§ Order for Committee read.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL (Blackburn)
Before you leave the Chair, Sir, I would put it to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Depart- 1315 ment whether it is not possible to postpone this Bill? I withdrew the block to the Bill, of course, thinking the right hon. Gentleman would bring it forward at a reasonable time.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE OF THE HOME DEPAETMENT (Mr. CHILDERS) (Edinburgh, S.)
I do not know whether I could correctly answer the question of the right hon. Baronet as to its being possible to postpone the Bill; but I do hope we shall be able to go on with it to-night.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Childers.)
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
I must appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary as to whether he will still persevere with the Bill at this hour of the morning? I am very loth to trespass on the time of the House. It is a Bill of very considerable importance. I have received from various parts of the country representations urging upon me to oppose a partial Bill of this kind, which does not even extend to the whole area of the Metropolis. I do not see my right hon. Friend the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross) in his place, who told me that he was compelled to be absent when the Bill would come forward, but that I might say that he disapproved of the Bill, and that he thought it was one which ought not to have been brought forward at all. There are many hon. Members who disapprove of the Bill, and among them the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Joseph Cowen)—who I do not see now—told me the other night that I might state that he represented a large Provincial town which was opposed to this partial legislation, which was of a character certainly not suitable to a Liberal Government. I do not want to prolong the discussion now, because in Committee—if we get into Committee—we shall have abundant opportunities of discussing the Bill. There is one thing affecting the Metropolis—the Preamble of the Bill does not state the case as it really is. It says it is a Bill for payment of compensation for damages in the Metropolis. Now, I understand that it is a provision for West End tradesmen receiving compensation for damages which occurred in a riot, owing to the scandalous mismanagement of the police. I do not want to debar them from com- 1316 pensation; but I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary that this Bill which he says is for the Metropolis is of a very partial character indeed. I want to see it made general. I have in my hand the reply which the right hon. Gentleman gave to the hon. and gallant Member for North Lambeth (Major General Fraser). The hon. and gallant Member for North Lambeth asked the Home Secretary whether he would not be prepared to include the district of North Lambeth in the measure for compensation for damages which occurred as the result of the riots which took place? But the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary informed him that he could not possibly extend the provisions of the Compensation Bill beyond the tradesmen of the West End. Now, I think that this is a very unfair Metropolitan Compensation Bill. I also hold in my hand a letter addressed to me by a tradesman in North Lambeth. It will be in the recollection of the House that after the disturbance of the 8th of February there were disturbances at various times up to the 21st of February. Let the House bear in mind that the question of compensation opens the whole question of police arrangements in relation to the riots which occurred, and we are perfectly in Order in discussing that question. The police drove the riotous people across Westminster Bridge into Lambeth, and the property of several tradesmen were injured. One of the poor tradesmen wrote to the Home Office, and I have here the reply which he received from the Home Office. I ask hon. Gentlemen whether it is possible to believe that in dealing with compensation for damages in the Metropolis at a time of riot that they should exclude North Lambeth and include Westminster? The reply of the Home Secretary was as follows:—With reference to your letter, asking for compensation for damage done on the 21st ultimo, I am desired by the Secretary of State to inform you that it is impossible that special legislation should be undertaken to provide for every case of individual hardship, and each occurrence must, as a rule, be left to be dealt with by ordinary law.Now, ordinary law does not deal with the question at all. I contend that the Act of 7 & 8 Geo. IV., c. 31, is of that character that it does not apply to these cases of momentary ebullition. In the 1317 case of country towns you