HC Deb 11 May 1903 vol 122 cc371-83


Order for Second Reading read.

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

MR. PAULTON (Durham, Bishop Auckland)

said he hoped that the terms of his Resolution would make it plain to the House on what grounds he desired to move the rejection of the Bill. With the details of the Bill he was not concerned, but the question of principle. He objected to it because it sought to enable a private landowner greatly to enhance the value of his property by converting into a building site, land which he was debarred by existing public statutes from utilising for that purpose. This land formed part of Old Bridewell Hospital which for nearly 200 years had been used as a house of correction, and this particular portion was used as a burial ground for prisoners and other persons. The site was closed as a burying ground by order of the Home Office in the middle of the nineteenth century. The validity of the order was contested, but the decision upon that point was entirely immaterial to the question which he had to ask the House to decide. In 1892 the Home Secretary made an order for the removal of human remains buried in this place, but the ground was then and had always been an open space, and as such it came under a series of public statutes dealing with open spaces. In 1881 the Metropolitan Open Spaces Act was passed to facilitate the acquisition of disused burial grounds and other lands for use as public gardens and spaces, and in 1884 a further Act was passed which made it unlawful to erect any buildings upon a disused burial ground. This legislation was strengthened in 1887 by an amending Act in which the meaning of the words burial ground was defined in such a manner as unquestionably to apply to the land which was now the subject of discussion. It was not necessary to labour the point, because it was obvious that if the owner had any title to build on the land he would not have come forward with this Bill. The sole purpose of this Bill was to exempt a particular owner—Lord de La Warr—from the provisions of the Act, and thus to enhance the value of his property. Parliament had followed a definite and continuous policy in this matter, and he hoped that it would not be departed from. He trusted they would maintain the broad principle which they had laid down. Whether an open space was required in this neighbourhood, which was now the centre of the printing trade, was quite immaterial to his argument; if the land adjoined Hyde Park the argument would be the same, that Parliament ought to sustain and defend its own clear and definite policy on this matter. This was no small question. There were still some 170 disused burial grounds within the metropolitan area which might be affected by the Bill, and if Parliament passed this measure it would be open to the owner of any of them to ask for a similar exemption. It was quite possible that Christ's Hospital might be quoted as a precedent for the course the promoters desired to take, but Christ's Hospital afforded no real precedent for such a case as this, inasmuch as no question of public benefit or utility could be adduced in support of this proposal to enhance the value of a private estate. He most earnestly urged Members who had regard to the policy of maintaining open spaces to support his Motion. He begged to move.

MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)

thought the poverty of the case of the promoters of this Bill was shown by the facts that they relied on the case of Christ's Hospital. But in that case the House departed from its ordinary practice because of the great public interests involved. The very assertion of that case would imply that unless public interests were affected the sacred principle of Parliament would not be abrogated. He seconded the Motion.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'this House declines to sanction a Private Bill, in contravention of general public statutes concerning open spaces, for the express purpose of enhancing the value of a private estate.'"—(Mr. Paulton.)

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

MR. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith)

