HC Deb 11 March 1892 vol 2 cc608-27

Order [8th March], that the Birmingham Corporation Water Bill be committed, read, and discharged. Ordered, That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of Nine Members, Five to be nominated by the House and Four by the Committee of Selection. Ordered, That all Petitions against the Bill presented Three 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. Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records. Ordered, That Five be the quorum.—(Mr. Thomas Ellis.)

(3.5.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)

After the discussion we had on this Bill on Tuesday last, I feel it will not be necessary for me to occupy the time of the House at any great length in explaining the Instruction of which I have given notice. Since I gave that notice the House has agreed to the Motion of the hon. Member for Merionethshire (Mr. T. Ellis) and the Bill is referred to the consideration of a Hybrid Committee. It has been suggested that under the circumstances it might not be necessary to move the Instruction, because a Hybrid Committee has wider powers of inquiry than an ordinary Select Committee. I have, however, consulted the highest authority in the House on the subject, namely, the Clerks at the Table, and they express an opinion that the two matters referred to in the Instruction could not be fully dealt with by a Hybrid Committee without some Instruction in the nature of that I propose to move. I understand that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain) thinks the Instruction unnecessary, but should that be so I venture to suggest to him that, at all events, the Instruction will be harmless, and there is no reason to object to it being sent to the Committee. From a statement in this morning's papers, which appears to be made on authority, I perceive it is intimated that my right hon. Friend is ready to give way if there is a general sense of the House in favour of the Instruction.


Not an authorised statement.


As the opinion of Welsh Members is strongly in favour of the Instruction, and as the matters referred to are purely Welsh, I think my right hon. Friend will do well to defer to Welsh opinion. My reasons for making the Motion are, shortly, these:—Under the Birmingham Corporation Water Bill it is proposed to give to the Corporation of Birmingham powers of compulsory purchase over 65,000 acres of land, of which 32,000 acres consist of common land.


The total is 45,000 acres.


