HC Deb 28 July 1871 vol 208 cc449-53

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Deputy Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Goldney.)


said, in the absence of his hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell), it would be his duty to move the Amendment of which his hon. Friend had given Notice. Even had he no other grounds for doing so he thought the House would feel that half-past 2 o'clock in the morning was very much too late an hour at which to begin so important a discussion. But on general grounds, and in the interest of ratepayers generally, he strongly protested against proceeding with that Bill. In the first place, it was a Bill in which ratepayers were much more interested than the Governing Bodies of towns. He deprecated strongly the arbitrary powers which it was proposed to confer upon those Governing Bodies. He also deprecated very strongly the proposal to take away from ratepayers the checks and safeguards which they now enjoyed against plans and schemes brought forward by those Governing Bodies upon insufficient grounds. He repeated that that Bill affected ratepayers a vast deal more than it affected the Governing Bodies of towns and other places, and the interests of the ratepayers were entirely disregarded and set at naught in that Bill. The powers it created were so wide in their bearing that he believed Governing Bodies, if the Bill passed, would be able to undertake almost any mortal thing they pleased. It was impossible for the ratepayers to estimate the amount of the expenditure for which they would be liable if Governing Bodies were to be at liberty to undertake any schemes they might have a fancy for. The powers given by the Bill were so unprecedentedly wide that he said there was scarcely a scheme which Town Councils and other bodies might not undertake, and whether those schemes were wanted or not, or whether they were successful or not, the ratepayers would be obliged to sanction them, and to pay for them. That would be a very great hardship upon the ratepayers. Again, he considered that that Bill would be a great incentive to litigation. It had often been said that when they had one attorney in a small town he starved; but directly they had two, they prospered and grew rich, because one made business for the other. That would be the case here, for one legal gentleman would promote a Bill, another would oppose it, and they would do all this at the expense of the ratepayers. At present the expenditure of every borough was strictly limited and denned by Act of Parliament. That had been so for 35 years, and the system had always worked well. They proposed to remove all those restrictions, as well as the right which ratepayers now enjoyed of appealing to a Court of Law or Equity. Corporations now could only use the borough funds for purposes limited by the Act: but they took away all such limitations by that Bill. Now, he said that at such an hour as that, and at such a period of the Session, they should not be asked to discuss such a question as that. The Bill was a bad Bill when it came into Committee. Hon. Members, however, thought that the powers it conferred would, in Committee, be much restricted. Instead of that, those powers had been considerably enlarged. The ratepayers now were to have no appeal, and where formerly the Bill only applied to towns of 5,000 inhabitants, they had now made it apply to towns of 3,000. Now, it might be true, in large towns like Liverpool or Manchester, where the Corporations were large, respectable, and intelligent bodies, it would be quite right to give such Corporations those powers; but when they proposed to confer them on small towns containing 2,000 or 3,000 people, such a proposal was manifestly absurd. Moreover, there was one clause in the Bill—the retrospective clause — to which he strongly objected. That provision empowered a Governing Body to pay law expenses out of the borough rates in respect of anything done within the last three years. It mattered not whether the ratepayers had opposed those measures. It was notorious that the case which had given rise to that clause, and the Bill generally, was the case of Sheffield. Now, something like 3,000 ratepayers there did not wish the Governing Body to do anything either in the way of promoting or opposing Gas or Water Bills. However, the Corporation persisted, and the ratepayers then subscribed a large amount of money to test the question, and were successful against the Corporation, both in the Court of Chancery and Court of Queen's Bench. Yet, in spite of those proceedings, they were going to legalize and set at naught the decisions given by both those Courts. Such a course was most unprecedented. If there was no other reasons for the step he was taking, the notion of their having to consider an important Bill of that description at that hour in the morning would, he thought, justify him in opposing the Bill in every possible way. He would therefore move, as an Amendment to the Motion for now going into Committee, that the House do resolve itself into Committee on the Bill this day three months.


said, he rose for the purpose of seconding the Motion. The larger ratepayers in the borough he represented entertained the strongest objection to that Bill, and felt sure that if they conferred those powers upon Governing Bodies the amount of rates would greatly exceed those which were now levied. He presented a Petition to that House last week, in which the largest ratepayers in the borough of Ashton stated that they observed with grave alarm the proposal to confer such extensive and unprecedented power upon the local authorities of the district in which they resided, inasmuch as those authorities had involved the district in heavy liabilities for unprofitable undertakings which were not required, and therefore the petitioners emphatically protested against any further powers being granted to the local authorities of the district. He fully concurred in that prayer, and felt satisfied that unless that measure was rejected, it would create great dissatisfaction, and give rise to no small amount of litigation throughout the country.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee,"—(Sir Massey Lopes,)—instead thereof.

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


moved that the debate be now adjourned.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson.)

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 7; Noes 31: Majority 24.

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

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,

House adjourned at Three o'clock till Monday next.