HC Deb 20 April 1874 vol 218 cc1344-57

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that no one would deny the importance of a measure which dealt with the regulation of the buildings of this vast metropolis, with the construction and management of its streets, the regulating the storing of inflammatory substances, with protection against fire, and with many other cognate matters. The object of the Bill was to extend and modify the enactments of an Act which was introduced by Lord Lincoln in 1855. It was the result of a long and careful consideration by the Metropolitan Board of Works, after consultation with numerous persons carrying on the various trades and manufactures affected by its provisions. Notwithstanding this the Board were fully aware that a Bill of this great magnitude, the details of which were of so complicated and technical a character, might be susceptible of improvement, and he was therefore prepared, as soon as it should be read a second time, to move that it be referred to a Select Committee, before which the parties who were specially affected by any of the provisions would be at liberty to be heard by counsel. The buildings of the metropolis were at present under the provisions of an Act passed in 1855 (the Metropolitan Building Act) and its subsequent Amendments; but it had been found in the working of that Act by the Board of Works that many anomalies had arisen under it. And he might here mention that it was exactly 100 years since this matter was first dealt with comprehensively by legislation—namely, in 1774. Since then the provisions of that Act had been amended and extended in accordance with the growing circumstances of the metropolis. In 1844 the Metropolitan Buildings Act was passed for the regulation and construction of buildings in the metropolis; and it repealed and re-enacted with many additions the Act of 1774; and again in 1855, as he had already mentioned, another Bill was introduced and passed by Lord Lincoln, altering to a great extent the Act of 1844. This Act was amended by further statutes in 1860 and 1861 and 1869. The object of the present Bill was to remove the anomalies and amend the defects of the Act of 1855. It was the opinion of the Board that many important parts of this Act required amendment, and they had therefore brought forward the present Bill which proposed to repeal the whole of the existing statutes, to re-enact such of their provisions as seemed necessary and proper. The object of the Bill was fourfold—namely, to consolidate the Building Act, with the Amendments required by experience to confer powers for the regulation and management of the streets, to make special provisions against fire, and to provide better protection for the Board in respect of sewers. He would refer at present only to the more salient provisions of the Bill. Amongst them was one of a very important character, relating to the division of houses by party walls:—it required that houses should be divided by strong party walls of adequate thickness to prevent the extension of fire. By the Act of 1855 the limitation of the cubic contents of a building was fixed at 216,000 feet; but he magistrates had decided that that amount of cubical space might be contained on each separate floor. The Bill proposed that the 216,000 feet should be extended to 300,000 feet, but that the 300,000 feet should comprise the whole building. The recent great fires in the metropolis justified, in the opinion of the Board, such an alteration—take for instance the destruction of the Steam Flour Mills in Thames Street, which was a building 250 feet in length without a single vertical division; while the recent fire at the Pantechnicon was an instance of a building of enormous dimensions with divisions which had proved totally incapable of resisting fire. With regard to the storing of inflammable substances, the buildings in which they were contained were not sufficiently safe; and the Metropolitan Board of Works required increased powers in regard both to the storage of the materials themselves and to the buildings in which they were placed. There could be no doubt that the regulation of this matter was of great importance to the security of life and property. The Bill gave the Board increased powers with reference to dangerous structures. With regard to the public streets and public places, many of which were in a state of great neglect, and stood in need of legislative improvement, the Board asked for increased powers to deal with them. If Parliament granted such powers they would be able to deal with such cases as Stamford Street, where houses had been left for years in a dilapidated condition, and also Leicester Square, which had long been a disgrace to the metropolis and to compel the owners of property to put it into such proper condition as that it would not be a nuisance to the neighbourhood. Another object with regard to streets was that they should be of a width of 40 feet at least. Many owners of property were unwilling, when building streets upon it, to build them of the width of 40 feet, their object, no doubt, was to obtain the largest rental by crowding their land; but this could not be allowed in the construction of metropolitan streets. The Board also took power to enforce their regulations as to the naming of streets and numbering of houses. Then as to the district surveyors:—these were to some extent independent of the control of the Board of Works. The Bill proposed that henceforward the Board should appoint the superintending architect and district surveyors, and should frame bye-laws regulating the qualifications and examination of the persons to be appointed; the district surveyors would therefore act under the direct authority of the Board, and the Board would be directly responsible for whatever might be done under the authority of this Act. He would be quite prepared, however, if it was desired by the Institute of British Architects, to insert in the Bill the clause relating to surveyors which was contained in the Act of 1855, which intrusted to the Institute the examination of candidates for the office of district surveyor. The Board had proposed to effect this arrangement by a bye-law; but they were prepared to introduce a clause into the Bill if the Institute desired it. The Bill gave power to the Board to enforce lines of frontage, to regulate, as he had intimated, the width of the streets and to prevent encroachments upon them, and to limit the height of buildings abutting on any street or open space. It was also proposed that all duties to be performed by a magistrate under this Bill should be assigned exclusively to one of the Metropolitan Police magistrates; and power was given for the appointment of two assessors, who must be architects of 15 years' standing. At present the application under the Metropolis Building Act disturbed the ordinary business of the Courts; moreover, at present there was considerable conflict between the magistrates of different Courts in respect of these matters, and the Metropolitan Board of Works thought that if one magistrate were appointed to exercise the entire jurisdiction in those matters it would secure greater uniformity in the decisions. The Bill contained a clause prohibiting the exhibition of staring advertising placards on the walls and hoardings in the public streets and thoroughfares, and also for preventing the pavements in the public streets from being made a medium for stencilled or painted advertisements. The proposal with regard to placards on the walls and hoardings had, however, excited a great deal of discussion recently in the newspapers, and earnest representations had been made to the Board that if "bill sticking" were prohibited a large number of men, upon whom their wives and children were dependent for bread, would be thrown out of employment and deprived of the means of procuring support for their families. Under those circumstances the Board thought they would not be justified in maintaining that clause in the Bill. But with regard to the stencilling on the pavements, they held that that was not exactly the place for advertisements. They would, however, leave that to the decision of the Select Committee. Objection had also been taken to the provision with respect to the heating apparatus now in use in various houses. The clause in the Bill was, however, identical with the clause in the Act of 1855, and the Board thought it better that the provision in question should go before the Committee. In conclusion, he assured the House that the Metropolitan Board did not wish in any way to interfere with the trade or manufactures of the metropolis. Their object was to give the metropolis the benefit of 18 years' experience of the working of the Act of 1855, and he was sure they would have the approval of the House in their desire that the law should be consolidated. People were expected to know the law, but how could they know it if they had to look for it now in one place and now in another? He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time,"—(Colonel Hogg.)


