HL Deb 20 July 1857 vol 147 cc1-7

said, the object of this Bill was to carry into effect an agreement which had been come to between the Crown and the Corporation of London, for the settlement of the litigation that had been going on between them as to the right to the bed and shores of the River Thames as far as the tidal waters flowed. From time immemorial rights of conservancy had been exercised by the Corporation over the River Thames, and he believed those rights had been exercised without any just cause of complaint. He did not know any public rights that had been exercised with less cause of complaint. The Corporation having undefined and also defined rights to a large extent over the shore of the river, they also believed that they were entitled to the bed and shore of the river as far as the tidal waters flowed; but this was denied by the Crown, and the result was the law-suits to which he had referred. After the questions in dispute had been for some time litigated in the courts of law, an agreement had been come to vesting all the rights, whatever they were, both of the Crown and the City, in a Board of Conservancy; and the Bill before the House was to carry out that agreement. As both parties were content with the arrangement, he anticipated no opposition to the Bill. The dues would be levied as now, and would be applied wholly to the conservancy of the river. It had been agreed that the Crown should receive one-third of the sums paid by private parties for the exercise of privileges on the river, and that the other two-thirds, as well as the whole of the other sums received, would be devoted to the conservancy of the river. The Corporation was performing a great public duty without deriving any private advantage whatever. Had the right been left in the Corporation there was no reason to anticipate, looking at what had been done before, that it would be abused; but it had been deemed best to transfer those powers to a new Board of Conservancy. To the powers of this Board he believed no ob- jection could be raised; but if any objection was raised it would probably be to the constitution of the Board. The Bill proposed that that Board should consist of the following members:—The Lord Mayor for the time being, two Aldermen, and four Common Councilmen; those Aldermen and Common Councilmen to be chosen expressly by the Common Council as conservators. The other members of the Board would consist of the following persons:—The Deputy-Master of Trinity House for the time being, a conservator to be named by the Trinity House, two to be named by the Admiralty, and one by the Board of Trade. It would be impossible to name five persons more fitted to perform the duties of conservators. The Bill would not so much create new rights as transfer; existing rights to a new body. Nothing was more reasonable than that the city Corporation should have the majority proposed to be given to it by the Bill. The Corporation had expended £50,000 out of their funds in improving the River Thames, for which they claimed no compensation whatever.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.

THE DUKE OF NEWCASTLE rose to oppose the Bill, He did not think that his noble and learned Friend had sufficiently explained its origin. When he was Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests, about thirteen years ago, contests were constantly going on between the Crown and the City of London with regard to the soil and bed of the River Thames. Having found that under the assumed jurisdiction of the Corporation of London embankments had been made along the River Thames, in evasion, as he believed, of the rights of the Crown, and to the detriment of the public interests, he entered upon those lawsuits which had been going on for a series of years since. These lawsuits had been prolonged by the legal technicalities of which the Corporation repeatedly availed itself, but in every one of the points which had been brought to a decision the verdict was in favour of the Crown. The Government finding that these suits led to great expense, and were very protracted, had recourse last autumn or winter to a compromise, the basis of which was this,—that whereas the Crown claimed to be the proprietor of the soil and bed of the river, it should surrender its rights to the City of London as conservators of the river upon condition that, whenever any sale should take place, or any licence be given which produced money, one-third of that money should be paid to the Crown and two-thirds should be carried to the conservancy account. He did not wish to enter into the question whether that was a fair compromise so far as the rights of the Crown were concerned. He would assume that it was, and that the Commissioners of Woods had done perfectly right so far as that point was concerned; but, speaking for himself, and he believed for those who carried on these suits after he left the office of Commissioner of Woods, he might observe that the object in carrying them on was not so much to defend some pecuniary rights of the Crown as to protect on behalf of the public the great highway of the country, and to place it under a better jurisdiction. But, so far from that object being attained; by this compromise, the conservancy of the river, in which the public were so greatly interested, would be handed over to that very body which he, as well as his successors in the office of Commissioner of Woods, believed to be incompetent. His noble and learned Friend had said that no complaints were ever made of the manner in which the city Corporation had discharged the duty of conservator of the Thames: but, if he would refer to the evidence which was taken before the Metropolitan Improvement Commission, some twelve or thirteen years ago, he would find that there were numerous instances of such complaints. He did not mean to charge the Corporation with jobbing or any unfair proceedings; but at any rate the complaints went to the extent of charging the Corporation with having incompetently fulfilled the very important duty of conservator of the river. His noble and learned Friend would have their Lordships believe that the Corporation had consented to sacrifice their rights by agreeing to let five nominees of the Crown participate with them in the conservancy of the river, which office he said they had heretofore exercised without control; but the truth was, that ever since the commencement of the law-suits which were instituted under his directions, the conservancy of the Thames by the Corporation had been entirely inoperative, so far as encroachments on the bed of the river were concerned; and for this reason—the Crown's right to the bed and soil was well founded, and had since been frequently established in courts of law, and consequently until the Crown's rights were surrendered, the assumed rights of the city were valueless. The river was at this moment like a vast sewer, and unless something were done before long to purify it, it would engender some frightful plague among the two and a-half millions of people who inhabited the metropolis. If they meant to intercept the sewage of that vast city, they must embank the Thames in some way or other; but this Bill, by giving to the Corporation of London the power of licensing encroachments on the river, would greatly increase the expense attending the future embankment of the Thames. It was a farce to call the proposed Board an elective body, when seven members out of the entire twelve were to be composed of the Lord Mayor, the Aldermen, and Common Councilmen of the City of London; and when by making the Lord Mayor official Chairman of the Board and Committees, they took the power entirely out of the hands of the Crown to remedy the evils complained of. The question affected the whole of the population along the banks of the river between Staines and Yantlet Creek, and it was therefore absurd to confine the representation at the Board to so small a portion of the metropolis as the City of London proper, He did not make it a charge against this body that it would job, but its functions ought to be entrusted to a Board thoroughly competent for the task. The Bill invested them with immense powers of taxation; it enabled them to grant licenses to persons wishing to erect piers or wharfs on its banks, and it even placed the Trinity Board in subjection to this body of conservators. The future management of the river would be practically in the hands of the City of London, who would be entirely free from responsibility or control. The Board of Trade had presented a most excellent Report, which was wholly adverse to this Bill, and it was therefore remarkable that the Government should support the measure. Moreover, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary for the Colonies were members of the Commission which sat three or four years ago on the reform of the Corporation of London, and one of the most prominent recommendations in the Report of that Commission was, that the conservancy of the Thames should be taken out of the hands of the City of London and entrusted to a board of five members, of whom the City of London should have the right of appointing only one. Believing that the inhabitants of the metropolis at large would have just cause of complaint if this Bill were passed, he begged to move that it be read a second time that day three months.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and insert ("this day three months").


