HC Deb 28 November 1867 vol 190 cc407-16

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Amendment of Section 6, of 30 & 31 Vict. c. 134).


said, he had considered the objections to the Bill raised by some hon. Members on the second reading, and whether he could not so far meet them as to prevent the Bill operating unfairly. It appeared to him that if the last proviso of the 6th clause of the Act of last Session—that making any space over which the public have the right of way between the footpath and the carriage-way part of the footway—were repealed, and the question of open spaces left to the ordinary law of the country, that would attain the object in view. There would then be no legislation with respect to that particular portion of a street. At the same time, by the discretion he proposed to give to the Commissioner of Police to frame regulations with respect to costermongers, hawkers, and other itinerant traders, they would be fairly protected in their occupation. He hoped the Committee would assent to that mode of dealing with the question. To accomplish it he proposed to add to the clause under consideration words to the effect that so much of the 6th section of the Act of last year as related to the surface of the space intervening between the footway and the carriage-way be repealed. It would then be left open to the Metropolitan Board of Works and others interested to contest, if they thought proper, the question whether the spaces between the footway and the carriage-way should be part of either or not.


, on behalf of the costermongers who had not votes, and were therefore the less likely to find supporters in that House than the shopkeepers who had, contended that these people ought to be left out of the Bill altogether. The Bill, however, would still leave them subject to the arbitrary jurisdiction of Sir Richard Mayne out of the City, and Colonel Fraser within it. With all respect to these officers, they would act upon police views rather than free trade principles. He knew there was an antagonism between the shopkeepers and the costermongers; because the costermongers competed with and perhaps undersold shopkeepers. But he supported the principle of free trade in its largest sense, and if the costermongers could sell for a less profit than the shopkeepers, that was public advantage; and itinerant traders, numbering 50,000, exclusive of their families, ought not to be subjected to the discretion of the police. By ruining an humble class of street vendors not only was there the certainty of entailing upon the poor rates heavy additional burdens, but there was also the risk of adding to the numbers of the criminal class. He believed that no legislation on this subject was really needed; the common law gave sufficient powers of dealing with obstructions of the thoroughfare. It was one thing to prevent obstructions to the thoroughfare, and it was quite a different thing to prevent thoroughfares from being used for all legitimate purposes. The Amendment proposed by the Secretary of State dealt only with one portion of the subject—namely, the space between the footpath and the carriage road, and did not touch the case of the costermongers and other itinerant dealers perambulating the streets, who were left entirely at the mercy of the arbitrary and uncontrolled influence of the Commissioner of Police. Being unable, therefore, to acquiesce in the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, he should certainly divide the House upon the Amendment of which he had given notice, which had for its object to repeal the 6th clause of the Traffic Act of last Session, and thereby to leave the question open for further consideration and for further legislation.

Amendment proposed, in line 6, to leave out from the word "prohibiting" to the end of the Clause, in order to add the words "shall be and is hereby repealed."—(Sir George Bowyer.)


said, he had no doubt the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State desired to meet the question fairly; but he wished to call his attention to the effect of the Government proposal. As far us open spaces were concerned, the question was a very limited one; there were probably not a dozen of such spaces where costermongers assembled, and at most perhaps 200 persons would be affected by the provision under that aspect. But the effect of the proviso at the end of the clause, declaring that every open space in front of a house should be deemed part of the high road, was in fact to deprive householders in every street of the metropolis of control over the open space in front of their own houses. And hence, with the consent and subject to the supervision of the police, costermongers and itinerant traders would be at liberty to carry on their trade, not only in front of any shop, but in front of any dwelling house, and no proprietor would have any right to interfere. Why should the rights or enjoyment of householders be limited in this way? Nobody wanted these powers vested in the police—nobody asked for them; and if anybody was aggrieved under the former condition of things, he could appeal to the general law of highways for their redress. This Bill was a piece of legislation of a very arbitrary character, and one which ought not to be sanctioned. The only way of dealing satisfactorily with the question was to repeal the clause altogether.