said he did not rise for the purpose of stating the case of the promoters of the Bill. He had not been instructed by them in the matter, but he had had the advantage of having them before him as well as the hon. Member who moved the Amendment, and it might therefore be convenient if he placed his views before the House. It seemed to him the point at issue was whether this particular ground was or was not, a disused burial ground. If it was, no doubt the contention of the hon. Member who moved the Amendment was correct; but it seemed to him that if that view were adopted by the House very great injustice would be done. For this reason it appeared that the predecessors in title of the present owner let the land, not for the purpose of being used as a burial ground but for eleemosynary purposes. A very great number of years ago the leases were from time to time renewed, and came to an end only a short time ago. Without consulting the owners in fee, without even informing them, the lessees buried a certain number of persons in a portion of the land, and it was now claimed that this land was set aside as a burial ground and had become such within the meaning of the statute. He ventured to say that the Acts quoted by the hon. Member could never have contemplated such a state of things as this that had arisen. Every ground on which cricket was played was not a cricket ground, and every piece of ground on which a burial had taken place was not a burial ground. A place where a murder had been committed and the murdered person had been buried did not become from that fact a burial ground. The words, "burial ground" must have some legal meaning; it must be a ground set apart for that particular purpose with the owner's knowledge and consent. If he let the hon. Member opposite a town house having a little garden at the back, and if through domestic affliction the hon. Member utilised that garden for the purposes of burying the deceased, would the hon. Member claim that that ground was a burial ground within the meaning of these Acts? It would be done without his knowledge or assent as the owner, and against his wish. If that were so, he would be deprived of the rights of ownership in fee of that land, and it would be impossible for him at any future time to erect a house upon it. The facts of this case reminded him of the Chinese custom. The Chinese, he believed, attached very great sanctity to any place where a Chinaman was buried, and if they wanted to stop any public improvement or the making of a railway they proceeded to bury a certain number of Chinamen on the spot, and for all time the place became sacred. It seemed to him that in this matter the City of London had been following Chinese tactics. As there appeared to him to be a doubt as to the law in this case, he submitted that the House should send the Bill to a Committee, and as the matter appeared to hang entirely on the interpretation of statutes which, after having heard the statements of the promoters and the statements of the Opposition, seemed to him to be in doubt, and that it was not an easy matter for a layman to solve, he suggested that if the House sent the Bill to a Committee upstairs, they should specially add to that Committee two or three legal gentlemen of large practice who would be willing to devote a couple of hours to the matter, which he believed could be easily settled in a day. If his suggestion were carried out he would personally see the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, point out the nature of the Bill to him, and ask him whether he could not see his way to select two gentlemen of undoubted legal ability and large practice who would be willing to give up an afternoon to the consideration of this highly technical question.

LORD BALCARRES (Lancashire, Chorley)

had no doubt whatever that this was a matter which ought to be settled by the House itself, and not by a Committee. The proposition of the Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means was a rather curious one. His proposition was that they should incorporate two or three lawyers of large practice into the Committee, but there was no guarantee that the incorporation of any such Members would strengthen the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman was extremely doubtful as to whether it was a burial ground, but the promoters had no doubt upon the subject, for they called it a burial ground in the Bill, and they came here with this Bill because, believing it to be a burial ground, they wished to get a better title. He ventured to assert that the case put forward by the Chairman of the Committee was wholly illusory. Was it conceivable that burials could have taken place in that ground secretly between 1699 and 1844? There was a curious passage in the preamble of the Bill as presented to the House of Lords. On page 2 it was stated that the piece of ground being of great value as a building site, licence had been obtained from the Home Office for the removal of the human remains therefrom, with a view to the utilisation of the land for building purposes. That was an allegation that the Home Office gave permission to remove the remains, in order that land of great value might be used for building purposes. He ventured to say that sanction was given for no such reason, and to have given it would have been to override the statute. He thought the promoters of the Bill deserved the severest censure for putting such a misleading statement in their Bill; in another place, on page 3 of their statement, they alleged that it was only by a stretch of imagination that this place could be regarded as a burial ground. But his reply was that it was a burial ground, and as that was the crucial point at issue a decision on it ought to be come to on the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill. There was no need whatever to send it upstairs. This was purely a question of principle. If they passed the Bill that day they would virtually be passing its preamble for the Committee upstairs, and they would be sanctioning the principle of allowing a public Act to be overridden for the private profit of an individual.


said he had always felt that the House was at a disadvantage in discussing the merits of a Private Bill with the whole House, and, in considering whether or not a Bill should be given a Second Reading he attached the greatest weight to the opinion of the Chairman of the Committee, who was better versed in the practice and in the facts than they were. Without expressing any opinion on the point whether or not this was a burial ground within the meaning of the Act, he felt this was a fair case to go before a Private Bill Committee, and he held, therefore, they ought to accept the advice of the Chairman, and send the Bill upstairs. They had this further fact that the Bill had come down from another place where it was fully discussed before a Committee. It would, therefore, be a strong measure now to refuse it a Second Reading. The hon. Member, in moving the rejection of the Bill, drew a somewhat lurid picture of the terrible dangers they would be bringing upon their heads by reading the measure a second time. He talked of fatal precedents, and alarmed some of his hon. friends to such an extent that they were disinclined to trust a Committee. These fears were, he thought, wholly visionary and unreal. What were the real facts? His hon. friend founded his Motion on the only ground possible: he alleged that the Bill was in contravention of a public general statute. If he could establish that he had a good case against the Bill, but he had failed to do so.


