HC Deb 26 February 1886 vol 302 cc1352-61

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


This Bill proposes to transfer the management of the Glasgow bridges from the bridge Trustees to the Local Authority, which is the Corporation of Glasgow. It further proposes to widen Glasgow Bridge, and to expend certain sums of money, for the purpose. These provisions do not prejudicially affect my constituents, and with them I shall not trouble the House. But there are other provisions, which, in my opinion, not only prejudice the interests of my constituents, but interfere with the authority of Parliament. My constituents are grouped in certain burghs in the county of Lanarkshire, outside the municipal boundaries of Glasgow; and the nearest point in these burghs to the Glasgow Bridge, which it is proposed to widen under this Bill, is some two miles distant. All these burghs oppose this Bill through their Local Authorities; and the chief ground of their opposition is that this Private Bill will vitally interfere with the provisions of a Public Act of Parliament still in full force. In 1878 an important Act was passed by Parliament, called the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Act. That Act was the result of protracted and important negotiations between the public beards and others interested in the maintenance and repair of the roads and bridges in Scotland, and a special inquiry was directed to be made into the relations which existed between the town of Glasgow and the adjacent counties of Renfrew and Lanark, together with the police burghs which are situated in those counties. As the case was a peculiar one a Special Commission was appointed to inquire into the circumstances connected with it, and the result of the protracted negotiations which followed the inquiry was that the Act to which I refer was passed, and a special provision was inserted in that Act applicable to the relations of the City of Glasgow with the counties of Lanark and Renfrew and the police burghs. There are some general provisions in the Act; but the special provision I wish to call attention to is to this effect. It is provided that if there be any contention as to whether the bridges across the Clyde afford accommodation for the traffic of the counties and burghs outside Glasgow, in such a case it would be necessary to settle the portion of the burden to be borne by the City of Glasgow, by the counties, and by the police burghs outside. For that purpose elaborate machinery is provided by the Act. The case has to be investigated by two Special Commissioners appointed by the Secretary of State, who was formerly the Home Secretary, but is now the Secretary for Scotland. The two Special Commissioners so appointed are to conduct an inquiry in the locality; they are to report to the Secretary of State; the Secretary of State is then to determine as to whether the burden shall be laid upon the adjacent burghs and counties for the support, management, maintenance, and repair of these bridges; and, if so, how the burden is to be allocated among the burghs, counties, and Glasgow respectively. It is further provided that the determination of the Secretary of State shall be laid on the Table of both Houses of Parliament for 40 days, and that it shall not be effective until it has so been laid upon the Table. All the machinery for deciding questions in reference to the accommodation of the traffic and the allocation of the burden is elaborately provided in this Act; and, as I have explained to the House, any contentious question is to be determined under this Act by a series of public transactions. And now, Sir, what does the present Bill—the Glasgow Bridges Bill—propose to do? It proposes, by a stroke of the pen, to sweep away all the elaborate machinery which is provided in this important Act of Parliament; it authorizes the Local Authorities to fix a sum for widening the Glasgow bridges, and to apportion the burden not only for managing, maintaining, and repairing the bridges, but for watching, lighting, and cleansing them; and having fixed the sum to be charged upon the counties or the police burghs, as the case may be, the portion of the burden to be borne by each is to be determined by a single Commissioner without any review by Parliament or by any other authority at all, and the police burghs are to be bound to pay what this single Commissioner chooses to say they are to pay. I think the House will agree with me that this Private Bill proposes, in an irregular way, to override an Act of Parliament only recently passed, and still in full operation. It overrides it in the following particulars:—The Act of 1878 vests the determination as to the liability for these burdens with the Secretary of State. This Private Bill takes the determination away from the Secretary of State and vests it in a single Commissioner. In the second place the Act of Parliament provides for a local inquiry on the spot. The Private Bill dispenses with the local inquiry on the spot. In the third place the Act provides that the determination of the Secretary of State shall be subject to the review of Parliament, but the Private Bill dispenses with the Secretary of State and his determination, and does not allow Parliament to have any voice in the matter whatever. Fourthly, the Act limits the purposes for which the expenditure is to be allocated to the counties and police burghs to three—namely, the management, maintenance, and repair of the bridges, whereas the Private Bill, while preserving those three purposes, extends the liability still farther to the watching, lighting, and cleansing of the bridges. We maintain that it is unnecessary, inexpedient, and unjust, to interfere in this way, by private legislation, with a Public Act of Parliament. We say that it is an evil precedent for Parliament to establish, that those who are interested in Private Bills are to override Public Acts by Private Bills. The result will inevitably be that Private Bills will be constantly coming into collision with Public Acts, and we shall be liable to all sorts of mischief which must arise therefrom. These being the facts of the case, we have had to consider what course we ought to take under the circumstances. We are convinced that this House by a very large majority would refuse to sanction the overriding of an Act of Parliament in the way I have pointed out, if I were to ask hon. Members to do so, because I am satisfied that they would not submit to have the authority of Parliament interfered with in this manner. But I must say that there are some valuable provisions contained in the Bill—not valuable to my constituents or to the counties generally, or to the police burghs outside Glasgow, but valuable to the City of Glasgow; and we, therefore, do not wish to ask the House to reject the Bill summarily. When the Bill has been read a second time it will be necessary to refer it to a Committee upstairs, and the Committee to whom it is referred will know how to deal with these objectionable clauses, if the measure gets so far as the consideration of clauses. Under these circumstances, I shall not object to the second reading; but I wish to enter a very serious protest against this dangerous innovation of allowing a Private Bill to interfere with public legislation. I shall reserve to myself the right when the Bill comes back again from Committee, if it ever should come back, with these objectionable clauses in it, to ask the House to take the provisions of the Bill into consideration at a future stage; and I have very little doubt that if these objectionable clauses re-appear the House will have no hesitation in rejecting, them.


