HC Deb 09 July 1878 vol 241 cc1054-69

Order for Consideration of Lords' Amendments read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Amendments be now taken into Consideration."—(Mr. J. P. Corry.)


said, he had given Notice of his intention to move that the Lords' Amendments be considered this day three months. His object was to secure that the Bill should be thrown out; and he would at once proceed, as shortly as he could, to point out his reasons for taking this course, and the grounds upon which he based his opposition to the Bill. He ought, in the first instance, to explain, that in common with other Members of that House, he had received a paper called a "Statement," which had been issued on behalf of the promoters of the Bill. He did not propose to refer specially to this document, except in regard to one point—namely, that which related to the improvement of the Blackstaff River—and it was upon this point that he intended, in a great measure, to base his arguments in opposition to the further progress of the Bill. It set forth that he (Mr. Biggar) had already opposed the Bill in several ways, and it went on to specify the occasions— It appears that—1st, before the Commission on Local Government and Taxation of Towns (Ireland) which sat in Belfast in December, 1861; 2ndly, in a Petition against the Bill, deposited by him in the Private Bill Office on the 30th day of January last; 3rdly, before the Select Committee of the House of Lords to whom this Bill was referred, Mr. Biggar has made certain charges against the Corporation. With regard to the Commission of Inquiry, which sat in Belfast, he had certainly been examined as a witness there by those who represented the Town Council. Of course, his evidence was on record, and he was prepared to defend the whole, or any part of it. He might say that he had not intended to make any reference on this occasion to that evidence, for this reason—that there was no power in that House to cross-examine him, and he did not like to bring general or specific charges agaiast any persons, unless they had the right by cross-examining him of testing the value of his statements. In the Petition lodged against this Bill, in the Private Bill Office, the House of Lords decided that the parties had no locus standi; so that, as far as that document was concerned, it had no value in regard to the conduct of the Bill, either in the House or before the Select Committee. He was, however, examined before the Select Committee of the House of Lords; but he was placed in this difficulty—that on that occasion he was only examined upon a very narrow part of the Bill—namely, as to whether or not the decision of the Town Council or of Committees of the Town Council of the borough of Belfast should be subject to an appeal to some independent tribunal outside, and the decision of the Lords Committee against that contention was not given on the merits, but simply on the fact that there was no precedent for such a provision as an appeal against the steps taken by the Town Council. The Lords Committee, therefore, refused to insert a clause giving the appeal for which he asked. He had not read the Petition against the Bill, and he really did not know what the allegations in the Petition were, and to what extent the prayer of the Petitioners was entertained by the Committee of the House of Lords. The paper he had just referred to went on to say— Mr. Biggar has made certain charges against the Corporation which may he summarized as follows:—1. That the members of the Council are almost exclusively Conservatives and Protestants, and are, therefore, unfit to be trusted with the powers usually conferred upon Town Councils. Now, this statement very materially and seriously exaggerated what he had intended to say; but, at the same time, it was not very far from the fact, because in point of fact, two-thirds of the people of Belfast, in round numbers, were non-Catholic, and the remaining one-third Catholic. In almost every municipal election that took place in Belfast the question of politics was generally the sole question raised before the ratepayers in regard to the eligibility or otherwise of the different persons who offered themselves as candidates. The result of course was that the Conservative Party, which was paramount in the borough, had got all the representation into its own hands. Only Protestant candidates were returned, and the Roman Catholics, as far as the representation was concerned, were unrepresented, except in the person of one gentleman. The result of this state of things was, that although the Town Council could come to a decision upon a question of town improvement or in favour of promoting this Bill, yet, as a matter of fact, one-third of the population—namely, all the Catholic inhabitants, were, practically, unrepresented; their opinions were not asked or considered; they would not be listened to, if they were given; and they had no special locus standi before a Committee of the Lords or Commons. The consequence was, that they had no means whatever of making their views known, except in opposing the Bill in the way in which they had offered opposition to the present measure. He had acted on their behalf. They sent a Petition to him which he presented to the House, and it was referred to the Private Bill Office; where, he presumed, it remained without being examined by the Committee who inquired into the merits of the Bill or being allowed to influence their decision. The statement went on to say that among the charges made by him (Mr. Biggar) against the Corporation was one that the Improvement Committee of the Council are guilty of improper conduct in furthering their private interests at the expense of the public. Now on this point he had given evidence before the Commission, and it was upon the same point that he gave evidence before the Committee upstairs; and he believed that the charges he had made were, to a very great extent, based on facts. There was one particular case within his own knowledge that he might mention, where a member of the Town Council, a timber merchant and a large speculator, had built upon a plot of land in front of a row of houses. The buildings he had erected were within 20 feet of the front of the existing houses, notwithstanding that it was part of the law of the borough of Belfast that there should be no street less than 30 feet wide. The only answer made to this accusation was, that the member of the Council who was said to have done this was merely a