HC Deb 04 March 1886 vol 302 cc2000-13

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I have already explained the effect of the measure. It is in hon. Members' hands; therefore, at this late hour, I will simply content myself with moving the second reading.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Secretary Childers.)


I was in hopes that the right hon. Gentleman would have postponed this Bill, as he was good enough to do on Tuesday evening, when it came on at a late hour. This Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman must be aware, is of a very objectionable character. No one disputes, of course, that the tradesmen and others who suffered in the recent riotous proceedings in London are entitled to some remedy at law; but the right hon. Gentleman is also aware that the Statute under which these damages for compensation are placed is an obsolete Statute of the time of George IV.—7th & 8th, Chap. 31. This Bill only deals with the result of the disturbances in the Metropolis. Now, I represent a very important constituency—one of the most important labouring constituencies in the country—and there are several hon. Gentlemen near me who represent similar constituencies, and who entertain views similar to mine on this matter. We, in Blackburn, a few years ago, had a most serious riot and popular tumult. Many tradesmen and others were seriously injured in their business; and when it was sought to recover damages under the Act I have referred to, it was found impossible to do so. The Act is of that obsolete character, always dealing with a person called the "Chief Constable," an individual who, in many places, no longer exists. What I would urge, therefore, on the right hon. Gentleman is that he should withdraw his Bill, which is of a piecemeal and highly objectionable character, and introduce a measure which will take in the general interests of the whole community, as was the case with the Bill which was passed in 1827. This Bill, the right hon. Gentleman admits, is one merely proposed to meet a particular case; and I think he informed the House that he was quite prepared to consider the whole matter, which I ventured to submit to him in a Question this afternoon. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman has considered the circumstances of this case, and the grievous injustice that would be inflicted on large provincial towns such as Nottingham, Manchester, Blackburn, Ashton, and other places where popular tumults may accidentally arise; for were the Bill to pass in its present shape, those towns would be left without compensation for damage which might result from these disorders. I, of course, oppose the Bill on the present occasion; and if I am not supported by an adequate number of Members, I shall use every exertion possible, on subsequent occasions, to endeavour to counteract the course taken by the Government in seeking to apply this legislation solely to the wealthy Metropolis, leaving out of consideration our great provincial towns, which, in the event of suffering damage from riots, will have no means of obtaining a remedy under the defective state of the present law.


I do not propose, at this late hour of the evening, to detain the House more than one moment, whilst I offer an observation or two in support of the remarks which have just been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn (Sir Robert Peel). The right hon. Gentleman has alluded to the borough I represent—namely, the borough of Ashton, and I think that what occurred there some 15 years ago is a good illustration of the defective state of the law in the country towns. At that time there was there a lecturer, a notorious man and a bad character, named Murphy. He caused riots in the town, in the course of which damage was done to a Catholic chapel to the extent of more than £1,000. A number of dwellings belonging to the poorer classes were also wrecked; but, under the existing law, it was impossible to obtain compensation. The law is this—that although buildings may be all but gutted, all but destroyed, yet, if those who proceeded in the work of destruction had not the ultimate intention of entirely destroying the buildings, the owners could obtain no compensation whatever. It is necessary to show that those who gutted and injured the buildings had the intention of feloniously destroying them in order to secure compensation. In that way, in the case of the riots to which I have alluded, as well as those referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, except in one case, where a house was entirely pulled down, no compensation of any kind was, or could be, paid. Now, Sir, this is a defective state of the law which has caused great dissatisfaction both in Blackburn and Ashton and in other towns; indeed, in all towns where riots have occurred this defective state of the law has been brought under the notice of those who have to administer the law. Now that we have an opportunity, by the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, of having attention brought to bear upon the subject, we do hope that he will enlarge his measure, or bring in one which will remedy the grievance not only of the Metropolis, but of the whole country. We cannot help thinking that unless we oppose this partial Bill, which has been brought in by the Home Secretary, the effect of allowing it to pass will be that the whole matter will go to sleep for a good many years; for the experience of most men is that, when Acts of Parliament of this local kind are once passed, it is very difficult again to direct attention to the subject and get any remedy whatever. It is for these reasons that I entirely share—and I am sure that those who represent towns which have suffered from riots will also share—the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, and that I urge upon the Home Secretary the desirability of withdrawing this Bill, in order to bring in a measure which will really deal with our grievance.

