§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Dodds.)
§ MR. RAIKES
said, he proposed to take a course which was not frequent in that House, and which, he hoped, would never become frequent, for it was most undesirable that questions connected with the details of a Private Bill should be re-opened on the third reading. It might be presumed that the details of such a Bill had been carefully examined by the Committee to which it had been referred upstairs; but he did not think this objection could be fairly taken now, seeing that the present measure was one for the purpose of providing for the payment of certain costs incurred by a District Board in promoting legislation in the year 1879, and really the question which the Committee upstairs had to decide was one which hardly admitted of such a tribunal dealing with it in more ways than one. The Bill, under ordinary circumstances, would have been an unopposed Bill, because the parties whose interest it was chiefly to oppose it were, by the recognized practice of the House, excluded from a locus standi to oppose the Bill, because they were constituents of the District Board which promoted it. That being so, a Bill of this sort generally went to the Chairman of Ways and Means as an unopposed Bill, and was adjudicated upon by him without calling on the parties to be heard. In this particular case, an opposition was offered by 11 ratepayers of the district, and these gentlemen might have been excluded from hearing before the Committee if the promoters had chosen to take an objection to their locus standi, and by that means have shut them out. But the promoters, with an adroitness which he certainly thought did them credit, did not object to the locus standi of these 11 unfortunate ratepayers, because they thought that it would tell much more in their favour if it appeared that the Bill was only opposed by 11 out 1799 of a population of 118,000. But everybody who had the means of obtaining competent legal advice in the district would necessarily have been informed by every counsel they consulted that it was not of any use to present a Petition against the Bill; and that, if they did, their locus standi would be certainly disallowed. Therefore, it was only left to these 11 persons, who could scarcely have been able to obtain experienced advice, to come before the Committee, by whom their case was certain to be rapidly disposed of. Indeed, the Committee could hardly come to any conclusion but one, because, when the promoters pointed to the circumstance that, out of 118,000, only 11 persons were found to oppose this particular measure, it was a very reasonable and natural conclusion that the bulk of the population of the district was entirely in its favour. Therefore, he did not think the question of this Bill having been before the Committee really bore at all on the issue which had now come before the House. He ventured to call the attention of the House to the matter because it was one which occupied the attention of the House some three years ago, and certainly was to him a matter of very great interest and very great anxiety. At that time he had the honour to hold the Office which his right hon. Friend (Mr. Lyon Playfair) now occupied, and he frequently was obliged to make up his mind and to advise the House on matters in regard to which the arguments on either side were very closely balanced, and upon which it was rather difficult to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. In point of fact, the difficulties of any case rendered it more and more anxious and doubtful work to advise the House satisfactorily as to the conclusion it should adopt. But, in this particular case, he had felt it his duty, after hearing all the arguments, to advise the House to throw out the Bill, and the ground on which he asked the House to throw it out was simply this. This Board for the Lower Thames Valley was formed under the Provisional Order Act of 1877, for the purpose of carrying out a system of sewerage for the districts, and he would point out what was the method that was adopted. The Act which was its origin provided, in the 23rd clause of the Schedule of the Act, that they should get their expenses in 1800 a certain shape. The clause said that the expenses incurred by the Board in pursuance of the Provisional Order should be defrayed out of the common fund to be contributed by the local authorities of certain districts, and so forth. By the Bill of 1879 the District Board deliberately, for reasons best known to themselves, determined to take action outside the powers assigned to them under the Act by which they had been created. The intention that was clearly visible throughout the whole of the Act was that the District Board should act through and in connection with the Local Government Board, and the result of an application to the Local Government Board for a Provisional Order would have been that the merits of the case would have been inquired into on the spot by one of the Inspectors of the Local Government Board. He would have held an inquiry, at which all the parties would have been represented and would have been heard, and, after his inquiry, the Local Government Board would or would not have recommended the measure to Parliament. But the District Board of the Thames Valley thought they knew better than that. They foresaw that if they were to give effect to the scheme which they desired to carry into