partner in the ownership of the property in question. He could, if necessary, give a number of other cases to show that building speculators and men who supplied building materials for builders, had facilities constantly given to them through this sort of influence. It was alleged that the members of the Council always favoured their own friends, and it was this feeling which led to the opposition in the House of Lords, the Petitioner being a large manufacturer and a large speculator on his own account, who justly complained that greater facilities were given to persons who were connected with the promoters of the Bill than to himself. That was not, however, the reason why he (Mr. Biggar) proposed that the Lords' Amendment to the Bill should be considered on that day three months. The next allegation in the "Statement" was as follows:— In the House of Lords he was allowed to appear in the character of a witness before the Select Committee upon the Bill, and gave full expression to his opinions; after which, the Committee called upon the Corporation neither for any rebutting evidence, nor for any reply. Now, he had simply given expression to his opinions on one point—namely, whether or not there should be an appeal from the decision of the Improvement Committee and the decision of the Select Committee was based not on the merits of the case, but simply upon the ground that there was no precedent for such an appeal. He did not, on this occasion, propose to insert any clause to carry out his views. It would not be practically an Amendment to the Amendments introduced by the House of Lords, and, therefore, according to the Rules of the House, it could not be put from the Chair. Otherwise he should have raised the question, and have given his reasons why the Bill should go before the Local Government Board in Dublin. He might say, in passing, that his views were not in favour of centralization in a general way; but he did think that such a body as the Local Government Board would only be doing its duty if it would see that the Corporation of Belfast really carried out its engagements and obeyed the provisions of the law. The next allegation contained in the "Statement" was this— As Mr. Biggar's objections have thus had full consideration before proper tribunals, it is submitted that, even if they were relevant to the question before the House, they should not be entertained at the present stage. They are objections which might possibly have been urged, and, in fact, although not pressed, were taken as objections to the Bill in its passage through the House of Commons; but are in no way relevant to the Amendments made in the House of Lords which the House of Commons is now asked to consider. In reference to the House of Commons, he might remark that the promoters of the Bill had made great objections to the locus standi of certain Petitioners against the Bill. They succeeded in some cases, but not in others. Without going into details upon the question, he might say that it seemed to him the Petitioners against the Bill had not acted in a very business-like or judicious manner; for they entered into negotiations with the promoters of the Bill for what they considered to be "concessions." The result was, that as these negotiations lasted until the Bill was ready to go into Committee, the Petitioners were not prepared to give evidence in support of their case Practically, although a Petition had been lodged, there was no opposition, and the Committee of the House of Commons were not called upon to inquire into the merits of the case at all. The "statement" went on to say— The number of persons who signed the Petition against the Bill in the form in which it went to the House of Lords was 21; of these only one or two appeared before the Committee, and the Council agreed to insert a clause which met the only substantial criticism made on their behalf upon the Bill. In point of fact, two specific objections against the Bill were made by Mr. Boss, the Petitioner, whose case was considered, and one of these was allowed by the Committee of the House of Lords— namely, that the promoters of the Bill should be bound to carry out their improvement works within one year after the period at which they might take possession of the land for that purpose. In that point Mr. Ross succeeded; but, in his other objections against the Bill, he did not succeed. The document to which he had been referring pointed out that there were only 21 Petitioners against the Bill; but he had already explained that the promoters were most determined in their opposition to the locus standi of the Petitioners, unless the person claiming a right to be heard could show a clear case that his property was affected by the proposed improvements. That condition, of course, operated entirely as a bar to the great bulk of the inhabitants of the town. The effect was this—The members of the Town Council might be elected in November, and they might determine immediately after their election to issue the notices for the promotion of a Bill entirely opposed to the views of the majority of the inhabitants of the borough, and yet the inhabitants would have no locus standi to come before a Committee of either House of Parliament. In point of fact, the inhabitants would be altogether powerless, so far as such a scheme, however objectionable, was concerned. The Catholics, who spoke their views in the Petition lodged against the Bill in the Private Bill Office, gave the only expression of opinion of a public nature which was given either for or against the Bill. There was, he believed, a deputation against the Bill; but he did not know who it represented. There was also a deputation in favour of the Bill; but, so far as public meetings were concerned, or any of the usual means of obtaining a public expression of opinion, or Petitions signed by large numbers of the inhabitants, there was nothing of the sort. The Bill stood before the House simply on its merits, and on its merits he hoped the House would decide against it. The "Statement" said— The Bill has practically the unanimous consent of the Town Council, and for a Bill of this kind an exceptionally unanimous approval from the general body of the inhabitants. He would now give the reasons which he wished to adduce against the passing of the Bill; and in doing so he wished, in the first place, to refer to a Report which was only delivered to him yesterday, and which he presumed would be delivered to other hon. Members at the same time.