, on behalf of a very important body, the Royal Institute of British Architects, whom he might claim to represent in that House, there being no other member of the Society in it, said he was glad to be able to express satisfaction with a statement made by the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board. The Royal Institute represented all the architects in the Kingdom, and more particularly those resident in the metropolis. They had had for many years the useful and honourable function of examining gentlemen for the office of district surveyors, and thus, as it were, of licensing and approving them. In fact, the appointment so regulated was a sort of degree, and the gentlemen thus chosen carried with them the evidence of competency. He hoped that such power would not be taken away. The Bill, as it stood, proposed that the statutable rights of the Institute should be remitted to the uncertain provisions of a bye-law. If they were embodied in the Bill itself, the Institute would be satisfied. There were other provisions as to which the body which he represented had misgivings; but as he gathered from his hon. and gallant Friend that the Bill would be referred to a Select Committee, before which ample opportunity would be given for hearing and considering the various objections, he would not at this stage offer any opposition to the Bill. At the same time, he must point out that if the Bill had raised misgivings, its authors were responsible, from the unusual way in which they had drafted it. The old idea of a Bill was that it should appear in a form capable of at once receiving the Royal Assent. But this one began with a sort of preface of observations of an ex parte character. If this precedent obtained, he did not see why Bills should not in future be illustrated by cartoons. He would recommend the Home Secretary to avail himself of Mr. Tenniel's very able pencil for the Licensing Bill, while no doubt the hon. Member for Carlisle could obtain the services of Mr. George Cruikshank.


