§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *(4.50.) SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)
The object of the Bill is to enable the London County Council to widen the Strand between the Churches of St. Mary-le-Strand and St. Clement Danes. It will be generally admitted that this would be a great improvement, and I need not occupy the time of the House by dwelling on this point. The Second Reading has, however, been objected to on account of the 28th clause, which is known as the "betterment" clause, and the objection is based on two grounds. First, that such a proposal ought to be made in a Private Bill; and, secondly, that it is unjustifiable in itself. As regards the first point, I would only 1119 observe that there are many precedents for such a course. The Infectious Diseases Notification Act of last year was founded on clauses originally inserted in a Private Bill affecting a single borough. The same might be said with reference to many of the provisions of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, and there are many instances in which provisions introduced in the first place in Private Bills, and only affecting a particular district have been found to work well, and have afterwards been extended to the whole country with great advantage. The most formidable objection, however, is the second. We are told that the principle of betterment is wrong, unjust, and impracticable. Now, let the House for a moment contrast it with the old system. Under previous Bills, local improvements have been paid for, half by the Metropolitan Board and half by the district. The result was that those in the locality had to pay both the general rate and also the special local rate, although not in any way benefited by the improvement. In the present case the Strand district comprises an outlying area around Soho Square at some distance from the Strand. The ratepayers there would, over and above their contribution to the general Metropolitan rate, be again rated to carry out an improvement in which they are not specially interested, and by which they would not be benefited more than many other districts which would not have so to contribute. The London County Council propose, on the contrary, that those only shall be called on for any special contribution who are benefited, and only in the proportion in which they are benefited. Surely the plan in the present Bill is fairer and juster than the old one. The Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes have an important paragraph in their Report bearing upon this question. They say the principle which is known by the name of "betterment"Is the principle that rates should he levied in a higher measure upon the property which derives a distinct and direct advantage from an improvement, instead of upon the community generally, who have only the advantage of the general amelioration in the health of the district. American legislation has adopted the principle that where public improvements are effected by the Local Authority they ought to be able to bring, in aid of the cost of the improvement, any additional value conferred on 1120 the adjoining property by reason of the improvement.We have evidence on this point given before the Commission, amongst others by Mr. Forwood, ex-Mayor of Liverpool, and now Secretary to the Admiralty, who says, speaking of the "betterment "system, that it "works admirably in America." I may also quote the authority of Sir Hugh Owen, Permanent Secretary to the Local Government Board. He was asked "Do you approve of that principle?" His answer is "Yes; I think it is quite equitable." So we have some of the highest authorities in the country approving of the principle, which is found to work well in America. The principle is by no means novel as applied to London improvements, for, as Mr. Vicary Gibbshas pointed out in the Times, we find it recognised in improvements made in King Street in the City as far back as the time of Charles II. The Commissioners on the Housing of the Working-Classes say, moreover—The principle has, to a small extent, been adopted in the Acts of 1879 and of 1882.Thus, I submit, it is shown that the principle is not altogether new to this country, and has been found to work-well. I will go further, and say that some such action had been almost forced upon the London County Council by a recent decision in the House of Lords. Not long ago the Board of Works built a new bridge at Putney, a short distance higher up the river than the old bridge, and a publican who had a house in the main road leading to the old bridge, but which ceased to be the road to the bridge, claimed and obtained from a jury £1,031 as compensation, solely on the ground of diversion of traffic. In giving judgment in the House of Lords, Lord Herschell stated—The only question that the House had jurisdiction in that particular case to entertain was whether there was jurisdiction in the Sheriff and jury to entertain the claim to compensation and to award some damages in respect of it. If there were such jurisdiction, and if any evidence was before the jury to warrant any damages, then in such an action as that the plaintiff must recover, however excessive the amount of damages, however erroneous the law laid down to the jury, however wrong the principle which they adopted.This, then, being by the highest authority declared to be the law, if any metropolitan improvements are to be made, 1121 and if the London County Council are to be liable should the change lower the value of property, and yet are to derive no advantage when they raise it, the prospects for the rate-payers are very gloomy. The House of Lords has introduced the principle of "worsement," and "betterment" is surely the necessary correlative. If we are to pay when a property is damaged, and to have no claim when another is bettered, metropolitan improvements are rendered almost impossible. I quite admit that the question is surrounded with great difficulties, but I do not think it is right for me now to go into these at length. I have confined myself to showing very shortly the grounds upon which the London County Council have introduced the "betterment" principle into this Bill. I do not now ask the House to assent to any of the details, nor finally even to adopt the principle. I have attempted to show that it has net been adopted lightly or without consideration by the London County Council, and if the House will assent to the second reading we are quite willing that the Bill should then be referred to a Select Committee, arid after that Committee has dealt with it the Bill will receive the final judgment of the House. The House will remember that the Committee of this House which sat in 1866 reported that the present incidence of the charge for permanent improvements was far from satisfactory. Yet nothing has been done to remedy this state of things. The subject is, no doubt, one of great difficulty. I do not say that the clauses may not be susceptible of improvement, but the present Bill is an honest endeavour to introduce a better and juster system, and I beg respectfully to commend it to the favourable consideration of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ (4.58.) MR. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)