effect, and attempted to submit that scheme to an inquiry conducted by a Local Government Inspector, all parties whose rights were affected and interests concerned would have an opportunity of being heard on that inquiry. And they were equally well advised that if they came to Parliament, it would be in their power to shut the mouths of every single person whose interests were affected or whose rights were concerned except they happened to be the owners of the land they proposed to deal with. He remembered it was stated in the debate which occurred upon the Bill that some 24 or 25 schemes were submitted to the District Board, and that 23 of those schemes—all of which were perfectly practicable—could have been given effect to under a Provisional Order; but the District Board rejected every one of them, and selected the only one out of 24 schemes which came before them which required an application to be made to the House of Commons, because it touched the principle of water rights. He believed that their sole justification for the course they took was that their 1801 Bill of 1879 interfered with certain water rights, and therefore it was necessary to make an application to Parliament; but he ventured to state that, if the District Board had thought it proper to adopt any of the 23 schemes submitted to them by competent engineers, it would not have been necessary to come to that House at all. It was urged with great force in 1879 by his hon. and learned Friend the present Solicitor General that a great and obvious wrong would be done if the House allowed its Rules to be employed as a means of excluding from a fair hearing the owners of property and the ratepayers of a particular district. That being so, the House adopted that view, and the Bill was rejected. It was rejected, not with any regard to the precise merits of the particular scheme, but distinctly on the ground that it was an example of mala fides on the part of the promoters, who sought to use the Forms of the House as a means of excluding from opposition the parties who were most interested in the scheme. They were told that the unfortunate District Board were only doing what they were obliged to do, because they could not get what they wanted with a Provisional Order. But, subsequently, they did go for a Provisional Order, and there was a local inquiry, conducted at considerable expense. But, although it was expensive, at least it was fair, and the persons who objected to the Bill of 1879 were successful at the inquiry before the Inspector of the Local Government Board, and hence they had heard no more of this precise scheme; it had passed to the limbo of many other abortions. Under these circumstances, he did not think the House would do well, without a word of inquiry, to consent to the proposal to alter the law for the benefit of certain individuals who had been detected in abusing the Forms of the House and in trying to inflict a substantial injury upon persons who had a right to be heard. He had therefore felt it his duty to bring the matter at this stage before the House. He intended to make no Motion upon it, nor would he take upon himself the responsibility of dividing the House upon the question. He had rather that that responsibility rested with his right hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means. But he did think that he had a right to complain with regard to one of 1802 the Papers that had been sent abroad on that occasion. He sometimes wished that there was some Order of the House to prohibit their circulation. He would only say that he felt it his duty to take exception to the first statement which that Paper contained. It was stated by the promoters that on Friday, the 24th of March, at the time of Private Business, he (Mr. Raikes) intended to move the rejection of the Bill on the third reading. He called attention to this paragraph for this reason, that the agent who had charge of the Bill spoke to him at 6 o'clock yesterday, and asked him if he intended to move the rejection of the Bill. He told the agent that it was not his intention to do so, whereupon Mr. Wyatt, the agent in question, told him that that was very satisfactory, and went away. Nevertheless, Mr. Wyatt, in that Paper, which was circulated with a number of others, among Members of the House, made a statement which he knew distinctly to be untrue. He was sorry to express himself so strongly upon the subject, because he had had a good deal of acquaintance with Mr. Wyatt at the time he had official relations with the House, and it was a very pleasant acquaintance. At the same time, he felt bound to indicate to the House any statement contained in a document submitted to Members which was distinctly without foundation, and which might be considered to prejudice the action of any hon. Member on matters of this sort. If the House thought, out of pity, that it was desirable to pass this Bill, and if they thought that the District Board had suffered sufficiently for their rashness, and, he must add, for their sharp practice, in the year 1879, he should have nothing further to say; but he did not think he should be doing right—having a knowledge of the circumstances of the case—if he did not, at all events, give the House an opportunity of expressing an opinion as to whether such knowledge as they now had of the proceedings of the District Board rendered them deserving of the favourable consideration of the House.