An hon. MEMBER: I trust the House will bear with me while I venture to add a few observations to those which have just dropped from my hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down. The state of the law is perfectly absurd in regard to riots of this nature. It is that if the injury done is not in the nature of total demolition the person damnified cannot recover compensation. It will be perfectly apparent that as the rioters on the 8th of February were not interfered with by the police, as they did not totally destroy the premises they attacked, therefore the demolition did not come within the interpretation of the "total demolition" of the law. For that reason, those who are damnified cannot recover compensation under the existing law. Now, Sir, there is another point wherein this Bill differs in spirit from the existing law, and that point I submit to the House is a very important one, unless it is extended to the country at large—that is the source from which the compensation is to be recovered. The existing law provides that the source from which the compensation is to be recovered is the Hundred, the place, town, or district, or district of the Hundred; but the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary proposes now to pass into law has for its object to override the existing law; but instead of recovering compensation from the district—which is undoubtedly a wealthy one—of this Metropolis, where the riots occurred, he seeks to spread the compensation over a larger and wider area. If the compensation is collected from a large area, those who have to subscribe towards it do not feel their contributions; but if the compensation is collected from a limited district, the subscribers feel the payment of the tax very acutely. Now, Sir, I submit that is not the principle which ought to be adopted in the case of the Metropolis, without the same principle being extended to the country generally. Let us, for instance, take a county. It is divided into Hundreds. If a riot takes place, and there is a total demolition or a partial demolition of a felonious nature within the Hundred, the whole county is not called upon to compensate the sufferers, but the Hundred only is so called upon. Although this Act may have for its object—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not think I say it with any personal motive—although this Act may have for its object the whitewashing of certain individuals, it admits into legislation the thin edge of the wedge. I think the Government ought to be prepared to admit the thick edge of the wedge, and it is because they have not as yet shown any disposition to do that that I intend to oppose this Bill.


I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary will not accede to the request of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Sir Robert Peel). This Bill is one of great importance to the Metropolis, and it is because it only applies to the Metropolis that the Government are asked to postpone its consideration. It may be very well the Government should deal with the whole question, which I understand they are willing to do; but I do trust the right hon. Gentleman will not consent to the postponement of this Bill for the sake of the larger question which he may deal with at a future time.


I hope the right hon. Baronet the Member for Blackburn (Sir Robert Feel) will persevere in his opposition. I should have liked the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to have given us some information in regard to the nature of this Metropolitan Police Fund. I should have been glad, for instance, to have been informed what is the amount of this fund. It appears to me to be rather shabby for a great country like England to take out of the savings of the unfortunate policemen—["No!"] Well, that is a matter which ought to have been explained by the right hon. Gentleman. My impression was that this fund had been subscribed by the police.


Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Healy) will allow me to explain that the Metropolitan Police Fund is a fund four-ninths of which is contributed by the State and five-ninths by the Metropolis. The country districts in no way share in the benefits of the fund.


I was going to say that in Ireland you have, for a series of years, adopted the principle of laying a tax upon the unfortunate locality in which the crimes have been committed, and of even taxing the people who are themselves the subjects of the outrages. I am amazed that the Government in Ireland have not adopted some principle whereby those who have suffered injury should be recouped out of a fund similar to the Metropolitan Police Fund. In Ireland there is under old Acts, Acts of William IV., a plan which really seems to me very much like a plan of mutual insurance. If anybody suffers damage or loss, the whole country side or barony is, in the discretion of the Grand Jury, called upon to make the damage or loss good. I think that in cases of this limited character, when injuries are committed, the principle for which the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) contends might well be applied. In this London scheme there is adopted a principle that scarcely appears quite sound; and for my part I think the right hon. Baronet is quite within his right in impeaching the partial nature of the relief of this Bill. Other people besides those in London have suffered from similar events which recently took place in the Metropolis; and unless the Government are prepared to give some assurance that they will introduce a Bill for the relief of the country generally I feel bound to join the opposition to the measure.