I must remind the hon. Member that he is not entitled to discuss the whole Bill. He is only entitled to discuss such Amendments as the House of Lords have made in it.


said, that all the arguments he intended to advance were contained in the Report of the Select Committee on Local Government and Taxation of Towns in Ireland. He did not intend to read one word of the Bill itself, nor had he any desire to discuss the general merits of the measure; but he intended and he thought he should succeed in basing his arguments in opposition to the Bill upon the particular Amendment which had been inserted by the House of Lords. His contention went entirely in favour of the idea expressed by the Select Committee in their Report, and he proposed to read only 12 lines of that Report, in the belief that the passage, together with his own arguments, would fairly come within the scope of the Amendment. He held in his hand the Report of the Committee on Local Government and Taxation of Towns in Ireland, of which Committee he believed the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) was Chairman. In that Report, as it was finally agreed to by the Committee, they said— With regard to Belfast, complaints were made to the Commissioners of a want of attention on the part of the Corporation to the interests of the Roman Catholic portion of the inhabitants, and of their partiality in administering the law compelling the formation of roadways and footpaths in newly-built streets. On the latter point, the Commissioners express an opinion that 'the Corporation should seek to get rid of these clauses altogether, if they find they cannot carry them out fairly; but while they are part of the law of the land, they certainly ought to be so carried out as to leave no colour for the suspicions which are undoubtedly entertained that strict impartiality is not invariably observed.' That was a specific part of the Report which he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary would duly consider.


Will the hon. Gentleman read that part of the Report which follows—I mean the part which comes at the end of their observations in regard to Belfast?


