HC Deb 25 November 1867 vol 190 cc168-73

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Gathorne Hardy.)


said, he wished to suggest some Amendments which it was desirable to discuss at once rather than in Committee. Many years ago the streets of the metropolis were regulated by the General Police Act, which prohibited the obstruction of the streets by goods, barrows, &c. It put all persons on a perfect equality, and anyone violating the law might, on refusing to comply with it, be apprehended by the police or summoned by private persons. Under this Act, some four or five years ago, a contention arose in consequence of the very summary measures adopted by the police. They began driving away itinerant dealers and stall-keepers and summoning them. Agitation and deputations to the authorities followed, and he was asked to help in obtaining redress for what was considered a grievance, that grievance being that the supposed offenders should be disturbed by the police when nobody else complained. In consequence of his representations to Sir Richard Mayne, an arrangement was come to, that persons with barrows and trucks should not be disturbed by the police except on the complaint of the occupier of a house, or of persons who alleged that a thoroughfare was impeded. That arrange- ment answered perfectly well. After this an Act was passed placing all open spaces, if neglected by their owners, under the local authorities. It was certainly difficult to apply the Act, because the phrase—rather a vague one—was that the space must be "ornamental." That law had left a large number of open spaces in towns untouched, except by the Police Act. Now, the Act of last Session summarily deprived the occupiers and owners of tenements of any rights of property over the open spaces between the pavements in front of their houses and the high road. He had called the attention of the Secretary of State to this provision whilst the Bill was in Committee, and the Secretary of State had admitted that the Bill as it came down from the Lords went too far; but the Act as it was passed absolutely abolished all claim of any person by prescription or otherwise to use this land unless it was enclosed by a railing and no one had been in the habit of passing over it. Some persons complained of the inconvenience to which this Act subjected them; and now a Bill was introduced to exempt those persons, and those alone, from the operation of the Act last year. Costermongers, street hawkers, and itinerant dealers were to have the sole privilege of obstructing the thoroughfare as much as they pleased, subject only to the control of the police. Now, the Bill would raise many difficulties. In the first place, what was a costermonger? It was a very loose word properly used to describe a fruiterer, so that any man who dealt in fruit might hereafter incumber the footway, but not if he dealt in any other article. "Hawker" had a recognised meaning, and referred to persons who were licensed. But licensed hawkers did not deal in these things at all; and "itinerant dealers" did not remain stationary. Whatever might be the meaning of the clause, its results would be most extravagant. The proper mode of dealing with the question was that a person selling goods in the streets should not be interfered with unless the occupier of the house before which he stationed himself, or the persons using the streets, or the local authorities, made some objection. If objection were raised in that way, the case should be considered by a judicial authority; but to give entire authority to the police was most improper. Nothing could be worse than to confer upon a police-officer a kind of patronage over a comparatively low class of society. In what did it end? The police-officer would practically let out these stands and levy blackmail on the costermongers. The proper remedy was to repeal the 6th clause in the Act of last year, which was wholly unnecessary.


said, that the hasty legislation of last Session could not be cured by legislation of a character equally hasty. There was no reason why special rights should be given to costermongers, at the expense of many other persons; and the fact was that many plots of ground in London were now being enclosed for fear the costermongers should squat there. These men did not pay rates or taxes, and medical men said they did more harm than good, for, though their goods were cheaper, they often sold vegetables and fish which were unfit for consumption. Last Session he gave notice to move to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. He thought the present Bill should be directed simply to repealing the 6th section of that of last year, and that in February the Home Secretary should introduce a measure dealing with the whole question, and refer it to a Select Committee in the first instance.