said, he could not agree with the view taken by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets upon this matter. The object of the 6th clause of the Act of last Session was to deal with the cases of shops in front of which goods were exposed for sale to the interruption of the street traffic; but it was found that as the clause was worded it would not only apply to these shops but would interfere injuriously with a very large number of itinerant traders, who in many parts of London did not put down stalls but baskets, and with whose trade it was not intended to interfere. Under the previous Act these itinerant traders were allowed to place their stalls and barrows in streets where no inconvenience would result to the public; but according to the Act passed last Session, the police would be obliged to remove these barrows; and thus a large number of small traders would be deprived of their livelihood, and the public would not be benefited. It was to be borne in mind that there were many ways by which the costermonger could sell his goods upon the street. The Metropolitan Police Act gave powers to the police to interfere and remove the barrows from the thoroughfares if the owners "willfully" obstructed the traffic. So far from the protection which this police-power gave to the public being considered sufficient, complaints were continually pouring into the Home Office during the reign of his predecessor (Sir George Grey), calling upon him to adopt more stringent means to abate the nuisance arising from the costermongers. Now, what did the small Bill which he (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) had introduced this Session propose to do? It merely proposed to give the Commissioner of Police more discretion than formerly in dealing with the matter. The hon. Baronet the Member for Dundalk (Sir George Bowyer) complained that this would be giving too much power to one man; but it was to be remembered that the Commissioner of Police was directly responsible to the Home Secretary; and hon. Members would have ample opportunities of calling attention to any regulations which they might think interfered with the convenience or the rights of the public. The Bill now before the House would undoubtedly vest increased discretion in the hands of the Commissioner of Police; but it was to be presumed that he would exercise that discretion so as to promote the convenience instead of the inconvenience of the public. The persons to be affected by the Bill had come before him and stated their case; but they did not object to be regulated by the police. What they objected to was being absolutely prohibited from selling their goods upon the streets, and the being brought into collision with the police or the small shopkeepers, who might be induced to injure them through jealousy. He had regarded the question as simply one of traffic, and that being so, it was proper that it should be placed in the hands of the Commissioner of Police, in order that he who regulated the whole traffic of the metropolis should also enforce regulations which, while giving every proper liberty to the itinerant traders, should prevent them causing inconvenience to the public. He (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) had no desire to put a burden upon the costermongers which was improper. He believed that there were more than 50,000 of these people who were dependent upon their earnings in the streets, and to forbid them to follow it would bring upon the metropolis far greater evils than those which were caused by this traffic; but there could be no harm in giving the Inspector of Police discretion which should enable him to prevent complaints such as had been made so numerously to the Home Office. He hoped the House would agree to the proposal contained in the Bill.


said, he thought great inconvenience would result from adopting the proposal of the Government. If any costermonger willfully obstructed the traffic, the police, under the law as it stood, had the right to move him on. What more was wanted? The law was much better as it stood than it would be with this alteration, which would impose upon the Chief Commissioner of Police the necessity of marking out spaces to be occupied by these itinerant dealers, whether other persons liked it or not. It would be better to adopt the course suggested by his hon. Friend, and to repeal the 6th clause altogether.


said, he could not help noticing that if any measure were proposed for reforming municipal institutions, it was never so heartily opposed as by the metropolitan Members. That had been the case with a measure which he had brought forward with regard to street music—a measure opposed by, among others, the hon. Baronet (Sir George Bowyer), who lived in the Temple, and was spared any annoyance of that description. The present law which empowered the police to interfere when costermongers "willfully" obstructed the traffic was not sufficient, for what construction was to be put upon the word "willfully?" There was a necessity for the costermongers' traffic being better regulated than under the former law, and he thought the present Bill afforded the means of doing so. He thought the measure now proposed a reasonable one, and hoped the Committee would adopt it.


