HC Deb 30 July 1889 vol 338 cc1754-89

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [19th July] "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

In continuing the speech which I was delivering in opposition to this Bill on the 19th inst., when I was interrupted by effluxion of time——

Notice taken, that 40 members were not present; House counted, and 40 members being found present,


proceeded: I will, so far as I can, avoid travelling over arguments I used previously. When I last spoke I was pointing out the densely-populated neighbourhood in which this prison site is situated, and I gave the House some indication of the vast number of new blocks of model dwellings erected or being erected around and near this site, and in the Holborn Division outside the radius of Clerken-well. Those acquainted with the district will remember the block of dwellings named after a late Member of the House esteemed on both sides, the late Colonel Duncan. These model dwellings are erected without those little garden spaces that used to attach to the small houses, and they have simply small asphalted areas. The case of the Government, as stated by the Postmaster General, is a good one from their point of view, that they secure a valuable plot of ground for the concentration of their various Departments now scattered over various parts of London and the economy and convenience of such a concentration, of course, is admitted. The only question is, where and how is this site for a Post Office depôt to be secured? I contend that the inhabitants of London should not be called upon to find a costly site in order that a wealthy Department like the Post Office may economise and show a little increase in its revenues. We have to look at this from the point of view of the people of London. Are they to be asked to contribute this site to enable the Postmaster General to make this saving of £300,000? If the Department were concentrated and centralised on some other spot near the great railway termini, the Post Office would still make their great saving. The Government have proceeded with works upon this site without any authority whatever. They have violated the Act of 1877, and, on discovering their mistake, they cause the present Bill to be drafted so as to whitewash them for what they have done. The ground is not covered; much of the old building is not cleared away yet. Our great contention is that Clause 34 of the Prisons Act of 1877 has not been carried out. We contend that a public sale is necessary under that Act; but the Government have simply, by private negotiation, handed over the site to a Government Department, transferring the money from one pocket to another, so to speak. I cannot accept the figures of the Postmaster General—I mean this in no invidious sense—and I maintain that something should be done to obtain the full value of the site. The whole raison d'être of the Bill is the doubt that has been thrown upon the action of the Government in proceeding, as I say, in contravention of the 34th clause of the Prisons Act. We have a very strong case in the recommendations of the Royal Commission—a very strong Commission which sat for three years, and took evidence in reference to the question of housing the working classes. The Royal Commission recommended that the sites of Millbank, Coldbath Fields, and Pen- tonville Prisons should be conveyed to the Metropolitan Board of Works, in order to secure additional land for the erection of dwellings for the working classes, and for open spaces connected therewith. Since the Commission reported, three or four blocks of artisans dwellings have been erected around this site, and the neighbourhood has become still more densely populated, and the requirements for open spaces are greater in proportion. I may be told that the House did not accept the recommendations of the Commission to the fullest extent, nor did it; but in the Housing of the Working Classes Act it was provided that the land should be acquired at the fair market value. The recommendations of the Commission carried weight with the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, and certainly I think the recommendation of the Royal Commission should have great weight with the House. Remember His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was at the head of it; and among the other members were Cardinal Manning, the Marquess of Salisbury—who is the head of the Government which is bringing in a Bill now which will frustrate the object aimed at in the Report of the Commission—Lord Brownlow, Lord Carrington, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Lord Cross. Thus the House will see that no fewer than three Members of the present Cabinet were on that Royal Commission, and I am waiting with some anxiety to hear the reasons which have induced the Government to go in the face of the Report of that body. The Commission was a strong and thoroughly representative body, and I repeat that its recommendations ought to have great weight with the Government. Now, no doubt, it will be urged against us that the Clerken well Vestry do not want these open spaces. I beg the right hon. Gentleman opposite not to trust to such a broken reed as the opinion of the Clerkenwell Vestry. I believe that that body has changed its opinion on this subject three times, and when we have succeeded in getting this as an open space, no doubt the Vestry will come to the conclusion that it ought to be utilised as such. I am not bound to defend either the consistency or the inconsistency of the Clerkenwell Vestry, but, allow me, Sir, to point out that, after all, Clerkenwell is only a small portion of the area interested in this matter, and I believe that the only reason why they have gone back on their former decision in favour of making this an open space is to be found in the fact that they hope to secure a contribution to their rates if the Post Office cover this site with Government buildings. They do not care about the health of the neighbourhood in question; all they are looking for is a small addition to their rates. There has been a lot said about open spaces in this neighbourhood, and I am aware that two squares have been opened there through the kindness of the Marquess of Northampton; but, after all, they only cover a space of two acres between them, and the children living immediately around are more than sufficient to crowd them on a summer's evening. I was not surprised that the Metropolitan Board of Works did not see their way to purchase this site for the purpose of erecting artisans dwellings. The charge which it was proposed to make for it, namely, £180,000, was too excessive. I believe there is a general opinion that this site should be converted into an open space. I have said, and I repeat, that no more large buildings are wanted in the neighbourhood. There have been, within the last two or three months, the foundations laid of another large block of buildings in a street just within a stone's throw of this site, and three other large blocks have been erected within the last 18 months, and therefore it cannot be said that there is any need for more dwellings for the working classes to be erected on this spot. Remember that the districts of Clerkenwell, Holborn, St. Pancras, and St. Luke, which are interested in this matter, are very densely populated, and I should like to give the House a few figures to show the density of population. There are, I believe, 380 acres in Clerkenwell—although some people say 340; I prefer to put it at the higher figure—and upon this small area there is a population of 70,000 persons. Now, what do we find to be the density of population in other parts of the Metropolis? In St. George's, Hanover Square, the average is £5 of population to the acre, at Paddington 91, at Kensington 74, at Hampstead 20, and at Hackney 47. These figures are surely enough to prove where lungs are absolutely necessary, and I do hope that something will be done not only for the children, but also for the grown-up people by converting the site of this prison into an open space. When the working classes occupied small houses, they each had a small back garden in which to spend their spare time; but since these huge buildings have been erected they have lost all this occupation, and are compelled, practically, to stay in their own rooms, and I say that some space ought to be provided to compensate the working man and his family for the loss of these little plots of ground. I believe that something in the way of providing open spaces is absolutely necessary to be done in this district in the interests of the health of the children, and I make an appeal to Her Majesty's Government to seriously consider the claims of the people to have this site converted into an open space. I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time this day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and add, at the end of the Question, the words "this day three months."—(Mr. James Rowlands.)