said, he had himself given Notice of a Motion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, and he therefore heard with satisfaction from the hon. and gallant Member for Truro (Colonel Hogg) that he himself proposed to adopt that course. The Bill had been in the hands of the public only a few days, and yet he was himself assailed by representations from the different trades and manufactures at the East end of London as to the immense mischief which would be occasioned by the provisions of the measure. His hon. and gallant Friend said that the Metropolitan Board of Works did not ask for any new and extended legislation; but if he looked more closely into the Bill he would find that it proposed most important and extensive alterations. He might almost say that if the measure were passed in its present shape it would practically banish manufactures from the metropolis. The Bill proposed to limit the cubic space of every building—now it was well known that the modern tendency of trade was to extend its operations—the Bill would enforce the manufacturers to contract their works. It was true that a clause was relied on to relieve manufacturers in cases where the Board should otherwise direct; but he would observe that it was unreasonable to expect owners of factories to submit themselves to the alternative of coming cap in hand to the Metropolitan Board for their permission, and failing to obtain it to sacrifice their power of carrying on their businesses, after having already spent large sums to enable them to do so. Then, under the words of the Bill, the Board would be enabled to interfere with the operations of the great Dock Companies. He presumed this could not be intended; it certainly could not be allowed. He thought the traders and manufacturers had not been sufficiently consulted; and speaking at the request of a great number of very important interests, he could only say that they did not admit that this Bill had been framed in accordance with their views. The Bill had clearly been framed principally, if not wholly, to avoid fires—a very desirable object, he admitted, but one that could only be entertained when proposals to restrict risk from fires were so framed as to leave the greater and more important interests of trade and manufacture free from objectionable interference fatal to their success. As to the district surveyors, they had hitherto been an independent body, examined and approved by the Royal Institute of British Architects, and the traders and manufacturers of the metropolis had reliance on them. But this Bill proposed that the Metropolitan Board should be invested with power to select whom they thought proper for the office. [Colonel HOGG said, the Board intended to give way on that point.] Yes; but then the Board proposed to make regulations, regarding their examinations, by bye-laws. [Colonel HOGG: It was intended that clauses should be inserted in the Bill.] Though he would not oppose the second reading, he hoped the various interests affected by the Bill would have full opportunity of being represented by counsel or otherwise before the Select Committee, and that a certain interval between the second reading and the reference to the Select Committee would be secured by the House.


said, he had hoped that the "harassing legislation," on which the late Chancellor of the Exchequer prided himself, had come to an end with the last Government; but it would be difficult to find a worse specimen of that legislation than was contained in the present Bill. If the "placard" clauses had been persevered with, he should certainly have opposed the Bill. He was glad his hon. and gallant Friend had, upon that point, "surrendered at discretion," and rendered it unnecessary for him to oppose the Bill. The effect of such a provision would be to throw a number of people out of employment.


said, that the Bill, unless it were greatly modified by the Select Committee, would interfere seriously to the detriment of the trade and commerce of the metropolis. However, he understood that the hon. and gallant Gentleman was willing not only to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, but also to adopt the very terms of the Amendment which he put on the Paper to insure that the various parties affected should be represented by counsel before the Committee. [Colonel HOGG intimated assent.] That being so, he would not offer any opposition to the second reading; but he trusted the Home Secretary would make it his business to see that the sanitary condition of the Metropolis was not injuriously affected by the Bill, and that the Members who were to sir on the Select Committee should be properly chosen.


said, that if it was necessary to legislate for the metropolis in the manner proposed by this Bill, he thought the same legislation would have to be applied to all the large towns of the country. He objected to the provision with respect to limitation of 300,000 cubic feet as the contents of any one "building," on the ground that had it been in operation before now, none of the large manufacturing or trading concerns of the metropolis could have been built. That might be easily understood, when it was considered that 300,000 was the cube of 67, and, therefore, to build a house 67 feet high, and 67 feet deep, would leave only 67 feet for frontage. He might be told there was a saving clause in the words, "unless the Board otherwise allow." But why should people have to go, cap in hand, to the Metropolitan Board for permission, as long as what they proposed to build was not detrimental to the public welfare? With regard to the provision for the erection of party walls and the other precautions against fire—looking back to the great fires that had occurred within the last few years, it had been, in his opinion, impossible to prevent some of them from spreading. Take, for instance, the great fire at London Bridge some years ago. He ventured to say that it was impossible for a considerable time to arrest the progress of that fire, fed, as it was, with oil and other inflammable matter. Then, as to fires in buildings supported by iron columns, it was found that those columns, under the action of the fire, gave way as supports, and aided by their great heat to communicate the fire to woodwork, and thus contributed to extend it. In his opinion, such results might be prevented by enclosing the iron columns in brickwork, which would effectually protect them from the action of the fire. Reference was made in the Bill by the hon. and gallant Member the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works to the great fire which occurred lately at the Pantechnicon. The destruction of that building would not have been prevented had this Bill been in force. In that building there were iron doors; but they were all left open, and they were thus of no use in arresting the progress of the flames, and preventing them from communicating from one room to another. In the present Bill he did not see any provision for keeping iron doors shut in buildings, and whatever legislation the Board might advise about iron doors, it would be practically impossible to see that they were kept shut. He thought that the Board should have the right of interference in the case of inflammable materials being stored, but not without. Builders were now allowed to erect sets of chambers, constituting houses, one above the other; and he could not conceive why sets of chambers over one another should not be allowed in manufacturing buildings. With regard to district surveyors, he thought they should be independent of the Board of Works, and that too much power should not be thrown into the hands of the Board; and with regard to the clause in the Bill proposing that a police-magistrate should be appointed specially to hear applications in matters to which the provisions of the Bill were intended to apply, he considered it advisable that two magistrates should be appointed for the duties. There were great objections to the clause by which timber merchants were not allowed to store timber, without placing a wall round it, and if this were to be carried into effect, their premises would have to be considerably enlarged, where there was opportunity for so doing, but where there was not, it would be impossible for them to carry on their trade; he hoped, therefore, that these clauses would be reconsidered. With respect to buildings, he thought the Metropolitan Board of Works had taken an erroneous view of their duties. What they had to do was, to take care that a building was sufficiently safe, and it was only in the case of dangerous structures that they should have the right to interfere. However, he hoped the changes proposed to be made in the Act of 1855 would prove advantageous to the public interest.