I happen to represent one of the counties interested in this Bill; but I do not think it is necessary for me to detain the House at any length after the admirable manner in which my hon. Friend the Member for the Particle Division of Lanarkshire (Mr. Craig-Sellar), has described the provisions of the measure. But there is one point which I should like to lay before the House, and it is this—that if the Bill is to pass in the shape in which it is presented to the House it will give exceptional powers to the Commissioners of Supply of the Counties of Lanark and Renfrew—powers which are not at present enjoyed by any of the Commissioners throughout the rest of Scotland. The Commissioners of Supply can assess the owners of property in the county, but they cannot assess the occupiers. By the Roads and Bridges Bill all roads and bridges are kept up specially and provided for by a Road beard, composed of the Commissioners of Supply and the representatives of the ratepayers. In that way it is provided that taxation and representation should go together, and in all cases in which taxation is imposed it falls both upon the owner and the occupier. But if this Bill is to pass in its present shape the Commissioners of Supply for the counties of Renfrew and Lanark will be called upon to provide funds from the owners for purposes which both owners and occupiers hitherto have been called on to pay. I certainly think that that is a very strong point against the provisions of this Bill, seeing that it places the Commissioners of Supply for these two counties in a totally different position from the Commissioners of the rest of Scotland, and confers upon them most exceptional powers. With regard to the other provision of the Bill, as my hon. Friend has said, some of them are valuable, no doubt, to the City of Glasgow, and I have no wish to interfere with them as far as Glasgow is concerned; but I hope the House will not allow the objectionable provisions to which its attention has been called to pass, if for no other reason than that they involve the upsetting of a Public Act of Parliament which is working well. I trust that the House will carefully consider the matter, and, personally, I propose to take the same course as my hon. Friend (Mr. Craig- Sellar)—namely, not to challenge a division at the present stage of the Bill, but to allow it to go up to a Committee with the understanding that if it is sent back to the House with these objectionable clauses still in it, it will be strenuously opposed.


