HC Deb 30 June 1891 vol 354 cc1847-58

Order for Second Reading read.

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

*(3.40.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central) moved as an Amendment— That this House is not prepared to set aside by private legislation the principle laid down in the nineteenth section of the Commons Act of 1876, that land set apart for fuel allotments under Enclosure Acts shall not be diverted to other purposes than recreation grounds and garden allotments. The right hon. Gentleman said: I desire in a few words to explain my reasons for opposing this Bill. The matter is of importance, not only as regards this particular Bill, but in regard to other cases which may hereafter come before the House. The Bill proposes to take compulsorily a plot of ground which must practically be kept open for the recreation of the public for ever, and to convert it into a cemetery. The proposal is in direct contravention of the policy both of the Commons Act of 1876, and of the Act of the Local Commissioners, passed two years ago, and forms a dangerous precedent in respect to other cases which may be dealt with in the future. Under old Enclosure Acts it was not uncommon to set apart certain allotments to be maintained for the benefit of the poor of the parish who were in the habit of using common land for the purpose of cutting turf. As time went on it was found not worth while to cut the turf, and, as the commons became disused for that purpose, they were devoted to purposes of recreation. Down to 1876 the Local Authorities were in the habit of selling these lands, and using the money received in other channels I may remind the House that I took some part in the passing of the Act of 1876, although it was introduced by the Party opposite. It seemed to the framers of the Act, and to those who supported it, that it was undesirable to permit the sale of public land of this description, and a clause was inserted in the Act prohibiting the Local Authority, in future, from selling such land, but requiring it to be used for purposes of recreation or for garden allotments In the particular case now before the House, that of Bournemouth, that town was at one time surrounded by extensive commons. In 1802 these commons were enclosed, but two allotments were set apart to enable the poor to cut turf from them. Not only the Charity Commissioners, but the Land Commissioners, and the Local Government Board, have now expressed an opinion that these allotments come under the terms of the Commons Act of 1876, and it is therefore certain that these two particular allotments cannot be sold under that Act. Two years ago the Corporation of Bournemouth applied to Parliament for a Private Act to enable them to lay out these two allotments as public parks; and under that Act they have already appropriated one of them for a public park. This was done with the consent of the Attorney General, and without the payment of compensation. There now remains the other allotment, and by the present Bill the Corporation of Bournemouth propose to take 26 acres of it for the formation of a cemetery. My contention is that this action on the part of the Corporation is in direct contravention of the Commons Act of 1886 and of their own Act passed by the Bournemouth Town Commissioners two years ago, and that if Parliament sanctions it, it will form a dangerous precedent for the future. I have ventured to oppose similar proposals in other cases, and I am glad to say always with success. I did so in the case of Barnes Common, where the Local Authority proposed to buy a portion of the Common for the purpose of converting it into a cemetery, and I took the same course in the case of Southampton. These instances are sufficient to show that this House does not regard with favour a proposal to convert allotments of this kind into "cemeteries. If they are not laid out as a public recreation ground they ought to be appropriated for garden allotments. I know it will be said that the Bournemouth. Corporation know best what the people want in the matter, but my reply is that their proposal is contrary to the provisions of the Act of Parliament which takes this power out of the hands of the Local Authority. It may further he said that it is a matter which ought to go before a Select Committee; but I would remind the House that the public of Bournemouth would have no locus standi to appear before a Committee. The only persons who would have an authority to appear are the Corporation of Bournemouth themselves and the cottagers who possess allotment rights. I, therefore, venture to maintain that this is a matter which may be fairly dealt with by the House as a public question, and I think the House will do well to affirm the policy which has long been advocated both in and out of Parliament, namely, that of not allowing allotments of this kind to be appropriated either by private persons or by the Local Authority. For these reasons I beg to move the rejection of the Bill, and I hope that the House, on this occasion, will pursue the same course which it has followed in the past.