Although I have given notice to move the rejection of the Bill, and am still strongly opposed to the principle contained in it, it is right that I should say it is not my intention to move the rejection of the Bill. I have not, however, changed my opinion; I take this course because it occurs to me, as it has occurred to others 1122 to whom I have mentioned the subject, that this would not be the right time to insist upon our objection. The object of the Bill is commendable in itself. It is for the improvement of the Strand, and I think most of us will agree that that is highly desirable. But taking into consideration that it is a Private Bill, asking for exceptional legislation upon exceptional grounds, I cannot but see that the House before dealing with it should have before it evidence of the exceptional grounds upon which this exceptional legislation is asked for. Therefore I think it is better to let the Bill go before a Committee to be thoroughly inquired into, and when it conies back to us we can discuss it and deal with it on its merits. True, we might deal with the clauses to which objection is taken by instruction to the Committee to eliminate such clauses, but I think it is better to submit them to inquiry. The right hon. Baronet who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill has passed without challenge some of the points which are open to grievous objection. The right hon. Baronet has said it is only right that property improved at the expense of the community should be paid for in proportion to the expense to the community; but he seems to forget that the improvement of a property has always been, so to speak, one of the assets of the property, and is so considered by every purchaser. Just as a property may be injured by the election of shops or manufacturing works, so, on the other hand, we take into consideration the fact that property may be required for the widening and improvement of the streets, by which the adjacent property may be materially enhanced in value. All these considerations are invariably taken into account in the sale and purchase of property. Speaking from my own experience in matters of compensation, there appear to be two points which are generally put forward by valuers by way of increasing the value of the property. First of all they take the present value of the land and buildings, as ascertainable by the market rates at the present moment, and this being done, they proceed to add an item which they describe as the prospective value; and I have known cases in which this item of value has been dealt with, by the 1123 valuers on both sides and by the arbitrator on the allegation of excessive charge. After all, the prospective value of a property is only a part of the present value, in the same way as the liability to injury by now works forms a necessary consideration. I trust, therefore, that I shall not be misunderstood in the course I am taking when I say that having, in concert with other Members, given notice that I should move the rejection of the Bill, I do not intend to persist in that course at the present stage. This is not because we do not intend to oppose the measure, hut because we are not unwilling to have the Bill read a second time, in order that there may be a thorough inquiry into the facts, and that a Vote given in favour of the Second Beading may not be misconstrued and used in Committee as a general approval of the measure. We think it better to fight the Bill on the facts being ascertained than to contest it on an abstract question. Under these circumstances I shall not move the rejection of the measure.
(5.5.) MR. R. G. WEBSTER
I quite agree with those who think that in the main this Bill is a good Bill—that is to say, I think it desirable that sooner or later the portion of the Strand to which it relates must be altered and improved, but the clause to which I object most strongly, and which I intend to ask permission to move an Instruction, in order that the Committee may strike it out of the Bill, is Clause 28. That clause deals, as has been pointed out by the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir John Lubbock), with the principle described as betterment. The hon. Baronet and others who support the Bill seem to think that in no shape or form can the London County Council injure property with which it may deal. They seem to believe that whatever they do in any part of London must be for the good of the district. But I will put this case. Suppose a man had property both on the south and the north sides of the Strand, near where a road is run which causes a diversion of the traffic, he may lose £20 a year in rental on the one side, while, on the other, he might have to pay on the principle of betterment a similar sum back to the ratepayers on account of improvements effected on the other side. The Bill also provides that 1124 the value of the property taken is not to be assessed by a jury, as in all other cases, but by an arbitrator, and in one of the sub-sections the County Council reserve the right of re-considering the decisions of the arbitrator, while the individual whose property is taken is to have no such power. Moreover, the clause decides for all time what is to be the value of the property on the betterment principle. But is it not in the know ledge of the House that property in London frequently is seriously diminished in value by its desertion as a fashionable quarter Supposing that 100 years ago a street was made by some local body near some fashionable square and had improved the value of the property, and that that quarter had since ceased to be fashionable, the present owners, taking into consideration the then value of the property, would really have been mulcted of a heavy amount, for which they would receive no consideration. This Bill, in my opinion, affords a proof that the County Council are a body of gentlemen who, having apparently some ideas respecting political matters, are determined to put them forward in a manner injurious to the interests of the ratepayers. I would, therefore, move that this Clause 28—
* MR. R. G. WEBSTER
Very well; I shall reserve to myself the right on the Report stage to move that Clause 28 be struck out if it still remains in the Bill after coming from the Committee.