I thought it was proposed to give the Corporation power to take 65,000 acres; but, however, 32,000 acres are common land, and over this common land the Bill proposes to extinguish common rights. When the rights are extinguished, the land becomes the absolute property of the Corporation, free from the exercise of any rights whatever. The common rights are now exercised by small farmers, tenants of the commoners, in whom, by law, the common rights are vested. These small farmers, so far as I can ascertain, number 400, and they, for the most part, use the common for turning out their sheep and ponies, for cutting turf for fuel, and I believe, in many parts of the district, turf is the only fuel, coal being so dear as to be hardly within the reach of these people. They also use fern for litter, and rushes for the thatching of their houses. These rights are essential to the economic working of these small holdings. Without the possession of these common rights these farms could not be successfully managed—they could not be economically profitable. All experience has shown in the past when common land has been enclosed and these rights extinguished the result has been the consolidation of these small holdings into larger farms, it being no longer possible to carry on the work of small farms profitably. This has been our experience of enclosures in the past, and the Report of the Small Holdings Committee shows this effect from enclosures—the disappearance of small farms. It is mainly on this account that Parliament in late years—since 1875—has practically put every obstacle in the way of enclosures. They can only take place under very exceptional circumstances, and with the greatest precautions in favour of the small farming class. There must be a local inquiry on the spot, before which every fact in relation to the commoners is brought. There is then an appeal to the Inclosure Commissioners, and the scheme is referred to a Standing Committee of the House, before whom every opportunity is given for those interested to come forward and state their case. I may point out also that the existence of common rights practically secures to the people access to the common. The compensation for enclosure does not, as a rule, go to the small farmers for the extinction of their rights; it goes to the landowner of whom the small farmers is tenant, and the latter gets no compensation. This proposal of the Birmingham Corporation is practically a great enclosure scheme. It will enable the Corporation to appropriate all the common land and become absolute owners, and they may treat the whole area as their private property. They may, if they think fit, plant the whole or part of it, or cultivate it or let it out in one great ranche. I understand that my right hon. Friend has given an assurance that the Corporation of Birmingham, although they desire to be absolute owners of the common land to the extent of 32,000 acres, yet they do not intend to interfere with the user by the farmers, but that the farmers shall continue to have the use of it as heretofore, and that neither have the Corporation any desire to exclude the public from such enjoyment of the commons as they now have. On this point I may mention that I think my right hon. Friend is mistaken in saying that people do not use the commons. My information is that a considerable number of tourists do now roam over the commons. Well, my right hon. Friend has given an assurance that the Corporation of Birmingham will not interfere with the practical user by the small farmers or the access of the public, but I do not understand that he is willing that any legislative sanction should be given to his assurance. What he proposes is that the Corporation of Birmingham shall have complete control, and that the exercise of the user shall be permissive on the part of the Corporation and without the sanction of law. It would be in the power of the Corporation, hereafter, to make any change they please; they would be absolute masters of the position, owners of all these 32,000 acres, with full compulsory powers over the commons to prevent the user if they should think fit to do so. I have no doubt that so long as my right hon. Friend exercises his influence in Birmingham municipal affairs no injustice will be done, and his assurances will no doubt be carried out; but we have no security for the future in the event of a change of policy on the part of the Corporation, when the power they now seek may be exercised in a manner very different to the assurance my right hon. Friend now gives. My right hon. Friend gives as a reason why the Corporation ask this power from Parliament that it is desirable that the Corporation should have control so as to secure the absolute purity of the water. It is no doubt essential that this purity should be secured. My right hon. Friend went on to say that he thought it was probable, or possible, that the exercise of the right of cutting turf might hereafter interfere with the purity of the water supply, and he alluded also to the practice of sheep-washing and the use of arsenic in preparations used in that process, and which might have a detrimental effect on the water. But he did not say that these evils now exist; he put them only as possible difficulties in the future. I have no doubt that it would be quite possible, by regulations adopted in the Act, or hereafter made with the approval of the Local Government Board, that ample security might be obtained against any evils of this kind, and without expropriating all common rights in the manner proposed. I may remind the right hon. Gentleman that the washing of sheep is not a right of commoners; it is merely an easement attached to the occupation of the land adjoining, and it can be dealt with quite apart from anything in my Instruction. It is, therefore, quite possible to stop the practice, and secure the water from any impurity from that cause. It appears to me, under all the circumstances, we have a right to maintain that this should be treated as a public matter. I do not ask the House to express a positive opinion whether or not all common rights should be expropriated; that is a matter for the Committee to decide. All I ask is that this should be treated as a public question—that the Committee shall have a full inquiry, with every opportunity of ascertaining all the facts, with power to call before them witnesses whose evidence they may think necessary. The small farmers I have alluded to are in the main very poor men. They have no means whatever of appearing before the Committee, by counsel or otherwise; they have not even petitioned Parliament against the Bill, though I am told on good authority that they are unanimously opposed to this scheme. It is necessary therefore that the Committee shall have full power to go into the whole of the case, and summon any witnesses they may think necessary for the purposes of their inquiry. As to the other part of the case—the right of the public to the use of the commons for recreation purposes—all I ask is that the Committee shall be empowered to enter into the question, and to deal with it in the same manner as the rights of the public have been dealt with in all recent enclosures of mountain land, namely, by inserting a clause providing that the public shall have the privilege of enjoying the air, exercise, and recreation afforded by those parts of the land for the time being not planted, cultivated, or used for arable purposes. Such a clause appears in all recent Acts for the enclosure of mountain land, and I think, after the Debate on the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Bryce), in reference to the right of the people to access to unenclosed mountain and moorland, my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain) will hardly object to the insertion of such a clause. Again, I say, I do not ask the House to come to a decision at the moment; all I want to ensure is that the matter shall go before the Committee to whom this Bill will be referred, and that the Committee shall be empowered to consider the question in the interest of the public, and insert such a provision as they may think fit to secure the access of the public. I have only to say, in conclusion, that I am not hostile to the Bill. I think it may be desirable that a municipality should have the power to acquire land, but I do not think it is desirable, unless there is an overwhelming necessity shown, that a Corporation should become landowners on a great scale far beyond the boundaries of their municipal jurisdiction. The proposal in the Bill is that the Corporation of Birmingham shall become landlords over 45,000 acres, making them practically the largest owners of land in Wales. I have myself very great confidence in the general success of Local Government, but I do not think it is desirable that a Corporation should become landlords of a vast estate beyond their municipal boundaries. However, that is a question to be dealt with by the Committee. My Instruction is not mandatory; it is permissive in form. All I ask is that the House will give full powers of investigation.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom this Bill is referred that they have power to inquire and report to the House whether it is necessary to extinguish the rights of the commoners and the user of the commons by farmers over so wide a district, and whether provisions should be inserted for securing to the public free access to the commons proposed to be acquired other than so much as is required for reservoirs and other works."—(Mr. Shaw Lefevre.)

