HC Deb 04 August 1890 vol 347 cc1775-82

Bill as amended, considered.

*(5.12.) MR. J. KELLY) (Camberwell, N.

I wish to move the Amendment which I have placed upon the paper. There are many things that are likely to cause nuisances injurious to health, although I cannot but regard as what may properly be termed "grandmotherly legislation" the provision which says, "If any person allows or permits any water to enter into any drain, and communicate with any pure water of the temperature of 103° Fahrenheit, which alone or in combination with sewage is likely to cause injury to health, that person shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding £10." I now beg to move my Amendment.

Amendment proposed, in Clause 16, page 7, lines 17 and 18, to leave oat "is likely to cause a nuisance or to be" and insert "causes a nuisance or is injurious."—(Mr. Kelly.)


I would suggest that the object of the hon. Member would be better met by inserting the words, "causes a nuisance which is dangerous or injurious."

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

We ought to have a definition of the word dangerous. We can understand what is meant by injurious to health, but the word dangerous has a wider scope.


The word dangerous is only used here as an alternative to injurious, namely dangerous or injurious.


I am willing to accept the right hon. Gentleman's proposal.

Amendment as amended put and agreed to.

Consequential Amendments agreed to.

*(5.15.) MR. KELLY

When this Bill was in Committee, I moved to strike out the whole of Clause 42, but the House was unwilling to accede to my Amendment. I now move after the word "works," to insert "but in every case including sewering and metalling." The Bill proposes a rather singular and most drastic change in our law. When the law on the subject was considered before, it was made much more stringent. I desire to call the attention of the House to Section 70 of the Act of 1848, which says streets are not to be repaired out of the rates before-being Sewered, levelled, paved, flagged, and channelled, to the satisfaction of a Local Board of Health. In 1875 the conditions under which private roads were to be declared repairable by the ratepayers were made even more stringent, and it was stipulated that no local authority should have power to take over a private road to be repaired by the inhabitants, unless it were channelled, sewered, paved, metalled, flagged, made good, and lighted. Instead, therefore, of cutting down the obligations cast on the owner of a private road which it was desired to make repairable by the inhabitants at large, they were absolutely enlarged. Now it seems to me a somewhat startling proposition that the enormous burden of metalling, sewering, kerbing, and lighting the road should be cast upon the ratepayers. If the right hon. Gentleman will pardon me, he will find that I am justified in putting the interpretation which I do on the words "any of the works mentioned." The right hon. Gentleman will at once admit that "any" means any one of these works. One of these works is levelling. Therefore, if a man levels the road, and has sufficient interest with the local board or local authority, he may be relieved from the cost of sewering and metalling, and the whole of the charge will be thrown upon the unhappy ratepayer. I would like to know why this startling change is to be made. I may say that before I put down this Amendment the President of the Board of Trade stated, in answer to a letter which I then addressed him on the subject, that there was a very good reason, from his point of view, for this drastic alteration of the law. It must be apparent that wherever the speculative builder has sufficient influence to induce the members of the Local Board to take over the road, he will be able to cast upon the ratepayers of the district an enormous and perfectly new burden, On this point I should like to quote a few words from a very great Judge—the late Sir George Jessel. In the Judgment of "the Attorney General v. Bidder," he said:— In the first place it is plain tnat the public are to he considered. The expense of future repairs would he much greater when the road was not properly formed than when it was properly formed. That is one thing, and the next thing to be considered is that you are not to sacrifice the interests of the public to the interests of the speculative builder, or the owner of building land. It was not intended that the public were to make roads or building land for the benefit of the building owner. He was to pay proper expenses and to mate a proper road, and then if it was a beneficial road or street to the public the Urban Authority would take to it. Therefore the Legislature says; when a great many things have been done, and not till then you may dedicate to the use of the public. But all those things are to be done, I know that it will be said that there are cases on which the operation of this section of the Act of 1875 has been found to be very troublesome and irksome, and, indeed, injurious. It will be further objected that this Bill is only permissive in its character. That is just the class of legislation to which I most object. If the thing is right, let the Legislature say it shall be done, and then it will be properly considered; but if it comes down in the form of a permissive enactment from a Committee up-stairs, and the hon. Members have never had any opportunity of considering or sanctioning it, I say it is a dangerous thing to do, and it is inviting the Local Authority to do that which we dare not tell them to do. Permissive legislation is to my mind prima facie absolutely wrong. If the speculative builder is to have these advantages, let the House say so boldly, and let them say that the unhappy ratepayers are to pay these large sums to the speculative builders. Do not let it be permissive, because that simply means that where the speculative builder has sufficient influence he will got the benefit of it, and where he has not it will never be used. One difficulty which will be urged is that the Local Authorities have taken over roads which they ought not to have taken over. I believe that is perfectly true. I will tell you what these Local Authorities will do the moment this Act is passed. They will issue a new notice at the end of the month to secure themselves against any illegalities they have committed. I do not want the Local Authorities to commit any illegalities. Let the Local Authorities obey the law; if they do not, let them take the consequences. I would like the Committee to consider the class of road which will be taken over. It will be the road fringed by villas with very long frontages and in respect of which exceedingly small rates are really levied. Hon. Members know something about rating inside the Metropolis, and they know that there the shops and small houses are very highly rated, whereas the villas which fringe the road and have large frontages get off uncommonly cheaply. I would invite the House to say that this class of persons shall not be relieved at the expense of the ratepayers of the covenants which they have chosen to enter into voluntarily when signing their leases. What the House has to guard against is jobbery and corruption on the Local Boards. I believe there are cases—at least I am told there are cases—in which it would be in the interests of the public that such roads should be taken over. Let it be so. But let it be done only under the sanction of the Local Government Board. Let the ratepayers be protected. Everybody knows as much as I do about the influences at work upon these petty Local Boards, and that the whole cost of these roads taken over will be cast upon the ratepayers, must, I think, hesitate before making such a momentous change of the law as is proposed by Clause 42 of this Bill.