said, he did not, intend to join in the chorus of objections to the Bill; he would rather congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Hogg) on having made an attempt to deal on an adequate scale with the Metropolitan Building Act of 1855, which was notorious for its defects—in particular it had allowed a great many houses to be built, which from the beginning were unfit for human habitation. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had acted wisely in expressing his readiness to have the Bill referred to a Select Committee. There were in the Bill many clauses which bore in a very important manner upon the health of the inhabitants of London, and it seemed only natural and obvious that the Medical Officers of the vestries should have been consulted with respect to these clauses. He understood they had not been consulted, and that they objected to many provisions of the Bill; and, therefore, he hoped the Medical Officers would be heard by the Select Committee. With regard to the prevention of fires, he did not hope for very much from the Bill, because, until we had such a water supply that we could have an unlimited quantity in a few minutes, we could not do much to diminish the ravages of fires when they once broke out. It was only by enforcing constant supply, with hydrants in every street, giving a plentiful supply of water immediately, that we could hope to prevent the destructiveness of fires.


said, that so far from complaining of the powers asked for by the Metropolitan Board, he only wished that greater powers than those contained in the Bill had been inserted, because until we had some centralization of authority in London, it would always be the worst governed metropolis in Europe. He thought that before introducing such a Bill us this, they ought to know distinctly what the present state of things was. What were the powers of the district surveyors? The condition of the district lying between the Knights-bridge Barracks and Hyde Park Corner was perfectly disgraceful from accumulations of dirt and the effluvia from drains, which had the effect of producing fever, and of reducing the value of property in the neighbourhood. The district surveyor, it appeared, had nothing to do with the matter, and therefore he should like to know what were the powers entrusted to those surveyors. At the same time he considered the Bill was a step in the right direction.


said, the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Chairman of the Board had stated that the Bill did not interfere with the traders and manufacturers of the metro- polis; but anyone who had read the provisions of the Bill must see that it would interfere most materially with some of the manufactures of London—particularly those that were carried on in the suburbs. However well adapted to streets of dwellings, it was inapplicable to wharfside premises, and it would interfere to such an extent with many businesses that it would drive them away. Because it was difficult to extinguish a fire in a large warehouse, it was provided that large warehouses were to be prohibited; and further, if an existing warehouse were altered or if a fire occurred in it, it was to be divided into a number of cells—which would prevent the proprietor continuing his trade. Warehouses such as those belonging to Messrs. Marshall and Snelgrove, Cook, Pawson, Morrison, and Leaf could not be erected in future if the Bill passed. The Bill was drawn on the same lines as one that, had been twice withdrawn in anticipation of threatened opposition; and therefore its re-introduction had taken London by surprise. Besides being inimical to trades, it was objected to by the Medical Officers of Health, and also by the Institute of British Architects; and a member of the Institute had said to him, "One cannot imagine who can have drawn a Bill which shows so much ignorance of construction." The City Architect told him that he had received no communication with reference to the Bill. If carried out in its entirety it would interfere with the employment of thousands and tens of thousands in the metropolis. As to the limitation of height to 65 feet, the common law rightly protected adjoining properties from detriment, but the proposed limitation of 65 feet was one that would not be listened to in Manchester or Liverpool. If the Bill was not materially altered in the Select Committee, he should move its rejection on the Motion for the third reading.


