HC Deb 29 April 1907 vol 173 cc599-615

As amended, considered.

MR. RIDSDALE (Brighton),

in moving "That the schedule be omitted," said it was with considerable diffidence that he took the course which he was now taking. This Bill was a Bill for a private company, incorporated under Act of Parliament, and which had acquired statutory powers to supply gas to the corporation of Worthing. The Bill had already been before a Committee of the House upstairs, and had passed that Committee; and he was quite aware that if a private Member took the unusual course of opposing any part of that Bill in the House, it was necessary that he should make out a very good case. He asked the House to believe that it was with a full sense of the responsibility of the course he was taking, that he made the Motion which stood in his name. This company had now its work in the group of houses which constituted the town of Worthing itself. When it first obtained its Bill and erected its works, those works were in a comparatively unoccupied district. He found that as long ago as 1893 it required fresh ground in order to complete its works, though it had no room upon its present site. It then purchased a field called the Home Field, and kept it for some time without using it, because in the year 1893 Worthing suffered from a severe epidemic, and there was not that increased demand for gas which the company had been led to expect would arise. Finally, when the demand began as Worthing grew, the company visited the field and found it to be, in their opinion, unsuitable for the erection of gas works. They found that they could obtain a piece of land very much better suited to their purpose—a piece of open ground upon which their main works then stood. The corporation of Worthing at that time assented to their works being extended over that piece of ground, and it was only the strongest opposition of some householders and dwellers in the neighbourhood which prevented them from holding that piece of land. The opposition was so great that it became necessary for the Board of Trade to cause a local inquiry to be held. As a result of that inquiry a Report adverse to the scheme was made by Sir Alfred Bateman. The company consequently looked round for other ground to be obtained, and finding a site in the neighbouring village of Goring, acquired the property in the schedule of this Bill. As soon as the inhabitants of Goring became aware that the gas company desired to leave Worthing and to set up gas works among them, they began to be greatly perturbed and to do all that was in their power to object. The old parish council of Goring objected to the company. It was on the point of fresh election at the time this matter was pressing, and the election was fought mainly on the question whether the gas works of the Worthing Company should be allowed to be proceeded with in Goring parish or not. The supporters were entirely defeated, and the new parish council petitioned the House or the Committee upstairs against the Bill. Not only did the parish council of Goring petition against the Bill, but the neighbouring parish of Durrington also petitioned against it. And not only these two parish councils, but the East Preston District Council petitioned also, after a large meeting in which fourteen members out of a total number of eighteen voted, and the motion was carried unanimously. He could not conceive that it was to the interest of good local government that the views of local bodies should be overridden by the House. The House went to considerable trouble, he believed rightly, to set up parish and district councils in order that they might be able to manage their own affairs. Here was a case, if ever there was one, in which the council was able to form an opinion as to whether a proposal was to their detriment or to their advantage. They formed the opinion that the coming of these works would be detrimental, to the parish of Goring, and they asked and he asked in their name, that the House should not impose upon them the nuisance which really and truly belonged to their neighbours. Did that neighbour itself wish to impose that nuisance upon them? This, as he had stated, was a private company; its shareholders were all over the country, and no doubt many of them were in Worthing; none the less, it was a private company. It was not the corporation of Worthing. So far from the corporation of Worthing being anxious that the company should place these gasworks in Goring, which was the only avenue of expansion for the town of Worthing westward, the mayor and ten councillors up to the present date hadsigned a petition against the Bill. Were there any precedents for this course? To impose a nuisance upon a local body against its will was not a thing that ought to be done lightly. There must have been cases in the past in which attempts, at any rate, had been made. He had looked up those attempts, and he awaited some supporter of the Bill being able to put his finger on a single precedent for imposing gasworks on an unwilling community. There was a time when the Gas Corporation of Birmingham supplied gas to a neighbouring district of Erdington. As they supplied the gas to that district they said it would not be unreasonable to ask to be allowed to put gasworks there, but it was objected to. The Corporation of Tunbridge Wells desired to take their gasworks out of Tunbridge Wells and put them in a country district. That was refused also, and as far as ho could ascertain there was absolutely no precedent for the action proposed in the Bill. It was on these grounds that he was asking that the schedule should not be passed. Gasworks were admitted to be detrimental to the growth of a town. There was a very marked case within his own knowledge in the town of Brighton, where gasworks were erected in Kemp Town, and that stopped the growth of the town in that direction for about fifty years. At one time Kemp Town was the fashionable end of Brighton, but once those gasworks were put there, building stopped at the boundary, but never went beyond. It was true that when they ceased to manufacture gas there, houses were built beyond the boundary, and there were about half a dozen houses dotted about beyond the boundary. They might possibly think that it was only the landowners who objected to this. It was admitted that the presence of gasworks did depreciate the land near which they were placed, and it was computed that the coming of these gasworks into Goring would depreciate the value of the land by about 50 per cent. He was not concerned in that House to defend the position of landlords. But he did not want to see values unnecessarily destroyed, and if they were going to have the taxation of ground values it was highly desirable in the interests of everybody that these values should be maintained in order that they might be taxed. The village of Goring lay about 400 yards from the place where the gasworks were to be erected. The villagers were as strongly against the coining of the gasworks as the landlords themselves. Out of 118 voters 110 had signeda petition objecting to the proposal. The reason would be apparent to the House when he stated that Goring was a pretty little village at the seaside, and the majority of the inhabitants made a large portion of their yearly earnings from letting lodgings. They did this in the summer season to such people of the towns as required fresh air. So much was this the case that the clergyman of Goring felt it incumbent upon him to come up and give evidence before the Committee as to the damage which would be done to the village by the schedule of this Bill; and he stated in his evidence that he received every summer applications from some twenty or thirty people asking him whether he would be kind enough to procure lodgings for them. As far as he could see, the position of a clergyman in such matters seemed to be rather like that of a Member of Parliament, who was asked to do all kinds of different things which would not occur to most people. He thought he had made out a case as regarded the facts, and it would take some answering. As far as he could ascertain the arguments on the other side, they exactly amounted to this—that there was no other available site for the gas company to go to, and that it was common both to the objectors and to the supporters of the Bill that a further supply of gas was urgently needed for the supply of Worthing. When he stated to them that the corporation of Worthing included within its boundaries no less than seven square miles of territory, whereas its population was only 23,000, it would be apparent to them that the site difficulty could not be an insuperable one. Sir Alfred Bateman had reported that the Gas Company acted unwisely in 1894, and that it did not appear to him that there were any insuperable difficulties in obtaining a site for the extension near the railway. He hoped in a matter so vital to the inhabitants of Goring the company would not be allowed to ride rough-shod over them. He begged to move that the schedule be omitted.


