HC Deb 27 February 1891 vol 350 cc1818-26

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time,"—(Sir J. Lubbock,)—put, and agreed to.

(3.45.) SIR ROPER LETHBRIDGE (Kensington, N.)

I beg to move that it be an Instruction to the Committee to which the Bill is referred to consider the advisability of amending the Bill so that its provisions may be in accordance with Part II. of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act, 1890. It will be in the recollection of the House that when this Bill was presented in another form I, as a Metropolitan Member, took a strong objection to it. It then contained a clause which enabled overhead wires to be forced on the occupiers of houses whether they liked it or not. In the Bill as it has now passed the Second Reading, that objectionable clause has disappeared, and as I was the Member who moved the rejection of the Bill at the former period, I have put this Instruction on the Paper partly to mark the fact that those Metropolitan Members who formerly objected to the Bill now consider—and I think I may speak for most of them—that the Bill in its present form, if not entirely unobjectionable, is much less objectionable than the former measure. I find that the most objectionable clause, namely, that which allowed overhead wires to be put up whether people liked it or not, has disappeared from the Bill, and I am free to admit that that fact has taken out the whole of the sting of our objections to the measure. As the Bill in its present form is admitted to be a compromise, it has been represented by various interests concerned that, on the whole, the compromise would be more satisfactory and a more complete and fair one all round if the Committee upstairs were to be instructed to assimilate the provisions of the Bill, as it affects the Metropolis, to the provisions of the law which affect the provinces generally. The Public Health Acts Amendment Act of last year was passed after a great deal of careful consideration of the interests involved in the measure, and I believe it has been found to work satisfactorily in the various great cities of the provinces where its provisions are needed. It seems to me that, as these provisions have now been satisfactorily tried elsewhere, they may fairly be extended to London. I do not wish, on behalf of the Metropolitan Members, to lay very great stress on the difference in the Bill as it stands and as it would be amended if this Instruction to the Committee is carried out. The Instruction only directs the Committee to consider the advisability of making certain changes in the Bill. It will be seen that it gives the fullest and freest discretion to the Committee to leave the Bill as it stands, simply indicating the advisability of their considering the provisions of the general law as they affect the provinces. For these reasons I venture to move the Instruction, in the belief that it is one which will commend itself to all the interests concerned in the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, ''That it be an Instruction to the Committee to which the Bill is referred, to consider the advisability of amending the Bill so that its provisions may be in accordance with Part II. of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act, 1890."—(Sir Roper Lethbridge.)

(3.48.) GENERAL GOLDSWORTHY (Hammersmith)

I felt it my duty to object to the former Bill; but I should not object to the present Bill if the Instruction moved by the hon. Member were adopted. I believe that the Telephone Company would them selves welcome such an Instruction. My objection to the original measure was that I am opposed to any proposal to give to the London County Council or the Telephone Company power to place overhead wires on the houses of people who object to them.

(3.49.) SIR J. GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)

There are one or two points of the Bill which it strikes me will require careful consideration. I myself should object to the Telephone Company or any other company placing standards on my houses in order to carry on the means of public communication either in the shape of electric lighting or telephones, if they are to be constantly subject to inspection. I know from experience and to my cost what is meant by this interference and inspection. It is of no use to say that notice is given of the visits of the Inspectors; I should certainly order all standards to be removed from my property if they are liable to constant inspection. Clause 8 provides that— The Local Authority may charge every company and person owning any wire, placed or retained overhead, after the passing of this Act, such reasonable fees in respect of the identification, and such reasonable annual charges in respect of supervision of wires as shall be fixed by the bye-laws hereinafter provided. It seems to me that this is something like adding insult to injury. The company is not to be asked whether the wires require inspection but the County Council is to claim the right of numbering them and of charging persons who do not want the inspection a fee for carrying it out. I certainly think that such a provision is not warranted by the circumstances of the case. In other cases of inspection the public employs the officer who makes the inspection and pays him, and there is no ground whatever for charging a fee. Clause 10 provides by-laws for regulating the position of the wires, the manner in which repairs and alterations are to be made, and other matters which certainly deserve the careful attention of this House. I was in America two years ago and I found that telephonic communication was much more general there than it is in London; and I was told that the reason was that the facilities given to the Telephone Companies and others are far greater than in England, and especially in London. I think that the officers of public bodies should not have power to check improvements in the Metropolis, or so prevent the necessary increase of a system which has become so useful. I do not say that it would be so; all I say is that it might be so, and in that case the question of bye-laws is one that is likely to be of much interest to this House and to the public. We certainly ought to know what the powers are which we are placing in the hands of the London County Council. I do not say this from any feeling of distrust of the County Council. I agree that in many things they ought to exercise supervision on behalf of the ratepayers; but I do not think it is advisable to give them powers which may interfere with the extension and development of telephonic communication.