I do not think the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Derry (Mr. T. M. Healy) can have been in the House when I was asked a Question on this subject. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn (Sir Robert Feel) I said that while we should propose this Bill to-night, because of the special exigencies of the results of the peculiar riots of the 8th of February, I undertook, with the assistance of my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General (Mr. Charles Russell), to take up the whole question of the amendment of the 7 & 8 Geo. IV., and endeavour to put the law into a satisfactory state. Although it is not very long since the 7 & 8 Geo. IV. was passed, that Act has become entirely obsolete. It is not workable, and it is not suited to our modern police organization, and, therefore, it ought to be amended. But it will take some little time to get the amending Bill well drafted; and I do not think, as I said then, it would be wise to defer the present Bill in order that we might meanwhile settle—not a very easy matter—the reform of the Act, 7 & 8 Geo. IV. That was my answer to the general proposition of my right hon. Friend; and I hope, therefore, the House will not defer this Bill. As to the question submitted by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Derry, it is right I should ask him to bear in mind that, practically, the expenses of the Irish Police are entirely borne by the Consolidated Fund. The Police Fund is a fund out of which the Metropolitan Police are entirely paid for. Five-ninths are contributed by the rate upon property within the Metropolis, and the remaining four-ninths are paid out of the Consolidated Fund. It is similar in operation, though not identical, to the fund contributed in the counties and boroughs of Great Britain for the maintenance of the police. This Bill proposes that the damage done on the 8th of February last shall be assessed in a simple manner—in a manner not involving expense to those who suffered—and paid for in the proportion I have explained. Having given this explanation I hope the House will let the Bill pass quickly, so that the damage which has been incurred by a great many people, though not on the average to any very great amount, may be speedily settled. If we let the thing pass along it will be much more difficult to ascertain what the damage in each case was, and there will be a great and natural grievance on the part of those who have suffered. I beg the House to read the Bill a second time to-night, and I renew the promise I have made that the Attorney General and myself will carefully consider the Act 7 & 8 Geo. IV. with a view to its amendment.


I hope my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Sir Robert Peel) will press this matter further. The argument is unanswerable—that the rule which ap- plies to London should apply to the country at large. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary says that the urgency of the matter requires that the Bill should be pushed forward. Now, that is the very argument on which my right hon. Friend (Sir Robert Peel) insisted—that a Bill should be passed for the whole country. Without urgency a Bill will never be passed. It will be considered, and then left over for after consideration. Why should the whole country pay for London, if London does not help to pay for the whole country? This, again, Sir, raises the whole question of local taxation, which we have often had before the House. In the country local taxation falls upon the local taxpayers; and these local taxpayers, already very much overburdened, are called upon to contribute towards the expenses of London without any reciprocity. I feel perfectly certain that the unfortunate persons who have been injured by the recent riots will not be damnified in any way by two or three months' delay—that it will make no difference to them—[Mr. W. H. SMITH: It will ruin some of them.] Then the compensation must be made adequate. Before the end of the Session a Bill may be passed for the whole country. It cannot take a very long time to adapt the Bill for the whole country as well as for London; and the London shopkeepers, instead of being ruined as my right hon. Friend suggests, would get their payments towards the end of the year. We shall get one Bill for the whole country instead of this pettifogging legislation, first for one county, then for another, then for one town, and then for another.


I quite agree that it is desirable this matter should be settled at once; but I, for one, object to some of the people who have made claims receiving any compensation at all. Extremely rich people who have had a few windows broken—people who are living in large private houses at enormous cost—have claimed sums from £5 to £50 for their broken windows. It is all very proper and right to recompense the trades people who have suffered, both in property and business, in consequence of the riots; but I do not think that, for very shame, these rich people ought to claim or receive compensation out of the Metropolitan Police Fund. I make these remarks in the hope that the people to whom I allude will be induced not to ask for compensation when this matter comes before the police receiver.