Amendment proposed, in page 17, line 40, after the word "works," to insert the words "but in every case including sewering and metalling."— (Mr. John Kelly.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."

*(5. 35.) MR. RITCHIE

From the observations of the hon. Gentleman, one would imagine that our Town Councils and Local Boards were filled with men whose sole object, though representing the ratepayers, was to protect the interests of the speculative builders. The history of this clause is very simple. Prior to the judgment to which the hon. Member has referred, Local Boards had never believed that it was necessary, under the provisions of the existing law, that all the various matters to which he refers, such as lighting, paving, channelling, curbing, metalling, flagging, and sewering, must be done before they took over the road. It is quite obvious that a compliance with all these requirements was entirely unnecessary in the case of many of the roads which they took over. The decision to which the hon. Member referred caused enormous inconvenience to Town Councils and Local Authorities. It is not a new matter for Parliament to deal with this particular question. There is a provision in a Bill which passed this House in 1886 entirely analagous to the proposal now made in this Bill.

MR. STOREY (Sunderland)

What was the name of the Bill?


It was the Public Health Acts (Improvements Expenses) Bill of 1886, and the clause to which I refer provided that the Town Council or Local Authority should have the liberty of saying whether these provisions should be carried out before a road is taken over. That is a principle to which I think hardly any one can object. Our opinion is, and the opinion of the Local Government Board is, that Parliament may properly be asked to give this authority to the local governing bodies without the smallest danger of those evils which the hon. Gentleman thinks may arise. The hon. Gentleman admitted that there are cases in which it would be absurd to call upon anybody to do all these various matters provided in the original Act.


I never said that. On the contrary, I said that whatever might be the case, they ought to do the metalling and sewering.


Well, the hon. Member, at any rate, admits that there are cases in which the provisions of the existing law might cause considerable inconvenience, and he says in that case "let there be an appeal to the Local Government Board, whose judgment shall be final in the matter." But the Local Government Board has already sufficient burdens on its shoulders, and it could not send an inspector to various localities throughout the country to inquire into the circumstances of a par- ticular road to be taken over. We must respectfully decline such a duty, which would probably have to be exercised in a vast number of instances in all parts of the country. We ask that Parliament should give to the Local Authorities, when a road is to be taken over, the power of saying what shall be done in the interests of the ratepayers. I think in asking the House to assent to that principle we are asking it to support that which is in accordance with the modern principles of legislation, namely, to confer more and more power, and more and more discretion on the freely-elected representatives of the ratepayers.

