HC Deb 06 February 1891 vol 350 cc133-9

(3.8.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Committee of Selection do appoint a Committee not exceeding nine members to whom shall be committed all Private Bills promoted by Municipal and other Local Authorities, by which it is proposed to create powers relating to police and sanitary regulations which deviate from, or are in extension of, or are repugnant to, the General Law; that Standing Order 173A be applicable to all Bills referred to the said Committee; that the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records; that five be the quorum of the Committee."—(Mr. Stuart Wortley).

(3.10.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.),

who had a Motion on the Paper to the effect— That it be an Instruction to the Committee not to insert in any Bill referred to them any Clauses relating to matters which are the subject of provisions in the Infectious Disease Notification Act, 1889, the Public Health Acts Amendment Acts, 1890, or the Infectious Disease Prevention Act, 1890, said: I do not intend to oppose the appointment of the Committee this Session, I think the House is under a deep debt of gratitude to the Committee for the manner in which they have discharged their duty. A large number of Bills have been promoted by Local Authorities, each asking for a code of its own involving an extensive alteration of the general law and more stringent and oppressive regulations against the subject. There has been a strong feeling therefore that such Bills should be regulated by some general rule and guided by some general principle. The Committee is called a "Police and Sanitary" Committee; that, however, is an incorrect description of its functions, because it is also a Fiscal Committee. I am of opinion that the system of Provisional Orders contains the true solution of the reform of our Private Bill procedure. Those Orders supply a means by which most of the objects a Municipal Corporation can desire are to be attained; and I think it is undesirable that Municipal Bodies should, by means of Private Bills, obtain powers which can be better conferred on them through the instrumentality of Provisional Orders. The advantage of Provisional Orders is two fold—not only are they less expensive as far as the taxpayers are concerned, but they are also under the supervision and control of the Local Government Board. The proposition I venture to submit to the House, and to the President of the Local Government Board, is this—that when the power can be obtained by Provisional Order, the Committee ought not to sanction their insertion in a Private Bill; and that where a Bill is brought in mainly for the purpose of obtaining powers which could, be obtained by a Provisional Order, but with the insertion of one or two bogus provisions, the Committee would do wisely to throw out the Bill altogether. Further, I would ask that the promoters of measures of this kind should not be allowed to extend the general law of the land. Private Bills are heavy burdens to the localities, and they should not be allowed except in cases of absolute necessity. It is not for the interest of the public that such Bills should be encouraged. If the law of the land is to be altered, it should be altered by the House of Commons, and no Committee should have power to come to the House of Commons and say, "We think this is something better than the decision which has been arrived at by the whole House, and therefore we seek to alter the general law."

(3.20.) MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)

It is as long ago as 1872 or 1873 that public attention was first called by me to these Bills. Up to that time they were thrown before Select Committees in a very haphazard way, and it was in consequence of the action which I took that the Home Office first, and the Local Government Board subsequently, made reports upon these Bills. The House gave its attention to the subject, and the Sanitary Committee was constituted. So far as local indebtedness is concerned, I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) that the increase of local debts is a source of danger to the country, and I am sure that, as a rule, sufficient attention has not been paid to the evil. I hold, and I believe the right hon. Gentleman opposite will agree with me, that it is a cruel kindness to be facile in matters of this kind, for repayments should be made as rapidly as possible. I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman opposite has said as to the excessive labour which hon. Members attending Committees have had to perform, and which is becoming quite intolerable. I think it is a culpable waste of power to enforce an investigation by a Select Committee when all the circumstances of the case would be much better investigated by a tribunal on the spot under procedure by Provisional Order. Most of us who have assisted in passing local Acts must have felt how much better and wiser our decision would have been if we could have spent a day or two in the district. I feel strongly that Parliament ought not to give power by clause to do that which can be done by bye laws, and as to an extension of the criminal law I am afraid there are some cases in which we cannot escape that course. If we pass regulations to prevent a man from doing certain things we must by imposing penalties enforce the statute. But our policy has always been to make the penalties as low as possible. I quite agree with the Report of the Sanitary and Police Regulation Committee of last year, that— The Public Health Acts Amendment Act embodies in the best form a number of Police and Sanitary enactments which have, in a number of Local Acts, stood the test of time, and have become ripe for general legislation. In the early part of our proceedings we recommended that there should be legislation in regard to indecent advertisements, the sale of coal, the employment of young persons, and the notification of infectious disease, and since then the whole of our recommendations upon those subjects have become law with an exception which was mentioned in our last Report as deserving further consideration.


