HC Deb 09 May 1898 vol 57 cc743-53

Order for Second Reading read.

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


This Bill is one which I think ought not to pass without some few words being said with regard to it. It extends and increases the powers of universities and colleges, which are quasi public bodies, and if it were intended in any way to encourage these bodies to part with their land, and to substitute personal property for it, there would be very strong objection to it. In times past Bills of this kind were always most hotly opposed, first by Mr. Mill, and afterwards by Mr. Fawcett, who fought every Bill of this description which was brought before the House with the most unswerving determination; and, in fact, I may say that he prevented many Bills of this kind from passing during the time he was a Member of this House. The matter was very fully discussed upon two occasions in connection with the proposed sale of the Greenwich Hospital Estates, and it was also discussed in connection with a Bill which I brought into this House. The argument used was that the country ought not to allow any quasi public body, over which it possesses any statutory power, to part with that property—in fact, that it is the duty of the State to prevent these bodies from parting with property where they already possess it, although we were not prepared to go so far as to say that the State ought to buy at the price it would have to pay if it came into possession by purchase. I do not propose to speak at any length on the subject, but if others divide the House I shall certainly vote with them. I believe, however, that it is not intended to carry out actively the policy of further parting with estates, and that being so, I shall not trouble the House.

MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)

May I ask the right honorable Gentleman one question? I see it is laid down that the University will not part with the property without obtaining the assent of the Board of Agriculture. It is proposed, also, in this Bill, that it shall be no longer necessary that the University surveyor shall give a report on the property before the assent of the Board of Agriculture is given. That, I think, is the case in clause 5. Under present circumstances, when the Board of Agriculture gives its assent it makes rather a heavy levy on the purchaser in the way of a fee, and I want to know on what grounds the Board of Agriculture feels itself entitled to demand a heavy fee for giving its assent? I have had experience of purchasing some of this class of property recently, and in order to get the assent of the Board of Agriculture, I was surprised to find that the Board of Agriculture insisted on a fee of 25 guineas, in addition to making the purchaser pay the whole of the ordinary expenses, and I do not see myself why we are not entitled to know whether this is a legal claim on the part of the Board of Agriculture, or whether it is simply a claim for services rendered. I have paid my fee, and, so far as I am concerned, there is an end of it; but I certainly think that people who have dealings with this property should know why it is that the Board of Agriculture charge a fee, because it is understood that the assent is practically formal.

MR. J. PARKER SMITH (Lanarkshire, Partick)

I believe that this Bill will be welcomed by all who have to do with Universities. I am rather surprised at the objection which the right honorable Baronet opposite has taken to this Measure, because the position of the question differs so absolutely and entirely from what it was in the time of Mr. John Stuart Mill. At that time agricultural land was regarded by everybody as a desirable investment. It was bought as an investment with perfect confidence, and with an unshakable belief that it would go on rising in value; but things have changed very much in the last 25 years, and now agricultural land is not at all a suitable investment for colleges, as it was at that time, and the number of suitable investments have increased so much that people are not anxious to continue investing in land. The investor wants to put his eggs into several baskets, and not have them all in the basket of land, and I think it is very important that the Universities should be able to participate in this more extended field of investment now open to them.


I think there is but a small number of Members of this House who are personally interested in the subject-matter of this Bill. I should like to say, with all respect to the great names mentioned by my right honorable Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean, that my experience of college estates is now of 30 years' duration, and I have never ceased, in all that time, wondering why the college with which I was connected should have so much capital locked up in land. Although colleges are most benevolent landlords, they are not capable of taking that personal charge which is met with in the case of ordinary landlords. I see nothing at all democratic in the objection of my right honorable Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean. I take it that the Bill is really a facilitating Measure. It does not create new powers; it only makes easier the exercise of powers which already exist. I should like to ask the right honorable Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture whether the universities and corporations concerned have been consulted, whether they approve of what the Bill proposes to do, and whether the Bill has been brought in with their knowledge?


