HC Deb 26 February 1900 vol 79 cc1060-70

Order for Second Reading read.

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

SIR FREDERICK DIXON-HARTLAND (Middlesex, Uxbridge) moved

"That this House is of opinion that it is undesirable to sanction a Bill to enable a London vestry to build upon allotment gardens, which serve the purposes of an open space in a densely populated district." In doing so, he said he was very much surprised that the London County Council, which had hitherto put themselves forward as champions, and, in fact, had been the champions of open spaces in London, should have taken this course and tried to destroy about eleven acres of open space in one of the most densely populated districts of the metropolis. He was also surprised when he was told that there were gentlemen in that House who had been accustomed to speak in favour of open spaces, and who had been among the greatest advocates of such spaces in the past, and had done great benefit to London by insisting upon their being maintained, who were now going to speak in favour of a scheme which, in his opinion, would destroy one of the most important open spaces that existed. He wanted to know why the London County Council had taken up this position, and what there was behind the Bill of which they had no knowledge, because he could not find in any shape or form that the London County Council had anything whatever to do with the Latchmere allotments. It had nothing to do with them at the present moment; the property belonged to Lord Spencer, and it was only given by him to the parish for certain uses. The effect of the proposal of the London County Council would be to divert it from those uses. And why? Evidently the London County Council did not want to do certain work themselves; they wanted the vestry of Latter sea to do it, but they thought that as the Battersea Vestry might not be able to launch the matter successfully in the House of Commons, they had better father the scheme and bring it forward. A scheme very similar to this was promoted in 1887, and the opposition to it was so strong that it was never brought up for Second Leading; it was, in fact, laughed out of the House of Commons, which would not have it in any shape or form. If the Battersea Vestry wished to build houses for the working-classes, surely there was plenty of land in Battersea to be obtained for such a purpose, and why then should the vestry not obtain that land in a proper way instead of endeavouring to filch it from the people and depriving them of their open spaces? He was told that if the House of Commons should decide in favour of his Amendment, the effect would be to destroy the whole General Powers Bill of the London County Council. Well, that was not his affair. If they chose for any improper or wrong reason to father a scheme which was not acceptable to the House, they must take the consequences. But he would put this to them. If they would withdraw this particular clause—this particular objectionable power to take this land for' these purposes—from the Bill, he would offer no objection to their Bill going through. He was only objecting to it on this, and on no other ground. He could not sec any reason why they should father this scheme at all. Why should it not be brought forward as a separate measure, and then it could be dealt with on its merits in the House of Commons? In 1876 the House of Commons discussed this question, and Parliament laid it down as a rule that common land allotted for public purposes should not be diverted from such purposes except for recreation grounds and gardens. Now, if it was the case that this land could not be used for allotment purposes, lot it go hack to its original uses; let it be dealt with as a common open space, but do not try and deprive the people of seven and a half acres of land, and allow them only four acres for an open space. They were told that the only object of the Bill was to got rid of the claims of the allottees who were in possession of the land. In the notice hon. Members had received, it was admitted that there were prohibitions, from erecting habitations upon this land, and the vestry also admitted that unless they could get this Bill passed, they would not be able to do as they wished with the land. They wanted to remove the restrictions which now rested upon it; they wanted to get rid of the legal restrictions, and he was opposing the Bill in order to prevent them doing so. It was said that the allottees were not particularly anxious about this matter, but then they were poor men who had not the power or money to appeal to the House of Commons in order to defend their own interests, and to fight for their own rights. That being so, they ran the risk of being dispossessed. There were, he was told, 108 allottees holding the land at the present moment, and of these 108 no fewer than ninety-two had petitioned the House of Commons to prevent this open space being taken away from them.

It would be stated that some of this land was not used for allotment gardens, hut that rubbish was shot upon it. His answer was that the vestry were acting in an illegal manner, and that they had no business to throw any rubbish upon this land, which was to be set apart for garden allotments, and if the vestry pleaded that they were doing an illegal action, and that in consequence thereof they should be allowed to alter the purposes to which this land was originally devoted, he did not think that such a plea would commend itself to the House of Commons. It was all very well for them to seek to get rid of their legal liabilities in order that they might do what they liked with the land. They said they were quite willing to bring the matter before a Committee of the House of Commons to decide upon the scheme in its entirety, but he would point out in reply to that that a Committee would have no power whatever to go into any alternative scheme. Its duty would be to examine this particular proposal, and to say whether it was a proper one. These eleven and a half acres are situated in one of the most densely populated parts of London—a part lying between Clapham and Wandsworth and the Thames. It was a very lowly situated neighbourhood, and it was important that it should have air in the same way as other parts of the metropolis. It would be just as right to give powers to take a part of Hampstead Heath or Battersea Park to be built on as it was to suggest that this open space should be utilised for the, purpose of building workmen's dwellings, and he hoped that the Members of the House would not allow any such arrangement to be carried out. The House of Commons would be taking upon itself a great responsibility if it should deprive London of what was known as one of its "lungs." Home Members representing constituencies in the south of London were, he understood, going to speak in favour of this scheme, and no doubt, in view of the over crowed nature of their constituencies they would like to see these dwellings built, but it was their duty, notwithstanding such a desire, to strictly preserve the lands allotted in the past to be retained as open spaces. The vestry, in their statement of the reasons for bringing forward this Bill, made a singular remark. They said that they were perfectly prepared to agree to the abstract proposition in favour of open spaces. Well, he never yet met a thief who was not also willing, when brought before a magistrate, to say that he was quite prepared to agree to the abstract proposition that stealing was wrong, so long as it was not applied to his own case. It seemed to him that the London County Council were putting forward a similar abstract proposition, and were asking the House of Commons to accept it. He hoped the House would remain true to its ancient traditions, and would prevent this space being taken from the people.