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

* MR. L. H. ISAACS (Newington, Walworth)

I rise to second the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member. I take exception to the very high-handed manner in which the Government have dealt with this question. I think a bad example is being set by a Government, which is so very much engaged in maintaining law and order, that they should in this instance absolutely set the law at naught in the manner in which they are dealing with this site. It is a great pity, too, that they should pay so little regard to the inquiries and Report of the Commission on the Housing of the Poor, which sat for three years, and the Chairman of which, the Prince of Wales, went into Clerkenwell and the neighbourhood of Holborn to see for himself the conditions under which the population were living in those crowded districts. If ever there was a ease in which the Government should act generously to the people of London it was in this case. The sight was in the centre of London surrounded by a poor and densely- packed working class population. In the vicinity of this Bite there are 10 or a dozen huge blocks of artisans' dwellings, five, six, or seven storeys in height, and the children who dwell in them see little else but bricks and mortar and asphalted courts. However excellent may be the internal arrangements of these blocks, their very height shuts out air and sunshine, the absence of which must affect the health of the occupants. In the playground at the top of the building, the children are, in certain conditions of the atmosphere, enveloped in the smoke and soot that come from the surrounding chimneys, while the sunlight can rarely penetrate to the floor of the court, which is only half as wide as the dwellings are high. There is, therefore, the most urgent need of open spaces in the neighbourhood of these blocks of dwellings; and certainly the people ought not to be deprived of this site for the sake of giving a pecuniary advantage to the Post Office. Indeed, I hold that the Post Office should not be so much looked upon by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a money-earning Department, and when it pays its way the profits should be devoted to, say, reducing the rates of postage to the Colonies, or lowering the cost of telegrams. There would be some excuse for using a portion of this site for a technical school in the very midst of a population requiring it; but the health and well-being of the people are too important to be sacrificed to the development of the Post Office on commercial principles only, and I therefore trust the Bill will be rejected.

* MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

I should also like to urge that this Bill be not read a second time. I know perfectly well the line of argument taken by the Government is that this is a convenient site, and that it is required for Post Office purposes. That may be very true; but I submit that the needs of the Post Office do not justify the appropriation of this site in the midst of a densely-crowded population and only just over a mile from the Bank of England. It is easy to say the Government have a right to do what they are doing; but it is rather a strong order for the Government to anticipate the authority they have brought in this Bill to obtain, and before the Bill is read a second time to spend a large sum of money in covering the site with buildings. The Government claim to have the right to this site; but it is remarkable that of the 10 clauses of the Bill, no fewer than four are intended to remove doubts as to whether the Government really have or have not the rights which they claim. It appears from two clauses that doubts had arisen as to the validity of the sale and transfer, and as to the powers of the parties to the agreement, and two other clauses are to-put an end to claims or demands in the future upon any of the parties to the transfer. Therefore there are doubts in the case; and it is reasonable to ask that the people of the district should have the benefit of those doubts. If the Government, admitting that these doubts exist, would agree to make six out of the eight acres into an open space, possibly some of us might withdraw our objections; but if they persist in their proposal, they will have to deal with formidable opposition from Conservative Members. It is conceivable that Hyde Park or Kensington Gardens would, if built upon, give a material addition to the rates; but this is not a matter which should be looked at from the pecuniary interests of one district; it is a matter which concerns not merely Clerkenwell— it concerns London as a whole. I say the health of the centre of London is a matter in which we are all interested. I base my opposition to the Bill on this simple ground, that I challenge the Government on their rights. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is as keenly in favour as any of us of open spaces, and I therefore appeal to him. Inasmuch as there are doubts as to the legal aspect of the question, and as among a large number of their own followers there is a strong opinion that this site should be an open space, I think the Government are bound to take these doubts into consideration, and do something to grant our request. It has been said that we want to take this land and not to pay for it. That is not so. We want the Government to look into the facts, for it is extremely doubtful whether the ratepayers have not really already paid for this land. Granting, however, for argument's sake that the Government have, technically, some claim upon it, I think we are bound, in the interests of all parties, that if the Government cannot see their way to give us the whole site, to oppose the Bill in every possible way, in order to see whether we cannot secure some substantial part of this ground for an open space in the centre of London.

* VISCOUNT LYMINGTON (Devon, South Molton)

Mr. Speaker, what are the main arguments that have been put forward in favour of this proposal? The first argument is strictly a financial argument. The Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed to the assertion that the Government have a right to this site. I challenge that right, and, independently of any social consideration whatever, I challenge it upon the strict ground of finance. I have no doubt the Home Secretary will remind the House of the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1885. I quite admit—I regretfully admit—that a certain number of political doctrinaires got the better of the House at a late period of the Session, the 11th August, and inserted the words—"a fair market value." But my right hon. Friend will say that, therefore, the Government are obliged by Act of Parliament to hand over this site at a fair market value. What is the real literal history of this transaction? When the present Government was formed and the noble Lord the Member for Paddington was Chancellor of the Exchequer, tenders were sent out on the part of the Treasury seeking for somebody who would erect on the land artisans' dwellings. One of the largest Artisans' Dwellings Companies in existence with which I am connected, and whose shares, both ordinary and preference, stand at a very large premium, made an offer to the Government of £100,000 for the site. The Postmaster General, in the course of his speech, told the House that the site had been valued by the Government at £96,000; therefore, taking the strictly financial view, the Government neglected their duty in refusing the offer. Why did they refuse to accept our offer of £100,000? They cannot shelter themselves under the clause of the Act of Parliament. Why did they not accept our offer at a "fair market value?" There is no answer to that except the fact which leaked out afterwards that the Post Office, already a large trading concern, wanted to take advantage of the site. The Postmaster General has quoted a large extract from the Report of the Vestry in favour of his scheme. The matter has been referred to in the Report of the Royal Commission, and it has been dealt with and emphasised in a special Memorandum of the Prime Minister. It is ridiculous to quote the Vestry of Clerkenwell, when we consider the influences which must have prompted their recommendation. The Vestry wanted a large influx of population to add to the local trade and to reduce the burden of the rates, but such considerations are not worthy of influencing the House of Commons in the matter. The Royal Commission suggest that the sites occupied by Mill-bank and Coldbath-Fields Prisons should be conveyed to the Metropolitan Board of Works in trust for those parts of the town which are most overcrowded, and that in fixing the price of the sites due regard should be had to the purposes to which they are required. The Prime Minister, in his special Memorandum, said that if the sites are sold at cost price to some authority or trust which will build working men's dwellings, the result will be to satisfy some special want under which, from its peculiar circumstances, London labours. Secondly, that the State, by making London the centre of Government, had both swelled the population by its employés and diminished house room; and, thirdly, and consequently, to use these prison sites in the interests of the people of London more closely resembled the provision of compensation than the offer of a gift. I come now to the peculiar case of Clerkenwell. The great trade of the district is the watch trade, and the ordinary apparatus by which that trade is carried on is so costly that none of the workmen are able to buy the whole of it. The consequence is, that they have to go around and borrow from one another, and the district is very crowded. The Conservative Party, led by Lord Salisbury, have deservedly obtained great popular credit for enabling the Royal Commission to sit and make their very able and interesting Report; and this is the first case in which the Government are able, in a practical way, to show their sincerity in this question. But they are going not only to cover with large buildings one of the most crowded parts of London, but to pour into it a mass of their own employés. We know that what applies to the people of Clerkenwell must apply to all who are or will be employed in the Post Office, the Telegraph Office, and the other Departments which the Government may maintain in that district. They will be obliged to live close to their work, and will be brought into competition with the already overcrowded poor who have to live at Clerkenwell. It came out in evidence before the Royal Commission, and was also shown before the Committee on the leasehold question, that the proportion which the ordinary workman pays out of his wages in rent is one which, having regard to the middle and upper classes, is an exorbitant proportion. Therefore, Parliament ought to resist any proposal which would artificially raise the rent of the working man. It is a strange coincidence that while the noble Lord the Member for Paddington is educating his Party on this question we should be confronted in the House of Commons by a proposal of this kind made by a Government of the Party to which that noble Lord belonged. In the Committee on leaseholds the evidence taken went to show that they could not erect dwellings suitable to the requirements of the working classes in central London, and pay a reasonable amount of interest on the capital expended, unless they got the land at less than the market value. The Peabody trustees were enabled to pay less for their land than they would have had to pay on strict commercial conditions, because the Metropolitan Board of Works undertook to clear the sites on which they erected their buildings. On the other hand, they could not reduce the cost of erection by cheapening the character of their buildings. The wear and tear connected with artisans' dwellings were enormous, and the dwellings must be built in a very substantial, and therefore expensive manner. But the great landlords of London have shown themselves equal to, and capable of, appreciating their great responsibilities. Lord Portman has let land to an artisans' dwellings association for 2d. per superficial foot, which is worth 6d. in the market. The Duke of Westminster has also offered sites on his valuable London property at one-third of the market value, and Lord Northampton has acted in a very similar manner. The example set by the great London landlords ought not to be set at defiance by the Government. Those great landlords have spared Parliament the necessity of having to interfere in this matter; and it is infinitely better that such social reforms should be dealt with by a sense of public spirit and the force of example-rather than by the dangerous method of legislative interference. If the Government repudiates its responsibility and refuses to assist in the solution of the social problem in London, it will become tenfold more difficult to induce the small landlords in London, who are a considerable body, to perform their part and do their duty. If the Government treat this subject as they propose to do by their Bill, they may gain a little money for the Treasury, but they will strike a serious blow at the interests of Conservatism in London—using the term in no party sense; because they will implant in the minds of the people of London the conviction that their interests are being trifled with, and they cannot look for relief to Reports of Royal Commissions, or Memorandums of Prime Ministers, but to the Party of extreme views who are already a powerful Party in London, and who, if encouraged by unfortunate and inept proposals of that kind, may at any moment become supreme.