(2.23.) MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)

My right hon. Friend has made a very long speech upon a very small point. He has told us his views on the acquisition of land by Municipalities generally, on the rights of commoners, and other matters, which have really nothing to do with the point in question. In many respects I share the views of my right hon. Friend, and I appreciate the object he has in view by his Motion. He has given us a rather poetical account of the state of things in this wild district where the population is only one or two to the square mile, and he has represented the question of common rights there as a subject of the greatest importance. I differ entirely from my right hon. Friend as to the information he has received of the opinion of the commoners themselves. I am perfectly certain that these men, now engaged in getting a sparse and scanty living out of almost barren land, will find much to their advantage in having a Corporation spending millions in their immediate neighbourhood, and I am sure that nobody would regret more than these men, for whom the right hon. Gentleman speaks, if anything should happen to defeat the Bill. But all we hear about these common rights are but ex parte statements on matters upon which the Committee will have to give a decision; but for the sake of present argument I am perfectly willing to accept what my right hon. Friend has said. I am willing to admit that it is desirable that the user of the commons should be preserved; and I repeat, what I said on a previous occasion, that it is the intention, and it is to the interest, of the Corporation of Birmingham that there shall be the same user over portions of the land after it passes into the possession of the Corporation as there has been in the past. But, says my right hon. Friend under these circumstances—"Why do you object to statutory limitations of the power of the Corporation? Why do you object to leave the commoners in the possession of their vague and undefined rights, why seek their expropriation?" My right hon. Friend undertakes to say they will not in any way injure or endanger the purity of the water supply. This is all very well, but if my right hon. Friend found himself in the position of the Corporation of Birmingham, going to spend £6,000,000 upon this estate—not, indeed, for the purchase of the land, for that will be but a very small item in the account, but upon land, machinery, works, and all the apparatus for bringing the water to Birmingham—I think he would not feel this as a matter to be put off so easily. I can only say, on behalf of the Corporation, that, as I am advised at present, unless they can obtain the absolute freehold ownership of the property they will feel themselves unable to go on with the scheme. It is a very great responsibility as it stands. I confess I tremble at the obligations we impose upon our people in order to make this salutary provision, and at the danger of pecuniary burdens seriously interfering with the prosperity of our population. But although we have reluctantly come to the conclusion that it is our duty to undertake this enormous task, and to incur the risk attending it, I hope the House will not, by attaching conditions, increase that risk beyond what is right and necessary. I have given the assurance of the Corporation, and our interest is in the same direction. What possible interest can the Corporation have in removing these people from the land? The Corporation, however, must have control over the land, for it is impossible to foresee the future, or to predict what possible new conditions may arise. I quite agree that nothing that is now done is likely to injure the success of the water undertaking; and if we could be guaranteed absolutely that nothing will be done in the future, 200 or 300 years hence perhaps, that is not done by the commoners to-day, then we might readily accept a statutory obligation to preserve these rights. But the rights are vague, and we cannot tell whether the rights asserted to-day will be those asserted centuries hence. Therefore, we say it is not possible that the Corporation can have less than the entire control of the freehold of the land. On the other hand, I am quite willing to have this matter fully inquired into. We say the House is not able to inquire into matters of this kind with no evidence, and we think the evidence we can give the Committee will be sufficient to induce the House to give the Corporation full proprietorship over the land. Then, says my right hon. Friend, "Why object to the Motion?" I reply to him, "Why does he want the Instruction?" There is no doubt whatever that a Hybrid Committee can inquire into these matters. They have perfect power to inquire into the rights of commoners, and the County Council could undertake to raise the matter if they thought it important, but to accept the Instruction proposed is, in effect, to give a hint to the Committee. It is not mandatory I know, but it is a suggestion to the Committee to take a particular line, and that is what we respectfully protest against. I wish to spare the time of the House, and I should like to come to an agreement. The right hon. Gentleman has raised two points in his Instruction, both of which are of importance. As regards the commoners, I cannot concede more than I have in the shape of a Hybrid Committee, with full power to call evidence and pay the expenses of witnesses, but it is possible, it has been suggested to me, that the rights of the public could not be raised before a Hybrid Committee; and if it will satisfy my right hon. Friend—and I must be exact in these affairs on behalf of the Corporation—if it will satisfy him, and he will withdraw his Instruction, then I am prepared to give, on behalf of the Corporation, an assurance that we will introduce into the Bill what is known as the "Thirlmere" clause, the clause inserted in the Manchester Water-works Bill, which will give the public full right of access. Let me point out, too, that in the case of the Manchester Bill the proposal dealt with a district well known to tourists. Unless the information in my possession is wrong the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken, both as to the character of the district and the number of persons who are to be found there. I am told that you might go about there for months and not meet anyone, except these shepherds and people connected with the place that have been referred to. I am also told that the district is quite cul de sac; that it leads to no where, and that consequently it is highly improbable that there would be any great number of tourists visiting it. If the right hon. Gentleman will accept my Motion and withdraw his Instruction, he may rest assured that the commoners and all others interested will have every opportunity of being heard before the Committee.

