HC Deb 06 December 1867 vol 190 cc652-65

Lords Amendments to be considered forthwith:

Lords Amendments considered; read a second time:—


regretted that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had not offered an explanation of the Amendment, since the task of doing so now devolved upon himself. When the subject was last before the House, he (Mr. Ayrton) commented upon a statement attributed to the right hon. Gentleman to the effect that the Act of last Session had passed without due consideration, and implying neglect on the part of the metropolitan Members. The right hon. Gentleman, however, disclaimed the use of the lan- guage ascribed to him, which had been variously reported in different papers. The right hon. Gentleman had since, however, in receiving a deputation which pressed on him the necessity of this Amendment in the Bill, made another statement, as to the terms of which the different newspapers agreed. He would quote from The Times, but it was not the only journal which had given these as the right hon. Gentleman's words— The difficulty the Government was placed in was this—that the Act having been allowed to pass without opposition it was a very difficult matter to alter or rescind that which had become law. This was tolerably explicit; but the matter did not rest here, for the noble Earl at the head of the Government had undertaken to enlighten the public as to the exact circumstances under which it might be necessary further to amend the Bill. The noble Earl, as reported in The Times of to-day, had said— The principal grievance of which the cab proprietors complained, and which appeared to my right hon. Friend, as it does to me, to be a fair and legitimate ground, if not of actual complaint, at least one requiring further investigation consideration, was that in addition to the very heavy duties which they now pay, amounting to £19 or £20 a year upon each cab, an additional burden is now to be thrown upon them which is not inflicted upon other carriages—namely, the expenditure involved in carrying lights. The provision to that effect is found in the Act of last Session, which contained a vast variety of details. It was a great object with both Houses of Parliament that some remedy should be applied to the serious obstructions existing in the streets of the metropolis, and it is possible that some of the details may have passed without that consideration to which they were fairly entitled. But, as far as I am aware, I believe there were not during the passing of that Act any complaints on the part of the cab-drivers and proprietors on this particular point. These remarks were received with cheers, but what the cheering was for he could not say. If there had been any negligence it certainly rested more with the other House than with this, for in that House a Select Committee was appointed last Session expressly to settle the details of the measure. This House only considered the Bill on the 14th of August, and it was placed in a very unpleasant dilemma, for there was a distinct intimation that the Bill must either be adopted as the Government were disposed to give it, or thrown out altogether. The House, therefore, had either to succumb to the dictation of the Government, or incur the odium of obstructing legislation and leaving crying evils unredressed. Three times during the Session did he press for the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee of this House, but the suggestion was rejected; and when the hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Alderman Lawrence) withdrew his Amendment on the understanding that a certain course would be taken, it appeared afterwards that he had fallen into a misunderstanding. When the Bill was discussed in Committee there was a very thin House, which, was entirely in the hands of the Government, and although he insisted on a division against a clause more than usually extravagant, than clause was adopted. As to the cab question, Lord Derby could not have taken any means of informing himself as to the proceedings of this House, for although, unfortunately, the last number of Hansard had not yet been printed, there was The Times, and where could one refer for such a purpose except to the columns of The Times? It was true that proceedings in Committee were usually very much condensed, and that there was not often the advantage of finding all the details of the discussion given; and this was no ground of complaint, for it was a necessary mode of conducting ducting the Reports of the House. In this instance, however, the noble Earl had not the excuse of the brevity of the Report, for on referring to The Times he found a statement entirely consistent with his own recollection, and he believed with the recollection of every hon. Member present at the time. The Report in The Times of his (Mr. Ayrton's) remarks on the cab clause—not a verbatim Report, but the substance of his speech—was as follows:— There was no reason why, with so many lamps in the streets of London, the four-wheeled cab should be made to carry a lamp. If lights were thought necessary for vehicles, they should be required universally, instead of a particular class only being obliged to provide them. He hoped the Home Secretary would consent to strike out the requirement of lamps. He presented, moreover, a numerously-signed petition on the subject. The noble Earl at the head