The noble Lord who has just sat down has declaimed against legislative interference, but the-scheme which he has himself advocated cannot be carried out without legislative interference. The noble Lord appealed to the Government to assist in London improvements. We decline to do so out of funds which do not belong to London. The House will remember the sort of bargain that was made between the State and the Local Authorities when the prisons were transferred in 1877 to the State. The general scheme of the Act of 1877 was that each Local Authority was bound by the Act to hand over to the State buildings containing; adequate accommodation for a number of prisoners representing the average numbers which the Local Authority had been bound to look after in the preceding five years. If the Local Authority provided accommodation in excess of that average, it was to be paid £120 per cell as compensation for the extra value; and, on the other hand, if there was a deficiency, it was to pay £120 per cell to the State, which had to provide the requisite accommodation for the prisoners. That being so, it is idle to urge, as the hon. Member opposite has done, that that prison was built at the expense of the rates. All the prisons were, of course, paid for out of the fund provided, and were handed over to the State. Where there was more accommodation than was wanted, the Local Authority was compensated for the excess; and, on the other hand, where the accommodation was insufficient, a deduction was made. Middlesex was one of those counties compensated, and a fair bargain in that way was made. Do not let it be supposed that the State has spent nothing on the Clerkenwell Prison since it has been in possession of it. From 1879 to 1885 £204, 615 of public money was spend on maintenance, repairs, and general outlay. Therefore it was not a profitable bargain to the State, and it was a great saving to the Middlesex Magistrates. The Act requires that if the use of a prison be discontinued it has to be offered, in the first place, to the Local Prison Authority upon payment of £120 per cell, which, in the present case, would amount to £186,960. It was offered to the Middlesex Justices at that price, and if they had bought it they might have devoted it to whatever purposes they thought fit. The Middlesex Justices, however, with very great prudence, entirely declined to pay the price—acting as wise stewards of the Public Purse—and the Secretary of State could not ask less. The Middlesex Magistrates acted with their eyes open, because when the Tothill Fields Prison was offered them at the statutory price they did buy it, and afterwards resold it to a speculator at double the price. The Middlesex Magistrates got the advantage when the market price was higher than the price fixed by the Act, and they were bound by the Act when the market value was less than the statutory price. The site of the Cold bath Fields Prison vested in the Secretary of State as trustee for sale, and he was bound to sell it on the Very best terms. Having sold it he had to pay into the Exchequer the amount required to be paid to the Local Authority. If by any contrivance, by art of sale, auctioneer's puffing, device of cutting the land up into lots or otherwise, it could be made to produce £186,960, every shilling had to be paid into the Exchequer, and if it could be made to produce more, then the surplus belonged to the Middlesex Magistrates. The estate had two cestui qui trusts behind it, as will be seen on perusal of the Act of Parliament. The Secretary of State was a trustee for the sale, and was bound to sell to the best advantage. Up to £186,960 this site was an asset of the Exchequer, and it was quite obvious that the interest of the Middlesex Justices was too remote to be worth considering. Well, that was the state of things when the prison was discontinued. Then came the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1885. The opinions of the members of the Commission—of Prime Ministers, and Foreign Secretaries, and so on——


Your own Prime Minister.


No doubt; but the opinions to which the noble Lord so eloquently referred were not accepted by Parliament. The Act contains a clause which was binding upon my predecessors, which is to the effect that in the event of the removal from its present site of Coldbath Fields Prison it should be lawful—for whom?—for the Justices of the Peace of Middlesex to sell and convey the site to the Metropolitan Board of Works at a fair market price. Fair market price, therefore, was insisted on by the Legislature, and the Legislature only gave power to the Justices of Middlesex because it assumed they would have first offer under the Prisons Act, 1877, paying for it out of the ratepayers' money, the price fixed by the statute—namely, £186,960. Therefore the Commission on the Housing of the Poor has nothing to do with the matter.


I stated as a fact that the Government asked for tenders for the site for the erection of artisans' dwellings, and that they received an offer from a responsible company above the valuation at which the Government had themselves appraised the site.


