§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. HOPWOOD
said, he feared that it might be thought, in the eyes of those whom he opposed, that he had taken upon himself a somewhat unpleasant task in rising to move the rejection of the second reading of this Bill. It was a duty unpleasant to himself to come forward as the quasi-champion of what he conceived to be the public rights in the matter, when there were many other hon. Members who would have been much more justified in assuming that position. He had, however, arranged with some hon. Friends, who agreed with him upon the subject, that he should endeavour to put a stop, for a time, to the further progress of certain Private Bills which had been introduced this year, and the first on the list was the one now before the House—the Accrington Extension and Improvement Bill. As there were a number of other Bills in the same category, he trusted that the general remarks he might be permitted to make would be looked upon as dealing with the whole number, and thus obviate the necessity of going into a minute examination of each of the other Bills in succession. He trusted, therefore, that the House would give him its indulgence, to some extent, in regard to the width of the remarks he was about to make, as his only object was to save the public time. In opposing the Accrington Extension and Improvement Bill, he did so entirely upon public grounds, and he should have been very pleased if some other hon. Member had assumed the duty he had undertaken. His right hon. Friend, whose absence at that moment and the 321 cause of it they all deeply lamented—the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld)—would, if he could have been in the House, have had much more authority and weight in discharging this duty than he (Mr. Hopwood) could pretend to have. He knew, however, that the course he was now taking had the thorough concurrence of his right hon. Friend, and his right hon. Friend was no mean authority in the matter, because, when the right hon. Gentleman presided over the Local Government Board, he was in the habit of exercising a strong and strict supervision over the kind of legislation to which objection was now taken in the present Bills. The right hon. Gentleman invariably declined to allow any alteration in the general law of the land to slip through in the shape of a Private Bill. He (Mr. Hopwood) had already said that he opposed these Bills upon public grounds. He did so because he was anxious that the principle he desired to assert, and which he contended was infringed upon in the present Bills, should not be infringed upon in future. It was right to say that a former Member of that House—then Member for Cambridge, and more recently the Member for Wigan (Mr. F. S. Powell)—took a very similar view from the other side of the House to that which he (Mr. Hopwood) now took. It was evident, therefore, that all parties in the House were equally interested in asserting the principle he was labouring to have settled. He might say at once that he admired the principle of Local Government as much as any Englishman could do; but he was not disposed to say that, wherever it was practicable, all Local Government should be centralized in a Corporation, or in a set of Improvement Commissioners. In all Local Government he thought that, per se, when a case was made out for the jurisdiction of the local authorities, that jurisdiction should be the same in all the localities, and that in one locality a different principle should not be acted upon from that which prevailed in the rest of the country. He entertained the highest respect for the corporate bodies that were established all over the Kingdom, and he had no desire either to thwart or to mortify them in any legitimate object they might have at heart. At the same time, he was of opinion that all matters connected with Local 322 Government should receive full discussion and be fully threshed out. If the questions involved in the present Bills had been completely and fully discussed, first before the Corporations themselves, and then before the central authorities, there would have been less occasion for him to raise any objection; but the House would see that, in the form in which legislation of this kind acted—namely, in the shape of a Private Bill, it acquired the status of a Statute, and the matters prescribed in it went down from the Legislature, not to be debated in the Town Council, and ordered as it thought fit, but to become at once the future rule of right in the locality. If anyone said—"Why is this the law? Is the law so severe as this? I certainly was not aware of it;" he was answered at once by the assertion—"It is the law, and therefore you must obey it." If any question arose which was a matter of doubt, and it could be made a question of discussion and discretion upon which the full collective representative capacity of the borough could be called into play, he should have very little to say; but that was not the case. These Bills proposed to alter the law in various ways. They placed very arbitrary powers in the hands of certain local officers, and they empowered such officers, from the time the Bills left that House, to exercise the powers conferred upon them in a most arbitrary manner, without providing any power of supervision over them. No doubt a Corporation was a fit body to form a judgment upon many matters that arose within its precincts, and such matters would probably be well threshed out before they were determined upon. Parliament had already conferred upon the local authorities very large powers in respect of the arrangement of buildings, the question of police, the employment of hackney carriages, and a number of other matters. But they were matters that had been well ascertained years ago, and were regulated by such Public Acts as the Towns Improvements Acts, the Towns Police Acts, and the like, which formed the best authority at this moment for the general legislation of the country. Parliament had laid down a rule that upon certain questions the legislation of the country should be general. The varying way in which 323 these powers were inserted in Local Acts was an evidence that they were liable to adoption in a capricious manner. If there happened to be a particularly active Chairman of Committee, who thought that a certain view might be permitted, although it might be capable of a most arbitrary application, his whim was generally gratified. The propriety of allowing the local law to be altered in this manner came before the House, upon such Bills as these, with very great force. They were now about to discuss a proposal, in regard to which they had been talking among themselves for some years, and which at length was about to assume a more practical form—namely, whether or not the House should refer all such matters to a Grand Committee. And yet it seemed to have been their practice of late to refer matters of great and vital interest connected with Local Government to some five Gentlemen sitting upstairs, who settled such questions as a Select Committee in a manner in which probably they never would have been settled if they had been brought before a Grand Committee, or discussed in open debate in the House. He had very little doubt in his own mind that the House, as a collective body, would never have consented to some of the decisions which had been arrived at by these small select tribunals. He came now to another point. Having treated the subject, to some extent, from a general point of view, he came to the particular class of complaints he had to make against the provisions of the Bills now before the House. The House would, of course, remember that there were Acts of a wide and general application applying to the whole of the country. For instance, there was the Public Health Act. But these Bills gave a particular form of administration to that Act, apart from that which the Statute itself gave, notwithstanding that the Act was passed after the deliberative wisdom of the House had been brought to bear upon it. Parliament not only laid down the general law, but deliberately defined the extent to which sanitary precautions and regulations in regard to infectious diseases should be carried; and yet of late a number of Private Bills had been introduced, some of which were successful last Session, in