The reason which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has assigned why this Bill should be passed is that the matter is urgent. But, surely, that argument applies with equal force to several provincial towns. It is said that if there be delay there will be much difficulty in settling the claims for compensation. No doubt there will; but if there be that difficulty in London, there will be the same difficulty in provincial towns—in Nottingham, for instance, where similar riots have occurred. The Corporation of the town which I have the honour to represent have before them a large number of claims from sufferers in the late disturbances; but they are completely paralyzed because of the uncertainty of the law. It will be a small consolation to those who have suffered to know that, at some distant time, there is a possibility of a general measure passing. The Home Secretary has spoken of the difficulties involved in the settlement of the question. They may be considerable. The right hon. Gentleman has also urged that some time will be required to remove those difficulties. It is this statement of the right hon. Gentleman which causes me some alarm. I am very much afraid that the delay in the settlement of the matter will prove very injurious to the sufferers out of London, and I ask that the case of the provincial shopkeepers be taken into consideration with the promptitude with which the claims of the suffering shopkeepers of London have been dealt with by the Government.


I do not feel that I can go quite so far as some of my hon. Friends in urging that the settlement of the claims of the sufferers in the late riots in London should be postponed till a measure applicable to the whole country is brought in. At the same time, I think it ought to be strongly pressed on the Home Office that a general Bill should be brought in as soon as possible. I cannot see that the difficulties there are in the way of the preparation of a general measure are great; and I hope we shall have a distinct assurance from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, or some other Member of the Government, that no delay will be allowed in the introduction of such a measure. With such an assurance I think we ought to be content.


It is a noticeable fact that, as far as I can recollect, this matter has not been discussed in Parliament before the present occasion. Although there have been many occasions giving rise to similar losses, and although the law is substantially as stated by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ashton (Mr. Addison), the question has never been considered in Parliament, nor has attention been publicly drawn to it before the present occasion. The law is in a completely unsatisfactory state, and it is obvious it should be amended. But my hon. and learned Friend, and the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel), will admit that this is not a matter which the Government should take upon themselves to deal with in a day, or without some consideration of the difficulties which surround the matter. I think the House should be satisfied with the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary that the matter will receive early attention, and be dealt with as soon as practicable.


If the right hon. Baronet the Member for Blackburn (Sir Robert Peel) divides against the Bill I shall certainly vote with him. As we know, the State bears four-ninths of the cost of the Metropolitan Police—it is alleged it does that because the police are used for public services—but there is really no earthly reason why the Exchequer should pay four-ninths of the damage done recently in London. If such a demand were made with regard to any provincial town it would not be entertained for a moment. I agree with my hon. Friend (Sir Julian Goldsmid) that it is shameful that the Carlton Club and wealthy people should come on the rates and Exchequer for compensation for a miserable window that is broken. Surely they could, in common decency, pay for it themselves. If people came for compensation they ought to plead in formâ pauperis; when they can pay they ought to pay.


I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that if wealthy people have suffered trivial damage they might meet it out of their own pockets. But I am not aware that any of such people have made claims. [Sir JULIAN GOLDSMID: I know several cases.] Probably they are the cases of some of the hon. Member's own friends. But I speak on behalf of the poor tradesmen whose property has been wrecked, and who have suffered very serious loss. It was not from any lack of care or precaution on their own part that these people suffered. Under those circumstances, and with the assurance which has been given by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Childers) and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General (Mr. Charles Russell), I hope the House will pass this Bill, which will save two or three persons from ruin. ["Oh, oh!"] It may be a matter of no consideration to hon. Gentlemen; but I say advisedly that some persons will come to ruin unless they are very speedily recouped for the losses they have sustained. They come to the authority which, from accident or misfortune, failed to afford them the protection which they have a right to expect, and which ought to have been afforded. Under these circumstances, seeing that this Bill is confined to a particular date and event, seeing that it settles no principle in the future, and leaves the Government full responsibility of altering the general law, I trust the House will allow the Bill to be read a second time.


I wish to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. I suppose that the House must be satisfied with the explanation which he has given, that no time ought to be lost in passing this Bill; but, at the same time, I think that, in the interest of the public purse, we have some right to call upon him to protect the Consolidated Fund. In case of these riots having taken place in the Provinces, the funds of the towns in which they took place would have been hold liable; and certainly none of the compensation consequent upon them would have come out of the Consolidated Fund. Now, whatever is just for the country is just for the Metropolis; and I think, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman should adjust this matter so that the compensation shall not come out of the Consolidated Fund at all. It is a matter of great interest to the country that this should be done, and I think the House has the right to call on the right hon. Gentleman to clear us from the imputation of dealing in a special manner with the Metropolis.


