§ MR. BROADHURST (Nottingham, W.)
said, the Instruction to the Committee upon this Bill he proposed to move was the outcome of a suggestion of the hon. Member for the Wimbledon Division (Mr. Bonsor), and it had been acquiesced in by the noble Marquess the Member for Brixton (The Marquess of Carmarthen). It was thought that the proposals in the Bill were so very extravagant that they ought to undergo careful consideration by the Committee upstairs. Agreeing on that subject, he, with the hon. Member and the noble Marquess he had referred to acquiescing, had put down an Instruction in reference to the Bill's extraordinary proposals as to retaining household property on the site, and the enormous price proposed to be given for the property. He was very glad to have another opportunity of calling the attention of the House to a statement made by the hon. Member who represented the Metropolitan Board of Works in the House (Mr. Tatton 1608 Egerton). On the occasion of the second reading that hon. Member said the Board of Works had not given its consent to being made a party to the promotion of the Bill; but he further said the Board had promised to make a contribution of £1,000 an acre towards the purchase without, it would seem, any clear knowledge of what the land was worth. If anything were required to justify the House in agreeing to this Instruction it would be found in the fact of the Metropolitan Board of Works being ignorant of the whole subject, and the further discussion in the Lambeth Vestry last Week. Some members of the Lambeth Vestry, wishing to condemn his action in the House, said that the Bill had no clause in it proposing to retain any property on the site. So absolutely ignorant was the Lambeth Vestry, alleged to be a party to the promotion of the Bill, that the members of that Vestry really did not know what the Bill contained or what it proposed to do. These two statements would entirely justify the House in giving this Instruction to the Committee. The Instruction provided that before the purchase of the land could be completed, a vote of the ratepayers of Lambeth should be taken as to their desire with reference to the proposed purchase. He could not imagine anything more reasonable than such a proposal. If the parish were found to be in favour of the purchase under the conditions named, the Instruction would be justified as the means of eliciting this opinion of the inhabitants. If, on the contrary, the ratepayers did not approve of the purchase of the land at this exorbitant price with the conditions attached, then it would be cruel and unjust in the highest degree for the House to permit a transaction to take place in the alleged interest of the ratepayers, though really in direct opposition to their wishes and desires in the matter. Seeing the hon. Member for Wimbledon in his place, and also the noble Marquess the Member for Brixton, he confidently asked both to support this Instruction, drawn up mainly at their suggestion. [Mr. BONSOR dissented]. The hon. Member shook his head; but he would remember that, with his wonderful knowledge of Parliamentary proceedings and great business ability, knowing what was going to take place, he came to his 1609 aid and suggested a means of averting the completion of the proposed undertaking. He also was good enough to accompany him (Mr. Broadhurst) to the presence of the austere Chairman of Ways and Means, whom he almost feared to face alone. Both the hon. Members he should hope to find voting with himself if this Motion were resisted. He reiterated what he had said on a former occasion in reference to the Bill. He had a statement in his hand emanating from a committee in the neighbourhood, signed by a gentleman named Daun, of whom he knew nothing, nor was he known in the neighbourhood. In that statement he (Mr. Broadhurst) was made to say a great many things he never uttered. His statement in regard to the locality and distance of the two commons was contradicted. But, by careful examination of the Post Office map in the Library, he found that Clapham Common was less than a mile from the site of the proposed Park. He stated in the previous debate that the distance was 20 minutes' walk, but really it was less than a mile along a straight road. Tooting Common was distant about a mile and 100 yards, and it was no great stress of the walking powers to cover that distance in 20 minutes. As a matter of fact, he walked the distance on Saturday morning in a quarter of an hour, and with no great exertion. As to the price of the land, the gentleman who issued the statement was good enough to say that valuers of high authority had assessed it at the value of £38,000. It was a curious thing that though many documents were circulated in the neighbourhood, and statements made as to the value of the land, the authority upon which such statements were made was never given. The great point he wished the House to notice in the matter was this—that a gentleman named Smallman, a member of the Lamboth Vestry, purchased the land, as he was informed, for about £18,000—somewhere about that sum, but the gentleman in question had made no statement himself on that point—and for a short time this gentleman and his son had both been residing on the property. Both, he understood, were members of the Vestry. Then, in a short time, Mr. Smallman turned round and wished to sell the land to the Vestry at £40,000. 1610 Now, if those gentlemen were so anxious for open spaces for the poor of London, one would scarcely have thought they would first purchase a small quantity of land at a moderately fair price, and then a short time afterwards offer it to the Vestry, in the interest of the ratepayers, at £40,000, Whether these statements were true or not no one could say without a thorough investigation into the whole subject; and it was for the purpose of securing this investigation that he moved this Instruction to the Committee. He moved it in the assurance that the House would agree it was a reasonable proposal, which only asked that an inquiry should be made of the ratepayers themselves as to the desirability of making the purchase at their expense.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Brixton Park Bill, That they do provide that the purchase of the Park be not made until the opinion of the ratepayers of Lambeth has been taken on the desirability of such purchase, and that they do take evidence as to the price demanded, the maintenance of houses on any part of the site, and other matters affecting the property as a place of recreation, and do report thereon to the House."—(Mr. Broadhurst.)