which other and different regulations had been au- 324 thorized. This was a fact very greatly to be deplored. He did not know who was responsible for it; but he hoped to hear some good reason assigned for allowing these extraordinary provisions to appear in a Private Bill. He was informed that one or two of the provisions sanctioned last year were of so arbitrary a character that the local authorities intrusted with them had not dared to carry them into effect. It was a most serious matter to allow the inhabitants of any locality to be oppressed by enactments so arbitrary that there was great fear, if they were attempted to be carried out to the full extent, a riot would be provoked. He should not feel at all surprised if, in some of the large towns, an attempt to enforce some of the sections of Private Acts to which his attention had been called should provoke a display of anger which it would be difficult to conciliate. He therefore asked the House to pause before it allowed further legislation of this description. The questions dealt with by the Public Health Act were treated of, and amplified, in this manner. For instance, the notification of diseases was one of the subjects in regard to which these Private Bills proposed to add new clauses to the Public Health Act, notwithstanding the fact that there were at this moment three public measures before the House awaiting deliberation upon the self-same subject. Whenever an opportunity was afforded for discussing them, a very considerable contest would be provoked; and he wanted to know by what authority a mere Select Committee on a Private Bill should be allowed to dispose of such questions, seeing that the House itself was anxiously awaiting an opportunity of dealing with them. Surely it was a most objectionable practice, in such important matters, to permit a serious alteration or addition to the general law of the land to pass through a Select Committee of the House, probably unchallenged, and without opposition or discussion. He thought the House ought to be protected by its own officials against Parliamentary sanction being given, without the knowledge of the body of the House, to the eccentricities of local bodies in derogation of the law of the land, animated by a desire to make the people happy through the aid of the policeman and local medi- 325 cal officer. One clause in the Bill now under discussion enabled the Corporation to supplement the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act of 1878 by making bye-laws for the regulation of dairies, cowsheds, and milkshops. Parliament had already given to the Privy Council such powers as were deemed safe to intrust to a great public body responsible for its actions under special legislation; and yet in the present Bills the local authorities assumed to themselves the right to govern in accordance with their own individual notions as to such matters in different parts of the country. The proposal was that Parliament should confer upon these local bodies the power of inspecting the situation and arrangements of cowsheds and milkshops, and regulating various matters appertaining to the supply of milk. All these powers were to be taken out of the hands of the central authority and placed in those of local bodies; and not only so, but the existing powers were to be greatly enlarged. He wanted to know by what authority a mere Select Committee upstairs was empowered to sanction such important alterations of the general law? He thought it would be preferable for the House to refuse the proposed legislation, and to strengthen the hands of the Privy Council, so that it might act as an intermediate strainer, as it were, between the Legislature and the fancies and vagaries of Town Councils in derogation of the law of the land. No such extensive powers should be intrusted to any circumscribed locality. His contention was that in carrying out such legislation they were allowing local bodies to steal a march upon Parliament, and that it ought not to be allowed. He would contrast London with these Provincial towns. London had large powers; but he would undertake to prove that they were more moderate than most of those which these Town Councils had asked for, and obtained. How was it, then, that London had been more moderate in its demands? It was because the Acts which applied to London were public, and were obliged to be debated. They had been debated, and had been adopted by Parliament with full knowledge. Hence it arose that any extraordinary power speedily reached the eye of somebody, and was rejected if it were considered of an arbitrary 326 character. Some of these Bills entered into the question of police, and created entirely new offences. Some of the clauses would, he thought, make the hair of some hon. Members stand on end if they read them. There were not only clauses affecting public health and contagious diseases in animals, but dealing with places of public entertainment, the regulation of pawn broking, and electric lighting. In regard to most of these purposes there were Acts of Parliament of a public nature and of a stringent character already in force; and all he ventured to submit was that the House should refuse, with its eyes open, to intrust fresh powers to these Corporations. The best way of dealing with such extraordinary proposals would be to adopt the precedent already set in connection with the Private Bills which had been introduced in regard to electric lighting. Everybody knew that electric lighting was a matter of great public concern, and that it was only fit and proper that some Act of a general character should be passed. Accordingly, his right hon. Friend who represented the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) had come forward, as it was his duty to do, and said at once—''These are matters of public importance, and should receive the attention of the Government and the responsible authorities, in order to prevent hasty and improper legislation. Therefore, we propose that the progress of these Bills should be stayed, in order that time may be afforded for deciding upon some general principle to apply to them." He ventured to think that the Department had taken a proper course, and that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade deserved credit for his prompt action in the matter. If any other course had been taken, the public would have been left quite unprotected. Some of the provisions contained in the Bills now under discussion specially affected the artizan classes. The House would be aware that when all the means of warning the inhabitants of a district were gone through, the means at present provided for making public all the changes proposed by a Private Bill, they did little to inform the artizan classes what the Legislature was providing for them in the shape of arbitrary restrictions. Of course, the plea put forward for the restrictions was that of securing the public health— 327 e.g., the prevention of the spread of infectious diseases. But it struck him that Parliament had already well considered that question, and there had been a general manifestation of opinion that much must be left to the individual action of the members of the community. It was felt that they must be trusted to take precautions for their own safety, because otherwise it would be urged that the result would be to place the whole population under the eye of the police and the medical officers. No one would object to that if it had not a tendency to create a feeling of apathy and indifference. When infection broke out and disease became prevalent, the public, instead of having been taught to take precautions for their own safety and preservation, would look round for the medical officer or the policeman to go to their aid. The way in which the artizan classes were informed under the present Bill of the manner in which their liberty was about to be affected was this. An advertisement was inserted in the local paper to the effect that a meeting was about to be held under the Borough Funds Act, to take into consideration a Bill for lighting the streets with gas, or for improving the sewage, and "for other purposes." In that way the watchfulness of everybody in the place was lulled, for the most part, to sleep; and if no inquiry was made as to what was proposed to be the nature of the legislation, the