§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. DODSON
said, he had to ask the House to read the Bill a second time. A Bill had been founded originally on the Report of a Select Committee of the House of Lords, and had been introduced into that House on behalf of the late Government by the Duke of Richmond. The Bill, however, on coming down to the House of Commons, did not pass, the Session being far advanced The Bill now before the House, like that 431 introduced by the Duke of Richmond, was founded on the Report of the Committee of the House of Lords. It was introduced by the present Government in that House, and was referred to a Select Committee, by whom its clauses had been discussed and considered. The measure was essentially one of detail; and, after it had been read a second time, he should ask the House to refer it to a Select Committee upstairs to go through its clauses. That appeared to him to be the best way of dealing with a subject of the kind. Without detaining the House at length, he would simply point out that this was an Enabling Bill. It recognized the fact that our rivers were so different in their character that it was impossible to lay down a hard-and-fast line for their improvement; and it therefore enabled localities to obtain a Conservancy Board, adapted in each case to the circumstances of their position. His hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Magniac) had also introduced a Bill upon the same subject, which was one to which he was known to have devoted great attention, and read a second time. He trusted to have the assistance of his hon. Friend upon the Select Committee, and there might be found proposals in his measure which could with advantage be incorporated with the present Bill. Reminding the House that after it had been referred to a Select Committee there would be opportunity for going fully through the clauses in Committee of the Whole House, he asked the House to agree to the second reading.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second tine."—(Mr. Dodson.)
§ MR. A. H. BROWN
pointed out that throughout the country very great confusion existed as to the areas of jurisdiction and authority of River Boards. He was perfectly aware that a great difficulty would be found in endeavouring to consolidate a great many existing powers; but the suggestion he had to make presented the least possible difficulty. There were at that time many River Boards throughout the country, specially charged with certain duties in connection with the fisheries of their respective rivers. They had powers relating to the preservation of those fisheries; and, in certain cases, to the removal of river obstructions. The 432 Bill before the House would therefore create, in some cases, a double jurisdiction by the constitution of new Boards. Thus, one authority being constituted for the purpose of diminishing floods, and the other for the purpose of maintaining the fisheries, it required very few words to show that they would shortly come into conflict with each other upon the question of what ought to be done on particular rivers. The alterations in connection with rivers necessary for the purpose of mitigating floods must, in sonic cases, undoubtedly injure the fisheries. Therefore, he thought that the same authority which was charged with the prevention of floods should also be charged with the settlement of questions relating to the fisheries. He could see no reason why the Boards, which it was proposed to create under this Act, should not undertake the whole of the duties in connection with the Salmon lets, and he considered the present time a favourable opportunity for carrying that plan into effect. He pressed it upon the House particularly, because he noticed that there had been a Bill introduced in the present Session to consolidate and regulate the Salmon Laws. The convenience of the House would, he thought, be consulted by his not moving at that hour the Motion upon this subject standing in his name. He should, however, move it as an Instruction on going into Committee on the Bill.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
reminded the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board that, notwithstanding he had described this as an Enabling Bill merely, it dealt with a very important subject, and with interests of enormous magnitude. Under the circumstances, he did not think that it should be read a second time at that late hour without any discussion whatever. He should, therefore, move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Chaplin.)
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, his constituents had suffered greatly from floods during recent years. The Bill was of enormous importance to the country, and he trusted the right hon. Gentleman would persevere in his Motion that it be now read a second time.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
regretted that his right hon. Friend had not made a more complete and intelligible statement with regard to the Bill, which was the most important of any that had as yet been placed before Parliament. The measure was of enormous importance to the owners and occupiers of land; but the right hon. Gentleman had made no statement as to what was contained within its four corners. It was a Bill that had never been discussed by the House upon its merits, and no opportunity had been given for discussing what might and ought to be its provisions. He agreed with the hon. Member for Salford that there was a crying evil to be dealt with, for he had had meadows of his own 23 times under water during the year 1879; he was afraid to say how many times that had been the case last year. During the whole of the time the meadows had been worth nothing. He said it was impossible to deal with a question of such importance at that hour (12.30). If the Bill had been reached an hour or two sooner, and the right hon. Gentleman had made a clearer statement showing the scope of the measure, there would have been some justification for reading it a second time. The right hon. Gentleman should have stated to the House in what manner he meant to deal with canals, mills, weirs, and other obstructions which now existed. There could be no doubt that great power was required to be placed in the hands of Conservators, for the purpose of controlling the great body of water which came down in the time of floods; and he thought it would have been to the interest of the whole of the localities concerned that some statement should have been made. He felt certain his right hon. Friend would agree with him that it was of importance to have a statement from a Minister in charge of a Bill, setting forth what he intended to do, and how far he intended to go. The right hon. Gentleman had merely stated that the Bill was to be referred to a Select Committee; but it would, in his opinion, have been wiser if he had stated what its provisions were.