(5.40.) DR. CLARK

I am sorry the hon. Member for North Camber well did not strike out the words "or any." I certainly think it is a very small thing to ask that the metalling and sewering shall be done. Under Clause 122 of the Public Health Act, the Authorities can only take a road over when that has been done. You are now trying to get rid of the law by which landlords are properly made to sewer a road before it is taken over to be maintained at the public expense. The proposal now before us is simply a mode of relieving a pertain number of landlords and builders from putting the streets they wish to be taken over into proper order. Some Local Authorities, whose proceedings are reported, will be very careful about what is done. But we know very well that there are Local Boards which are controlled by the jerry builders, contractors, and their friends. Generally, the ratepayers know nothing at all about it. In the suburbs of London, as the hon. Member for North Camberwell pointed out, it is very often the case. Why should you make this change in the law? Why should the public be compelled to metal, sewer, and light, and put the road into a condition that it may be maintained? I know the clause is permissive, but I think the same law ought to be applied all over. If the power were made compulsory, the Local Authority would see that all this work was done before taking the road over, but if it is made optional they will not do so. I do not see why you should repeal or modify this very valuable Clause of the Public Health Act, and which prevents badly-drained streets being made at all. As it is now, they will probably make badly-drained streets that will not bear the traffic when these streets will be taken over. This is simply an effort to slip into this Bill a permission repealing a very valuable Clause of the Public Health Act.

*(5.45.) CAPTAIN VERNEY (Bucks, N.)

I very much regret the tone of the President of the Local Government Board towards this Amendment. If the hon. Member will strike out the words "if any," I will support him.


That would only be a re-enactment of Clause 152 of the Public Health Act.


I understand it to he so. I do not wish to see any alteration of the law myself. What do we very often see? Some market garden laid out for building purposes, with curbstones to define the road, the middle of which is a perfect swamp. The houses are erected on either side, and the last thing done is the draining and metalling. What will be done in many instances? An attempt will be made to get the work of metalling and draining thrown upon the ratepayers. I think the speculative builders might at least be called upon to do the metalling and sewering, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to accepting what is a reasonable Amendment, and one which can be productive of no harm.

(5.47.) MR. STOREY

I want to point out that the Public Health Act, as it exists at present, has worked admirably. The Local Authorities cannot take on highways and streets unless they have been properly paved, channelled, and metalled, lint it is now proposed to give an option to the Local Authority to take over a road as to which all these things have not been done. Our rule in Sunderland has been the very opposite. We obtained a Private Act at a cost of £3,500 in order to secure control of the matter, and we require the centre of the road to be paved and drained before the buildings are erected. We require that the private owners of the land who make the profit shall put the street into a proper condition first of all. But under the clause now proposed, the Local Authority would have power to take over a street which had been simply levelled, and the ratepayers would have to pay the whole cost of sewering and paving out of the public funds. The hon. Member has used the word metalling. I know that is the common expression in London, where the macadam roads are most used, but in the North we find it more economical to pave our streets with some description or other of stone. And if this Amendment is to apply usefully throughout the country, I would suggest that he ought to use the words "including sewering, metalling and paving." I submit that the Amendment is a reasonable one, and where the Local Authority take over a road, the sewering, metalling, and paving should at least be made a sine qua non. The Local Authority might well be at liberty, so far as the flagging and lighting are concerned, but sewering, metalling, and paving involve considerations of health. I support the Amendment because I know that there are districts in England which are controlled by certain classes of persons who would use this change in the law to the public mischief.


I am willing to accept the words "or paving."


That can only be by leave of the House.

(5.50.) The House divided:—Ayes, 54; Noes, 129. Division List (No. 224.)

Question, "That the Bill be now read a third time,"—(Mr. Ritchie,)—put and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.