(2.31.) MR. THOMAS ELLIS (Merionethshire)

I hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would have accepted the Instruction proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford. I understood, when the subject was last before the Committee on Tuesday, he accepted this Instruction.


I accepted it under a condition. I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon.


He accepted it under the condition that the House did not divide on the Motion for the Second Reading. It seems to me, whether the House divided or not, the reasonableness of this Instruction remains the same. The right hon. Gentleman admits now, as he admitted on Tuesday, that it was a strictly reasonable Instruction. It seems to me that in this matter the decision rests with neither of the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench, and that it rather rests with the authorities of this House; and I understand that in order that this subject maybe fairly discussed in the Hybrid Committee, that it is necessary that there should be a clause —that this permissive Instruction should be inserted. All we ask is that the Hybrid Committee which this House has sanctioned should inquire how far the common rights existing on these 32,000 acres shall be considered by the Committee, and how far the existing Rules need be extinguished so as to be consistent with the main object of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham has admitted that he desires to continue to allow these commoners to have the user of these 32,000 acres of common. But the question which arises is this—Will they have the user so recognised as an immemorial right, free of rent or any other consideration, or will they become mere tenants at a rack-rent to the Corporation? We admit this to be a great project, showing the great public spirit and enterprise of the Corporation of Birmingham; but, still, I think it is the duty of this House to see that the interests of the 300 or 400 tenants should be as much safeguarded as possible, and all the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford asks is that the Committee should inquire into this question as well as into the other questions. I hope on re-consideration the promoters of the Bill will accept this permissive Instruction, and give full scope to the Committee to inquire what these rights are to be consistently with the main object of this Bill.

(2.35.) SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)

I agree with a great deal that has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, but I should like to point out that the use of this common by a comparatively small number of tenants is a small point compared with the larger question of the health of a great community. It is a question of the health of more than half a million of people. If the exercise of the light of user should lead to such acts being done to the surface of the land as to affect the purity of the water drawn therefrom, as might probably be the case, then it might result in a serious detriment to the public health. Therefore, I think we should take every precaution to give power to the Corporation of Birmingham, in order that they should be able to provide such a supply of water as would be free from every possible sort of contamination; such might arise even from the preservation of the rights of the public to have access to that ground. Other schemes also are likely to come before us. We shall have the question of London and other great towns and cities coming up for discussion; and in consideration of these, I am very anxious that no precedent should be established in this case which would interfere with the acquisition of a suitable and pure water supply by the other great communities of the country. If you establish the right of user to this ground you may have a water supply obtained at great cost and infinite trouble rendered comparatively useless, and even injurious to the people; and I think that in all these cases no question of the interests of the few individuals on the one hand, as compared with the interests of a great community on the other hand, ought to receive the sympathy of the House. When one has to judge between the two, surely the sympathy of the House will be on the side of a great public community seeking for its people pure water.

