HC Deb 09 April 1872 vol 210 cc955-66

, in moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice, said, that the latter part of the Resolution was not contained in the Notices. The Bill was a Bill promoted as a Private Bill by the Metropolitan Board of Works, and it would be in the recollection of the House that on the occasion of the Motion for the Second Reading, he (Mr. Hinde Palmer) moved to refer the Bill to a Select Committee as a Public Bill; but that he was not successful, the House having decided that the Bill was to be considered as a Private Bill only; and it was referred to an ordinary Private Bill Committee. His reason for moving the present Resolution was, that whereas in ordinary cases all those who were opposed to a Private Bill had to go through the process of establishing their locus standi before a Committee, in the present case the promoters of the Bill, the Metropolitan Board of Works, were a body elected by the vestrymen of the parishes and ratepayers, out of whom the opponents would come; and they would, therefore, be able to say—"We, who promote the Bill, are your representatives, and you have no right to be heard against us." But he contended that this was not a mere Private Bill in which the ordinary course was to be pursued. Last Session a Bill was passed as a Public Bill to enable the Board to raise £10,000,000, and there was an express provision restricting their powers of borrowing to the amount; but now the Board came there with another Bill to enable them to repeal that former Bill, and to extend their borrowing powers to the extent of £2,500,000 additional. If the former was a Public Bill, this Bill, he contended, was at least in effect a Public Bill also; and it was only by tacking on to it clauses for effecting local improvements, and so creating individual interests in the parties affected, that it was made a Private Bill at all. But the Bill was one to tax the whole of the metropolis to the extent of £2,500,000, in addition to the £10,000,000 which the Board had been authorized to raise by a public enactment, and on that ground he ventured to say that this was a peculiar and special case, and not similar to that of an ordinary Private Bill. His Motion, he would further remind the House, was in conformity with the precedent of last Session, when the House made a precisely similar Order for the same kind of Bill. The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving his Resolution.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That all Petitions presented against the Metropolitan Street Improvements Bill be referred to the Select Committee on the Bill; and such of the Petitioners as pray to be heard by themselves, their Counsel, or agents, be heard upon their Petitions, if they think fit, and Counsel heard in favour of the Bill against the said Petitions; but the Committee is to be at liberty to require any of such Petitioners to combine together in their opposition, so as to limit the number of separate appearances by Counsel or agents."—(Mr. Hinde Palmer.)


said, his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. H. Palmer) had fallen into an error which it was desirable to set right at once. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said, that whereas some time ago a Public Act was passed to regulate the finances of the Metropolitan Board of Works, the present Bill was of such a nature that it was, in fact, an attempt on the part of the Board to repeal that Public Act by means of a Private Bill. But he (Mr. Ayrton) said that so far from this Bill being an attempt to repeal any part of the former Act, it was entirely in accordance with it. The object of the Public Act was once for all to place the finances of the Metropolitan Board on a satisfactory footing, in order that the Board might carry out its transactions by means of a Private Bill like this without coming to the House on questions of finance; and the reason why that Act was a Public Act was, that it affected transactions into which, previous to that time, the National Exchequer had entered by way of guarantee; and that Act put an end to the system of guarantees, and placed the expenditure of the Board on such a footing that it might hereafter be able to proceed without the necessity of having further recurrence to public legislation. The Public Act applied not merely to the £10,000,000, but to any charge to be thereafter sanctioned by a Bill like that under discussion. Therefore, what was now being done was entirely in accordance with the intention and provisions of that Act. He thought that his hon. and learned Friend had fallen into another error, when he said that the course he now proposed was in accordance with the precedent set last Session. But the House had already discussed that question in the present Session, in a rather full House, and had decided by a considerable majority that the Bills of the Metropolitan Board of Works should be regarded as Private Bills. That being so, all the rules relating to Private Bills must necessarily apply. Nothing he conceived could be more inconvenient and more wasteful than the course proposed, nor less in accordance with the spirit of the improvements the House thought it had effected in the conduct of Private Business. Nothing could be more unjust, because it would enable one district which had already been benefited to oppose the expenditure in another district which had been neglected; whereas it was the duty of the Board of Works to deal justly in its proposals with all the different sections of the metropolis; and nothing more inconvenient, because it would in effect supersede the functions of the Committee instituted by this House, for the express purpose of deciding the locus standi of parties seeking to oppose Private Bill's. He, therefore, trusted the House would not consent to upset the decision it had already come to in a much larger House in the present Session.


said, that the House having decided, after much consideration, that this was a Private and not a Public Bill, it would be very inconvenient if it should now draw back from its decision, and say that it was a Public Bill. And even if it were a Private Bill, nothing could be more objectionable than the proposal of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. H. Palmer) for if carried, it would upset all the regulations made by the House for the better transaction of its Private Business. The House had appointed a tribunal specially to consider the locus standi of persons who desired to oppose Private Bills; it gave the greatest possible care and attention to the cases that came before it; and he had no doubt that in the case of those represented by the hon. and learned Member, all those who were entitled to appear before it would be allowed to appear. Nothing could be more injurious than that this House should take upon itself to admit parties without reference to the constituted rules for the conduct of Private Committees.


supported the Motion. He thought that when an additional burden of £2,500,000 was about to be laid by a Private Bill upon a body of taxpayers, that constituted an exceptional case. As to the argument that the Metropolitan Board of Works represented the interests of all the districts of the metropolis, he might observe that the Corporation of London was represented on the Board by three out of 47 members; but the City paid one-eighth of the entire rates. This was certainly no adequate representation. He thought there was a great difference between this and a Private Bill. The Metropolitan Board of Works were a public body, founded by a public Act for the execution of public works: for this purpose they had been authorized by a Public Act to raise the sum of £10,000,000. They now sought to take authority by a Private Bill to levy on the metropolis a further sum of £2,500,000, one-eighth of which would be paid by a particular district. It seemed to him childish to say that by calling this a Private Bill such a body as the Corporation of London were to be precluded by technical rules from appearing before a tribunal by which their large interests were to be decided.


said, that although the propriety of the course taken by the Corporation of London in seeking to oppose this Bill had been vindicated in the course of this discussion, it would be of the utmost inconvenience that the House of Commons, having after a full debate and by a large majority, already decided the question, it should be called upon to re-consider its decision, on the ground that the Corporation of London was not adequately represented on another body—the Metropolitan Board of Works. If that were so, the Corporation ought to come to the House and get the injustice remedied; but he protested against the House being called upon to set aside its Rules to meet a supposed injustice with which it had no concern. The hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Serjeant Simon) argued that the Bill was to be regarded as a Public rather than a Private Bill by reason of the magnitude of the sum involved. But that would be a most inconvenient principle to set up. Was the House to establish a sliding scale by which to determine which was a Private Bill and which a Public Bill? The hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. H. Palmer) seemed to argue that because he had failed in his previous attempt to get this Bill regarded as a Public Bill, he was logically entitled to carry a Resolution, which would have been perfectly correct and consecutive if he had succeeded; but nothing could be more inconsistent than that the House, having come to a Resolution one way, should now accept a Resolution which could only have been proper if they had decided the other way.


said, that London consisted of many component parts, and, undoubtedly, the ratepayers were not altogether satisfied with the Metropolitan Board of Works. They were in the habit of saying that the Board did not represent them. He recollected that on a former occasion some years since, the right hon. Gentleman the present Chief Commissioner of Works joined with him in proposing clauses to be inserted in a Bill introduced by the Metropolitan Board of Works, the object of which was to give greater powers to the Board. His right hon. Friend was then a great Reformer, and his proposal was that the Board should be elected by the ratepayers, not by the Vestries. But what was the present position of the Board? It might be said that the Board was self-elected, as they were all vestrymen, and none but vestrymen were elected. The Chief Commissioner proposed that the ratepayers should elect their representatives at the Metropolitan Board directly; and if that alteration had been made, he did not think there would have been any complaint now. But, dealing with a self-elected body, it was very natural that the City of London and the different parishes of the metropolis should claim to be heard before the Committee, on the ground that they were not adequately represented on the Board which had introduced the Bill for taxing them to so vast an amount; and he hoped they would be allowed to appear by counsel, so that there might be a proper discussion and full information be supplied independently of that which would be given by the Metropolitan Board. As the Chief Commissioner had now told them, the Board could borrow money to any extent they pleased, without seeking powers from the Legislature, which went far beyond the question of levying rates—it came to this, that they might burden the metropolis with any amount of interest, until at last the debt of the Metropolitan Board of Works would become like another National Debt, and the ratepayers of the metropolis would have to raise the money to pay a vast annual burden in the way of interest. What was sought by the Resolution of his hon. and learned Friend was, that the ratepayers of the metropolis should be allowed a locus standi to state their objections to the Committee.


