§ Order for Third Beading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, he was sorry to interpose between the House and the third reading of this Bill; but he felt obliged to ask the House to re-commit the Bill for the purpose of introducing a new clause. The circumstances, as they had been brought to his knowledge, were these. The Bill would apply to certain Crown property in the possession of the Post Office. In the Bill as it stood originally when it went before the Select Committee, there was a clause protecting that property, and saving the Act of 1865, under which, the property was acquired. That clause was struck out by the Select Committee, and for some time it was thought that the Act of 1865 would not be interfered with; that the Committee had taken a proper view of the ease, and that the 1426 rights of the Crown property would not be affected. But, upon further investigation, it was believed that the Bill, in the shape in which it now appeared before the House, would override the provisions of the Act 28 & 29 Viet.; and, under these circumstances, he asked the House to re-commit the Bill for the purpose of enabling him to introduce a clause which would leave the 12th section of the Post Office Extension Act of 1865 untouched. He was extremely sorry to be obliged to interfere at so late a stage with the promoters of a Private Bill, and he only did so in the interests of the State, as there had been doubts thrown upon the action of the Bill in regard to the Crown property. He found himself obliged to ask the House to consent to the introduction of a clause, and for that purpose it would be necessary to re-commit the Bill. He should, however, be willing, if the House consented to insert the clause, to move that the Bill be re-instated in its present position, and read the third time. At the same time, he considered, late as the period of the Session was, that he was bound to propose the re-committal of the Bill for the purpose of moving the clause he had indicated.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "be" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "re-committed in respect of a new Clause,—(Saving rights of the General Post Office,)"—(Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson,)—instead thereof.
§ SIR CHAELES FORSTER
said, he was instructed to represent the views of the promoters of the Bill in regard to the proposed clause.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is necessary, before the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir Charles Forster) addresses the House, that I should put the Question. The original Question was that the Bill be now read the third time, since which an Amendment has been moved to leave out the words "be now read the third time," in order to insert the words "re-committed in respect of a new Clause." The question I have to submit is that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."1427
§ SIR CHARLES FORSTER
said, he was instructed by the promoters of the Bill to express their readiness to adopt the suggestion of the Secretary to the Treasury, and to insert the proposed clause.
§ MR. T. CAVE
, who had given Notice of opposition to the third reading of the Bill, said, he might state at once, in reference to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury, that as far as he (Mr. T. Cave) was concerned, if the House permitted the third reading of the Bill at all, he should offer no objection to the clause which the hon. Gentleman now proposed to introduce. The clause, as it originally stood when the Bill came down from the House of Lords, appeared to the Committee upstairs, of which he (Mr. T. Cave) was a Member, to give additional privileges to the Post Office. They were not disposed to interfere in any way with the privileges the Post Office already enjoyed; but, at the same time, they were indisposed to confer upon them any additional privileges. It was on that account that the Committee struck out the 12th clause He thought, however, the Members of the Committee would agree with him that the clause, as it was now proposed to amend it by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury, made it negative instead of positive, and he should offer no objection to the replacing of it in its present form in the Bill. He felt bound to make some apology for trespassing upon the patience and time of the House at so late a period of the Session, and upon a Private Bill of this nature. It was with reluctance that he did so; but he thought the House would agree with him, when he explained the motives which induced him to oppose the measure, that he had no other course open to him. On Friday last, on the Consideration of the Report of the Committee upon the Bill, an objection was taken to the further progress of the measure. He had promised the opponents of the Bill to be present in order to explain their views upon the matter. He made the promise in perfect good faith, and the opponents, accepting his promise, were not prepared with another Member to lay their views before the House. Unfortunately, the discharge of other duties prevented him from fulfilling his engagement, and therefore it was that some of the thoughts and views 1428 of the opponents of the Bill were not placed before the House. He proposed to lay them before the House now, with the indulgence of the House, and in a very few words. In the year 1545—it was necessary that he should recite in a few short sentences the history of this Bill, and the legislation which it proposed to carry out, so that it might be understood by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The Bill, as it stood, would materially affect the position of real property, and would deal with it in a way in which it had never been dealt with before by any Act passed by Parliament. He, therefore, sincerely trusted that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House would give him a short but attentive consideration. In the year 1545, St. Bartholomew's Hospital became the lay impropriators of the tithes of Christ Church, Newgate, and in that position they were empowered to levy tithes to the extent of 2s. 9d. in the pound. But, in consideration of their doing so, they were bound to repair the parish church, and they did repair the parish church until the Great Fire of London. In that great fire the church was burned down, and from that time to this St. Bartholomew's Hospital had failed in its duty, and had not repaired or, as far as he was advised, had not paid a single shilling in respect of the repair of that parish church. For the last 200 years, and since the Great Fire of London, St. Bartholomew's Hospital had accepted from the authorities of Christ Church, Newgate, an annual payment of about £200. This had been going on for two entire centuries.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I understand from the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. T. Cave) that he has no objection to the Bill being re-committed with the view of inserting the clause proposed by the hon. Member the Secretary to the Treasury. That being so, the more convenient course would be to allow that clause to be introduced, and upon a future occasion, when the Bill has to be considered as amended, or upon the third reading, he will have the opportunity of making the Motion of which he has given Notice.