of the Government gave the public to understand that there were no means by which he could find out that any objection was offered to the clause in question. The petition which he (Mr. Ayrton) held in his hand was signed by 175 cab proprietors, who represented that by Clause 1 it was proposed that between sunset and sunrise every cab should carry one lamp. They stated that this was a very objectionable clause, and would put them to needless expense and confer no public benefit whatever. He maintained that it was the duty of a Minister of the Crown, before undertaking the responsibility of asking the other House to agree to a Bill, to read the petitions presented against it, and to give due weight to them, and not persist, in spite of those petitions and the appeals of the representatives of the petitioners, in passing his Bill under the threat that unless their Lordships passed the measure as it stood it would be withdrawn altogether. He could not hold the noble Earl justified under these circumstances in stating to a deputation and to the country that this clause was passed unadvisedly, and without attention to details. He regretted that instead of the Government assuming the full responsibility of this measure, as they ought to have done, they had thus endeavoured to shift it upon the shoulders of those who were in no degree responsible for what had been done. His hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Alderman Lawrence), who had presented the petition of the cab proprietors, objected to going on with the clause at all. All was done that could be done by himself and others, and yet the clause was passed by the Government in spite of their opposition. What was the pass to which the country had come? It seemed that the temperate and intelligent expression of the views of the people was disregarded by the Government; but the moment there was a demonstration out of doors and a scene of outrage the Government were ready, under the influence of their fears, to do what they would not do when an appeal was made to their sense of what was just. Such a mode of conducting the Government of this country was, to say the least of it, unfortunate. It tended to bring both the Government and the House of Commons into contempt. What was the merit of a representative assembly except that it took the decision of a public question from the hands of the people out of doors and remitted it to the deliberations of Parliament? But here this state of things was reversed. The deliberations of Parliament were treated with contempt by the Government, and if they acted at all it was when they were terrified by popular combinations. It was not the first time of late that this had happened. They knew that the clause affecting the use of street spaces was equally objected to, but without effect; yet when 50,000 costermongers were said to be in a state of excitement, then, and not before, the Government were prepared to give an intelligent attention to the subject. The misfortune was that it was impossible to get these matters properly considered. The other day, when Members in that House desired to have these matters considered, they were told by the Secretary of State that unless the clauses were agreed to be should withdraw the Bill. Let the House listen to one of the clauses of the Bill of last Session. It was provided— No picture, print, board, placard, or notice, except in such form or manner as may be approved of by the Commissioner of Police, shall, by way of advertisement, be carried or distributed in any street within the general limits of this Act by any person riding in any vehicle, or on horseback, or being on foot. A tradesman who was not one of the class who got up demonstrations asked him the meaning of this clause, whether it was not incumbent upon persons to send the proof sheets of their advertisements to the Commissioner of Police, and whether the clause did not make him the censor of a certain portion of the Press of this metropolis, because it seemed that both the form and the manner of these advertisements were to be approved by the Commissioner of Police. And many other of the clauses were equally ridiculous. Perhaps the best thing for the House to do was to make an Amendment on the Lords' Amendment as to lamps, and to place upon the Secretary of State the responsibility of carrying out his own measure. What the public objected to in this legislation was referring everything to the arbitrium of the Commissioner of Police, who was not responsible to any one, because he did not sit upon that (the Treasury) Bench, and over whom the inhabitants of the metropolis had no control whatever. It was beneath the dignity of the House to pass the clause as now proposed. The House should enact that all the rules and regulations should be approved by the Secretary of State, and then the inhabitants of the metropolis, if they were given up to the loosest legislation that ever was seen, would not at all events be handed over to an irresponsible officer like the Commissioner of Police. He thought these observations were justified by the course which the Government had taken. He regretted that a Member of the other House, holding the exalted position of First Minister of the Crown, without taking the trouble to ascertain what had been done, should have misrepresented what had taken place and thus entirely misled the public mind.