cannot recover, because the Chief Constable of the district is obsolete, and you are thrown on the Common Law. I believe there are some trials going on, and it has been found impossible to recover unless where fire has been put to a building, or unless some bricks have been pulled out of a house with a view to commit a felonious act. I believe I am correct in stating that. Well, Sir, in reference to this letter of the poor tradesman in North Lambeth, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make the Bill applicable to the whole Metropolis. I have here other letters, two of which I ask permission to read. One of them is from a person in Yorkshire, and the other from the Town Clerk of the borough which I have the honour to represent. The former says—Allow me to thank you for drawing the attention of the Government to the unsatisfactory state of the law with respect to damages done by rioting, and to the unfair and unjust proceeding of the Home Secretary in compensating sufferers in London, and not doing the same for those who suffer under similar circumstances in the Provinces. There was a great deal of rioting here and in the neighbouring towns at the last Parliamentary Election, and much damage done. We feel our losses very keenly, and I would ask you, on behalf of myself and others, to do your best to alter the law as to future damage and that recently done, so that we may not feel that Parliament has less consideration for us than for London tradesmen.I must say that that is a very fair letter. The letter from the Town Clerk of Blackburn puts the case in a way which I am sure will satisfy the House that the partial legislation of the Home Secretary is such as not to satisfy the country at this moment. The Town Clerk of Blackburn says—The more we think of this Bill for the relief of the sufferers by the late riot, the more unfair the proposal appears to the general community.That is the point which I take up. He continues—The principle of past legislation is evidently unsound. In 1878, when riots took place in Blackburn, an enormous amount of damage was done and great loss inflicted on the shopkeepers and millowners, and compensation was only recovered in cases in which the rioters had used fire and pulled out some bricks. It was held that in all other cases there was only intention maliciously to damage, and that the latter class was not covered by the Statute. If the law were amended and made of general application it would have a tendency to prevent 1318 riot, because the hand of every ratepayer would be against the rioters. Let there he compensation by all means, but let the law apply to the whole community.I think that fairly puts the case. I am sorry to have occupied the time of the House as often as I have done on two or three occasions in presenting this matter, in which I have, of course, no personal interest. I only stand here because I think that the proposed legislation of the Home Secretary is very illiberal. I recollect reading the Act of 1827. There had been riots throughout the country; and when the Tory Government of the day were asked to legislate in a partial manner for the Metropolis or Provincial towns, they declined to entertain the proposal, and brought in a Bill covering the general area of the country. This is what I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to do now. I ask him to give the House an assurance that he will introduce a Bill dealing with the Provinces—York, Nottingham, Blackburn, and many other places I could name—which are subject to momentary ebullitions of feeling on the part of the population of those Provincial towns, and have no means of recovering compensation on such occasions. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider what I have submitted to him, and kindly to give me an assurance that he will, as representing the Government, introduce a Bill to amend the Act of the 7 & 8 Geo, IV., c. 31, in such a way as to make it applicable to the circumstances of the country at the present moment, and that he will be good enough also to make the present Bill extend to the case of the tradesmen of North Lambeth, who have a perfect right to compensation. These riots were due to the unfortunate mismanagement on the part of the police; and I appeal to him to make this Bill applicable to the Metropolis generally, and not tax the ratepayers in North Lambeth without giving them compensation. But I understand that representations have been made to the police by wealthy proprietors and others asking for compensation which the Home Secretary denies to the people of North Lambeth; and this, I say, is not fair. All I ask of the right hon. Gentleman is to deal with the whole of this subject in a general and comprehensive measure.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. CHILDERS) (Edinburgh, S.)