*(3.46.) SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)

I beg to second the Motion. I believe there are many Members of this House, and a still larger number of persons outside the House, who are disposed to view with jealousy any attempt to appropriate land of this kind for the purposes contemplated by the present Bill. I know something of Bournemouth, where this land is situated, and I believe that this attempt to acquire land in the poorest quarter will be injurious to the general welfare of the town. It is an attempt to obtain by means of a Private Bill land which has been dedicated thrice over to the poor for other purposes. By the Act of 1802 and by the Act of 1876, and again only in 1889, it was declared that the land was to be maintained for recreation purposes. So long as other land can be obtained for a cemetery, I do not think it is for the wellbeing of the community that this particular plot should be taken for this purpose. No Bill of the kind would be acceptable unless it contemplated the appropriation of an equal quantity of land for the benefit of the people in some equally convenient locality. This Bill does nothing of the kind, and I think it is our bounden duty, in the interests of the poor, to resist the proposal to the full extent of our power.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House is not prepared to set aside by private legislation the principle laid down in the nineteenth section of the Commons Act of 1876, that land set apart for fuel allotments under Enclosure Acts shall not be diverted to other purposes than recreation grounds and garden allotments."—(Mr. Shaw Lefevre.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

*(3.50.) MR. C. E. BARING YOUNG (Christchurch)

I hope the House will not delay the progress of this Bill in consequence of the objections of the right hon. Gentleman. The original tenants and occupiers of the land are not all to be regarded as poor, and, assuming that the land comes under the provisions of the Enclosure Act, there can be no question that the right of cutting turf has been in abeyance for a very considerable period. At the present moment the land is lying waste, and no turf is cut at all. At the same time, the population of Bournemouth is rapidly increasing, and the existing cemetery is becoming much overcrowded. The land which the Bill deals with is very conveniently situated for the purposes of a cemetery; it is within easy reach; and good roads can be made. The right hon. Gentleman says that the Bill is in contravention of the principles of the Act of 1876; but whatever the exact wording of that Act may be, I think it will hardly be contended that the provisions of the measure are not in accordance with the principle and spirit of that Act. It is proposed to lay out the land in such a way that it will even, when converted into a cemetery, form gardens and walks which may be looked upon as a recreation ground; and I may remind hon. Members that there are many old burial grounds, even in London, which, in this respect, have been laid out advantageously for the public. It is only proposed to take 26 acres out of a piece of land which comprises 100 acres, and it is proposed to convert the remainder into a public park. The Corporation of Bournemouth also propose to lay out another estate of 140 acres as a public park, so that ample provision will be made for recreation purposes. The right hon. Gentleman asks why other land is not taken. The reason is, that it is impossible to come to reasonable terms with the owners; and although the Corporation might come to Parliament, it would involve a heavy expense and the delay of another year. Why should there be any delay? The people of Bournemouth have been fully consulted, and are unanimously in favour of the scheme. I ask hon. Members to look at the matter from a common-sense point of view, and not to be swayed by the factious objections of the right hon. Gentleman to a proposal which concerns Bournemouth, and Bournemouth alone, and upon which every one in Bournemouth is agreed. The Corporation have no desire to over-ride the provisions of the Act of Parliament, but they do ask to be allowed to put a fair and liberal interpretation upon that Act, and to take a step which will be of the greatest advantage to the whole neighbourhood.

(3.55.) MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)

I think that the House will not agree to the Second Reading of this Bill. The hon. Member who has just spoken defends the measure on two grounds—first, that it only proposes to take away a part of the land, and next because it is impossible to get land from other sources without coming to Parliament for compulsory powers, and it will be less costly and more easy to take land belonging to the people. It must also be remembered that the people whom it is sought to deprive of this land will have no power to set out their views before a Select Committee. They are, therefore, absolutely driven to this House for protection against the wrong that is sought to be done to them. I have read the case of the promoters which has been circulated among hon. Members, and a more lame case it seems almost impossible to fancy. It simply amounts to this: that they see an opportunity of getting land for a cemetery cheap, and they are anxious to be spared the expense of going for compulsory powers. The right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) explained fully the position of the case in regard to the Enclosure Act of 1876, so that it is not necessary that I should go over that ground again. It may, I think, be taken for granted that there is no power to divert this land except for the purpose of a recreation ground. I need not point out the advantage of having 100' acres of land in the immediate neighbourhood of a town of 40,000 inhabitants for purposes of recreation. I trust that the House will refuse to pass this Bill. It is said that the Corporation will pay for it, but what amount of money or other land can compensate the people of Bournemouth for losing a piece of land of this kind? The promoters say that it is lying waste and is useless; but that would not be the case if it were converted into a recreation ground. Recreation grounds are very much desired in the neighbourhood of large towns, and why then, alienate these 100 acres of land or any portion when it is legally adaptable for the purpose? But leaving out the legal question there is the common-sense-argument against giving up a recreation ground that already exists for the prospect of acquiring ground for the same purpose hereafter. The notion that a cemetery is practically a recreation-ground need not be discussed. Cemeteries are not the liveliest of recreation grounds, as a rule, and in these days when we are legislating in the direction of providing recreation grounds I do-not think it is wise to allow any Corporation under the guise of a Private Bill to upset the law of the land. I trust that the House will not listen to any argument as to money value, because the convenience and advantage of such a large piece of land in the neighbourhood of a large town cannot be estimated by money value. The promoters have arrived at the conclusion that it would be easy to get this Bill through the House, seeing that those who would oppose it, if they had the power, are only the mass of the people, and what is everybody's business is really nobody's business. They have, therefore, neglected to include in the Bill provision for other land in the place of that which they propose to take away. I hope the House will support the Amendment.