said, he would read it in due course. The Committee also said— The Commissioners also report a prevailing opinion among a large portion of the ratepayers that the Corporation are responsible for the continuance of the monster nuisance, caused by the polluted condition of the Blackstaff stream. The Committee said further— Your Committee, while calling attention to these subjects, on which the evidence taken before them appears to bear out the views of the Commissioners, have pleasure in expressing their opinion of the generally satisfactory manner in which the municipal affairs of Belfast are managed by the Corporation of that town. He would confine his argument entirely to three lines of the Commissioners' Report— The Commissioners also report a prevailing opinion among a large portion of the ratepayers that the Corporation are responsible for the continuance of the monster nuisance caused by the polluted condition of the Blackstaff stream. All he proposed was that the powers of the Town Council to carry out further improvements should not come into operation until they had carried out their scheme for improving the condition of the Blackstaff stream to the satisfaction of the Local Government Board. The facts of the case were brief. The Black-staff stream was an open sewer, receiving the sewage of the whole of the district— a very extensive one—through which it passed for something like a mile. It emptied itself into the River Laggan, on the south-west side of the borough of Belfast, and carried the whole of the sewage of the district along the western part of the borough. In this way two sides of Belfast were enveloped by an open sewer, and in addition to being an open sewer, the stream was used by the millowners on the banks of the stream as a receptacle for the hot water and refuse that came from their steam engines. A very large amount of steam and refuse water was let off, and the Blackstaff stream became polluted by most offensive matter, which was in the highest degree injurious to the health of the inhabitants of the town of Belfast. The Local Government Board had from time to time complained to the borough of Belfast of the Blackstaff nuisance, and the Corporation undertook to remedy it in what they believed would be an effectual manner. They proposed to take the sewage which now fell into this open stream, and to make another sewer as part of a general sewage scheme, which would empty the sewage into the sea below the borough of Belfast. The effect of this would be to do away with the present nuisance, by which two sides of Belfast were enveloped in a filthy stream, and to give to the town two comparatively pure streams. Mr. Bazalgette went over from London and prepared a sewage scheme, which was submitted to the Local Government Board, who agreed in the propriety of it, the Corporation undertaking to carry out the scheme within a reasonable and moderate time. He was not sure that this was so; but he supposed that the Corporation could have borrowed part of the money for carrying out the scheme from the Board of Works. At any rate, they undertook to carry it out. But what had they done? They had carried out some small parts of the scheme, but only some very small parts. No doubt, the completion of the entire scheme would have been of enormous advantage to the borough of Belfast, and would have materially improved the sanitary condition of the town. But instead of having carried out the work which they had bound themselves to the Local Government Board to do, they had this year promoted a Bill in Parliament, by which they took borrowing powers to the extent of £350,000, to enable them to effect certain improvements, and in the meantime the scheme for the general sewerage of the town was postponed sine die. It only proposed to deal with the Blackstaff stream in a very small way, and in a way which, instead of improving matters, would make them worse. The Bill merely proposed to cover in some hundred yards or so of this dirty stream, about two-thirds of the way down, and the result would be that the steam and gas which found its way into this filthy stream would come out at both ends, and be even still more offensive and injurious to the inhabitants. What he contended was, that it was the duty of the Government to see that in common fairness and honesty the Corporation fulfilled its engagements. He held that they were bound to fulfil these engagements before they were allowed to borrow money for other purposes. If they borrowed money for other improvements, they must more or less injure the security they gave to the Local Government Board for carrying out their present liabilities. They proposed under the Bill to carry out fresh improvements at an expense of £350,000, and the inevitable result would be that the taxation which would be necessary under the provisions of the Bill would jeopardize the sewage scheme. He thought the Government, as guardians of the public purse, were bound to see that the Corporation of Belfast fulfilled its original engagements on this point, before undertaking other works. He had only one other word to say, and that was that the plan of the new improvements had been submitted by Mr. Black, the town solicitor, to the Local Government Board, who refused their sanction to it. In conclusion, he begged to move that the Lords' Amendments be taken into consideration on that day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Biggar.)

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


said, he did not propose to follow the hon. Member for Cavan into all the details which he had referred to. He thought the hon. Member had taken a very unusual course in moving such an Amendment at this stage of the measure. The effect of postponing the consideration of the Lords' Amendments would be, of course, that the Bill itself would be lost so far as the present Session was concerned; and there could be no doubt whatever that by this Bill the Corporation of Belfast would be able to effect very extensive and much needed improvements in the town. The necessity for these improvements was generally admitted, and fully justified the Corporation in asking for further powers. The Bill had received the careful consideration of Select Committees of both Houses of Parliament, and the House of Lords had already agreed to it substantially in the form in which it was originally presented to them. No doubt, the hon. Member for Cavan and his Friends did oppose the Bill in the House of Lords; but the noble Lords who composed the Committee of the other House declined to sanction their objections, and the consequence was that the Bill now came down to the House of Commons for its approval in the final stages. The hon. Member for Cavan had favoured the House with a long dissertation upon the state of the Blackstaff stream. There could be no doubt that the question of sewage in Belfast was an old matter of controversy, and it was the desire of the Corporation that the present state of things should be remedied. Indeed, the promoters of the Bill were taking every pains to mitigate as far as possible the nuisance complained of, and already the hon. Member for Cavan and his Friends had had every opportunity afforded them of representing their views before the local authorities. First of all, the hon. Member was examined by a Select Committee upstairs appointed to consider the question of the Local Government and Taxation of Towns in Ireland. He was next called before the Commissioners in Belfast, and gave evidence there; and, very recently, he gave evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Lords upon the present Bill. The complaints of the hon. Member were confined to one particular subject, and they had received very full consideration. That they had not been acceded to was not the fault of the Corporation of Belfast, who were the promoters of the Bill. If anyone was to blame in that respect, it certainly was not the promoters of the measure. It was unnecessary that he (Mr. Corry) should enter into details as to the objects of this Bill for the improvement of the town of Belfast, because those details had already been fully considered by Committees of both Houses of Parliament; and he felt quite certain that the House would not consent to reject a Bill which, after much careful investigation, had been sanctioned by a Select Committee, and was now sent down for the final approval of the House, having almost reached its last stage.