I do not see why we in Ireland should be asked to contribute towards the payment for any damage done in England, unless it is understood that the people of England are also prepared to contribute their portion of the cost of any damage done during riots in Ireland. If the people of London cannot afford to wait until a measure to settle the general question has been passed, why were the people of Blackburn, where serious damage was done, compelled to wait, as they have been, for several years? In regard to Dublin, serious riots, resulting in great damage to property, have taken place from time to time; but no Government has ever proposed to contribute from Imperial funds one farthing in aid of the local rates struck for the purpose of compensating owners of property which was injured. Then, again, in the case of Derry, the Government would not give a single penny towards the damage done there, although they now call upon us to contribute towards the cost of the damage done in the English Metropolis. If the right hon. Member (Sir Robert Peel) presses this question, I, as an Irish Member, will certainly support him, and I will promise him my assistance to resist the Bill in its future stages.


I confess that I share the feeling of the hon. Member in this matter. When I was at the Treasury, I had constantly before me claims made on behalf of London upon the Consolidated Fund. It is said that this compensation question is urgent; but I wish to make this suggestion—that the Bill should be so altered that the whole sum wanted should come out of the police rate, which furnishes five-ninths of the Police Fund, and not out of the contribution from the Consolidated Fund at all. That can be done; and if the right hon. Gentleman would consent to the arrangement the second reading of the Bill may be taken at once.


I will undertake to consider whether the suggestion of my hon. Friend cannot be adopted.


There are so many defects in this Bill that we are now to have a quantity of fresh suggestions put into it. What I would suggest is that it should be withdrawn altogether—


Order, order! The right hon. Gentleman is not entitled to make a second speech. Only the Minister in charge of the Bill has a right of speaking again.


Three times.


The Minister in charge of a Bill certainly has the right of making an explanation in regard to his Bill when it is necessary.


I am certainly strongly in favour of the proposition of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney), provided that the Metropolis were responsible for the management of the police for whose remissness it is proposed to rate it; but I think that it is highly improper that the people of London should be called upon to pay this police rate at all, when they have not the shadow of control over the police.


Irish Members are very much surprised to find that there is no such law in England on these matters as those which prevail in Ireland. I cannot see why the same laws are not enforced in London as those we have in Dublin; and it appears to me that the proper course for the Government to adopt in regard to this matter is to bring in a general Bill, having retrospective action. It is an extraordinary thing for the Government to bring in a Bill dealing with a matter which has already taken place, and for which the existing law does not provide, without attempting to provide machinery for similar cases which may happen in the future. I quite agree with a remark which was made by one hon. Member—that this is the right time to bring pressure to bear upon the Ministry, for I am quite sure that if we refuse to pass this measure, then we shall very soon obtain a most satisfactory general Bill. If the House refuses to do anything at all in this case of the Metropolis, until the eases of Blackburn, Nottingham, &c, have been similarly dealt with, I am satisfied that we shall see an adequate general measure passed without delay.


What I want to know, Mr. Speaker, is this—How are the Government going to carry out the proposal of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney)? How can they differentiate between the police rate and the Police Fund? [Mr. COURTNEY: Put the charge on the rate.] It is simply an ingenious scheme of evasion to suggest that the compensations should be taken out of the five-ninths of the Police Fund, and not out of the other four-ninths. It is a fact that the two items—that from the rate and that from the Consolidated Fund—have to be amalgamated at some time or other, and I cannot see how they can be differentiated. I do not see why we should make a difference in the case of London. I am not aware that Colonel Jackson, when his house was attacked at Blackburn, received compensation. [An hon. MEMBER: He did.] Well, then, Colonel Jackson was lucky; but other persons in Blackburn, whose property was damaged at the same time, did not. I will, however, modify my objection to the Bill if the Government will insert a clause in it providing that compensation out of the Consolidated Fund shall be given to the people in Ireland whose property is injured on these occasions. If that is done, I am sure that my hon. Friends will also be willing to modify their opposition to the Bill at this stage, and give it a fair consideration when it gets into Committee.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 106; Noes 79: Majority 27.—(Div. List, No. 17.)

Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.

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