HL Deb 04 May 1863 vol 170 cc1046-54

presented Petitions from Inhabitants of Chelsea and Battersea in favour of this Bill, and moved that the Bill be recommitted to the same Committee which had previously considered it. In taking that course he begged to say, that he did not do so out of any disrespect to the Select Committee; but because he thought there had been some misconception in the matter. The object of the Bill was the construction of a bridge, to be called the Albert Bridge, between Chelsea Suspension Bridge and old Batter-sea Bridge, beginning at Oakley Street, Chelsea, and ending in Battersea Park. The project was very popular in Chelsea and its neighbourhood; and there was not the slightest opposition to it, except from the proprietors of old Battersea Bridge, who naturally enough were anxious to protect their tolls. When the promoters of the Bill informed the Committee that they had witnesses to speak to the great convenience of the bridge, they were told that this evidence was not required; and there fore they were greatly surprised at the Resolution to which the Committee came to reject the Bill, on the ground of their unwillingness, without a more pressing necessity than had been shown in this case, to sanction the erection of a new proprietary bridge over the Thames, with, tolls in perpetuity. He was assured that the promoters would have been willing to introduce into the Bill a clause enabling the public to redeem the tolls upon the proposed bridge by the payment of the cost of the structure and 10 per cent. It was obvious, therefore, that the Resolution of the Committee did not meet the case before them, and that the question which they should have decided was whether the preamble of the Bill had been proved or not. The Committee further recorded their opinion that the whole question of bridge accommodation within the metropolitan districts should receive the early consideration of some public Department, especially with the object of providing for the abolition of all tolls as far as possible. Many years had elapsed since a similar recommendation was made by a Select Committee of the House of Commons; but up to the present time nothing; had been done, probably because of the immense sum of money which would be required. The proprietors of Southwark Bridge alone re- quired £300,000 for the purchase of their bridge. The whole matter, in fact, was tied up. But here was a Bill which would confer great benefits upon the public, which would open a more convenient access from a populous neighbourhood to Batter-sea Park, which was opposed only by the proprietors of old Battersea Bridge, and which would so enhance the value of the property in its vicinity that in four years the increase would pay the whole cost of the bridge. He hoped their Lordships would agree to his Motion that the Bill should be referred back to the Select Committee.

Moved, That the Bill be re-committed to the same Select Committee to which the Bill was referred on the 14th April last.


, as Chairman of the Select Committee, opposed the Motion. He trusted their Lordships would not disturb the decision of the Committee, who were more competent to decide a question of the kind than the House, and who had inquired into the matter for two entire days, and had examined nine witnesses on one side and three on the other. He therefore called upon their Lordships to support their decision. He had great difficulty in answering the noble and learned Lord, whose experience and ability in stating a ease of this sort were, perhaps, unrivalled in their Lordships' House; but this circumstance of itself should warn their Lordships against being led away by ex parte advocacy, and corning to a too hasty decision. Now, here was a Committee that had heard both sides, and the presumption was that justice had been done. He was fully ready to admit, that if a case of grievous irregularity were established against the Committee, the case should be reheard and justice done. Now, here the accusation was that the Committee had unduly excluded evidence, and that they had not permitted all the witnesses to be called. He would state to their Lordships what took place. Nine witnesses of the highest character attended before them; and there never was a case better stated as to either facts or opinions. There were Sir Charles Fox, the eminent contractor, who came from Frankfort for the purpose; Mr. Freake, the great builder, and seven others. They stated their views in the clearest and most forcible manner; and at the close of the evidence (the fact appeared on the shorthand-writer's notes), Mr. Rodwell, the counsel, said, that he had other witnesses who would speak to the same facts if the Committee thought it necessary to hear them; and the Committee did not think it necessary to do so. It was one of the duties of a Committee to prevent the examination of witnesses from being drawn out to an unnecessary length—and in this instance the Committee thought, considering the clear and forcible way in which the case had been stated, that further evidence was unnecessary. He therefore thought it was a little too much for the petitioners to ask that they should now be permitted again to come forward with an altered case. He wished to say nothing against the high repeatability of the Gentlemen who asked for this further inquiry. He had no doubt they would be glad to see not merely one, but five new bridges spanning the river; and the Committee themselves were very far from saying that it might not be desirable to erect a bridge at this spot at some future day. All they said was that the time had not yet arrived for the erection of another toll-paying bridge. A very short time ago Chelsea bridge had been opened, and in that instance the bridge was required to be free on Sundays, and the Committee were of opinion that a case had not been made for sanctioning the erection of another toll-paying bridge in this neighbourhood during this Session. The Committee also participated in the feeling which was now general among their Lordships and the public, that the time was come when there ought to be a survey of the metropolitan bridges as well as railways, and of the metropolitan communications generally. He trusted their Lordships would not think it necessary to refer the Bill back to the Committee. If they were to do so, he did not know how the Committee were to deal with it. They had already heard so much evidence that it was utterly impossible that any further evidence could throw any more light on the question. At least, he hoped, if their Lordships were to refer the Bill back to the Committee, they would at the same time give the Committee an instruction how to act with respect to it.


