§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time.
§ *(3.20.) MR. BAUMANN (Camberwell, Peckham)
I rise to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months, and I am compelled to take that course, instead of moving an Instruction to omit the 7th clause, by reason of the notice which has suddenly appeared on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Whitmore), of which I do not in the least complain, to refer the Bill to a Special or Hybrid Committee. It is quite obvious that if the Motion of my hon. Friend were carried, and this Bill were referred to a Hybrid Committee it would be quite impossible, indeed, it would be ridiculous for me to move an Instruction to omit a clause to consider which the Committee would be appointed. Therefore, I have to resort to the more old-fashioned method of moving the rejection of the Motion for Second Reading, believing that that course is more conformable to the practice and usage of the House than moving an Instruction to the Committee, which, I understand, is regarded by the authorities of the House as an inconvenient innovation. I have no reluctance in moving the rejection of 1534 the Bill on the Second Reading, because, although it contains certain plans for minor improvements in London, the main purports and object of the Bill is to construct a bridge at the end of Cromwell Road, and I consider that the manner in which it is proposed to pay for that is so objectionable, and that it raises a principle so important and far-reaching, that I feel amply justified in asking the House to reject the Second Reading. This Bill proposes the construction of a bridge from the end of Cromwell Road across the West Kensington line of railway, debouching at North End Road in Fulham parish. The cost of the bridge is estimated at £63,000, and it is proposed to pay the cost by dividing it as follows:—One-third to be paid by the County Council, one-third by the Vestry of Fulham, and the remaining third is to be divided among the owners, lessees, and occupiers of houses and lands within a radius of half a mile of the western side of the bridge in such proportionate amounts as the London County Council may by provisional award direct. Now, the only parts of Clause 7 with which I think it necessary to trouble the House are those Sub-sections which relate to the apportionment of the contributions. Sub-section 3 provides that in the award regard shall be had to the greater or less degree of benefit which, in the opinion of the Council and arbitrator will be derived by any lands or premises from the improvement. Where the property to be charged shall have been unoccupied, or in the occupation of the freeholder, at the passing of the Act the Improvement Rate shall begin to be payable from the 1st April or 1st October as may be next ensuing after the date of the award. Sub-section 3 provides that—(3) In the Award regard shall be had to the greater or less degree of benefit which in the opinion of the Council or the Arbitrator will be derived by any lands or premises from the Improvement.(4) Where the property to be charged shall have been unoccupied or in the occupation of the Freeholder at the passing of this Act the Improvement Rate shall begin to be payable from the the first day of April or October, as the case may be, next ensuing after the date of the Award and shall be payable thereafter half-yearly until redeemed as hereinafter provided.1535(5) In determining the Improvement Rate to be paid in respect of lands and premises which shall not have been in the occupation of the Freeholder at the passing of this Act the Council may take into consideration all the circumstances of the case and in particular may consider the several interests in such land and premises, and the time at which they severally expire and may make the commencement of such Improvement Rate dependent on the expiration of any term of years or other period or on the happening of any event as they shall deem fair and equitable and may apportion the incidence of such Improvement Rate as between the freehold and any other estate or interest in the lands and premises during the period of any existing term of years for which the same is held.Where the commencement of such rate is deferred compound interest at the rate of 4 per centum per annum on the amount of the Capital Charge shall be reckoned from the first day of April or October, as the case may be, next ensuing after the date of the Award up to the date of the commencement of the rate and the amount of the Capital Charge on the premises shall be increased accordingly, and the Improvement Rate payable in respect of the premises shall thereafter be a sum equal to four per centum per annum on the amount of the charge as increased. But such charge and rate may nevertheless be redeemed at any time, whether before or after the date fixed for the commencement of the rate, on payment as hereafter provided of the Capital Charge with the interest and all arrears, if any, of the rate.Now, I do not know if the House has followed the provisions of the clause, but it certainly is a very remarkable clause because it provides for the accumulation of the fixed charge or debt against the falling in of the reversion. A reversion may not fall in for twenty or forty, or sixty or eighty years, but if the London County Council think fit that the cost of this improvement should be borne by the freeholder they may direct the capital value of this charge, this debt, to remain accumulating for sixty, seventy or eighty years at compound interest until the freeholder comes into his reversion when he will not only be called upon to pay the cost of the improvement but the accumulation of interest at the compound rate of 4 per cent. Now, this clause contains two entire novelties and changes in the law of local taxation. It proposes in the first place to tax unoccupied property, and it proposes in the second place to tax the capital value of one kind of property for a debt which is directed to be accumulated