HC Deb 26 May 1892 vol 4 cc1857-83

As amended, considered.


The new clause standing in the name of the hon. Member for Merionethshire (Mr. Thomas Ellis)—Compensation to yearly tenants—is not in order. It cannot be moved with the Speaker in the Chair.

*(3.5.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

I desire to move a new clause to prohibit the use of barbed wire in the fencing the Corporation may erect. I understand from the paper which has been circulated by the Corporation of Birmingham that they do not object to the insertion of such a clause should the House see fit to insert it, and, indeed, in reference to one estate I find that such a clause has been inserted. It appears to me that if it is proposed to have such a provision in reference to one estate, it should be good for all the estates concerned under this Bill. I think there is a general feeling in the country against the use of this barbed wire for fencing; it is cruel to animals and it causes a great deal of unnecessary annoyance. As I understand there is no opposition to the clause, I need not trouble the House further.

New clause—

(Barbed wire.)

"The Corporation shall not use any barbed wire in connection with the erection of any fences or otherwise,"

—brought up, and read a first and second time.

Amendment proposed, after the word "erection" to insert the words "or maintenance."—(Mr. Brunner.)

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, added to the Bill.

MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon, &c.)

I have to move the new clause in the form in which it appears on the Notice Paper, and my reason is that the common rights involved should be under the control of a representative and independent body. By Clause 46 of the Bill power is given to the Corporation to acquire common land by agreement, which implies that if the Corporation offer sufficient inducement commoners may dispose of their rights, and those rights would then be disposed of without consultation with any independent authority. But I think there should be some independent authority to protect public rights other than the rights of commoners. After all, the importance of these common lands is due to the fact not only that certain individuals enjoy certain rights in the commons, but that the general community have an interest in the commons, and it is the interest of the community we desire to protect, not merely that of individuals. Secondly, the object of my clause is this. By Section 49 of the Bill power is given to the Corporation to make bye-laws regulating sheep washing, the digging of turf, the cutting of ferns, fishing, recreation, and things of that kind. Now, I do not think that unrestricted power should be given to the Corporation to make such bye-laws as they may think proper, subject only to the approval of the Secretary of State, who, of course, will have no local knowledge. An investigation should be held on the spot in accordance with the policy pursued in the Local Government Act passed by the present Government. It is right, I think, that the local County Councils should have some power of intervention in the matter instead of the bye-laws being left entirely to the Birmingham Corporation, whose interest, of course, it will be to make such bye-laws as stringent and restrictive as possible. These bye-laws should be prepared by representatives of the people resident in the district. The Councils will naturally regard the interest of all parties of the ratepayers, as well as of the Birmingham Corporation, the community generally, and the tourists who visit the district. The clause proposes that the bye-laws shall have the final approval of the Board of Agriculture, and so I think they will be fair to all parties.

New Clause— Page 42, after Clause 49, insert the following clause:—"The common or unenclosed lands (as aforesaid) and the common or commonable rights over such lands shall be subject to the management and control of trustees, to consist of three persons to be appointed by the council of the county of Radnor, two persons to be appointed by the council of the county of Brecon, and one person to be appointed by the council of the county of Cardigan, the persons so appointed being removable by, and vacancies filled by the body who appointed them, such persons to be called 'The Trustees of Common Lands.' The said trustees may, as respects the common or unenclosed lands, as aforesaid, make bye-laws for the prevention of the pollution of the water flowing through and from such land. The bye-laws may include all or any of the following purposes:—

  1. (1.) The regulation of the cutting peat or turf for fuel, and the cutting of fern and rushes;
  2. (2.) The regulation of the exercise of fishing rights by the people of the district and town of Rhayader in the upper reservoirs and streams flowing into the same;
  3. (3.) The prevention of nuisances and of any act tending to the pollution of the water flowing through the common and unenclosed lands;
  4. (4.) The regulation of recreation on the said lands, and the prevention of the disturbance of stock growing thereon by dogs and otherwise;
  5. (5.) All such bye-laws shall be made by the said trustees, subject to the approval of the Corporation and the Board of Agriculture,"
—brought up, and read a first time.