said, that as the dissenting Member of the Committee, he thought that his noble Colleagues had come to a wrong decision. The Committee was appointed to consider the Bill, not to consider the whole question of metropolitan bridges. The bridge would have been of great value; and he would be glad to see the Bill re-committed, as he understood that much additional evidence was likely to be brought forward in its favour.


said, he fully concurred with all that had fallen from the noble Chairman (Lord Taunton). He had sat upon many Committees, and had never come to a clearer conclusion in his life than upon this question. It might, perhaps, have been advisable if they had not entered into their reasons so fully; but they had reason for believing that a number of new bridges of the same character were about to be thrown across the river, and he thought it high time that the attention of the public should be called to the question. The counsel who had the conduct of the case himself admitted that it was unnecessary to call further evidence. It would be most unwise to overturn the decision the Committee had arrived at after careful consideration.


said, that the duty of a Select Committee was one of so difficult and delicate a nature, that if this were a proposal to interfere with its functions, he (Lord Cranworth) should be most unwilling to support it. But it did not appear to him to be a proposal of that nature. It rather resembled what was known in the law as an application for a new trial. Such an application was made upon various grounds; but if made on the ground of evidence, it was generally made on the ground that some evidence which ought to have been received at the time was not received. Now the case of these Petitioners was not precisely analogous. They said they had new evidence to offer, and that they would have been willing to introduce into the Bill clauses for the redemption of the tolls. This was not quite satisfactory, because the Petitioners did not say they were ready with the evidence at that time, or that they intended to propose to introduce the redemption powers into the Bill, but that they were ready to do so now. On the whole, he was in favour of the re-committal of the Bill.


fully concurred that it was impossible that more patience could be shown by any Committee than was displayed by this Committee, and he never saw less disposition to interfere with the evidence than was manifested by the noble Chairman.


said, he knew nothing of the merits of this question beyond what he had heard in the House. He felt quite sure that no one in their Lordships' House would desire to cast any blame whatever upon the Committee, and it was admitted that they had heard the evidence with the greatest patience and attention. If, after hearing the promoters of the Bill and the evidence in opposition to the Bill, the Committee had decided that the preamble was not proved, their Lordships would bow with implicit deference to the opinion of the Committee; but, so far as he could collect, the terms on which the Committee proceeded were not that the preamble was not proved—on the contrary, they sought rather to infer that so much had been established that a bridge in this position would be an advantage to the public. The ground on which the Committee came to a decision was one that had not been submitted to them—namely, whether it was better to have no bridge at all here, or to have one with a toll. That was a point on which no evidence was taken and no counsel heard. The point before them was whether it would be for the advantage of the neighbourhood to have a bridge built at that spot; and, with great deference to the Committee, he thought the just, natural, and Parliamentary course would have been to have said that the preamble had been proved, and then, in considering the clause imposing the tolls, to have recommended any modifications they thought desirable. He thought that the Committee having erroneously decided against the Bill on a point which was, by some means, never brought before it, that their Lordships would do well to consent to its re-committal.


said, the Committee did hear a very able speech from Mr. Hope Scott on the subject of the tolls.


Yes, that was the case for the opponents.


That was so; but the question of tolls was an element in the general question as to the necessity for the bridge. This Bill was promoted by a very powerful body, and it would be a great misfortune if their Lordships, in regard to this measure, should swerve from the usual course, which was the only safe one that could be pursued in the conduct of business, and most worthy the character of that House.


said, the Commissioners of Works thought the bridge would be an important advantage to the public. He agreed that it was a serious thing for the House to upset a decision of its Committee, but there were cases where their decision might be re-considered without casting the smallest reflection on the Committee, who might, as had been done in this instance, have considered the questions submitted to it with the greatest patience and impartiality. In this case the Committee had given reasons why they should not sanction this Bill, those reasons referring to points which had not been brought before them. They were not to blame for that; but in order that evidence should be taken on these points, he thought the Bill should be re-committed. One reason the Committee had given for rejecting the Bill was, that they were unwilling to sanction the assumption that a new proprietary bridge with tolls was required over the Thames. But was it to be determined by a Committee of that House that they would never give their sanction to toll bridges over the river? He did not see any likely way of obtaining free bridges without tolls being payable in the first instance, and two toll-paying bridges would have an advantage over one. While most reluctant to interfere with any decision to which a Committee of that House had arrived, he thought in the present case that it would be right and agreeable to the general feeling if their Lordships were to agree to re-commit the Bill.