against the reversion, and so is a tax on the capital value of that 1536 reversion. Now, it may be right to tax unoccupied premises; I do not think it is because profitable occupation has hitherto been the basis of our law of rating. ("No!") I make that statement, and I challenge the hon. Gentleman to disprove it. Profitable occupation has hitherto been the basis of our law of rating. It may be right to tax the capital value of premises; I do not think it is, because income is a matter of fact, while capital value must always be more or less a matter of speculation, and taxation of capital value in America has led to the perpetration of iniquity and of fraud, of rascality and roguery, and has led to a great deal of litigation. But whether it be right or whether it be wrong to tax unoccupied property, whether it be right or whether it be wrong to tax the capital value of a reversion, these are undisputably fundamental and far-reaching changes in the law of local taxation, which, if once sanctioned and applied in the case of London, will inevitably be applied to all lands and all houses and property by every Local Authority throughout the Kingdom. If these changes in the general law of taxation are to be made, if this proposal for revolutionising the law of rating—for it is little less—is to be made, it ought not to be made in a clause of a Private Bill introduced to the House by a private irresponsible Member, but it ought to be made in a Public Bill brought in by the Government of the day, to be debated by the whole House. There is another reason why we ought not to pass this Bill, that is, that this Bill is not the measure, is not the plan, recommended to the London County Council by the Improvements Committee, the Committee having charge of Metropolitan Improvements. The Improvements Committee recommended a very different plan to the London County Council. The Improvements Committee recommended that the contribution of owners' property of one-third of the cost should be paid by way of an improvement rate in one sum or by instalments within 25 years from the completion of the bridge, and it provided also that the owners should be the persons entitled to the rack-rent on the expiration of the existing 1537 tenancy. Now, I think there might be a good deal said in favour of that proposition, because it might be argued that the burden would fall on the persons deriving the immediate benefit from the improvement. It might also be argued that the whole of the debt would be extinguished, while the advantage of the improvement would be appreciated. But this proposal was submitted to the Parliamentary Committee of the London County Council, which is under the malign influence of Mr. Charles Harrison, and this Committee altered the proposal in the manner now embodied in this Bill, by which it is proposed to lay a perpetual rent-charge upon property—redeemable it is true—but no one but the ground landlord will find it to his advantage to do so until the property reverts to him. Thus it will continue payable until the long leases fall in, it may be in seventy or eighty years when the value of the improvement may, owing to local changes, have become wholly exhausted or may have disappeared. The estate that will be at present affected by the improvement is long leasehold; and if this is so, it is the owner of the rack-rents who will benefit by the increased rental value of the property; but he will escape by a trifling payment of 4 per cent. on the charge or rate, leaving the capital sum to be ultimately redeemed by the ground landlord. I have heard it stated that nine years ago the owners were willing to make this bridge at their own cost, and very likely they were, but that was before the building estate was covered by houses. Very likely before the houses were built owners were willing to make the bridge, for they could have recouped themselves out of the rents and out of the prices at which they would have sold their leases, but that is a very different thing from imposing a charge of this kind on the owner of the reversion after he has parted with his lease and sold the houses he has built. I do not know whether the owners agree to this proposal or not; they ought not to be allowed to agree. No body of individuals outside this House ought to be allowed to change the general law of the country by an arrangement with the London County Council. Though I am 1538 obliged to move the rejection of this Bill I am anxious that this bridge should be made, for I believe it will be a real improvement. I am anxious that the bridge should be made because it will connect South Kensington with West Kensington, "that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns," except perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Fisher). So anxious am to have the bridge made that I take it on myself to suggest to the London County Council that the method by which the Northumberland Avenue, the Shaftesbury Avenue, the Embankment, Southwark Street, the Charing Cross Road, and Queen Victoria Street were made by their predecessors ought to be good enough for them, I mean that method well known as the method of recoupment by which the local improvement authority obtains power to purchase compulsorily more land and houses than are wanted for the improvement and then recoups itself by the re-sale of this property at an enhanced value. Why, Northumberland Avenue was made by this principle of recoupment not only without cost, but actually at a profit to the ratepayers, and Parliament Street is now about to be widened by a commercial company at a cost of a million sterling upon this well-understood principle of recoupment. The fact is all these urban improvements are in the nature of land speculations, and the Local Authority has no right to drag individual owners and occupiers into such speculations without their consent and then to throw upon them the cost of possible failure. If the improvement succeeds, if the land speculation is a success, the improving