Mr. Speaker, there is just one point I should like to put to the right honorable Gentleman. I am sure no one believes that the right honorable Gentleman would consent to any change of investment, unless it were a suitable change, but it is the duty of honorable Members of this House to protect public interests. I quite approve, if any Government Department is to be held responsible, that the Board of Agriculture should be that Department. But I understand that, under the procedure of this House, it would not be competent to raise any question with regard to the consent given by the Board of Agriculture to any change of investment. Therefore, we should not have the opportunity from time to time of criticizing any consent given by the Board of Agriculture which was opposed to the public interest. The question I should like to ask the right honorable Gentleman is: can he arrange to put a nominal Vote on the Paper so that any points which might arise may be raised in Supply? This would give the House power to place, if necessary, a check on the Board of Agriculture.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words, 'upon this day six months.'"—(Mr. Lewis.)


The point which has been raised by the right honorable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean is a most important one, and I hope the House will receive some assurance from the Board of Agriculture upon it. It is clear that the object of the Bill is to enable the colleges to part with a considerable amount of real property. An honorable Member who spoke from the other side of the House said circumstances had very much altered since Mr. Mill and Mr. Fawcett objected to this clause being carried. Their objection did not refer in the least degree to the character of the security, but to the character of the property. The view they took was that land held by public bodies, or quasi-public bodies, was to some extent under the control of Parliament, and that it was desirable that Parliament should retain the power of imposing conditions in the public interest—conditions, for instance, with regard to the provision of allotments, with regard to laying out the estate, and so forth. Thirty-eight years have elapsed since any Act of this character was passed. There was an Act in 1880, as my right honorable Friend reminds me, but that was merely an amending Act, and certainly did not go so far as the Bill which is now before the House. We are in this position at the present moment: we are absolutely giving away power without retaining any guarantee, or any assurance, for the future, except, of course, the assurance that the powers will be exercised by the Board of Agriculture. I would remind the House that these powers will not be exercised under the superintendence or control of Parliament. Therefore, Parliament is now parting with powers which have in the past been exercised with a great deal of advantage, and which might in the future be exercised with still greater advantage in the interests of the public at large. Mr. Speaker, I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.

MR. STRACHEY (Somerset, S.)

Mr. Speaker, I rise to second the Motion of the honorable Member for the Flint Boroughs, but on a different ground. I take exception to Clause 3 of the Bill, which, so far as I understand it, gives power to the universities to do repairs out of capital, instead of doing them in the usual way, out of income. It seems to me that that is a very dangerous precedent to set. Honorable Members will see in the third schedule of this Act a long list of improvements to which capital money arising under the Settled Land Acts, 1882 to 1890 may be applied. This seems to me to be putting a premium on the principle of spending capital on repairs, instead of doing them out of income, as ought to be the case, and it is very objectionable from the point of view of public policy.

SIR B. W. FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)

Mr. Speaker, I view this Measure with a certain amount of apprehension, because I do not like the idea of large tracts of land, such as those owned by the colleges, being allowed to get into private hands. We have had difficulties on very many occasions in connection with land of this kind with regard to the provision of allotments for the benefit of the poorer classes in the agricultural districts, and when the land has been owned by public authorities we have been able to make even colleges more amenable to public criticism than would have been the case if the land were owned by private individuals. In the interests of the general community, we should not, in my opinion, facilitate the passing of land from quasi-public ownership into private ownership. Colleges are not likely, in the present state of the market, to sell many of their estates. I do not, therefore, anticipate that the passing of the Bill will have any serious results; but it contains a principle which is, I think, hostile to the use of public lands for public purposes. On that ground we ought to oppose the Second Reading.


