§ Order for Second Reading road.
THE LORD OF THE TREASUEY (Mr. LEVESON GOWER)
Sir, it is usual for a Member addressing the House for the first time to throw himself upon its indulgence, which I am sure will not be more readily extended than in the case of his bringing in a Bill which has met with considerable opposition, and which is brought in under the auspices of a Department with which he has had the honour to be connected but a short time. I do not propose to give the House a lengthy description of the reasons for bringing in this Bill; but I may say that the necessity for it is brought about by the improvements which were made at Hyde Park Corner—considerable improvements for the general convenience of the public—in 1882. Now, it is usual with regard to new streets that they should be maintained by the parish in which they are situated; but in this case certain difficulties have arisen, and we sometimes find in similar instances that although everybody is very anxious that the sum of money required should be found, everyone is not equally anxious to find it. The reason of these difficulties is clear. When this improvement was thought necessary it was carried out by cutting off a corner of Hyde Park, the whole of which was in the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, the streets of Piccadilly and Grosvenor Place by which it was bounded being in the parish of St. George's, Hanover Square. So that when the question of responsibility for these costs came to be treated of, the parish of St. Martin-in-the Fields were of opinion that they ought not to be called upon to bear the expense. In the first place, they said that the inhabitants of the parish were 1642 not benefited by this improvement; that the streets on which these new streets opened were not in their parish, and that the Green Park was an isolated tongue of land belonging to their parish; and only brought them in a rental of under £5,000 a-year. They also pointed out that a great portion of the traffic which previously went along Piccadilly and down Grosvonor Place was diverted to these streets, and that, therefore, the cost of maintaining the former was very much diminished for the parish of St. George's, and that as they had no houses abutting on these streets they could not recoup themselves for the extra expense by an increased tax on the houses in the district. They also went on to point out that these new streets were clearly to the profit of the parish of St. George's, Hanover Square, because they rendered the property more valuable in Grosvenor Place and also in Piccadilly, and they cited as a precedent why the parish of St. George's, Hanover Square, should bear the cost, the case of widening Piccadilly, the paving and levelling of which was paid for by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, the subsequent maintenance only being thrown upon the parish of St. George's, Hanover Square. Now, in contradiction to this, the parish of St. George's, Hanover Square, maintained that it was an anomalous thing that one parish should have to support the roads situated in another parish; they also said that they should have been consulted in the matter, and expressed their disapproval of having to pay money to the extent of £1,500 or £1,600 a-year for the maintenance, lighting, repairing, and cleansing of these streets. But, Sir, it seems to me that the authorities of St. George's, Hanover Square, forgot that by the fact of these new streets being made the wear and tear down the hill opposite St. George's Hospital and down Piccadilly was very sensibly diminished, and the total cost of maintenance in consequence. Still, as they said, they were in complete ignorance as to the arrangement, and so they desired that the expense of this improvement should be thrown upon the Metropolitan Board of Works or upon Her Majesty's Commissioners of Works. The Metropolitan Board of Works objected to pay because they said there was only one precedent, and that did not apply—the precedent 1643 of the Metropolitan Board of Works having undertaken to maintain the line of road on the Thames Embankment. The Board say that they are not road authorities, and that they require to have statutory powers for the maintenance of roads, without which they cannot act. The Metropolitan Board of Works undertook the maintenance of the road on the Thames Embankment, because it went through such a number of parishes and concerned so many authorities, that it was absolutely necessary that the maintenance should rest upon them. Lastly, the Office of Works decline to be responsible for the maintenance of the roads in question. They say that they cannot hold the country responsible for voting every year the large sum of £1,500 or £1,600 for the maintenance of Metropolitan roads; and, therefore, the best course, in their opinion, was to lay the matter before the Metropolitan Board of Works as being a great Municipal Authority. The opinion of the Metropolitan Board of Works was accordingly sought, and the following opinion was given on the 20th of June, 1883. They said that the best course would be that statutory powers should be obtained to enable the Board to determine by what parish or parishes the roads should hereafter be maintained; and in accordance with that opinion a Bill was brought in during the following year—1884—but for one reason or another it never succeeded in getting into Committee, and it is now in the same position as it was in the Session before last. Now, certain objections ure urged to the proposals contained in this Bill. It is said that it is entirely unfair that two great Boards, the Metropolitan Board of Works and the Board of Works Commissioners, should not maintain the roads, and that, as the Metropolitan Board of Works is an interested party in this question, they should not be made arbitrators or apportioners of the amount to be raised from the parishes in settlement of this question. But I shall try to show that the Metropolitan Board of Works is not liable, in the interest of Her Majesty's Government, at any rate not legally liable, for the maintenance of roads in the Metropolis; and we have an instance of the Metropolitan Board of Works undertaking such an operation as I have described, or rather of having powers to 1644 undertake such an operation, by a previous Act—that is to say, by the Metropolitan Local Management Act, 1862, powers are given to the Metropolitan Board of Works to apportion the contributions of different parishes to the maintenance of a work, street or otherwise, that goes beyond the boundaries of a parish and exists in more than one parish. But, no doubt, there is this difficulty in the present case, which is that the whole of these new works are in the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields at the present time, so that the Metropolitan Board is unable to act except by the sanction of Parliament. Now, Sir, as briefly as I can, I have explained the nature of the objections that have been raised to the Bill; and I venture to remind hon. Gentlemen who may think that it is not a good Bill, or that it may require amendment on consideration in Committee, to remember that there will be ample opportunity for discussion, inasmuch as, being partly a public and partly a private measure, it will have to go before a Hybrid Committee—that is to say, a Committee formed partly of Members of this House and partly by Members chosen by the Committee of Selection; and I believe, if the Bill is allowed to pass the second reading, that all the interests involved in this question will be amply represented; that hon. Members will have opportunities of making their wishes known, and that there will be also an opportunity of amending the Bill by the incorporation of any other scheme which may seem more equitable and just. But I wish especially to bring before the House the fact that it is everybody's interest that this subject should be thoroughly investigated before a Committee, and that this Bill is brought into the House as a protest against the cost of maintenance, which amounts to between £1,500 and £1,600, being levied as a permanent annual charge upon the Treasury—that is to say, upon the general taxpayers of the country. And I ask hon. Members who, during this Session, have shown a laudable zeal for economy, to bear in mind that we think that it is neither just nor right that the whole country should be taxed for the maintenance of Metropolitan roads, and that, too, in the wealthiest part of the wealthiest city in the world; and, therefore, I would ask hon. Mem- 1645 bers to give their support to the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Leveson Gower.)