I have not reached that point yet. I am coming to it. I want first, as a good deal has been said about the Housing of the Working Classes Act, to draw attention to the fact that the conditions of that legislation do not affect the position of the Secretary of State the least in the world. He had no additional powers given to him, but even if he had fallen under that Act he would not have been able to sell to the Metropolitan Board of Works for less than a fair market price. We may, therefore, put aside the Housing of the Working Classes Act. My predecessor, bearing in mind the labours of the Royal Commission, and the want that London felt, or was supposed to feel, of improved labourers' dwellings, did in April, 1886, offer this property to the Metropolitan Board of Works for the purpose of erecting workmen's dwellings, and they were asked if there was any chance of their taking it at a price somewhat lower than the market value. In making that offer I think that my predecessor was running some little risk, and that he would have been wise in obtaining an Act of Parliament to ratify what he did. The Metropolitan Board of Works took some time to consider the matter, and at length came to the conclusion which has been stated by the hon. Member for St. Pancras—namely, that no more artisans' dwellings were wanted in Clerkenwell. Undoubtedly it would be very desirable to turn this site into an open space. ["Hear, hear."] Yes, it is always desirable to get an open space at someone else's expense. ["Oh."] We are not particularly anxious to have the site covered with buildings. The Secretary of State was bound to sell it to the best advantage, and it was offered for sale to the Metropolitan Board of Works, but they thought enough had been done for Clerkenwell, and were not disposed to put their hands into the ratepayers' pockets for this large sum. That was the state of affairs in 1886, and up to that point I consider that the Secretary of State discharged his duty, having even volunteered to take less than the market value. My own responsibility commenced about this time. I caused the site to be offered for sale, and offers were made for it, which were ridiculously below the value of the site. One offer was £48,000, one £60,000, one £70,000 and one £80,000, and lastly there was the offer of the benevolent company to which the noble Lord belongs of £100,000. That was a price a little beyond that which one would have expected to get if the transaction was one which it was sought to complete in a hurry. No doubt it would have been accepted if the demand of the Post Office had not arisen. Let me remind the House that if I had accepted the £100,000 from that Company, the amount would have been handed over to the Exchequer as an asset, but the Exchequer had a perfect right to say, "No, we prefer to take the land instead of the £100,000, which is the price of it." In saying that is any wrong done to any human being? The Middlesex Magistrates are entitled to nothing save any excess in the purchase money beyond £186,000, but there was no excess. The site was handed over to the Post Office for£100,000—at least that was the form the transaction took, for so far as the Treasury were concerned it was only transferring the amount from one account to another. It might have been said by a subtle lawyer if the price had been fixed at £186,000, "How is it made out that if the land had not been transferred from one Department of the State to another, but had been sold in the open market, there would not have been a surplus to pay over to the Middlesex Magistrates?" and litigation might have ensued in order to show what the real value of the land was. The best test of the value of land is what you can get for it, and for this site I was never offered more than £100,000; therefore in parting with it to the Post Office the value was assessed at £ 100,000. Without legislation it was impossible for the Government to give this site for an open space or artisans' dwellings, or any other similar purpose. I had no authority to do that. I could not do that which the House had deliberately condemned—that is to take an Imperial asset and dispose of it as suggested. The Metropolitan Members have the audacity to come and ask me to take this Imperial asset of the value of £186,000 and hand it over, not to the Metropolis, but to Clerkenwell, a small district of the Metropolis. They ask me to do that which the Legislature has repeatedly, for years, refused to do. Why, the Legislature refused to go on paying for the London parks out of Imperial funds, and, I ask, how can they expect that this property should be taken and handed over to Clerkenwell as an open space? No doubt Clerkenwell is a desert of bricks and mortar and asphalte, where the children get little of the light of the sun and never an opportunity of enjoying fresh air in an open space, and where life has to be endured under such conditions as render ithardly worth living; but I contend that the Government have no right to put their hands into the pockets of the taxpayers of the country in order to provide the Clerkenwell children with a park. If the principle of doing such a thing were admitted, I should like to put in a plea for Birmingham, where there are also children who never see a green leaf or the light of the sun. I might with as great propriety put in a plea for Birmingham as hon. Members put one in for Clerkenwell; and when hon. Members talk about the duty of the Government in this matter I would ask them to reflect upon what they are proposing. They are asking us to give £186,000 of the taxpayers' money to the poor children of Clerkenwell—that and nothing less. No doubt money was spent very freely in this way in former times. London was treated as a spoilt child; and even yet a large amount of Imperial money is spent on local objects in London in a manner that hardly bears the test of critical examination. I must say I am surprised to hear such doctrines as that Imperial Funds should be expended on Clerkenwell come from the strict economists sitting opposite. They actually come forward—no doubt Tinder pressure from their constituents —and blame the Government for not giving public money to Clerkenwell, founding themselves on a fancied claim of the Magistrates of Middlesex to some surplus over the £186,000 which the Government had fixed as the value of the Clerkenwell site. The Government, however, are convinced that they have discharged their duty in the arrangement they have made. No reason has been given why the Post Office should not acquire this site for £100,000. In the interest of the taxpayers themselves the arrangement is a good one, for the reason that if the Post Office were compelled to look elsewhere for a site it would cost them £150,000 or £200,000. Taking all the circumstances into consideration it seems to me that it was obviously the duty of the Government to acquire the land.

* MR. FIRTH (Dundee)

The speeches n which the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General introduced the Bill and the Home Secretary has supported it, have been remarkable. They have been remarkable for their absolutely unnecessary vigour of expression and denunciation. The Home Secretary has thrown out defiance to the House and the language of the Postmaster General was more vigorous still. We have heard from both of those Ministers the strongest condemnation of those who want money out of other people's pockets; we have heard much about confiscation and so forth. The Postmaster General went out of his way to speak in a manner which was not wise, if, indeed, it was courteous, of the London County Council, who had not dealt with the question at all. But surely all this excitement hides something that ought to be brought to light. In the first place, let us see what the other people's pocket argument amounts to. It amounts to this, that 100 years ago people whom we represent to-day paid out of their own pockets for the site and the building of the prison. [An hon. Member: So did every other county.] That is an observation that has not the slightest bearing on what I am saying, because we are dealing with what happened in Middlesex. What the people of Massachusetts, or of the county that has the privilege of being represented by the hon. Member did is perfectly immaterial to this argument. The ratepayers of Middlesex paid for this site and building, and in 1877 the prison was taken from them by the Government. How about confiscation so far as that was concerned? At the time the hon. Member for the Horsham division of Sussex said it was a serious matter of confiscation, and a number of hon. Members on that side of the House strongly denounced what we are now told was a bargain that we agreed to. The property was taken from the ratepayers of Middlesex without any sort of compensation whatever. [Cries of "No, no."] I mean compensation paid down. Of course there was what was understood to be an equivalent, namely, the maintenance of the prison. But there is not an hon. or right hon. Gentleman who will suggest it was ever anticipated that Clause 34 of the Prisons Act would apply to the case which has arisen in London. The Home Secretary read a certain portion of the clause and then stopped. He never suggested to us how it was he had not carried out the definite provision of the clause which says "it shall be sold." It has not been sold. Suppose it had been put up for public sale what would have happened? I apprehend some one representing Londoners would have been willing to bid for it and to turn it into an open space. The Home Secretary was correct in saying he was a trustee. That was distinctly stated by Mr. Selwin Ibbetson on the Prisons Bill; he said that so long as the prison continued to be used as such so long would it remain in the name of the Home Secretary as the trustee for the county. Well, that is the position, and I really do not see why the Home Secretary should ask the House to sanction a proceeding which amounts to an evasion of the Act. He has not told us how it is the Post Office entered into possession of this place a couple of years ago; on what possible legal ground did they do that? Is this not a case in which the Government have set at naught the Statutes altogether and have disregarded the interests of the people? On the 24th of February, 1887, the Home Secretary said— Any proposal either from the Metropolitan Board of Works or the Vestry for the retention of the site of Coldbath Fields Prison as an open space will receive my careful attention. Will any such proposal receive his careful attention now? I suppose it will be considered that matters have gone too far. What is the price the Post Office have paid for the place? Is there any price to be paid? A transaction of this kind ought to be carried out in strict accordance with the law. As a matter of fact the Post Office have obtained possession of the site without a line of law to support them. This is certainly not a case in which the Government have any right to talk about confiscation and outrage. I hope the concessions of Members for London interested in the preservation of its rights and open spaces may ultimately succeed in bringing such pressure on the Government as to make them either alter the Bill or withdraw it altogether.