I will, in the first instance, refer to that part of the right hon. Baronet's speech in which he asks me to say what the Government propose to do in regard to this matter for the whole country. I do not think my right hon. Friend is quite accurate in regard to the history of the general subject. The general Act, which requires amendment, is not an Act of George IV., but one of the Reign of Edward III., which was supposed to provide compensation in case of damage done by riots. The fact is, however, that that Act was found to be altogether unworkable; for instance, it cannot be applied except when it can be shown than an effort has been made to entirely destroy the house or premises in question. The failure of that Act led me to consider, with the Legal Advisers of the Government, whether it would be possible to recast that Act, and make it applicable to the circumstances of the present time. Well, Sir, my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General (Sir Charles Russell) has worked with me in the matter, and I may give my right hon. Friend opposite (Sir Robert Peel) this assurance—that great progress has been made with the amending Bill, and I hope that within a week or two I may be able to introduce it. But I may point out that there are a great many difficulties connected with the question. The subject is by no means an easy one when we come to deal with small towns and villages. I cannot postpone this Bill, which is very urgently required, until the general Act is ripe for introduction; but I will give this assurance, however—that I will, as early as possible, bring in such a general Bill as I think will be satisfactory both to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House. Then my right hon. Friend asks me why this Bill should apply to some places in the West End and not to North Lambeth? Well, I can only say that this Bill was brought in to deal with a particular state of things which occurred on the 8th of February, and which were of an exceptional character; whereas, in regard to what occurred on the 21st of February, there was really nothing but the damaging of a few windows. There was nothing, in fact, that could be called a riot, and nothing which would justify 1320 us in calling upon the Hundreds to contribute towards the damage. But the riot on the 8th was a very serious riot, and, as we think, justified us in bringing in this Bill. I cannot undertake to extend the provisions of this Bill, or the provisions of any other Bill, to such email occurrences as those to which glass to the value of only a few shillings, or even a few pounds, is broken. It is impossible that this Act or any other Act can apply to such occurrences as that; it can only apply, as I said before, to occasions on which something like a serious riot has occurred. No delay whatever shall take place in introducing the general measure that I have mentioned. I pledge my word to that. Some points have been very difficult to deal with, and, therefore, the Bill cannot be introduced immediately; and, under these circumstances, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will allow this Bill to go into Committee.
§ MR. BAGGALLAY (Lambeth, Brixton)
The House will bear in mind that the proposal of the Bill is to charge the whole of this compensation upon the rates of the Metropolis; and Lambeth and the whole of South London will have to pay its part of the damage that was done in the West End only. Now, let me remind the House of what the burdens are in South London already. We have the parishes of Camberwell, Newington, Lambeth, and Southwark in the South of London, and these are four of the poorest parishes in the Metropolis; whilst in the neighbourhood where these occurrences took place we find the wealthy parishes of Paddington, St. James's, Westminster, St. George's, Hanover Square, and St. Martin-in-the-Fields; so that the ratepayers of South London—the poor districts of Lambeth, Newington, and Southwark, where the rates are half as much again as they are in the West End—are asked to contribute to the damage which was done in the West End; but no offer is made by the West End to contribute towards the damage that was done in South London on the 21st of February. I must remind the House also that South London took no part whatever in the riots which occurred on the 8th of February. The people of South London are a law-abiding people. Throughout the whole of the General Election there was nothing approaching a disturbance or a 1321 riot. I venture to say, moreover, that the cause of the riot on the 8th of February in no way arose in South London; the damage was not done in South London; and I ask, therefore, why South London should be called upon to pay the cost of it? I do not think that South London should be called upon to pay for damage in which it took no part whatever. The House will not forget that without this Bill the law does not give any compensation whatever, and that we are being asked to grant compensation in a special case. I contend that this Bill is founded on a wrong principle altogether. I shall be very glad to see the West End tradesmen compensated for the damage they sustained; but let their neighbours in the West End pay for it. Let the principle of the Act of George IV. be carried into effect, and do not extend the area over which the compensation is to be levied. The Act of George IV. provided that the compensation should be levied on the Hundreds, so that it should fall upon the neighbourhood where the riots occurred. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to relieve in some manner the ratepayers of South London from the charge which he proposes to put upon them. I hope he will, in Committee, make such alterations in the Bill as will enable the rate to be levied solely upon the West End.
§ MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Nottingham, S.)
We have had a general promise of the introduction of a general measure; but if that measure is not retrospective it will give no relief to Nottingham, Blackburn, and other places where riots have occurred. It may be said that retrospective legislation is objectionable; but, in that case, I would point out that the measure at present before the House is essentially a retrospective one. In Nottingham, at present, there are as many as 200 claims for compensation awaiting decision, because of the legal difficulties involved. The Corporation of Nottingham are willing to pay the claims; but the difficulty arises from the state of the law. I hope, therefore, that we shall not merely have a general measure, as promised, dealing with the future; but that we shall find that it deals out equal justice, and treats the Provincial towns where riots have occurred in the same way as it is now proposed to treat a portion of London.