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


As Chairman of the Committee I may state to my hon. Friend and the House what was the view taken by the Committee of this matter. The Committee, very reasonably I think, sympathised with the desire of persons in the locality that they should not be absolutely at the mercy of the Corporation of Birmingham with regard to the bye-laws to be made. At the same time, the full extent of these proposals hardly commended itself to the Committee—namely, that the County Councils of the different counties concerned should have a hand in the framing of the bye-laws for the purpose of protecting from any danger of impurity the waterworks of the Corporation. Surely the Corporation are themselves in the main the best judges of what is necessary for this purpose; but in order that local interests might be protected, and to meet local ideas, what the Committee did was to provide that the bye-laws should be subject to the approval of the Board of Agriculture, the central authority to whom is deputed the duty of protecting local interests in these matters. But the Committee also made the suggestion, which was adopted by the promoters of the Bill, that before being submitted for the approval of the Board of Agriculture a copy of the proposed bye-law should be sent to each County Council, in order that the Councils might have the opportunity of making suggestions in regard to it. Accordingly in Clause 49 of the Bill it is provided that the Board of Agriculture shall be the authority to which the bye-laws shall be submitted, provided that a copy of the proposed bye-law shall have been sent to the Clerk of the County Council in each county where the bye-law is intended to operate one month at least before application is made for its confirmation. Thus full opportunity is given to the County Councils to point out where any mistake may have been made, or where there is any unnecessary infringement of the rights of commoners. I may say generally the Committee were most careful to preserve the rights of commoners and of all persons resident in the locality, and I believe the Bill goes much further than any Bill I can remember in the direction of the protection of local rights. I am bound to say also that we found the Corporation most willing to meet our reasonable view in this respect, and I can confidently say that comparing this with any previous Water Bill of a similar character Parliament has had to deal with, far greater care has been taken to protect local rights, and I am not aware of any right that has not been fully preserved, so far as it is possible to preserve it, under the provisions of this Bill. If this is not so in any case, then it is contrary to the intention of the Committee. With regard to these bye-laws, there was a statement expressed that the casual wayfarer would have his feelings less disturbed if he found that the regulations were signed by the local County Council rather than by the official of the Corporation, but I do not think there is much in that sentimental view so long as substantially the people of the locality have ample power to make their voices heard and opportunity to make their views prevail. They have this under the Bill, with the protection of the approval of the Board of Agriculture, and I really do not think it is necessary to insert this clause.

MR. THOMAS ELLIS (Merionethshire)

I am quite ready to recognise that in the later stages the Corporation did, under pressure, consent to make considerable changes in their Bill, but I venture to say the clause as it stands will not serve the purpose the Committee desired to attain. In the original Bill the Corporation desired the power of buying up in toto all rights over 32,000 acres of common land, but in Committee a change was made by which the commons are still to remain in their present condition and under the present tenure, so that peasants and tenant farmers may still retain their common rights over these 32,000 acres of common. There is at present no authority whatever to take care of this fundamental question of the purity of the water. It is for securing the purity of the water that, according to Clause 49, these bye-laws are to be framed. But, according to the provisions and intentions of the Committee, these common rights are to remain as they are under the Corporation of Birmingham, and it is only by consent under Clause 46 that common rights are to be bought up. Now, in the meantime, and before the Municipality of Birmingham acquires the common right over these 32,000 acres of gathering ground for their water supply, there will be no authority to look after the interests of the commoners. Now I venture to think that even in the interest of the purity of the water you should by this Act create some body as trustees to look after these matters. It is much more than a sentimental question; it is a question of safeguarding the rights of commoners and of the inhabitants of the district. It is impossible for the Municipality of Birmingham, even with very good intentions, to know of all the interests in the case, and I think the least that should be done is that some responsible representatives of the Local Authority should have the initiative in the making of the bye-laws for the general management of the district. I think in the interest of the purity of the water, and until the common rights are bought up—if they ever are bought up, which I hope they may not be, and even then—that the Local Authority in the interest of the population of the district should have a voice in the making of these bye-laws. I trust that the Chairman of the Committee and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) will see that not alone in the interest of the locality, but in the interest of the purity of the water supply the clause proposed by my hon. Friend is well worthy of consideration.

(3.20.) MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Stockport)

If the intention is to give to these trustees authority to make bye-laws for the land not acquired by the Corporation, that is not the meaning of the clause. The new clause simply applies to "the common or unenclosed lands ('as aforesaid')"—that is, those lands which have been acquired by the Corporation. If, therefore, the object is to regulate the use of the land not bought by the Corporation the clause entirely fails to do it. I am bound to say, as a member of the Committee, that it is not correct to say that the Corporation of Birmingham yielded under pressure to the changes in their Bill, because from the first, and in the opening speech of their counsel, they expressed their desire not to acquire greater powers than were absolutely necessary for the main purpose of the Bill and the security of the purity of the water. I do not pretend to a very large experience in respect to these Water Bills, but I am bound to say I hardly ever knew the promoters of a Bill more anxious to limit their powers to the necessities of their object and to meet the wishes of the Committee and the petitioners than the Birmingham Corporation were in this instance. With regard to what the hon. Member has said as to the rights of the public over these commons, I would observe that there is no such thing as the right of the public over common lands; they belong to the lord of the manor and the commoners; the public have no right. ("Oh, oh!") That is so; the rights are those of private ownership, and except on the Queen's highway the public have no rights whatever. They may have an easement; they may have a right of way; but as to a general right to wander over such unenclosed lands, it has no existence, and I believe it is not known to the English law. In this Bill we have rather extended than diminished any rights of the public.