MR. COCHRANE-BAILLIE (St. Pancras, North)

I imagine we are all disposed to say that all proper regard should be paid to the feelings of the Local Authorities in a matter of this kind, but my hon. Friend the Member for North Islington has, I think, estimated the opinion of the Vestry of Clerkenwell at its true value. He has shown us that it is only a few years ago-the Vestry expressed a contrary opinion to that they express now; secondly, that the Vestry of Clerkenwell are not of sufficient importance to be considered in a matter which deals with a far larger neighbourhood than that of the very limited district of one the Vestry presides, and also that the Vestry of Clerkenwell are not a body directly concerned in this matter, and that originally those who had to deal with this question were the Magistrates of the County of Middlesex. It was evident from what fell from the Home Secretary that the Post Office had made a very good bargain indeed. The last statement made was, that if the Post Office had not got this site they would have bad to pay £150,000 or £200,000 for some other site, and, therefore, the Post Office were only too glad to obtain this site on such advantageous terms. As I agree that the Post Office should not be regarded as a mere money making concern, that after proper attention has been paid to its immediate affairs, the public interests in other matters should be considered, and, more particularly, as I understand that the proposed extension is solely for the carrying on of the Parcels Post, which is, in the opinion of some, altogether extraneous to the proper functions of the Post Office, I hope we shall be able to force the Government to accept some compromise in this-matter.

* MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

I hope I shall be able to convince my hon. Friends on this side of the House who represent country constituencies that the Representatives of London are by no means so unreasonable and grasping as they are said to be. The Home Secretary appeals to the bargain made in 1877. He says that in 1877 the State took over as going concerns, if I may use the term, the prisons of Middlesex, subject to the burden that they should maintain the prisons and prisoners, and subject also to the condition that if any of the prisons were discontinued they should, upon certain terms, revert to-their original owners. The rational and logical conclusion of the Home Secretary's speech was that the Government should insist upon the carrying out of the bargain upon which they rely. That is exactly what the Government do not do. They come to the House and ask us to revise the bargain which was then entered into. If the bargain is to be re-opened I submit there are certain equitable considerations which have arisen since the year 1877, and which may well be taken into view. The burden which the State undertook in 1877 has been by no means so onerous as was at the time anticipated. In 1877 the daily average of prisoners to be maintained was over 20,000, whereas last year it was only 15,000. Therefore, the State's part of the bargain has been one-fourth lighter than could be at the time fairly anticipated. That is an equitable consideration which applies, I admit, not to the Metropolis only, but to every case in which a prison is discontinued, and where the Local Authority puts in a claim for the use of the site of the prison. A word, however, in reference to the particular case of Clerkenwell Prison. The Home Secretary says the Act of 1885 has nothing whatever to do with the question. But the Act of 1885 amounts to a declaration on the part of the Government of that day, which is for all practical purposes the present Government, that it is desirable that the site of this prison should be used for a public metropolitan purpose. It is provided— That the Justices of Middlesex may, if they think fit, sell and convey the prison to the Metropolitan Board of Work at a fair market price. But the Justices of Middlesex were not at the time any more than now the owners of the site. The State was the owner of it, and, therefore, if the present contention of the Government is true, when with a great flourish of trumpets they put forward the Bill of 1885 to facilitate the Housing of the Working Classes, they must have known this site could not be secured for that purpose except at a price which was double its commercial value. There can be no doubt in any candid mind that the intention of the Government at the time was not to insist upon the statutory price then which now they insist upon. Since then the Post Office has put in a claim for this site, and if the Post Office had not done so, I believe the Government would have been willing to do now what I submit they were ready to do in 1885. We are really reduced to the position which my hon. Friend stated a little while ago, namely—that the Post Office, a large money-earning institution, is to have the advantage, and the people of London are to go to the wall. May I contrast the action of the Government in, this matter with what it is believed very generally out of doors is intended to be their action with reference to Newgate. It is commonly believed that the Government are entertaining the idea of handing over the site of Newgate to the Corporation of the City of London, upon condition that the City will erect upon a portion of the site a new Criminal Court. What is the-difference in principle between handing over the site of Newgate to the Corporation upon such terms and handing over the site of Clerkenwell prison for an open space for the people? I hope the Government will assent not only to the appeal which is made to them from this side of the House, but to the great pressure which has been put upon them by their own supporters, and will not only do a gracious act, but an act which, will very materially contribute to the health of the Metropolis.


I should like to give the reasons why I intend to support the Amendment. After hearing the speech of the hon. Member for East Finsbury the other night, I went down to the neighbourhood of this prison. Hooked about for open spaces. I found a great number of industrial dwellings, seven, storeys high, built or in process of construction, but the open spaces were very few. I noticed two small squares, in the case of one of which there was written up—"This not a playground." The Board School playgrounds were locked up—it was Saturday—and indeed there was no place whatever where the children of the neighbourhood could play. I consider it the duty of Her Majesty's Government to do what they can to help the people in that locality; certainly they ought not to-step in and prevent the site in question being turned into an open space. The provision of proper means for the recreation of the people is an important matter from a military point of view-In 1883 only 396 per 1,000 of our recruits were rejected, whereas in 1887 the number had risen to 456. I attri- bute the deterioration in the physique of our men very largely to the want of sufficient open spaces in which they can in their younger days play. The health of the people is a serious matter, and as far as my vote will do it, I shall secure as many open spaces as it is possible to secure.

MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

When demands are made by Metropolitan Members, of whom there are now so many in the House, it is not unbecoming for hon. Members who do not sit for any part of London to watch with some jealousy the contentions put forward. This question is supposed to rest upon the circumstance that the ratepayers of Middlesex bought the site of Coldbath Fields Prison and paid for what was erected thereon. I observed that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green abandoned that position and dwelt entirely upon the language of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1885. It is worth while to devote a little attention to the preliminary contention that, because the ratepayers for Middlesex bought the site and erected the prison they are entitled to have the site restored to them. The site of the prison was taken from them by the Act of 1877 upon perfectly well-understood principles. Up to that time the county of Middlesex was charged with the duty of maintaining its prisons. The Government of the day thought that the prisons should be taken from the Local Authorities and handed over to the country. The policy was much contested at the time; it was opposed very strongly, as I remember well, by the late Mr. Rylands. The localities were discharged from the duties attached to the prisons. There was a fair counterbalance of interest. Although, no doubt, valuable property was taken, a most onerous duty was at the same time removed from the locality. As to the fairness of the bargain there was no question at the time, neither was there any question as to the fairness of the provision that, if under certain circumstances, the prisons were no longer wanted, the sites might be restored to the original owners at a fixed price. It is conceded in this discussion that the price so named is prohibitive, so that the right of pre-emption, although it theoretically exists, is practically of no Value whatever. I contest altogether the suggestion that the people of the London County have any claim to this property because they originally bought it or their predecessors bought it, because whilst undoubtedly they did so they held the property subject to the most onerous trusts, of which the nation has relieved them. That being the case, how is the matter altered by the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1885? I confess I do not look upon that Act, or rather on the circumstances attendant upon the conception and inception of that Act, with any very great favour. The Act originated in the excitement which was promoted by an article in a sensational newspaper, and by rival articles which were written by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and the present Prime Minister. Each wrote an article in a review in connection with this outcry, and the Royal Commission, who were looking about for some means of solving the problem, were struck with the happy thought that, at all events, there were some sites in London which might possibly be appropriated for the relief of congested districts, and their Report was partly embodied in an Act passed immediately before an appeal was made to the country in 1885. I think we should be justified in looking upon that Act with extreme jealousy, but I am glad to say a provision was inserted in the Act of sufficient strength and vigour to bar any such pretensions as this on the part of the Metropolitan Members; that the Metropolis should only acquire sites at a fair market price. If the London County Council is disposed or was disposed to give a fair market price for this Clerkenwell site— and I look on a fair market price as that which it would fetch in the open market—they had the right to claim it; but they did nothing of the kind. They put forward a sort of claim upon the recommendation of the Commission that the working classes of London should be relieved at the expense of the Imperial taxpayers. They did not use their claim of pre-emption at a fair market price, and I do hope the House will resist altogether most strenuously, most persistently, claims of this kind. As I said at the commencement of my remarks, the representatives of London are agreed that it is desirable to make this claim on behalf of their constituents, but do not let us be betrayed into a cession or partial cession of this claim at the expense of the country at large. I remember when the Bill was in progress my right hon. Friend immediately behind me was full of extreme jealousy of this provision. I shared that jealousy, and did what I could at that time to insert some safeguard, and I think that in the outcome of the Bill there was a sufficient safeguard in this provision. But do not let us weaken it any further, let us abide by it as it is. We put into that Act a provision, rather a curious thing to put into an Act of Parliament, that the Metropolis might have pre-emption at a fair market price; but the Metropolis does not make that offer; they want the land at a great reduction from the market price. The Metropolis never took steps to acquire the site at the market price, and all the rest that has been said and done does not touch in the slightest degree what is the essential point to be considered, which is, shall the country make any sacrifice to accommodate what are the natural feelings of representatives of London? I, at all events, shall heartily support the Government in this matter.

* MR.LAWSON (St. Pancras, W.)

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has thought it necessary to insinuate that the Metropolitan Members are acting together from the lowest motives of Party politics. The Home Secretary, with dramatic emphasis, said that in Birmingham they never saw the light of the sun. Well, we are not prepared to say that that is the normal state of our existence. But at the same time we do believe that the provision of open spaces for reasonable recreation and exercise easily accessible are essential to the health and happiness of our overcrowded population. The opinion of the London County Council on this point has been well expressed by the Petition of the Vestry of Clerkenwell to the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1887, in which the following facts are set out:— The parish of Clerkenwell, containing nearly 70,000 inhabitants, consists of 380 acres, showing an average of about 785 per acre, whilst in St. George's, Hanover Square, the population per acre is about 85, or Paddington 91, Kensington 74, Hampstead 20, and Hackney 47. That Clerkenwell is therefore, and from its situation must always continue to be, a densely populated parish, and is surrounded by other crowded parishes, for instance, St. Luke's, Holborn, and St. Pancras. That there are at the present time a great number of model dwellings in the parish containing over 1,200 tenements, providing accommodation for a population of between 6,000 and 7,000, with no provision for open playgrounds for children except in the Peabody Buildings. That other parts of London have their open spaces, whilst the crowded district of Clerkenwell is absolutely without any such open space, beyond the several ordinary squares in the parish, and the inhabitants have a long way to go to reach an open space such as most other parts of the Metropolis enjoy. We hold that on this subject the Metropolis should be treated as a whole. I may point out to the Chairman of Committees that we have never had a chance of purchasing this land at a fair price for an open space. I believe a large section of the London County Council would make an effort to give a fair market price for the land, but all I wish to point out is that they have never had the opportunity. As a matter of fact, it was offered to the Metropolitan, Board of Works for other purposes, and at a price that is admitted by the Home Secretary and the Postmaster General to be utterly ridiculous, having regard to the commercial value of land—£120 per acre. I have been looking through the Debate on the Prison Act of 1887, and I observe that Lord Cross remarked that Local Authorities in having power to repurchase at £120 per cell must take the rough with the smooth. It is peculiarly unfortunate that in London there is nothing but rough, and so the arrangement presses very unjustly upon us. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Courtney) said that the nation relieved the Metropolis from a trust, but it really relieved the Metropolis only of a property. The trust was fulfilled for a very short time—from 1877 until 1885. This is a piece of sharp practice of which the inhabitants of London are the victims, more worthy of a pettifogging attorney than of Her Majesty's Government. I know it is said that a Government Department will do anything, but I should have thought that Her Majesty's Government would have shown more consideration to the inhabitants of London in this respect, considering that the Bill is one of indemnity to them for certain illegal transactions in which they have engaged. The Home Secretary has himself admitted that an astute lawyer might find out that the Government had no title, and I gathered that that is his own opinion. I know that in August, 1887, Parliament sanctioned the outlay of £14,000, but Parliament never gave any sanction, in any form, to the proposal that the Post Office should take this site. Really, the Postmaster General tried to anticipate the decision of Parliament, and now thinks he can turn round and appeal to the House on account the great business of the Post Office. Of course we all appreciate the administrative ability displayed by that Department, but that has really nothing to do with the discussion. Has compulsory powers to go anywhere for premises? We only now ask that if the Government are not prepared to admit that the Metropolis has been treated with unfairness, at least they should revert to the position they occupied in 1885, and which the Home Secretary seemed to hold in 1887, when he said he would consider whether it would not be possible to offer facilities for the provision of an open space on the site. At least the County Council should have the chance of competing with any other purchaser in the open market, in order that they may devote the land to Metropolitan purposes. Are the Government still prepared to resist this claim? They assume that we ask this as a free gift or as a matter of charity; but all we do is to base our claim upon the language of the Prisons Act. I may point out that Members for London are practically unanimous. [Cries of "No!"] Well, then, I will say almost unanimous; the Press of London is unanimous; and the County Council have unanimously petitioned against the Bill, and in favour of devoting this site to the purpose of an open space. It should be recollected, when hon. Gentlemen talk of this being an Imperial asset, that two years ago, when the Government had to deal with the two Royal Parks of Battersea and Victoria, they might equally have been considered as Imperial assets; but they did not then ask London to pay the full market price. An hon. Friend suggests to me that they might equally have claimed to set up Post Office buildings in Battersea and Victoria Parks, but they did not do anything of the kind. The First Lord of the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are both Metropolitan Members, and I appeal to them particu- larly, and I ask them, on behalf of the inhabitants of the Metropolis, if some measure of justice could not be dealt out to us. We do not ask for anything more; we do not ask for charity, but for equity, in the treatment of London in regard to this matter.


There are a few words I should like to say on this matter, and before I proceed to say them, I should like to correct one or two misapprehensions that, from the statements we have heard, appear to be entertained. The House has almost been led to believe that the Government before dealing with this property did not afford the Local Authority the opportunity of purchasing it. The hon. Member for St. Pancras (Mr. Lawson) has told the House that the County Council are anxious to have the opportunity of acquiring the property, but that they never had had the opportunity. Now the hon. Member knows perfectly well that the Metropolitan Board of Works to which the London County Council is the successor was given the opportunity of offering for this site, but declined it.