I am glad I did not make any statement when the Motion was put to agree to the Amendments of the other House; but if the hon. and learned Gentleman had not got up I was prepared to make a statement on that Motion. The hon. Member's remarks were utterly unwarranted by anything I said on receiving the deputation. I do not know what reporter was present at the deputation, but I understood no regular reporter was present, and there was none on my behalf to take any note of what was said. But the hon. Member for Dundalk (Sir George Bowyer) was present, and will bear me out in stating that I did not use a single word to throw any obloquy upon the metropolitan or any other Members of this House. [Sir GEORGE BOWYER: Hear!] I am perfectly content to take the responsibility which I incurred in going on with the Bill—not only of the present, but of the late Government—at a late period of the Session. And I regret the course which the hon. Gentleman has taken in saying that because of the late period of the Session the Bill was forced upon the House by the present Government. The Bill was supported by many Members on the hon. Gentleman's own side of the House, and if the division list is examined it will be found that the question was not between the two parties in the House. The hon. Member has intimated that the Government have been intimidated by the costermongers. Now, the only deputation I saw on the subject consisted of a clergyman and three or four other persons, and neither threats nor intimidation was used, for more respectable and quiet persons I never saw, nor have I heard one single threat on the part of the costermongers in respect to that measure. I knew, however, that it was a question of doubt whether the clause applied to the costermongers. It never was intended to do so, and when I saw there was a misconception which promised to do an injury to this body of men, I brought in a clause to remove it. With respect to cabs, the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) will remember that long prior to the meeting which took place, I had conversed with him, and suggested some amendment in the lamp clause [Lord ELCHO: Hear, hear!], and my only difficulty in making a concession, was the meeting and the outrage which took place afterwards. So far from any intimidation having been practised on the Government, I did not yield to what they required; and the suggestion was made by myself that they should leave the matter to my discretion, but I wholly refused to suspend a law passed by Parliament, as those know who were present. The hon. Member has called attention to a clause which he calls very ridiculous; but that clause received the sanction of both branches of the Legislature. The Bill was before the House for four months. It is true that the hon. Member proposed at a late period of the Session to refer the Bill to a Committee which was then sitting, and of which he was Chairman—the Local Management of the Metropolis Bill. I spoke to one of the Members of the Committee, and I found that they did not wish to meet again. I therefore concluded that the suggestion emanated from the hon. Member himself, and that the Committee could not fairly be called upon to take up the measure. The Amendment is a very simple one. It is to leave to the discretion of the Home Secretary the arrangement with respect to these lamps. That point seemed to me fairly open to consideration, and upon this, among other grounds, that there is considerable difficulty in placing the lamp properly in these four-wheeled cabs. It may seem simple, but if any hon. Member tries, he will find it by no means easy to fix upon the proper mode of doing it. Feeling that, and having expressed that, I did not at all set myself against a further inquiry. Even on the occasion when the hon. Member for the City (Mr. Alderman Lawrence) spoke on the subject in this House, it was in reference to one point only, and I think that both he and the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) will recollect that when the matter was discussed in the last Session of Parliament, it was said, "We are dealing with one isolated point in reference to hackney carriages, and the general subject will be open to further consideration. This only relates to the traffic in the streets." Now, I quite concur in that. With regard to what has fallen from the hon. Member as to my having objected to any improvement of the Bill as originally brought in, it happens that the reports of what is said in this House are sent by the Editor of the Debates to the various speakers, with a view to their being revised and corrected. I have had the report of the remarks I then made placed before me in the course of this morning, and I find that, instead of having objected to all improvement of the Bill, I called upon the House to consider it carefully, and stated my readiness to accept any Amendment which would effect a real improvement, although I said at a subsequent period I would withdraw the Bill if a proposal were carried which would have altered its whole complexion, and done away with clauses which I deemed useful. I said that if such a step were taken it would be my province to withdraw the Bill, instead of accepting Amendments from which I totally disagreed. I do not wish to introduce any personal feeling into this matter. The hon. Member has, however, spoken in a tone which was not called for by any remarks of mine either on the former or the present occasion. As respects what has passed in "another place," my attention has not been called to it, and it is rather unusual to discuss it in this House; but I am quite sure that if the noble Earl who has been referred to had possessed the information, he would not have concealed it in any way. What I referred to myself, and what, I have no doubt, the noble Earl referred to, was the circumstance that a cab proprietor went before the Committee of the House of Lords, and said that he did not object to the use of lamps. Indeed, that appears upon the evidence, as the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets very well knows. I think it was very unfortunate that attention was not more particularly directed to this point when the Committee of the House of Lords was sitting, and when it might have been thoroughly discussed. That Committee sat seven or eight times, and those who wished to give evidence had free access to it. It is true there was no Committee here; but I have never said that the question was not discussed in this House, for had I done so, I should have been not only forgetful, but worse, as I knew the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City had called attention to it more than once openly in the House, and that he had also spoken to me privately on the subject. Therefore, I can say that I did not utter a single word at the deputation about the metropolitan Members, or about any other Members of this House. What I said was, that the proprietors had not taken steps to have the matter brought before the House of Lords' Committee. I am sorry that my remarks were not properly reported; but I believe that no regular reporter was present, and that the published account was based on the recollection of some person after leaving the room. I think it will not be necessary for me to detain the House any longer. I have moved an Amendment which I believe will satisfy the cab proprietors without derogating from the dignity of this House.


