§ Order for Consideration, as amended, read.
§ Bill, as amended, considered.
§ MR. W. H. JAMES
, in rising to move the insertion of a clause for the amendment of Section 72 of the "Southampton Marsh and Markets Act, 1865," said, it would be in the recollection of the House that at the time of the second reading of 1131 the Bill he had moved an Amendment to the effect that it was undesirable for the House to sanction the taking of common land in the neighbourhood of a populous town for the purpose of enlarging a cemetery. That Amendment was defeated by a considerable majority, and it was defeated mainly on the ground that there was a clause already in existence, in the Act of 1865, which regulated the open spaces belonging to Southampton, which provided that no portion of this land should be taken for enlarging the cemetery without previously holding certain meetings of the Vestries, and without convening a special meeting of the Town Council. What he now proposed was, that that portion of the clause which excepted applications to Parliament for authority to take portions of the open spaces belonging to Southampton for various purposes, and among others for the enlargement of the Cemetery, should be repealed; so that, in the event of any application being made to Parliament at any future time for land for the enlargement of the Cemetery, it should be necessary, in the first place, to obtain the sanction of the inhabitants of Southampton to the application being made. His chief object in proposing this clause was to provide that the ratepayers of Southampton, in regard to any future stops it might be considered desirable to take with the view of appropriating any portion of this common land, should receive adequate and sufficient publicity. It might be alleged that sufficient means already existed in the provisions of the Act relating to borough funds. Under that Act it was necessary to hold a public meeting, and also to hold two special meetings of the Town Council; but the provisions would be undoubtedly more stringent under the clause which he had placed on the Paper; because the Vestries of Southampton—and he believed there were live existing parishes which had Vestries—must each of them consider the question, if it were proposed at any future time to enlarge the cemetery by appropriating a further portion of the common land. In point of fact, each Vestry must pass a separate and distinct resolution, and there would be a further safeguard in holding the two special meetings of the Town Council. Another object lie had in moving the insertion of the clause was this. He was 1132 satisfied that many hon. Members who voted for the second reading of the Bill did so because they felt that full publicity would be given to these points by the Committee to whom the Bill was referred. With the permission of the House, he would state what actually happened. In the first instance, the Corporation of Southampton opposed, upon the question of locus standi, the only opponents of the Bill who had petitioned, and they threatened with opposition on locus standi other persons in the town who were not in favour of the scheme. The result was that all opposition to the Bill was practically withdrawn; and therefore the measure so far as it affected the people of Southampton, had really never been considered at all. It was not simply in the interests of the town of Southampton that he had raised the question, and he did not think the House would look at it merely in that light. He thought that any proposal which involved the taking of common land belonging to the inhabitants of a town was a very bad one; and he was quite certain that his hon. Friend below him (Mr. Lee), and the other hon. Member for Southampton opposite (Mr. Giles), would agree with him in that proposition, even so far as the interests of the people of the town of Southampton wore concerned. He had no doubt that both of those hon. Members would go a long way in admitting the principle he was anxious to establish. All that they wished was, that an exception should be made for their own town in this particular instance. But if the principle were once established, and they allowed this common land to be taken for a Cemetery, they would soon have some other community coming before Parliament for the purpose of taking common land for hospitals or reformatories; and he was therefore anxious to lay down a precedent for the future guidance of the House. If something of this kind were not done, when future applications were made, it would be said—"You have done this in the case of Southampton, and why should not the same thing be done in the case of Brighton, Barnstaple, or any other town for which a measure of the same kind is proposed?" He thought that if a clause if this character were inserted in the Bill it would provide that full publicity should in future be given 1133 to every application of this character. Unless something of the kind were done, he entertained a strong opinion that the interests of the public would not be sufficiently or adequately protected by means of the Private Bill legislation of the House; but that they would be effectually shut out from obtaining a hearing. In the first place, they would be out of sight; and in the next out of mind. There was one small matter connected with the clause as it stood on the Paper which he must refer to. As it now stood, it related to applications to Parliament for authority to take portions of common land for the defence of the Realm. He was told that some opposition was likely to be raised by the War Office to that part of the clause, and therefore he proposed to strike out the words "for the defence of the Realm."
New Clause:—(Amendment of section seventy-two of Southampton Marsh and Markets Act, 1865.)So much of sub-section (c) of section seventy-two of 'The Southampton Marsh and Markets Act, 1865,' as excepts applications to Parliament for authority to take portions of common land for enlarging the Cemetery, or enlarging the Cemetery from the operation of the said sub-section, is hereby repealed; and, after the passing of this Act, no application to Parliament whatever for taking or using any part of the said common lands for any purpose other than the purposes for which the same are to be so devoted and kept shall be made, supported, or assented to directly or indirectly by the Corporation, unless the application has been previously assented to, as in the said sub-section is provided,"—(Mr. W. H. James,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time.