artizan might ultimately find himself interfered with in his personal liberty, and in his home comforts, in. a hundred different ways. He was liable to find himself, all of a suddon, placed entirely at the beck and call of the policeman, who would simply tell him that he had incurred a fine of 40s. One great objection to all this kind of legislation was this. A man who had been labouring in London went down to live, for instance, in one of the great manufacturing centres. In London he was practically free from vexatious interference or restraint, and he was all the happier for it; but because he sought to change his residence for the privilege of living in one of these large towns, he found himself incurring a penalty of £5 on the right, and £10 on the left, for the infraction of laws he had never heard of. As the House must itself be responsible for the enactment of these arbitrary powers, he was anxious to show 328 how much importance Parliament had attached to protective and precautionary measures before sanctioning any legislation of the kind. In the case of Ireland there was a distinct Standing Order of the House that, before provisions such as these were introduced into any Bill, a certificate must be obtained by the promoters from the Local Government Board, stating that they were introduced with their approval, and upon their advice. There, again, they had a public body made responsible for the nature of the Bill that was introduced, and some precautions, at any rate, were taken against improper procedure. Nothing of the kind was done in regard to the present Bills. He would take the Accrington Bill as a test. The House would remember that he had referred to the Public Health Act. He contended that that Act went as far in the direction of interfering with the life of a family, with home existence, and with the arrangement of the dwellings of the people as Parliament could desire, or, at any rate, was disposed to intrust, to any local authority. In the first place, he would direct attention to Part 13 of the Accrington Bill, which related to sanitary arrangements. It stated that—For the purposes of this Act, the expression 'infectious diseases,' means and includes all or any of the following diseases (that is to say, small-pox, cholera, scarlet fever, scarlatina, diphtheria, typhus fever, enteric or typhoid fever, and puerperal fever).The Corporation may, from time to time, order public or private schools situated in neighbourhoods affected by any infectious diseases to be temporarily closed or suspended.What did "Corporation" mean? It probably meant the Corporation as a body, or the active Chairman of a Committee, to which the question of public health was referred. The Bill went on to say—The Corporation may order any shop, dairy, or other place, for the sale of beverages by re-tail, or for the sale or storage of provisions, or of clothing or other articles liable to communicate or retain infection, or any common lodging-house, to be temporarily closed whenever, from the appearance of infectious disease therein, or in rooms connected therewith, such action appears to the Corporation to be necessary; and may take all such means as seem to them desirable for preventing the entrance of the public therein, or the issue therefrom of food, clothing, or any of the articles or matters aforesaid,329 The next provision was—In case of the existence of infectious disease in any house within the borough, the Corporation may issue an order declaring such house, or any rooms therein, or part thereof, an infected place, and forthwith, until such order has been determined by another certifying it free from infection.Then followed certain regulations to be observed in respect of such house or part of a house. Further on it was provided that—When the room or rooms occupied by the person or persons suffering from infectious disease can, in the opinion of the medical officer of health, be effectually separated, and are so separated from the other parts of the same house or building, the rooms so occupied only shall be deemed to be affected by such order and regulations.There, again, the medical officer had complete control. But there were medical officers and medical officers. Some of them were wise; some of them were not. He objected to be handed over to somebody, in whose judgment there was nothing like leather, to say what precaution should be taken according to his will and pleasure. The full extent of his arbitrary jurisdiction really rested on himself and his assistants. Another provision was that—No person dwelling in any such house or part of a house shall work at any other place in the same room with healthy persons, except with the written permission of the medical officer of health, and after disinfection of the person and clothing.It would appear from this that the medical officer of health was to be the sole arbiter of the rules under which the working classes were to carry on their daily labour. The House would observe that this legislation applied equally to the house and family of the wealthy man as to that of the artizan. But did anyone suppose that the medical officer of health, or the most fussy member of the Corporation, would venture to challenge conclusions with anybody who was able to protect himself? At the foot of the proposed sections appeared the following Proviso:—Provided always, that the Corporation shall make compensation to any person who shall have complied with the provisions of this section, and who has thereby sustained loss by reason of the exercise of any of the foregoing powers; but such compensation shall be in regard only of direct material and pecuniary loss, and not in respect of any consequential loss or damage. And any person wilfully, or 330 without reasonable excuse, offending against any of the foregoing provisions, or against any order or regulation made under any of such provisions, shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding five pounds, and, in case of a continuing offence, to a further daily penalty not exceeding forty shillings for every day on which such offence continues.There were other clauses with which he would not trouble the House, with one exception. He was sure the House would realize that he had undergone considerable labour, in order that he might fully understand the bearing of these Bills; and the fact that he was only discharging a duty must be his apology for the length at which he was compelled to detain the House. The next clause—Clause 191—related to the notice that was to be given of all cases of infectious disease, and it laid down that—If any such inmate be suffering from any infectious disease, the occupier, or person having the management or control of such building or of such occupier or person, be prevented by reason of such disease, then the person in charge of such inmate shall, so soon as he or she shall become aware of the existence in any such inmate of any such disease, forthwith give notice in writing to the sanitary officer of the Corporation, at their sanitary offices or at the chief police station, of the existence in such inmate of such disease.Did anybody suppose that such a regulation would ever be carried out? And if it were capable of being carried out, let the House take into consideration the nature of the cases of disorder which would come within the question of fever or infection, and which might affect a man, or his wife, or his children, and then suppose that they would immediately be made known at the headquarters of the police or the medical officer of health. Why, under this clause, the Town Clerk and the Corporation, and the medical officer of health would really have power to interfere in almost every case of sickness, and virtually to overrule the authority of the medical man employed by the family. How long would such a system of arbitrary interference with a man's freedom of action be tolerated? It might be said by the local authorities—"We do not propose to carry such powers into effect generally." His answer was—"If you do not intend to carry them out, you do not want them;" and, therefore, he protested against Parliament being asked to sanction them. So much for the notification of infectious disease, under which— 331Any person who shall wilfully offend against this enactment shall for every such offence be liable to a penalty not