§ MR. MAGNIAC
suggested that it would be for the convenience of the House that the Bill should go to the Select Committee, and then come before the House in the form in which it was intended to be discussed in Committee. 434 His own Bill might he incorporated with this measure and form a single Bill; and, therefore, the course he proposed would, he thought, add to the efficiency of the measure. He hoped the second reading would not be opposed.
§ MR. PELL
trusted the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would consent to the adjournment of the debate. The magnitude of the interests involved rendered it impossible to discuss the measure with advantage at that hour. Of course, he was aware that hon. Members were bound to be in their places; still he believed there were many who had not anticipated that the Bill would come on for discussion that evening. He reminded the House that the time of Parliament had been occupied hour after hour, on former occasions, in discussing the very converse of the present question—namely, the storage of water. It had not long ago been the complaint that there was not enough water in the country. Since then, however, there had been three or four exceedingly wet seasons, and great floods had resulted. In his opinion, it would be well to defer the consideration of the Bill until a few months of fine weather had removed the impression which had been produced by the recent downfalls of water. The Bill proposed to do what had never been done by any Act of Parliament—that was to say, to tax people who were not benefited for works constructed exclusively for the benefit of others. There was a paragraph in the Report of the Committee who had considered this question to this effect—With regard to the measures which have been adopted, of raising rates to meet the expense of conservancy, the Committee find there is much variance of opinion. The principle introduced by the Statute of Henry the Eighth, and observed ever since, of taxing in proportion to the benefit conferred, appears to work unfairly, and to be incapable of application in this case.The Bill embodied a principle which had never been adopted in England before; and therefore the present hour—20 minutes to 1 o'clock in the morning—was not a suitable one at which to introduce it. If the Government really wished the Bill to pass, they would be acting wisely if they consented to the Motion for the adjournment of the debate, to admit of the Bill being thoroughly debated, as Bills of this nature were debated, upon second reading. The present measure involved questions of the utmost 435 moment. They had not heard from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Dodson) any statement as to how far it would be in the power of the sanitary authority of a rural Union at the head or outfall of a river to incur enormous expenses under the Bill and charge them upon the Union rates. It was a dangerous Bill, and it was not proper that it should be pressed at that time of night. He trusted the Government would. consent to the adjournment of the debate, in order that they might have a fuller statement. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman, in fairness and justice to the large interests involved—not only in respect to the undrained and flooded lands, but to the great districts of the country, some of which Mr. Speaker represented, the great level of the Fens—to allow the merits of the Bill to be considered at a proper and convenient time.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, he could assure the House that, under ordinary circumstances, his right hon. Friend would never have thought of pressing the Bill to a second reading at so late an hour; but they were told by him, and it was well known, that it was intended to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, and upon that very ground they might fairly ask the House to agree to the second reading. The whole of the discussion on the second reading might be thrown away, on account of the alteration which it was possible might be made by the Committee upstairs; and when they considered the great importance of the subject, and how pressing a measure of this nature was in every county in England, they would see that time would be saved if the House agreed. to read the Bill a second time to-night, in order to allow it to be at once referred to a Select Committee. His right hon. Friend was quite willing to agree that the whole matter should be thoroughly discussed. on the Motion for going into Committee. The principle of the Bill might be discussed much more advantageously when the measure had been considered upstairs; and he trusted, therefore, the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), and other hon. Members who had supported the adjournment of the debate, would now agree to the second reading. If they took the second reading now, and thus enabled the Committee to commence its sittings immediately after the Easter Recess, they would do great service to the country. As to the question 436 of the storage of water, he ought to say that when the Bill was introduced in the House of Lords it contained a provision upon the subject. The clause had been struck out by the House of Lords; but it was competent for this House, if it thought proper, to restore the clause. He trusted that, upon the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that the discussion upon the whole principle of the Bill should take place at a later stage, the House would now consent to the second reading. His right hon. Friend. suggested that, a few weeks ago, the Bill of the hon. Member for Bedford. (Mr. Magniac), which was of a very similar nature, was allowed to pass a second reading without discussion, on the understanding that it should be referred to a Select Committee. Considering the very strong feeling which existed in every part of the country in favour of some such measure as the present, no obstacle ought to be thrown in the way of the second reading.
