HC Deb 09 July 1878 vol 241 cc1071-7

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(The Lord Advocate.)


said, it was a matter of great regret to him that Glasgow had been obliged to be so prominent in the discussion of the Roads and Bridges Bill; for he was sure that the House would be quite sick of the name of Glasgow and its grievances by this time. But Glasgow was peculiarly situated, and he was speaking under a stinging sense of the flagrant injustice imposed uponher—injustice of an almost unparalleled character. By an hard-and-fast clause in the Bill, it was proposed to inflict upon her an annual burden of £10,000 a-year for the maintenance of the county roads, and also to make her pay, on an equal rate with the counties, the whole of the county road debts. The injustice of the Government in this matter was not only that the clause was inconsistent with every other clause in the Bill, but that it was utterly inconsistent with the conduct of the Government in other matters; for on Friday they had the President of the Local Government Board proposing an Amendment on the English Highways Bill by which the Metropolis was specially exempted from paying any part of the county road debt.


said, his proposal had nothing to do with the debts of the turnpike roads.


said, he had made a mistake, having meant to say county road maintenance. The right hon. Gentleman had entirely excluded the Metropolis from payments to the county road maintenance, and had also excluded all quarter sessions boroughs from the same burdens; and yet, a few days before that, they had the Home Secretary proposing, under the Scotch Roads and Bridges Bill, that Glasgow should make large payments, both towards the debts and maintenance of the county roads. He maintained that these were inconsistencies which would not win the confidence of the country to the Government. When it saw the Government blowing hot and cold, doing one thing for the boroughs of England and an entirely different thing for a burgh in Scotland, the fact was not likely to create much confidence in such a Government. They had the Local Government Board and the Home Office distinctly at variance with each other in this matter. A very small concession at the eleventh hour was made; but he wished to make a distinct protest against the expression of the Home Secretary, that the concession was of the nature of a compromise. It was not a compromise at all, because Glasgow repudiated it. A compromise was an agreement between two parties; but in this case one of the parties had nothing to do with it. All that it enabled Glasgow to do was to come back in five years and renew the battle, sickening the House of Commons of that day as they were doing now; and in the meantime they would have paid the great bulk of the county road debt, and £50,000 for the maintenance of the county roads, no part of which was it ever proposed they should get back, even if the revision at the end of the five years was entirely in Glasgow's favour. This injustice of making Glasgow pay the county road debts was immensely aggravated by the nature of the valuations. In Glasgow every working man's house and every other residence and every shop was valued at the full amount, and must, therefore, pay towards the county road debt on the utmost valuation. But in the counties there was a totally different state of matters existing. They had there all the county magnates living in palatial residences, and they had these rated at the lowest possible figure—at mere nominal rents—and not at all in proportion to the magnitude of the property. Thus, while the county magnate paid the lowest possible amount, the Glasgow workman would pay to the utmost farthing. He maintained that before this flagrant injustice was done, Glasgow had a right to be heard by counsel. This right had been denied by a British House of Commons; led on by a despotic Government, with a large majority at its back. He protested against this. He believed the injustice to be utterly unprecedented, and that the case he had made out the other day for being heard by counsel was entirely uncontrovorted. It had hardly been denied—indeed, it appeared to have been admitted—that if the Home Secretary had been spoken to sooner he would have allowed it to be so heard. The right hon. Gentleman had not denied the hardship. He (Mr. Anderson) was bound to say that the learned gentleman who acted as the Speaker's counsel, and advised him in this matter, must have been very hard up for precedents when, after several days' search, the only one he was able to give dated some 34 years back—namely, the South Wales Highways Act. He (Mr. Anderson) had since examined it, and found it was not a precedent in any sense of the word. What Glasgow complained of, he repeated, was that by a hard-and-fast clause in the Bill this extraordinary liability for the county roads was placed upon it. In the South Wales Highway Act there was nothing whatever of the kind. All that it did was to appoint Commissioners for the adjustment of the county road debts, and to arrange a system of arbitration under which those who made objections could be heard. There was no such thing as a hard-and-fast line deciding that Brecknock, say, was to pay the debt of Radnor, or that Pembroke was to pay £10,000 a-year to support the roads of Cardigan. Therefore, he maintained that there was nothing in that Act which served as a precedent to justify the House in having refused that Glasgow should be heard by counsel before this injustice was inflicted upon it. The only excuse for this act of the Government was that Glasgow came too late with its objections. The Home Secretary had said the City of Glasgow had been guilty of certain laches in not having come at an earlier date and let him know the circumstances. His constituents entirely and distinctly denied these laches. On the 15th of February they saw the Home Secretary and the Lord Advocate together, and at that interview the proposals of Mr. Smith were laid before them and strongly protested against. That was not all. On the 1st of March they had another interview with the Lord Advocate, on the 20th of March a second, on the 27th of May a third, and on the 3rd of June a fourth interview with the Lord Advocate, besides sending, both to him and the Home Secretary, printed papers and written remonstrances. There were no fewer than four distinct interviews with the Lord Advocate, at every one of which the strongest remonstrances were made against these proposals; and yet they had the Home Secretary coming and telling the House that he never heard from the Glasgow magistrates since the 15th of February. How was Glasgow to know that the Lord Advocate was never communicating these remonstrances to the Home Secretary, or that the Home Secretary entirely forgot or ignored them? The magistrates of Glasgow had always understood, as had other Scotch corporations, that the Lord Advocate was the proper means of communicating between them and the Government. They knew no other. They had been accustomed to go to the Lord Advocate with other grievances. They went four times to the Lord Advocate, remonstrating with him upon this injustice, and yet they were told by the Home Secretary that he never heard a word about it. The fault lay either with the Lord Advocate or with the Home Secretary—in any case, with the Government, certainly not with the magistrates of Glasgow. The Home Secretary also complained that the actual Motion to be heard by counsel came very late—only after the clause was in the Bill. If the magistrates of Glasgow had believed it possible that the House of Commons would pass that unjust clause, and incorporate it with the Bill, the Amendment demanding to be heard by counsel would have been made even sooner; but it was made as soon as the clause was fairly in the Bill. He did not believe it would be any use at this late period to divide the House upon this matter. The Representatives of Glasgow had made the best fight they could; but with the large majority the Government had at its back, the fight was a vain one. The question would, however, be fought "elsewhere," and by much abler men. He trusted that in the "other place" the fight would have a more satisfactory issue. If that happened, it would not be the first time that an injustice inadvertently inflicted upon Glasgow by this House was redressed by the other. He said inadvertently, because he was quite sure the House of Commons would not willingly inflict injustice on anyone. If it came to be fought in the other House, he would have the Government consider whether it would not be better to allow the clause to be thrown out, with the result of leaving the Bill a perfectly good Road Act for Scotland, consistent with itself in all its parts. No one would be really aggrieved if this were done. The only effect would be that the counties in question would have to ask for a Provisional Order in regard to anything they did not like. There was abundant time between this and the Act coming into operation to have the different claims of the counties and of the City of Glasgow adjusted, after proper evidence, where the parties could be heard by counsel in the presence of each other. He urged the Government to remove this grievous blot upon the Bill. He was sure it would not be satisfactory to the Government to feel that this clause, introduced at the last hour, was to produce such an amount of hostility as it would create in Glasgow. It would only produce contempt for the law and resistance to the law; for the feeling in Glasgow was so bitter against the counties and the rate proposed, that he looked forward to an amount of bad feeling being created, to an extent which the Government might find it a very inconvenient thing to deal with. He asked them, therefore, at the last moment to allow this clause to be thrown out, and to leave parties to adjust their differences in future by a Provisional Order or Private Bill. He begged to move that the Bill be read a third time 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. Anderson.)