§ LORD ALGERNON PERCY
Sir, I rise to move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months, because I believe that it is bad in principle, and that its passage would create an evil precedent as regards the creation of improvements and the maintenance of roads in the Metropolis. As the hon. Gentleman opposite has said, the circumstances are somewhat peculiar. The land originally was part of the Green Park. The improvements were made without any consultation taking place between the Government and the Vestries, either of St. Martin-in-the-Fields or of St. George's, Hanover Square, who are interested in the matter. In Clause 1 it will be noted that the Bill provides that the Metropolitan Board of Works shall direct that the streets shall be wholly or partially under the management of all or any of the following Bodies:—that is to say, the Metropolitan Board of Works, the Vestry of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and the Vestry of St. George's, Hanover Square, and that the roads shall be maintained by those Bodies. But there is another objection—namely, that the parishes are to be charged with the expense incurred in the maintenance of these works up to the time of this Order—that is to say, that they are to be charged for all this without having been consulted in any single respect with regard to the improvements in question. Now, Sir, we have heard a good deal about the desirability of local self-government in the Metropolis, and I hope in this division we who are opposed to the Bill will have the support of the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. James Stuart), who was so eloquent on this subject on Friday last, because the Vestries at present are the representatives of the ratepayers, and in the present case they were in no way consulted. This Bill, therefore, strikes at the very root of local self-government. The Government, in a highhanded way, decides that certain improvements are necessary; they make them, and then, without having consulted the Vestries, turn round and throw upon the ratepayers the expense of maintaining the 1646 improvements. Therefore, Sir, the very strong objection which the rate-ratepayers take is that they were never consulted on the matter in any way whatever. The case of widening Piccadilly is not at all a parallel case with the present, because then the consent of the Vestries was asked, whereas in this instance it was not. Now, with regard to the benefit which it is said these streets were to the parish of St. George's, Hanover Square. The hon. Gentleman representing the Treasury only said that house property was increasing in value. I do not know whether he informed the House that this is absolutely the case; I rather think that the parish is very indirectly benefited, if at all, by those improvements; while as to the charge of maintaining the roads, the difference is, that instead of having to maintain one road they would have to maintain four or five. With regard to the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, it will do-rive no benefit whatever from the alterations. Well, Sir, with regard to the question of referring this matter to the Metropolitan Board of Works, it seems to mo that that Board is not at all a proper Body to refer it to; and I say that if it is to be decided what portion of the Metropolis is to bear the charge, it should be decided by the Government of the day, and not by the Metropolitan Board of Works. I do not wish to detain the House at any great length in explaining the objections to this measure. The fact is, that when these improvements were made the Government of the day made a very gross mistake—they forgot to consult the Vestries. Had they done that they would not have been in the position in which they are now placed, and they would not have been obliged to draw up a measure like this in order to whitewash themselves. At a time when we are talking so much about local self-government, both in and out of the Metropolis, it is, I think, desirable that we should adhere to some of the first principles of local government, and not throw upon the ratepayers of the Metropolis, or any part of it, the expense of maintaining works as to the desirability of which they were not consulted. As to the remark of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Leveson Gower) that the district is one of the richest portions of the Metropolis, it would appear that the hon. Gentlemen thinks that rates 1647 are only paid by the rich. But I venture to remind him that that is not so; and the charges that would fall upon the parishes for the maintenance of these works would have to be defrayed by the poorer classes also; and in the parishes of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and St. George's, Hanover Square, there are a great many poor ratepayers who object to have these rates forced upon them against their will.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Lord Algernon Percy.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. PLUNKET
Sir, I am sorry to say that I cannot support the opposition of my noble Friend who objects to this Bill. It was moved originally, not by the late Conservative Government, but by its Predecessor, the former Liberal Government; but when the Marquess of Salisbury's Government came into Office I had the honour for a short time of presiding over the Office of Works. Now, my noble Friend who objects to this Bill does so on three grounds. I shall not trouble the House with any general statement of the purposes of the Bill, because I do not think they need to be, or could be, given more clearly or fully than they have been in the statement which the House has had from the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill. But the objections to the Bill, as I understand them, are really threefold. In the first place, it is objected that there was no consultation with the "Vestries before these arrangements were made; in the second place, that the parishes are to be charged, not only with the maintenance of the roads in the future, but also with the expense already incurred; and, thirdly, that if any reference is to be made at all, the Metropolitan Board is not the authority