HC Deb 31 July 1877 vol 236 cc212-8

Order for Consideration of Lords Amendments read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Amendments made by the Lords be now taken into Consideration."


moved an Amendment that the Lords Amendments be considered on Monday next. He asked whether if he moved that Amendment and the House rejected it he would be able to move a particular Amendment in relation to the Bill?


Does the hon. Member propose to move to postpone the consideration of the Lords Amendments?


replied that he did.


intimated that the hon. Member would be in Order, in case that Motion were rejected, in moving an Amendment in regard to the Bill itself.


then moved that the Lords Amendments be considered on Monday next. This was the first time during the 11 years that he had been in that House that he had taken the course of opposing a Private Bill on such a Motion as this. He thought if the House would bear with him for a few moments that he would be able to convince it that the Lords had introduced an Amendment in the Bill which involved a principle of the greatest consequence to every inhabitant of this Metropolis, and, indirectly, to the inhabitants of every large municipality in the Three Kingdoms where public improvements were required and was likely to be carried out. His attention was first directed to the subject by reading the Report of a Parliamentary Committee of the Metropolitan Board of "Works, which was subsequently presented to the Board, and every statement in which was endorsed and approved of. In that Report there was one sentence which struck him first with surprise, and secondly with regret, because the Board made itself responsible for the statement that, at the instance of Lord Salisbury, a clause of an exceptional character had been inserted in the Bill in the House of Lords in order to give special and exceptional protection to his Lordship's property. That had been corroborated by the Board, and the Chairman of the Board now in his place would support every word which he expressed in reference to the matter. Nothing was further from his wish than to say anything that could in the slightest degree be supposed to be intended to prejudice Lord Salisbury. He knew that the owner of a large property, whose time was so largely absorbed in public life as was the time of Lord Salisbury, must have many things done by his agents or professional advisers in his name, which he had not time himself to consider, and the importance and gravity of which he did not perhaps accurately comprehend. He desired, therefore, in no respect whatever to bring any charge against Lord Salisbury. But the declaration had been made and commented on from one end of the Metropolis to the other, that a clause had been inserted in the Bill for the special protection of Lord Salisbury; and he knew of nothing during the time he had had the honour of being a Member of the House of Commons which had caused such bitter resentment, as when they heard that a metropolitan improvement had been abandoned, in consequence of the Metropolitan Board accepting a clause inserted at the instance of Lord Salisbury for the special protection of his Lordship's property. He (Mr. Fawcett) desired that that statement should be fully and fairly discussed, and that, if possible, the feelings of bitter resentment and keen annoyance, which he knew to exist, should be removed. He would now proceed to state the facts of the case, and his hon. and gallant Friend the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg) was present to correct him if he should state anything wrong. This Bill was introduced to that House as the Metropolitan Street Improvements Bill. It pro-posed to carry out very important improvements; and of all these improvements, he believed, none was of so much importance as the new street from Charing Cross to Tottenham Court Road. That street would have been carried through a densely-populated and miserable district, and. would have brought the railways in the North of the Metropolis within easier access from the South and West of London. The Bill was considered by a Select Committee of that House, and a Petition was presented to that Committee, on behalf of Lord Salisbury, claiming that the property of his Lordship should be treated in an exceptional manner. This claim, however, was by Lord Salisbury's counsel abandoned, and therefore it never came before a Committee of this House, and this House knew nothing of it. Now, it would have been fairer if, in the first instance, it had been brought before this House. When the Bill got to the House of Lords, however, a clause was inserted, as stated by the Metropolitan Board, at the instance of Lord Salisbury, and he (Mr. Fawcett) would describe exactly what that clause was, and the House would then see the importance of the issue involved. Hitherto in all the great improvements which had been carried out by the Metropolitan Board, the Board had invariably adopted one principle, and that was not simply to take a barely adequate quantity of land for the construction of a new street, but on each side it had been in their power to acquire a certain strip of land which gave them a valuable frontage which they could re-sell, and were thus able to participate with the other contiguous owners of the property in the advanced value given to the land in the neighbourhood by the improvements carried out at the public expense; and in that way great improvements had been effected at a much less cost to the ratepayers than they otherwise would have been; because the Board had been able in a great degree to recoup themselves for the original outlay. That invariable practice the House had always assented to. But by the exceptional clause which had been introduced into the Bill in the House of Lords the practice had been entirely and fundamentally changed, for the clause distinctly and imperatively asserted that only just so much of his Lordship's property should be acquired by the Bill as would enable the Board to construct the street. What, then, was the position in which the Board was placed? They had to construct the street at enormous cost, and they had no chance of recouping themselves with regard to other improvements. The clause went on to state that if the Board should acquire any of his Lordship's property-more than was requisite for the bare construction of the street they should be imperatively obliged, whether they thought it advantageous to the public or not, to sell that land to his Lordship under conditions which would enable him to acquire it at merely a nominal cost. He (Mr. Fawcett) thought that if Lord Salisbury's representatives intended to press this clause upon the notice of the House of Lords, they were bound to have afforded the Committee of the House of Commons an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon it. In the second place, the Chairman and other Members of the Board informed him that they had had to deal with hundreds, he might almost say thousands, of cases of this kind, and in no instance had the House of Lords thought it necessary to protect the owners of property in the same way as they had thought fit to protect Lord Salisbury's property. There was one exception, and it was a striking one. Lord Salisbury said there were several precedents, but the Chairman of the Board would show them that only one was applicable. In 1868, when the Chelsea Embankment scheme was before the House, a clause exactly analogous to the one in question was inserted—in favour of whom? In favour of Lord Cadogan. And how was it inserted? It was considered by a Committee of that House and rejected; but it was afterwards inserted by the House of Lords; and whether they did it with that object or not, the effect of it was that while they did not protect the property of any other owner whatever they did protect that of one of their own body. Therefore, the less said about that precedent the better. It seemed to him that the Metropolitan Board, in declining to carry out the improvements, had, under the circumstances, pursued a course which was unanswerably right. They said that this clause formed a dangerous precedent, because it was impossible for them to accept this clause unless they accepted a similar clause to protect the owner of every property mentioned in the Bill, and not only that, but every single owner of property would have an unanswerable claim to have a similar clause inserted in future. He could understand the action of the House of Lords if the clause laid down a general principle, but it did nothing of the kind. It made no other mention than of Lord Salisbury's property. He wished to call the attention of the House to this—that the Board stated that if this clause was enforced the most urgent and necessary improvement in London would become so costly that it would be impossible to carry it out. Therefore the question was whether a clause introduced for the special benefit of Lord Salisbury should arrest the most urgent and necessary improvement in the Metropolis for an indefinite period of time? He (Mr. Fawcett) thought after that statement he need not apologize to the House for having brought the subject under the notice of the House. He believed this matter had been disposed of in the House of Lords rather in a hurry, without considering the great principle at stake, and a strong feeling had been raised in regard to it in the Metropolis. He was not breaking any private confidence when he stated that he believed Lord Salisbury had expressed himself disappointed that the scheme had been dropped by the Metropolitan Board of Works. When he knew what had been done and how serious the ulterior consequences might be, Lord Salisbury might be glad to have an opportunity of re-considering the question. If it should meet the convenience of his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg), and the convenience of the House, he would persevere with the Motion that the Amendments should be considered on Monday next; but if the House should wish to consider the subject at once, he would be perfectly prepared to propose that the Lords Amendments be dismissed.


