HC Deb 12 February 1891 vol 350 cc455-64

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time.

(3.20.) MR. BAUMANN (Camberwell, Peckham)

Before the Bill is read a second time, and we proceed to the discussion of the Instruction of which the hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. T. H. Bolton) has given notice, I wish to enter a protest against the conduct of the promoters in regard to the measure. The Bill proposes to make a subterranean railway from Bishop's Road, Paddington, under Kensington Gardens and the Albert Hall, with a station in South Kensington at a point which is, I believe, in the parish of St. John's, Westminster, The scheme raises a very important Metropolitan question—I had almost said a question of national interest, because the duty of preserving Kensington Gardens may be said to be one of national interest. I endeavoured yesterday to get the promoters of the Bill to adjourn the Second Reading until next week, but failed. It is obviously a question which ought not to be sent to a Committee upstairs in haste. An opportunity should be given to the Metropolitan Members and to the inhabitants of London generally of expressing their opinion upon the proposed invasion of the amenities of Kensington Gardens. Yet, not a single day has been allowed. In regard to other Bills the London County Council and the City Corporation have always been most obliging in fixing the Second Reading for a date that would suit the convenience of all who desired to oppose it, but the result of the tactics of the promoters in this instance is that I have not been able to communicate with the Metropolitan Members, and the people of London have had no opportunity of expressing their opinion in regard to it. I should like to ask why the promoters are so nervously anxious to force the Bill through the House. Promoters generally invite discussion, but I am afraid that in this case they consider that the more the Bill is looked at the less it will be liked. In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Sir J. Puleston) I do not feel justified in attacking the Bill on its merits, but I make this protest in the hope that public attention will be called to the fact that Kensington Gardens are proposed to be tunnelled under and a station erected in the Gardens, for no other purpose than to bring money into the tills of the Albert Hall. I hope that before the Third Reading a sufficiently strong public opinion will have been aroused to save Kensington Gardens from this fate, and to prevent this iniquitous Bill from becoming law.

(3.23.) MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)

I am not concerned in the promotion of this Bill, but I believe that it proposes to construct a new line between Paddington and South Kensington, by a subway under Kensington Gardens, and I hope the House will not at this stage interpose any difficulty in its way. Without possessing any certain knowledge on the subject, I believe that the amenities of Kensington Gardens will not be interfered with, and there will be a full opportunity after the Bill has been in Committee of considering it on the Third Reading. At the present moment my constituents and the people of South Kensington and Brompton are obliged to make a very long circuit in order to get to North Kensington and Paddington, and in their interests I must support the Second Reading.

(3.25.) MR. COURTNEY

It is only fair to say that, as far as I know, the promoters of this Bill have done nothing unusual, nor have afforded ground for an attack that would prevent the measure from going before a Select Committee.


I support the Bill in the interests of the Albert Hall, and I feel with regard to Kensington Gardens that the public user is perfectly safe in the hands of the Chief Commissioner of Works, who would oppose anything that would be likely to be injurious to the Gardens.

MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)

I think, after hearing the hon. Member for Peckham, the House will be surprised to hear that the action of the promoters of the Bill has met with the approval of the First Commissioner of Works, and also the proposal to erect a station in Kensington Gardens.

Question put, and agreed to.