said, he could not consent to the re-committal of the Bill; and he had a strong impression that the course suggested would not redound to the credit of their Lordships' House. The Committee had alleged reasons for the decision to which they had arrived; and if their Lordships disagreed with those reasons, they could scarcely refer the Bill back to the same Committee.


said, the House was placed in a position of some difficulty. He thought that the decisions of a Committee ought, as a general rule, to be supported; while, on the other hand, there might sometimes be reasons why it would be desirable that the decisions should be re-considered. In this particular case it would be unfair to refer the Bill back to the Committee. Their Lordships could not ask the Committee to give up their honest and conscientious opinions, and must, if they re-committed the Bill, appoint another Committee If their Lordships were called upon to vote, it ought to be understood whether the Bill was to be re-committed to the same or to another Committee.


said, he should be very unwilling to refer the Bill to another Committee, unless the noble Lord (Lord Taunton) who was Chairman of the former Committee considered it desirable.


said, he should oppose either course. It was not a personal matter, but in the interest of the honour of their Lordships' House he should oppose any re-committal of the Bill.


said, he could not concur in the reasons given by the Committee for the rejection of the Bill. The presumption was always in favour of a new communication, unless there were cogent reasons against it. The very fact of persons being willing to invest their money on the proposed bridge, on the speculation that the tolls would pay for its construction, was a proof that further accommodation was required. He must concur, however, in the opinion that it would be hardly fair to refer the Bill back to the Committee upon a point of policy which they had already considered and decided.


said, that no Committee now appointed could be expected to come to an impartial decision, as the debate which had taken place in their Lordships' House could not fail to influence the Committee; nor could it enter upon the consideration of the subject without knowing that the feeling of the House had declared itself against the construction of bridges with tolls in perpetuity. He thought that the better course would be not to refer the Bill to any Committee, but for the House itself to deal with it upon its merits, and come to a decision for themselves.


said, that noble Lords seemed to think that the only ground upon which the Committee had refused to sanction this Bill was that it was intended to be a toll bridge. This, however, did not strike him as being so. What the noble Chairman stated was this—that the bridge was to be in such close proximity to two other bridges that the convenience of the public did not require it, and that the navigation, and also the view of the river would be impeded by it. These matters had not been answered during the discussion; and under the circumstances he felt strongly inclined to vote with the noble Chairman of the Committee.


said, that his vote would be equally at variance with those of some of his noble Friends upon the Government bench, and with those of noble Lords on the bench opposite. Several propositions had been made to their Lordships; and this showed the danger of departing in particular instances from the general principles which had been laid down for the conduct of private business. First, it was proposed to refer the Bill back to the same Committee; but that, in his opinion, would be an unfair and inconvenient course. The next proposition was to refer it to another Committee—a course which, indeed, was not without a precedent—though any precedent found would, to his mind, be a bad precedent for any case where, as in this instance, there was no charge against the Committee. Then there was the further proposition to refer the Bill to a Committee of the Whole House; and in reference to that he must express his opinion that it would be dangerous to depart from the principles upon which private Bills had hitherto been disposed of. He agreed with what had been said, that they could not have too many bridges; but still the only ground for interfering with the decision of the Committee seemed to be that the Committee had assigned reasons which they need not have done; for if they had pursued the usual course, they would simply have reported that the preamble was not proved. In his opinion their Lordships ought not to discourage Committees from giving reasons; and, under all the circumstances, he thought that they ought, even at the risk of not having the bridge for a time, to negative the Motion.


stated, that in the Committee the preamble was declared not to have been proved.


said, he was anxious, on all ordinary occasions, to support the decisions of Committees, but in this instance he was unwilling, without some pressing necessity were shown, to sanction a declaration the effect of which must be to stop any more bridges from being built across the Thames. If private enterprise were excluded, as it must be by the statement that no more toll bridges would be sanctioned, it followed that in every case where a bridge was needed the Government would be applied to. The best course would be to refer the Bill to a different Committee, with an instruction that the members were not to investigate the general propriety or non-propriety of tolls, though they might consider their amount, duration, and manner of redemption. This could be done without casting any imputation upon the late Committee.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

Then it was moved, That the Bill be recommitted.

On Question Resolved in the Negative.