§ (5.10.) MR. CREMER (Haggerston)
The hon. Member for the Harrow Divison of Middlesex (Mr. Ambrose) has contended that there should be exceptional reasons for exceptional legislation. I fully admit that contention, and I do not think it would be difficult to prove that in this case there are exceptional reasons for the exceptional legislation proposed. I would, therefore, direct the attention of the House to what I conceive to be the best illustration afforded us of the necessity for the principle of betterment, which has hitherto come under my notice. Not many years ago that portion of London which runs along the neighbourhood of the Thames Embankment, was a filthy reeking mudbank, and the property abutting upon it was, compara- 1125 tively speaking, valueless, so that on account of its unhealthiness few people cared to live in its neighbourhood. This Embankment was constructed by the ratepayers, at a cost, if I remember rightly, of nearly a million of money; that money was of course found by the Metropolitan ratepayers. Now, if any hon. Member will walk from this House by Charing Cross, the Strand, and Fleet Street to Bridge Street, Blackfriars, he will notice the effect the Embankment has had in improving the property in its neighbourhood. I can assort, from my own personal knowledge, having had an office within that area for 17 years, that the rental value of the property comprised in that district has been increased by from 25 to as much as GO per cent, solely in consequence of the Thames Embankment. This fact alone is, I think, sufficient to prove that there are exceptional reasons for the exceptional principle contained in this Bill, because if the County Council had been in existence when the Embankment was made, and this principle had been acted upon, the result would have been that the unearned increment which has taken place during the period I have refered to would have been taken into account, and the debt which has hang so heavily round the necks of the Metropolitan ratepayers in consequence of the construction of the Embankment would at this moment have boon very nearly wiped out. I have never been able to understand why the landlords or the leaseholders should be permitted to derive so enormous an advantage from the construction of that Embankment. That advantage really belongs to the Metropolis, and some authority in the Metropolis ought to have seen that it was appropriated for the benefit of the entire ratepaying community, so as to have enabled us to discharge our obligations. This fact, I think, is a sufficient answer to the statements of the hon. Member for the Harrow Division. My own rental has been about doubled during the period I have referred to, and I am satisfied from my acquaintance with what were the rents some 25 years ago that nearly every owner of property in the neighbourhood of the Thames Embankment has had the value of his property almost doubled in consequence of that improvement.
§ *(5.15.) MR. RITCHIE
Mr. Speaker, I will explain in a word or two the course which Her Majesty's Government recommend the House of Commons to adopt. But before I say those few words may I be permitted to refer to the discussion which took place on the last Bill? I used some words with reference to some of the provisions objected to, which seemed rather hard upon the County Council. I said I thought the statement which had been made was a monstrous myth. I do not wish to say one word in disrespect of the County Council or of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Lubbock). I did not know the statement emanated from the County Council. I withdraw the words I used, and say the statement in the Paper is incorrect. With reference to the Bill before the House the Government recommend the House to allow the Bill to be read a second time and refer it to a, Hybrid Committee. The principle involved is, no doubt, of very great importance, but it is one not unknown to the law at the present time, although only to a very limited extent. The cost of removing obstructive dwellings may be placed either partially or entirely on the remaining houses in the particular areas which are benefited by the removal of the obstructive dwellings. That is a betterment that does not apply to the whole of a town like London, or even of a locality. However, so far as it goes, the principle of this Bill is recognised, although the Government consider that a sound principle may be so applied as to become oppressive and unjust. While not prepared to express approval of this Bill, they think it is advisable that the proposal should be examined and inquired into by a Select Committee, and, therefore, we propose to recommend the House to give assent to the Second Reading, and allow the Bill to go to a Hybrid Committee, so that the whole matter may be thoroughly threshed out and closely inquired into.