authority can recoup itself by re-sale at enhanced value; but if it fails the authority which makes it should be responsible and should pay the cost of the failure. With regard to the Vestry of Fulham, which, if recoupment were adopted as the method of making the bridge, would have to pay half instead of one-third of the cost of construction, I would suggest to the Vestry that it could recoup itself by an enhanced assessment of property which will result if the improvement be a success. We have a quinquennial valuation of 1539 house property in London, and the assessment is already a year old. I suppose this bridge cannot be made for at least two years, therefore, within a year or two of the completion of the bridge the Vestry of Fulham will have ample opportunity of recouping itself by an enhanced assessment, and by the increased rates which would be leviable over the area if it be true that this bridge is going to enhance the value of the property in question. But we are told by the friends of "betterment" that the law of "betterment" obtains in America. It is very curious how our modern Progressives are always running across the Atlantic to draw examples from America, from the country which of all countries that are governed by the Anglo-Saxon race is governed most corruptly and most tyrannically. But, Sir, there are three points about this law of "betterment" as it obtains in America we should do well to remember. In the first place, by the American law of "betterment" there is compensation for damage as well as contribution towards the cost of improvement; in the second place, by the American law of "betterment" there is an appeal to a Court of Law from the award of the Local Authority; and, in the third place, by an organic law of the United States no Municipality or State can make a law which affects existing contracts relating to land. But in this Bill there is no provision for compensation for damage. If you do not acquire the adjacent property there will inevitably be depreciation as well as enhancement of value, and if you do not buy you ought to compensate. In the second place, there is in this Bill no appeal to a Court of Law, the common law right of every Englishman whose property is affected. True, there is an appeal to an arbitrator, but an arbitrator appointed by the London County Council the very Body from whose award the appeal is made.
§ * MR. BAUMANN
Subject to the approval of the Local Government Board I admit. Now, is "betterment" a success in the United States? The opinion of very many American 1540 lawyers is hostile to the law of "betterment." When a project was before the House in 1890 with regard to the widening of the Strand, a very eminent Boston lawyer who has written many luminous and voluminous works on American law, wrote to a firm of solicitors in London, and from this letter I may quote briefly. Mr. Stimson, this eminent New England lawyer, said—My own opinion is that such laws while they are defensible in special cases, are very dangerous, and should be more restricted with us than they are. I will close with brief examples of things that happen. A client of mine had a small estate not five miles from New York City, an estate of ten acres in the centre of a village inhabited chiefly by Irish and German labourers, who for the sake of obtaining employment voted for and finally constructed a road through the estate. When this was done the estate was so injured that no tenant will take it since. The compensation awarded to my friend in this case was two thousand dollars for the land demanded, but a 'betterment' tax was imposed of nearly double that sum for benefit done to the estate, and so this landowner had to pay $1,500 for the privilege of having his country seat ruined.Then here is another instance—The City of Boston, a year or two ago, established a public park of nearly a hundred acres, four miles from the centre of the town, and imposed a 'betterment' tax on all the surrounding landowners. Without a single exception, so far as I know, every landowner refused payment and brought suits to contest the validity of the demand. There is an old equity doctrine," says Mr. Stimson, "about improving a man out of his estate, and there are a great many modern American doctrines which it would be well for you not to imitate.The fact is, so long as you stick to definite areas of taxation, you are safe, but when once you come to lay an exceptional tax upon individuals, and particularly when taxes are levied by a popular body, elected, as unfortunately all our Local Bodies are now, upon political Party lines, you inevitably get on to most dangerous ground, and it is almost impossible to avoid jobbery, corruption, injustice, and consequent discontent. Now, I know very well what my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board will say. He will support the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea, and he will say, in veiled Parliamentary language, this Bill is so bad, so monstrous, that I know no Committee will ever pass it, 1541 therefore let us push the responsibility of rejecting it on to the shoulders of a Select Committee. He will say it is a question of evidence that can only be tried upstairs. Sir, it is not a question of evidence. This is a question of principle which goes to the root of our whole system of local taxation. Does this House approve or does it not approve of taxing unoccupied property? Does this House approve or does it not approve of taxing the capital value of a particular kind of property? Sir, this is a question so important as affecting the local taxation of the whole country that it ought not to be withdrawn from the judgment of the House. This House ought not to shirk, and still less ought the Conservative Party to shirk, from pronouncing an opinion on a principle of such cardinal importance and far-reaching operation. Besides, I must remind the House that a very similar Bill was introduced in 1890, in regard to the widening of the Strand. That Bill was referred