said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman ought to feel obliged to the hon. Member (Mr. Ayrton) for bringing this subject forward, as great misconception, in which he had himself at one time shared, existed out of doors. In the previous discussion he had certainly understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he could not make any alteration in the measure. He was glad, however, that the impression then made had been removed by the right hon. Gentleman on the present occasion. In his opinion it was a serious evil that a temperate discussion of the subject in that House should have been delayed, and that concessions should have immediately followed a great public demonstration. This was not the first instance of such a course being pursued. At the same time, he thanked the right hon. Gentleman for having granted a concession which had put an end to the discontent that had been prevalent.


said, that having been present when the deputation waited upon the Home Secretary, he could confirm the account given by the right hon. Gentleman of what had then passed. He could bear testimony that the course adopted by the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion was perfectly consistent with his own dignity and that of the Government, while it was in no way injurious to the dignity of that House. At the same time, the right hon. Gentleman met in a fair and reasonable spirit the strong views expressed by the body of men represented at the deputation. He was also in a position, in consequence of his communications with his right hon. Friend and the First Lord of the Treasury, to state that the Government had not yielded to intimidation, as had been alleged by the hon. Gentleman behind him. It was said at the meeting of the proprietors and drivers that the holding out of a threat would be a difficulty in the way of inducing the Government to make a concession, and it was agreed that no threatening expressions should be used. He was certain, from the interviews which he had had with the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, that if any threats had been made there would have been an end to anything like conciliation at the hands of the Government. In conclusion, he wished to express the pleasure with which he had listened to the remarks just made by his right hon. Friend.


desired to remark, in reference to what his noble Friend had said respecting a threat not having been made, that the concession was made by the Government the day after the strike took place, and on the reception of a deputation from those who organized that strike. However, he was of opinion that the right hon. Gentleman had taken the proper course. The debates on this subject last Session, and during the present, would, he trusted, leave an impression on the minds of some hon. Gentlemen that the regulation of cab fares was not the first duty of the House, and that it might be better to leave the control of public vehicles to municipal management, as was done in other countries. When the right hon. Gentleman took up this question as a whole, and produced a comprehensive measure, it was to be hoped that he would bear this in mind, and would leave the arrangement of the details respecting hackney carriages to some body managing the affairs of the metropolis, who would deal with a matter of that kind much better than the House of Commons.


explained that he had referred to interviews with the right hon. Gentleman before what was called the strike had taken place.


said, it was as well to speak the truth when one knew something of it. It was only fair to the Government to state that a week or ten days ago he had a conversation with the Member for Ayrshire (Sir James Fergusson) on this subject, and the hon. Baronet stated that it was the intention of the Government to treat the question as fairly and liberally as possible in the spring after the Recess. He did not agree that the Bill had been passed without consideration; and he might mention that he had himself called attention to and protested against the clause respecting 1s. on the stand and 6d. off the stand fare. He believed that most hon. Members knew very well what were the contents of the Bill, and mentioned several points alluded to during its discussion to show that they did know. He was pleased to find that the whole subject would come under review so soon.