(3.53.) MR. LAWSON (St. Pancras, W.)

The hon. Member for South St. Pancras (Sir J. Goldsmid) objects to the 10th clause of the Bill. I may inform him that it has been modelled on the recommendation of a Committee of this House in 1889. Here there is no system of inspection of overhead wires whatever, and it was the fear that we might have in this country as lax a system as that which prevails in America which has induced the County Council to insert this clause in the Bill.

MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)

I rise to order. It appears to me that the speeches we are listening to are Second Reading speeches, and are not directed to the Instruction before the House.


The Bill can only be discussed as far as it is affected by the Instruction.


As I have already stated, the provisions of this Bill are in exact conformity with the recommendation of a Select Committee, and therefore its principle has already received the approval of the House. I trust that it will be allowed to go to a Committee without this Instruction.

(3.55.) SIR J. LUBBOCK

My hon. Friend the Member for West St. Pancras (Mr. Lawson) is quite correct that the clause which has been condemned is a clause which was inserted in the Bill in deference to the opinion of a Committee of this House. As to the complaint made by the hon. Member for South St. Pancras in regard to the charge of a fee for inspection, I may explain that the fee is charged to the owner of the wire, and I think it is only right that the owner should pay for the inspection. It is perfectly true, as is stated in a circular issued by the Telephone Company, that there have been no instances of fatal accidents in the Metropolis from overhead wires, and that is very creditable to the company; but I believe there are a large number of derelict wires which do not belong to the company, and it is in regard to them that some inspection is required. I am not clear that the Instruction which has been proposed is really required. I think the Committee would be fully able to do all that is desired without any Instruction being passed; but, at the same time, the County Council do not object to the Instruction if it is understood that the hands of the Committee are not to be tied and that they may decide as they deem proper, after hearing the evidence. As to the advisability of introducing into London the provisions which are carried out in the provinces, I must remind the House that in many respects the circumstances of the provinces are altogether different from those of London.

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

The House will remember that some time ago I ventured to move an Instruction to the Police and Sanitary Committee on Private Bills that they should sanction no provision which would interfere with the general law, and at that time I called attention to the provisions of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act which was passed last year. The provisions of that Act were considered by a large and strong Select Committee, and among other things they deal with overhead wires; but the law which is considered proper for the rest of England does not apply to the Metropolis. Although it may, to some extent, impose a limit on the power of the London County Council, I think that where the general law of the land has been clearly laid down by this House, and is in operation in Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Birmingham, and other great cities, London ought to submit to the same provisions. The only objection I have to the Instruction moved by the hon. Member for North Kensington (Sir Roper Lethbridge) is that it only asks the Committee to consider the advisability of amending the Bill, whereas I think it ought to be made mandatory. Of course, as the right hon. Baronet the Member for the University of London (Sir J. Lubbock) has pointed out, the Committee can consider the advisability of amending the Bill without any Instruction at all. I therefore propose to amend the Instruction by striking out the words "consider the advisability of amending" in order to substitute the word "amend," making it a mandatory Instruction to the Committee to carry out the provisions of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act, 1890. I do not see why this Committee should have more power than the Police and Sanitary Committee.