to whom this matter should be intrusted, for the purpose of saying how the cost is to be defrayed. Well, Sir, as to the first of these objections, I admit that there was a slip in the proceedings when it was first determined to make these improvements at Hyde Park Corner. It would have been more regular, and have saved all this trouble, if the Vestries of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and St. George's, Hanover 1648 Square, had been consulted. As soon as I went into Office, I put myself in communication with the Representatives of those Vestries in this House; and although there was considerable willingness to assist the Government in this matter, I found afterwards that unless a Bill was brought in the question would never be settled, and that the taxpayers would go on to the end of time paying for these roads. The second objection of my noble Friend is, that it is not fair to make these parishes pay for the expense already incurred. Well, I say, and I wish to be frank, that I think that a very fair matter for discussion by the Select Committee to whom this Bill is to be referred. It is not at all the most material part of it. Though I do not now positively say that these expenses should not be borne by these parishes, as proposed by the Bill, yet I think that is a very fair matter of argument. The third question raised by my noble Friend is, that the Government ought to have undertaken this measure itself, and should not have intrusted it to the Metropolitan Board of Works. Well, if the Government were going to pay the expenses in the future, there might be some ground for that view; but, even so, I do not think the Office of Works is the proper authority for managing these roads. They ought to be managed, as all roads are managed in other parts of the country, by the Vestries and Local Authorities of places through which the roads run. I would submit to the House, that if this Bill is read a second time and referred to a Select Committee, there will be ample opportunity given to thrash out the whole question. By that means the original mistake would be remedied. The parishes would have full opportunity of stating their claims and rights, and when the Bill has been considered by a Select Committee, I have no doubt that the main object of the measure—namely, that the maintenance of the roads should rest with the parishes through which they run, will be adopted by the House.
§ MR. BRUNNER
I desire to ask what is the principle of this Bill? In assenting to the second reading, I understand you assent to the principle. I should like to know whether the putting of this power into the hands of the Metropolitan Board of Works is the principle of the measure, or whether it 1649 is that these parishes and the Metropolitan Board between them should bear the expenses? If it is intended that the management of these roads should be put into the hands of the Metropolitan Board of Works, I shall be obliged to follow the noble Lord (Lord Algernon Percy), because I look upon it as a religious duty to vote against putting further powers into the hands of that Body.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. H. H. FOWLER)
The hon. Gentleman asks what the principle of the Bill is, and I reply to him that it is that the Consolidated Fund should cease to pay charges that properly belong to the ratepayers of London; the principle of the measure is to throw upon the wealthiest city in the world the same burden that falls on Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and other large Provincial towns—the duty of repairing its own streets out of its own rates. I agree with the noble Lord (Lord Algernon Percy) that this is a question of principle and precedent. I think the principle of throwing this burden on the Consolidated Fund is bad, and I think that the precedent which has been set in this case is also bad. I do not wish to detain the House by going into details which have been so fully dealt with by my right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Plunket). This is emphatically a case for the consideration of a Select Committee. The noble Lord referred to the Repayment Clause. That is a clause to enable the Treasury to obtain repayment in regard to the maintenance of the roads since the roads were completed. This is a question we should be quite prepared to accept the decision of the Committee upon when all the facts have been heard. It is a question between two parishes—St. George's, Hanover Square, and St. Martin-in-the-Fields—and, in the absence of a general Local Authority in London, there is no proper authority which can be intrusted with the management of this matter except the Metropolitan Board of Works. I protest, as I have protested on other occasions before I occupied my present Office, against London being placed in a more advantageous position than large Provincial towns in having its improvements carried out at the expense of the taxpayers of the whole country.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I do not want to see the improvements of London carried out at the expense of the whole country; but I must say there is another side to this question. Here is a great improvement which the Executive Government have undertaken to carry out without having previously arranged with the Local Authorities the way in which the expenses should be borne. According to the proposal now made, having undertaken these improvements, the Government now desire to throw part of the costs of maintaining them upon a certain parish because a small portion of the improvement happens to be within that parish. The large portion of the costs which will be thrown upon this parish the parish will have no power whatever of recovering from the owners of adjacent property. Under the circumstances of the case, however, I think my hon. Friends will be well-advised if they do not oppose the second reading, but reserve their case for the consideration of the Select Committee. There can be no doubt there has been a great deal of blundering in this matter. If the authorities had acted wisely, they would have seen their way clear before undertaking this duty.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.