Mr. Speaker, I confess I have listened with astonishment to the criticism on the principle of the Bill which has come from honorable Members on the opposite Benches. I was under the impression that Members of that Party always viewed with satisfaction any facilities which might be given for the diffusion of land among owners. My honorable Friend the Member for the Partick Divi- sion of Lanarkshire has said all that is necessary in defense of the principle of this Bill. I desire to express my thanks to him for the care and consideration he has given to this subject. The honorable Member for Dundee asked whether the educational bodies concerned had been consulted. Yes; copies of this Bill, as soon as I had drafted it, were sent to the bodies affected by it, and, with the exception of small matters of detail, I think I may say that its provisions have their approval in every case. The honorable Gentleman the Member for the Tyneside Division of Northumberland complains that it will be impossible for Parliament to control the Board of Agriculture. I am not quite clear what he means. The powers of the Board of Agriculture will be the same as they now exercise under the various Acts of Parliament which clothe them with authority in these matters. Assent will, of course, be given by the head of the Department, as is given by the heads of every other Department. The action of the head of the Department could be criticized in the usual way by moving a reduction of his salary.


Will the right honorable Gentleman excuse me? On more than one occasion, when it has been proposed to criticize the action of the head of a Department who may have given his assent to proceedings similar to that under the proposal we are now discussing, the Chairman of Committees has ruled that a proposal to reduce the Minister's salary was out of order, on the ground that there was no Vote on the Paper relating to the matter under Debate.


In the Vote there is the salary of the head of the Land Division and of his staff, before whom this work generally comes. I fail to see what difficulty there could be in raising the question. In reference to the point raised by the honorable Member for Devonport, I have only to say that the charges made are for our official expenses. The honorable Member for Somerset has raised an objection in respect to Clause 3. It is believed that the powers contained in that clause are already possessed by colleges. There is, however, some doubt in the matter. This clause is intended to clear the way, and to enable colleges who are bound to hold property to put it in such a condition that they could get a fair return for it. Generally, the intention is to put colleges in regard to their landed property in the same position as that occupied by limited owners under the Settled Land Acts. The colleges approve of the Bill, and they believe it will relieve them of difficulties which, in some cases, are really pressing. I think I have answered every question put to me, and I hope the House will allow the Bill to be read a second time.


There is one remark I want to make. I will be extremely brief. This Bill puts the whole of the new power it creates in the hands of the Board of Agriculture. Clause 1 provides that— The powers of sale, enfranchisement, exchange and partition, and the power of granting building leases, with option of purchase, shall not be exercised without the consent of the Board of Agriculture, and capital money payable on any such sale, enfranchisement, exchange, or partition, or on the exercise of any such option, shall be paid to the Board of Agriculture. It is well that colleges should have power to divest themselves of property if needs be, but I cannot understand why they should be put under the Board of Agriculture.


It is so now.


I do not know what the right honorable Gentleman means. A college is not compelled to go to the Board of Agriculture now, if it wants to sell land, and I do not think it should be compelled to do so. I presume the Board of Agriculture has nothing to do, and is desirous of finding a job.

Question put— That the word 'now' stand part of the Question.

House divided:—Ayes 230; Noes 74.—(Division List No. 90.)

Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir A. F. Duckworth, James Lowles, John
Aird, John Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V. Loyd, Archie Kirkman
Allsopp, Hon. George Ellis, T. E. (Merionethshire) Lubbock, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Arnold-Forster, Hugh O. Evans, Sir F. H. (South'ton) Lyell, Sir Leonard
Ascroft, Robert Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn E. Macartney, W. G. Ellison
Asher, Alexander Ferguson, R. C. M. (Leith) Macdona, John Cumming
Asquith, Rt. Hon. H. H. Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Manc.) McArthur, Chas. (Liverpool)
Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John Firbank, Joseph Thomas McCalmont, Col. J. (Ant'm, E.)
Austin, Sir John (Yorkshire) Fisher, William Hayes McEwan, William
Baillie, J. E. B. (Inverness) Fison, Frederick William McIver, Sir Lewis
Balcarres, Lord FitzGerald, Sir R. Penrose- Manners, Lord, E. W. J.
Baldwin, Alfred Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmund Mappin, Sir Frederick T.
Balfour, Rt. Hn. G. W. (Leeds) Fletcher, Sir Henry Mellor, Colonel (Lancashire)
Balfour, Rt. Hn. J. B. (Clackm.) Folkestone, Viscount Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand
Banbury, Frederick George Forwood, Rt. Hon. Sir A. B. Monckton, Edward Philip
Barnes, Frederic Gorell Fry, Lewis Monk, Charles James
Barry, Rt. Hn. A. H. Smith- Garfit, William Moon, Edward Robert Pacy
Bartley, George C. T. Gibbs, Hn. A. G. H. (C. of Lond.) More, Robert Jasper
Barton, Dunbar Plunkett Gibbs, Hon. V. (St. Albans) Morgan, Hn. F. (M'nm'thsh.)
Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Brist'l) Giles, Charles Tyrrell Morley, C. (Breconshire)
Beaumont, Wentworth C. B. Gilliat, John Saunders Morton, A. H. A. (Deptford)
Begg, Ferdinand Faithful Goldsworthy, Major-General Mount, William George
Bethell, Commander Gordon, Hon. John Edward Mowbray, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Bigwood, James Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John E. Murray, Rt. Hn. A. G. (Bute)
Blundell, Colonel Henry Goulding, Edward Alfred Murray, Chas. J. (Coventry)
Boscawen, Arthur Griffith- Gray, Ernest (West Ham) Newdigate, Francis Alex.
Boulnois, Edmund Green, W. D. (Wednesbury) Nicholson, William Graham
Bowles, Capt. H. F. (Mdsx.) Haldane, Richard Burdon Nicol, Donald Ninian
Bowles, T. G. (King's Lynn) Halsey, Thomas Frederick Northcote, Hon. Sir H. S.
Brassey, Albert Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord G. O'Neill, Hon. Robert T.
Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John Hanbury, Rt. Hon. R. W. Pease, Arthur (Darlington)
Brookfield, A. Montagu Hanson, Sir Reginald Phillpotts, Captain Arthur
Bryce, Rt. Hon. James Hardy, Laurence Pierpoint, Robert
Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn Hatch, Ernest Frederick G. Powell, Sir Francis Sharp
Butcher, John George Hayne, Rt. Hon. C. Seale- Pretyman, Ernest George
Causton, Richard Knight Hazell, Walter Priestley, Sir W. O. (Edin.)
Cecil, Lord Hugh Helder, Augustus Pryce-Jones, Edward
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. (Birm.) Hemphill, Rt. Hon. C. H. Purvis, Robert
Chamberlain, J. A. (Worc.) Hill, Rt. Hn. Lord A. (Down) Rankin, James
Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Holland, Hon. Lionel R. Reid, Sir Robert T.
Charrington, Spencer Hornby, William Henry Renshaw, Charles Bine
Clare, Octavius Leigh Howard, Joseph Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir M. W.
Cochrane, Hon. T. H. A. E. Howell, William Tudor Ritchie, Rt. Hon. C. T.
Coghill, Douglas Harry Hubbard, Hon. Evelyn Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)
Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Hutton, John (Yorks., N. R.) Robertson, Herb. (Hackney)
Colomb, Sir John Charles R. Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)
Colston, Chas. E. H. Athole Johnson-Ferguson, Jabez Ed. Samuel, H. S. (Limehouse)
Cook, Fred. L. (Lambeth) Johnston, William (Belfast) Saunderson, Col. Edw. James
Corbett, A. C. (Glasgow) Kearley, Hudson E. Savory, Sir Joseph
Cornwallis, Fiennes S. W. Kemp, George Scoble, Sir Andrew Richard
Courtney, Rt. Hon. L. H. Kennaway, Rt. Hn. Sir J. H. Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)