*SIR JOHN BRUNNER () Cheshire' Northwich

hoped that the House would consent to the motion of his hon. friend, because he was of opinion that the action now taken by the London County Council was one unworthy—he would not say of the County Council-hut unworthy of London. It would in fact set a very bad precedent. He was very glad to hear his hon. friend speak of the London County Council as having been champions in the past of open spaces, and he hoped that the House would that day encourage the County Council in the course which up till now it had adopted. It had put forward year after year, with pardonable pride, a statement of the number of acres that had been secured for open spaces for the people of London, and he would ask the London County Council now to withdraw this proposal, because if they did not do so, and if they succeeded in carrying the present scheme they would hereafter have to publish the fact—that while they had secured so many acres in such and such a district as open spaces for the public of London, they had also in the parish of Battersea diverted so many acres from such a purpose, and therefore their total must be reduced to that extent. It will be sold, on behalf of the London County Council, that this space in Battersea was unfit for allotments, because the Battersea Vestry had shot rubbish on the ground. It was perhaps unfit, and it probably had become unfit by reason of the vestry having thus shot rubbish upon it, but if they had not done so the ground would, no doubt, have been fit for allotments. He trusted that the rational zeal of the London County Council for the housing of the working classes would be encou- raged, but that it would take this form—not to provide houses in which people are piled seven layers high on top of one another, but to persuade the working classes to take advantage of the rapid and cheap means of locomotion provided by the County Council to live a little way out of London. It was stated that the free holder—not the present Lord Spencer, but Lord Spencer's predecessor—handed over this space, under the Poor Law Relief Act, for the use of the poor.


And only for that.


And if he were not mistaken, the present Lord Spencer had not parted with the freehold, he wished to be informed whether the London County Council had done his Lordship the courtesy to ask him whether be intended or wished to part with it.


I am told that the land reverts to Lord Spencer if it is not used for the purposes to which it was originally dedicated.


feared chat a Bill like the present would override Lord Spencer's rights as a freeholder. For reasons which seemed to him to be excellent, he should vote for the motion of his hon. friend, and he trusted it would prove acceptable to the House.

Amendment proposed— To leave out all the words after the word 'That,' in order to insert: 'That this House is of opinion that it is undesirable to sanction a Hill to enable a London vestry to build upon allotment gardens, which serve the purposes of an open space in a densely populated district.'"—(Sir F. Dixon-Hartland.)

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

*MR. JOHN BURNS () Battersea

said he had very little difficulty in subscribing to the abstract theory promulgated by the hon. Member who had moved the rejection of the clause as to the necessity for the House of Commons to be very careful about parting with open spaces. All the hon. Member had said approving the County Council's efforts on behalf of parks and open spaces he cordially endorsed. But the hon. Member did not tell the House of Commons that it was in the interests not only of open spaces in London but of open spaces in Battersea especially that this clause had been introduced into the Bill. He would not associate himself with any movement that had for its object the deprivation of a single acre of open spaces in London. He had had the pleasure for fifteen or sixteen years of working with Lord Meath on behalf of both the Commons Protection and the Metropolitan Gardens Associations. But even in the promotion of these excellent, objects it had been found necessary to use discrimination at times, and he thought he would be able to show that in this particular case such discrimination was not apparent. What were the facts? They had in the parish of Battersea eleven acres of land miscalled allotments, and more than half of that acreage was at present used by the local authority as a slop shoot. What the parish of Battersea wished to do—and men on both sides of politics, including the overseers, were unanimous in supporting it—was that instead of a portion of this land being used as a slop-shoot and the remainder being devoted to the cultivation of consumptive cabbages, as well as constituting a rendezvous, for dead dogs and cats, nearly four acres of it should be converted into a recreation ground for children, five acres should be used for the erection of artisans' dwellings, not piled one on top of the other to the extent of seven stories as had been suggested, but workmen's cottages of two or three tenements only, and that the remaining two acres should be utilised as roads. In order to bring that about, the London County Council had included the scheme as a passenger in its General Powers Omnibus Bill. He wished at once to say that the Battersea Vestry unanimously supported it, so did the overseers and the local clergy as represented by Canon Clarke, while the Parks Committee of the London Comity Council and the Housing and Small Holdings Committees of the same body also approved it. If the facts were known there would be no surprise felt at the proposal to utilise five acres of this land for artisans' dwellings. It might not be generally known to the House that the land was situated only 300 yards from Battersea Park, which was 200 acres in extent and two and a quarter miles round. Seeing that such a park was so close to the Latchmere allotments, there surely was no pressing need for the land to he retained as an open space. More than that, in Clapham Common they had another 220 acres of open space, and at Wandsworth a further 183 acres, all in the same parish. In addition, they had three small recreation grounds and five or six gymnasiums, covered or open. He now came to the suggestion that the allottees were strongly opposed to the scheme. The hon. Member had made much of a petition he had got from those allottees.