seconded the Amendment. He thought when the House had heard the whole of the arguments for and against this Amendment, they would agree that there were very strong reasons for refusing to allow this measure to pass in its present form. What was the main reason why they objected to the Bill? It was because it imposed upon a village a scheme to which the inhabitants almost unanimously objected. As his hon. friend had stated in his speech, he believed there existed no precedent of any kind in which the House had sanctioned such a scheme to which the whole of the people in the area affected who had anything at stake took exception. The town of Worthing was by no means unanimous in favour of the scheme, if indeed the majority of the inhabitants were in favour of it at all. As a matter of fact, so far as they could judge, the town of Worthing was opposed to the scheme. Both the local papers published in the town of Worthing, one of which was a Conservative and the other a Liberal paper, had printed leading articles against the schedule of the Bill. Not only that, but a public petition had been got up in the town of Worthing against the Bill, which had been signed by the mayor and ten of the councillors and a largo number of other influential residents in the town. He submitted it as a very strong point indeed that even in the town of Worthing, which was supposed to benefit by the scheme, the inhabitants were by no means unanimous in favour of the scheme. He thought that upon this Amendment one should ask oneself two questions. Firstly, could the company obtain land within the Borough of Worthing? As his hon. friend had stated, the area within the Borough of Worthing was seven square miles, and there was not by any means a population to the square mile which was at all excessive. As his knowledge of Worthing was limited, for he had only been there on a few occasions, he did not put forward his local knowledge of the town and ask the House to accept it in any way. Anybody who has over been to Worthing would agree that there wore a great many sites in the town which could be utilised for the purpose. In the evidence given before the Committee the promoters of the Bill alleged that it was not possible to find a suitable site within the area of the town. That view was supported by an expert brought forward by the promoters of the Bill, but the opponents of the measure also brought forward an expert who said exactly the opposite. Anyone who had been connected with private Bill legislation knew that en Private Bill Committees that was a thing which very often took place. But he had very much stronger evidence to bring forward than that of the two experts, although he did not want to make any reflections upon their opinion. Sir Alfred Bateman, in his Report to the Poard of Trade upon another application of the Worthing Gas Company for an extension of their present works, gave as his reason for refusing that application that he believed it was possible to find a suitable site for the extension required near the railway which passed through Worthing. That was not long ago, and Worthing had not devoloped so rapidly as to make it any more difficult to obtain sites for these works. That Report brought out the extremely unbusinesslike method in which the Worthing Gas Company had conducted that part of the business which dealt with their application for increased powers. Some time ago, they acquired a certain site, which they afterwards discovered was not suitable for the erection of gas works, and Sir Alfred Bateman commented upon this action of the company in his Report to the Board of Trade. He believed that the company, if they were prepared to pay a proper price for the land, could obtain perfectly suitable land for the purpose within the Borough of Worthing. Even if the company were unable to obtain land within the Borough of Worthing, the House should ask itself whether the land could not be obtained anywhere else where the presence of the works would not be so resented by the inhabitants as it was in the village of Goring. He had some little local knowledge, and, although he did not know the town of Worthing well, he did know the land round about, and, in his opinion, on the east side of the town there were several sites which it would be possible for the company to acquire, where what he might call the nuisance works of the town of Worthing—the sewage, the electrical, and other works— had all been erected, and were now being conducted. As was clearly brought out in the evidence before the Committee, the east end of the town was not regarded as the part most likely to increase for residential purposes, or the part which during the last two or three years had increased most rapidly, very likely owing to the fact that these works, which were more or less of a nuisance to the neighbourhood, were already there. The people of Goring objected to the scheme, because it would destroy one of the principal charms of the village, and would very largely injure the position which the cottager and farmer now had in being able to offer lodgings in a small and quiet village removed from the hustle of town. They also alleged, as he thought with very great reason, that the erection of these gas works would seriously injure the future residential value of the village, because at the present moment the town was growing in that direction, although there was practically no building going on. There was no doubt that in a very few years the village would become part of Worthing, and all around, and especially in the neighbourhood where it was proposed to erect these works, could be found very valuable residential sites. The value of land for agricultural and horticultural purposes just where it was proposed to erect these gas works was very great. As far as his own position went in supporting the Amendment, he would certainly be more or less directed, as to whether or not he went to a division, by what the Chairman of Committees said on the Bill. He thought, however, that they were justified in calling the attention of the House to thestate of affairs which would be brought about if the Bill was passed, and to the very serious precedent which the Committee were making by allowing a company to erect works and force upon a village a scheme to which the whole inhabitants, the local councillors, and everybody connected with the place were strongly opposed. He trusted the Houso would not allow the Bill to pass in its present form.