At the rate of £120 per cell?


The Board of Works had the opportunity; and I may point out that the Board of Works made no counter offer, they declined altogether to purchase the land either for Artizans' Dwellings or for an Open Space. It is not fair, therefore, to lead the House to believe that in this matter the Government acted precipitately or without giving the fullest opportunity to the Local Authorities, and particularly to the Middlesex Justices to acquire this property if they desired to do so, for any public purpose. But the hon. Member comes forward now with this demand, when he knows and the House knows that the Government have spent upon this property a good deal of money, which must, if this land is now devoted to other purposes, be wasted and thrown away. It appears to me it is rather too late for hon. Members to come forward and make this claim now that some £40,000 or £50,000 of the taxpayers' money has been expended, and simply because somebody is seeking to do something, that opportunity was offered for doing before, but declined. The House knows perfectly well that the Government before entering upon the utilisation of this site at all, came to the House and asked for a Vote of money in the Estimates to convert this prison site to its present purpose. The House was completely informed as to the Government's intention, and how they were going to deal with this land, and if the House had had a desire to stop the utilisation of the land for the purpose proposed, there was full opportunity for doing so. But not only did the House not do so, but the House expressed approval of the Government's intention. I remember how, from both sides of the House, the Government were applauded for the transaction they were entering into, and my hon. Friend the Member for Walworth (Mr. Isaacson) was one of the Members who complimented the Government on their action, and the admirable manner in which they were dealing with the property, and my hon. Friend pointed out with great force that if the Government had been obliged to purchase in some other part of London they would have had to pay twice the amount that this site cost. So I really do not understand how it is my hon. Friend deserts the Government now when formerly he applauded our action. In addition to what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has laid about the way in which the State acquired this property, and the consideration it gave for it, I would emphasise what has been said by the Chairman of Committees by pointing out that the taxpayers took over a burden which, as regards Middlesex, represented an annual charge at that time of £65,000. Now I ask the hon. Member for St. Pancras, who takes a great interest in this subject, what would be the capitalised value of £65,000 a year, of which the Middlesex ratepayers were relieved at that time? If he will put the capitalised value of this against the value of the property the Government got, he will find the Government paid amply for what they got. The hon. Member talks about the rough and the smooth—


I quoted an expression used by Lord Cross.


Yes; but the hon. Gentleman quoted it with approval, and went on to say that the metropolis could only get the rough. Well, the fact is, that the Middlesex ratepayers have taken the smooth and left the rough to the Government. There were three prison sites, Clerkenwell, Cold-bath Fields, and Westminster. Now the Westminster prison when it was closed was offered to the Middlesex Justices, and the Middlesex Justices saw that the fixed rate of £120 per cell, though a high price, did not represent the value of the site, and consequently the Middlesex Justices, in the exercise of their option, bought the site—giving £68,000 for it. And I understand upon good authority that it was a very good transaction, and that the land was subsequently sold for something like £120,000. At any rate, I know that the Postmaster General came to the Treasury a short time ago with a demand for £30,000 for a very small part of the site of what used to be Tothill Fields Prison; therefore I say it is not the Government who have refused to take the rough with the smooth—the Middlesex ratepayers have got the benefit of the smooth, leaving the Government with the rough. Now, I am not going into the general question at any length. The position is this: it has been abundantly proved that the Government are Trustees in possession of this property on behalf of the taxpayers of the country, and to ask the Government to give this property for the purpose of local experiments in London is practically equivalent to asking the Government to come down to the House and ask for a Vote for £185,000 for Metropolitan purposes. It is only a short time ago since the Government of the day were beaten in an attack led by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) on the question of local parks, which, it was held, ought to be maintained at the cost of the local ratepayers. The consequence was that the Government brought in a Bill to give effect to the decision of the House of Commons, and to throw the charge of Battersea and Victoria Parks on the Metropolitan ratepayers. But the hon. Member for St. Pancras says the Government did not then charge London with the capital value of the Parks, and I understand him to say that, as the charge is not justified in the one case, so it is not in the other.


I was pointing it out as a precedent. We are quite willing to maintain the charge if the land were handed over in the one case as in the other.


The House of Commons a short time ago expressed an opinion on the general principle and the general policy to be followed, and I do not believe for a moment that the House of Commons has changed the opinion expressed on that occasion. I should be extremely surprised if it were so. I can understand hon. Members' desire to get the benefit for their constituents, and it would no doubt be a very good thing to get this, but I would ask them to look a little beyond their own constituencies and to take a broader view. There is a great principle involved, a great principle at stake, and I say it is the duty of Metropolitan Members, if I may venture to use the phrase, to look not only at the interests of their constituents but to look beyond and consider how the principle may be applied against them on some future occasion. Let them hold fast to what is a sound principle in dealing with such property. I should like to quote the opinion, which is on record, of the hon. and learned Member for Stockton (Sir Horace Davey), in a discussion in this House, and curiously enough in reference to this very prison site. The hon. and learned Member said he hoped the Government would persist in the contention that they could not deal with State property or public property in this manner—meaning by giving it away or selling it at less than the full value— without injustice to the great body of taxpayers. The hon. and learned Gentleman objected to this clause in the Housing of the Working Classes Act, to which reference has been made, and he contended that the Government had no right to appropriate the property of the nation to the benefit of the people of London or of any other part of the United Kingdom. Prisons are being closed in various parts of the kingdom, and it is the bounden duty of the Government to make the best use of the sites, and get the best price for them they can. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Pickersgill) has quoted with approval, with which I entirely sympathise, statistics showing the reduction in the rates of the prison population, and I think he rather sought to argue from that that the Local Authorities have not benefited in this case to the extent which has been represented, inasmuch as the burden to-day received has been less than at the time the prisons were taken over. There are three principal causes for our being able to close-these prisons. One is a slight diminution in the general prison population.


Twenty-five-per cent.


Yes, I know, Sir; but the hon. Member in making his calculation takes into account the convict population, and the main reason why the so-called local prisons have been closed is that there has been a very large-diminution in the long-sentence prisoners, and we have been enabled to-utilise prisons which were formerly convict prisons only for short-sentence-prisoners as well. Another reason is-that in the neighbourhood of London the Government have built a gaol with 2,400 cells, at a cost of £300,000, which accommodates both long-sentence and? short-term prisoners. Outside, therefore, of the diminution of long-sentence prisoners, the additional accommodation provided has enabled numerous local prisons to be closed. I would venture-to point out that if the House agrees to-the Second Reading of this Bill it will be referred to a Select Committee, and Metropolitan Members will be able to-make any representations they desire to-that Committee. I think that is in itself sufficient justification for asking the House to read the Bill a second time. I can assure the House that the Government have as much desire as hon. Members to provide open spaces for the benefit of the artisans and toilers, not only in the Metropolis, but in the crowded towns of the North. In my own constituency of Leeds I could find many districts which would compare unfavourably with Clerkenwell. I trust the House will believe that the Government have dealt with this matter solely and simply in the interest of the taxpayers. At the time this arrangement was made there was no competition for the site, and it was impossible to sell it for a price considered' to be adequate, and the Government are convinced that in what they have done they have not only acted wisely, but that the transaction is an extremely economical one in the interest of the taxpayers.