The object of this Bill is, in the first place, to transfer the control of the Glasgow bridges from the Trustees acting under the Glasgow Bridges Consolidation Act of 1886 to the Glasgow Local Authority. The promoters of the Bill have been advised that very serious questions may be raised as to whether, under the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Act of 1878, the bridges and undertaking of the Trustees were transferred to the Local Authority of Glasgow, as defined by that Act, and the administration of the bridges has consequently been continued by the Trustees. It is deemed essential that all uncertainty upon this point should be removed. When the Roads and Bridges Act was passed the promoters of the present Bill were advised that by that Act the bridges of Glasgow were not transferred from the Trustees, who then acted as they are now acting, so far as the bridges are concerned, for the Glasgow Local Authority. This Bill provides that the transfer shall now take place from the Trustees to the Local Authority—who are the Magistrates and Town Council of Glasgow. The next object contemplated by the Bill is the widening of Glasgow Bridge. This has been found to be absolutely necessary. Not only have the foundations of the bridge given way, from various causes, but the bridge itself is wearing down, and is becoming altogether unequal to the vast amount of traffic which passes over it. It has, therefore, become essential that the bridge should be enlarged and strengthened. There are other considerations of a subsidiary character in connection with the Bill. One is that the sum of £31,639, paid to the Trustees by the Caledonian Railway Company, under an Act passed in 1875, and directed to be applied to the widening and strengthening of Glasgow Bridge, should be handed over to the Glasgow Local Authority; but the money cannot be applied and the work set about without an Act of Parliament. The promoters of the Bill do not say that the Burgh, of Patrick and other burghs re- ferred to by my hon. Friend (Mr. Craig-Sellar) are to contribute towards the widening and strengthening of Glasgow Bridge; they simply ask that the Secretary for Scotland should nominate a Commissioner to inquire into the circumstances of the case, to determine whether or not money should be contributed by these burghs, having regard to the extent to which the bridges accommodate the traffic of the burghs and of the counties of Lanark and Renfrew. The object of this mode of procedure proposed by the promoters of the Bill is to save expense and time, and in the simplest manner possible to enable the Corporation of Glasgow to take possession of those bridges. They are now administered by a Trust which is a Mixed Commission consisting of Commissioners of Supply and Commissioners appointed by the Corporation of Glasgow. That Mixed Commission was appointed many years ago when the bridges were maintained by tolls. They are now maintained by the city rates, and it is most desirable to ascertain clearly and put beyond all question that they are placed under the control of the Local Authority of Glasgow. It is also essential to ascertain in the shortest and cheapest way possible what portion of the burden should be borne, if any, by the counties and police burghs, and what portion by the City of Glasgow.


One of the objects of this Bill is to obtain the appointment by the Secretary for Scotland of a Commissioner to ascertain whether the counties of Lanark and Renfrew and the police burghs outside the City of Glasgow shall contribute towards the widening and strengthening of Glasgow Bridge. Now, it appears to me that the districts and burghs round about Glasgow ought not to be liable to contribute towards the maintenance of the whole of the bridges in Glasgow, seeing that, by the passing of the Roads and Bridges Act in 1878, the ratepayers of Glasgow have to maintain them. The same Act also provides that the ratepayers of Govan and other suburban burghs should maintain the bridges and roads in their own districts. We think that as a matter of simple justice, if the inhabitants of the outlying districts are to contribute towards the maintenance of the Glasgow bridges, that the inhabitants of Glasgow should, on their part, contribute towards the maintenance of the bridges in the suburban districts.


