HC Deb 20 February 1882 vol 266 cc1195-202

Order for Second Heading read.


said, that, in asking the House to read the Bill a second time, he did not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes. The Bill was one which was based upon the Report of a Committee of the House of Lords which sat in 1877, and it had passed through the House of Lords itself last Session. It was also read in the House of Commons a second time, and passed through a Select Committee of this House as well as of the House of Lords, by both of which Committees it had been carefully examined, and was only prevented from becoming law by the want of time to carry it through all its stages. He hoped that, under these circumstances, the House would allow the Bill to be read a second time. The only difference between the Bill now before the House and that of last Session consisted in the introduction of some few Amendments, which he (Mr. Dodson) had intended to make in Committee of the Whole House last year.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Mr. Dodson.)


said, he understood that the Bill now before the House was the Rivers Conservancy Bill. He did not rise for the purpose of moving the rejection of the Bill. The Bill was one which was very much required by a large portion of the country. In the county of Sussex the want of some stringent measure for the conservancy of rivers and the prevention of floods was much felt, especially in his own part of the county. Other parts of the country might have suffered even a great deal more than the county of Sussex. At the same time the Bill was a very important one, and it ought not to be read a second time without a single remark from the Member of the Government who had charge of it. At any rate, he conceived that the second reading had been moved almost without comment, because, if any remarks had been made, they must have been exceedingly short, seeing that he had only left the House for a few moments, and had returned immediately, when he heard by accident that the Bill was about to be brought on. He was bound to admit that he was much surprised at that, because the object of the measure was to place very large powers in the hands of certain public bodies, and to enable them to tax areas which had never been taxed before. Although he did not object, and certainly looked forward to a larger area being taxed, there was, nevertheless, a great deal to be said as to how that area should be taxed. Everyone knew how difficult it was to define a river area and a river basin—and to settle what were uplands, and midlands and lowlands. He had read the present Bill most attentively, and he did not think that it was as satisfactorily or as carefully drawn as it might have been. It gave certain powers, in addition to these, of defining the areas of taxation which would require careful consideration. For instance, powers were given to certain local bodies which were not contained in the last Bill. [Mr. DODSON: They were in the last Bill.] He was under the impression that the powers now proposed to be conferred upon local bodies were new. At any rate, if not altogether new, they were much more extensive than any of the powers given in the Bill of last year. But, be that as it might, the Bill did confer extraordinary powers upon certain local bodies. It dealt, but not very effectually, with the Commissioners of Sewers. It gave power to supersede the Commissioners of Sewers; but it did not give power to provide for their extension in the numerous parts of the country in which they had done exceedingly good work. [Mr. DODSON: It does.] The right hon. Gentleman said it did; but he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) had looked carefully at that part of the Bill, and failed to see that it did. It was admitted on all hands that, in certain parts of the country, the Commissioners of Sewers had been doing good work, and that, instead of being superseded, they should have their powers extended by the Bill. He did not wish, at that late hour of the night—a quarter past 12—to discuss the provisions of the Bill too closely upon the Motion for the second reading. Fortunately for the House the New Rules had not yet been passed, and they would be able to consider the details of the Bill more frequently and at greater length than would probably be the case if the New Rules were passed. It was one of these measures which required careful consideration and discussion in regard to the different provisions contained in the Bill. His hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) entertained strong opinions in reference to some of the details; and he was quite certain that if his hon. Friend had thought there was any chance of the Bill coming on that night he would have been in his place. This was a loss to the House, because he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) knew that his hon. Friend had some remarks to make which might have helped the House in dealing with the Bill when it went into Committee. It was a very important measure indeed, and no one could deny that a measure of some kind was wanted in the country; but, at the same time, it was a subject which required to be most carefully dealt with. [Mr. J. HOWARD: Hear, hear!] The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedfordshire cheered that remark. He was glad to find that the hon. Gentleman was not prepared to indorse everything contained in the Bill. Probably he had arrived at the opinion that the higher ground ought to contribute something towards the protection of the lower ground. An agriculturist such as the hon. Gentleman was, well acquainted with the position and wants and requirements of the country, would, no doubt, be prepared to propose that his own constituents should be charged a fair proportion towards the rates that it would be necessary to impose in carrying out the provisions of the Bill. Although he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) did not agree with all the main provisions of the measure, he should certainly not oppose the second reading, as it had been moved; but hoped that a proper and fair discussion would take place on going into Committee.


said, he quite agreed with some of the remarks which had fallen from the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir Walter B. Barttelot). He had no wish now, and never had, to oppose the Bill. He was fully aware that it might confer many advantages upon the country; but it was defective in several material particulars; and in reference to some small rivers on the borders of Cambridgeshire, it would be necessary to make further provisions than were at present proposed. Therefore, in agreeing to the second reading, he wished to guard himself against assenting to all of its details. One proposal contained in the Bill was quite a new one in the taxation of the country—namely, that anybody should be taxed who did not derive benefit from the taxes imposed. He also objected to the proposition to lay a charge, not upon the owners, but upon the occupiers of land, a principle precisely contrary to that on which the great Fen levels had been drained. He thought that great care should be taken, in order to insure that the great districts to which he had referred as being at one time covered with water, and since converted into fertile fields, should not be interfered with. He remembered, on an occasion about two years ago, when he was one of a deputation that waited on the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, it was admitted by one of the members that a great deal of the flooding of the lowlands was caused by riparian proprietors allowing their trees to fall into the rivers. He contended that the midlands and uplands were in no way responsible for such neglect on the part of the riparian proprietors; and, although he 'should not trouble the House with any further remarks upon the subject, he begged to say that, while he abstained from offering any opposition to the second reading, he reserved to himself perfect liberty of raising objections upon these and other points when the House went into Committee on the Bill.