§ MR. T. CAVE
said, he was disposed to bow entirely to the suggestion of the Speaker. It would probably be the most convenient course to reserve his observations until the Bill, as amended, 1429 came on for consideration. At the same time, he might be allowed to point out that a considerable number of Members had come down to the House expressly for the purpose of considering and discussing the Bill, and he hoped they would not be inconvenienced by his acting in accordance with the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair.
§ MR. RAIKES
As I understand the course about to be taken, I must confess that it appears to me to be a somewhat embarrassing one. I understand that my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury proposes, in the event of the House accepting his Motion, tore-commit the Bill, in order that the clause which he proposes to insert may be introduced in Committee of the Whole House now, and after that is done, he further proposes to ask leave of the House to re-instate the Bill in the position in which it now is. That being so, I presume that the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. T. Cave) will be in a position to offer the observations he wishes to make later on, and I propose to reserve anything I desire to say in regard to the merits of the Bill until that stage is reached. At the same time, I feel that I am bound to point out to the House the extraordinary inconvenience of the unusual course which has been taken by the Post Office authorities in this matter. It is really almost playing with the Forms of Parliament when a Public Department before which a Bill of this sort has been throughout the whole of its career, only deems it necessary to object to the measure at the very last, or almost the very last, stage in its progress —namely, when it is proposed to read it the third time. The Bill has already passed through the other House of Parliament; it was brought down here, read a second time, committed and debated on the Motion for considering the Report of the Select Committee, and yet the Post Office authorities never thought proper to move in the matter until the Bill comes before us for third reading. I know it will be said that they inserted a clause in the Bill in its passage through the House of Lords, and that that clause has since been struck out by the Committee of the House of Commons. But the hon. Member for Barnstaple has told us that the Committee struck it out because they thought that it unduly enlarged the powers of the Post Office. 1430 Anyone who is familiar with the course taken by the Post Office in regard to Private Bill legislation will confirm that remark of the hon. Member. The House will remember that in the course of last year, in no less than 30 or 40 Bills, it was proposed to introduce unusual and extraordinary powers affecting the Post Office, and the powers of the Postmaster General; because the Government, at great expense to suitors to this House, thought it necessary to insert clauses in Private Bills instead of dealing with the matter in a general public measure. I agree, therefore, with the hon. Member for Barnstaple and the Committee upstairs that it was not necessary, in this Bill, to give increased and undue powers to the Post Office. I think the House should be careful as to allowing particular Departments of the Executive Government to override the general legislation. I have not the slightest wish on this occasion to oppose the Motion of my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury, and I do not, for one moment, wish to impute to him that he is in any way concerned in the matter. I believe it was only in the course of this morning that the matter was brought under his notice, and he has taken the earliest opportunity of calling attention to it. But I do think the House would do well to note the course which is taken on the part of the Post Office; and although I do not oppose the Motion of the Secretary to the Treasury, and see no objection to this clause being introduced in the Bill if the House thinks proper to do so, yet I have considered it my duty, as guardian in some degree of the interests of suitors to this House, to make these observations.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
thought the remarks which had been made in regard to the Post Office should not be passed by without notice. He would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government that, as on repeated occasions, Select Committees of that House had investigated the condition of most of the Public Departments—the Admiralty, the War Office, and other Departments—there was no Department that would be so much benefited by a thorough overhauling as the Post Office. He would, therefore, ask the Government whether, during the Recess, they would not consider the question of appointing a Special Com- 1431 mittee, or a Royal Commission, to inquire into the whole management and condition of the Post Office administration? If that was done, he was sure the House would be astonished at the things done by the Post Office, and the public would be greatly benefited in the way of economy by a thorough overhauling of that Department.