said, that according to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, the 6th clause of the Act of last year was not intended to apply to costermongers and street hawkers. But the present Bill did not bring the law into conformity with that explanation of the purpose of the Act of last Session, but took advantage of the opportunity to place the costermongers entirely under the regulation and control of the police. Now the provisions of the Police Act gave the police sufficient power to interfere when there were wilful obstructions in the streets. In passing through streets frequented by these itinerant traders, he had been often interested in observing at once the total absence of disorder and the immense convenience which this trade appeared to be to a large number of poor persons. Would it be right to put the whole power of controlling such a trade into the hands of the police? As the Bill proposed to put into the hands of the Commissioner of Police a power which might be seriously abused, he would vote for the Amendment.


asserted, from personal knowledge, that the police were not safe persons to be intrusted with discretionary powers in matters such as the Bill dealt with. In Westminster the police inflicted great hardships on the costermongers, who were the camp followers of the poor, supplying them with food at the lowest possible rate; indeed, it was hard to say what the poor would do without the costermonger at this time of year. As an unrepresented class, their interests should be carefully watched by the House; and he would remind the Home Secretary that there were such things as custom and vested rights, and that costermongers had for many years enjoyed certain rights of a much more substantial character than could be claimed for those processions which had passed through the London streets of late, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see that they were not harshly treated.


said, that all the Representatives of the metropolis were united in hoping that the 6th clause of last Session's Act would be repealed. He thought the advantage of repealing the clause over the plan of the right hon. Gentleman was obvious. It would restore the law to what it was; and then if a householder did not object he might have a costermonger before his door; but if he did object he might have the costermonger removed.


said, that if the 6th clause were repealed he should withdraw the Bill. It seemed to be overlooked that the clause did not apply to costermongers only, but to all persona who placed goods on the street for sale, and thereby created a great hindrance to the public; and he could not help seeing that the interest which had been so suddenly displayed in behalf of the costermonger really arose from a desire to relieve the shopkeepers from a clause which inconve- nienced them. The object of this Bill was not to regulate the business of costermongers, but to declare that the Act of last Session should not apply to them as long as they carried on their business in accordance with the rules of the police.


said, that was not an accurate description of the Bill, because it gave uncontrolled power to the Commissioner of Police to make any regulations he pleased with regard to the trading of costermongers. The Bill of last Session was evidently a mistake on this point; it did what the Legislature never intended, and the proper remedy was to bring things back to the state in which they were before the Act was passed.


said, that some regulations were absolutely necessary. The greatest complaints had been made by the Press and the public about the obstructions in our streets; but the moment an attempt was made to put things in order, up started the metropolitan Members and opposed it. It was almost impossible sometimes to get through the crowded streets. It was plain that somebody must be intrusted with power to make regulations, and he knew no better person to whom the duty could be committed than the Commissioner of Police, under the control of the Secretary of State. He hoped the Committee would support the right hon. Gentleman in carrying this clause, which was simply intended to remedy an oversight.


said, what the metropolitan Members were anxious about was that the legislation for the metropolis should not be crude and irrational. The material point was this:—There was a clause in the Act of Parliament which all admitted to be wrong; but the provision proposed by the Government was not a clear one. He quite concurred with the principle of the clause, that a tradesman should not avail himself of the privilege of loading or unloading his goods on the footway for the purpose of exposing his goods for sale. There was already a provision to deal with such cases. To pass a particular clause entitling costermongers to a privilege not possessed by others would be unjust. He was content to leave the matter under the general police law against obstructions. The simple mode of dealing with the matter was to repeal this clause and bring up a new one.


said, it was generally admitted that there was much good in the 6th clause of the Bill of last year; it would not be wise therefore to repeal it. What he would suggest was simply that the two lines which related to street hawkers and itinerant traders should be struck out. This would leave those persons precisely where they were before the passing of the Act of last Session, while all that was good in the clause would then be retained.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes [63]; Noes 30: Majority 33.


asked, whether the Home Secretary would consent to introduce a provision requiring the regulations framed by the police authorities to be laid before Parliament?


replied, that this would be unnecessary, since Parliament would always have a check upon them.