thought the House was entitled, before agreeing to the second reading, to receive some further information with regard to this measure than had been given. The Bill involved questions of great practical difficulty and importance; and he felt it his duty to enter his protest against the second reading being passed in so exceedingly hurried a manner without any explanation whatever on the part of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of it. He observed that the Bill contained many principles which were entirely novel in their character, and the adoption of which by Parliament would seriously affect the class of owners and occupiers of land, whom he had the honour to represent, by casting upon them new burdens, without conferring on them any corresponding benefit. He expressed the hope that when the Bill had been read a second time, and came forward in Committee, every opportunity would be given for full and complete discussion on its various provisions.


said, he found, on examination, that the Bill contained no clauses for preserving the rights of Water Companies. At the proper time he should move Amendments for the purpose of excepting waterworks from its operation.


said, that the Bill had, during the last Session of Parliament, been the subject of considerable interest in the county which he had the honour to represent. There was, however, some difference of opinion with regard to it; and while the great body of his constituents who were interested in its different objects asked him to support the measure, there were those who objected to paying taxes leviable on them by reason of the area of taxation being extended. On the whole, he thought that the opinion of his constituents was in favour of the Bill being read a second time, and that the objections to its provisions which it might be necessary to urge should be submitted when the House went into Committee. Under the circumstances, and while reserving to himself perfect right to oppose any clauses which might seem objectionable, he was willing to agree to the second reading.


protested against so important a Bill being brought up for its second reading at such an unreasonable hour. The House was awaiting with considerable interest the important measure which had been promised to deal with the question of county government. He was bound to say that the Government, in bringing forward this Bill at that period of the Session, were, so to speak, putting the cart before the horse. The inhabitants of the rural districts had a strong objection to the taxation which was being heaped upon them year after year; and they felt that one of the first things to be done was to lay before the House some idea of the provisions of the County Board Bill, which, in his opinion, should have been brought forward before the present measure.


said, it was not for him to defend the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Dodson) from the charge of endeavouring to force the Bill through the House; but, considering the fact that it had been before Parliament previously, he thought the right hon. Gentleman was justified in asking for the Bill to be read a second time, particularly as it had been referred to a Select Committee. He was bound to say the Bill had been improved in detail, and that great care had been taken in its preparation by the right hon. Gentleman. It had already been frequently alluded to during the last fortnight as a measure which the Government would ask the House to pass; and, under the circumstances, he should support the second reading.


said, he agreed with the hon. Member for Herefordshire (Mr. Duckham) that the introduction of this Bill before the County Board Bill was something like putting the cart before the horse. The latter Bill had been promised by the Government, and it seemed an extraordinary thing to ask for a further area of taxation before the House was aware of its provisions. He should not oppose the second reading of the Bill; but he took the opportunity of stating that he should do so at all its other stages unless the County Government Bill was in the meantime brought forward.


said, he wished to remind the House that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had adopted precisely the same course last year as on the present occasion with reference to this Bill. When it came on for second reading last Session, it was under cir- cumstances that prevented full discussion. It was hurried through at a late hour of the night, when it was utterly impossible for Parliament to give it due consideration, notwithstanding that it was said every opportunity would be given for discussing it during the day. He thought, before they passed the second reading, the House ought to consider how far they were committing themselves in view of the great measure of county government reform which had been promised by the Government. As he understood that proposal, its effect would be to decentralize the local administration of the country. But the present Bill was a centralizing one from beginning to end, and would stand in the way of county government reform, and violate the principles which the Government had announced as the basin of the larger measure. Under the circumstances, he thought it unreasonable that the House should be pressed to take the second reading of the present Bill until the provisions of the County Board Bill were before them. He suggested that the Bill should be postponed until after the introduction of the County Government Bill, so as to afford an opportunity of dealing with the matter in a way satisfactory to the country at large.


said, he could not agree with the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) that the Bill had not been discussed last year. On the contrary, his recollection was that it had been very fully discussed by the House on more than one occasion, and that its provisions had been thoroughly sifted. The fears of hon. Members that it would clash with any Local Government Bill were quite groundless, and the scheme on which it was based was the very reverse of centralizing, inasmuch as it did not proceed from the central authority at all. He could not, therefore, help expressing surprise at the speech of the hon. Member for Burnley. With respect to the general principle of the Bill, he thought that the views taken on all sides had been extremely fair and worthy of consideration. On behalf of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Dodson) he ventured to say that no one regretted more than he did that the second reading should have come on at so late an hour; but hon. Members would doubtless understand the difficulties which had stood in the way of its being brought forward earlier. When the House considered that the strongest representations were being made day by day with the view of getting the Bill passed, he thought they would agree that it was only right that the second reading should be dealt with that evening.


said, that he should not oppose the second reading, although he reserved to himself the right of criticism in Committee.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 147; Noes 18: Majority 129.—(Div. List, No. 12.)

Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.