MR. STUART RENDEL (Montgomeryshire)

I do not think any of the Members who represent the Principality desire to deny the willingness of the Corporation of Birmingham to meet the natural necessities of the case, and to deal in a fair spirit with the demands made by the people of the locality; but, of course, this is a Bill of such an unusual character as to remove it altogether from the category of ordinary Water Bills, and it is therefore our duty to look more closely into details than might be necessary in other cases. While we recognise to the full the statement of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) as to the desire to protect the interests of the people of the locality, we do not feel that that has been secured under the Bill. It will be observed that a copy of the bye-law is to be sent to the clerk of the County Council; but there the matter stops, and there is no power given to the County Council to take any action under the Bill. The difficulty would be met if the Council had some operative power conferred upon it. If the County Council had the power to call upon the Board of Agriculture to institute a local inquiry that would be something. I hope it is not too late to adopt some proposal in the direction of the clause.

MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)

On behalf of the Corporation Birmingham I recognise the friendly spirit in which this matter has been dealt with by hon. Members. I am very glad to see there is no idea of antagonism to the Corporation, the intention being to protect the interests of the inhabitants as well as of the Corporation. I can confirm what has been said by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Sydney Gedge), that from the first the Corporation frankly said that their only desire was to obtain such rights as were necessary for their purpose to secure the purity of the water. If it were possible to arrange this without the acquisition of the freehold by the Corporation I should have been delighted to have avoided what I feel is an enormous responsibility. Now, the whole question has been considered by the Committee from this point of view, and the Committee have imposed on the Corporation certain changes in the Bill intended to safeguard local interests. Of course, if the Corporation had regarded the matter from a different point of view, though they might not have been able to resist the decision of the Committee, they might have accepted the conditions with the intention of restoring the Bill to its first shape during the progress of the Bill in another place. But the Corporation had no such intention; they accepted all the alterations which, after a full hearing, were suggested by the Committee, and they have no intention to endeavour to obtain any alteration of the concessions made. With regard to this, which is, after all, a minor point, I need only point out to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway that the Corporation are investing an enormous sum of money in this undertaking, and I am bound to say, speaking as one very much interested in the prosperity of Birmingham, that it is a painful necessity; that nothing less than the apprehension of a water famine would induce us to undertake such an enormous responsibility. But as we are about to expend six millions of money we must take care that we secure the purity of the water we supply. To that purpose are these clauses directed, and only to secure that do we in any way desire to interfere with the use of the commons; and in making these bye-laws, to insure that consideration shall be given to local wishes, it is provided that the bye-laws shall be submitted for the approval of the Board of Agriculture. The suggestion has just been thrown out that the Board of Agriculture should hold a local inquiry, if requested to do so by any of the County Councils interested, before confirming a bye-law prepared by the Corporation. This appears to me a most reasonable proposal; and in principle I shall be glad on the part of the Corporation to accept it. Of course, there is a difficulty in introducing just the right words at a moment's notice; and perhaps the hon. Member will now withdraw the clause, on the pledge given, that the representatives of the Corporation will consult with hon. Members below the Gangway with the view to the insertion, in another place, of an Amendment which will provide that a local inquiry shall be held when such, in the opinion of the Local Council, appears to be necessary.


Upon that understanding I will, with the permission of the House, withdraw this clause.

Motion, and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.


I have now to ask the House to adopt the Amendment, notice of which I have given to Clause 5—namely, to add the words— As are within the limits of deviation, and required for the reservoirs and works by this Act authorised. I am aware of the difficulty of inducing the House to make an alteration of this kind after a Committee has considered the Bill; but, however, an addition has been made at this stage showing that at any rate we are justified in giving consideration to these matters even now. As I understand the matter, the Corporation propose to take many thousands of acres more than they really require for their works; and I do not see why this should be allowed in this particular case, and I understand it is not usually allowed. I understand that when a railway company or other promoters are given powers to acquire land, then any surplus land left, after completion of the works, is sold within a certain time, or else the promoters lose that land altogether. It appears to me there is no sufficient reason why this Corporation should take large quantities of land they really do not require for the purposes of these works in any way whatever, and probably against the interests of the people of Wales. I am told, in the papers which have been circulated by the promoters, that this re-opens the large question with regard to the acquisition of land which has been considered by the Committee, and I am told also that in another clause they deal with this matter to some extent by proposing to let the land. But this does not appear to me enough. I quite agree that Birmingham ought to be allowed to get a good supply of water, although I am not certain that they ought not to be compelled to pay the Welsh people for taking this water from Wales, or, at any rate, to make compensation in some form, because the proposal includes something more than supplying water to Birmingham. The Corporation propose to supply water to other districts, so that to some extent it has the appearance of a gigantic speculation, upon which the Corporation are embarking with the money of the ratepayers. But I do not think they ought to speculate with the ratepayers' money, and, therefore, I propose to limit these powers of acquisition to land actually required for the authorised works. Perhaps we may have some explanation why this large quantity of land is to be taken, and, meantime, I move my Amendment.

Amendment proposed, In page 5, line 5, after the word "reference," to insert the words "as are within the limits of deviation, and required for the reservoirs and works by this Act authorised."—(Mr. Morton.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


To carry such a proposal would be absolutely fatal to the Bill. As the hon. Gentleman is probably aware, the whole matter was discussed on the Debate on the Second Reading, and it was very carefully gone into by the Committee. I believe I have the authority of the Chairman of the Committee to say that the Committee had no hesitation in agreeing to the contention of the Corporation that it would be impossible to successfully conduct this great scheme without the Corporation having full control over the drainage area.