, as Chairman of the Committee which considered the Bill upstairs, hoped the House would allow him to say a few words before they came to a division. The hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) was quite right in what he said as to his objections not having been pressed before the Committee. He (Mr. Portman) was aware that those objections were embodied in a Petition against the Bill; but the Petition itself was not pressed. The objections had, however, according to the statement of the hon. Member for Cavan, been brought before the House of Lords and duly considered; and, under those circumstances, he hoped the hon. Member would not press his Motion to a division. From all that the Committee of the House of Commons were able to see of the Belfast Improvement Bill, they came to the conclusion that it would carry into effect some very desirable improvements of the town; and he should be very sorry to see it rejected upon the present occasion. He hoped the hon. Member for Cavan would not persist with his Amendment, as if he did so, he was afraid that he could not give him his vote.


could not take objection to the course taken by his hon. Friend the Member for Cavan. He apprehended that his hon. Friend was perfectly within his right when he took upon himself to oppose the further progress of the Bill at this stage. He (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) thought that probably the object of the Bill was a very good one; but the grounds of objection taken by the hon. Member for Cavan were two-fold. The chief one, which his hon. Friend had placed upon the Paper, referred to the fact that the Corporation of Belfast had already been charged with an important public work, and had failed to carry it out. He thought that was a very fair topic to bring under the notice of the House, although it was by no means conclusive in the matter, and would probably not justify the House in going the extreme length of rejecting the present Bill. There was one matter, however, to which he thought the attention of the House ought to be specially directed. He held in his hand a document which had been circulated among hon. Members, which purported to be A statement on behalf of the Corporation of Belfast in support of the Bill, and against the Motion of Mr. Biggar, and which bore the name of Dyson and Co., Parliamentary Agents. In that document, the entire merits of the proposition of the hon. Member for Cavan were discussed and prejudged, and the writer endeavoured to furnish hon. Members of that House with the conclusions which they ought to arrive at, after deliberating upon the measure. The persons who circulated this document undertook to state what object the hon. Member for Cavan had in view. He apprehended that this was a most inconvenient course for any hon. Member in charge of a Bill like this to sanction. His hon. Friend the Member for Cavan had referred to this document; but it seemed to him (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) that the document itself was highly disrespectful to the House and most irregular. Although there was a good deal of force in the objections which had been raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Cavan, he hoped his hon. Friend would not persist in dividing the House upon the question; because, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, notwithstanding the merits of the objections, his hon. Friend was scarcely likely to induce a majority of the House to agree with him in his Amendment. He hoped, therefore, that it would not be pressed to a division. The grounds of the Amendment, however, were well worthy of the attention and consideration of the promoters of the Bill. Feeling that the document to which he had referred was not consistent with the proper respect due to the House, he proposed to place it in proper hands as soon as the present discussion should have closed.