(2.40.) MR. S. T. EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid.)

The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has told us that in a question of this kind the sympathy of the House should be on the side of a great community, rather than on the side of a few individuals; but surely that is no reason why the rights of the few should not be protected by this House? All we ask is that the Committee shall, on the one hand, weigh the rights of the Corporation of Birmingham, and take into consideration, on the other hand, the rights and demands of these commoners and the public of the locality, whose rights are threatened. According to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, the Committee would have power to do this without an Instruction; but I am informed that the authorities of the House are against the right hon. Gentleman; and however great his authority may be as a politician in certain quarters, we have, with reference to the Forms of the House, to look to the authorities of the House, and not to the right hon. Gentleman. It has been said that this would be a precedent against Corporations acquiring pure water in future; but it would be a precedent also for taking away from the commoner his rights, without obtaining any compensation for the rights of which he had been deprived. I understood the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, on behalf of the Corporation, pledges himself that the rights of the commoners and the public should not be interfered with further than to obtain the water, and keep it in a state of purity; but in the same breath he said—"We are not willing to insert a statutory provision to that effect." We do not know how long his connection with the Corporation of Birmingham may last, and his influence may continue, but all Corporations change every day, and no one can give any pledge which can be binding on the Corporation of Birmingham unless there are statutory provisions inserted in the Bill. Supposing the Corporation of Birmingham thought fit, in the future, when the whole body changes, to throw over the pledges given through the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, who speaks on their behalf in this House; what right could anybody have who was deprived of his commonable rights? What would be his position? Could he have an action at law against the Corporation of Birmingham? Not in the slightest degree. He would have no protection whatever for the breach of the pledge, nor any remedy from the Corporation or anybody else. But if the right hon. Gentleman, speaking on behalf of the Corporation, is prepared to pledge himself that, so far as can be done, having regard to the purity of the water, the commonable rights of these people shall be protected, then it seems to me the right hon. Gentleman has got no answer to the demand that the Committee shall be instructed to insert statutory powers to that effect in the Bill. I think that, upon the ground that there is some doubt as to the powers of the Committee, we are entitled to ask that such doubt shall be removed, and that the Committee shall have power to consider this question—whether the provisions we ask for should not be inserted in the Bill, namely, that the commonable and other rights of the peasants and the people should not be extinguished, except in so far as it was absolutely necessary for the supply of water for the Corporation of Birmingham, and to keep the water pure; and, therefore, I think this Instruction should be adopted by the House.

(2.46.) SIR W. B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, N.W.)

I should like to say two things. The first is, that having been for some years on the Commons Committee in this House, I have heard it laid down over and over again that, so far as possible, the rights of the commoners are not to be disturbed. The second point is this—Birmingham has undoubtedly a right to get a supply of water; but I recollect that Birmingham had a lesson some time ago when she wanted to get rid of her sewage, and I think it would be most unfair and most unwise to make a precedent with regard to Birmingham until that important question has been considered fairly by the House. Wales knows perfectly well that she is threatened by many other large communities coming to her for water; if one is granted this privilege, surely the other cannot be refused; and, therefore, it behoves this House to be very careful in that which it is doing. I will only add one other observation with regard to a subject especially interesting to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham and the hon. Gentleman sitting immediately behind him (Mr. Jesse Collings)—namely, the Small Holdings, with reference to which the hon. Gentleman sitting behind him, if I mistake not very much, has stated over and over again that these men who live on the borders of a common, and have common rights and common run, can do a great deal more for themselves than the men who have a small portion of land without a common near them. That, I think, is a matter worthy of consideration in this case. I would do nothing to deprive Birmingham of her water supply, but I would only venture to make one suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, which may be a reasonable settlement of the question, and that is, whether he cannot allot as freehold a certain portion of this land, which is not in any way necessary for the water supply, and which may be near the holdings of these commoners.