Allow me to say a word on behalf of the Division which I represent—East Renfrew. I think that the Town Council of Glasgow are pressing forward a measure which certainly affords an instance of how the public money may be spent, and absolutely thrown away. They have, I am afraid, acted throughout this matter in a very high-handed manner; and I am convinced that if they had consented to unbend themselves to a small extent, and had seen the different parties interested, many of the objections which have been urged by the last three speakers would have been unnecessary. What is the effect of the action of the Corporation of Glasgow in the matter? They have introduced a Bill in which they are attempting to impose rates for the maintenance of the Glasgow bridges upon the suburban burghs, and upon the constituency which I have the honour to represent. Their intention is to levy the rates upon the burghs and county of Renfrew; and they propose that my constituents shall keep up, maintain, light, watch, and cleanse the bridges in the centre of the City of Glasgow. Now, Sir, the Roads and Bridges Bill of 1878 underwent full discussion in this House; and this question was settled at that time, both in regard to the police burghs and the counties of Renfrew and Lanark, as well as the City of Glasgow. So far as the roads and bridges of the county of Renfrew are concerned, the existing arrangement was not arrived at until after a very searching investigation, which extended over many years. It was begun in the time of Mr. Bruce, now Lord Aberdare, who was then Home Secretary, and it was continued during the time that Sir E. Assheton Cross held the same Office. It was ultimately settled that in order to place the counties of Renfrew and Lanark in a fair and just position the City of Glasgow should contribute £12,500 a-year as some sort of compensation for the heavy traffic, chiefly in. building material, which went from those counties into the City of Glasgow. But what does this Private Bill propose? It provides that the counties which the Roads and Bridges Act enacted should be paid so much a year—£12,600 I think —shall be taxed for the maintenance of bridges which, by the Roads and Bridges Act, were made over to the City of Glasgow. If the only wish of the City of Glasgow was that the Trustees should transfer their rights to them there would have been no difficulty; but such rights would have been freely accorded to them. My constituents object, and very properly object, to be taxed in order to keep up the bridges within the City of Glasgow; and you might, in my opinion, just as well tax a man in Edinburgh, or Liverpool, or Newcastle who may send goods to Glasgow for the cost of maintaining these bridges, as tax the county of Renfrew. I may also inform the House that, so far as the traffic from the county of Renfrew to Glasgow is concerned, the road traffic is diminishing rather than increasing. A large and fine station—the Great Enoch's Station—has been opened in Glasgow, and another extensive range of buildings has been constructed at the College Street Station, so that the traffic of the county of Renfrew does not now pass in anything like the same amount over the bridges of Glasgow that it did before the passing of the Roads and Bridges Act. Taking all these matters into consideration, I think that this Bill is most unjust, and I am quite sure that when it reaches a Committee upstairs it will be thrown out, or, at all events, divested of the objectionable provisions which it at present contains. To-day we simply enter a protest against it, in a desire to prove to the House of Commons that even on general principles the practice of bringing in a Private Bill which would, if passed, impose a heavy expenditure upon small suburban burghs and county communities is most objectionable. And I wish it to be understood that this course has been taken by the Town Council of Glasgow even before an attempt was made to make an arrangement with those who are vitally affected by the provisions of the Bill. I therefore second the proposal which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Partick Division of Lanarkshire (Mr. Craig-Sellar). [An hon. MEMBER: No proposal has been made.] Then I join my hon. Friend in the protest he has made against the Bill, and I hope that the House, when it comes back from Committee, will signify its disapproval of its provisions, and will do justice to the parties who now complain of them.


The hon. Member for Renfrewshire (Mr. Finlayson) has raised a much larger question than that which properly belongs to the Bill; and yet, if that question were discussed, I believe it would be found that the case of Glasgow against the counties is a very strong one. The chief allegation of the hon. Member—in fact, it was the only remark he made which was pertinent to the present question—was that the county authorities had not been approached properly in the matter before the Bill was entered upon. Now, I am able to say that that is altogether an incorrect statement. Every effort was made on the part of the Corporation of Glasgow to obtain proper co-operation from the county authorities; and it was very largely because they have not been met by the county authorities that this Bill has been introduced.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed.