Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [13th June],
That the existing system of passing Local Bills on the same subjects as Public General Acts is inconvenient, works injustice between different towns, and leads to unnecessary complication in the Laws affecting Local Government."—(Mr. Francis Sharp Powell.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ COLONEL WILSON - PATTEN
said, that if the hon. Member for the West Riding would omit the words "works injustice between different towns" from the second Resolution, he did not see any objection to the Motion. But he thought it rested rather with the Government to consider the whole subject of Private Legislation and propose a complete scheme.
§ MR. DODSON
said, he should be prepared to support the Resolution now proposed by the hon. Member (Mr. F. S. Powell), if amended in accordance with the suggestion of the right hon. Member for North Lancashire. He was glad to understand that the hon. Member did not intend to move the next Resolution which stood in his name. Parliament intended by the Local Government Act and kindred Acts, and also by the Towns Improvement Clauses, Water Works Clauses, and Gas Clauses Acts, to bring about a general harmony and correspondence in local legislation. This intention was frustrated by the circumstance that Private Bill Committees, each acting exclusively with reference to the case before it, were swayed by plausible arguments of counsel, and too often induced to lose sight of, or to dispense with the application of, the principles which the general Acts aimed at securing. No doubt the circumstances of localities varied, and no cast-iron rule could be uniformly applied, but the general lines laid down by Parliament should be more faithfully adhered to. We should not then have so many anomalies and strange powers introduced, or attempted to be introduced, into local Bills as at present.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, he thought the House ought to pause before agreeing to the Resolutions. The third Resolution, which proposed that no Private Bill should be introduced and passed unless 627 the Minister of the Department was satisfied that the circumstances were exceptional and did not come within the general law, was equivalent to giving the Minister the power of veto; and he did not think that it would be right to place in the hands of a Minister or of the Ministers of the Crown the power of putting a veto on Private Legislation. He thought, however, that notwithstanding the numerous discussions that had taken place on the subject, the time was not yet ripe for the decision of so large a question, and he would move the further adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, he had no objection to vote for the first Resolution proposed by the hon. Member for the West Riding, condemning the existing practice with reference to the passing of local Bills. At present the Local Government Board had no locus standi before Committees with respect to local Bills; but, nevertheless, they had, during the present Session, thought it their duty to examine all such Bills coming before Parliament and had communicated with the Chairman of Committees, and their criticism had been found to be of considerable utility, and to have thrown light on points which had been before obscure. He agreed with his right hon. Friend (Mr. Bouverie) that the subsequent Resolution ought not to be accepted; but the House would not commit itself to that Resolution by adopting the first. What he thought the House ought to do was to make use of the Public Departments of the Government for its own information. He had been considering the matter with the authorities of both Houses, and he was inclined to propose a new Standing Order to the effect that copies of local Bills, when deposited at the Houses of Parliament, should be deposited also with the Local Government Board—that the Board should report on the Bills, and its Report should be laid before the Committees.
§ SIR CHARLES ADDERLEY
recommended that the very important suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board should be taken as a sequence to the first Resolution of the hon. Member for the West Riding. The second Resolution he thought should be omitted under any circumstances, and the third required to be very much modified. There 628 was the most urgent necessity for some improvement in the mode of dealing with local Bills.
§ DR. BREWER
said, the House was suffering from the inconvenience of arguing two different subjects at the same time and interchangeably. The one was the general proposition that private legislation, dealing with matter of a similar nature to that of public Acts should, as a preliminary step to its introduction, be submitted to that Department of the Government which had the charge of such subject-matter—a proposition worthy serious consideration, undoubtedly, as it might tend to prevent those contradictory or unequal enactments which separate private interests contrived to introduce through the means of private legislation into Acts which affected large masses of the population. The other subject was of a more limited kind, and contemplated the recognition of a title to be given to the Local Government Board to require a copy of every Private Bill, before its introduction into Parliament, to be sent to that Office in order that the Bill should be criticized and revised, and the agreement or disagreement of its provisions with Acts in force might be ascertained beforehand. The advantage of such a course was obvious; but the restriction upon the right of public bodies and private persons to come before Parliament for the promotion of objects they believed of consequence to them, afforded far too serious a subject to be dealt with summarily. The stores of private enterprise would be hardly consonant with such limitation, and he thought the House should pause before conceding the whole of the hon. Gentleman's proposition.
thought the proposals of the hon. Member for the West Riding went a great deal too far. It wanted to do away with local self-government, and no one could doubt that if it were adopted there would be a great deal of ear-wigging of the Minister. He did not see how any Minister could fairly judge of the special wants of particular places. Any person who looked at foreign countries and saw what few arterial lines of railway they had might easily conclude that if we had been in the hands of a Minister we should be in much the same position, for a Minister would never have admitted that many of the largest railways we had were required 629 by the necessities of the localities. Moreover, the promoters of a scheme would never be satisfied with the decision of the Minister, and would raise the questions involved in the House. It was better to let people come to Parliament and make out their case as well as they could, and if they did not make it out, they would gain nothing by their motion. He would support the Motion for the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. WEGUELIN
said, it often happened that Bills of several hundred clauses came before a Committee, which had to pick up its knowledge of the subject from the speeches of counsel and such opportunities of reading the clauses as they might have during the investigation. He thought it would be well to have these Bills submitted to some authority for examination before they were laid before the Committees.
§ MR. BONHAM-CARTER
said, the mere introduction of abstract Resolutions of this kind, unaccompanied by practical suggestions, were of very little value:—moreover, he thought the Resolution of the hon. Member for the West Riding was already covered by the Resolution of the House to refer the whole business of Private Legislation to the consideration of the Government. Looking to this, he thought the House should not put upon its records a Motion such as the hon. Member for the West Riding had now proposed, and which seemed to some extent to supersede or override a decision to which the House had already come. He thought it would be far better to wait until the Government should lay a complete scheme before them, and the House could then enter into a consideration of the subject in its entirety. Moreover, in a short time they would have to reconsider the Clauses Consolidation Acts, upon which so much of our Private Legislation depended.
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
agreed with his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board that the Resolution proposed by the hon. Member for the West Riding was a very useful one, and one which it would be well to adopt, for it pointed to the evil which now existed with regard to the unnecessary multiplication of Private Bills on matters which should more properly be the subject of public legislation. Before, however, such a 630 Resolution could be adopted, it was a condition precedent that public legislation on such matters should be in a sound, consistent, and rational condition. He had no experience with regard to the legislation applicable to towns or to sanitary matters; but he believed it was in anything but a satisfactory state.
MR. ALDERMAN W. LAWRENCE
said, that if the third Resolution of the hon. Member for the West Riding were agreed to, the doors of Parliament would be closed against all municipal and local authorities, who would be unable to bring in any measures which had not received the previous sanction of the Local Government Board of the day. He thought that the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board should be formally brought forward by the Government, and not introduced merely in connection with these Resolutions. He hoped the Motion for adjourning the debate would be agreed to.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
also thought that the most sensible course the hon. Member could adopt would be to consent to the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. F. S. POWELL
said, that the discussion had been so satisfactory that he would gladly have withdrawn his Resolution, had not right hon. Members on the Treasury Bench encouraged him to hope the whole subject would be discussed with the assistance of proposals made by the Government during the present Session. Under these circumstances, he thought that he should be acting most wisely in moving the adjournment of the debate.
§ Debate further adjourned till Thursday, 18th July.