HC Deb 31 July 1889 vol 338 cc1839-42

Considered in Committee.

In the Committee.

Clause 1.

MR. STEPHENS (Middlesex, Hornsey)

I think the Committee will allow it is very inconvenient, to say the least of it, that this Bill, which so largely affects the liberty of a considerable number of Her Majesty's subjects, should have arrived at this stage without having been considered at all by the House. Of course, I am precluded from going into the general principle now; but I will call attention to the very great hardship that under this clause will be inflicted upon a number of persons poor and feeble in position, and which to them will be absolutely crushing. They will be quite unable to cope with such an intricate mass of regulations as this Bill will demand, and the effect will be to force these people from a healthy, harmless country life, into our overcrowded towns, where they are not at all wanted, and where, as hon. Members will be aware, it will be impossible for them to earn their living. From living an open country life they will be transferred to conditions of existence for which they are unfitted, and which they cannot long endure. Why should not people be allowed to live in movable dwellings? At this time of year certainly it is a very pleasant form of residence, and I think at least they are as much entitled to be free from interference as the people who choose to live in house boats. With regard to this section, the owner of a movable dwelling is required to make application to the County Authority, but the Clause does not say to what authority, but I take it to be another duty added to the already overladen County Council. I have myself brought to the notice of the Local Government Board the great difficulties the County Councils have in coping with the mass of intricate matter suddenly devolved upon them, and here is a new and perfectly unnecessary duty pressed upon them, and more machinery, not indicated, must be brought into play. We shall presently have to deal with the educational and sanitary provisions of the Bill, but first, there is this section directed to the suppression of the mode of life these people follow. These moving vans carry goods from village to village, and are really co-operative stores for the service of village life. We all know that in some of the small villages there is only a single shop, the owner of which exercises a tyrannical monopoly, which the competition of these travelling stores serves in some degree to check. I am sure that persons unable from age or infirmity, or want of time to go to the county town, find these vans a very great boon. I do not for a moment think that any Member of the House will be moved to support the Bill on account of the peculiar ideas upon sporting rights these persons who live in movable dwellings are commonly supposed to entertain. I believe that will not prejudice the persons whom this Bill affects, but that every Member will take his course in regard to the Bill uninfluenced by these considerations. I have no doubt that hon. Members who promote this Bill are not very jealous of any little trespass upon lands these persons may commit. The clause requires the owner to register his movable home, and inflicts a penalty of 20s. for every day the van happens to be used without being registered. This is, I think, a too severe and drastic a penalty for such an offence, and to be inflicted upon people who are unable to protect themselves; and, therefore, I move to substitute 2s. 6d. for 20s.


I have an Amendment to propose which would come before that, and one to which I think no objection will be taken. The words in the clause are "apply to a county authority." I do not suppose that it is intended that the application should be made to any County Authority other than that of the county where the van happens to be; and, therefore, I propose as a preliminary to stating this in so many words to leave out "a" and insert "the."

Amendment proposed, line 8, leave out second "a," and insert "the."


I think I may accept that.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment proposed (Mr. Tomlinson), after the word "authority," insert "in the jurisdiction of which the movable dwelling happens for the time being to be."


I should like to ask my hon. Friend in charge of this Bill whether he has considered what the County Authority is to which reference is to be made. I find, looking at the Interpretation Clause, Section 13, that the term County Authority includes Commissioners of Supply and County Councils for counties or for boroughs that are counties in themselves. Well, it seems to me there is, in the first place, the objection that County Councils are not always sitting, and I think it would be better that reference should be made to some officer of the County Council who could always be go at, and from whom the necessary regulations could be obtained. I do not offer this observation in opposition to the Bill, but in order to make it more useful.


I labour under the disadvantage of scarcely having heard a single word of the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks, and, therefore, I have no answer to make.

Amendment agreed to.


I now beg to move the Amendment I have already indicated, to read, "two and sixpence" after "not exceeding," in line 18, instead of "twenty shillings." The hon. Gentleman the Member for Stockton has pointed out a difficulty in fixing any authority with the duty, and, in fact, it will have to be handed over to an official who will be very little under the direct control of the representative authority, and will be far more under the influence of residents and landlords of the neighbourhood. It is, therefore, all the more incumbent upon us to be careful to prevent anything like injustice and even cruelty in the exercise of this delegated authority. In any case, as we ourselves know, it is difficult to appeal against the harsh exercise of such authority, and especially so in the case of these persons, who are very poor and have to earn a precarious living. The more I consider the Bill the more I am struck with its crudeness of construction, and the more I regret that it has not been subjected to a free discussion.

It being half-past Five, further proceedings were suspended.