I entirely concur in the observations of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and in what has fallen from my hon. Friend behind (Mr. F. S. Powell), and I think that the Instruction which the right hon. Gentleman has put upon the Paper will be of great value. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the large and increasing amount of local debt; but from certain points of view that increase of debt may be regarded as being a matter for congratulation, inasmuch as the borrowed money has been expended in the construction of works which have greatly improved the sanitary condition and added to the comfort of the inhabitants of the different localities. No doubt the growth of the debt has been facilitated by the long periods of repayment that have been authorised, but the tendency of Parliament and of the Local Government Board has been, of late years, to reduce the number of years for repayment, although not to such an extent as to prevent Local Authorities from carrying out useful works. The right hon. Gentleman has said that it Would be a desirable thing that Local Authorities should obtain the required powers by means of Provisional Orders, instead of by Acts of Parliament, and I entirely concur in that suggestion; but I may point out that there is scarcely a single power that a Local Authority cannot now obtain by means of Provisional Orders. I think I may say that, with the exception of the construction of waterworks, everything can be done by Provisional Orders, which are much less expensive than Private Bills. In proceeding by Provisional Orders a local inquiry is held; all parties are able to place their views before an officer of the Local Government Board; that officer is often able to make suggestions which lead to local agreement; and it reflects the greatest credit on the officials that there is hardly a confirmatory Bill which has been opposed in the House. These satisfactory results seem to add force to the recommendation that the Police and Sanitary Regulations Committee should set their faces against proposals to do, by means of a Private Act, that which cannot be done under the general law. I agree that borrowing powers ought to be kept within the narrowest limits as to the time for repayment; but I do not think the position of matters with regard to repayments is quite as unsatisfactory as has been suggested by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton. Local Authorities have to make Returns on a form supplied to them by the Local Government Board as to the provision made for repayment; and the Board have the power where they are dissatisfied to take summary proceedings by which repayments can be doubled, if necessary, and the order of the Board can be made a rule of Court. I endorse the view that Parliament ought not to entertain interferences with a general law which has been passed so recently, and thereby create chaotic divergences in places that have obtained local Acts. If the general law requires amendment it ought to be amended by a Public Bill applicable to the whole country.

(3.37.) MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)

The House ought to be obliged to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton for having brought this matter forward, and also to the President of the Local Government Board for the remarks he has made. I fully endorse the view of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton that the general law ought not to be altered by Private Bill. There have been instances in which great excitement has been produced in localities by the putting into operation of a local Act containing an exceptional provision which has, perhaps, been passed hastily by a Committee upstairs. Certainly the House should be careful in allowing Local Authorities to make additions to the Criminal Law by creating local offences which are unknown to the general law.

(3.37.) MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

I do not rise for the purpose of differing from the observations which have been made already, but I think it is necessary to utter a word of caution. It was the reforms that were first made tentatively by independent corporations which made it possible to pass a general Act embodying provisions which have been already carried out in municipalities. It is rather a strong thing to lay down a universal negative that no change desired by a municipality shall be considered. The proposed Instruction is limited to this Session, but I warn the House that they may expect remonstrances against it from Local Bodies, to whose action in the past is due the full growth of our sanitary legislation. As to additions being made in this way to the "Criminal Law," the phrase is a very large one, and I do not think that anything that can be strictly called an addition to the Criminal Law has been made by Private Bill. We ought rather to speak of changes made for police and administrative purposes; and no doubt such proposals ought to be jealously watched and guarded, which is the special purpose for which the Committee was appointed. Here, again, it is an extreme step to say that, although local pressure is strong, the Committee is not to be allowed to entertain the proposal and to report it to the House. I will not oppose the Instruction, but I believe the House will hear remonstrances that it is curbing too closely the action of Municipal Corporations.

(3.40.) Question put, and agreed to. Ordered, That the Committee of Selection do appoint a Committee, not exceeding Nine Members, to whom shall be committed all Private Bills promoted by Municipal and other Local Authorities, by which it is proposed to create powers relating to Police and Sanitary Regulations which deviate from, or are in extension of, or are repugnant to, the General Law. Ordered, That Standing Order 173A be applicable to all Bills referred to the said Committee. Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records. Ordered, That Five be the quorum of the Committee.—(Mr. Stuart Wortley.) Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on Police and Sanitary Regulations not to sanction in any Bill referred to them any clauses relating to matters which are the subject of provisions in "The Infectious Disease Notification Act, 1889," "The public Health Acts Amendment Act, 1890," or "The Infectious Disease Prevention Act, 1890."—(Mr. Henry H. Fowler.)

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