Amendment proposed— In page 25, to leave out the Schedule.—(Mr. Ridsdale.)

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

* MR. WILES (Islington, S.)

said he held no brief on behalf of the Worthing Gas Company; in fact, he regretted that the Worthing Corporation did not make gas themselves, but as they did not it was the desire of the company to supply gas for their town, and as he understood that this Bill was one which the corporation of Worthing generally supported lie had his name put on the back of it. He had no interest whatever in the gas company, nor had his correspondent who was chairman of the Electric Lighting Committee for the Corporation of Worthing. Generally the feeling in Worthing was quite contrary to the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for the Horsham Division of Sussex. He believed there was a vast majority of the people strongly in favour of the Bill, because the gas works were now too small to make the supply of gas required, owing to the great increase in the population of Worthing. With reference to the site, it had been said that other sites were available in Worthing. He knew Worthing fairly well, and he felt sure that it was impossible to get any suitable site within the area, except in the eastern part of Worthing. The hon. Member for Brighton said that the proper place to put the gas works was near the generating station and dust destructor. This company a few years ago purchased a site in that locality, and they found—and he believed other available land was in the same position—there was a large running seam of sand, twelve feet deep, in which it was impossible for them to lay a foundation.


May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman and say that that is disputed both by the opponents of this Bill and by others. The contention is not upheld by Sir Alfred Bate-man's Report.


said he believed the Committee who went carefully into the details of the Bill were perfectly satisfied with the evidence they had that this was practically the only site available for the Worthing Gas Company. It had been said that the Bill should not be passed because a handful of people living in the charming village of Goring were opposed to it. The evidence of the opposition came from the rector or vicar, and the landlords who generally objected to gas works near their property. When the vicar was asked a question by the Committee with reference to the benefit of the proposed new works in increasing the population of Goring he said— We do not want to increase a certain class of people. Then, when he was asked what kind of people he would like to come, he replied that they should like people who were able to live in houses of £70 to £80, and and who would bring their necessary servants with them. They were told that 110 out of 118 cottagers had expressed an opinion against the gas works being placed on the proposed site. He supposed they had been convinced by the landlords. It would be easy for landlords and their friends in any locality to get an expression of opinion on the question whether they would be in favour of gas works there or not. It had been argued that the Corporation were against the Bill. He was advised by his correspondent, who was a member of the corporation; that only ten out of thirty-two Members signed the petition against the Bill, and, there fore he thought it was hardly fair to say that public opinion and the opinion of Worthing Corporation, were against the Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: The Mayor is.] The Mayor might be, but he did not always represent the corporation, or the opinion of the town. For the House to reject a Bill after it had been three days before a Select Committee would be a very unusual course, and he hoped that on account of some Members who appeared to have some personal interest—


I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker. I have no interest whatever in this Bill or in Worthing, or anywhere else. My interest is the public interest.


I must also ask the hon. Member to withdraw that statement. In saying that I have a personal interest in this matter he has made a serious accusation.


said he meant to make no personal accusation at all. When he said personal interest he meant a knowledge of the locality. He knew that both of the hon. Gentlemen had an interest in the district. He hoped that the House would not reject the Bill simply because of a little opposition from persons concerned in the way he had indicated.

* SIR HENRY KIMBER (Wandsworth)