§ *(5.18.) MR. C. J. DARLING (Deptford)
Mr. Speaker, I would not have troubled the House if my hon. Friend, who has a notice of Motion on the Paper for the rejection of the Bill, had not taken the opportunity of putting before the London constituencies the statement that he acted in this matter with the approval of a consider- 1127 able number of the Metropolitan Members. If he had gone to a Division, my vote would have sufficed to show my view. One reason why I particularly approve of this Bill is Clause 28. The law allows persons to be compensated out of the public funds if their property is damaged by improvements. And it is only fair, if property is increased in value by improvements, that they should be paid for by the owners, and not entirely by other persons. And this clause provides that whatever improvement may be made, the burden that can be laid on the property shall never, in any event, exceed half of the capitalised value of the improvement. Though there may be faults in Clause 28—I have no doubt there are—the Committee will put them right. The principle of the clause is perfectly justifiable, and I will even go so far as to say that it is moderate. If it had been a question of passing the Bill without that clause, I really do not know that I should have thought of doing it. I am not particularly in favour of what are called improvements of the Metropolis. These improvements, for the sake of making wide thoroughfares, have swept from the centre of Loudon houses where working people might dwell near their work, until the wonder has become, how on earth you are to house the poorer people of London. It is this pulling down of houses to broaden streets which has led to many of the difficulties which harass the working classes.
§ (5.23.) EARL COMPTON (Barnsley)
Sir, it is the object of the London County Council that this matter should be thoroughly threshed out. I may inform the hon. Gentleman that this Bill would not have passed the Council without the limitation imposed by Clause 28. As far as I understand, the majority of the County Council are not inclined to enter into any very important schemes in London until the incidence of taxation is in some way altered, and until some change is made in the compensation to be paid. I do not think the, statement should be passed that some of our streets do not require widening. I think the majority of Londoners are certainly of opinion that very decided improvements are required in the Metropolis, particularly in the poorer districts. But I believe the majority of Londoners also think—this 1128 is not a political question—that the time has come when the question of payment for improvements should be put on the shoulders of those who have hitherto escaped payment indirectly or altogether. That is a point which the London County Council are anxious to bring forward, and I am exceedingly glad that the matter is to be threshed out in Committee.
*(5.24.) MR. LAWSON
As the Government have agreed to the Second Reading of the Bill it is unnecessary to answer the arguments adduced. On the question of the constitution of the Committee, there are two notices down, one in the name of the hon. Member for Peckham and the other in the name of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green. I trust the regular course will be followed, and that the Committee which is to be appointed will consist of five Members nominated by the Committee of Selection, and four Members by a majority of this House.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
The ordinary course is that five should be selected by this House and four by the Committee of Selection.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ *(5.25.) MR. BAUMANN
I propose that five; Members be nominated by a majority of the House and four Members by the Committee of Selection. I cannot accept the Amendment that stands in the name of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green. On a question of such importance as this I think it very desirable that the majority of the Committee should be nominated by the House.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of mine Members, live to be nominated by the House and tour by the Committee of Selection."—(Mr. Bunmann.)
§ (5.26.) MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green)
I quite agree with the reference of this Bill to a Hybrid Committee, though I have the strongest objection to the proposition of the constituent elements of that Committee. I object to the proposition as unfair, and I think hon. Members will see that as the House has allowed the Second Reading of this Bill to pass with very little discussion, the constitution of the Hybrid Committee 1129 acquires additional importance. The nomination of five Members by the House in my opinion means nomination by the Government Whips and by the Opposition Whips respectively. In the present case its operation will be this; the Opposition Whips would nominate two Members, and the Government Whips, claiming their privilege, would nominate three hon. Members. I am sure I am only doing bare justice to the Government Whips when I say that they would take very great care—and from their point of view I could not blame them—to nominate Gentlemen who entertain prepossessions against what is new and contentious in this Bill. The result of the proposal of the hon. Member opposite would be that this Committee at the outset would be unfairly weighted against the proposal. I distinctly traverse the statement that the proposal of the hon. Member for Peckham is in accordance with the usual practice of the House. Last Session the Committees relating to the Waltham Abbey Powder Factory Bill and the City of London Police Bill consisted in both cases of an even number of Members nominated by the House and the odd Member nominated by the Committee of Selection. My hon. Friend (Mr. Law-son) reminds me that that course was taken in regard to the Committee upon the London Coal Dues. It is quite true in the cases I have mentioned the number was seven, and in this case it is nine; but that is a perfectly immaterial difference. The real point of analogy is that in those cases it was the even number which the House appointed, whereas it was left to the Committee of Selection to appoint the odd Member. For those reasons I think it is very desirable that the proposition of my hon. Friend should be reversed; therefore I beg to move—That the word 'four' be substituted for the word 'five,' and the word 'five' for the word 'four.'
§ * MR. RITCHIE
I understand that the practice is for the odd number to be nominated by the House and the even number by the Committee of Selection, and that is exactly the course we propose to take on this occasion.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "Five," and insert the word "Four."—(Mr. Pickersgill.)1130
§ Question, "That the word 'Five' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
§ Ordered, that the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of Nine Members, Five to be Nominated by the House and Four by the Committee of Selection.
§ Ordered, that the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records.
§ Ordered, that Five be the quorum.