said, he did not see that there was any interference with the rights of property under the section contained in this Bill, for the open spaces referred to had been so long neglected by the owners and occupiers, as to give the public the right to walk over them. Neither was there any hardship in the Commissioners of Police appropriating certain open spaces to costermongers in the same way as commissionaires and shoeblacks were allowed to be stationed in different places. Under the Metropolitan Streets Act the regulation of the traffic of the metropolis was practically handed over to the police, and for that reason the 6th clause seemed as much in accordance with the spirit of the Act as the other clauses. It was not, however, for one policeman to make regulations; it was for the Commissioners of Police to lay down general rules for the purposes of traffic. He presumed that it was the intention of Parliament in passing the Act of last year that the police should have a considerable discretion with a view to regulate the traffic in such a way as to prevent obstructions or hindrances to free circulation, and therefore it was that certain powers were proposed to be given to the police under the Bill now before the House. With respect to the spaces between the footpaths and the roads, to which the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Labouchere) had referred, they were placed under very peculiar circumstances. In many places the apace between the footway and the road remained open for public traffic; in some cases, and under present circumstances, occupiers had begun to enclose them, acting on a dictum of one of the magistrates of the police courts. But they could not take away the right acquired by the public of going over that part of the street when they had agreed to that condition with the Metropolitan Board of Works, even though it had not before become part of the footway by being left open to passengers. Of course, the Bill before the House was open to improvement; but he confessed the suggestions made by the hon. and learned Gentleman did not appear to him to apply. The section of the Act of last year was a good section, but the evil of it was its extreme stringency. Any person passing along the street would be able to lay information against the persons who exposed their goods for sale and it was with a view to get rid of that and to give a discretionary power to the police that the present Bill was introduced. He was ready to discuss with the hon. Gentleman any mode in which it might be possible to render the Bill more efficient; but as it stood it would affect itinerant tradesmen in a very different way from that in which it would affect the fixed traders of the metropolis.


said, that with respect to the spaces between the footpaths and the roads many of them were freeholds, and whether those freeholds had been dedicated to the public was a question for a Court of Law to decide, and ought not to be meddled with by the Legislature. It would be exceedingly desirable to deal with this Bill in such a manner as to repeal that portion of the Act of last Session which related to open spaces between the footway and the carriage way. As to the case of the costermongers and other small traders, the clauses of that Act were no doubt very oppressive. The Act was passed in a hurry, and Parliament was so full of Reform that it could not attend to anything else. He did not think this Bill dealt in a proper manner with itinerant traders, who were a very numerous, industrious, and respectable class. The tendency of police regulations was too much to interfere with the poor. The easier this traffic was made the better; for when the industry of the poor was destroyed they were driven into evil courses or into the workhouses, and then they cost the country money and in one case something more. The more the principle of free trade was carried out with respect to the poor the better. He did not approve the arbitrary power which this Bill gave to the Commissioners of Police to make regulations with respect to a very large class. In this metropolis it was estimated that there were 50,000 people engaged in these humble trades, and to give one man arbitrary power over such a multitude without any appeal or mode of restraint was a thing which the House ought not to do. He did not believe that Sir Richard Mayne or Colonel Eraser would do anything which they thought wrong; but they might make regulations which to them might appear "exceedingly useful," but which might interfere very much with the industry of these poor people. This power was unnecessary—the common law was quite sufficient to prevent obstruction in any thoroughfare. But it was one thing to prevent obstruction in thoroughfares and another to prevent people having the full use of them. One use of thoroughfares was to enable these poor people to go along them and obtain a livelihood by selling articles, and if in some cases obstruction was caused, it was better to put up with a little, to live and let live, than to push matters too far against the poor. The proper course to take would be to repeal the 6th section altogether, and he begged to give notice that when the Bill went into Committee he should move an Amendment to that effect.


said, that in order to amend the Act of last Session, which did an injustice to one very large class in the community, it was proposed by this Bill to do injustice to another. By the Act of last year it was summarily decided that all the spaces between the footpath and the roadway were to be considered part of the footpath; by the present Bill all rights, whether of prescription or otherwise, were to be at once done away with. Instead of repealing the objectionable clauses of the Bill of last year and allowing the matter to be dealt with under the common law, here was a Bill which said that the Act of last year should be carried out in every case except that of costermongers and itinerant traders—the real fact being that the space in question was part of the premises of the owners of the houses. This Bill proposed to reinstate the costermonger, but not to allow the owner of the house to expose his goods on his own premises before his own house. The police were to have full power to permit costermongers to sell goods in front of another man's house—perhaps the very same articles in which the shopkeeper dealt—and vend them to the annoyance and perhaps injury of the shopkeeper. But if a man were, even in unloading, to allow his goods to remain in the open space before his door until he should bring them into his premises he would be liable to a penalty. The legislation of last year took place by the advice of the police and at the suggestion of Sir Richard Mayne, and here was another suggestion which would land them in another difficulty. The simple way out of the difficulty was to repeal the 6th section of the Bill of last year.


also recommended that the right hon. Gentleman should confine the measure to the simple repeal of the 6th clause of the Act of last year. In some cases a right existed on the part of shopkeepers to use the open spaces, and it was unjust to sweep such rights away. He would repeat his suggestion to defer the operation of the Act till the close of the present Session, and meanwhile to give all the parties interested an opportunity of being heard before a Select Committee.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read the second time, and committed for Thursday.