said he was sorry to find himself in disagreement with two hon. Members who were good friends of his own. It seemed to him that they had given no reason why the House should depart from the good old practice of approving of the decisions of Committees when the propriety of those decisions had not been impugned on some good principle. The appeal was generally urged, if it was heard at all, on the evidence given before the Committee. He asked the House how much of the evidence given before the Committee had been read to the House on this occasion? The two hon. Members who had moved and seconded the rejection of the Bill—for that would be the effect of cutting out the schedule—had said that the ground of their opposition to the Bill was not put forward by the friends on whose behalf they spoke. He did not impugn their motives at all. He was sure that the mover and seconder were actuated by the purest of motives. But theparty who put them in motion had been heard before the Committee. The Committee sat for five days and took evidence, not hearsay evidence, as the House were doing now, but direct personal evidence on oath. The House devolved on the Committee the duty of hearing and examining witnesses and arriving at conclusions. No suggestion had been made that that Committee did not behave properly, that they had exceeded their duty, or that they had wrested justice in any manner. The House was asked on the ipse dixit of two hon. Members, who could not possibly have had the advantages afforded to the Committee who heard evidence for five days, to reverse the decision of the Committee. And what was the ground? The sole question was whether the gas company should be at liberty to obtain sufficient ground to fulfil duties imposed on them by Parliament. It was a question of site. It was admitted on both sides that they must have extra accommodation. They must get it somewhere. A gas company having no compulsory powers could not force the expropriation of ground for gas works. They had to make an agreement with somebody willing to sell. The investigations made two years ago by the Board of Trade through its very competent officer, Sir Alfred Bateman, showed that the site then proposed was not suitable and they advised its rejection. The gas company took twelve months to consider the matter, and consulted professional and expert men whose competency was not denied. They were produced before the Committee, and they gave evidence on oath. The only place they could find after twelve months exploration of the neighbourhood was the particular site scheduled in the Bill. They brought it before a Committee of the House, and the Board of Trade, having had an opportunity of examining the proposal, did not oppose it. The Committee had the advantage of knowing what the Board of Trade thought, and they passed the Bill. The dictum of Sir Alfred Bateman, which had been quoted, that he did not believe that the difficulty of obtaining a site near the railway was insuperable, had been met by this Bill, for the site was near the railway, and it was the only one, it must be presumed, which the gas company could obtain. As to its being in the village of Goring, it was nothing of the kind. It was a quarter of a mile off at least. It was admitted by the mover to be 400 yards off. He believed it was a great deal more from the village. Even the hon. Member admitted that the company must have further accommodation for fulfilling its Parliamentary duties to the public in the locality. The hon. Member had said that the House had to ask itself the question whether there was no other site available. Was it to be supposed that the Committee did not go into that question? As a matter of fact it certainly was inquired into by the Committee. The arguments of the opponents of the Bill was that there were other sites which could be obtained, but they were not successful in getting the members of the Committee to accept that view. The Committee decided unanimously in favour of this particular site, and gave the necessary powers. This was one of the forms of devolution by which the House worked through its Committees. It had been exercised for very many years with great advantage to the House, relieving it of the necessity of going into discussions like the present. He asked the House seriously to say that this Motion, if brought before a court of law in the form of an appeal, would be called a sham appeal, for the evidence had not been laid before the House. Although the Bill was five days before the Committee, not a scrap of evidence had been adduced to show why their decision should be reversed. It would be a travesty of anything that could be called justice to set aside the decision, and he asked the House to reject the Motion.