complained that the Bill went into matters of detail which must seriously hamper architects and builders, without securing any corresponding advantage. He objected to the limitations as to shop fronts, projecting windows, and balconies; for he much wished to see our architects do something to break the dull monotony of the London Streets. Then, as to the width of streets, it was a matter which very much concerned ventilation and the free circulation of air. Instead of requiring every street, however short, to be 40 feet in width, and so compelling the erection of deep blocks of buildings, supposed to be ventilated by wells in which the air was stagnant, he believed it would be more healthy, because more conducive to the circulation of air, if we permitted shorter streets of lesser width to be opened up.


hoped the Select Committee would not meet before Whitsuntide, so that there might be ample time for district surveyors and others to examine the Bill. He trusted the work of the Select Committee would prepare the way for a comprehensive measure of local government for the metropolis, which he hoped the Ministry would introduce next Session.


said, the local government of the metropolis was no doubt a large and serious question, and one which must be entertained at some time; but certainly not at present. This Bill was important in two ways—as affecting the public interest and as affecting trades and industries—it was important that the Regulations proposed by the Board of Works should be made as effective as possible in the interests of the public; and it was important that the interests connected with trade and commerce should have their case amply considered—and it would be the desire of Parliament to get out of any legislation the maximum of public benefit with the minimum of inconvenience and disturbance to private interests. He would not enter into any of the details referred to by hon. Members in the course of this discussion—except to make one observation on the question of fire. The object of some of the provisions of the Bill was to diminish the frequency and, perhaps, also the extent of fires; but he could not help saying he hoped that at some time provision would be made for a more plentiful supply of water to the metropolis. The existing regulations were lamentably inefficient, and before long the matter must attract the serious attention of Parliament. As to the important clause providing for the appointment of a special police magistrate to deal with the questions that would arise under the operation of the Bill, he was inclined to think that justice was better administered by a magistrate dealing with all classes of cases that might be brought before him, and that a Judge, however well intentioned, in dealing with a special class of cases, was apt to get into a groove. He should object also to the peculiar way in which the magistrate was proposed to be paid—a way which interfered with the application of fines and penalties, and took them out of their usual channels. This clause ought not to become law without attracting the serious attention of the Government and of the House. Undoubtedly the Bill ought to be referred to a Select Committee, and to a carefully appointed one; and it was his intention to propose that six members should be appointed by the House, three to represent the Metropolitan Board, and three to represent the trades affected, and that five members should be appointed by the Committee of Selection. It was also desirable that the Motion which stood on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) should be adopted, so that those who would be affected by the Bill should have the opportunity of appearing by counsel before the Committee. The Medical Officers of Health ought also to be heard with reference to the sanitary provisions of the Bill. The Bill was brought in on the 20th of March, and ordered to be printed on that day; and it was delivered on the 1st of April. If counsel were to be heard, the Committee would have to sit some time; and if it did not meet until after Whitsuntide the effect would be to postpone legislation and lose the work which had been done. He therefore proposed that the Committee should sit in a fortnight, which would give time to those interested to prepare the cases they wished to present to the Committee, and would give the Bill a chance of passing this Session.


thought the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman were fair, and would give satisfaction to those whose interests were affected. He must also express his satisfaction at the withdrawal of the clauses relating to advertisements, which had caused great-consternation. It would have been a bad return for the great obligations hon. Members were under to the bill-stickers to have harassed that useful interest at present.

Motion agreed to;—Bill read a second time.

MR. ASSHETON CROSS moved that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.


said, the Bill had been in the hands of hon. Members 29 days; and, if a fortnight were allowed before the Select Committee met, he hoped there would be no further delay. He had brought it in with an earnest desire to pass it this Session. He had no reason to complain of the manner in which the Bill had been received. The district surveyors had to do with buildings only, and therefore had nothing to do with the condition of the sewers in Belgravia, complained of by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight, about which complaint should be made to the Inspector of Nuisances of the vestry. The City was represented at the Metropolitan Board by three members, one an architect, who had taken much interest in this Bill; and, therefore the City could not plead surprise. Streets of 40 feet width were as narrow as could be sanctioned for public traffic. The hon. Baronet the Member for Lambeth (Alderman Sir James Lawrence) complained that the trades of London had not been consulted; but the fact was a variety of trades had been requested by the Board several years ago to state their objections to the Bill in detail. They had been heard vivá voce against several clauses, and all their objections had been duly considered.

Motion agreed to. Bill committed to a Select Committee of Eleven Members, Six to be nominated by the House, and Five to be nominated by the Committee of Selection. Ordered, That all Petitions presented against the Bill during the present Session be referred to the Committee; and that 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:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records: five to be the quorum.