Perhaps I may be allowed to interpose for a moment for the sake of peace. The question before the House is as to the right of the commoners, of the farmers, and of the public, to have their interests safeguarded and considered in this Bill. We have passed an Order constituting a Hybrid Committee, and declared in that Order that all the petitions against the Bill, as presented to the House, are referred to them for consideration, and that the petitioners who ask to be heard are to be heard. That surely, in words, covers every possible thing. There is, indeed, no doubt about the commoners having a different right, and a distinct right from the farmers, who have no right, but merely a user. If, three days before the meeting of the Committee, the farmers present a petition to the Committee, they are, upon the ordinary footing of ordinary usage, entitled to be heard. If the Commons Preservation Society, or any other party concerned, like to present a petition three days before the meeting of the Committee, they are entitled to be heard. The whole thing is already covered. It may be said, therefore, why not accept the Instruction? Well, because it would seem to throw a slur on the authority of the Committee to tell them to do what they have already power to do—to consider fully every point of this question. Therefore, I do think the right hon. Gentleman would act wisely by withdrawing this Instruction, on the assurance that the authorities of the House have now decided, and for many years it has been the rule, that no question of locus standi can be raised constituted as this Hybrid Committee is. Of course, the right to be heard is grounded upon a Petition.

(1.53.) MR. A. J. WILLIAMS (Glamorgan, S.)

I have not the slightest doubt that all of us accept, without hesitation, what the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees has said as regards the power of the Committee; but I cannot for the life of me understand what objection there is to bring under the notice of the Committee, in the form of an Instruction, the expression of a wish on the part of the House that they should inquire into these matters. Therefore, I venture to suggest, if I might do so, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, who has the interests of Birmingham to represent in this House, would do wisely to accept this Instruction. The right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees has told us what the commoners and farmers have a right to be heard before the Committee on presenting a Petition. Who is going to pay the cost of the Petition by these commoners and farmers? We have all, I know, some experience of the enormously extravagant expenses which are incurred in opposition to Bills. Who has the money to spend on these expenses? What I should wish to do, if it would be in order, would be, to add to this Instruction that the cost of all Petitions by commoners and farmers, and those interested in the district, should be paid by the promoters. (Laughter.) The right hon. Gentleman laughs. It is a legal laugh. I, for my part, deeply deplore that this Bill has been drafted and proposed, and has not been postponed for another five years, because then it would be promoted under entirely different conditions. I may say that I have not the slightest wish to deprive a community of the blessings of a supply of water, and that an ample supply, from the Welsh hills; but for my part I always say that when a Corporation like Birmingham come to the Welsh hills to spend six millions of money in getting this blessing for a great community, the poor tenants of the locality from whom it is taken ought to be regarded with some consideration.

(2.56.) MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)

I had no intention of speaking on this question till I came down to the House, but I should like to offer a practical reason why, if possible, every safeguard should be given at this stage. Once it goes upstairs, there is less chance of the commoners getting their full rights unless they are well supplied with money for paying counsel. But when the money is all on one side it is a very difficult matter, after a prolonged inquiry upstairs, to insure that all points are fully considered. I speak from bitter experience in this matter, having myself some years since asked the House to reject a Bill of a somewhat similar character. A large company in Bristol wished to take water from a certain source which would have caused great injury to those resident in the locality. I asked the House to reject the Bill, but it did not do so. It went upstairs, where thousands of pounds were spent, which had been collected from very poor people; the Bill was practically rejected there on the very grounds on which I asked the House to reject it on the Second Reading. Therefore, it is most unfair to refuse this Instruction to the Committee.