Amendment proposed, to omit the words "consider the advisability of amending," in order to insert the word "amend."—(Mr. H. H. Fowler.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

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

The House may remember that in conjunction with the right hon. Gentleman opposite I took part in conducting through this House the Public Health Bill of last year. The new law has been adopted in most important districts in the country; and in making the application of Part II. general in London we are only acting upon the principle which Parliament has largely adopted, of having one universal law. Since the Public Health Acts Amendment Act was passed last year it has been adopted, according to the information which has reached me, in no less than 180 towns, some of them the largest in the country, including Manchester and Salford. I think that this House ought to feel confidence in the provisions of this Part, as they last year received the approval of the Board of Trade and the Post Office. May I add that many of the objections which have been urged to-day were raised before the Committee upstairs, but did not prevail.


When the proposal of my right hon. Friend (Mr. H. H. Fowler) was made the other day to pass a cast-iron Instruction absolutely for bidding the Police and Sanitary Committee from considering any matter which interfered with the Act of last Session, I ventured to express a doubt as to the expediency of adopting that Instruction. I was satisfied from the experience I had gained that it might prove extremely inconvenient, and that it might hamper the progress of improvements in provincial towns in matters of this kind. My right hon. Friend now wants, in a most stringent way, to take the Code of Regulations in respect of overhead wires as adapted to provincial towns and impose it en masse on the London County Council, without allowing that body to go before the Committee and represent in what particulars, if any, it is undesirable to adopt it. If the House agrees to accept this proposal, and decides that the Committee shall under no circumstance make a variation, I venture to think that it will fetter the Committee in a very unwise way. I think that the Amendment which my right hon. Friend has proposed is open to a very serious question as to its advisability as a matter of Order. We require strict notice of an Instruction, and no Instruction has been put on the Paper more than an empowering Instruction telling the Committee that it is to have power to do that which it has power to do already. Without any kind of notice my right hon. Friend springs upon the House a mandatory Instruction. If that is not out of order it is certainly against the principles upon which our Rules of Order are founded. At any rate, if for that reason only, I think the Debate should be adjourned. What is now proposed is that we shall say to the London County Council, "If you desire to deal with overhead wires you must adopt, without the slightest variation, the Code which we have laid down for provincial towns." I deprecate the adoption of the Instruction, either in its original or amended form. I think that the Committee, while approaching the question with a knowledge of what has happened in the House, should be unfettered.

(4.8.) SIR ROPER LETHBRIDGE (Kensington, N.)

After what has fallen from the Chairman of Committees I should like to point out to the House that the Instruction was purposely worded so as to indicate that the Bill in its present form, as amended by the Instruction, would be a compromise fairly agreeable to the whole of the House; and, secondly, it was purposely worded in such a way as to indicate that the Committee upstairs ought to have power to hear what the London County Council has to say in defence of its position. To impose a mandate upon the Committee in the way the right hon. Gentleman opposite has proposed would be quite contrary to the view I had in placing this Instruction on the Paper. I am, therefore, sorry to say that I cannot in any way accept the Amendment, but after what has been said by the Chairman of Committees, I think the simplest plan will be for me to withdraw the Instruction and to allow the issue to stand simply as between the Amendment of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton and the Bill.


The Instruction moved by the hon. Member for North Kensington is to empower the Committee to consider the advisability of amending the Bill. The Amendment is a mandatory Instruction to the Committee to amend the Bill. I am of opinion that that is an alteration which would not be in order.


I quite see, Sir, the force of what you have said, and I at once bow to your decision in the matter. I shall withdraw the Amendment, but I cannot consent to the withdrawal of the Instruction as it stands. I think it would be an undesirable course to send the Bill to a Select Committee without any Instruction at all.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

(4.10.) SIR J. LUBBOCK

I may remind the House that London, was expressly excluded from the Act of last Session, and under these circumstances the County Council did not take as much interest in it as they would have done otherwise. Under these circumstances, it is desirable that they should have an opportunity of suggesting to the Committee the reasons which, in their judgment, render some modifications desirable in the case of London.


Does the hon. Member for North Kensington propose to withdraw the Instruction?


Yes, Sir. [Cries of "No!"]

(4.12.) The House divided

—Ayes 99; Noes 83.—(Div. List, No. 69.) Ordered "That it bean Instruction to the Committee to which the Bill is referred to consider the advisability of amending the Bill so that its provisions may be in accordance with Part 2 of 'The Public Health Acts Amendment Act, 1890.'

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