HC Deb 21 November 1867 vol 190 cc107-13

The House is aware that at a very late period of last Session a Bill was passed for regulating the traffic of the metropolis. I am informed that the clause in that Act having reference to persons placing goods on the pavement would, if carried out in strictness, do great injury to a large number of industrious people who earn their livelihood in that manner. I have now to ask leave to bring in an Amendment Bill. It is a very short one; but it contains a clause which provides that the prohibition as to the exposing of goods for sale in the manner I have stated shall not apply to costermongers, street hawkers, and other itinerant hawkers, so long as they carry on their trade in conformity with regulations to be made from time to time by the Commissioners of Police. The right hon. Gentleman then moved for leave to bring in the Bill.


said, he should have been glad if the right hon. Gentleman had given the House a little more explanation on the subject, because there were different versions in the newspapers of some observation made by the right hon. Gentleman to a deputation that had waited on him some time since; but the general effect of the reports seemed to imply that in respect of the portion of the Bill of last Session which it was now sought to repeal there had been considerable negligence on the part of the metropolitan Members. There never had been a more unfounded suggestion than that put forward as having been made by the right hon. Gentleman. As the versions of what had occurred while the right hon. Gentleman was receiving the deputation were very various, perhaps an improper use had been made of his name. The Bill it was now sought to amend was brought into the other House early last Session; and on its coming down to that House, he (Mr. Ayrton) suggested that it should be sent for consideration to the Committee then investigating the subject of the Local Government of the Metropolis. The Bill, however, was kept before the House, though nothing was done with it till the 14th of August, when it was read a second time. The next day it was considered in Committee, and on the third day it was passed. If therefore there was anything wrong, it was due entirely to the manner in which it was carried through the House by the Government. With regard to the particular clause referred to, it should be borne in mind that at the time the House went into Committee on the Bill the public had not been allowed the usual opportunity of expressing their opinion respecting the details, and consequently hon. Members had not the usual means of ascertaining which were regarded as objectionable; but he might remind the House that the clause now proposed to be amended was still more objectionable in its original form. It proposed to sweep away all the rights of individuals over open spaces in front of houses in the metropolis. He called the attention of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) to the wording of that clause, and the result was that it was put into its present shape. The right hon. Gentleman himself undertook to introduce the necessary Amendments, and of course the House was obliged at that late period of the Session to accept the Bill as it was placed before them—especially as there was but a scanty attendance of Members, and the majority were on the Treasury Bench. Now, he should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he really proposed to amend the objectionable clauses by taking away any rights possessed by individuals over the land in front of their houses—or, in other words, whether the right to use such, property was to be taken from the persons who paid rates and taxes for the maintenance of the roads, and transferred to a class of people whose only claim to the use of such property was that they paid no rates and taxes at all. Before the Bill was brought forward for the second reading the right hon. Gentleman ought to maturely consider what he proposed to do. If the existing clause were unjust to the costermongers and street hawkers, that proposed to be substituted for it might be equally unjust to persons who had land in front of their houses. It would, in his opinion, be impossible for the House to pass a Bill conferring on the police authorities the right of dealing with property of that kind. He trusted it would be found upon examination that the Bill was not of the nature suggested by the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman.


said, it appeared to him from what the right hon. Gentleman had said, that the Bill proposed to place an unlimited power in the hands of the police for making regulations affecting the trade of persons who sold articles in the streets. He hoped, however, the right hon. Gentleman would re-consider that point, because he (Sir George Bowyer) considered it was too large a power to be vested in the police or any one else, seeing that it affected the very existence of a very large class of people. The police regulations might be quite as injurious to these poor men as the clause to which objection was now made. Unless the Bill contained some limitation, he should certainly feel it his duty to move a clause to render the Commissioners of the Police responsible for what they did, and to prevent their wielding the powers they possessed over the street traders in an arbitrary manner. He wished also to point out that it would be exceedingly objectionable to give to the Commissioners of Police any power in the City of London. The privileges of the City would, he trusted, be treated with due consideration by his right hon. Friend; but if they were not, he should bring the matter under the consideration of the House, unless representatives of the City deemed it their duty to do so.


