§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. DODDS (Stockton)
, in rising to move the second reading of the Bill, said, it would be unnecessary to detain the House, because the Bill was circulated last Session, though no opportunity was found for passing it into law, and it met with no opposition. The provisions of the Bill were directed to alterations of important sections of the Public Health Act of 1875. That Act, as hon. Members were aware, contained the code of laws for regulating and managing important sanitary affairs throughout England and Wales, and had been found in most respects a most excellent measure. The Bill only proposed to deal with four of its sections—namely, the 3rd, the 150th, the 151st, and the 152nd. The Bill dealt most 368 particularly with the 150th section, which it proposed to repeal, and then to re-enact in an amended form. In seeking to amend Sections 150 to 152 of of that Act, he desired not to depart materially from the purpose of the old Act, but merely to amend it on certain details which the experience of 10 years, and especially of recent years, had shown required amendment. Section 150 in the Act of 1875 had reference to plans, sections, and estimates of expenses in reference to private streets, where the expenses of paving, &c., were paid by owners, and not by the ratepayers at large. From time to time in our towns it became necessary that these private streets should be taken over by the Local Authorities, and henceforward supported by public funds; and hitherto, under the Act of 1875, it was the custom, where special works were required, first that plans and sections should be deposited in the surveyor's office, together with an estimate of expenses. But the owners of property affected, though they had this information, had no means of making their voice heard, should they object, until after the works were completed and they were called upon to pay their proportion of the expense. The Bill, in the first place, proposed that plans and sections, together with the estimate of expenses, with a proportional apportionment of expenses, should be prepared and deposited for public inspection, and that if owners desired to object in any way, either to the mode in which the works were to be carried out, or the character of the material, or the proposed proportional apportionment, they would have the chance of being heard by application to the magistrates of the locality, by whom the question would be entered into, and eventually, if the parties desired it, a reference could be made to the Local Government Board in London, who could, if they thought fit, send down an Inspector to inquire into the circumstances and decide between the contending parties, the expenses of that being borne by the party against whom the decision was given. By this measure, by inquiry in the first instance, instead of litigation afterwards, one great objection to the working of the Act of 1875 would be removed. Again, when notice was given under the Act to owners to level, or pave, or sewer the 369 street of which they happened to be owners, they were allowed the option of carrying out the work themselves; but, in practice, it did not happen once in fifty times that an owner executed the work himself. Obviously, it would be inexpedient that individual owners should, in a street, say, of 50 houses belonging to 30 different owners, determine upon doing his sewers, paving, &c, himself, for in doing so he would soon find himself at issue with his neighbours on the opposite side. It was, in fact, next to impossible, unless the whole of the street was the property of one owner; the Local Authorities therefore had the power to repair the street, and apportion the expense among the owners, and the proportion was determined on the basis of the amount of frontage of each property abutting on the street. That would be perfectly fair, if the houses were all on the same principle; but many valuable properties had little frontages, and some properties derived very little advantage from paving and other works in the street. For instance, take a roadway leading up to extensive works and premises in the rear. In such a case it was hard on the other owners that a fair proportion of the cost of the road should not be paid by the owner of the works, however small his actual frontage. It was proposed, then, in the Bill to make a provisional apportionment after a survey, and that this should be deposited for examination, and subsequently the provisional apportionment would be the basis of the actual proportion of expenses to be borne by each owner. The old Act made provision for arbitration in the arrangement of expenses; but the clause had been found to be exceedingly unworkable, for the reason, perhaps, that out of 50 owners 49 might be satisfied; but one objection sent the case to arbitration. It was quite impossible that an arbitrator could deal finally with the matter unless he had all the parties before him; but the Bill would provide an inquiry in the first instance, not after expenses were incurred. Another important point of the Bill was to give greater facilities for recovering the amount expended, so that in such cases, not unusual, where a person has spent all his savings in the purchase of a house, and was not in a position to pay the expenses arising for paving, &c., 370 all at once, the expenses would be allowed to remain on a charge of 5 per cent over a certain period. The Bill would be general in application, but would be found most useful in small boroughs; because large towns like Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and Leeds, though all in favour of the Bill, would not be affected by the passing of the Bill, having an Act of Parliament of their own, in which they had incorporated as much of the Public Health Act as they thought necessary. But the Bill would be a great boon to small boroughs unable to go to the expense of having a local Act. Some objection had been raised to certain portions of the Bill; but they were only objective upon points of detail that might very well be met in Committee. One of them had been mentioned to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. F. S. Powell), who suggested an Amendment in relation to the dedication of new streets; and another suggested Amendment had reference to the borough of Croydon, the Corporation anticipating difficulties in connection with their local Act. He thought he could satisfactorily meet these objections in Committee. The Bill, as a whole, had been universally supported by Corporations throughout the country. The hon. Member concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Dodds.)
§ MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
said, that, having largely assisted the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Basingstoke Division of Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) in the preparation of the Act of 1875, which was a work of enormous magnitude, he could not but regret the necessity of the present Bill, as the Act of 1875 had proved to be an excellent measure. He thought, however, the hon. Member for Stockton had made out a case for the amendment of the Act. In London there were bars and gates marking off private streets and public streets; but in provincial towns happily there were no such evidences of exclusion, and access to private streets was as free as to public thoroughfares. It was important, therefore, to facilitate in every way the improvement and maintenance of private streets. 371 He thought that in Committee the retrospective and penal character of the Bill might be somewhat modified. He hoped the hon. Member would agree to amend the Bill, so that those who had made streets would have the same benefits which they now enjoyed; and, further, that power would be given to every rural authority to adopt the Act if they desired to do so.
§ MR. CROMPTON (Staffordshire, Leek)
said, he approved most heartily of the Bill, and of the way in which it dealt with the objects aimed at in it. At the present time the proportional payment for the making of a street depended upon the amount of frontage; so that a man, with a house and garden at the side, would have to pay a great deal more than a man with a larger house and garden at the back. One point had not been touched; but it was an important one. The liability to pay for the making of a new street was entirely thrown on one person, the person who received the rack rent. What that meant was, that the person who was in receipt of two-thirds of the payment had to pay for the whole of the expense of making the street. He hoped to see a clause introduced by which the liability to pay for the making of new streets should be thrown upon everybody who had any interest in the property, in proportion to that interest. The difficulty presented itself to the mind of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. F. S. Powell), who complained that power would be taken away from an owner who made a street for himself, and that owner would be prevented from making roads on his private property; but, really, it was not in question. The Act of 1875 and this Bill both referred to the case whether owners had chosen to dedicate a road to the public to make a highway. So long as it was not a highway the owner could deal with it in any way he liked. It was only when he made the road a highway, over which the public had a right to pass, that, by the provisions of the Bill, the Local Authority would have the power of saying how the work should be done. He did not profess to have mastered the whole of the sections; but, so far as he could see, the arrangement would be fair to owners, which, the present law was not altogether. It was only when the street was dedicated by the owner to public use that the Local 372 Authority took it into their hands, so he did not see that private rights were infringed. The second reading of the Bill should pass without much controversy. There were several clauses that would require careful looking into in Committee; but he had the fullest confidence that the Bill would emerge from Committee a valuable amendment of the Act of 1875.
§ MR. SIDNEY HERBERT (Croydon)
said, he did not offer any opposition to the Bill. The Bill had caused a certain amount of alarm in the minds of those Corporations which had their own private Acts on this subject; and he would suggest to the hon. Member (Mr. Dodds) to propose in Committee to amend Clause 18, and so make the Bill as much as possible a part of the Public Health Act. He thought the Corporations need not be under any alarm as to the Bill.
§ MR. DWYER GRAY (Dublin, St. Stephen's Green)
said, it appeared to him that the Bill now before the House was a very useful and desirable one. He wished, however, to point out to the hon. Member (Mr. Dodds) who moved its second reading that at present its terms only extended to England. This he considered to be an obvious defect, but one about which there need be no difficulty in remedying. The self-same difficulties that arose in the administration of the Act of 1875 for England had arisen in the administration of the corresponding Act for Ireland of 1878; and he wished, therefore, to ask the hon. Member would he have any objection to such an Amendment as would extend the provisions of the Act to Ireland? This would not involve any difficulty—little more than a few verbal Amendments being necessary—so as to correct a state of things under which the same defects existed in Ireland as applied to the working of the Act in England. He was certainly not inclined to consent that they should wait for a series of years for an Amendment which the House now seemed to admit to be necessary.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN) (Birmingham, W.)