exceeding ten pounds.He observed, further, that—The Corporation shall pay to every registered medical practitioner who shall, in pursuance of this section, duly make and give any such certificate or declaration, a fee of one shilling for each such certificate, but only one such certificate need be given, and only one such foe shall be payable within an interval of thirty days to the same medical practitioner in respect of the same disease occurring in the same building.Certainly the amount fixed in the Accrington Bill was not large; but in most of these Bills the medical officer was not satisfied with a fee of 1s., but was to receive as much as 1s. 6d. The matter might be looked upon as a very small one; but he objected to the substitution of any such provisions for that which the wisdom and experience of Parliament had laid down as the general law of the land. The Bill went on to provide that other diseases might be declared to come within the supervision of the medical officer of health. Clause 192 said—The Corporation may from time to time by resolution, on the report of the medical officer of health, order that measles, German measles, erysipelas, whooping cough, or splenic fever, and (with the sanction of the Local Government Board) any infectious or contagious disease other than those specifically mentioned in this Act, shall be deemed to be an infectious disease within, and subject to the provisions of, this Act.There could be no doubt that the Medical Profession possessed a fascinating power in being able to use scientific terms and phrases which were suggestive of death; and by that means they not unfrequently arrested and overpowered a man's judgment, and compelled him to accept their intervention. He did not think that Parliament should—at any rate without special deliberation and discussion—consent to grant to any medical officer such arbitrary powers. Then, by the 195th section, it was directed that—The provisions contained in Sections 116 to 119, inclusive, of the Public Health Act, 1875, shall extend and apply to all articles sold or exposed for sale, or deposited in any place for the purpose of sale or of preparation for sale within the borough, and intended for the food of man.The Public Health Act stopped short at certain well-known articles of food. It 332 stopped short at animal meat, poultry, game, fish, vegetables, fruit, bread, flour, and corn meal. But this section proposed to take the whole range of our food supply, and to include the whole number of articles sold, or exposed for sale as food. He did not propose to argue the question at length. He would simply point out that the Public Health Act was drawn up with great care, and in the provisions which it contained precise limits were laid down; and if Parliament in a general Act refrained from giving power to the local authorities which would enable them to interfere with a man's liberty and freedom of action, surely Parliament ought not now to be called upon to extend the provisions of the Public Health Act, and to confer these extraordinary powers by a mere clause in a Private Bill. He came next to the 197th section of the Bill. That section gave further powers for the removal to the hospital of infected persons. It said—On the certificate of the medical officer of health of the borough or other legally qualified medical practitioner that any person within the borough is suffering from any dangerous infectious disease, and is without proper lodging or accommodation enabling the case to be properly isolated, so as to prevent the spread of the disease, or to be properly treated, the Corporation may give notice to the head of the family (resident in the same building) to which the person is suffering belongs requiring the removal forthwith of such person to any hospital belonging to them or under their control: Provided, that if there is no such head of the family, or if such head of the family is absent from the borough, or cannot be found, such notice may be given to the person so suffering.Now, that section placed a man living amongst his family entirely under the arbitrary control, not only of the medical officer of health, but of any legally qualified medical practitioner who might give a certificate; and in the event of a certificate being given, then the Corporation was empowered to give notice to the head of the family, requiring him to remove the sufferer forthwith to any hospital belonging to them or under their control. He knew it was pleaded that the local authorities were animated by the best intentions in desiring to have these powers; that they were to apply to everybody for their own good, and for the good of the community generally, and that the authorities were only asking for the power conferred by the clause without intending, in 333 every instance, to avail themselves of it. But surely there was something in the nature of responsibility attaching to the parents. Some consideration ought to be paid to the rights of the family; and no Corporation or medical practitioner should be intrusted with the arbitrary power of doing what the passing of this Bill would enable them to do. The limitation of the Public Health Act in this respect was convincing proof that, in the opinion of the Legislature, it was not desirable to enact such arbitrary provisions. The powers of the local authorities and medical officers were circumscribed within proper limits; but, if the Accrington Bill were passed in its present shape, any Member of that House, every person belonging to the wealthiest and highest class of society, if he happened to live in one of these boroughs, and, in the opinion of the medical officer, was suffering from a dangerous or infectious disease, and not properly isolated, might be taken away from the midst of his family, who were nursing him, and removed to a hospital belonging to the Corporation, or under their control. By the exercise of a violent act, the Corporation or medical officer were empowered to do exactly as they pleased with him. Here, again, he might have the assurance that such things never would be done. His answer was that the Bill rendered them possible to be done, and he altogether objected to the possibility. In no case would he have any objection to the use of persuasion in convincing poor people that they were not properly attended, and that it would be better to remove them to a place where they would be property caved for. That would be infinitely preferable to the violence and cruelty done to their feelings, and to those of their relatives, by putting in force an arbitrary power of removal. He believed that in many cases the idea of the danger of infection was much exaggerated. He was corroborated in that assertion by the testimony of the Medical Profession itself. The medical statement was that three or four persons might be shut up in a house with one who was infected, and yet not one of them would take the infection. No doubt, it was equally, and, perhaps, more probable that they would; but he protested in such a matter against an appeal being made to the House, to 334 extract from its fears in regard to the dangers of infection such exceptional and extraordinary powers. He came now to the end of the provisions of the Bill, and the only clause he wished to refer to was the 199th, which said—The Corporation, for the better prevention of the spread of infectious diseases, may from time to time make bye-laws with respect to dairies, cowsheds, and milkshops, for all or any of the following purposes (that is to say): For regulating the situation and arrangements thereof; the inspection thereof by an officer of the Corporation at all reasonable times; for insuring the purity of the water supply thereof.The words "for regulating the situation and arrangements thereof" conferred entirely new powers of a very wide character; and, if they were inserted in the Bill, the Corporation of Accrington would in future have a right to say with regard to dairies, cowsheds, and milk-shops, even where a man had an established business—"You must remain here no longer. You must give up your business and remove to some other part of the town." The section was entirely in conflict with 41 & 42 Vict., under which the Privy Council might authorize the local authority to make regulations. He could understand such a provision as that, because it insured