HC Deb 04 March 1846 vol 84 cc620-3

moved for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the 7th and 8th of Victoria, c. 84, for regulating the construction and use of buildings in the metropolis and its neighbourhood, by authorizing the appointment of a third referee. The object of this appointment was to prevent the inconvenience arising from a difference of opinion among the referees; for, if there were only two, and they happened to be divided in opinion, there was no possibility of arriving at a decision. This addition to the number of the referees would not increase the expense; because one of the present referees, each of whom received 1,000l. a year, having declined to act, it was proposed to divide his salary between the one to be appointed in his place and the third referee, giving them 500l. a year each, and allowing them at the same time to pursue their professional avocations, which they would be disqualified from doing under the present law.


said, that if this Bill were to be passed, he should like to have a distinct understanding that some other measure should be introduced in the course of the present Session of Parliament, for the purpose of removing the multitudinous defects which existed in the Metropolitan Building Act of last year. He did not know a single eminent builder or surveyor who did not say that there was but one remedy for that mischievous Bill, namely, the repeal of it altogether. Every one acquainted with its working said that it was almost impossible to amend it. He had been informed of many of the decisions of the official referees, all of them exhibiting the vexation, annoyance, and expense to which parties had been subjected. One was the case of an individual who wished to alter a pigeon house. A dispute arose between him and the district surveyors, and an appeal was made to the official referees, who gave a solemn decision as to whether the question came within the Act. All those cases which were left to the official referees could only be decided upon the payment of very large fees, and those fees must be paid by the appellants, whether the decision were in their favour or not. For every hearing by one official referee and registrar, the charge was a guinea and a half; and by two official referees and a registrar, two guineas. For every final award, according to the decision of the official referees, the charges ranged from one guinea to twenty-one guineas. [Sir J. GRAHAM: They were the fees under the Act.] True, they were under the Act; but it was the Act of which he complained. He was not going to oppose the present Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. On the contrary, he thought it was necessary from the imperfections to be found in the Act. It might be necessary to make what was a bad Act even tolerable; and he should not consider that he had uselessly taken up the time of the House if he succeeded in impressing upon the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, that in every district, and amongst men upon whose authority reliance might be placed, there was but one opinion as to the mischievous effects of the Act. The introduction of this Bill ought to be accompanied by a distinct promise to bring in an amended Bill as soon as possible in the present Session. He believed, however, that the simplest course would be to repeal the Act; and that, by taking up the former Buildings Act, and making a few Amendments, a very good Bill might be constructed out of it. He recommended the Government to consult some of the most eminent surveyors upon the subject. With regard to the board of referees, he should oppose it altogether. It had inflicted great inconvenience upon the public, and he hoped that that part of the Bill would be entirely omitted.


also bore testimony to the dissatisfaction which prevailed. The Act was passed in a considerable hurry, and there was no time given to consider its details. He would impress upon the right hon. Baronet, that, in bringing in any amended Bill, he should take care that its provisions were duly considered; and to do this with advantage, he deemed it to be highly expedient that persons who possessed the necessary information should be consulted. In the parish of St. George, there was the strongest feeling of disapprobation as to the present Act; still he would not go the length of asking the right hon. Baronet to propose the repeal of the law, but to introduce an amended Bill at a period of the Session sufficiently early to enable the House to reconsider the whole matter.


had never heard a measure more generally condemned than the Bill of last Session, and there was no doubt that it had occasioned very considerable inconvenience, vexation, and expense.


did not see the necessity of appointing a new referee, if the Bill were to be merely temporary in its duration. It appeared that the referees were to be allowed to follow their own private business, than which, as public officers, nothing could be more objectionable on principle. The best remedy was the repeal of the Bill of last Session; but if that course were not adopted, he would strongly advise the right hon. Baronet to consult those who were best acquainted with the subject; and though it would not be right to defer the introduction of a new Bill to a late period of the Session, yet he hoped it would not be prepared in a hurried manner.


said, that at the time the Bill of last year was before the House, he marvelled very much that Members representing the metropolitan districts suffered it to pass; for no one who attended to the Bill, or rather the parts of the Bill, and the extraordinary alterations that took place in them, could fail to be convinced that the person who framed the Bill had no uniform system in view, and could have little sound information upon the subject. He had always felt confident that the Bill would not work well, and that it would inflict the greatest inconvenience and annoyance upon every body who was so unfortunate as to live within the range of its operation. For his part, he thought the best plan was to repeal the Bill and begin again.


was extremely sorry that the measure which received the sanction of the Legislature last year should have met with such condemnation; but it should be borne in mind, that in endeavouring to amend the old Act, the Government yielded to the wish of the public, and also, he believed, to the wish of that House. The House would remember that at that period he had a great variety of measures to attend to, and that a subdivision of labour was in consequence rendered necessary. The result was, that this particular matter was undertaken by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests; and his noble Friend directed his most earnest attention to the preparation of the measure. To the best of his judgment he brought it forward as an amended and useful Bill. It underwent a great deal of discussion in that House; and the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Hawes), with his usual assiduity, applied himself to that discussion. He advanced many objections to details; and for the purpose of obviating these, his noble Friend qualified the Bill as far as he possibly could, with the hope that it would work well. He was bound to say, however, that what he had heard from both sides of the House, and in private, did lead him to the conviction that the measure, as it now stood, was imperfect; and he begged to state, on the part of the Government, that they were preparing a Bill to amend the Act of last Session, and that that Bill was in a very forward state. With respect to the Bill he now asked leave to introduce, unless the operation of the existing law was altogether suspended, that Bill was indispensable. Under the Act of last Session, there were two official referees at a salary of 1,000l. a year each; but in giving them that salary they were told that they must not follow their own private business. One of them had since resigned in consequence of that condition being attached to the office, and positively refused to discharge the duties longer. If the disqualification to follow their own business were repealed, there would be no difficulty in finding persons fully competent to perform the duties; and, therefore, it was proposed to appoint two official referees at a salary of 500l. a year each, with liberty to pursue their own profession, in the place of one person at a salary of 1,000l. a year, with the disqualifying condition attached.

Leave given.

Bill brought in, and read a first time.

House adjourned at a quarter before Six o'clock.