MR. ALFRED HUTTON (Yorkshire, W.R., Morley)

said that as Chairman of the Committee he might be permitted to arid a few words to what had been so well said by the last two speakers. It might seem discourteous on his part if he did not say a few words on behalf of the the Committee that considered the Bill. He did not think he would care to object to everything that was said by the hon. Member for Brighton and the noble Lord the Member for the Horsham Division. It had been asked what was the opinion of the whole corporation. The whole corporation passed a resolution on the subject the effect of which he could not at the moment say, but he thought it was not to oppose the Bill. At least it left them to infer that the corporation would not oppose the Bill. The only other new point he heard from the hon. Member was that land would be largely depreciated in value. He thought the hon. Member had a very exaggerated view of the enormities of the Bill. He admitted that the strength of the case of his hon. friend was very great, and that it was pressed on their notice by able counsel and able witnesses. But he would state one or two of the reasons which weighed with the Committee in coming to their decision. This was the third attempt of the gas company to obtain a larger site; it had been generally admitted that something must be done, and that there was no room for extension of the works on the present site. Reference had been made to the inquiry made by the Board of Trade into the application of the gas company for leave to enlarge their premises, and to the objection taken by the people whose houses were close to the gas works. But the gas works had been there for seventy years, and the people had come to the neighbourhood with the full knowledge that they were there. His hon. friend urged that when they came to a new area with such works as gas works, all the objections that might be made against them should be taken into account. He did not think that the Committee could have asked the gas company to go further away for a site for their now works. The gas company ought not to be regarded as a nuisance, since it supplied a public demand. The public wanted gas, and more gas. The noble Lord had said that there were other available sites, but he could not find them, and every opportunity was given by the Committee to the witnesses to suggest a suitable site. Mr. Stevensen was asked if there was not an available site, and he put his finger on the map and said, "that site is perfectly suitable from every point of view." But when he was asked if he had inspected it, it turned out that he had only seen it from a railway train.


said that that might be the case, but did the hon. Gentleman allege that there was no other site that the company could obtain within seven miles? What was the objection to this particular site?


said that it was not for him to go over all the evidence again. His recollection was that the site was open to the objection of having beneath it running sand. The Committee considered very carefully all the objections of the opponents of the Bill, but were forced to the conclusion that they ought not to reject it.

MR. NIELD (Middlesex, Ealing)

thought the evidence was conclusive that the Bill should be read a third time. Some people seemed to object to gas works as much as to a small-pox hospital, but he thought that of two evils the lesser should be chosen. After all, if Worthing desired to have a further supply of gas, it ought to have it. The Committee upstairs considered the Bill for five days; they had the assistance of counsel in examining and cross-examining the witnesses, and they came to the conclusion that there was no alternative but to pass the Bill. The House ought to be very slow after that long investigation to reverse the decision at which the Committee arrived.