that the regulations were carried into effect under the authority of a responsible body entitled to the confidence of the public. There were other matters contained in the Bill which he would not weary the House by specifying, except Clause 216, which related to the keeping of disorderly houses, and provided that—If any person keeps or acts or assists in the management of a brothel or other disorderly house, room, or other place, he shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding ten pounds, or, in the discretion of the justice before whom he is convicted, to he imprisoned, with or without hard labour, for any term not exceeding six months.There were many more clauses of the same kind, against which he protested that they were monstrously arbitrary; and he did trust that they would be excised from the Bill. He might add that one of the Bills—that for Manchester—proposed to deal with children styled ''street Arabs"—a matter which, no doubt, demanded the inquiry of the House, but ought not to be regulated by the insertion of a stray clause in a Private and 335 Local Bill. The subject was not dealt with in the Accrington Bill now under the consideration of the House; and he only mentioned the circumstance by way of illustrating his argument in reference to the curious category of promiscuous subjects that were now-a-days sought to be brought within the scope of Private Bill legislation. The proposal he referred to was one that would alter the Factory Acts. It was a proposal to deal with the case of vagrant children; and, in the first place, he was told that similar powers were already conferred upon the local authorities in Scotland. That, however, was no justification, because, to his mind, some of the Scotch proceedings were of an exceedingly arbitrary character; and the fact that certain powers were given to the local authorities in Scotland by no means modified or did away altogether with his disinclination to adopt similar provisions in England. But the clause to which he referred in one of the present Bills very much exceeded even the Scotch law. It gave power to take up any children who might be found in the streets selling newspapers and endeavouring to earn a few pence in order to supply themselves with food. The Bill gave power to the local authorities to take up such children and put them in some place whore, it was imagined, they would be better cared for and looked after. But he was satisfied that the House would look upon the question in a very different spirit. He had no doubt that every benevolent person would, if it were possible, consent to a proposal to this extent—that if, for instance, the children of Manchester were found in the streets after dark, at a later hour than was considered to be consistent with their tender years, hungry and unwashed, they should be taken care of by the police, fed, washed, and put to bed. But the proposal now made was to take from the parent his right to derive any assistance from the labour of his child, or if a child did as he was told, as many children in London were in the habit of doing, invest a few pence in the purchase of newspapers and sell them at a profit, then Parliament was to put a stop to such a proceeding by an arbitrary Act of legislation. At this very moment the Legislature was discussing how the condition of vagrant children could be best ameliorated. At this 336 moment they found the Industrial Schools broken down; at this moment they were referring all these matters for discussion before a Royal Commission; and yet at such a moment it was seriously proposed by some persons—the Liverpool Bill raised the same question; but the authorities had, on his opposition, withdrawn the clause—that the local authorities should be entrusted with extraordinary powers to enable them to decide the whole matter. Upon such an important subject he contended that it was of national and general importance that there should be direct Parliamentary legislation, and that no Private Bill, dealing with such matters, should be passed in the way now suggested. Having borne with patience, more than he deserved, the lengthened statement he had considered it his duty to make, he trusted the House would feel that he had made out a strong case for the proposition he submitted, that in future greater care should be exercised in the supervision of Private Bills promoted by corporate bodies and municipal authorities than was now manifested. Of course, he was not aware that these Bills had yet passed through the amending hands of any of the authorities of the House, and he had made no reference to the action of those authorities. All he had attempted was to make out a case for the supervision and control of the House itself; and he believed he had shown that the Bills now standing on the Paper required very material alteration and amendment. All that it was necessary to add was that he had no personal hostility to these Bills, and he had no desire to interfere with their progress, except so far as they proposed to carry out legislative enactments that might interfere with the comforts and convenience of the people. In other respects they were, no doubt, useful Bills, and he had no wish to oppose them or contribute towards their rejection. He proposed to await the discussion that would probably take place on the Amendment he was about to submit, and then to deal with it in the manner that would be most satisfactory to the House. If it should be necessary to persist with his opposition to the second reading of these Bills he should not shrink from doing so; but he was willing, in conjunction with those who were acting with him in. the matter, to content himself with a reasonable 337 assurance from the Government that the question would receive due attention, because he and they knew that at a later stage, either upon the Report or the third reading, they would be able to move the excision of any provision which might have been incautiously admitted, either by the authorities of the House or by the Select Committee, and which, in the judgment of the House, had been improperly admitted. If it should appear that these objectionable provisions had been retained, he would certainly be prepared to resort to every legitimate and Parliamentary means in order to defeat them and prevent them from becoming law. He begged, in conclusion, to move that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Hopwood.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
I think the House is very much indebted to the hon. and learned Gentleman for having brought this matter forward. I have no doubt that no one wishes, in any shape or form, to interfere with the desire of the great Corporations of the country to prosecute any Bills they think fit for the purpose of providing for the wants of the inhabitants of the towns they represent. But in this Bill, and in certain other Bills that are before us at the present moment, there are undoubtedly very great pains and penalties inserted in various clauses, both in reference to children and also in regard to infectious diseases and other matters which ought not altogether to be left to the judgment of a Committee upstairs, but which, in reality, form matters of public and general interest, and require to be settled by this House. Anyone who has had, as I have had, anything to do with the clauses of Local Acts and General Acts also will have found that there are provisions in some Acts of Parliament under which pressure and oppression have been permitted to be carried out. It is important to know what the House of Commons is to do with these Bills. I do not want to take up the time of the House, but rather to save it if I can, and I would make a suggestion to the hon. 338 and learned Member who has brought the subject before us. There are a great number of these Bills, I believe, and some of them contain provisions which are different from those contained in others. I would therefore suggest that they might all go to a Committee upstairs, whose duty it would be to deal with those portions which belong to the Private Business of the House. But I think that there ought to be a special Instruction from this House to the Committee to report to this House on all the particular clauses to which objection is taken upon general grounds. Further, there ought to be a distinct understanding that the third reading of these Bills should not be taken until the House has had an opportunity of discussing the Report of the Committee, so that the House itself may be able to pass an opinion upon the general principles involved in these different measures. I venture to throw this out as a suggestion to the House generally. I think we shall save time by taking such a course, and I also think that the object of the hon. and learned Member who has brought the question forward would be obtained as much by that means as he could expect by any other. I deeply sympathize with all that the hon. and learned Member has stated. I listened to his speech with great attention, and I think he deserves the thanks of the House for the course he has taken.