, said, he was present at the Office of the Home Secretary when the deputation from the cab-owners was received, and he desired, therefore, to express his concurrence with every word that had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary in his account of what had passed there. With regard to the remark of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) about the costermongers, he wished to say that it was he (Sir George Bowyer) who had mentioned them as numbering 50,000, for he said that if the Bill passed as it stood, 50,000 costermongers would be deprived of their livelihood; but neither he nor any one on their behalf had said anything about the excitement occasioned among them. He was very much surprised at the feelings which had been manifested on the Opposition side of the House, and especially at the cheering from the front Opposition Bench at the statement made by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets that the Government had yielded to popular demonstration. He certainly did feel some surprise at that manifestation, and his only regret was that the right hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) was not in his place to give the House his views on the subject of popular demonstration.


bore testimony to the accuracy of the statements which had fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets. He had taken part in the former debate, and he protested then, as he protested now, against any legislation imposing on hired carriages any obligation of the kind that was not imposed on private carriages.


said, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had now made a concession in this matter, which he would not make in response to the representations of Members of that House when the Bill was discussed last Session, and he wished to know what argument had lately been used other than those arguments used before, of sufficient strength to convert the right hon. Gentleman. The question was not simply one between the right hon. Gentleman and the metropolitan Members, but between the right hon. Gentleman and Members of Parliament expressing their views in that House. It would be a most deplorable thing if the public should be led to believe that the opinions put forward in that House were passed over and allowed to have no effect until deputations from public meetings should wait upon the Home Secretary. Those who had taken part in the discussion on the Bill when it was before the House were considerably hurried by hon. Members on the opposite side of the House. Upon one point—whether the regulations of the police were to be sanctioned either by the Home Secretary or by Parliament—he himself had asked a Question; but the right hon. Gentleman had replied to him in the curtest possible manner, and said that he did not think that would be done.


said, the answer to the question of the hon. Member was very simple. The alteration promised by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to the deputation was, that the discretion as to enforcing a certain clause should be left in the hands of the Home Secretary, instead of those of the Commissioners of Police. That alteration was not made previously, because it had not previously been asked for or proposed. The discretion as to dealing with costermongers was also left to the Secretary of State. With regard to the question of general legislation, it had been stated over and over again that the main question was reserved.


said, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary seemed to be under the impression that the Bill had been introduced by the late Government, which was not the case. [Mr. GATHORNE HARDY: I said a Bill was introduced last Session.] This particular Bill was not introduced by the late Government, but it was launched in the other House by the Under Secretary for the Home Department. The right hon. Gentleman was aware when the Bill was under consideration what was the opinion of the metropolitan Members, and that numerous petitions had been presented against the various clauses of the Bill. The Committee to which it was sent in the other House was not an open Committee, and it only sat four or five days, no one being allowed to be present during the sittings except the witnesses under examination, and many persons who were anxious to be heard had had the doors closed against them. He regretted the course which had been taken with regard to this Bill, for it was impossible to deal with the trade and commerce of this metropolis upon a Report of a Select Committee of the House of Lords sitting in private. And although the Bill was sent down to that House in March or April, it was not brought forward until the 14th of August, when from the state of the House it could not be opposed with any hope of success. The House had never heard a word of the measure having been one of the late Government's Bills until it got into difficulties, and then the Home Secretary said "unfortunately it is a Bill which we took up from the late Government." [Mr. GATHORNE HARDY: I did not say "unfortunately."] When the Bill was prepared by the late Government it was fully understood that it was to go before a Select Committee of the House of Commons; but it had not been so committed. The clauses with respect to the costermongers and the cabs were the only clauses which had yet been put into operation, and they saw with what result. Almost the first day of this Session the costermongers had obtained the introduction of a Bill to amend the measure passed almost on the last day of last Session.


, as an Amendment upon the Lords' Amendment, proposed to leave out the words "in respect of the carriage of lamps by hackney carriages," so that the clause would run— No regulations shall be made in pursuance of the Metropolitan Streets Act, 1867, except with the approval of one of Her Majesty's principal Secretaries of State. His intention was that the Amendment should apply to all the clauses of the Bill, so that the police should be unable to make any regulations without the approval of the Home Secretary.


said, that if this Amendment were carried it would be, in fact, necessary for the Secretary of State to interfere in the smallest minutiœ, and the administration of the law would be so impeded that it would be almost better not to have any law at all. It had been said that the Act of last Session had proved a failure in the only two cases where it had been applied. But in the City the regulations which had been drawn up for the traffic of the streets had been put up for twenty-eight days, as the Act required, and they were found so advantageous that not a single objection had been raised to them. These regulations did require the previous sanction of the Secretary of State.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment agreed to.