I think, Sir, it is hardly possible to imagine a more inconvenient course than that which has been taken by the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) in making this Motion. The Bill, which the hon. Member referred to at some length in his opening remarks, has now passed through almost every stage in both Houses. It has been fully considered by a Select Committee upstairs, the Chairman of which has stated that it met the entire approval of that Committee. It has been to the other House of Parliament, and there carefully considered. The hon. Member for Cavan was himself called as a witness before the Committee of the other House, and, in deference to the opposition offered to the Bill in that House, the House of Lords introduced certain Amendments into it in the shape of a new clause, which is to follow Clause 22 of the original Bill. That new clause requires the Corporation of Belfast, within 12 months after the purchase of the necessary property for any new street or improvement authorized by the Bill, to proceed with the execution thereof in accordance with the Bill, and to complete the same with reasonable despatch. That is the only Amendment in the Bill upon which any general objection can be raised. Well, Sir, I think it would hardly be possible for the Forms by which Parliament has endeavoured to protect the promoters of a Private Bill to be more strained than by a Motion such as that which is now submitted to the House; or for the interests of suitors to be more sacrificed, than in the event of such a Motion being adopted—theresult of which would be to reject a Bill which has already passed nearly all its stages in both Houses of Parliament on a simple Motion for rejecting the Lords Amendments. It is not necessary that I should go into the questions of detail which have been raised by the hon. Member for Cavan. He may object to the Bill because he thinks that the interest of certain Roman Catholic citizens of Belfast are not generally considered. That is a large and important question, and I wish to express no opinion upon it. He may object further to the Bill on the ground that the Corporation of Belfast have omitted to fulfil certain engagements which they had previously contracted. But these are neither of them questions for the House to consider now. The House has only to consider whether the Amendments which have been inserted in the Bill by the House of Lords, and which are of the simplest character, are objectionable, or whether they afford sufficient reason for setting aside a Bill which has already received the approval of Committees of both Houses of Parliament, and which I hope on the present occasion this House will sanction. I trust that the Amendment will be met by a decided negative.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendments considered.

"After Clause 22, insert Clause 22A, the first Amendment, read a second time.


Does the hon. Member in charge of the Bill propose to agree to the Lords Amendments?




asked leave to disagree with the Lords Amendment. The clause provided that the Corporation should, within 12 months after the purchase of property for a new street or improvement, proceed to complete and execute such new street or improvement with reasonable despatch. That clause was inserted in the Bill in the House of Lords in consequence of the opposition of his friend Mr. Ross. He proposed to make a small addition to the clause by adding the following Proviso:— Provided also, That the said powers of purchase shall not come into operation till the main drainage scheme, which has been approved of by the Local Government Board, has been completed. He had no wish to detain the House at any further length; but he thought he could make out a strong case in favour of the Amendment. He had already pointed out that the Corporation of Belfast were under an engagement to the Local Government Board, in reference to the main drainage scheme. They had carried out part of the work already, and had spent part of the money; but the scheme was incomplete, and the Corporation might just as well have refrained from spending the money which they had already spent. What he urged was simply this—that the Corporation of Belfast should endeavour to carry out the work they had undertaken, and should then bring into operation the improvement parts of their present Bill. In the Bill the Corporation took 10 years for their compulsory powers of purchase. That was really a very long time, and he hoped the House would accept his Amendment, as it certainly could not have the effect of rendering the Bill inoperative. It was not intended as a means of throwing the Bill on one side; but it would have the effect of requiring the Town Council of Belfast, like sensible men, to complete one scheme of improvement before they commenced another. Under these circumstances, he begged to move that the words he had proposed be added to the clause.

Amendment proposed, At the end thereof, to add the words "Provided also, That the said powers of purchase shall not come into operation till the main drainage scheme, which, has been approved of by the Local Government Board, has been completed.

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, he was compelled to take the same course in regard to the present Amendment as that which he had already taken in regard to the previous one, which involved the rejection of the Bill altogether. In fact, so far as his own knowledge went, he was not aware that any main drainage scheme had been approved of by the Local Government Board at all, or that the Corporation of Belfast were under any pledge to the Local Government Board to carry out any scheme. There were, however, certain works going on, and those works would be completely stopped if this Bill were not passed. The adoption of the Proviso moved by the hon. Member for Cavan would effectually stop all the improvements now going on in Belfast. He therefore hoped the House would not assent to it.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 12; Noes 167: Majority 155.—(Div. List, No. 200.)

Amendment agreed to.


Does the hon. Member for Belfast propose to agree with the rest of the Lords' Amendments?



Subsequent Amendments agreed, to.

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