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I quite concur with what the right hon. Gentleman has said in regard to the great utility of the discussion which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) has raised. But the questions which he has entered into give rise to very different considerations; and we must all feel how difficult it is, seeing the multitude of Private Bills that come before us, to give that attention to every point which is absolutely necessary. In point of fact, the machinery of this House is not calculated for any such purpose, nor can I go quite the entire length of my hon. and learned Friend in saying that there should be no local Board in any great community, which should possess powers differing in any respect from those conferred by the general law; because it seems to me that it might be very necessary for great communities like those of Manchester and Liverpool, for instance, 339 to have special provisions which would he appropriate to such communities, hut would not necessarily apply to any other parts of the country. I think that is a reason why, under proper safeguards, you may have a system of local law which should be applicable to different communities. I am, however, quite certain that almost the only alleviation of the difficulty in which the House is now placed in the transaction of Public Business is to be found in an extension of the principles of Local Government, and in intrusting the various communities with the power of making provision for meeting the wants of the people. But I entirely agree that this matter ought to be very carefully watched, and that we ought not to grant powers to local bodies which may become oppressive. It seems to me, therefore, that the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross) is a very excellent and satisfactory one, because it will enable us to remit to the Committee upstairs for careful examination and consideration questions which we cannot here undertake ourselves when the House meets at 4 o'clock. When these various matters have been sifted upstairs, and all matters extracted from them which involve general principles, we should be in a better position to consider and discuss their bearing. I therefore hope that my hon. and learned Friend will consent to accept the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It is one in which, for my part, I entirely concur; and I think there should be an Instruction to the Committee which may sit upon those Bills in which exceptional powers are contained that they should make a special Report to the House. I think that such a proposal will meet the views of my hon. and learned Friend, and will relieve this House from attempting the difficult task of pronouncing an opinion upon the merits of these various schemes.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
I propose, further, that these Bills should not be read a third time until this House has had an opportunity of considering the Report of the Committee.
§ MR. THOMAS COLLINS
said, he thought the House ought to be grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) for having 340 brought these Bills under the notice of the House. He did not think that the local authorities in different localities should have power, by inserting a few clauses in a Private Bill, to alter the law which applied to the general population of the country. If such a system of legislation were sanctioned they might have in one town—Leeds for instance—one particular set of rules and regulations, and in another town, such as Manchester, where the conditions were similar, a totally different set of rules. He was sorry that the hon. and learned Member had gone so far as to move the rejection of the Bill. He thought the wiser course would have been to consult with the promoters of the Bill, and then to have taken steps to secure that some uniform course should be laid down by Parliament as to the shape which legislation should take in regard to these matters. He entirely objected to the principle of allowing important changes in the general legislation of the country to be introduced through the medium of Private Bills, and then referred to a Select Committee upstairs composed of a few Gentlemen necessarily holding different views in regard to the public policy of the regulations recommended. The hon. and learned Member had not touched upon the question of the borrowing powers contained in some of these Bills; and, therefore, he (Mr. Collins) was desirous of saying a few words on that subject. He had always held strong opinions in reference to the borrowing powers asked for by different localities. He had always held that this generation ought to pay for its own fancies, and that the money which any Corporation sought to raise for the purpose of improving its own town ought to be paid off in 30, 40, or 50 years, or any other term which the wisdom of Parliament might fix. Personally, he was of opinion that 30 years were quite long enough; but a Committee upstairs might feel disposed to fix a longer period. The Accrington Bill proposed 70 years; but why should four hon. Gentlemen sitting upstairs have the right to say that Accrington should have the power of borrowing money for 70 years, while another Committee sitting, say, upon a Bolton Bill should limit the power to 30 years? In every case of the kind there ought to be a specific Report from the Committee; and it ought not to be left to any 341 Committee, no matter how distinguished the Members of it might be, to lay down what ought to be the borrowing powers. There could be little doubt that a principle that affected Bolton would equally affect Oldham; and it ought not to be left to four Gentlemen sitting upstairs to say what should be the powers given in the one case, and what in the other, to borrow money on the rates. What were the ratepayers likely to do when a long term for repayment was allowed? There was every likelihood that they would indulge in a profligate expenditure of money, because they knew that as ratepayers they only had a temporary existtence, and whatever the extravagance of the expenditure, the only question with them was—"How little shall we have to pay year by year?" It was not "What will this new Town Hall cost us?" or "How much shall we be required to expend on these tramways?" But "How can we so arrange matters as to pay as little as we can?" Knowing that the period of payment was far distant, the local authorities were always in favour of borrowing; and it must be borne in mind that the owner had no voice in the matter, and even if he had, the occupiers being ten to one, any objections he might urge would not receive the slightest attention. The interests of the owners and of the occupiers were entirely opposed. He had not read through the whole of the 64 Bills which had been deposited, and which introduced exceptional powers; but he had gone through the Accrington Bill. He had no doubt, however, that all of these Private Bills contained different proposals, and that many of them were of a contrary character. The Accrington Bill provided that the annual instalments of the principal and interest of the money borrowed should be paid off in 70 years; and it then went on to state what the money was to be spent in. But in many of these Bills it was to be expended upon objects which in 30 or 40 years would be good for nothing. The Blackburn Bill—a very long Bill of 220 pages, and containing about 1,400 clauses—as far as he could see, made no provision whatever for the payment of its debts. It proposed to take power to borrow money in