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Mr. COURTNEY) (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said, before the House proceeded to discuss this Instruction, he desired to make one or two observations, rather from the point of view of it as a matter of direction to the Committee. This was an unopposed Bill, and as such would come before himself as Chairman of Ways and Means, to whom Unopposed Bills were referred. The Instruction was divided into two parts. The first direction was that the Committee should insert a provision for obtaining the opinion of the ratepayers before the purchase should be completed. If that object were thought desirable there would be no difficulty in inserting such a provision; it would be a simple matter to obey the Instruction of the House in that particular, and to require that the plan of the Vestry should be entertained by the ratepayers at large before it was carried into practical effect. In some analogous Bills, where power to contribute in such a manner was given to Vestries on the North side of London, the Committee on Unopposed Bills did, on their own motion, insert provisions, not indeed requiring that the ratepayers at large 1611 should approve, but that the intention should be brought before the ratepayers, by notices affixed to certain public places for a certain length of time, so that the ratepayers might know what was going on, and then taking such action, by making representations or holding meetings, as they might think fit. Whether this safeguarding the interests of the ratepayers were affected by the insertion of a provision requiring notices of this kind to be published, or whether the safeguard were by requiring a vote of the inhabitants to be taken, either way it could easily be met; and the Committee on Unopposed Bills was quite competent to deal with it. But as to the other part of the Instruction, in which the Committee was required to take evidence as to price and the maintenance of houses on the site, that would be imposing on the Committee duties they were scarcely qualified to undertake. No doubt they could take evidence—that was to say, they could receive statements from the promoters of the Bill, and could report to the House what those statements were; but they could not of their own action—without, in fact, converting an Unopposed into an Opposed Bill—verify those statements by cross-examination and hearing other and counter evidence. This was the nature of an investigation by a Select Committee, and if it was intended to verify, modify, or correct the proposal upon evidence, then that should be done by a Committee treating the Bill as opposed, and the persons who opposed the Bill ought to take steps to secure that treatment of the Bill. Therefore, he would suggest to the hon. Member that as the latter part of the Instruction would be putting upon the Committee on Unopposed Bills that which that Committee could not undertake, the hon. Member should leave that part out of his Motion. As to the former part, directing that the Committee should insert a provision that the ratepayers should approve the action of the Vestry before practical effect was given to the proposal, that the Committee could undertake. It rested with the House to determine whether the Vestry should afterwards be checked in its action, or what steps should be taken. On that he had nothing to say; but he would suggest to the hon. Member that he should cut off from his Instruction all the words after the word "purchase."
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out all the words after the second word "purchase."
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, proposed.
§ MR. BONSOR (Surrey, Wimbledon)
said, as the hon. Member had alluded to him personally, he would in a few words explain his position. The hon. Gentleman made an attack on the promoters of the Bill, though he stated he would not divide against the second reading. He (Mr. Bonsor) afterwards saw the hon. Member in his private capacity, and informed him that the Bill was unopposed, and suggested that in justice to the statements of the hon. Gentleman the Bill should be referred to a Committee, where the facts could be threshed out in evidence. After that, being informed that the Bill was opposed, and that two Petitions were lodged against it, he did not see the hon. Gentleman as to the Instruction he proposed to move, and he had not seen the terms of it until he came to the House that day. As to that portion of the Instruction that had been moved, he had nothing to say against it. The ratepayers of Lambeth ought to be consulted, and he believed that the ratepayers would, by a large majority, endorse the action contemplated in the Bill for providing an open space for the poor of that portion of Lambeth. He hoped the Bill would now be allowed to proceed.
§ MR. FIRTH (Dundee)
said, as to the last observations of the hon. Member he had received a communication from leading members of the Vestry, who took an exactly opposite opinion to that of the hon. Member. Where opinion was so divided, it was right that the ratepayers should have the opportunity of making their wishes known. He supposed the Committee would settle the way in which this should be ascertained. He would suggest that it could readily be ascertained by the same method as was pursued in gathering local opinion in reference to the Public Libraries Act. But it was a point, no doubt, the Committee would settle for themselves. The policy of the Vestry to expend this large sum of money could not be shown to have had any sanction from the ratepayers. [Cries of "Agreed!"] If the House was agreed there was no reason to argue it 1613 further; but he would mention that he had received statements on the same lines as those given by his hon. Friend in front that the purchase was first made by a Vestryman who afterwards proposed to sell to the Vestry. This was a matter that ought to be investigated.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Brixton Park Bill, That they do provide that the purchase of the Park he not made until the opinion of the ratepayers of Lambeth has been taken on the desirability of such purchase.