HC Deb 29 April 1868 vol 191 cc1564-9

Bill, as amended, considered.


moved the insertion of a clause providing that the Act should not apply to cases in which the freeholder had successfully instituted proceedings and carried out necessary repairs. He believed that the Bill required far greater consideration by competent persons than it had yet received, and that in its present form it would not work.

New Clause (Act not to apply to cases in which freeholder has successfully instituted proceedings and carries out necessary repairs,)—(Sir Francis Goldsmid,)—brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Clause be now read a second time."


said, that when the Bill was last before the House, the Government promised to examine its provisions and satisfy themselves whether it would work satisfactorily. He would be glad to know from the Attorney General, whether that examination had been made, and if so, what was the result?


said, that having spent some time in the examination of the Bill, he had come to the conclusion that its provisions were unworkable. The hon. and learned Gentleman was proceeding to explain, by reference to the interpretation clause and other clauses, the difficulties which would arise with regard to the terms "lessee" and "owner" when—


ruled, that the question at present being, whether this particular clause should pass, a general argument could hardly be allowed upon that question.


moved the adjournment of the debate in order that the preliminary question might be considered, whether in its present form this Bill should be allowed to pass? There was an understanding when the Bill was last before the House, that the Government would make inquiry and satisfy themselves whether the Bill would work. The Attorney General ought to be put in order, for the purpose of making that explanation.


seconded the Motion for adjourning the debate. He thought it a loss of time to discuss the Bill as it stood.


, referring to the clause moved by the hon. Baronet, said, that in the present state of the Bill it only made the confusion in the Bill worse confounded.


said, this Bill had passed through a Select Committee, and on two occasions had occupied the attention of the House at great length. During the whole of this time not the slightest intimation was given that there would by-and-by be such an explosion of legal difficulties. At this stage of the Bill he thought it would be idle to revise and re-consider the whole scope of the clauses. Therefore having done all in his power to carry the Bill, he must now lay upon the Government the responsibility of rejecting it. The Bill had been before the House for weeks, and he must ask the Government to consider, whether it was to the interest of the community that a large portion of the Session should have been wasted upon the measure, in consequence of their Legal Advisers discovering, at the last moment, invincible objections to it. He was astonished at this sudden change of tactics on the part of the Government; but if the Attorney General would confer with the framers of the Bill, the legal and technical objections which he had raised might yet be overcome.


said, that when this Bill was last discussed the understanding on the part of the Government was that the Law Advisers of the Crown should be requested to consider the particular question then raised. The Attorney General had endeavoured to state the result of that consideration to-day. The pledge given by the Government had therefore been strictly carried out. The Government were really anxious that a Bill of this public importance should pass into law; but of course it could only be on the understanding that it was properly framed to effect the object it had in view. He would suggest that the debate should be adjourned, not with the object of defeating a Bill in which the Government felt an interest, but in order that the Attorney General might confer with the framers of the measure and try to amend it.


said, the Bill was a hastily drawn one, which would be likely to do harm instead of good. He bogged leave to move the adjournment of the debate.


said, that in justice to his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, he must state it was an entire misconception to suppose that he was hostile to the Bill. At a late hour last night he had had a conference with his hon. and learned Friend, who expressed himself friendly to the general principle of the measure, but raised considerable objections to points of detail. If anyone imagined that it was possible to accomplish the object in view by the use of language which was not legally and technically correct he would find himself very much mistaken. He had said on many occasions that there were objections of a very grave nature to be overcome. Some of those objections had been removed, but others still remained. He thought that the originators of the Bill were under an obligation to the First Law Officer of the Crown for the attention he had given to the subject, because the result would be that a more perfect measure would be passed. He hoped that some delay might be allowed in order that the efforts of those who had interested themselves in the measure might not be attended with disappointment.


said, his hon. Friend (Mr. M'Cullagh Torrens) had misapprehended the object of the Attorney General, who did not wish to defeat the Bill, but only took exception to its machinery. It was most important for the proper working of the measure that its machinery should be as perfect as possible.