perpetuity. He might be wrong in his reading of the Bill; but that was the only conclusion he could arrive at. According to page 119 of the Bill, the Cor- 342 poration of Blackburn proposed to take power to raise money for objects of a purely temporary character—£20,000, for instance, to be expended in street improvements, and no provision whatever was made for the repayment of the principal. Surely that was a power which ought never to be conceded. It amounted to the imposition of a fixed charge upon the inhabitants which was never to be paid off; and among the works to which the expenditure was to be applied were the erection of police buildings, which, like all other buildings, must in the end decay. He confessed that he had never before heard of such a proposition as that contained in the Blackburn Bill—namely, that the Corporation should have the power of borrowing without being subject to any provision in regard to repayment. He sincerely trusted, if this Bill was sent to a Select Committee, that the special attention of the Committee would be drawn to these borrowing powers, and that the House would lay down definite and clear instructions to the Committee without attempting to shirk its responsibility. The House might lay down the principle, within certain limits, that no borrowing powers should be sanctioned which should extend over a period of 30 or 50 years; and they ought not to pass Bills year by year in which these very important powers were made to vary in some cases from 30 to 40 years, in others to 100 years, and in others, like Blackburn, to perpetuity. The principle involved a great question of public policy, which ought to be decided by the House itself, and not by a Committee upstairs. He hoped that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) would withdraw his Amendment for the rejection of the Bill, and move instead that the consideration of the measure be postponed for two or three weeks, so that in the meantime an arrangement might be come to with the promoters, which would give a certain degree of uniformity to the legislation proposed; and the House be enabled, before reading the Bill a second time, to lay down certain bases of principle which should guide the Committee upstairs as to the mode in which the question was to be dealt with. He did not think that in vital questions of this kind the Select Committee of the House should be left entirely to their own dis- 343 cretion. It was for the House to lay down the principles that ought to guide their decisions.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir William Harcourt) had adopted the suggestion of the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir E. Assheton Cross) that this Bill should be allowed to go to a Committee upstairs, with certain instructions as to what was to be done with it, and with directions to report to the House. But he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) thought that such an Instruction would be of very little use unless the House took care that the whole of these Bills went to the same Committee, or, at all events, be grouped together so that they might be considered on some common plan of supervision. He thought that his hon. and learned Friend below the Gangway (Mr. T. Collins) made a proper suggestion when he asked that the consideration of the whole of these Bills should be delayed for a fortnight, and that in the meantime the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, or the Chairman of Ways and Means, who would, perhaps, be the most proper person, should take some step with a view to secure that the Bills should be grouped together, and the Committee directed to present special Reports upon them, and the extent to which they ought to be allowed to interfere with the existing public law. He gathered from the debate which had taken place that it was proposed very materially to alter and amend—first, the Public Health Act; secondly, the Industrial Schools Act; and, thirdly, greatly to extend the powers of borrowing. It seemed to him quite impossible to allow the confusion to go on which would be introduced into the general law of the land by sanctioning many of the provisions contained in these Private Bills.
§ MR. LYON PLAYFAIR
said, the House was indebted to the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) for having drawn attention to the extravagant provisions in some of the Local Bills of this Session. There were already 24 Local Acts containing provisions of the kind which the hon. and learned Gentleman had brought under their notice; and though many of those provisions were useful, some had been extravagantly extended in 344 the Bills promoted this year. He thought the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross) was a good one, and especially when coupled with the suggestion of the late President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Sclater-Booth), that the Bills should be grouped together and go before one Committee. If that were done an Instruction might be prepared, and the Committee would be able to report generally as to how far the Acts were going in the direction already sanctioned by precedent, and how far they had the extravagances pointed out by the hon. and learned Member for Stockport, especially with regard to police matters and sanitary arrangements. Much good might be done in showing to what extent the House approved, or disapproved, of proposals for local government which had been made in the Bills of this year.
said, there was an important clause in some of the Bills to which reference had not been made; it, nevertheless, required very close attention. He had carefully read one of the Bills, and he found power given to the Corporation, which, if exercised, would amount, in many cases, to the confiscation of one half of the property in a borough. For instance, in the Dundee Bill power was given to the Corporation to prevent any person erecting tenements or houses in flats more than four storeys high. Now, proprietors had bought property entirely unrestricted, and with the intention of building upon it to its greatest extent. What would be thought if it were suggested that such a restriction should be enforced in London, where there were so many noble mansions of six and seven storeys? He need not say anything more to show hon. Members what a grievous interference with the rights of property was now proposed. No compensation was provided in case of such restrictions being enforced; and he hoped the House would take the matter he had referred to into careful consideration before assenting to the passing of the Bills.
§ MR. BRIGGS
said, he only wanted to interpose between the House and its decision for one moment. Inasmuch as his name appeared on the back of the Blackburn Improvement Bill, he might be allowed to correct a misapprehension into which the hon. and learned Member 345 for Knaresborough (Mr. T. Collins) had, no doubt, unwittingly fallen. The hon. and learned Gentleman said he had not had time to read the Bills through. He (Mr. Briggs) was afraid some Members did make speeches without having, first of all, properly studied the subject. He said the Blackburn people wanted to borrow money, and did not intend to pay it back; at least, there was no provision in their Bill concerning the repayment. He (Mr. Briggs) simply wished to say that the term they were allowed for repayment was 80 years. Of course, that would seem a long time to hon. Members; but it must be remembered that in the North of England there were a great many new communities springing up who had to spend enormous sums of money, and it would be distinctly unfair to make the present, or even the next, generation pay the whole cost of the public improvements. He would add that the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) had taken, for those who were interested in the Bills under consideration, a somewhat inconvenient course. He had lumped the good and the evil together, and had taken as his type, perhaps, the Bill to which he entertained the greatest objection, and had founded his sermon upon that text. He did not rise for the purpose of objecting to the very useful suggestions which had been thrown out by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, but simply to correct a misstatement made by the hon. and learned Member for Knaresborough.