MR. J. COWEN
said, the clause it was proposed to insert in the Bill might or might not be judicious or desirable. With this he had nothing to do. All he had to say was that hon. Members who had not had the advantage of being Members of the Committee—and were not, therefore, so familiar with the advantages of the Bill as the hon. Member for Barnstaple—knew nothing of the nature of the clause, or how it would affect the measure. He thought that the clause, or a draft of it, ought to be submitted to the House before they proceeded further. To ask them to recommit the Bill without having the clause before them would be decidedly wrong.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
If the House will give me its indulgence for a moment, I should like to say a word or two after what has been said by my hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Raikes). I think I am bound to enter a protest on the part of the Post Office against the remarks which have fallen from him, and in defence of their conduct in the matter, I may say that the Post Office did take every possible precaution, in order to carry out what I am asking the House to carry out now—namely, to protect the rights conferred upon them by the 28 & 29 Vict. In order to prevent the risk of this Act being set aside, they introduced a clause in the Bill when it was before the Committee in "another place." That clause was struck out by a Committee of this House; and, as I have stated already to the House, the Post Office have endeavoured, if possible, to meet the views expressed by the Committee. They were disposed, if it were possible, to assent to the omission of the clause altogether; but, on further consideration of the case, it was held by the legal advisers of the Post Office, consulting with the Legal Advisers of the Crown, that it would be necessary to retain the 12th section of the Act 28 & 29 Vict., which confers certain 1432 privileges upon the Post Office. I believe I stated what the effect of this section was when the hon. Member for Newcastle was not in the House. The object of the clause now proposed is to provide and make certain that nothing in the Act shall interfere with the Post Office Extension Act of 1865—the 28 & 29 Vict.—in regard to the imposition of tithes rates as well as poor and other rates. That section gives certain powers and certain exemptions to the Post Office, and all I ask is that those powers and those exemptions shall be retained, notwithstanding the passing of this Bill. This being the object of the clause, it was found necessary that the re-committal of the Bill should be moved before it could be inserted. I confess that I have made the proposition with very great regret at so late a stage of the Bill; but my attention was only called to the matter late last night, and I endeavoured at once to meet the difficulty as far as I could. In the interests of the Post Office it is absolutely necessary to make this proposal, and I believe there is no objection on the part of the promoters to assent to it. I may add that the Post Office authorities have done all they could in "another place," and in all the stages of the Bill to guard the interests of the Crown property.
§ MR. E. JENKINS
suggested that the best course would be to re-commit the Bill and print the clause before proceeding further with the measure.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, proposed, "That the Bill be re-committed in respect of a new Clause."
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
I hope the hon. Member for Dundee will not adopt that course. I have endeavoured, as clearly as I can, to explain to the House the object of this clause, and I have pointed out to the House what is the object of the action which the Government have been forced to take. I feel bound, in the interest of the Post Office, and in order to prevent inconvenience, to ask the House to allow this clause to take the course I have suggested. The words of the clause are— 1433Nothing in this Act shall repeal or alter any of the provisions of the Post Office Extension Act of 1865, and Section 12 of that Act shall be read as if the words 'tithes rates' had been inserted in that section.The words used in the section are "poor or any other rates," and my proposition is that tithes rates should be included.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
asked whether this new clause would in any way affect the general question of the opposition to the Bill? It must be borne in mind that, only a few nights ago, opposition was raised to the measure by his hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll). He was not aware that the re-committal of the Bill would re-open the question raised on a previous occasion, and therefore he asked for information, because he did not think that the decision they came to the other day should be altered by a clause which they had had no time to consider.
§ MR. T. CAVE
remarked, that while the House was entitled to look carefully at a clause of this importance, especially after attention had specially been drawn to it by the Chairman of Ways and Means, still he was bound to say he thought the clause was not unsatisfactory as it was now introduced by the hon. Member the Secretary to the Treasury. The Post Office had distinctly abandoned the claim for new powers which was put forward in the clause as originally proposed. Having, therefore, abandoned the ground which the Committee thought they improperly took up by trying, sub rosa, to get powers which they did not enjoy under the 28 & 29 Vict., he saw no objection to the insertion of the clause which it was now proposed to substitute.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned." —(Mr. Edward Jenkins.)