I hope that the discussion of this question will not degenerate into a mere squabble between the City of London and the Metropolitan Board of Works. I, for one, am hostile to such a course of proceeding, and after what has been said to-night by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Ayrton), and the noble Lord below me (Lord John Manners), I should not have obtruded any observations of my own had it not been for the numerous mistakes which have been made. My hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down (Mr. Locke) has talked of the Metropolitan Board of Works as a self-elected body, and as all being vestrymen. What on earth he meant I really do not know. All I can say is that one of the last representatives who came to us—a most able gentleman, and brother of two hon. Members of this House—was not a vestryman at all when elected. [Mr. LOCKE: He is the only one who is not, then.] All the remarks, therefore, that have been made about self-elected vestrymen are dissipated to the winds, and I think the hon. and learned Gentleman would have been much wiser if he had not made that speech at all. He talked of the borrowing powers of the Metropolitan Board of Works as if we were going to raise a vast National Debt. Does he not know that every farthing that has been laid out, or that is to be laid out, is allocated by Parliament to drainage operations, embankments, and the various other purposes of the Metropolitan Board? Does he not also know that the Board take care to reduce a certain portion of their debt year by year either by buying up a certain portion of their bonds or by paying off a sixtieth part? The hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. H. Palmer) wanted to persuade the House to accept this Motion, and he adopted the principle of concession. But I think that before he did that he ought to have looked at the 93rd clause of the Standing Orders of this House, and one of the reasons why I ask hon. Gentlemen to oppose this Motion is that it is directly in the teeth of that Standing Order, which says that the Referees shall decide. And the hon. and learned Gentleman will also find there in the Standing Orders that a Select Committee is able at any time to give locus standi to anyone they like notwithstanding what the Referees say. The hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Serjeant Simon) has also made several mistakes. A paper has been sent round by the City of London, and when the hon. and learned Gentleman read it he did not understand it; but I do not wonder at that, because he has not mixed in the affairs of the Metropolitan Board of Works. He told us that these improvements were sanctioned by 19 votes to 16, but he is entirely mistaken there. Of course, I cannot carry in my mind all the divisions that have taken place. I can only say that some of these improvements were agreed to almost without a dissentient voice, and that many were agreed to by a very large majority. What the hon. and learned Gentleman is referring to is this—that the other day at the Metropolitan Board of Works there was a Motion upon the Thames Embankment Bill, and some one wished that counsel should not appear against the locus standi of certain persons. That is the history of the 19 votes to 16—it had nothing whatever to do with this Bill. I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will be glad to be corrected by me on this point. Another mistake he made, and which I hope he would also like to have corrected, was when he spoke of the heavy rates. He cannot look into his rate papers, or else he would find that the rates have been reduced to 2½d. I must ask the House to affirm the decision which they came to on the 4th of March last, and I would ask the hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Serjeant Simon) not to use the language that we, the Metropolitan Board of Works, sail under false colours, for I, as Chairman of that body, beg to protest against it. We do not sail under false colours; but we act as a body constituted by Parliament to do their duty to the metropolis faithfully and economically for all the ratepayers of London.


said, the hope expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Truro (Colonel Hogg) that this debate would not degenerate into a mere squabble between the City of London and the other parts of the metropolis had been met by the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke), who seldom said a word in favour of the City except when he went to dine there. The fact was this—that this Bill was promoted by the Metropolitan Board for the purpose of taking power to do certain important things, and to increase their pecuniary obligations by a very large sum. Now, as he understood, if this Bill went before a Private Bill Committee, no one would be competent to appear before that Committee but the Board of Works themselves, who would state their case without anyone being allowed to answer it. Now, on behalf of the ratepayers who did not concur in the views of the Metropolitan Board of Works, he objected to this, and should support the Resolution.


said, that if the hon. and gallant Member for Truro hoped that this would not degenerate into a contest between the City of London and the Metropolitan Board of Works, still more did he (Mr. Dodson) hope it would not degenerate into a contest between the metropolitan Members and the Rules and Practice of the House of Commons. If the constitution of the Metropolitan Board of Works were defective, that was an argument for reforming it, but not for departing from the ordinary Rules and Practice of this House with regard to Private Bills. If an exception were made in this instance, it would be found very difficult to resist similar applications in analogous cases. The Rule and Practice of the House was that persons who were represented on local bodies were not to bring their local quarrels here, and claim to have their internal feuds settled by Committees; any more than the shareholders in a company could appear against a Bill promoted by the company, unless their interests as affected by the Bill were distinct from those of the company. They elected their own representatives and were bound by the acts of those representatives so far as the House was concerned. By Standing Order 158 the rule was laid down that where a Bill was promoted by an incorporated company, the shareholders of such company should not be entitled to be heard unless their interest as affected by the Bill should be distinct from the general interest of the company; and by analogy the same rule was applied to representative bodies and those whom they represented. This was no recent extension of the rule, but the established practice in regard to corporate bodies in general, and to the Metropolitan Board of Works itself. If, however, the persons referred to by the Resolution could show to the referees that their interests were distinct from the interests of the Board which promoted this Bill, they would be allowed a locus standi, and would be heard. He hoped the House would adhere to the decision it had already given. There were 22 Petitions against the Bill, and no doubt some of the Petitions would have a good locus standi.