I must correct one word used by my right hon. Friend. He says the Committee had no hesitation in accepting the view of the Corporation; but the fact is, we had in one sense a great deal of hesitation; that is to say, on the first blush—I speak for myself particularly—I was very much opposed to this acquisition of land. But the more the matter was examined the more did the necessity for this appear. The land, or a vast extent of it, is unoccupied; it is not altogether waste land—it is pasture land; and the interests affected are comparatively few. If we had seen any way of avoiding this large acquisition of land, we should have been glad to adopt it; and we were fortunately able to suggest, on the initiative of the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Sydney Gedge), a proposal to the Corporation that when the value of the land had been ascertained—purchased as it were—that then it should be given back on a 999 years' lease to those to whom it belonged if they chose to exercise their right. That seemed to us to meet the case, and to save the interests of those concerned, while securing to the Corporation that control which it was forced upon us day after day it was necessary the Corporation should have. That having been secured, I think the Committee at that stage, and when we came to our Report, had no hesitation or difference of opinion.


Under the circumstances I will, with the permission of the House, withdraw my proposal.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

*(3.40.) MR. MORTON

My next point refers to the same matter—it has relation to the rent to be charged for these lands we have been speaking about, and which are to be let on 999 years' leases. This rent is to be, according to the Bill, three per cent. on the cost of the land, including, of course, all the costs in connection with the taking of the land and the minerals under the surface. But in the conditions of the leases no mineral rights will be disposed of, so that the Corporation will not be re-letting all that they have purchased. It has occurred to myself and others that, considering the reservations made by the Corporation, two and a half per cent. would be sufficient to cover the actual cost of that which is re-let. I see that the promoters in their statement say that they will have to borrow the purchase-money at three per cent., and, therefore they ought to get three per cent. on the land purchased with the money. But as I have pointed out, they do not re-let all that they purchase, and should therefore make some allowance, which I think may fairly be calculated as the difference between three and two and a half per cent.

Amendment proposed, in page 10, line 16, to leave out the word "three," and insert the words "two and one-half."—(Mr. Morton.)

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


The hon. Member has very frankly said, in moving this Amendment, that it has reference to the same subject as his last Amendment; and as he was good enough to withdraw the last, so, to be consistent, I hope he will withdraw this also. I am sure he will be the more inclined to do so, for I hardly think he does justice to his own financial reputation. Let me point out to him the effect of the Amendment. The suggestion is that the Corporation of Birmingham, which will have to borrow the money at, I am sorry to say, three per cent., or perhaps a little more, shall then invest the money at two and a half per cent. Now, if they were to adopt such a financial policy as that, I think the Corporation would start on the road to the Bankruptcy Court.


That is not my proposal.


Further, it is to be observed that on the terms of compulsory purchase and conditions attached the owners will be at a great advantage in selling their land, and they are not compelled to take leases. I think the hon. Member must see his proposal is not a reasonable one.


If I maybe allowed to explain, I would point out again that, though the Corporation may have to borrow at three per cent., they do not re-let all they purchase; they reserve all mineral rights.


The hon. Member is, I think, mistaken. If he will read the clause he will see that the three per cent. is not on the full purchase-money, but on such sum less the value of minerals, &c. Surely the hon. Member will not press his proposal?

Question put, and agreed to.


My next Amendment refers to the same matter, but to a different class of tenant. The Corporation are to let farms now occupied by annual tenants or by those who have short leases on leases of twenty-one years, rent and conditions to be arranged. Now, it occurs to me that if the Corporation are willing to let the land for a term of twenty-one years, then at the expiration of that term I do not see why the tenant, if he desire to do so, should not be allowed to take a fresh lease. I have not heard why a tenant should be turned out at the end of twenty-one years any more than at the end of two or three years. I think if the tenant has this right of protection for twenty-one years he has an equal right to that protection in perpetuity.

Amendment proposed, In page 11, line 18, after the word "years," to insert the words "and shall renew the same from time to time for further periods of twenty-one years if demanded."—(Mr. Morton.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


I am very sorry my hon. Friend, who takes such an interest in this question, did not attend some of the proceedings of our Committee upstairs, when he would have seen how careful we were to protect the interest of these very tenants. Apart from the usual and ordinary proceedings in Committee on a Private Bill, this Hybrid Committee called for independent testimony from the district without the intervention of counsel, and we had the account from themselves of some six, eight, or ten farmers who were to be affected under the clauses of this Bill, and in the result the Corporation agreed to meet the case by this provision of twenty-one years' leases. We were told that these tenants are annual tenants at present with no leases whatever and no fixity of tenure at all, but that they are well treated by their landlord and hold their farms at a very fair rent. They not unnaturally had a fear that this dreadful Corporation, coming in with mercantile ideas, might treat them in a severely commercial manner, and make their fate much worse than it had been. I think, having gone the extreme length of offering to a man who has no lease at all, and is absolutely uncertain as to his position, a twenty-one years' lease at the admittedly very moderate rent now paid, we have done as much as Corporation, Committee, or Parliament can be expected to do.


