate, there were two sides to this question, and that this was not the little innocent landowners' railway that his right hon. Friend wished them to believe it. There was a great question involved. This Act of Parliament of theirs was the result of a great deal of litigation; and it had saddled, as no common in England had saddled, the neighbourhood with a charge of £2,600 a-year for keeping up the place, not only for the benefit of the residents, but for the benefit, likewise, of all classes of Her Majesty's subjects; and he, therefore, hoped that to-day the second reading of the Bill would be refused. It should be 332 rejected, if only for the simple reason that the plans only passed the Standing Orders Committee last Friday, which seemed to him abundant proof that the scheme could not be a well-matured and well-considered one. The Bill was certainly not favoured by the best class of working men; it was opposed to all recent legislation as to open spaces near the Metropolis; and it made still more onerous the hard bargain made in 1871. What would be the effect of sending the Bill to a Select Committee? Why, those who were bound to pay already £2,600 a-year for the maintenance of the common would also be bound—for they were not free agents in the matter—to oppose the scheme, and that would add, at least, another £1,000 to the rate which it was their duty to do their best to limit. There was another feature in this Bill which ought to insure its immediate condemnation. In the new clauses just proposed by the promoters, there was this singular provision—that not only was the line to be protected for a considerable distance from the firing on the common by some sort of screen, but the Company was to indemnify all persons lawfully using the rifle ranges from or in respect of any accidents to persons or property that might happen through the insufficiency or want of repair of such screen. That was to say, Parliament was asked to sanction the construction of a line of railway in so dangerous a position that it was thought necessary to provide for possible loss of life through bullets from the rifle ranges entering the carriages; rather than wait another year and then bring up an improved plan, the promoters were actually driven to promise that if anyone was shot on their line they would bear the consequences. Was such a proposal worthy of a moment's consideration? There was only one other matter to which he wished to call the attention of the House. He hoped he had made out a good case for Wimbledon; but there was another case that not only affected the residents of a certain district, but which affected everyone who went to the Thames for the purpose of recreation or amusement. The promoters proposed to take the railway to Putney. It had been determined by the proper authorities to get rid of the old bridge and the present ugly aqueduct and to build a new, handsome structure of granite, of five wide spans, which, no 333 doubt, would be a great ornament to the river. Well, in order to get to London, this railway must cross the river; and it was proposed that they should throw across it a bridge at a different angle altogether to the proposed granite bridge, and consisting of no less than nine arches. The Company said—" Oh, if you want fewer spans, we will hear what competent persons have to say on the subject; and if they say that it will be an improvement we will adopt your suggestion." Still, they could not get rid of the fact that they would have ck skew bridge within 200 yards of this new Putney Bridge. He happened to be President of the West London Rowing Club. He did not say anything to the Secretary of that Club about this bridge; but within the last 24 hours he had had five separate Petitions from him and others begging the House, for the sake of boating on the Thames, if for no other reason, to throw out the Bill. Let the House bear in mind that if they did not allow this bridge to be built it would be fatal to the Bill, because the railway could not come into London unless this skew bridge was built; and, at the same time, the House should also bear in mind that if they did allow the scheme to be carried out, it was good-bye to the enjoyment of that which was one of the finest reaches of the river. He was afraid he had been somewhat tedious; but he had this matter very much at heart, and he trusted that his Amendment would be accepted. He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months.
