§ Motion made, and Question again proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
§ SIR GABRIEL GOLDNEY
remarked, that when interrupted by the announcement of a Royal Commission he was calling the attention of the House to the fact that the Amendment ought to be conceded on every principle he had ever been acquainted with in connection with Private Bill legislation during the time he had had the honour of a seat in the House. First, in relation to the interests of the contending parties; secondly, the general policy of the law; and, thirdly, the merits of the question itself. A short history of the case was this. Under the Health of Towns Act, 1875, provision was made by which a certain property outside the boundaries of a borough became liable to be rated under the general law to the district rate at one-fourth less than the general property of the town, where expenditure was rendered necessary for the sanitary purposes of the borough. The present Bill proposed to include within the boundaries of the City of Worcester an area of no less than 1,900 acres, upon which, he understood, the whole population did not amount to more than three persons an acre. The Great Western Railway Company objected to their property, now outside the boundary of the City, being taken out of the general rating principle and being included in the borough rate, on the ground that they would, derive no advantage from the change, but 664 would be simply called upon to contribute to the general rates of the City without receiving any consideration. Their contention was that there was no substantial reason for extending the boundary at all. In the Lords Committee upon the Bill, Mr. Michael, Q.C., who appeared for the promoters, stated that they were willing to give to the Railway Company the same clause as that which now existed in the Public Health Act, and upon that understanding the Railway Company withdrew their opposition. When the opponents had accepted the offer, the Preamble of the Bill was passed by the Committee; but after that had been done objection was taken to the Bill in the House of Lords, and a division was taken after the whole circumstances had been gone into in detail. The House of Lords, however, on a division, affirmed what the Committee had done by a majority of some four or five to one. The Great Western Company, the market gardeners, and the other owners and occupiers, asked for nothing more than the law at present gave them. They maintained that if it was considered desirable to extend the boundaries of the City of Worcester, the new property taken in ought to be placed under the same conditions as those which the general law now imposed. They further alleged that precedents were in their favour; and they instanced various Corporation Bills for extending existing boundaries and including a larger area, in which provisions identical with that which had been made in this case had been inserted by Committees of the House of Commons and of the House of Lords, such as the Stafford Corporation Act for creating extended boundaries, the Bedford Improvement Act, the St. Albans Improvement Act, and several others. They also asserted that two Bills had been passed in the present year, in which the same principle was carried out—extended boundaries were created; but although the new area was brought within the borough it still remained under the general law with regard to rating. Under those circumstances, as he had no desire to occupy too much of the time of the House, he would simply say that he thought the House ought to accept the Lords' Amendment. There had been, in the first place, a distinct proposal made to the opponents if they would 665 withdraw their opposition to the Preamble of the Bill; they accepted it, and the promoters inserted a clause, which was adopted by the Committee and affirmed by the House of Lords—that clause being nothing more nor less than a provision which placed this property under the Public Health Act of 1875. There had also been precedents for the course pursued not only in previous years, but this year; and if the House decided upon upsetting the arrangement they would render Private Bill legislation practically useless and entail very onerous duties upon Private Bill Committees. They would never know what principle they ought to adopt, because it would be liable to be rejected when the Bill came before the House itself.
§ MR. AGNEW
said, that he had served on the Committee which sat upon the Bill, and he might inform the House that the Committee was unanimous in rejecting the clause now under consideration on the ground that they saw no reason why there should be any exemption from the operation of the general law on behalf of this particular Railway Company. The hon. Gentleman had referred to an Act of Parliament which, for sanitary purposes, placed property in districts outside the boundaries of a borough in a different position from property within a borough itself; but he was not aware of any law which compelled a borough or municipal authority to make an exemption in favour of a Railway Company. He was perfectly aware of the instances to which the hon. Member referred; but having served on the Committee, and having heard all the evidence, he thought the Committee was justified in rejecting this proposal. He had been most anxious that the City of Worcester should obtain the extension of boundary which the Corporation desired, if it were not inconsistent with the interests of the locality sought to be included. No doubt, an arrangement had been made, when the Bill was before the House of Lords, whereby the promoters agreed to insert a clause exempting this railway property from assessment to the borough rates. He regretted that that course had been taken; and he thought it afforded another instance of the necessity that Parliament, at no distant day, should deal, in a 666 comprehensive manner, with the whole question of local taxation. In the present case he thought it would have been wiser, rather than accept this clause, if the promoters had made up their minds to lose the Bill altogether, reserving to themselves the right of applying to Parliament on a future occasion.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, it was quite true that there had been cases in which, where there had been an extension of boundaries, the provisions of the Public Health Act of 1875 were still retained, so far as the rating of railways was concerned; but there was this broad distinction between those cases and the present, that the Committee upstairs had refused to make the exemption, after a full and careful consideration of the question. He, therefore, trusted that the House would not consent to establish a dangerous precedent for the future. He should be exceedingly sorry that anything should be done which might ultimately throw out the Bill; but, as the whole matter had been fully discussed by the Committee upstairs, he thought the House ought to maintain the decision, of their Committee.
§ MR. HORACE DAVEY
said, it was quite true that the clause in the Public Health Act, to which the hon. Baronet the Member for Chippenhan (Sir Gabriel Goldney) had referred, did not, in terms, apply to this particular case; but it had been thought right by a Committee in "another place" to take it up and apply it in pursuance with a bargain which had been entered into between the various parties who were interested in the Bill. It was only on the withdrawal of the opposition that the Preamble of the Bill was passed. His hon. Friend the Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) had spoken as if the clause applied only to the Railway Company. It applied not to the Railway Company only, but to owners and occupiers, market gardeners, nursery grounds, and other descriptions of property; and he trusted the House would not allow the promoters of the Bill to retreat from the bargain which they had made in the House of Lords.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 103; Noes 29: Majority 74.—(Div. List, No. 260.)
§ Subsequent Amendments agreed to.