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


said, he thought the Lord Advocate ought to take some notice of what had been stated. The fact was that the Home Secretary was anxious to be here, but was unavoidably called away. He was certain if the right hon. Gentleman had been there, he would not allow the injustice his hon. Colleague (Mr. Anderson) protested against to pass without a word of explanation; and he really thought, in his absence, the Lord Advocate was bound to make some explanation, not in reference to the entire question, but in reference to a matter which had been for the first time brought before the House—the accusation of laches brought against Glasgow in this matter.


said, he thought a great deal of meaning had been attached to the word laches which was not intended to be conveyed by it. He took it that all the Home Secretary intended was that the suggestion of Glasgow came too late. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman intended to say that he was not aware of the position taken up by the City. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman had been made aware of it by the hon. Members for Glasgow whilst the Bill was in progress and in Committee. What he meant was that the Motion to send the Bill to a Select Committee could not be fairly considered at a period of the Session when the proposal would have the effect of shelving the Bill, and that the suggestion should have been made at an earlier period than when the Bill was passing through the Committee of the House.


also thought the term laches entirely had reference to the proposal to send a Bill to a Select Committee, which was an unprecedented proposition on the last stage of the Bill. It ought, if made at all, to have been earlier. There was a strong feeling that if the Government had taken a course of that kind it would have had the effect of throwing out the Bill. He did not propose to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) in his remarks. Had the whole burden fallen on them, the counties would have have had to be taxed at 1s. and 1s. 6d. in the pound for roads most extensively used by Glasgow. It was only just that Glasgow and the suburban burghs should afford the counties some assistance in this matter, as without seeking to eclipse the hon. Member for Glasgow in the use of strong language, he must say that, had the Bill passed without some provision of the kind which had been introduced by the Lord Advocate, it would have been one of the most iniquitous Bills that ever was carried.


said, the Lord Advocate had ignored the statement with reference to the four separate interviews between the magistrates of Glasgow and his Lordship. It was perhaps as well that the people of Glasgow should take note of the fact that though they might hold interviews with the Lord Advocate, it was possible that information of them might never reach the Home Secretary, and that while they were accustomed to look to the Lord Advocate, it was useless to send deputations to him; because it might turn out after all that the Home Secretary would get up in this House and say that the representations had never reached him. He thought this was a matter which the Lord Advocate should explain more clearly than he had done in the very perfunctory statement he had made to the House. As the clause was introduced in Committee, it was impossible that its opponents could have proposed a Select Committee earlier than they did.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.