Why is the Bill wanted?


said the Bill was required because doubts had arisen as to whether this place came within the provisions of the Open Spaces Act. It would be for the Committee upstairs, after hearing the evidence, to decide whether or not this was a burial ground within the meaning of the Act. As to whether the Bill was in contravention of a general public Act, that was a legal point. The facts before the House showed that it was a doubtful question. The land, they were told, was never consecrated and never set apart as a burial ground. If that were the case then there was absolutely not a shadow of foundation for contending that it came within the statute Again, the question arose, if the land had been set apart as a burial ground, whether it ought not to be preserved as an open space for ever. These were questions as to which grave doubts existed. Let the House consider, if it should turn out that the facts presented to the Committee upstairs should show that the land had really not been set apart as a burial ground, what a gross injustice it would be doing the owner of the property by preventing him building upon it. Further than that, if the land ought to be set apart as an open space, within the meaning of the statute, the public had absolutely no right over it, and no access to it.


said the last speaker in his concluding sentences had declared that this could not be an open space because it was not accessible to the public, but he must be as well aware as any Member of the House that there were plenty of open spaces on which no building could be placed. The Chairman of Committees had given them some most interesting statistics, and had dealt with the question whether this piece of land was really a burial ground. But it was a most extraordinary thing that if for two or three centuries burials went on in this ground under the eyes and supervision of a quasi-public body they were so absolutely private that neither the public nor the Government of the day knew anything about it. The right hon. Gentleman had referred them to Chinese tactics and had suggested that the Corporation went in for the same mode of procedure, and he wound up by saying that the Bill ought to go before a Committee, and, with the assistance of two or three lawyers, could be settled after a couple of hours' discussion. But the Courts were open to the persons interested, and that was the authority to which they ought to appeal. Neither the Corporation of London nor the London County Council was opposing this Bill in a selfish or cavilling spirit. It was purely upon principle that these great representative bodies were acting, and it was a matter of pure indifference to them whether it was a question of a small area of 748 yards, with a small residential population around it, or of a large area and teeming population. As a matter of fact the needs of the population were of far greater moment in the City of London, small as might be the residential population, because there were thousands of employees to whom a few yards of open space were of vital importance. They were, therefore, taking up this question as custodians of the public interest. In 1887 an Act was passed, and added to the Bill of 1884 which embodied as "Burial Grounds" any ground, whether consecrated or not, which had been set apart for the purposes of interment. This greatly strengthened the Disused Burial Grounds Act of 1884. They contended that the Old Bridewell burying ground came within the meaning of that Act. The promoters of the present Bill stated that no steps had been taken hitherto to secure this old ground as an open space. But it was only when this was attempted by the introduction of this Bill that such an opportunity arose. For many years the space had been carefully kept under supervision, and it was probably owing to the efficiency of that supervision that the introduction of this Bill was rendered necessary. What was Parliament asked to do? It was asked to abrogate the provisions of a public Act for the pecuniary benefit of an individual landlord, to take a course, in fact, which Parliament had refused to adopt over and over again. He might, perhaps, be permitted to quote two important instances in which Parliament had shown its determination not to depart from the Act of 1884. In 1886 the Charterhouse desired to build upon a portion of their burial ground in the quadrangle, and this the House refused to sanction. In 1898 the Inner Temple desired to get the leave of Parliament to build over a portion of the Temple Gardens fronting the Embankment, and this was refused, it being held that the Thames Embankment Act of 1862 provided that the land should be preserved as an open space. The Corporation, as the sanitary authority for the area in which this land was situated, and the County Council, as the authority for the enforcement of the Burial Ground Act of 1884, opposed this Bill, not on account of the amount of land involved, or on account of the resident population, but because they felt that the Bill was wrong, and because if Parliament permitted it to proceed it would create a precedent which it would be very difficult indeed to upset in the future.