§ MR. BRYCE
said, he rose to second the Amendment moved by the hon. Baronet who had just sat down. After the able and exhaustive speech he had delivered, he (Mr. Bryce) would confine himself to one or two very short remarks. The hon. Baronet had pointed out how injuriously this scheme would affect Wimbledon Common. He admitted the great desirability of opening up the parts of Surrey that this Bill proposed to open up; and he also admitted the great desirability of making not only Wimbledon Common, but all the commons near, accessible to the people of London. As a Representative of a London constituency, he had no hesitation in saying that the House would be rendering a great service to the public by 334 making the commons more available; but in doing that they must not purchase too dear. The Bill proposed not only to injure Wimbledon Common in the way which had been pointed out by the hon. Baronet, but also to take pieces of other commons in Surrey. It was proposed that if this was objectionable the Company should enter into an undertaking to abstain from acquiring any common laud if the Home Office required it to so abstain; but he thought the Company should be required to give an absolute undertaking that it would not take common land at all. The Bill proposed to take power to cross the commons, one of them the most beautiful common in Surrey, to sever it in two; and when that was done its enjoyment was, of course, seriously interfered with. As the Mover of the second reading had well remarked, it was time that the railway sought power to throw into these two commons land equivalent to that which it took from them; but the hon. Members who looked at the clauses of the Bill would see that the powers were not sufficiently strong. The powers were merely permissive. They allowed the Company to take the lands, but did not give them power to take them compulsorily. They, having obtained possession of the common land, might say to the Conservators, or those interested—"We cannot get the land we want to throw into the common—the owners will not sell it;" and the commons, therefore, would suffer. He submitted that these commons were matters of great public interest and value. There was no county in England that possessed not only more commons, but more beautiful commons than Surrey; and they ought to be careful not to impair the respect the people had for them as their own patrimony. They ought to tell the promoters that they had brought forward an ill-advised scheme, and that it was incumbent on them to show that they could construct their line without interfering with the commons at all. There was another Bill for second reading to-morrow promoted by the London and South-Western Railway Company which also proposed to take common land in a way that would be more injurious than this Bill. If they did not oppose that Bill, it would be argued with some force to-morrow that as they did not oppose one they should not oppose the other. He sub- 335 mitted, therefore, that the proper course was to reject all the proposals, and to tell the promoters that they must come back next year with better schemes, that would preserve these common lands for the enjoyment of the people.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to acid the words "upon this day six months."—(Sir Henry Peek.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
The Board of Trade have very carefully considered the provisions of this Bill, and we have also had before us the representations of the opponents to the measure and of those who advocate its passage. I may point out to the House that the question before us this moment is not whether the Bill should pass, but whether there is on the face of it any provision so objectionable and. monstrous in its character that the House would be justified in refusing to allow it to be road a second time. As I understand the language of the opponents of the Bill, they consider that one or two of its provisions are of this character—The first is the extent of its interference with commons, &c.; secondly, the point raised by the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Henry Peek)—that the railway can only reach its destination by means of a bridge which it is proposed to erect diagonally with another, to be built by the Metropolitan Board of Works, and of a different span, so as to be dangerous to navigation. As to the latter point, I considered it of so much importance that I engaged Colonel Yolland to make a Report of the facts; and I have received a Report from him, and will submit it to the Committee if the House passes the second reading. Colonel Yolland says he does not see in the proposal any valid reason for refusing to allow the Bill to be considered by a Select Committee. I have also received a letter from the solicitor to, or, at all events, signed on behalf of, the Company; and in that letter they undertake that both the direction of tire bridge and the character of its spans shall be altered in accordance with the desire of the Thames Conservancy—who are interested in the river—and the Board of Trade, and, if there is any difference of opinion between them, in accordance with the decision of an arbitrator. That disposes 336 of that objection; but there is still the more important question that the Bill interferes with the enjoyment of commons to such an extent as to justify the House in refusing to allow it to pass its present stage. It seems to me that there are two objects which all lovers of commons should keep in view—in the first place, their preservation intact, and, in the second place, to secure the greatest access to them for the largest possible number of people. It appears to me absolutely impossible