MR. R. CHAMBERLAIN (Islington, W.)

It is always to listen to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury. He is always so reasonable, so fair, and so courteous to those who differ from him, that at all events we can always agree to differ. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary in the course of his rather extraordinary speech should have thought fit to launch against those who object to this Bill accusations of spoliation, and to say that they are really in favour of the infraction of the law. His charges were chiefly made against the Metropolitan Members, the majority of whom are supporters of the Government. His speech was filled with sneers at the philanthropic and benevolent ideas of those who believe it to be for the benefit of the population that open spaces should be maintained in London, and he wound up with an extraordinary misstatement. He said this site was worth £186,000, and he repeated several times over that it was that sum of which it was proposed to rob the taxpayers, whereas one of his colleagues admitted that the value of the site was something like half that. With regard to the terms of the acquisition of the prison site by the Government, I think there is some misapprehension. I am in a position to speak tolerably accurately about it, because whilst I have read up the Debates in this House, I was at the time Chairman of the Financial Committee in Birmingham, and was watching the Measure to see what it would do for Birmingham, which possessed a prison of its own. In the Debates in the House and in the country on the subject the sole question taken into consideration was that the Government took upon itself the burden of maintaining the local prisons. The County Members objected, not because of the sites, but because of the centralisation proposed. It was never contemplated at that time that the Local Prisons were going to be abandoned, and that the Government would come in for the valuable inheritance of the sites. It is said there is a desire on the part of the Metropolitan Members to obtain undue aid from the taxpayers in relief of the burdens of the London ratepayers. I entirely repudiate that idea. I cheerfully supported the Government in the idea that London should bear the expense of its own parke. I think, however, that these prisoh sites have been paid for by the ratepayers, and if they are no longer required for the purpose for which they were acquired, the taxpayers have no property in them. It is not a question of London alone. The same principle applies to Manchester and Sheffield, and any other town. Although technically and legally no doubt the Government are in the right, the sites themselves were no part of the consideration in the arrangement that was made, and I say that as the prisons are no longer required, the sites ought to revert to the localities, when the localities are so much in need of them as in the present ease. It seems a little hard that we should be told that it is impossible for the Government to restore this site to the ratepayers of the Metropolis because it would be illegal, and yet they come to the House with this Bill in order to indemnify themselves against the illegality of building on a site to which they have no right. Of course it is only done in the interests of the public service, but I think that if they had the desire which their Chief, Lord Salisbury, has over and over again expressed, to do something to relieve the hard lot of the dwellers in towns, they would have put forward a Bill of a different kind in order to maintain this land as an open space for London.


The conciliatory speech of the Secretary to the Treasury shows that the Government have not been insensible to the almost universal expression of opinion on both sides of the House. The hon. Gentleman said that in the Estimates two years ago the appropriation of this site by the Post Office was considered and approved by the House. Surely that could hardly be the case; surely the situation as laid before us to-night could hardly have been laid before the House then, or it would not have been necessary to come before the House with this Bill of indemnity, as it has been called. No doubt the situation is a rather awkward one. The Post Office have been put in possession of this site, and have already spent some thousands of pounds on it, and begun to erect a building, although the title to the land is so doubtful that an Act has to be passed to ensure it to them. I am informed that by no means the whole of the site is to be occupied with buildings. If, therefore, the speech of the Secretary to the Treasury means that something may result from the reference to the Select Committee, and that the scheme may be so altered as to meet the views of those who desire that some part of the land shall be reserved as an open space, that will be satisfactory to all of us, including some who are not Metropolitan Members, who wish to obtain an open space at this point. I hope that some more distinct assurance will be given by the Government that the intention shadowed forth by the Secretary to the Treasury means what we hope it means, namely, that a portion of this land may be reserved for the purpose of an open space, and that, at all events, an opportunity may be given to the London County Council to offer for the remaining part of the site such sum as in their wisdom they may think fit.

* SIR J. GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)

Perhaps I may be allowed to say a word or two, as my constituents are largely interested in this matter. They are not of opinion, nor do I think that it is the desire of any of the ratepayers of the Metropolis, that the property should be given to them. Nobody has asked that this land should be given to the Metropolis for nothing. I am told that the County Council are prepared to give a fair market price for a portion of the site in order to make it an open space. I say that the representatives of London up to the present time have not had a fair opportunity of acquiring the property. They were offered it at a price which is admitted by the Government to have been an unreasonable price, namely, £186,000. The Government tested that by putting it up to auction, the result being that the highest bid obtained was £100,000. I believe that if the London representatives had been offered the property at £100,000 they would have bought it. The Post Office cannot require the whole of the site, and I would suggest that the remainder should be sold to the County Council at a fair market price fixed in the ordinary manner. The ratepayers do desire that some opportunity should be given to form an open space in this very crowded district of London, and they do not desire to do it at the expense of the taxpayers generally. What, therefore, we ask the Government to say is, that in Committee they will look at the matter in a favourable light, and give the London County Council the opportunity of purchasing such portion as they require and as the Post Office does not want.


In order to avoid any misunderstanding, which would be regrettable, I feel bound to state that my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Radcliffe Cooke) has exaggerated the inferences he draws from the speech of my hon. Friend (Mr. Jackson). The Bill must be referred to a Hybrid Committee, and before that Committee petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, through counsel or agents, will be heard against the Bill, and counsel will be heard in support of it. Therefore every hon. Member will have an opportunity of stating his case.

MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)

It is not unfair that a provincial representative should come forward and state that, in his opinion, the Government is taking the only sound position in regard to the country at large. The whole of the Metropolitan Members appear to be unanimous in trying to force the Government to commit a breach of their duty to the taxpayers at large. The hon. Members are urging, in formâ pauperis, that, London being congested, it is essential that something should, be done to relieve the congestion. Nothing could be fairer than the observations of the Secretary to the Treasury. There is the greatest possible anxiety in every part of the House that open spaces should be provided for all parts of the Metropolis where the congestion exists. The town from which I come has provided itself with five parks, and I undertake to say that our open spaces in proportion to the population are far less than are those in the Metropolis. There is no reason why the ratepayers of the Metropolis should come to the taxpayers, and ask them to discharge a duty which belongs exclusively to the Metropolis. An immense share of the taxation levied in this country is expended in London, and to try and increase that share still further seems unjust and unfair in the highest degree. When the claims of London are pressed too far, it seems to me to be necessary for the 600 Members of the House who are not identified with London representation to stand by any Government which tries to act upon the principles of justice.

The House divided:—Ayes 173; Noes 57.—(Div. List, No. 265.)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Motion made and Question proposed, That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee of seven Members, four to be nominated by the House and three by the Committee of Selection; that all petitions against the Bill presented two clear days before the meeting of the Committee be referred to the Committee; that the petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their counsel, or agents be heard against the Bill, and counsel heard in support of the Bill; that the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records; that three be the quorum."—(Mr. Raikes.)


I object.


I move that the Question be now put.


This is a consequential Motion. The Bill has been before the Examiner, who has decided that it came within the Standing Orders. There is no other Committee to which the Bill can be referred.


The reason I objected was that the Committee might be constituted of Provincial Members, and we would have a great many partisans against us.

Question put, and agreed to.