He would like to correct some of the inaccuracies which had been promulgated with regard to the City of London, in the statement issued by the promoters of the Bill. The Corporation, it was said, were the owners of a large estate adjoining the land referred to in the Bill, and had during the last twenty years leased nearly the whole for building purposes without setting aside any portion as an open space. But this was not a parallel case, for the Embankment site of the Corporation never was a burying ground, and it was never subject to any Act of Parliament. It formed a portion of the security upon which the Corporation had borrowed money for works of public utility, and they were bound to use the land to the best financial advantage possible. It was further asserted that the Corporation themselves built upon part of the old burying ground of Bridewell, and that they had placed bodies there without authority under their lease. This was quite erroneous. These acts were done not by the Corporation of the City of London, but by the governors of Bridewell Hospital who formed a separate and independent body, although bearing the name of a Corporation. As a matter of fact the Corporation of London had not even a majority on the governing body of Bridewell Hospital, and no part of the income of the hospital, whether derived from land or otherwise, was in any way under the control of the Corporation. Reference had also been made by the promoters to the action which Parliament took recently with regard to Christ's Hospital. This again had nothing in common with the present application. Parliament gave effect to a scheme which had been passed more than ten years before. It was a scheme for the benefit of a great charity—one of our greatest—to enable it to continue its useful career for the benefit of the community in general. No one deprecated the removal of Christ's Hospital from Newgate Street more than he did himself, but the scheme was one for the public good. He trusted that the House would see that the Bill was propounded, not for any great public use or for the extension of the happiness of the community, but merely to try by a small Act to override the Acts of 1884 and 1887 for the benefit of an individual landowner. He, on behalf of the City, gladly supported the Amendment, and hoped the House would decline to set such a precedent as the Bill would create.


could not conceive a piece of land that could be preserved as an open space with less utility than the piece here concerned. It was situated in the heart of the newspaper world, where residents were getting fewer and fewer. On public grounds he objected to its preservation as an open space. If the Bill passed, the ground would in a very short time be covered with a mass of buildings which would bring in a large contribution to the rates, in which a large number of people would be employed, and from which, if they were put to the same use as surrounding buildings, would issue a large amount of general wisdom, philosophy, and information.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said the City Corporation, as the sanitary authority for this particular district, was supported in this matter by the London County Council, the authority under the Burials Act for the preservation of disused burial grounds as open spaces. The Bill was opposed to public sentiment, to the objects of the Burials Act of 1884, and to all the statutes dealing with the preservation of disused burial grounds. The very fact that the Bill was called the Bridewell Burial Ground Bill, disposed

of the hypothesis advanced with much ingenuity by the Chairman of Committees.

MR. HELDER (Whitehaven)

pointed out that the Bill had been before the House of Lords, and it was only fair that the usual course should now be followed by sending it to a Committee of the House of Commons. The ground had never been open to the public, and a careful examination of the case would show that it was really a piece of private ground which might very properly be built upon.

SIR FREDERICK BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

said the only question before the House was whether or not the Bill should go to a Committee. Whether it was a good or a bad Bill did not at present concern the House; that question could be decided only by a Committee before which evidence could be adduced and the whole matter inquired into. By agreeing to the Second Reading the House would not be giving an instruction to the Committee to sanction the principle of the measure; they would simply say it was a matter for inquiry. The proper course was to send the Bill upstairs.

MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, W.)

held that this was a question, not for the House of Commons, but for the Law Courts. If the piece of land was a disused burial ground it ought to be kept as an open space; if it was not, let it be built upon, and then the Law Courts could decide the question. As a London Member, knowing the value of these open spaces in crowded districts, he would certainly do his best to preserve disused burial grounds as open spaces for the people of London.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes, 71; Noes, 118. (Division List No. 81.)

Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir A. F. Bignold, Arthur Coghill, Douglas Hairy
Anstruther, H. T. Brassey, Albert Cook, Sir Frederick Lucas
Arnold-Forster, Hugh O. Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh.) Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.
Atkinson, Right Hon. John Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Crossley, Sir Savile
Bain, Colonel James Robert Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Worc Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-
Balfour, Rt. Hn. G. W. (Leeds Charrington, Spencer Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Cochrane, Hon. T. H. A. P. Faber, George Denison (York)
Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool) Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford-
Finch, Rt. Hon. George H. M'Calmont, Colonel James Sinclair, Louis (Romford)
Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne M'Killop, Jas. (Stirlingshire) Stanley, Hon. A. (Ormskirk)
Forster, Henry William Milvain, Thomas Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G. (Oxf'd Univ
Gardner, Ernest More, Robt. Jasper (Shropshire Valentia, Viscount
Godson, Sir Augustus Frederick Murray, Charles J. (Coventry) Vincent, Sir Edgar (Exeter)
Goschen, Hon. Geo. Joachim Myers, William Henry Walrond Rt. Hn. Sir William H.
Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Lord G. (Mid'x Nicol, Donald Ninian Wanklyn, James Leslie
Haslett, Sir James Horner Percy, Earl Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)
Heath, James (Staffords N. W. Powell, Sir Francis Sharp Wilson John (Glasgow)
Helder, Augustus Pretyman, Ernest George Wilson, J. W. (Worcester., N.)
Hutton, John (Yorks, N. R.) Purvis, Robert Wilson-Todd, Wm. H. (Yorks)
Jeffreys, Rt. Hon. Arthur Fred. Rasch, Major Frederic Carne Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath
Law, Andrew Dollar (Glasgow) Rattigan, Sir William Henry Wylie, Alexander
Lawson, John Grant (Yorks, N. R. Reid, James (Greenock)
Llewellyn, Evan Henry Rolleston, Sir John F. L. TELLERS FOR THE AYES—
Long, Rt. Hn. W. (Bristol, S.) Royds, Clement Molyneux Mr. Butcher and Mr.
Lowther, Rt. Hn. J. W. (Cum. Penr. Rutherford, W. W. Liverpool) Henniker Heaton.
Agg-Gardner, James Tynte Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo, N.)
Allen, Sir William (Gateshead Evans, Sir F. H. (Maidstone) Platt-Higgins, Frederick
Allen, Charles P. (Glouc. Stroud Fenwick, Charles Power, Patrick Joseph
Arkwright, John Stanhope Ffrench, Peter Rea, Russell
Aubrey-Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir H. Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond Reddy, M.
Austin, Sir John Flavin, Michael Joseph Remnant, Jas. Farquharson
Bailey, James (Walworth) Flower, Ernest Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)
Barry, E. (Cork, S.) Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co. Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)
Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire) Galloway, William Johnson Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye
Beaumont, Wentworth C. B. Garfit, William Rose, Charles Day
Bell, Richard Goddard, Daniel Ford Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)
Blundell, Colonel Henry Grant, Corrie Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland)
Bolton, Thomas Dolling Hayne, Rt. Hon. Chas. Seale- Samuel, S. M. (Whitechapel
Brigg, John Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Chas. H. Shipman, Dr. John G.
Bull, William James Hobhouse, C. E. H. (Bristol, E. Sinclair, John (Forfarshire)
Burns, John Humphreys-Owen, Arthur C. Soares, Ernest J.
Burt, Thomas Hutchinson, Dr. Charles Fredk. Stewart, Sir Mark J. M'Taggart
Caldwell, James Johnstone, Heywood Stone, Sir Benjamin
Causton, Richard Knight Jones, Wm. (Carnarvonshire) Strachey, Sir Edward
Channing, Francis Allston Joyce, Michael Sullivan, Donal
Chapman, Edward Kearley, Hudson E. Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe
Clare, Octavius Leigh Law, H. Alex. (Donegal, W.) Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr
Cohen, Benjamin Louis Lawrence, Sir Jos. (Monm'th) Thomas, F. Freeman-(Hastings
Collings, Right Hon. Jesse Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cornwall Thomson, F. W. (York, W. R.
Corbett, T. L. (Down, North) Layland-Barratt, Francis Toulmin, George
Crean, Eugene Leamy, Edmund Tufnell, Lieut. -Col. Edward
Cremer, William Randal Leng, Sir John Ure, Alexander
Cross, Alexander (Glasgow) Levy, Maurice Wallace, Robert
Cullinan, J. Longh, Thomas Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)
Dalziel, James Henry Lundon, W. Wason, J. Cathcart (Orkney)
Davies, Alfred (Carmarthen) Macdona, John Cumming Weir, James Galloway
Davies, Sir Horatio D. (Chatham MacNeill, John Gordon Swift Whittaker, Thomas Palmer
Delany, William MacVeagh, Jeremiah Wilson, John (Falkirk)
Dewar, John A. (Inverness-sh.) M'Arthur, William (Cornwall Younger, William
Dilke, Rt, Hon. Sir Charles Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen) Yoxall, James Henry
Dimsdale, Rt. Hon. Sir Jos. C. Morton, Arthur H. Aylmer
Donelan, Captain A. Murphy, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES—
Doogan, P. C. Nolan, Joseph (Louth, S.) Mr. Paulton and Mr. Alban
Duke, Henry Edward Norman, Henry Gibbs.
Dunn, Sir William O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Edwards, Frank O'Dowd, John

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That this House declines to sanction a Private Bill, in contravention of general public statutes concerning open spaces, for the express purpose of enhancing the value of a private estate.