§ MR. GRAY
approved of the proposal to refer all the Bills to one Committee. It was clearly not the intention of the House to read the Bills a second time now, because if the Bills were sent to different Committees with instructions to report upon the questions upon which such difference of opinion existed, such as borrowing powers, management of police, and so forth, they would have as many different Reports, based upon different principles, as they would have Committees. He could not understand the violent objection that some Members of the House had taken to some of the sanitary provisions of the Bills. The Sanitary Acts had imposed upon sanitary authorities very serious and onerous duties; and when the authorities discovered they were not able effectually to perform their duties they naturally at- 346 tempted, by the only method open to them, to relieve themselves of the duties they found impracticable. He had had his attention directed to the question of the notification of diseases, and he found there were some 25 or 30 towns which had obtained Private Acts to deal with such matters. He made an attempt to introduce a reform on the subject for Ireland; but the Bill was blocked, as was the fate of many other measures intended for the good of his country. As to the borrowing powers, it was very easy to find the great difficulty which existed. Parliament must remember that it had imposed certain duties upon local authorities, and those authorities must find some method of carrying out their duties, hence the borrowing powers that were sought. The Government promised to facilitate the borrowing powers of the sanitary authorities, but they never did it; on the contrary, they took away certain facilities and did not replace them with others. They must not press too hardly upon the local authorities, who, it must be remembered, were only endeavouring to discharge the duties which Parliament had imposed on them.
§ MR. HASTINGS
said, that it was his opinion that sanitary provisions should be embodied in a general Act, especially the provisions with regard to the notification of diseases. Last year he introduced a Bill with that object, and he had again introduced it this Session. He had taken very great pains to ascertain what was the effect of the provisions for notification in upwards of 20 cities and boroughs in which they had been in force for some time; and he had been unable to discover one in which they were not regarded with approbation. For some period a large portion of the Medical Profession of Edinburgh resisted the enforcement of notification; but he found that now in that city every one, from the Lord Provost downwards, was in favour of these provisions; everyone declared that they had been productive of great benefit to the population in the way of stopping the spread of disease. He had received similar reports from Bolton and Leicester. He had just got a long letter from the Town Clerk of Leicester, stating the enormous good to the population by the operation of the provision regarding the notification of diseases; and when the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) said there 347 were some towns or some Corporations which had not ventured to put a measure of this kind into operation, he could inform him he only knew of one, and he could give him the history of that one. It was the Corporation of Nottingham. He was there the other day, and he found it was true that having obtained a measure of this kind some three years ago, they had not put it into operation until a very short time ago; and the consequence was that, three days before he was there, a violent outbreak of smallpox took place, owing to the fact that the first case had not been notified to the officer of health. The local authorities immediately met, and resolved to put the Act into operation. He thought experience ought to count for something in these matters. Wherever the Act had been carried out good had been done; and he should rejoice if the House should think fit to refer the Bills under consideration to a Committee, to thoroughly examine them, and report upon the way in which similar provisions had been carried out in different towns. He was convinced the result of that inquiry would be that the House would see the necessity of extending some general measure of notification of disease to the whole population.
§ MR. HOPWOOD
said, he would explain what he proposed to do, and that was, of course, to accede to what had been suggested on both sides of the House. His conception of the suggestion was this—that the Bills be allowed to be read a second time to-day, upon the understanding, in the face of the House, that they be referred to a Committee, collectively or individually, at the discretion of the Chairman of Ways and Means, with an Instruction from him embodying what was now clearly the sense of the House in the matter—namely, that the Committee should report specially upon the different clauses indicated, and that finally the House should have an opportunity, before the third reading, of considering the Report, and of expressing its approval or otherwise. He would, of course, withdraw his Amendment.
§ MR. THOMAS COLLINS
said, that, before the Amendment was withdrawn, he would like to say it was desirable that the Chairman of Ways and Means should frame the Instruction to the Committee. In his opinion it would be 348 wise to postpone the second reading of the Bills for a fortnight, or even a week, and that in the meantime the Chairman of Ways and Means should lay on the Table of the House the Instruction he proposed to frame for the benefit of the Committee. Unless he got some satisfactory answer from the Chairman of Ways and Means on this point, he should propose the postponement of the second reading for a fortnight.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Ritchie.)
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, that if the Bills were read a second time they could not go to the Committee, except by the sanction of the Chairman of Ways and Means; and the House might rely that his right hon. Friend would not allow the Bills to go to Committee until the Committee was properly instructed. Under such circumstances he thought the Bills might be read a second time.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he was under the impression that the matter of Instruction rested with the Committee of Selection.
§ MR. LYON PLAYFAIR
said, if any expression of opinion was required the Chairman of Ways and Means placed himself in communication with the Committee of Selection. The Chairman of Ways and Means and the Committee of Selection were always willing to work together; and the Committee of Selection, knowing the wishes of the House, would take care that the Bills were referred to one Committee. With regard to the Instructions to the Committee, he ought to point out that it was not his duty to prepare the Instructions, for, as an Executive Officer of the House, he had to obey them. They would, no doubt, emanate from the Government after consultation with himself and the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood), and the Instructions would then be moved in the House.
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
said, he understood that what his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. T. Collins) wished was that the Instructions should be laid upon the Table of the House, so that 349 hon. Members who were interested in the question might have an opportunity of considering them, and, if necessary, of making some Motion or some remarks upon them. He did not know whether there was any objection to such a course.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, it was clearly the understanding that the Government should prepare the Instructions and lay them on the Table of the House.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he understood the Instructions would form the subject of a Motion in the House, by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board or the Chairman of Ways and Means. It was clear that the Committee could not act upon Instructions simply laid on the Table. The Instructions must be passed by the House before they could reach the Committee.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
undertook, on the part of the Government, to consult the Chairman of Ways and Means and the hon. and learned Member for Stockport in framing the Instructions, and to formally move them in the House.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.