contended that the regulations should be subject to appeal to the Home Secretary, and should be laid before Parliament.


said, a notion prevailed that costermongers would not be able to carry on their business without a license.


said, he had never heard of any such notion. On submitting the Bill to the friends of the costermongers they did not offer a single objection to it.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 2 (Regulations as to Lamps to Hackney Carriages).


proposed an additional clause repealing the 17th and 26th sections of the Act of last Session, being the clauses which referred to hackney carriages. These sections required cabs to be provided with a lamp at night, and fixed 1s. as the lowest fare for a cab hired from a standing. Since the Act of 1853 the prices of horses, provender, stabling, and harness had largely increased, and it was therefore unfair to require the cabowners to provide lamps, which it was estimated would cost £7 a year. His object was to have the whole cab question taken into consideration by the Home Secretary and a comprehensive measure passed. Throughout England and Scotland, with the exception of London, the tax paid for one cab was £5 per annum, and for fifty cabs £170 per annum; while in London the amount levied for one cab was £19 5s. per annum, and for fifty cabs £962 10s. per annum. Sir Richard Mayne had admitted the fact that the London cabs were the cheapest in the country, and yet the Legislature imposed a higher tax upon them than upon any others. The London cab proprietors were at the present moment starving each other out of existence, and it was not now the fitting time to impose upon them fresh charges and fresh duties. They had to compete with the "Underground" Railway, with omnibuses, and steamboats, and were yet more heavily taxed than any of the three. As an instance of the public spirit of the cab drivers, an instance which showed that they were deserving of better treatment, he need only mention the fact that during the snow of last winter, when all the omnibuses ceased to run, the cabs were at the service of the public.

Moved, To insert the following Clause:—("Repeal of Sections 17 and 26 of 'The Metropolitan Streets Act, 1867.'") Sections seventeen and twenty-six of the Act 30th & 31st Victoria, c. 134, shall be and are hereby repealed."—(Mr. Alderman Lawrence.)


reminded the House that they were not now engaged in legislating on the subject of cabs. The House last Session determined upon the postponement of the question relating to fares, and retained only those clauses in the Bill which facilitated the traffic of the metropolis, and it was shown that the absence of lamps in the cabs had occasioned many of the accidents which had occurred in the streets of London. It was last Session considered necessary for the safety of the public that the street cabs should carry a lamp; and one cab proprietor said that this was also desirable for the safety of the vehicles. He therefore hoped the Committee would not consent to repeal these clauses. There had been a great deal of exaggeration as to the cost of one lamp. He was informed it might be burned for 1d. a night; and this was not a great expense when it was considered that the cabs received by the same Act a great boon, in obtaining 1s. for the first mile when they were called off the rank. The Hansom cabs used always to carry a lamp, and he hoped the drivers would restore it.


said, that a maker of cabs told him there was no place to put a light in a four-wheeled cab. The dash-board had been suggested, but there it came in contact with the horse's tail. It could not be put under the cab. If it were placed in front of the window it would not be seen for the driver; and if it were put on the top it was in the way of the luggage on the roof. The lamp was thus not only a great expense, but a great inconvenience. The taxation on the London cabdrivers and proprietors was enormous—higher, indeed, than upon any other class of trades people in this country. The Legislature did not call upon omnibuses, waggons, or any other description of vehicles to carry a lamp, and why should cabs be an exception? He hoped the Committee would strike out the 17th clause.


said, that the 17th clause contained a great deal more than the regulation about the lamp. It authorized the Commissioners of Police to affix a plate or mark to show that a hackney-carriage was in a condition for public use, and to remove such plate when necessary.


assured the right hon. Gentleman that the Commissioner of Police had the power to remove the plate independently of this clause.

Motion negatived.

Colonel TAYLOR and Mr. LOCKE, two of the Tellers in the last Division, having come to the Table, acquainted the Chairman that they had by mistake reported the numbers of the Ayes as 63, instead of 73.

Ordered, That the said numbers be corrected accordingly.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.