I had nothing to do with getting it.


I didn't say you had.


You said I had got it.


Well, the hon. Member made much of a petition supposed to come from the allottees, and he said that of 108 allotment holders ninety two had petitioned against that clause. Well, he examined the tenants' book at the Town Hall on Saturday last and found that out of ninety-two signing the petition thirty-seven only were genuine tenants and the remainder were not allottees at all. The hon. Member had suggested that this was a densely populated district. Now he shared with the hon. Member for Clapham the distinction of representing the parish of Battersea in that House, and he strongly resented the suggestion, as he was sure his colleague would do, that Battersea was either in-sanitary, overcrowded, or densely populated. He would prove this by simple figures. The Central District of London had 9,150 persons per acre of open spaces. West London had 943 persons per acre, while Battersea had only 286 persons per acre of open spaces. How then could it be said that Battersea was densely populated and in-sanitary, or that it wanted more open spaces, seeing that it contained more such spaces than any other parish in the whole county of London? Thanks in no small measure to that fact they had one of the lowest death rates in the whole Metropolis. With all these advantages why should this particular piece of land be reserved as an exclusive nuisance for ninety-two persons? He appealed to the House of Commons, in view of the increasing necessity to do something for the housing of the London poor, to allow this clause to pass, and, instead of allowing these eleven acres to be used as dung heaps and slop shoots, to convert a small portion of the land into a recreation ground and to devote the remainder to the erection of cottage property for the artisan and labouring classes, which was especially needed in that district, in view of the fact that the London and South Western Railway Company were about to pull down no fewer than 680 houses. He did not believe that any injustice would be done to Battersea by the proposal contained in this clause, and he therefore hoped that the House would reject the Amendment of the hon. Member for Uxbridge.

*MR. THORNTON () Clapham

said he was extremely sorry to find himself opposed to the hon. Baronet the Member for Uxbridge in this matter. He was sure that if the hon. Member only knew the real facts he would see that he had been acting under a misapprehension, and one which would be natural to anyone not familiar with Battersea. Could ho, for instance, locate the spot at which the land was situated whereon it was suggested workmen's dwellings might be erected without building on the Latchmere Allotments? The hon. Baronet must surely have been misinformed by those who alleged that an alternative site existed. He, having some knowledge of Battersea, opposed this motion for several reasons. In the first place he was a resident of the neighbourhood, and had cognizance of the needs of the people, and he was perfectly sure that one of the things most desired was additional land for the housing of the poor. The Latchmere allotments were only 315 yards from Battersea Park, and they were within half a mile of Clapham Common. They were also within measurable distance of Wandsworth Common, and the parish was therefore exceptionally well situated as regarded open spaces. They had a greater need for houses for the working classes, for there were two schemes on foot, one of which would dispossess many of the railway men now living at Nine Elms, a district described by Charles Booth as one of the poorest districts in London. A number of gas men would also be deprived of their homes by a projected improvement, and anyone who knew what it was for a man to stand eight hours before a retort would not think of suggesting that he should be called upon to travel ten or twelve miles into the country in order to get to his home. It was in the interests of his own constituents, and of some of the very poorest among them, that he asked the House to reject the motion of his hon. friend. If the hon. Baronet would like to get an idea of the real character of these allotments he would be very glad to entertain him at luncheon one morning and drive him over to see them, for he was sure he would then realise that he had been acting under a misapprehension, and would withdraw this motion. In 1887, when the question came before Parliament, he—the hon. Member for Clapham—was vicar's churchwarden at Battersea, and in such capacity supported the scheme, and wished he had then been able to lift up his voice in Parliament on its behalf.


said that the public had at present no right to stand on any part of the area referred to. Owing to the proximity of Battersea Park it was not required as an open space, but under the Bill additional dwellings would be built on it, and a real open space of four acres would be provided for cricket. The motion of the hon. Member, if carried, would destroy the whole Bill, which would be a great misfortune to London. He was, therefore, surprised that the hon. Member was not content in moving his Instruction instead of going to the root of the Bill. The discussion was premature, and he did not think any hon. Member would support the motion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to. Bill read a second time, and committed

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the London County Council (General Powers) Bill to leave out Part 7 of the Bill as opposed to the principle of open spaces."


said that Part 7 did not allude exclusively to the question of allotments. The latter part referred to other land for other purposes.


If the Instruction is opposed it must go over to another day.


I withdraw Sir.

Question put, and negatived.