not being prepared to offer any opinion on the merits of the Bill, should abstain from voting upon it. But he must warn their Lordships to look with some suspicion on the connection of the City of London with the conservancy of the river. When Attorney General it was his duty to examine into the title of the City of London to the soil of the Thames, when it turned out that though the Corporation were de jure the conservators of the river, the soil belonged undoubtedly to the Crown, and their assumption of rights over it was entirely an usurpation. It would be much better that the right to the soil should remain in the Crown instead of being transferred to the Corporation, because, although the City of London had in other respects great claims to the gratitude of the country, their conduct in regard to the conservancy of the Thames had often been the subject of strong complaint.


said, that the Corporation of the City of London were by law conservators of the river, but the right to the soil was undoubtedly in the Crown; and this Bill would put a stop to litigation between the Crown and the City, and would be an advantageous compromise on the part of the Crown, since one-third of the property arising from the soil would be handed over to the Crown, while two-thirds would be applied by the new Board towards the improvement of the navigation of the river. It was very desirable that an end should be put, as soon as possible, to the questions in dispute between the Crown and the City, and he could assure the noble Duke that the Bill would not interfere with any embankments that might be made.


thought the City had some reason for believing that they had gained an advantage over the Crown in this Bill. The Bill specifically handed over the property in the shore and bed of the river to the Mayor and Corporation of the City. [Earl GRANVILLE: As conservators of the river.] He maintained that the Bill handed over to the existing Conservancy Board, and not to the future Board, rights which the Bill said in the preamble belonged to the Crown.


said, that before taking charge of this Bill, he satisfied himself that it was a proper measure to be passed. The Crown was to transfer its right to the soil for a money consideration to be paid down, and a sum to be paid annually. No doubt the Bill transferred the whole right of the Crown to the City in the first place, and then to the new body. The Bill would put a stop to litigation which had lasted for years, and which would prevent all improvement in the river until it was put an end to. In his opinion it would be impossible to constitute a fairer body to carry out the objects which the promoters of the Bill had in view than that which the measure itself provided.

On Question, That ("now") stand part of the Motion? their Lordships divided:—Contents 44; Not-Contents 5: Majority 39.

Resolved in the affirmative; Bill read 2a accordingly and committed. The Committee to be proposed by the Lords Committees appointed for proposing Committees on opposed Bills.

Beaufort, D. Clarina, L.
Cleveland, D Cloncurry, L.
Manchester, D. Colville of Culross, L.
Norfolk, D. Congleton, L.
Somerset, D. De Mauley, L.
Lansdowne, M. Dinevor, L.
Westminster, M. Foley, L. [Teller.]
Hatherton, L.
Abingdon, E. Kingston, L. (E. Kingston.)
Beauchamp, E.
Chichester, E. Mostyn, L.
Derby, E. Panmure, L.
Granville, E. Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.) [Teller.]
Hardwicke, E.
Harrowby, E. Ravensworth, L.
Lonsdale, E. Rosssie, L. (L. Kinnaird.)
Malmesbury, E.
Romney, E. Say and Sele, L.
Stradbroke, E. Sefton, L. (E. Sefton.)
Suffolk & Berkshire, E. Somerhill, (M. Clanricarde.)
Combermere, V. Saint Leonards, L.
Sydney, V. Sundridge, L. (D. Argyll.)
Ardrossan, L. (E. Eglintoun)
Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Byron, L. Wrottesley, L.
Newcastle, D.(Teller.) Gordon, V. (E. Aberdeen.)
Dungannon, V.
Falmouth, V. Overstone, L. [Teller.]