said, he would beg to remind the House that, very early in the discussions on the Bill, he had pointed out that it was full of technical obscurities affecting the rights of real property, and that it would be absolutely necessary that the clauses which dealt with that subject should be very carefully revised by some competent conveyancer. He thought the Government had only done their duty in the course which they had taken.


said, he had no doubt that the noble Lord the Chief Commissioner of Works had strictly redeemed his pledge, and that the Attorney General had correctly stated the defects of the Bill as regarded freeholders and successive leaseholders. He hoped that in any conference which might take place something more than the strict law of the question would be considered, and that policy would be also taken into account. His own opinion was that persons who had allowed their property to get into a state which was detrimental to the health of the population were not entitled to the same consideration as those who had not been guilty of such laches.


said, that the difficulties connected with the question were so great that if attention was confined to technicalities it would be impossible to pass any Bill at all on the subject. The measure was one to which the people of the country were looking forward with great interest.


said, that whatever the views of the Government were, the metropolis was, in the main, opposed to the Bill. Not that any indifference was felt to the improvement of the dwellings of artizans, but it was thought that this Bill would not effect the object, in view. The parishes had no confidence in the Metropolitan Board of Works, which was charged with carrying out the Bill, and they did not see why the City of London should be excepted from its operation. He could tell the House that, at the present moment, there was a notorious bill discounter who was buying up, on speculation, those houses with which the Bill would have to deal, in order to sell them again. Unless not only legal but substantial alterations were made in the Bill he should vote against it.


said, he thought it unfortunate that the objections now raised by the Attorney General had not been made at an earlier period, before so much time was bestowed on the consideration of the details of the Bill. He felt bound to say in defence of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. M'Cullagh Torrens) that he was over-ruled in Committee on the point of allowing the parishes to carry out the Bill. The reason why the City was excepted was because in the City the works required had been done, and no less than £84,000 had been spent on the dwellings of the poor. He challenged the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Labouchere) to point out any district in the metropolis which had done the same. He would say boldly that the parishes were not as competent to deal with the subject as the City; for the parish authorities had been only ten years in existence, while the City authorities had existed for hundreds of years. He hoped if the Bill was to be re-considered its principle would be taken as settled.


said, he agreed with those who thought that the policy of the Bill should be assumed. The main object was the improvement of the sanitary condition of the poor, and he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Merthyr Tidfil (Mr. Bruce) in thinking that men who had neglected their property to the injury of the public health were not deserving of the consideration to which others were entitled. He had observed that though the hon. Members for Marylebone (Mr. Harvey Lewis) and the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) had never directly opposed the Bill, they had taken every opportunity of throwing cold water upon it. [Mr. HARVEY LEWIS: No, no!]


denied that the hon. Gentleman was justified in saying that he had thrown cold water on the Bill.


entreated hon. Gentlemen to enter into this question in a large and conciliatory spirit. The town clerk of Liverpool, who had been examined before the Select Committee, had stated that the Bill would be of inestimable advantage to that great city. He knew several other great towns to which it would be of the greatest benefit.


said, he thought that the recommendation that more time should be given for the consideration of one or two clauses was very reasonable. The hon. Member who had brought in the Bill knew that he (Mr. Henley) had done what he could to get the measure through. But the subject was very difficult, and it must be recollected that this year the Bill had not met with any unreasonable delay, but had gone through its stages very quickly. It should also be borne in mind that, with any measure which touched property, it was far better to take time so as to put the clauses into shape than to run the risk of the Bill foundering in "another place" on a matter of that kind. The hon. Gentleman knew what trouble the Select Committee had with the subject, and how one scheme after another was put by; and he would be well advised to allow these clauses to be well considered, so that there might be no difficulty afterwards in the working of the Bill. It would be ten times more likely to do good if they did not offend the prejudices of people who might be affected by the measure. It was easier to lead people than to drive them; and if they saw that their interests had not been neglected they would be much more likely to give their assistance in carrying out the Bill.

Debate adjourned till Wednesday next.