said, that the objects and intentions of the Bill had been so fully explained that it was only necessary for him to state the opinions the Government had formed upon it. They considered the Bill an 373 extremely useful one, and one that would carry out a much-desired amendment of the law. Further, it was a Bill that would be more to the advantage of owners than to the Corporations who were promoting the Bill, and would simplify procedure and make it more fair to all parties. In the first instance, it provided that in future no work should be undertaken until all the particulars had been properly advertised and brought to the notice of all concerned; and then all persons interested in the matter had the opportunity of making any objections they thought fit, and of being heard, and having their objections decided upon, before any expenses were incurred. At present the necessary expenses were incurred before those questions were debated and settled. The Bill also gave a larger discretion to Local Authorities to enable them to apportion the expense. Clearly the right principle was that it should be apportioned with some regard to the benefit conferred. At present it was apportioned arbitrarily, with regard only to frontage, and that was not in every case a proper standard. Those were the principal provisions of the Bill, which he thought would commend itself to the acceptance of the House. The hon. Member (Mr. Sidney Herbert), on behalf of the borough of Croydon, had expressed a hope that the Bill should not be allowed to interfere with the private powers of the Corporation of that town. As Member for Birmingham, he (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) stood in the same position as the hon. Member (Mr. Sidney Herbert). Birmingham had obtained a complete Code of Municipal Law, which included most of the Amendments that were proposed to be brought into the general law by this Bill; and that Code had been in operation for some years, and had given general satisfaction. He thought the provisions of the Bill were quite sufficient to exclude any possibility of those private Acts being interfered with; Clause 18 was a saving clause in that respect. There were some Amendments the objects of which were simply to make clearer some provisions of the Bill which the Government wished to introduce; and he should ask the Committee stage to be postponed for a fortnight to give time for the preparation of these Amendments. The hon. Member for St. Stephen's Green (Mr. Gray) 374 asked that the Bill should be extended to Ireland; but he was afraid the Municipal Law of that country was so different from that of this country that any extension would be more difficult than might be imagined. He would, however, communicate with the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. John Morley); and if it were found that Amendments could be introduced to apply the Bill to Ireland, and such an extension appeared I desirable to the Irish Members, the Government would be glad to meet their views.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
said, he was glad to have an opportunity of doing what he could to further the progress of the Bill. It was clearly right, in deciding upon expenditure, that the people who had to meet the expenditure should have a voice in the settlement of the matter. He was entirely of opinion with the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) that the present rough-and-ready method of apportioning expenses was not only crude, but sometimes extremely inequitable, and unjust. The method introduced by the hon. Member (Mr. Dodds) was obviously equitable and just. There were one or two slight weaknesses, however, in the Bill, which he would like to point out. It was true that in this Bill, as it at present stood, the owner appeared to have the right of giving his voice before any expenditure was incurred; but they all knew that estimates were frequently exceeded; and he thought that the owner should not only I have a voice in the matter of the estimates, but also with regard to the expenses actually incurred. It had been suggested that rural authorities should be given power to take advantage of this Act; but he did not think that that would be a wise provision; at present there were ample facilities given to the rural authorities to get urban powers. He hoped that such Amendments would be made as would remove the weaknesses in the Bill. He was glad that the hon. Member for Stockton had had the opportunity this Session of introducing his Bill; and he trusted that he would successfully carry it through Committee.
§ MR. LANE (Cork Co., East)
said, he desired to support the request of the hon. Member for St. Stephen's Green (Mr. Gray) to have the Bill extended to 375 Ireland. At the present moment, the Corporation with which he was connected—the Corporation of Cork—was suffering very much disability under the Public Health Act of 1878. Under that Act it was not possible to recover with ease and facility public money spent on private works for landlords who were unable or unwilling to carry out those works; and the Corporation was prevented from carrying out several extensive sanitary measures on account of this disability. He thought the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) would find that there was no difference between the law of England and Ireland in respect to this matter.
§ MR. ADDISON (Ashton-under-Lyne)
said, he thought the measure was one which would lead to useful and permanent results. The apportionment of expenses upon the person who drew the rack rent had been objected to; but, from a considerable experience of this question, he could say that there was no other practical way of charging these expenses.
§ MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)
said, he hoped that the principle of this Bill would be remembered when the question of the expense of making a park for any town was considered. He should like it to be provided that adjoining owners, who benefited very largely when a park was made, should contribute towards the expenses.
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
said, he quite agreed that the Bill contained many valuable provisions. He believed that as the law now stood a Local Authority could not make a public carriage way along a new road unless they also took the footpaths; and if they decided to make a carriage way through a street only partly built upon, the owner of the land was put to the very heavy expense of having to pave both sides of the thoroughfare long before that step was really wanted. What was wanted was a provision which would enable a public authority to declare a carriage way open as a highway through a street partly built upon without necessarily declaring the footpath parts of the highway at the same time.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday 23rd March.