to a Select Hybrid Committee, and that Committee reported against the "betterment" clause, and rejected it. Now, I want to know are we always, year after year, to go on sending "betterment" Bills to Select Committees until some fine day we get a Committee which will pass this most mischievous principle? My apology is sincere when I say I feel I have already made a very large draft upon the patience of the House, and, therefore, I will say nothing in conclusion about the character of the Local Authority into whose hands this novel and dangerous weapon of taxation is proposed to be intrusted. The hostility and animus of the London County Council against ground landlords are too well known to require any emphasis. Verily I say if the last London County Council chastised us with whips, the present Council chastises us with scorpions, and its little finger is thicker than the loins of its predecessor. The Bill raises questions of principle sufficiently important to be submitted to the judgment of the House, and to justify my appeal to my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board who is naturally loth to admit the unfortunate results of his own experiment in local 1542 government for London. I venture to appeal from the Local Government Board to other Members of a Conservative Government; I venture to appeal to the Conservative Party to assist me in rejecting the Second Reading of a Bill which proposes to revolutionise the law of local taxation, and to adopt a method which, whatever may be the effect in this particular instance, can only, in the long run, lead to corruption, jobbery, injustice, and consequently to wide-spread and well-grounded discontent.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Baumann.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ *(3.50.) SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)
Although I saw the notice of the Motion of the hon. Member to move the rejection of the Bill, I thought it better to reserve what I had to say until I had heard the grounds upon which the hon. Member would make his Motion, because the Bill deals with various matters, and I was anxious to save the time of the House by addressing myself only to those points the hon. Member raised. In the first place let me say we are prepared to accept the Motion of the hon. Member for Chelsea that the Bill should be referred to a Hybrid Committee. The hon. Member says he does not hesitate to move the rejection of the Bill, but I am surprised at the statement, because, be it remembered, although this particular clause to which he takes exception, as he says, refers to an expenditure of £63,000, the Bill itself deals with much larger amounts, and with many other Metropolitan improvements, to which, I understand, he does not object, and yet all these are to be thrown out because the hon. Member has so little confidence in his own principles that he declines to allow Clause 7 to be examined by a Committee upstairs. What is the proposal upon which the hon. Member has occupied the time of the House, and upon which he has descanted with so much warmth? For- 1543 merly, the cost of improvements were divided between the Metropolitan Board and the district affected. But this is a very rude mode of assessing the expenditure. Take this particular instance of the Cromwell Road Bridge. It lies at the extreme corner of the parish of Fulham, quite at the extremity of the parish. Under the old system the cost of constructing such a bridge would have been divided between the Metropolis as a whole and the parish of Fulham; but we have thought, and the Representatives of the parish of Fulham have thought, and the owners of property near the proposed bridge have thought, that a fair division of the expenditure would be that the Metropolis as a whole should pay a third, that the parish of Fulham should pay a third, and that the property immediately adjoining should pay the remaining third. Surely that is a fair proposal, or, at any rate, it is not so unfair that this House should refuse to allow a Committee to inquire into and report upon it. Nobody in the district, so far as I know, objects to it. The London County Council propose it, the parish of Fulham supports it, and it has the support of the landowners interested. I do not know of a single objection by anyone interested to what is contained in the clause. My hon. Friend stands up for the rights of property, but he says that owners of property, who are willing to contribute one-third of the cost of the improvement because they believe it will greatly benefit their property, should not be allowed to make that contribution. Defending the rights of property, he yet refuses to owners the right to contribute to the expense of an improvement in which they are very much interested, which they are anxious to see carried out, and which they believe will materially improve the value of their property. Then the hon. Member referred to the mode in which he would have the improvement carried out. He would have the London County Council buy up large portions of property around, covering itself for this expenditure by re-sales of land at increased values. But he also says he does not wish the London County Council to go into land speculations. And I should be sorry to see the London County Council en- 1544 gaging in land speculations—and I can say for my colleagues that we have no desire to go into speculations of any kind, and I think it would be a very unfortunate thing for the ratepayers if, following the advice of the hon. Gentleman, we were to embark on land speculation of this kind. Then my hon. Friend went into details of cases of what, in legal opinion from America, were regarded as hardships, and so they may have been; but I confess I do not see the bearing of this correspondence on the question before us. The cases were of a very different character to this, and I do not see their relevancy to the proposals which we ask the House to submit to examination by a Committee. Then the hon. Gentleman