seconded the Motion. He would simply confine himself to the statement that the House should not, in his opinion, accept too readily what had been said by his hon. Friend until they had heard the other side. The hon. Member appeared to have a great deal more respect for the Metropolitan Board than he (Mr. Gorst) had. But he thought that the statements of the local Board of Health on the one part, and of the Metropolitan Board on the other, were somewhat highly coloured. His hon. Friend the Member for Hackney had said that the Board were obliged to throw up their contemplated street im- provement in the case in question; but the Board were too much in the habit of acting in that way, and had acted so on many occasions. He therefore hoped the House would allow both sides to be heard.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon Monday next."—(Mr. Fawcett.)


said, he thought that he had a full right to speak on this question. He was not in the habit of troubling the House often; but he ventured to state that in all the transactions which he had in connection with the business of the Board he never had more trouble than in this. He felt bound to state to the House that his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney had brought forward this matter in a very able manner. Their object was the same—namely, the good of the public; but he must ask the House to negative the proposition of his hon. Friend. If the House were to come to a decision on the matter, he hoped that decision would be taken to-day. The Bill contained a vast number of important improvements in the Metropolis. He quite agreed with his hon. Friend that the improvement which it was intended to cut out was one of the most important; but he asked the House whether it was wise, or right, or fair that other improvements, North, South, East, and West, for which the inhabitants of those various localities were earnestly anxious, should all be imperilled simply for the sake of one improvement between Tottenham Court Road and Charing Cross? After due and careful consideration the Metropolitan Board of Works had come to the conclusion that it would be better to wait a year or two than to agree to the clause which was introduced in the House of Lords. If such clauses were adopted, local authorities would find it simply impossible to carry out street improvements. Therefore, he contended that the Board over which he had the honour to preside was perfectly justified in dropping the improvement in order to get rid of the clause in question, which was one of a most exceptional character. His hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gorst) had talked about precedents, and there one or two precedents; but they did not affect the case, except the one to which his hon. Friend (Mr. Fawcett) had alluded. That precedent was created when the Board had before them the great question of the main drainage of the Metropolis. On that occasion the Board decided they had better accept the clause, even at the risk of its becoming an unfortunate precedent—which it had become—than allow the health of the Metropolis to suffer by not carrying out the main drainage in a proper manner. But on the present occasion he thought the Board were perfectly right in resisting the clause. He earnestly entreated his hon. Friend to consider the great improvements which were involved in the passing of the Bill, and not to press his Motion for adjournment. Let them divide at once, if they wished, on the main question whether this House was to be brought into a sort of friendly rivalry with the House of Lords; because after consultation with those who were best able to judge he was assured that to assent to the clause would be to seriously injure the chance of all street improvements.


said, he was of opinion that the House, in view of the period of the Session, ought to determine the matter now, as it would not be in so favourable a position for doing so a week hence.


with much deference to the opinion just expressed by the Chairman Of Ways and Means, said, it would be better to postpone consideration of the subject for a few days. It was evident that if they went on with the Bill now they must have considerable discussion on precedents; whereas if they postponed it they would come to the discussion with a knowledge of those precedents, and be in a much better position to deal with the question. As Private Business, the Bill would still have an opportunity of being discussed any day before Public Business was taken. He thought altogether that the hon. Member for Hackney was justified in dividing the House upon his Motion.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided: —Ayes 96; Noes 98; Majority 2.—(Div. List, No. 267.)

Words aided.

Main Question, as amended, put.

Lords Amendments to be taken into Consideration upon Monday next.

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