thought the House pretty well realised the facts of the situation. The Worthing Gas Company was prevented from extending its works in the neighbourhood of its present site after an inquiry by the Board of Trade. The company tried for other sites, and that selected was the only one which the Committee (a very strong one, presided over by the hon. Member for Morley), decided was the best alternative site available to the gas company. A good deal had been said about the nuisance of gas works, but the Committee had put in a clause to provide for the planting of trees round the works. It was found that only four houses were within 300 yards of the works. In the Report of the last day's proceedings there was a statement of the Chairman's which read as follows— The real question is the alternative site which I have been hammering at all along. He read that to show the great care with which the Committee considered the question of the alternative site, and he would remind the House that it was no part of the duty of a Committee to consider the question of alternative sites. Their real duty was to deal with the business before them, which was the proposal contained in the Bill. They were, therefore, undertaking a work of supererogation in dealing with the question of alternative sites. Might he say one word about the result which would be entailed by upsetting the decision of this Committee? It would stop the increase of works and stop the increased supply of gas, which he understood was badly wanted. But it would have a very much more serious effect than that. It would have a very serious and undesirable effect upon members of the Committee who sat for five days and considered the matter with great care. It would also have a very serious effect upon other Members of the House sitting on Private Bill Committees if they were encouraged, as they would be encouraged by an adverse decision in this matter, rather to reject a Bill than to pass one which contained any novel or unusual solution of the question submitted to them. He thought the Private Bill Committee work of the House was a matter of which the House had always been proud, and might reasonably still be very proud, and it would be a very, very serious matter to interfere with it by upsetting a decision come to after a long and careful inquiry. He made no complaint of the matter being brought before the House. The decision was an unusual one, but it was unusual because the case was unusual. With regard to the question of precedents, to which the House rightly and naturally attached great importance, he did not know that there was a precedent on all fours with this case. All the other cases which had been mentioned as being similar were cases in which the Bills had been rejected in Committee. There was abso- lutely no precedent for a Bill which had been passed by the Committee, like this Bill, being rejected by the House on a purely Committee point. Therefore he thought the precedents might be used not only by those who opposed the Bill but by those who were seeking to support the finding of the Committee. Under these circumstances he asked the House to think twice and even thrice before it supported an Amendment of this character which would inevitably destroy a Bill over which a great deal of time had been spent and to which the Committee had given a great deal of attention.

LORD EDMUND TALBOT (Sussex, Chichester)

begged to say, in self defence, that he had no interest direct or indirect in this question. He was only interested in it in his capacity as Member for a neighbouring division to that in which it was proposed to erect these works. He had the warmest sympathy with the hon. Member for Brighton, and so far as he had heard no one in the debate had yet met the challenge which he threw out in regard to precedents. The Chairman of Ways and Means had admitted that there was no precedent so far as he knew for the actual course taken by this Committee, but he went on to say, as he understood him, that there would be no precedent for the House going against the Committee in regard to a Bill of this character. He was not going now to take up the time of the House by entering into a discussion of the points which had already been raised, but what he suggested to the House was that if they adopted thedecision that the Committee had come to they were laying down, as he understood, for the first time a precedent, and that precedent was nothing more than this, that a private company was to have the right against the wish of the district concerned to "dump" its works down in a locality which was not to benefit from the existence of those works. If they did that they would be taking a strong step and one which ought not to be taken without further consideration. He should certainly support the Motion of the hon. Member for Brighton.

SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)

said he thoroughly agreed with the remarks which had been made by the Chairman of Ways and Means. The House had set up a system of Private Bill Committees under which this Committee sat for many days and listened to the evidence and to the arguments of counsel, and if they were to attempt to revise the decisions which had been come to after all that labour, he thought they might as well at once do away with Private Bill Committees and attempt to settle all such matters in the House itself. He knew nothing about the merits of the points in question, but he submitted that it would be a bad day for the House if on small or shallow grounds they were to reject the decision come to by a Private Bill Committee. He understood, and if it was the fact it would influence his vote, that if the inhabitants of the neighbourhood could prove that the gas company's undertaking as it was established constituted a nuisance they had a legal remedy. Under these circumstances, a Committee of the House having sat for five days, heard the evidence, and decided the matter, he should certainly vote for the Bill and against the Amendment.


said that in view of the remarks of the Chairman of Ways and Means he would ask leave to withdraw his Amendment, hoping that further evidence might be produced by the opposers elsewhere which would result in a different decision.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill to be read the third time.