had never heard a more extraordinary argument in favour of the second reading of a Bill than that just advanced by the Secretary to the Local Government Board (Mr. Hibbert). It was time the House should put a stop to what appeared to be the principle upon which the legislation of the country was being conducted by Her Majesty's Government—namely, that of reading several Bills, emanating from the Ministerial side of the House, a second time, on the understanding that they were to undergo entire alteration in Committee upstairs. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board. deprecated any discussion on the second reading of this Bill as pure waste of time. It was a most unsound mode of conducting the legislation of the country to argue that any discussion which took place on the second reading of a Bill would be quite inapplicable to the Bill which would emerge from the Select Committee; but it was, nevertheless, a method which the Government had, during the present Session, shown an extraordinary leaning towards. Several Bills, upon which the Government had carefully avoided pronouncing any opinion, had been read a second time, with the view of having them materially altered by Select Committees. By this course of conduct he presumed the Government meant to 437 please their supporters. It would be far better, and more in accordance with Constitutional practice, if an important measure of this kind underwent discussion on the second reading, because at this stage the views of the House as to the principle of the measure were elicited, and if it were afterwards referred to a Select Committee upstairs that Committee would have the views and opinions of the House of Commons to guide it in the particular way in which they would alter the measure. It was quite a new thing that Committees upstairs were to consider principles of measures; one always used to fancy that the principles were settled by the House of Commons, and that the details were settled by Committees. He should certainly support the Motion for the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. PUGH
said, the Bill contained principles of very great importance. The creation of a new authority, empowered to levy new rates, and to carry out objects which had not hitherto been carried out by such a body, must be looked upon with great suspicion and jealousy; and they ought to be assured that the Bill was founded upon justice before agreeing to its second reading. The hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) was correct in saying that a rate, such as that contemplated, had never been levied in England. If he had included Wales he would have been equally accurate. But the hon. Gentleman was not correct in saying that the principle had never been applied. Many years ago an Act was passed in respect to Cardiganshire, and it contained an exactly similar principle to the present. A defect, however, was discovered in the Bill, and no rate was ever raised under it. The present Bill was one which ought not to be read a second time without a full discussion; and he hoped the Government would consent to the adjournment.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 36; Noes 74: Majority 38.—(Div. List, No. 174.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
thought the policy of taking the second reading of an important Bill on the ground that it contained important provisions, which should be considered by a Select Com- 438 mittee, was a very dangerous one. Next on the Paper to this Bill was the River Floods Prevention Bill, which was read a second time some days ago on a similar representation. At the time that Bill was read a second time he had thought the system was one fraught with danger, which should not be assented to, unless under very exceptional circumstances. At that hour of the night he would not detain the House any longer. It was only right that the measure should be brought before them at a more convenient hour; therefore, he would move the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Arthur O'Connor.)
§ MR. DODSON
I regret that this Motion should be made, notwithstanding the expression of the opinion by the House that this Bill should now be read a second time. As regards the discussion of the measure, the Secretary to the Local Government Board has pointed out that there will be an opportunity for a debate on the Bill as a whole on the Motion for going into Committee. It would be a great saving of time, on a very important subject, if the House were allowed to refer it to a Select Committee, in order that its details may be considered. It is said—"This is an important Bill, and ought not to be read a second time without a full discussion." Well, no one denies that it is an important Bill; but what I wish to point out is, that it is only an Enabling Bill, to enable the localities to take the initiative and help themselves. It is not a Bill in which the House prescribes what shall be done in the case of any particular river; but it is one which enables the inhabitants of a locality, who wish to have adequate power to deal with a river running through that locality, to cause an inquiry to be made by an engineer and inspector of the Local Government Board. It enables them to submit to these officials their own proposals; and it gives the Local Government Board wide powers, after consulting with the inhabitants and considering their scheme, to embody that scheme in a Provisional Order to be submitted to Parliament, and referred to a Select Committee. The Order will have to pass through all the usual stages in 439 Parliament; therefore, as I have said, the measure is nothing but an enabling one; and, in order that its object may be carried out in such an elastic manner as to give the necessary facilities to the inhabitants of the different localities to obtain the powers they desire, it is requisite to introduce a considerable amount of detail. As it is a Bill of that character it is essential that it should be considered by a Select Committee. It will be more advantageously discussed by the House after the clauses have been considered; and I would, therefore, urge the House not to treat it as if it were a Bill imposing legislation on the localities. I must oppose the Motion for the adjournment, and express an earnest hope that hon. Members will assent to the second reading.