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

It seems to me that the Corporation of Birmingham only came here from dire necessity, and from the extreme feeling they had of their responsibility to supply what is necessary for over One-half million or more people. They would be glad if they had no necessity whatever to come to ask for permission to spend such an enormous sum for the purpose of providing a water supply for the people of Birmingham. After the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees as to the powers of this Committee, one would have hoped that the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Instruction would have been satisfied, because we contend that we are as anxious as he is to have all these matters considered by a competent tribunal upstairs. But the only reason, in my opinion, that inquiry should be left to this competent tribunal without an Instruction is this: that an Instruction given by this House must of necessity have, and ought to have, some force in biasing the mind and judgment of the Committee upstairs. The right Iron. Gentleman spoke of this matter as a question of enclosure; but it cannot be regarded as a question of ordinary enclosure, and cannot be made into any measure for the extinguishment of rights, because a large portion of this enclosed area is to be used as a gathering ground for water. I would request the attention of my right hon. Friend who moved this Instruction to the fact that beyond the extinguishing of the area that is submerged the Bill secures the rights of the people whom he is interested in. It does not extinguish anything beyond the limits absolutely necessary for securing pure water, which, I presume, all will desire. There will be a change as to proprietorship, but the rights will remain. The commoners whose rights are bought will stand in the same relation to the Corporation of Birmingham as they do to the present owner of the common rights. The only limitation that will be necessary will be one to prevent them from doing anything that shall tend to destroy the purity of the water. The great question of common rights will be settled in the best possible manner by putting the ownership of those rights into the hands of the Municipality. The privileges of the tenants will be more likely to be extended—certainly to be preserved—by the Corporation than by a private owner. This is a great public question in the fact that it touches the interests of an enormous number of inhabitants of a certain district of the country. There are, again, thirty or forty times as many Welsh people in Birmingham as there are in the district it is proposed to enclose. If such restrictions as are proposed, however, are to be imposed, they will affect other public bodies. Take Loudon for instance. It will soon seek to get this necessary of life. I think that the needs of an enormous population should be the governing idea with this House in deciding this question. The Birmingham Corporation only ask that the House will not allow any danger to be run that, after having paid an enormous sum for property, some action would be possible that would take no account of the outlay and would foul and render less pure the water. The idea is, first of all, to get a pure supply of water for a vast population. To guard whatever rights there may be the Committee, to whom it is proposed to refer this Bill, have full power.


I may, perhaps, close this discussion by saying I am unfortunately unable to accept the offer made to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, because I consider the first part of my Instruction far the most important one; and, secondly, because I am not satisfied with regard to the proposal to apply the Thirlmere Clause; I think that is not sufficient. The Chairman of Committees and the authorities of the House differ, I understand.


Mr. Speaker, there appears to be some difference of statement as to the right to be heard before this Committee. I beg to ask you, Sir, as the highest authority, whether such persons—namely, commoners and farmers having rights of user over the property—would not be entitled to be heard before a Hybrid Committee?


The matter is a difficult one, but my own opinion is that the Instruction is necessary from the point of view of those who have moved it, for this reason: No doubt the occupiers of the land would have a right of locus standi so far as any water abstracted from them might be in question; but when it came to their rights of common, then I think it might be a very grave question indeed whether they would have a locus standi, as appealing to the Committee on behalf of the common, as distinguished from their water rights. I know that all Petitions presented to the Committee might be considered, but I am not at all sure that a Hybrid Committee might not have power to reject a Petition, as I believe has once before been done some years ago. It is for that reason that I think—it may be out of abundance of caution, perhaps, but I still think—that the Instruction would be necessary from the point of view of those who have moved it.


After the statement you have made, Sir, I beg to say I will withdraw all opposition to the Instruction.

Instruction agreed to.

(3.5.) SIR HENRY JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)

There were some complaints that the supply of water would not remain sufficient in certain districts if this Bill were passed in its present shape, and I put down a notice of Instruction as a mandatory notice:— That it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom this Bill is referred that provisions be inserted in the Bill preserving the substantial use and enjoyment by the public of the waters of the Wye and of other rivers affected by the Bill, to the same extent and in like manner as if this Bill were not passed, or a full equivalent for such use and enjoyment. Since I put down my notice the Select Committee has been turned into a Hybrid Committee, and the locality in which I am interested has petitioned, and will certainly avail themselves of full power to raise any of the questions mentioned in the Instruction. I have also communicated with the promoters, and they have given an undertaking substantially that they will give the locality for which I speak the same supply of water as now exists. Under these circumstances, I do not propose to move the Instruction I have on the Paper.