(3.26.) MR. T. H. BOLTON

I beg to move— That it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom the South Kensington and Paddington Subway Bill is committed, that they consider the propriety of inserting clauses in the Bill requiring payment to the Local Authority of a royalty, or a share of the earnings of the Subway, after fair interest on capital and working expenses have been provided for, as compensation for the right to tunnel under the public streets. It was intended to raise the very important question involved in this Instruction upon the Central London Railway Bill on a permissive Instruction, but it has been thought to be more in order to have a mandatory Instruction. The same question arises on both Bills, and also upon a third Tunnel Bill which will subsequently come before the House How many more Bills of the same character may come before the House it is impossible to say. The experiment of establishing the first tunnel railway (from London Bridge to Stock well) has been a success both in an engineering and a financial point of view, and there is no doubt that this success will lead to other schemes, in which the public will be ready to invest their capital. The question assumes, therefore, very great importance in the interests of the public. The promoters of these Bills propose to avail themselves of the soil under the public streets, and to carry their railways to a large extent under the public streets. The present Bill proposes to empower the Company to make a tunnel railway from Paddington to South Kensington, without the payment or compensation to any one for the tunnel under the streets, to enter houses within 100 yards of the works, to shore them up and to repair any damage that may arise from subsidence. This particular tunnel railway will be very near the surface of the road, whereas some of the other tunnels are 30, 40, 50, and 60 feet beneath it. The idea is to carry the tunnel under the roads, so as to avoid the compensation which would have to be paid if it were made through private property. My contention is that the public have a right to claim compensation for the use of the sub-soil under the public streets. I know it will be suggested that the absolute freehold of the sub-soil is not vested in any public authority, but the public have a right to use the surface of the road and to use the sub-soil also for subways and for gas and water pipes, electric wires, and other purposes. The shadowy right of the landowner is hardly worth considering, as for all practical purposes the public are the owners of the roads and the sub-soil under them. In order to save expense we have now a private company coming here asking for legislative powers to use the sub-soil of the roads without paying anything for it, and also to secure other advantages in connection with the use of the roads. If they were to carry their tunnel 25 yards either one side or the other they would impinge upon private property, and have to pay enormous sums in the shape of compensation; but they ingeniously contrive to carry their tunnel through public property and thus to avoid any such payment. I think, however, that the public have a moral, if not a strictly legal, claim to some substantial consideration. If the company say the subsoil of the roads does not belong to the public, my answer is that it does not belong to the company, and if the public hare no right neither have the company any right whatever. Indeed, they are now coming to Parliament to acquire the right. It is suggested that the public would be protected by giving the County Council power to purchase this tunnel railway on the lines of the purchase provisions of the Tramways Act of 1870. The absurdity of that proposition needs only to be stated to carry its own refutation with it. It is universally admitted that it is impossible to put in force the Purchase Clauses of the Act of 1870 without further legislation. In fact, I know of no way in which to protect the public except by imposing a rent or royalty, or by taking a share of earnings after the payment of interest on capital and working expenses. I do not ask for a confiscatory royalty or a heavy share of the earnings. On the contrary, I desire that only a fair amount should be paid by the company for the benefit acquired under the Bill. I do not believe that a provision of this kind would seriously embarrass the company. It is quite true that the Tunnel Railway from London Bridge to Stockwell has not been placed under these conditions, but that was an experiment, and favourable conditions were granted, in order to induce the public to invest their money. As the experiment has been successful, such favourable conditions are not necessary, and provisions in the interest of the public are now only reasonable. I do not propose to order the Select Committee to insert particular or definite clauses in the Bill, but simply to direct them to consider the propriety of inserting clauses such as those which I suggest, and, unless this Instruction is agreed to, I am afraid that the question which I am raising will not be fairly before the Committee.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom the South Kensington and Paddington Subway Bill is committed, that they consider the propriety of inserting clauses in the Bill requiring payment to the Local Authority of a royalty, or a share in the earnings of the Subway, after fair interest and working expenses have been provided for, as compensation for the right to tunnel under the public streets."—(Mr. T. H. Bolton.)


The hon. Member has enunciated an entirely new principle, and I think it rather hard that this particular company should be made the vile corpus for trying the experiment. Powers of this kind are never granted by Parliament to any company except for the public benefit, and they will take care that the public get the benefit in one way or the other. It has never before been the practice, in regard either to schemes for gas or water, or the laying down of electric wires, to make the public partners with a private company. The pecuniary interests of the public are protected in the Bill, because if the line is made and turns out as profitable as its promoters hope, a large sum will be put into the public coffers by way of rates. I hope the hon. Member will not press the Instruction.

(3.43.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)

Having taken considerable interest in these tunnel schemes for several years, I wish to make one or two observations. The question is not, I understand, debarred from the consideration of the Committee, and therefore I think the Committee ought to be left entirely free, as they have been heretofore. My hon. Friend who has spoken on behalf of the public cannot ignore the fact that no Committee will sanction the scheme unless they believe it to be in the interests of the public. The experiment has been tried on the other side of the water and has been attended with success, and the principle now advocated is that the County Council, while contributing nothing towards a scheme which may be a failure, shall nevertheless share the profit if it is a success. There is nothing given up by the community, and I hope my hon. Friend will allow the matter to rest with the Committee, and not attempt to hamper their decision or relieve them from the responsibility which ought to rest with them. I should be quite ready to give consideration to a proposal to enable the County Councils, Corporations, or other Local Authorities to carry out these undertakings for themselves; but it is not fair to private companies for the public to stand over them and say, "We will take a share of your profits, but we will not take upon ourselves the responsibility of carrying out the undertaking."

(3.47.) MR. LAWSON

My hon. Friend is wrong in thinking that this railway is asked to pay anything to the County Council. The only desire is to lay down the principle that the Local Authority, whatever it may be, shall have some profit from the user of the subsoil for a subway. I would not vote for the Instruction if I thought it would in the least degree embarrass the enterprise, but the Instruction itself lays down that a fair profit as well as the working expenses shall be paid before any royalty goes to the public. In the case of tramways, it has been laid down that the Local Authority shall have power to purchase after 21 years. When these enterprises are extended, as they undoubtedly will be, now that the tunnel railway on the other side of the water has become a success, there will be an increased difficulty in developing underground communications in any direction, on account of the use already made of the ground under the great arteries of communication. It is virtually impossible for the Committee upstairs to insert in the Bill similar clauses to those which were inserted in the Tramways Act, as nobody would wish to see our Local Authorities try to run our underground railways, and it will, consequently, be impossible for the Local Authority to obtain any compensation in that form or return for the user of the subsoil. I admit that benefit will be conferred by giving facilities to the public in the way of communication, but I think the House would do well to draw the attention of the Committee to the point, even if the Committee refuse to insert any such clause dealing with the question.

