HL Deb 02 May 1933 vol 87 cc641-6

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Earl of Onslow.)


My Lords, after consultation with the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, I have thought it well to draw your Lordships' attention to a matter that is of more than local interest and local importance. It is, as a matter of fact, a point of general practice and principle in connection with this Bill which was brought before a Committee over which I had the honour to preside. In one part of this Bill it was proposed—and the proposal was approved by the Committee—to take power to appropriate a certain area of land adjacent to the River Mole for the purpose of a public cemetery. This was agreed to under certain conditions. The question to which I wish to direct your Lordships' attention is whether one local authority ought to go into the area of another local authority, to purchase land for the purposes of a cemetery or any other of the functions of local government, without the knowledge, and still less without the approval, of the local authority of the district concerned. I venture to think, having heard the evidence submitted, that so to do is contrary to the traditions of local life in England and subversive of the fundamental ideas of local administration.

As a matter of fact, the practice is not a new one and it is growing in amount and extending in area. I am only now dealing with corporations and metropolitan councils included within the County of London or the boroughs just outside: that is, with the metropolitan side of the movement, But there are many cases in other parts of the country —especially, I think, in the County of Lancashire—where the same principle applies. In the Metropolis most of the boroughs have bought or are buying burial grounds outside London. For example, Battersea has one at Morden; Fulham and Hammersmith at Sheen; Kensington at Gunnersbury; and Islington, St. Pancras and Marylebone at East Finchley. Other cases of boroughs which have bought land not yet devoted to cemeteries are—Hampstead at Edgware; Paddington at Mill Hill; and Wandsworth at Tolworth, in the urban district of Surbiton. The Urban District Council of Willesden have purchased land in Kingsbury urban district for the same purpose. If I wished to go outside the metropolitan area I could quote the case of the Town Council of Wallasey which propose to purchase land in Wirrall for the purpose of a burial ground.

Naturally, we had a good deal of evidence as to precedents which have arisen and it is only fair to say that the Ministry of Health, who were represented at the inquiry before my Committee, said that they had not fully considered the point though they were aware there was a growing practice, or perhaps I might say a growing evil. The whole point of the matter is whether one local authority ought to invade the area of another with- out giving it, a chance to express an opinion as to the appropriateness of the area for the purposes of a cemetery and the objections that may be raised by the ratepayers and inhabitants. We had before us various witnesses, and to show that the question is of long standing I would only refer to the evidence given by the Surveyor of Cemeteries of the London Burial Board. He told us how as far back as the late forties negotiations took place between landowners in Essex and the Corporation of London. At that time many of the old City churchyards were being closed and the Corporation had to find some place where they could dispose of the City dead, because at that time there was a very large resident population in the City. A cemetery was laid out in Essex and the first interment there took place in June, 1856. Since then there have been something like 400,000 interments. During the early life of the cemetery many of the old City churchyards were demolished and the remains found there removed to the City of London cemetery in Essex. He also mentioned an interesting consequence which could hardly have been foreseen. The Corporation of London, becoming the owners of the City of London cemetery, were able to purchase Epping Forest, Wanstead Flats and Wanstead Park. It was through their becoming owners of Epping Forest that they were able to prosecute people who were grabbing common land at that time and eventually to throw open to the public about 7,000 acres. It can therefore be said that it is not all unpleasantness that has arisen out of this practice.

Your Lordships know that matters of this sort cannot come before this House on the Second Reading of a Bill. The difference between a Public and a Private Bill is that on the Second Reading of Public Bills, although it is not in order to go into the details—I have often heard it objected that certain matters were points for the Committee—still the facts are considered; in a Private Bill the facts are not considered and the whole matter is sent upstairs, where it is the duty of the Committee to go into the facts as well as to consider the principles involved. Of course, that is a great difference. What I am suggesting to your Lordships is that it ought to be a matter of understanding which, if not enforced by rule, should be at least observed in practice, that the clerk of a local authority proposing to purchase land for a cemetery or any other of the purposes of local government should communicate with the clerk of the local authority of the area concerned. The objection in this case, in regard to the 70 acres purchased by the Borough of Wimbledon at Randalls Park, just west of Leatherhead Station, was that the price would have been raised against the intending purchaser had it been known that a local authority was inclined to bid. I have no doubt that may have been so in this case, and may be so in other cases, but it does not seem to me to cover the real objection to what goes on now. It is not very dignified for a local authority secretly to send down agents to survey and report on the land without anybody in the locality knowing they are there or that it is proposed to devote the land to a cemetery.

If money is to be made I submit that, as in other cases, the owner of the land ought to benefit. In this case it was an old man—I believe not in full vigour of mind, or at any rate not able very well to take care of himself, and undoubtedly the Wimbledon Corporation got the land at a bargain price, though they will have to spend upon its conversion to a cemetery a very large amount for the purposes of drainage. Still, in any case I do not think that the interests of the ratepayers of the purchasing authority ought to be the first consideration. It seems to me that it is not in accordance with the standards of our local government that one local authority should invade the territory of another in this way, without any communication to its brother authority on the spot. Confidence begets confidence, and I believe it to be in the interests of good local government, which is the foundation of British greatness, that there should be full and fair communication between local authorities in such a case as this. That is the point which I venture to submit to your Lordships' House, and although I do not expect that any rule can be framed, if the Ministry of Health can feel that that was your Lordships opinion I do not think that these scandals will recur. I have no motion to make—I simply draw your Lordships' attention to the fact.


My Lords, as my noble friend has mentioned, he was Chairman of the Committee which examined into this Private Bill, and he came to me and asked my views in regard to this question. The question is whether one local authority should go into the area of another for any purpose without informing the local authority in which the land is situated, and under whose control it is, of their intention. I did not think that it was at the moment my province to express an opinion, and I suggested that my noble friend should bring the matter before your Lordships' House when the Bill came up for Third Reading. I think it is a Matter on which we should seek guidance from the Government—from the, responsible Department concerned—and when they have expressed their considered opinion it will be for the advantage of the Chairmen of Private Bill Committees to learn their views. I do not think I can express an opinion on the matter on its merits, but that it should be left to the Government.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Burnham apparently told the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman of Committees, that he proposed to raise this matter, but unfortunately no such intimation has reached me, and the first I heard of what he had to say was when I was listening to him a few moments ago.


I announced it at the Committee, when the Ministry of Health officials were there.


I was only explaining that as Leader of the House I knew nothing of the business, and know nothing now beyond what I have heard since the noble Viscount began his speech. I have done my best to find my noble friend Lord Gage, who normally represents the Ministry of Health in this House, but unfortunately I have not been able to ascertain his whereabouts. There seem to me to be two possible alternatives. Quite obviously it is impossible for me to express a considered opinion, because I have none—I have not considered it—and I should have to consult the Ministry of Health and ascertain from the responsible Minister what his own views were. There are, as I have said, two alternatives—either to adjourn the debate, to enable the Minister of Health to express an opinion, or, if your Lordships thought fit, to pass the Third Reading now, on my undertaking to communicate to the Minister the views which the noble Viscount has expressed.


Whichever you think more convenient.


I gather that my noble friend does not desire that this particular Bill should not pass. Therefore, perhaps it will be convenient if you should pass it now. The observations of my noble friend obviously have raised a, question of importance, although I will not go so far as to say that it shakes the foundations of British greatness. At any rate it is a point of importance, and a point on which there ought to be settled practice. If he will leave me to communicate what he has said to the Minister of Health I am sure that the Minister will consider the matter and, if necessary, put himself in communication with my noble friend.

On Questions, Bill read 3a, and passed, and sent to the Commons.