§ MR. F. S. POWELL
, who had placed a Notice on the Paper to move the following Resolutions:—1. That the range of Local Legislation affecting Towns and other Places ought to be contracted. 2. 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. 3. That no such Bills shall be introduced or passed unless upon proof (to the satisfaction of the Minister within whose department the subject matter lies) that the circumstances are excep- 1667 tional and are not provided for under the Public General Statutes,said, he ventured to lay down the general principle that those who desired to live outside of the general statutes of the realm ought to make out a strong case before being permitted to have private or special legislation. A system, however, had grown up, by virtue of which communities came to Parliament, and, almost as a matter of right and of routine, exempted themselves from the operation of the public general statutes, and constructed local Acts to meet their own wishes and fancies. The number of local Acts in the case of our great towns was in some instances not less than 50 or 60. These statutes were often inconsistent with each other, and difficult of interpretation. He had, indeed, been informed by eminent Parliamentary counsel employed in a local Bill relating to waterworks, that counsel on both sides abandoned all hope of interpreting the Acts taken together; and that it was only by dealing with each Act alone, and throwing out of view all other Acts by mutual consent, that any reasonable progress could be made in the discussion. This circumstance was an incidental illustration of the inconvenience arising from the vicious system which he desired to abolish. He admitted that there were cases in which communities must necessarily regulate their affairs in certain particulars by exceptional legislation; but he believed, after having passed much time in the examination of local Acts, that the number of such communities was greatly exaggerated. On the contrary, he found, on comparison of local Acts, that whole groups of sections were either the same or differed only by the variations of language which must result when two men were engaged independently of each other in expressing the same idea. He found manufacturing towns, having the same industry, the residence of populations in every particular similar, and having similar local circumstances, did nevertheless apply with success for their own local Acts. These local Acts, he would observe, often excluded in express terms the public general Acts, and placed the towns wholly under this private and exceptional legislation. He admitted there would still remain communities which had a claim to some special enactments; but he believed that most of their wants would be 1668 met by amendments in the general laws. Surely a corporate town ought to have power to construct markets and town halls without a special law giving the necessary powers. But this system worked injustice. In public general statutes the Bill was introduced, debated, and passed without cost. Private Acts were attended by costs at every stage, whether of promotion or opposition. Parliament, in fact, abandoning the principle that laws were made equally for all, sold these laws to those who were willing to pay the price. It worked injustice between different towns, because the local Acts gave more extended and unequal periods for repayment of money borrowed, and thereby, by capricious action, diminished the pressure of rates in one town while relatively increasing it in another. The same industry experienced different treatment in different towns. In one town severe regulations against certain trades were enacted; in the next town the same trade was exempted even from the moderate restrictions of the public statutes. But there was still another evil—apart from the mere expense of opposition was the practical difficulty. New clauses were often introduced gravely but indirectly affecting private or public interests which never could be admitted into public Acts. Some weeks since they had an eager debate on Parks in London, and much jealousy was expressed in favour of maintaining foot-paths across them. It, therefore, was with no ordinary surprise that he found a local Act of a great Corporation stopping a much-prized foot-path across one of their Parks. He might say much on the inconvenience of this system; but he thought that he had already laid before the House abundant proof that a prompt and vigorous reform was necessary. It would doubtless be more convenient to take the Resolutions separately, and he therefore begged to move the second of the three Resolutions which he had placed on the Paper.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
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.)
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, he was prepared at once to admit the importance of the question; but, looking at the state of Business, he must express a hope that the hon. Member would agree to the adjournment of the discussion.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday next.