(3.52.) MR. ISAACS (Newington, Walworth)

I object to the Instruction on two grounds—first, on legal grounds, and secondly, on the ground of equity. So far as the law is concerned the hon. Member for St. Pancras has admitted that he has not a perfect case to put before the House. The veriest tyro in law as to public rights in land knows that the fee simple of a road is not vested in the Public Authority. He therefore asks the Committee to do that which in the present state of the law is absolutely illegal, And so far as equity is concerned I venture to think that there is a strong case against the Instruction. I am afraid that the hon. Member has not recognised how unduly the Railway Companies who provide under-ground communication between different parts of London are handicapped. They are heavily taxed, while the omnibuses have very little to pay indeed, and are allowed to pass freely over pavements which are laid down, repaired, and cleansed at the public expense. One under-ground railway alone, whose net revenue last year amounted to £208,000 contributed £25,435 in taxes and Government duty; in other words, it had to pay half-a-crown out of every sovereign of net income it earned in the shape of local rates and Government duty. The Omnibus Companies which are earning handsome dividends are subject to no rating or taxation of the kind. I therefore venture to think that the present proposal ought not to be entertained by the House.

(3.55.) MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

As a Metropolitan Member I should like to say a word or two upon this proposition. It seems to me a reasonable proposition that some part of the benefit of these undertakings should go to the locality. No doubt the undertakings are rated to some extent; but despite that fact, I think the time has come, inasmuch as these subways will become very numerous, when a step in this direction should be taken, as it is an absurdity to suppose that the London County Council can undertake these speculations for themselves.

(3.57.) MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

I listened with attention to what fell from the hon. Member for Walworth (Mr. Isaacs), but I must remind him that, so far as omnibuses are concerned, anyone can place them upon the roads; whereas we are asked now to give Parliamentary powers to a private company, and to hand over to them a distinct monopoly. We are told that this Instruction should not be passed because something similar was not put in the Tramways Act; but under the Tramways Act the Local Authority have a right to purchase the tramways after 21 years, and the Tramway Companies are bound to repair the whole of the roads on which their lines run, as also 18 inches on each side I would ask those hon. Gentlemen who insist so much upon the legal aspect of the question, what contributions it is intended under the Bill shall be given to the freeholder? Have the company consulted him? If he has a right to the subsoil of the road, are they not asking the House to give them powers to ride roughshod over the interests of the very persons whom they now so kindly take under their wings. In my opinion no reason has been given why the Instruction should not be agreed to, and it is only right that if these great facilities are given to speculative companies, the public should maintain some lien, for the benefit of the community, on the monopolies thus created.


Undoubtedly the hon. Member for North St. Pancras has brought a very grave question before the House, and I think he deserves our thanks for having done so. But the Instruction is open to the objection which he had to urge the other day in regard to the Instruction moved in the Leicester case, namely, that it orders the Committee to do something which they have a perfect right to do without it, and this raises the presumption that a particular course is recommended by the House. I am not for a moment saying it is not desirable that the interests of the localities should be looked at, and the fact that subways have been made without a provision of this kind being insisted upon is no presumption against beginning now. One way of attaining the object of the hon. Member for North St. Pancras is by providing that, after the profits of the company have reached a certain point, arrangements could be made for cheap fares; another is the payment of a fixed rent; and a third is by entitling the locality, after a certain period, to acquire the undertaking. I would strongly urge the hon. Member to withdraw the Instruction, and leave the various points that have been raised to the Committee upstairs.

(4.7.) MR. JAMES (Gateshead)

The hon. Member for North St. Pancras has laid before the House a somewhat plausible plan, but I do not agree with him that the undertaking on the other side of the water has yet been proved to be not only a physical but a financial success. I think it is altogether premature as yet to say that that undertaking has been of a nature to secure the full confidence of the public. I will not attempt to enter into the legal question further than that by saying, that if this Instruction is agreed to it will necessarily complicate and add to the legal difficulties. The whole question was carefully gone into and considered by a Committee last year, and there was a general opinion that the Local Authority ought to regard the promoters of schemes of this kind as their best friends. Unless something is done to relieve the present congested state of the streets there will be no alternative but for the Local Authority to construct new routes, at an enormous cost.

(4.10.) MR. NEVILLE (Liverpool, Exchange)

I think it is perfectly clear that the soil which will be interfered with by the construction of this railway is not the property of the Local Authority at all, but of the owners of the adjoining land; and if the legal question is raised I am afraid the result will be to put money into the hands of the private owners instead of the Local Authority. The soil is only vested in the Local Authority down to a certain depth, such as is necessary for the construction for an ordinary street. I think it is quite clear if the Instruction is not withdrawn the results may be the reverse of what the hon. Member who has moved it desires to see.

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

I would suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for North St. Pancras that as his object has been accomplished in having brought this very important subject before the House, he should now, after the discussion which has taken place, withdraw the Instruction.


After the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees, and on the understanding that the suggestions contained in the Instruction will receive the attention of the Committee, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.