§ MR. PELL
said, that nothing could be more unsatisfactory than the proceedings now going forward in the House—namely, discussing such a Bill as this by driblets. He and many others agreed with the hon. Member (Mr. Arthur O'Connor), not as desiring to obstruct, but as desiring to obtain that which they believed to be necessary—namely, a statement as to the novel principles contained in the Bill. They had divided the House already, and would continue to do it for some hours more, on successive Motions for the adjournment of the House and the adjournment of the debate. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said this was an Enabling Bill. It was such—it was a measure to enable persons to carry out private improvements at the cost of the public. Under the guise of a very small rate over a large area, it would raise considerable sums of money which, after all, were likely to fail in effecting the purpose for which they were intended. According to the view taken by the House of Lords, the principle of taxing the highlands for the water that came from their property upon the lowlands was a just one; but if that principle were admitted—as it would be by the second reading of the measure—the next step that might be taken might be the taxation of the hill-lands for the shadow they threw into the valleys, and for, in that way, depriving vegetation below of the warming influence of the sun. The hill-lands might be taxed for the purpose of supplying the lowlands with artificial heat. One 440 principle was no more monstrous than the other; and he, therefore, hoped the Government would take the debate on the second reading in the ordinary way. Considering the magnitude of the interests involved, the Bill should not be discussed by driblets, for in that way no adequate amount of information would be given to the public. He must vote for the Motion for adjournment.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
hoped the Motion would be withdrawn, because he believed that it would be a wise economy of time to refer the matter to a Select Committee. He was very much surprised that the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) should object to the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee, because he could not forget that the late Government had referred everything to a Select Committee, except their foreign policy; and he thought it would have been better for the country if they had also referred that to a Select Committee.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 29; Noes 69: Majority 40.—(Div. List, No. 176.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. LONG
said, no one could deprecate obstruction more than he did; but he was aware that there were many hon. Members who took a very keen interest in this matter who did not know that the measure would be pressed on at this hour of the morning. He was very sorry it was necessary to oppose the action of the Government; but he was satisfied that in so doing he was not "obstructing," in the ordinary sense of the phrase. [Laughter.] Hon. Members might laugh; but they were only anxious to obtain their own ends. He and his Friends were also anxious to obtain their ends. He would move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Long.)
§ MR. DODSON
I will not enter into a discussion with the hon. Member as to what is and what is not legitimate obstruction; but I would point out that we have the half-past 12 o'clock Rule, and by that Rule no opposed Business can be taken after half-past 12. It appears to me that the legislative progress of this House is not likely to be very 441 rapid if we are not allowed to proceed with opposed Business which actually comes on before half-past 12. There is a Notice of Opposition against the secondreading, which would have prevented that stage being taken had that hour been reached; but the Government are entitled to endeavour to get the Bill read a second time, coming on at the time it has, and are not open to the charge of wishing to "rush" the Bill through. A majority of two to one have twice expressed a desire to go on with the Bill; but I have no wish to take advantage of that, and I will, therefore, consent to the adjournment of the debate. The Government will, however, put it down again for tomorrow, considering it a Bill of a character which should be proceeded with.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
thought the right hon. Gentleman had hardly been quite fair in his reference to the motives of hon. Members in objecting to proceed with the second reading of the Bill that night. It had been generally understood that it was the intention of several hon. Members, whose constituents were very much more interested in the matter than those of the hon. Member for Salford, to take a debate on the second reading; and he did not think it was quite fair of the right hon. Gentleman to treat the Bill as one of a comparatively second rate character. It was, or ought to be, one of the most important Bills of the Session; and a debate on the second reading would not only be valuable in itself, but would be valuable to the Committee to which it was proposed to refer the Bill.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
mentioned that the Secretary to the Treasury had stated his intention to take some Votes in Committee of Supply tomorrow, if the debate on the Motion that the Speaker should leave the Chair closed early. It was proposed now that this Bill should also be put down, and he wished to ask whether the Government still proposed to take Votes in Committee?
§ LORD FREDERICK CAVENDISH
replied, that that would depend on the hour. There were no very important Motions on going into Supply, and if they were disposed of at a reasonable hour it would be desirable to make some progress with Supply; and, therefore, Supply would be put down.
§ MR. PELL
asked whether evidence would be taken by the Committee on this Bill, or whether the Bill would be gone through without evidence?
§ MR. DODSON
repeated that it was proposed that the Committee should go through the clauses of the Bill, the Bill being founded on the Report of the Select Committee which had gone into the whole question.
thought it was desirable to have a distinct understanding as to the Business to be provided for to-morrow, as the reply of the Secretary to the Treasury left that open to doubt. It was understood that if the discussions on going into Supply closed at an early hour the Civil Service Estimates would be taken. Was it now to be understood that the Committee would be closed at an early hour to enable this Bill to be brought on, or would the Committee be continued till the usual time, in order that the Government might make progress in obtaining Votes in Supply?
§ MR. DODSON
said, his noble Friend (Lord Frederick Cavendish) had stated that whether any Votes would be taken or not would depend on the hour. The length of time the House would continue in Committee must depend on what appeared to be the convenience of the House.
§ MR. DODSON
replied, that he should bring it on at whatever hour he could.
§ EARL PERCY
thought it desirable that the House should understand whether the right hon. Gentleman would bring the Bill on at an hour when he could make a statement, and which would give time for discussion on the second reading, because, otherwise, the House would be in the same position as it then was.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.