that any line should be constructed through what may be called a commons county, such as that traversed by this line, without some slight interference with the commons; but I doubt if access could be afforded to such a large number of commons with less interference than is now proposed under this Bill. I do not think that the extent of the commons in the county of Surrey will be diminished if the Bill passes by a single acre. It is part of the proposal, I understand, that where it is proposed to take a certain part of a common, the Company will throw into it an equal area of private property. It is said that there will be a severance of the commons, which will be a great injury to them; but this is not the fact. As I understand it, there will be an intersection, but not being in the nature of a severance. As to Wimbledon Common, there will be no interference with its surface, and the amenities of the common will still be preserved. The opposition to this Bill—I will not call it a selfish opposition—is on the part of the Conservators of that common and the inhabitants of Wimbledon, who naturally complain that they should be rated for that which it is now proposed to open up to the whole of London. It seems to me they will have a fair case to lay before a Committee—that if the common is to be opened up to the whole of London, the expense connected with the preservation of the common should fall on the whole of London, as has been the case with some other commons. But these are really matters for Committee; and, therefore, under the circumstances, I trust the House will not take the strong step of rejecting the measure on the second reading.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, the right hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Cubitt) had referred to him in connection with the 337 National Rifle Association; and he assumed that, as a member of the Council of that Association, he (Lord Elcho) would not oppose the Bill. Certainly, at one time, he would have done so; but the Company had made proposals to the Association which, to a great extent, diminished the objection which they had to the Bill as originally framed; and—he thought he could speak for the Council of the Association—reserving to themselves the right of appearing before the Committee, they did not propose to oppose the second reading. He opposed it himself as an individual, wholly irrespective of the Association, and on totally different grounds to the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bryce), who, he believed, was the Chairman of the Commons Preservation Society. This Bill now came before them in a very modest form—in the form of a small landowners' Bill taking only three and a-half acres of common land. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade seemed to think that the intersection of a common by a railway was not a severance; but he should like to know what was a severance if an intersection was not. He was not aware what the distinction drawn by the President of the Board of Trade was.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, the communication between the land on each side of the railway was preserved to the public.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, they had a clear severance, and the right hon. Gentleman evaded the real point. He asked the House to reject the Bill on the broad matter of principle. It came before them as a landowners' Bill; but it was of a very different character when the plans were first deposited and it was first brought forward. Why, as regarded the National Rifle Association, it took no heed of that important body for the encouragement of rifle shooting in the United Kingdom; and if it had stood as originally framed it would absolutely have put a stop to all rifle shooting. The way they treated all rifle corps who had a right to shoot there was simply by giving them notice that they were about to take their shooting ground. In that way they regularly sought to override the public interest in a manner which the House of Commons ought not to sanction. The House ought to lay it down as a principle that Com- 338 panies were not to come to Parliament to override public interests, and then to be allowed to bring in an amended scheme. They had often heard it stated that Railway Companies would not hesitate, if it suited their purpose, to run a railway through St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey; and his right hon. Friend, in moving the second reading, said there was such an opposition to it that one would suppose the intention was to run a line to the House of Commons with a cutting through Palace Yard. The Bill did not propose to do that; but it did propose to cut through Parliament, or the intention of Parliament, as shown by Parliamentary Committees and Acts of Parliament, because it had for its object to cut through and take a large portion of the lower part of a common. They ought to teach Railway Companies a lesson, and show them that they were not, for the sake of saving money to the shareholders or for some other purpose, to bring in a Bill overriding the intention of Parliament; and then, when they were stopped—as they had done in this case—to bring forward a modified scheme, saying—" We will not do all the harm we intended to do." The plans showed what was originally intended; and what was now meant was a modification of that original scheme. They did not propose to cut through the common, but to carry out the same plan by travelling under it. He should give his vote heartily for his hon. Friend who moved the rejection of the Bill, to teach the Railway Companies a lesson which might save them a great deal of litigation in future cases.