regretted to dissent from the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Dodson). Although he had the highest appreciation of the ability with which his hon. Friend had presided over the Committee of Ways and Means, he was surprised to find his hon. Friend, within 24 hours of his resigning his Chairmanship, again endeavouring to undertake to preside over private legislation. He was gratified notwithstanding that they were still to have the benefit of his guardianship and guidance; but, at the same time, when his hon. Friend said that the position of the metropolis was in respect to the Board of Works strictly analogous to that of shareholders in companies, and were represented in their corporate bodies, he must say he altogether dissented from the position. There was no such place having a corporate capacity as the metropolis. The metropolis consisted of 10 cities and boroughs grouped together under this Act, and there was, no analogy as regarded identity of interests as existed between Liverpool and other great cities and their respective corporations. The interest of the several districts of the metropolis with their 3,000,000 of inhabitants, with each other, and with those of the Metropolitan Board of Works were different, and always must be different. Then how was it possible if these bodies, having such divergent interests, were not permitted to be heard, that the Committee could have anything but an ex parte statement before it?


interposed with some reluctance and diffidence, considering that the authorities to whom that House was accustomed to listen with deference had expressed a strong opinion on the subject. That opinion was, that the ordinary Rules of the House should be enforced in this case; and the ordinary Rule, though not expressed in words, appeared to be that where a representative body promoted a Private Bill, the persons represented by that body should not be allowed to come forward as opponents to that Bill except under special circumstances—they were not allowed to have a locus standi in the Committee; and that argument was completed by stating that the Metropolitan Board of Works was a representative body, and that therefore different bodies forming different parts of the metropolis ought not to have a locus standi in opposing their Bill. But the hon. Member for Finsbury had justly pointed out that there was a peculiarity in the composition of the metropolis which made the application of that Rule a matter of some difficulty—the great difference—the great divergence of interests presented by its different sections. And the hon. Gentleman the late Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Dodson) had drawn an analogy from the case of the shareholders of an incorporated company. But was the analogy complete? Parliament provided a constitution for an incorporated company, and the shareholders were placed under a representative body chosen by themselves. But though the Metropolitan Board of Works was in some sense a representative body, it was not chosen by the ratepayers themselves, but by members of subaltern bodies elected by the ratepayers for other purposes; so that by this process of double election all relation between the ratepayers and their supposed representatives was destroyed. The noble Lord (Lord John Manners) had said that that might be a good argument for altering the constitution of the Board of Works. But that was an observation in which he (Mr. Gladstone) did not concur. The question was not whether the constitution of the Board of Works was good or bad—the question was, whether the Board of Works was a representative body in the sense indicated by the late Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, so as to preclude the ratepayers from having a locus standi before the Committee. He (Mr. Gladstone) thought it was not. He could not help feeling, therefore, that this claim had much in equity to recommend it, and that these parties would be placed in a condition of hardship if they were not allowed to appear before the Committee.


said, the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) had taken exception to his hon. Friend the late Chairman of Ways and Means for taking part in this discussion. He (Mr. Bonham-Carter), however, felt obliged to his hon. Friend for having done so, as it would have been impossible for him to master all the details necessary to put this matter before the House in the manner his hon. Friend had done. However, so far as in the short time he had had at his disposal, he had been able to look into the subject, he must confess that notwithstanding the high respect he had for the judgment of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, he had been unable to arrive at the same conclusion. He felt that, in the application of a principle, they were bound to support the Rules and Practice of the House, however large or however small the matter. The hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. H. Palmer) had argued that because the former Bill was a Public Bill, this ought to be treated as a Public Bill too; but the former Bill repealed a Public Act, and had characteristics of a Public Bill which were wanting in this Bill. But he (Mr. Bonham-Carter) could find in the present Bill nothing which entitled it to any special exemption from the ordinary Rules and Practice of the House in regard to Private Bills.


thought the present discussion, however it might terminate, was of great value, because it would have great influence on any Resolution to which the House might come relative to the future conduct of Private Business. There could be no longer a question whether this was a Private Bill or not—the House had decided that it was, and therefore the Petitioners could have no locus standi before the Committee. The question really was, whether a case had not been made out that these Petitioners should be specially permitted to appear before the Committee to state their case? The question of the expenditure of millions of money for the improvement of the metropolis was one which concerned a large body of individuals, who ought to have the opportunity of stating whether they considered those improvements to be beneficial or not. He thought that this was a matter which ought not to be treated on purely technical grounds, but that the House ought to allow the matter to be decided by the Committee on its merits for the benefit of the general community, and not drive the petitioners to present their case to the House on the third reading of the Bill.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 108; Noes 150: Majority 42.

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