I do not know whether my hon. Friend intends to press this Amendment, but I take the opportunity to say that the right hon. Gentleman has rather exaggerated the generosity of the Birmingham Corporation in this matter. I do not doubt that the Corporation will make liberal compensation to the landowners, but I am certain that this treatment of the tenants is the very least which in equity should be given. It is quite true, and the truth is a scandal, that these tenants are in the position of being liable to be turned from their holdings at six or twelve months' notice; and it seems to me that to give them the security of a tenure for twenty-one years is the very least that should be given. I hope, even if the Amendment is not accepted in its present form, that, at any rate, in another place the Corporation of Birmingham will, in the case of land not required for the works, give present tenants the first choice in the renewal of leases; and, further, I make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, who has charge of this Bill, that in another place some consideration, some regard, shall be had to those tenants who actually will, under this Bill, be turned from their homes and sent adrift in the world. I find that it is, technically, not possible for me to move the clause with which I intended to deal with these cases; but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say that liberal compensation shall be given to tenants who are to be turned from their homes after occupation extending over thirty, forty, and even in some cases more than seventy, years. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give some undertaking on these points—that, in cases where farms are not wanted, the present tenants shall have first choice of renewals of leases; and that where tenants are actually turned out liberal compensation shall be given them.


I can only pledge the Corporation to this: that they will undoubtedly be most happy to give the fullest consideration to any suggestion made by the hon. Member in the interval between now and the promotion of the Bill in another place. In regard to these particular cases concerned in the Amendment now before us, the tenants were, as the Chairman has said, fully heard, and I think I am justified in saying that when they understood what the Committee proposed to do for them, they went away absolutely and perfectly satisfied. At the same time, if there is any chink, any hole, any lapse in the proposal considered in Committee to which my hon. Friend will call attention, I can assure him that the fullest consideration shall be given to it by the Corporation.


As I understand the matter will be re-considered, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.


But do not let me be misunderstood. The proposal now is for perpetual renewal of leases, and this the Corporation must undoubtedly refuse.


I understand that consideration shall be given to the position of these tenants in consultation with my hon. Friend, and I will not press the matter further.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


Clause 53 has been amended in deference to opinions expressed in the House, and I confess that even as it is, it is not an admission of the rights of the people of the locality. But I would point out to the Chairman of the Committee, in reference to what he has said as to the desire of the Committee to protect the rights of the locality, that as the clause stands at present there is no real guarantee that the people in the district will have the rights and privileges referred to in the Bill secured to them. I venture to remind him of the experiences in regard to the Corporation of Liverpool in a similar matter. The clause has reference to the rights of fishing. Now, I am not a lawyer, and I am not quite certain whether there are actual rights of fishing to be proved by Statute Law, but this at any rate is certain: that from time immemorial the inhabitants of the district and the town of Rhayder have, unmolested, enjoyed the rights and privileges of fishing in all the streams in this tract of 34,000 acres of common land. My present Amendment is to insert after "rights," the words "and privileges," and this followed by a consequential Amendment to line 26 adding the words "hitherto enjoyed," so that there may be no doubt as to the rights and privileges hitherto enjoyed by the inhabitants and the town of Rhayader. There is, I believe, no record of an inhabitant ever having been molested by a landowner in the exercise of this privilege. It is said in this statement issued by the promoters that it is only a right enjoyed on sufferance; but whether it is or not it is a very substantial right or privilege; it is of great benefit to the people of the locality, and its abrogation will give rise to much expression of feeling. It is in order that there may not be that annoyance and litigation which have arisen in connection with the Liverpool Corporation reservoirs that I propose this Amendment.

Amendment proposed, in page 44, line 23, after the word "rights," to insert the words "and privileges."—(Mr. T. Ellis.)

Question proposed, "That the words 'and privileges,' be there inserted."


I think the Committee, so far as I can speak for them, were entirely in agreement with my hon. Friend, or in substantial agreement with him. We had a good deal of evidence on the point; and as to the right or privilege, whichever it may be called, of the people of the district of Rhayader and outside the particular water area, to fishing in the waters there, the Committee considered the question of inserting the words "and privileges," and we determined not to do so, our reason being that we did not wish by the Bill to create any new rights. We only wished to maintain and not to interfere with existing rights. Although there is this very free privilege of fishing, yet it has the nature of a privilege, and it was not for us to convert that into what my hon. Friend speaks of as a statutory right. As we understood, it was only reasonable to expect that the Corporation would be perfectly willing that people should continue to fish just as they have fished. I do not know that a man fishing on the banks of a stream will make any difference in the purity of the water supply. The view of the Committee was that they should not assent to the insertion of the somewhat vague expression "privileges." But I believe that all that is wanted by my hon. Friend is secured by the clause, and I would advise the House not to accede to the proposal to insert these words, which I may say was not very seriously put before the Committee.