(4.5.) SIR H. DAVEY (Stockton)

Every Member of the House will sympathise with the object which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford has in view, but I venture to think that he has shown no reason why the Bill should not be submitted to a Select Committee. The Committee would be able to investigate all the considerations which have been placed before the House, and to decide whether it is expedient to carry out the proposal of the Corporation of Bournemouth or not. I also think that many of the observations which have been made by my right hon. Friend and by the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. Collings) are misapplied. To hear their language it might be supposed that Bournemouth had a dense manufacturing population, and that it was covered with houses, whereas, as a matter of fact, there is no place in England which is better furnished with recreation grounds and open spaces than Bournemouth. What are the grounds upon which the House is asked to refrain from taking the usual course of sending the Bill to a Select Committee? My right hon. Friend has referred to the Act of 1876, but I have extreme doubt whether this case comes within the section of the Commons Act of 1876, which has been referred to. The land which the Corporation of Bournemouth desire to take is land set aside for the benefit of 58 specified owners and occupiers of cottages, and no one else has an interest in it. They are not necessarily poor, but they, and not the public, are the only persons who have any interest in the matter. No doubt by an Act passed in the present Parliament the Corporation of Bourne month have liberty to apply this piece of land to the purposes of a public park. As I understand, the land is at present waste, and not fit for the purposes of a park or a recreation ground. It is a piece of moor or waste land such as surrounds Bournemouth on almost every side, and the Corporation propose to purchase at a price to be fixed by an arbitrator or jury, not for any private purpose, but for the advantage of the town at large. It is not as if it were proposed to build upon it. A cemetery may not be a cheerful place, but it is at any rate an open space, and stands in a different position from land acquired for building purposes. My right hon. Friend says there is no provision in the Bill to substitute land for that which is proposed to be taken; but the purchase money will be paid into Court, and can be used in the purchase of other land. It is an entire mistake to suppose that the charity would be lost to the public, for the money realised from the sale can be so used as to far more than compensate any loss to the public. Some hon. Members seem to know what the people of Bournemouth want better than the people themselves. No one in Bournemouth, so far as I know, dissents from the proposal of the Corporation.

(4.15.) MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)

I wish to say a few words in support of the Bill. The hon. Member for the Bordesley Division seems to be labouring under a slight misapprehension. He seems to think that this land is suitable for cottage allotments. That is not the case; it consists merely of sand and heather.


I said recreation ground; not cottage allotments.


Bournemouth is already provided with ample recreation ground, and every house in it has practically a recreation ground of its own. The promoters of the Bill are a popular body representing a Mayor and Corporation who were only constituted last year. They simply propose to take 26 out of 100 acres of land for the purpose of forming a cemetery, and, as the hon. and learned Member for Stockton (Sir H. Davey) has informed the House, they propose to pay for it, so that, if considered desirable, the money can be invested in fresh land, and devoted to allotments. In Bournemouth it self there is not the slightest opposition to the Bill, and I hope the House will read it a second time.