§ SIR JOHN RAMSDEN (York, W. R., Osgoldcross)
I wish, Sir, to add my appeal to that of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. On the day of election a riot occurred in the constituency I have the honour to represent. By that riot there were many sufferers, and I know that among those sufferers there is a feeling that a great hardship would be inflicted if, when the Government have admitted the defective state of the law, and are going to amend it, their cases were not brought within the scope of the measure. They do feel that they would be very hardly treated indeed if there is not a clause in the Bill which will give it a retrospective character. I hope, Sir, that the right hon. Gentleman will very seriously consider this matter.
I have to say that we will very carefully consider the question as to what the operation of the Bill the Government propose to introduce shall embrace. It is not at all an easy question; but we will give it our most earnest consideration.
§ MR. LIONEL COHEN (Paddington, N.)
I should like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the suggestion that, if he merely loft out of the Bill the particular day on which the occurrences took place, and simply referred to the occurrences of "the month of February last," that would give the Bill a general character. If the right hon. Gentleman can see his way to doing that, I am sure it will give great and general satisfaction.
§ GENERAL FRASER (Lambeth, N.)
The House well knows that great injury was done to the shopkeepers of South London for a day or two after the disturbances on February 8, through excess of zeal on the part of the police, who told the people to shut their shops. Then on Sunday, the 20th of February, the mob was not allowed to come quietly down Whitehall, but was turned on to the Embankment, and then driven over the bridge on to the South side, where there were no adequate police arrangements for protecting property. I advised the people who had suffered damage in consequence to write to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Childers), and his reply has been read by the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel). Directly that reply was received, however, it was stuck up in a shop 1323 window in South London with this heading over it—The persons who threw milk cans down upon the people get compensation, while the poor people of Lambeth do not.That way of dealing with the matter fairly indicates the feeling existing in South London on this subject. I do not wish to take up the time of the House; but I do earnestly hope that the claims of the people of North Lambeth will be considered.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir CHARLES RUSSELL) (Hackney, S.)
The Act of George IV. restricts compensation to damage that is the result of riotous proceedings; and it cannot be given unless the property is wholly destroyed, or there is a felonious intent to wholly destroy. It is in no way contemplated by that Act to give compensation for anything except what can be described as the result of "riotous proceedings." I want to point out to the hon. and gallant Member for North Lambeth (Major General Eraser), therefore, that even if the area covered by this Bill were extended so as to include North Lambeth, and the period which it covers were extended to the 28th of February, it would not give compensation to North Lambeth unless it could be shown that the damage was caused by a riot. Now, the damage complained of in North Lambeth was very slight, and was not caused by what may be called a "riotous assembly." It was done by stone-throwing, certainly; but it was not the result of a riot.
§ MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
In discussing this question the exceptional position of London ought to be considered. In Blackburn the people have power to protect themselves; but the people of London have not. The people of London are in the hands of the Commissioners of Police, who are only responsible to this House; and, therefore, the people of London have no control over the police. If this rate is to be thrown on London, the Metropolitan Members will do their best to see that it is thrown on the whole of London, including the City, and not only upon the Metropolis outside the City. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider this matter, or that he will leave the Bill as it was originally drawn. I have indicated the opinion I believe many hon. Friends of mine who sit on these Benches 1324 hold of this Bill. If the Amendments which are proposed by the Government are persevered in, we shall certainly press for the cost to be thrown upon the whole of London—the City as well as other parts.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON (Manchester, N.E.)
I beg to move that you report Progress, Sir. It is far too late to proceed now.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Sir James Fergusson.)
MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
No doubt, half-past 2 is a late hour to go on with, the Bill. I shall not oppose the Motion if it is understood that we proceed with it on the next available opportunity.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.