I can assure my right hon. Friend that this is regarded in the locality as a very serious question. The privilege of fishing has, as my hon. Friend has said, been exercised in the district from time immemorial, and it is highly valued. This privilege is in danger of destruction under the Bill. We are not seeking to create anything new; we simply wish to maintain what admittedly exists. It may perhaps seem an unimportant detail to some hon. Members, but it really is an important matter in the district. I hope the promoters will agree to make this concession to local feeling, and surely it is undesirable to leave the matter open to vexatious litigation. I think we ought to press this Amendment.

MR. TIMOTHY HEALY (Longford, N.)

May I suggest to my hon. Friend that the words he proposes do not add anything in substance or force to the clause as it stands? The clause as it stands does not provide for what my hon. Friends want, nor does it give any protection to the class to whom they allude. The clause should read that the Birmingham Corporation shall not interfere with any person fishing in the district, except to prevent the pollution of the streams. The clause as it now stands in no way confers any right, and if the addition suggested by my hon. Friends is made, it will even then confer no right. They ought to secure that when the Birmingham Corporation take any proceedings for trespass, the matter should be investigated in some local Court, so that these Welshmen may not be brought up to London to have the fishing rights tested. In twenty years' time there will be a Corporation in Birmingham that know not Joseph, and they will not know the extent to which the right hon. Gentleman has pledged his word in this House. This Bill is to be passed for all time, and the Corporation might in the future take a very different view of their rights from that which is now expressed.

MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)

The right hon. Gentleman who has charge of this Bill stated that he did not wish to confer any new rights. That maybe so, but I think he also admitted that it was intended to commute the existing practice so far as it interfered with the object of the Birmingham Corporation. The existing practice is that the inhabitants have been in the habit of fishing in these rivers, but unfortunately they have no right of fishing. A right of fishing is not acquired by long usage like a right of way, and a right of fishing could never be gained in private waters. But despite that fact fishing has been practised without interruption from time immemorial, and the landlords never would have interfered with these rights, although they may not be legal rights. What we want is that this practice shall run no greater risk of being interfered with by the Birmingham Corporation than by the landlords. The Committee have to a certain extent recognised this fact in giving leases to the tenants, and I think a similar protection ought to be afforded in this matter. I cordially agree with the hon. Member for North Longford that different words should be introduced in this clause, because the word "privileges" does not mean legal privileges, and will confer no real privileges in this matter. I hope the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of this Bill will give some undertaking that will satisfy us that this practice, although a practice that is not compassed by law, shall not be interfered with in the future; and moreover that the Birmingham Corporation shall not have the power to interfere with those rights.

MR. SAMUEL EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)

I do not know who is responsible for the drafting of this clause, but it seems to me to be a very onerous one so far as the tenants are concerned. It throws upon them the onus of proving that they have the absolute right of fishing in these waters. In the last line of the clause you have the words, "without interruption by the Corporation"; but to secure that freedom from interruption the tenant must prove that he has the absolute right to the fishing. This right does not exist, but it has been a custom from time immemorial, and we desire that these people should remain undisturbed, and that a right shall be given to them by Parliament to continue the practice of fishing in these waters. I hardly think the alteration proposed will meet the circumstances of the case; and I think it would be much better if the clause were made to read— The Corporation shall not interfere with any person fishing or cutting fern or turbary unless for the purpose of preventing pollution, or subject to the bye-laws authorised by this Act. If the clause were passed in some such form as that anyone could claim the right or privilege of fishing, and it could be established in a Court of Law. The right should be given to the tenants to go on that land and fish in these waters as they have been in the habit of doing. The clause should not be agreed to as it stands, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) will be willing to communicate with those who are interested on behalf of the tenants, and see if a clause cannot be drawn up to meet the case.

MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon, &c.)

I should like to point out that the Bill was drafted by the Corporation of Birmingham; that it was submitted to the Board of Agriculture, and was the subject of a local inquiry. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will allow some alteration to be made, so that the Bill may go to the House of Lords in proper form.


An appeal has been made to me, but I thought that the whole of the facts and reasons had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Committee (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman). But the wishes of hon. Gentlemen seem to have changed whilst this matter has been before the House. What the Amendment asks for is not a matter of very great importance. It would not do the hon. Member much good and it would not do us much harm, and if it will shorten this discussion, and the hon. Member will meet me on the matter which proposes to give these gentlemen the right of fishing in the river—that provision would be absolutely impossible, because it would take away from the Corporation the control of the water—but if he will meet me on that I will meet him on this. Now, the question has been widened by the hon. Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy), who has taken the Welsh Members under his charge, and constituted himself their voluntary legal adviser. He proposes to transform some doubtful privileges into an absolute and inalienable right. As I understand the question, the position which has been taken by the Committee was that they would go to the full extent of the limits of their power in order strictly to reserve any right or privilege that could be shown to exist; but, on the other hand, they thought they would be going beyond their powers if they created any new rights. And, if the hon. Member asks that a new right should be created for the first time at the expense of the Corporation, I cannot agree to it.

*MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)

I think I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Committee (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) told the House that while the Birmingham Corporation wanted the Welsh water, they did not want to take the Welshman's fish. As one of those who think that the right of fishing, which the inhabitants have exercised for years, ought not to be interfered with, and understanding the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill (Mr. J. Chamberlain) to say that Birmingham wanted nothing but the pure water, I cannot see why he should not be satisfied with full power to keep the water pure by bye-laws. I hope the hon. Member will press this Amendment to a Division.


I do not think this is a matter that is worth contending about. The clause says:— All rights of fishing in the rivers Elan and Claerwen and their tributaries flowing through the Manor of Grange and the Manor of Builth above the upper end of the upper reservoirs and in the lakes adjacent thereto by the inhabitants of the district and the town of Rhayader and all rights of turbary and of cutting fern and rushes over such commonable land shall be preserved to the said inhabitants as heretofore and without interruption by the Corporation, subject nevertheless to the bye-laws authorised by this Act. The Committee wished to protect to the full any existing rights, but it is not our business to create new rights or to alter the law so as to make into right what is now only custom.

MR. ABEL THOMAS (Carmarthen, E.)

It seems to me that this clause professes to give what it really does not give. There are no rights of fishing in these waters, and the clause only concedes the right in the future to those who possess it now. I understood that the Corporation was willing to concede this, and it seems to me that the proposition of the hon. Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) will give us just what the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) says he is anxious that the Welsh people should have. It cannot do the Birmingham people any harm, because what they want is only the clear and undiluted water, and the suggestion of the hon. Member for North Longford would exactly meet that. The Welsh people are not going to be trapped into the belief that this clause gives them rights, when, as a matter of fact, it does no such thing. We ought to have these rights, and I think the Corporation of Birmingham ought to meet the Welsh people in the matter.

MR. P. STANHOPE (Wednesbury)

I have the greatest sympathy with the Welsh Members, but I must say that the proposal of the hon. Member for North Longford amounts really to a new clause to protect these fishing rights. I think I can say on behalf of the Committee that this question was most fully and elaborately considered by them. They called before them witnesses able to speak with even more authority than my hon. Friends who are not perfectly acquainted with the localities, and the decision the Committee came to was one which seemed to have gone to the extreme limit in protecting any fishing rights which exist.

MR. GEDGE (Stockport)

I would suggest that it is a pity to waste ten or fifteen minutes in a Division on this point. I think the right hon. Gentleman might very well agree to this Amendment, which after all makes no legal difference, and let us come to the third of these Amendments, which covers the point we are now discussing.


It seems to me that we cannot deal with the question properly on this Amendment, and I think we had better come as soon as we can to the Amendment which raises the question. My own impression is that when we come to look practically at this question we shall find that the only way to deal with it is to appoint a Board of Conservancy for the whole of the district, and that these fishing rights shall be vested in this Board.

Question put.

(4.20.) The House divided:—Ayes 126; Noes 171.—(Div. List, No. 144.)

On Motion of Mr. THOMAS ELLIS, the following Amendment was agreed to:—Clause 53, page 44, line 26, after "thereto," to insert "hitherto enjoyed."


I beg to move the insertion after "Act," in page 44, line 30, of the words which stand in my name. The purpose of my Amendment is to create in the reservoirs in the common land the right of fishing for the people who live in the town of Rhayader. I understand from the expressions which have fallen from the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), and from a Paper which was circulated among Members this morning, that two great objections are taken to this Amendment. The first is, that it creates a new right; the second, that it does not safeguard the purity of the water in the reservoirs. In regard to the first objection, this is not the only new right created, or proposed, to be created, by the Bill; for after the passing of the Bill Birmingham obtains a property in the heart of Mid-Wales which will have a value for them in a few years of from three-quarters to one and a half millions. That is creating a new right and property which few Acts of Parliament have created for any Municipality. What we ask for is a quid pro quo for the people in this district, and I think it is a fair claim. By the preceding clause the Corporation admits that the people who live in this district have had, and should have, safeguarded to them in the future the right of fishing in the streams and lakes within the area of the common land. In this Amendment I ask for no right of fishing in reservoirs which will be made on land which will become the private property of the Corporation. They propose ultimately to make six or seven reservoirs, two or three of which will be in the area of the common land, and in these reservoirs, on common land created by the streams running through common land, where the people have hitherto had the right of fishing, I ask the House to vote that they should continue to have the right of fishing, and so give the people a simple and small quid pro quo for the loss they sustain by the passing of the Bill. I do not think the second objection will hold water; for by the preceding clause the House gives power to the people of the district to fish along the Elan and Claerwen for many miles in the water which will fill the reservoirs. This fishing will be safeguarded by bye-laws to secure the purity of the water in the streams, and surely the same bye-laws will efficiently safeguard the purity of the water in the reservoirs. I would also venture to appeal to the House on the ground of experience. In the Great Vyrnwy lake in Montgomeryshire, made by the Corporation of Liverpool, fishing with rod and line is granted by the Corporation to gentlemen from Liverpool, but is not given to any of the inhabitants of the district who had been fishing for years in the valley now submerged, and yet they would no more pollute the water than the gentlemen from Liverpool. Therefore, from the point of view of a simple quid pro quo, and from the point of view of the experience in connection with the Vyrnwy Lake, and from the fact that no pollution could take place if the bye-laws were carried out, I appeal to the House to give these people the right of fishing with rod and line in those two or three reservoirs subject to the bye-laws to be made by the Corporation.