§ MR. H. LEE
said, he trusted that the House would not accept the clause which the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. W. H. James) had moved. It did not seem to him that the hon. Member had assigned a sufficient reason why the clause should be inserted in the Bill, inasmuch as the Corporation of Southampton had not abused the powers which had previously been vested in them, but had acted throughout in strict accordance with the provisions of the Act of 1865, which required them to convene meetings of the inhabitants and of the Town Council before any application 1134 was made to Parliament. Section 72 of that Act made provision for keeping the common land always open, except where application was made to Parliament for authority to take any part of it for the defence of the Realm, or for enlarging the Cemetery or waterworks. Before making an application to Parliament, it was necessary to obtain the assent of the Town Council and three-fifths of the ratepayers present at Vestry meetings of three out of the five parishes of Southampton. There was no ground whatever for presuming that, in the future, the Corporation would be likely to act in an improper manner. The circumstances under which this addition to the Cemetery was required had already been stated to the House. He might, however, explain briefly that for 40 years 15 out of 375 acres of common land had been used for a Cemetery; and the Corporation of Southampton now sought to add 12 acres more, in order to avoid the very large expense which would be incurred if they were compelled to go outside the borough in order to obtain a new Cemetery. They were empowered by the Act of 1865 to go to Parliament, even without a preliminary meeting of the inhabitants of the borough; but there had been no opposition whatever on the part of the inhabitants of the borough to the taking of these 12 acres. There was one Petition against the Bill; but it was withdrawn; and oven that Petition owed its origination more to outside influence than to the action of the inhabitants of the borough. He trusted, therefore, that the House would reject the clause as it had been drawn by the hon. Member on the ground that it was altogether unnecessary. It was hardly likely that the Corporation of Southampton would seek to take any portion of this common land without the consent of the inhabitants. They were the natural custodians of the land, and they had no desire to see that common land used for any improper purpose, or for any purpose that would diminish the power of the inhabitants to make use of it as it was intended. Therefore, if the House consented to insert the clause proposed by the hon. Member, they would throw upon the Corporation of Southampton a stigma they did not deserve; because they had already taken every step they were required to take by law in order to bring the matter publicly before the inhabit- 1135 ants. A meeting of the inhabitants had been convened, and if the people did not attend in large numbers it was not the fault of the Corporation. At that meeting a resolution was passed by a considerable majority empowering the Corporation to make their application to Parliament. The clause now proposed would really make very little difference. The effect of it would be very little greater than that of the requirements of the law as it now existed at the present moment under the Borough Funds Act. He would not weary the House by going further into the matter; but he trusted that the House would reject the clause, and pass the Bill as it had been sent down from the Committee.
§ MR. GILES
said, he altogether protested against the insertion of the proposed clause. The second reading of the Bill had been passed by a very large majority—a majority of 218; and he thought that the attempt now being made to force upon the Corporation of Southampton a clause which would take from them the power they sought, and which was practically given to them by the Act of 1865, would, it successful, amount to a reversal of the verdict already arrived at by the House. His own opinion was that the objection raised by the hon. Member for Gates-head (Mr. W. H. James) was only a sentimental objection, because not only the Corporation of Southampton, but the ratepayers were—he would not say unanimously—but greatly, in favour of utilizing a portion of this common land for the enlargement of the existing Cemetery. He therefore hoped the House would not listen to the proposal made to it to reverse the policy already adopted, but would at once reject the clause.
§ MR. BRYCE
said, he was not quite sure, from the remarks which had been made by the two hon. Members for Southampton (Mr. Lee and Mr. Giles), whether the House would clearly apprehend what the real point at issue was. The case stood thus—By the general law, a Corporation proceeding in this way were required to go through certain formalities; but they had been exempted by a local Act of Parliament from going through these formalities in case of taking land for the defence of the Realm, or for the enlargement of the existing Cemetery. All that the clause of his hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead 1136 (Mr. W. H. James) proposed was that, in making any future application for taking common land for the purpose of the Cemetery, they should proceed precisely in the same way as would be necessary in the event of proposing to take the land for any other purpose. Surely there was nothing unreasonable in that. It was only fair and right that every opportunity should be afforded to the inhabitants of Southampton for expressing their opinion on the question; and all his hon. Friend asked was that such an opportunity should be given for publicity. The clause could not prejudge the question in any way. It merely asked that, in any application to Parliament for power to take common land in future, every publicity should be given to the inhabitants of Southampton in order that they might be able to express their opinion upon the matter. He thought it was desirable that the clause should he inserted, so I hat it might form a precedent in the case of similar applications being made by other Municipal Bodies hereafter.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, the object of the Amendment was practically to repeal a portion of an Act of Parliament which was at present in existence; and, in that case, the onus rested on those who proposed the clause and opposed the Bill to show that the legislation in question should be altered. No attempt had been made to satisfy that condition; and the House was simply asked, in the interests of an indefinite number of unknown persons, to subject the Corporation of Southampton to inconvenience in dealing with this public property—an inconvenience which the Legislature had deliberately considered, and had deliberately refused to inflict upon the Corporation. It was not necessary that he should go into the question whether the objection was a sentimental one or not. He would only say that if they exercised their common sense they would refuse to entertain it. The House was asked to repeal a portion of a section of a well-considered Act, and without any reason whatever being assigned in justification of the alteration. He hoped the House would refuse to accept the Amendment which had been proposed.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Bill to be read the third time.