Cox, Robert Kenyon, James Seely, Charles Hilton
Cranborne, Viscount Kimber, Henry Seton-Karr, Henry
Cripps, Charles Alfred Knowles, Lees Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)
Crombie, John William Knox, Edmund F. Vesey Shaw-Stewart, M. F. (Renf.)
Cross, Alexander (Glasgow) Lafone, Alfred Sidebotham, J. W. (Cheshire)
Cross, H. S. (Bolton) Lambert, George Sidebottom, Wm. (Derbysh.)
Cruddas, Wm. Donaldson Lawrence, Sir E. (Cornwall) Sinclair, Capt. J. (Forfarsh.)
Curzon, Viscount (Bucks) Lecky, Rt. Hon. W. E. H. Smith, A. H. (Christchurch)
Dalrymple, Sir Charles Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkenhead) Smith, J. Parker (Lanarksh.)
Denny, Colonel Leigh-Bennett, Hy. Currie Smith, Hn. W. F. D. (Strand)
Digby, J. K. D. Wingfleld- Leighton, Stanley Souttar, Robinson
Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn-(Sw'ns'a) Spicer, Albert
Dixon-Hartland, Sir F. D. Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R. Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)
Donkin, Richard Sim Long, Rt. Hn. W. (Liverp'l) Stanley, H. M. (Lambeth)
Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller Stephens, Henry Charles
Drucker, A. Lowe, Francis William Stone, Sir Benjamin
Strauss, Arthur Waring, Colonel Thomas Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm
Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley Warr, Augustus Frederick Woodall, William
Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier Wayman, Thomas Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart-
Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester) Webster, Sir R. E. (I. of W.) Wyndham, George
Thorburn, Walter Wentworth, Bruce C. Vernon- Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy
Tomlinson, Wm. E. Murray Whiteley, George (Stockport) Young, Com. (Berks, E.)
Tritton, Charles Ernest Whitmore, Chas. Algernon
Wallace, Robert (Edinburgh) Willox, Sir John Archibald TELLERS FOR THE AYES—
Wallace, Robert (Perth) Wilson, J. W. (Worc., N.) Sir William Walrond and
Walton, J. L. (Leeds, S.) Wilson-Todd, W. H. (Yorks.) Mr. Anstruther.
Warde, Lt.-Col. C. E. (Kent) Wodehouse, E. R. (Bath)
Allan, Wm. (Gateshead) Foster, Sir W. (Derby Co.) Pickersgill, Edward Hare
Allen, Wm. (Newc.-under-L.) Gourley, Sir E. Temperley Pinkerton, John
Allison, Robert Andrew Harwood, George Priestley, Briggs (Yorks.)
Austin, M. (Limerick, W.) Healy, Maurice (Cork) Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)
Barlow, John Emmott Hedderwick, Thomas C. H. Roberts, J. H. (Denbighsh.)
Bayley, Thos. (Derbysh.) Holburn, J. G. Roche, John (East Galway)
Billson, Alfred Horniman, Frederick John Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Caldwell, James Jacoby, James Alfred Schwann, Charles E.
Cameron, Sir C. (Glasgow) Jordan, Jeremiah Steadman, William Charles
Cameron, Robert (Durham) Lawson, Sir W. (Cumberland) Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)
Carvill, Patrick G. Hamilton Lough, Thomas Sullivan, T. D. (Donegal, W.)
Cawley, Frederick Macaleese, Daniel Tanner, Charles Kearns
Channing, Francis Allston MacNeill, John G. Swift Tennant, Harold John
Clark, Dr. G. B. (Caithness-sh.) M'Ghee, Richard Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen)
Crean, Eugene McKenna, Reginald Thomas, Alf. (Glamorgan, E.)
Curran, Thomas (Sligo, S.) Montagu, Sir S. (Whitechapel) Tully, Jasper
Daly, James Morgan, J. L. (Carmarthen) Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)
Dalziel, James Henry Murnaghan, George Weir, James Galloway
Davitt, Michael Norton, Capt. Cecil William Whittaker, Thomas Palmer
Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Chas. O'Brien, Jas. F. X. (Cork) Williams, J. Carvell (Notts)
Dillon, John O'Connor, Arthur (Donegal) Wilson, H. J. (Yorks, W. R.)
Donelan, Captain A. O'Connor, J. (Wicklow, W.) Young, Samuel (Cavan, E.)
Doogan, P. C. O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)
Dunn, Sir William Owen, Thomas TELLERS FOR THE NOES—
Evans, S. T. (Glamorgan) Pease, Alf. E. (Cleveland) Mr. Herbert Lewis and Mr.
Ffrench, Peter Pease, J. A. (Northumb.) Strachey.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to the Standing Committee on Law.