§ MR. RAIKES
I hope the hon. Member for Dundee will not persist in the course he has now proposed. The clause proposed on behalf of the Treasury is, in reality, only a Government clause, and it is not open to the same objection 1434 that applied to the clause which has been struck out by the Committee upon the Bill. That being so, I think it would be inconvenient, at this period of the Session, and at this stage of the Bill, to protract unnecessarily the consideration of the measure. I think the best course would be to re-commit the Bill, and insert the clause; and then, if the hon. Member for Derby, or any other hon. Member who takes an interest in the question, thinks it desirable to adjourn the stage of the third reading, that would be a very proper course to take. It will be a very difficult matter to resume the debate if an adjournment takes place as proposed by the hon. Member for Dundee. I hope, therefore, the hon. Member will not press the Motion he has made; but when the next stage is taken, if no objection is made to proceeding further with the Bill now, I think the House of Commons would agree, under the circumstances, with the propriety of postponing it.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL - HUGESSEN
said, he was about to say very much of what had been said by his hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means— namely, that it would be undesirable at that particular moment to adjourn the debate, especially as there were other stages of the Bill upon which a discussion might be raised. He quite agreed with the remark that had been made, that it was a very bad precedent to have new clauses sprung upon the House upon the third reading of the Bill. The hon. Member for Barnstaple opposed the Bill upon other grounds, and the grounds of his opposition might be discussed on the third reading, by which time the Bill would have been reprinted, and the clause would be before the House. At present, they knew nothing about it. He would suggest that his hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Jenkins) should allow the clause to be added to the Bill; but on the proposition for reading the Bill the third time, there should be a reasonable delay, in accordance with the Forms of the House.
§ MR. DILLWYN
thought there was a great deal of force in the arguments which had been brought forward by his hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees against the course pursued by the Post Office. The matter was one of very great importance, and had great weight 1435 in his mind, so much so that he could scarcely follow the hon. Gentleman in his proposal to permit the Post Office to revise that clause. He entirely demurred to the establishment of a precedent that they should allow clauses of great importance like this to be sprung upon them without any notice at all. The clause was of very great importance indeed. This was plain, although they had barely an opportunity of seeing it. It appeared to him that it involved the principle of exempting the Post Office from the payment of rates, and it would be a most dangerous precedent, and might involve them in extreme difficulty in the future, if they allowed, without contest, new clauses to be sprung upon them in this way without ample time to consider their effect. He could not, therefore, agree with the proposition that they should at once re-commit the Bill, and insert the clause. He thought they ought to have time carefully to consider the clause before they passed it.
§ SIR SYDNEY WATERLOW
trusted the House would not allow the progress of the Bill to be stopped. The clause proposed to them by the Government was a very simple one, and one to which neither the promoters themselves, nor those who opposed the Bill, could possibly object. What did it amount to? It amounted to this—that nothing in the Bill should in any way repeal the powers already given to the Post Office under a certain Act of Parliament which the Secretary to the Treasury quoted. It could not be supposed for a moment that the House would desire or attempt to interfere with the rights and powers of the Post Office. He believed that the power affected by the Bill as it stood was that conferred upon the Post Office with regard to rates generally, the right being given to not being assessed at a greater amount than the amount at which it was assessed before the new building was erected. He believed it was intended by the promoters of the Bill that the Post Office should not be so assessed, and, therefore, the promoters would not object to the insertion of this clause, and he could not suppose that the opponents of the Bill would. He ventured to think that the House would agree with him that they ought not, at this period of the Session, to obstruct the progress of a Private Bill, but that they would permit it now to make some pro- 1436 gress. The merits of the Bill were fully debated the other day.
§ SIR PATRICK O'BRIEN
said, that if the clause were merely to provide that the Bill should not interfere with the general Statute affecting the Post Office, no Member in that House would feel inclined to oppose it in any way; but, as well as he could gather from the Secretary to the Treasury, the end of this clause contained other matter than a mere Government clause. If his ears did not deceive him, the end of the clause contained matter quite different from an exemption of the Post Office from the operation of the Bill. He thought there was something about church rates towards the end of the clause, as it was read by the hon. Member the Secretary to the Treasury.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Bill re-committed in respect of a new Clause.
§ On Question, "That the Clause be read a second time?"
§ MR. MUNTZ
protested against the mode in which it was attempted, without Notice, to introduce the clause. He thought it was establishing a very bad precedent. There might be many Members who were opposed to the clause, but who would have had no opportunity of knowing that it was to come on.
Clause read a second time, and added to the Bill.
§ SIR CHARLES FORSTER
wished to state, on behalf of the promoters, that he acquiesced in the suggestion that the third reading of the Bill should be taken to-morrow.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I wish to point out to the House that the next stage of the Bill is the consideration of it as amended, and after that there will be the third reading. Upon both of these stages the pleasure of the House can be taken, and therefore the hon. Member for Barn-staple (Mr. T. Cave) will have two opportunities of bringing forward his Re-solution.
Bill reported, with a further Amendment; as amended, to be considered Tomorrow.