(4.20.) MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stockport has made a strong case for the Second Reading of this Bill, but what he has said has been said over and over again when an application has been made by Railway Companies or Municipal Authorities to get possession of portions of commons for particular purposes. It has already been said that a price would be paid, and that the money might be invested in the purchase of similar land. As years have gone on the temptation to get hold of land that is very cheap has been increasing, but there has also been a disposition to postpone the consideration of what is most desirable for those who may come hereafter. Parliament has always viewed these applications with great jealousy. It is quite true that in this case money would have to be paid for the land, and that it would have to be invested, but it is not likely that the same quantity of land, or the same continuity of land, would be obtained. These considerations have already attracted the attention of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who has made a Report on this Bill, which will have to be considered if it is referred to a Committee. The right hon. Gentleman says, in reference to the local Act passed by the Bournemouth Commissioners two years ago, when it was contemplated that the land would be dedicated to a public park— Whether the land shall now be converted into a cemetery, or whether the view of Parliament expressed so recently as 1889 that the land should be ultimately available for the purposes of a public park shall be set aside, are considerations which ought to be entertained and weighed maturely by the Committee to whom the Bill is referred. Although personally I view the Bill with great jealousy, because it is very much in conflict with what has been in the mind of Parliament for a long time past, I think it would be a strong measure to reject it on the Second Reading when there is no objection to it in the neighbourhood. At the same time, if we read it a second time I think it ought to be sent to such a Committee as will ensure that all the objections which are made to the proposal should be considered. I would, therefore, suggest that the Bill be referred to a Hybrid Committee, with full power to consider all these questions—whether no other land can be got for a cemetery, and to provide further that the money paid shall be invested in the purchase of other land. It is with some hesitation that I recommend the Bill to be read a second time, and I hope care will be taken that in dealing with Private Bills of this nature we are not putting aside those considerations of public policy which have hitherto animated Parliament.

*MR. GILES (Southampton)

If the people of Bournemouth were perishing for want of fresh air I could understand this sentimental objection to the measure. But Bournemouth is one huge recreation ground; with a beautiful public garden in the middle of the town, a grand promenade on the cliffs, a magnificent beach, and a garden in front of almost every house. For my part, I think the people of Bournemouth are the best judges of what is for the advantage of their own town, and I think the House ought to listen to them before they consent to reject this Bill. The House has lately been very much in the habit of encouraging schemes for local government; but if they refuse to pass this Bill what is to become of local government? I may say that we encountered a similar sentimental objection in Southampton when we wanted to enlarge the cemetery there, but we carried the Bill.

(4.25.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)

As I live myself in the neighbourhood of Bournemouth, and know something about the town, I feel bound to say a word upon this subject. I really think that a demand for additional recreation ground at Bournemouth is very much like insisting upon having additional recreation ground at Ascot. Bournemouth is surrounded with recreation ground. What we are asked to do is, in the interests of posterity, to overrule the interests of the existing generation and their representatives. If we are to refuse to accept the views of the natural local government of Bournemouth in order to provide something that may suit posterity many years hence, I am afraid that the House of Commons may be called upon to do nothing else. I have always been a strong advocate for the preservation of open spaces; and if this were a case in which, for a single moment, I thought an injury would be done to the cause of open spaces, I would vote for the Amendment of my right hon. Friend, but, knowing the locality, it does appear to me that the proposal of my right hon. Friend is unreasonable. It further appears to me that the proposal of the Chairman of Committees to refer the Bill to a Hybrid Committee is also unreasonable, seeing that there is nobody in the town who opposes it. It would, in my opinion, be a great slur on the self-government of the people of Bournemouth to send this Bill to a Hybrid Committee, because the Corporation would be put to great expense in meeting opponents who have really no interest in the matter.

(4.27.) MR. R. CHAMBERLAIN (Islington, W.)

The proposal of the right hon. Member for Bradford is not to provide an additional recreation ground, but to prevent a recreation ground which already exists from being absorbed. The right hon. Member for Derby says that the Corporation are the persons who should decide the matter, and that we are introducing a new precedent when we say that the Corporation are not the proper persons to decide whether they are to appropriate what belongs not only to themselves but to posterity. That is no new principle, but in raising money by a Municipal Body it is well-known that a fixed period for repayment is laid down, so that an excessive burden may not be imposed upon posterity. The House of Commons having on three occasions expressed an opinion with regard to the appropriation of this land, I think a Private Bill ought not to be allowed to upset that opinion, and to create a precedent which will be followed in other cases when it is possible to get land cheaply by taking common land instead of purchasing from a private owner.


If it is the wish of the House to adopt the suggestion of the Chairman of Committees that the Bill be referred to a Hybrid Committee I am prepared to withdraw the Amendment. [Cries of "No!"] If it is referred to a Hybrid Committee I believe it will be shown that the opposition is not of that unreasonable character which my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) seems to suppose; but as there is an objection to the proposal of the Chairman of Committees, I must persist with the Amendment.

(4.30.) The House divided:—Ayes 182; Noes 70.—(Div. List, No. 310.)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill he committed to a Select Committee of Five Members, Three to he nominated by the House, and Two by the Committee of Selection."—(Sir Walter Foster.)

Debate adjourned till Friday.

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