§ MR. ONSLOW
should like to say a word on the matter before the House went to a division. He had heard nothing from the hon. Baronet, nor the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bryce), which should induce the House to refuse the second reading of this Bill. The remarks that had been made concerning its provisions touched subjects that could be very well dealt with in Committee, and he certainly could not see that there had been a strong case shown for the refusal of the Bill. They all expected that the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) would say something which might induce the House to throw out the Bill, because he was connected with the Volunteer movement; but he had shown them conclusively that the measure would not 339 interfere with the shooting at Wimbledon. [Lord ELCHO: As now proposed.] The House had nothing to do with that particular branch of the subject. It was said that ricochet shots from the butts might have some injurious effect on the line, and that, of course, was a very serious consideration; but it was not a reason why they should throw out the Bill. The hon. Member for Mid Surrey (Sir Henry Peek) seemed to take a local objection to the Bill; but it was not a local measure. The matter was one which affected a very large number of the inhabitants, seeing that at present there was no railway accommodation at all. He should be the last person to support the Bill if he thought the common lands in Surrey were likely to be interfered with by it; but he thought that, beautiful as the commons in Surrey were, at this moment the general public had so few facilities for visiting them that if they were not likely to be cut up or destroyed, a railway should be constructed for the purpose of giving access to them. The hon. Baronet behind him (Sir Henry Peek) had not shown how, if the proposed railway were made, it would interfere with the games which were played at Wimbledon, or with the rare insects which were to be found on Wimbledon Common. He held in his hand a Petition in favour of the Bill from the borough he had the honour to represent. It was signed by the Mayor and Corporation, under the corporate seal, and it pointed out that the Petition in favour of the line came from every part of Surrey through which the railway would pass. He believed that it would be a very popular line; and that when it was made it would be found that there was no objection to it at all. If it were laid down that no railway should pass through common land in the county of Surrey it would be impossible to have any railway at all. The whole of the lines in Surrey passed through common lands; from Wimbledon to Guildford, from Guildford to Aldershot, and all through the county there was one succession of common lands. If they were to pay any attention to the sentimental idea that they were not to interfere with the common lands which now existed in the country, in future it would be impossible to construct a new railway in Surrey. At the present moment, the line from Lon- 340 don to Portsmouth passed through a large extent of common land, and it would be altogether impossible to construct a line from Guildford to Portsmouth, unless they did pass over common lands. It had been said, and said most truly, that, at the present moment, the London and South-Western Railway Company had a monopoly of the railway accommodation in this district, and that fact constituted one of the chief reasons why he supported the present Bill. Nothing could be worse than the accommodation provided by the London and South-Western Railway Company at the present time, and a little wholesome competition was very much needed. The fares charged by the Company were excessive; the stations and the accommodation generally were as defective as possible; and throughout the whole of England there was not a worse line of railway than that of the London and South-Western Railway Company's from London to Portsmouth. He believed that his hon. Friend behind him (Sir Henry Peek) had gained a great deal of unpopularity by the course he had taken in reference to the present Bill; but he (Mr. Onslow) hoped that unpopularity would die away long before the next General Election, and that it would not interfere with his seat in any way whatever. For the reasons he had given, he begged to support the second reading of the Bill.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, that he also intended to support the second reading of the Bill, and he did so entirely irrespective of the merits of the measure; but because he thought the House of Commons was a tribunal totally unfitted to dispose of a project of this kind, without first sending the Bill before a Select Committee, which alone was capable of dealing with the questions involved in it. As so much, however, had been said upon the merits of the Bill, he wished to say one word in reference to a matter which was within his own personal knowledge. Richmond Park was, he believed, the largest and most magnificent park in the United Kingdom. In every way it was the best park in the neighbourhood of London; and it so happened that those parts of it which were nearest to the Metropolis were also near to the proposed line. A man who was able to keep a horse, and drive to Richmond Park, 341 when he got there found it almost a solitude, the best parts of it being almost entirely shut out from the inhabitants of London, owing to the absence of the means of getting there. In Richmond Park there were miles and miles of the most magnificent country scenery, full of woods and dales, and trees and ferns, and everything which made rural scenery enjoyable; but, owing to the absence of railway facilities, the park was comparatively unused. At present the only means the inhabitants of London possessed of getting to Richmond Park was by going clown to Richmond by rail or river; and then they had to walk through the town, and travel for a mile and a-half, before they reached the farther end. He felt certain that if railway accommodation were provided in such a way that there could be no insuperable objection raised, the inhabitants of London would highly appreciate the privilege of obtaining free access to Richmond Park at the near end about Robin Hood's Gate.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said, he simply desired to answer one of the points which had been raised in the course of the debate. An hon. Member opposite (Mr. Bryce) suggested that the Bill should be deferred for a year. Now, on behalf of his constituents, who were deeply interested in the matter, he (Mr. Brodrick) ventured to protest against any delay whatever. The proposed railway would be 22 miles long, and in almost the whole of the district through which it passed it was not opposed in the slightest degree, and the objections which had been urged to it in respect of Wimbledon did not apply. He, therefore, hoped that the House would agree to send the Bill to a Select Committee, who would carefully inquire into the whole merits of the case.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 275; Noes 49: Majority 226.—(Div. List, No. 172.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.