Amendment proposed, Clause 53, page 44, line 30, after "Act," insert "And whereas some portion of the commonable lands and the streams running through the same will be acquired for reservoirs, it is hereby provided that, in lieu of the rights and privileges of fishing in the streams so acquired, the inhabitants of the district and of the Town of Rhayader shall have and enjoy free right of fishing with rod and line on the banks of the upper reservoirs on the Elan and Claerwen, subject to the bye-laws authorised by this Act."—(Mr. Thomas Ellis.)

Question proposed "That those words be there inserted."


I am sorry that I cannot agree to this Amendment, as it would seriously interfere with the rights of the Corporation of Birmingham. The hon. Member says it is a quid pro quo for something the people are expected to give up. They are expected to give up not the right, but the privilege or practice they have enjoyed on sufferance in so much of these small streams as will be needed for the purposes of the formation of the reservoir. That privilege is an almost infinitesimal one. There is no talk of taking away any right they have enjoyed generally, but only from that portion which will be required for the reservoir. Anybody who knows anything about these Welsh streams knows that the fish in them are extremely small, though they give very good sport, as I know by experience. But if you are to substitute for these streams—where the fish are only two or three inches long—a reservoir in which pond trout of good size will be cultivated, the fishing will be a privilege which will be tremendously prized; and if the Corporation were bound to create a new right and let anybody who pleased go and fish in the reservoir, they would be establishing an interest in their property which would do them the greatest possible injury. I think we have sufficiently safeguarded the fishing by reserving all the rights and interests in the streams, and it is a little too much to ask that everbody should have a free right to enter on the works of the Corporation for fishing purposes.

(4.43.) MR. KENYON (Denbigh, &c.)

The right hon. Gentleman takes a view of this matter which the case hardly warrants him in doing. May I venture to give the right hon. Gentleman a little piece of advice? He is one of the great pillars of law and order; and I would recommend him to grant this right to the people, for the sole reason that if he does not grant it they are extremely likely to take it themselves. The gentlemen in the neighbourhood are known to be extremely devoted to the sportsmanlike art of fishing—not always, I am afraid, with rod and line—and I think, in the interests of law and order, I would recommend him to consider the question and accept the Amendment. I will not be responsible for the evils which may arise if he does not accept the Amendment.


Will the right hon. Gentleman not consent to a provision preventing a gate or trap being placed at the entrance to the reservoir, which would let the fish from the stream get into the reservoir, but would prevent them getting back into the streams?


That is an entirely different matter, and I shall be very glad to consider the suggestion of the hon. Member.

(4.47.) MR. STOREY (Sunderland)

I voted with the Welsh Members, but as I cannot sacrifice common-sense on the altar of friendship, I cannot vote for this Amendment. The reservoirs would be made at the expense of Birmingham; and if there should be any fish in them worth catching, they would be put there by the Corporation, and there is no doubt the Corporation will stock the reservoirs with trout. The Amendment proposes that the inhabitants should go along the banks of the reservoirs for fishing purposes, but anybody knows that few fish would be caught that way; it is necessary to go out in a boat, and that would be an invasion of the rights of the owners which I cannot support. There is one point I should like to refer to. When the reservoirs are stocked with trout no gate or trap would prevent the fish getting up the streams when a flood came, and I would suggest to my Welsh friends that they will get their compensation in that way. I do not quite agree that the trout in the Welsh streams are so small as suggested by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. If they are, I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman went, even for once in his life, after such small fry. It is very certain that the larger fish from the reservoirs will get up the streams, and the compensation of the people in the district will be that they will get a better class of fish.

(4.50.) MR. DILLWYN (Swansea, Town)

I wish to remove any misapprehension which the House may be under in consequence of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. I have fished in both these streams, and, instead of fish only two or three inches long, I have taken many fish over a pound in weight.

(4.51.) THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. FORWOOD,) Lancashire, Ormskirk

I can give the House some information on an analogous case. The Corporation of Liverpool impounded the head waters of the Vrnwy River, of course disturbing the fishing rights, and they reserved full control of the fishing rights on the lake so formed. They have stocked the lake, and have let the fishing under very strict supervision so that there may be no injury to the water. What was accorded to Liverpool ought to be accorded to Birmingham.

Question put.

(4.50.) The House divided:—Ayes 102; Noes 208.—(Div. List, No. 145.)

Bill to be read the third time.

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