§ MR. SHIELD
said, that, in the absence of the hon. Member for East Cheshire (Mr. Legh), who was the Chairman of the Committee to which the Bill was referred, as he (Mr. Shield) had had the honour of sitting on the Committee, he hoped the House would allow him to 1803 say a few words in answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Raikes). The right hon. Gentleman passed no reflection upon the action of the Committee. Indeed, it was obvious that the Committee could come to no other conclusion than to pass the Bill; but he (Mr. Shield) was anxious, if the House would permit him, to state what was the case presented to the Committee, especially as such statement would show that the House itself could take no other course than to permit the Bill, passed by the Committee, to go through its remaining stages. The Bill originally promoted by the District Board was presented in the year 1879, and its object was to provide for the disposal of the sewage of a large district in the Valley of the Thames, lying just outside the limits of London, without allowing it to flow into the Thames. The Board was constituted by an Act of Parliament, and Parliament placed upon the Board certain statutory obligations, which obligations it was their duty to carry out within a period of three years. That being so, how did they set about this duty? They obtained the best plans they could from the most eminent engineers of the day, and they appointed a superintendent engineer to report upon those plans, and eventually, after much labour and consideration, they adopted one of them. The scheme they adopted, it was quite true, had certain features and incidents connected with it which rendered it impossible that it could be authorized by the Local Government Board, and it was therefore necessary, if it were to be carried into effect, that the promoters should make an application to Parliament. The suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman was, and it was a very injurious suggestion to the Board, that the features of the scheme which rendered it inappropriate for a Provisional Order were not bonâ fide inserted in it, but that there were patches adroitly foisted upon the scheme by the promoters to give them an excuse for proceeding by Bill instead of by Provisional Order. It would take far more time to meet that suggestion than the House would probably care to allow him; but he certainly thought that the right hon. Gentleman ought not to have made such a serious accusation, and that he ought not to have talked about the "sharp 1804 practice" of these gentlemen who, at all events, were gentlemen of position, and had undertaken the discharge of most important and onerous public duties. He would not enter into the defence of these gentlemen; but if hon. Members would kindly read the Papers which had been circulated, he would be quite content to accept their judgment upon the question whether the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman was or was not well-founded. Eventually the Bill of the District Board came before the House of Commons, and it was rejected on the second reading, notwithstanding that the then President of the Local Government Board expressed a strong opinion that these gentlemen were honestly endeavouring to perform the duty that Parliament had cast upon them. He trusted that the House would not entertain any Motion now for the rejection of the Bill. If they did they would set a very bad example, as the Bill was promoted bonâ fide and was strictly within the precedents of Parliament. Similar Bills had been passed in the interests of the Metropolitan Board of Works, that Board having incurred very heavy expenses in promoting Bills which had been abortive, and they had been allowed to recoup themselves for the expenses they had incurred by a Bill of this nature. In this case it must also be recollected that the work was being done gratuitously, and that the Bill had already passed a Committee upstairs.
said, he had no wish to detain the House for more than a few minutes; but he wished to remove an impression which must have been produced by his right hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Raikes). He understood his right hon. Friend to complain that, after having last night given Notice to the promoters of the Bill that he did not intend to oppose it, a statement had been sent out to the Members of the House to the effect that he intended to move the rejection of the Bill at 4 o'clock that day. He was sure that his right hon. Friend would quite understand that printed statements of this kind were not got up at the last minute, but required a little time in order to print and circulate them. He believed the real fact was that the statement was sent out to hon. Members some time before his right hon. Friend informed the 1805 agent that he did not intend to move the rejection of the Bill. His right hon. Friend would also recollect that the Bill was to have been considered last Tuesday instead of to-day, and that if there was to be any opposition it would have been unreasonable to expect that the promoters would not take all the steps they could for the protection of their own interests.
§ MR. SPENCER
said, he should not have obtruded himself upon the attention of the House if it had not been for the fact that he had been also a Member of the Committee with his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Shield); and he wished, therefore, to express what his view was when the gentleman representing the Petitioners came before the Committee. They heard the whole of the statement for the promoters of the Bill, and nobody appeared to oppose, until at length a gentleman put in an appearance, and proceeded to make what he called a statement against the Bill. Now, he thought that all the Members of the Committee would agree that this gentleman brought forward no reasons whatever why the Bill should not be passed, but rather indulged in an acrimonious discussion with the promoters of the Bill, which was totally irrelevant to its primary object. Having listened carefully to everything that this gentleman had to say, the Committee came to the conclusion that they ought to pass the Bill; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Raikes) admitted that they could have come to no other conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman himself had brought forward no reason why the Bill should be rejected, and he had stated that the Local Board of East Moulsley, who opposed the Bill in 1879, had withdrawn their opposition. Indeed, there was nobody opposing the Bill at all, except 11 gentlemen from East Moulsley. The Committee were acquainted with all these facts, and having talked them, over among themselves, they came unanimously to the conclusion that the Bill ought to pass. It must be borne in mind that only 11 persons, with a very small interest in the district, gave notice of opposition to the Bill, out of a population of 118,000. He apologized to the House for having troubled them with these few remarks: but he had felt that, having had the 1806 honour of sitting on the Committee, it was his duty to make them.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, that as his right hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Raikes) had made no Motion for the rejection of the Bill, it was scarcely worth while to continue the discussion; but as he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) was privy to all these complicated series of transactions, he thought it right to say that although, in his judgment, the District Board took the wrong course, and selected the wrong mode of proceeding, he had never any reason to suppose that they had adopted that course with any mala fides, nor did he think that their object in proceeding by Bill was to prevent an investigation being conducted on the spot. There was no reason to believe that it was so, although he must repeat that, in his judgment, the course they pursued was wrong. Under the circumstances, he did not think that the House should hesitate now to pass the Bill, for everyone would be willing to admit that the promoters must be protected, to some extent, in regard to the expenses they had incurred.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.