said, it was satisfactory to find that the Home Secretary had taken the earliest opportunity of introducing an amendment of the Act of last Session, with the view of remedying a great injustice which would otherwise be inflicted by the operation of the Act on a number of deserving poor; but he thought that a portion of Clause 6 also required amendment. That clause provided that when spaces between the footway and the carriage-way were by prescription or otherwise used for exposing articles for sale, such spaces should after a certain period be deemed to be a part of the footway unless they were enclosed by barriers. Now, the right hon. Gentleman might not be aware that in various parts of the metropolis so much alarm had been felt in respect of this clause, that since the passing of the Act the spaces intervening between the footway and the road, over which the public had a limited right of way, had been enclosed by rails. This process had been going on because the owners of those spaces of ground feared that they would otherwise be brought under the operation of the Act. This subject ought to be re-considered, and he hoped that the Amendment Bill would not be passed through that House as hurriedly as the original Bill was, but that time and opportunity would be afforded of remedying many defects of the present Act. For instance, the case of the cabdrivers and cab proprietors ought to be taken into consideration. A very heavy penalty was inflicted on them by the Act, which compelled them to provide lamps for their vehicles. There were 7,000 cabs in London. If each four-wheel cab were to be furnished with two lamps, the annual cost would be £7 for each cab; while the total cost to the proprietors was estimated at between £25,000 and £50,000 a year. ["Oh!"] At all events, the cost would be very great, and it would fall upon a class of persons who even now were scarcely able to exist in consequence of the heavy tax imposed upon them; for it could not be too frequently repeated that each cab had to pay a duty of £19 5s. per annum, besides which every cabman had to pay 5s. per annum for his badge. Though, the tax upon omnibuses had been reduced, no attempt had been made to lighten the burden borne by the owners of cabs. A letter had recently appeared in The Times written by Mr. Haddan, the late Superintendent of the Hackney Carriage Depart- ment of the Metropolitan Police, stating that it was impossible for the cabdrivers to earn sufficient to keep themselves unless they obtained from the public sums in excess of the legal fare. This was a most unsatisfactory state of things, and he hoped, under the circumstances, that the right hon. Gentleman would take an early opportunity of repealing the clauses relating to the cab proprietors, and of introducing a measure consolidating all the Acts—six in number—containing 272 clauses relating to hackney carriages in the metropolis. The duty on cabs ought also to be reduced, in order to enable Londoners to obtain a supply of hackney carriages equal in point of comfort and accommodation to those of Cheltenham, Leamington, Birmingham, and various other towns. London was the worst supplied, because Government had taken the matter entirely into its own hands, whereas in the provinces the regulations were made by the municipal authorities. He thought this was a very good opportunity of amending the laws relating to cabs in the metropolis, and he hoped advantage would be taken of it. He hoped this would be a lesson to all future Secretaries of State that the House of Lords was not the proper place to initiate legislation for the traffic and commerce of the metropolis.


said, he hoped the present opportunity would not be lost of settling several questions with regard to the street traffic of the metropolis, because it was quite obvious that the cab proprietors and the costermongers were not the only persons dissatisfied with the Act. Great complaints were made on all sides respecting the enactments in the present Act of Parliament; and numbers complained that they had never had an opportunity of stating their views on the subject, or of showing the grievances they were likely to endure under the Act, before a proper tribunal. They objected, and properly, to legislation affecting their interests being based merely on the recommendations of a Select Committee of the House of Lords, and passed into law without having been submitted to a Select Committee of the House of Commons. It was suggested last Session by many Members that the measure should be sent to a Select Committee of that House but their advice was neglected, and the consequence was that the Act was not merely objectionable to the classes referred to, but also to other parties who claimed to be heard before a Com- mittee of the House of Commons. Sir Richard Mayne had not attempted to put the Act in force, because he knew it would be impossible to do so without raising a storm about his ears that would put him in a position that would not be at all enviable. Therefore, the Act had been a dead letter up to that moment; and was that, he asked, a satisfactory state of things? He suggested that the Government should consent that the provisions of the Act should not be enforced, and that another Bill should be brought in and submitted to a Committee of that House; and that not only the alteration suggested by his right hon. Friend should be made, but that a Committee of the House of Commons should have an opportunity of considering what other alterations were necessary in other parts of the Act.


said, in reference to what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets, that he was quite willing to bear his share of the blame of passing the Act in its present shape. It was a Bill of the last Government, taken up by the present Government. It was before the House for a considerable time, and at one time he thought there would be no opportunity of passing it. A great many Members were anxious it should pass, and in consequence of their wishes he went on with it, and it ultimately passed that House very much in the shape it came down from the House of Lords. The hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets did not take up the cause of the costermongers, who, in fact, were very probably ignorant of the provisions of the Bill until it was passed. The hon. and learned Member for Southwark wished to refer the whole subject to a Select Committee; but he (Mr. G. Hardy) could only say that if this Bill were so referred, the grievance of the costermongers was not likely to be remedied in the present short Session. It was important that a discretion which did not now exist should be given to the police, and for this reason he had brought in a short Bill to remedy a pressing grievance, leaving other matters to be dealt with by a Committee if the House thought fit to appoint one. As to the statements of the cab proprietors, he was not prepared to assent to them in all respects. They might have grievances, but what they asked for was a consolidation of the law, and it would be hopeless to deal with that now. The question of the cabs was one of considerable difficulty. They complained that there was a great pressure of taxation upon them; but with regard to the lamps, it should be remembered that the Hansom cabs in almost every instance had lamps until, he believed, a law was made to compel them, when they took them all away because they said they objected to compulsory powers. He was told with regard to the four-wheel cabs that it was not necessary that they should carry more lamps than the Hansoms, but that one could be placed in front of the driver on the splash-board, and therefore the large expenditure complained of need not be incurred. He believed that it would be of great advantage to the cab proprietors themselves that their vehicles should have lamps, inasmuch as the cabs might then be seen and hailed from a much greater distance than cabs which had no lamps. The objections of the cab proprietors did not seem to be well supported by the deputation which had waited on him. One proprietor said, "If we do run over any persons we only bruise them a little; we don't kill them as the heavier carriages do;" and that seemed to be the main excuse for not carrying lamps. However, the Bill which he now asked leave to introduce dealt only with a particular grievance. He would lay it on the table and leave the House to deal with it.


observed, that the streets of the metropolis were said to be disgracefully managed, and were a disgrace to our civilization; when, however, a remedy was attempted objections were at once taken to it. It was clear that a city of 3,000,000 of inhabitants required street regulations. Many of the clauses of the Bill were exceedingly useful, and he hoped that the House would hesitate before altering them.

Motion agreed to.

Bill for the amendment of the Metropolitan Streets Act (1867), ordered to be brought in by Mr. Secretary GATHORNE HARDY and Sir JAMES FERGUSSON.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 2.]