proceeded to forecast the speech the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board will make, but I shall be very much surprised if his anticipations are fulfilled. I believe my right hon. Friend will support the proposal to send the Bill to a Hybrid Committee, and we have no objection to it. Then the hon. Member went on to say that the proposal in the Bill is similar to that which was made in the Strand Improvement Bill, and that the principle of "betterment" had been rejected by the Committee which sat on the latter Bill. Now, I do not admit that that was the case. I have here the Report of that Committee, and I find that the Committee said of the particular clause—We are of opinion that no probable increase of value would accrue from the carrying out of the proposed improvement.I do not think the Committee conveyed an opinion that the principle of "betterment" was unfair and ought not to be carried out, but that in the particular case they did not think there would be any improvement in value. In another part of their Report the Committee emphasised this, for they said—In the present case the Committee are of opinion that the principle of 'betterment' could not be applied to the improvements proposed by the Bill.The Committee did not, therefore, lay down any principle as to the whole question of "betterment" in the abstract. Now, the hon. Member 1545 appears to suppose that the principle of "betterment" is entirely new, but that is not altogether the case. The Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes referred to it in a paragraph of their Report. They said—Betterment is the principle that rates should be levied in a higher measure upon the property which derives a distinct and direct advantage from an improvement, instead of on the community generally, who have only the advantage of the general amelioration in the health of the district.Among the evidence taken by the Royal Commission was that of Mr. Hugh Owen, the Permanent Secretary to the Local Government Board. He was asked if he approved of the principle of "betterment," and his reply was, "Yes, I think it is quite equitable." There is high authority, therefore, for saying that there is nothing unfair in the proposal. The present Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Forwood), who speaks with great authority on such a question, also gave evidence, and expressed his opinion that "on the whole the principle worked admirably in America." We do not, however, wish to ask the House to assent on the Second Reading of this Bill to the principle of "betterment." All we say is—"Here is an improvement approved of by the London County Council, approved of by the Parish of Fulham, and approved of by the landowners of the district as being a useful improvement. We all agree to pay for it in thirds, and all we ask the House of Commons is to allow this Bill to go to a Committee upstairs, there to be examined and dealt with." This is no new principle. Betterment has been already admitted by the law of the land. Moreover, the change in our policy as to improvements has been forced on us. A few years ago the Metropolitan Board of Works removed Putney Bridge, re-building it some distance up the river, and the occupier of a public-house adjacent to the bridge, who alleged that injury had been done to the business of his house, claimed, and was allowed, £1,000 damages, because his property had been deteriorated in value. At any rate, my hon. Friend should have objected to Clause 7, and not to the whole Bill. This is a large Bill, containing a number of 1546 clauses dealing with a variety of matters affecting the Metropolis; and the hon. Member attacks one single clause in the Bill, a clause which if carried into law would not really be so terrible in its character as the hon. Member supposes. Under these circumstances, I hope the House will allow this Bill to be read a second time and go to a Hybrid Committee.
§ *(4.4.) MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)
I think the course taken by the right hon. Baronet, in proposing that this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, points to a plan of operations which the London County Council adopts on the introduction of legislation into this House. It adopts the method of wrapping up a new insidious principle in an incidental clause in a Bill which includes, undoubtedly, many other useful objects, and thinks that because of these useful objects which the House would desire to pass, it will not throw out the whole Bill merely on account of this insidious principle which is incidentally introduced. Let the London County Council instruct its able Representative the right hon. Baronet to bring in a Public Bill announcing this new principle of so-called betterment, which may be discussed fairly as a public measure, as a matter of public principle, in this House; and then this House will not present any objection to endorsing any measure of utility which they might wish it to pass. I offer no apology, therefore, for opposing this Bill on the Second Reading, because I submit with great respect to the House that this principle is one which interferes so much with all the precedents and all the practice of this House, that the House as a whole ought to pronounce judgment; and if this Bill be thrown out because of the objection to this obnoxious clause, the London County Council will have only themselves to thank for linking most useful measures with an obnoxious clause. What is this obnoxious principle founded upon? It is founded—I was going to say upon sentiment, but it is founded upon something more than sentiment. I concede that where a public improvement is carried out which brings a special advantage to some particular person's property, that 1547 that particular property should be willing to bear some proportion of the cost which the public incurred by that improvement. But what does this Bill do? It says in advance:—"We are going to make a certain public improvement, and we are going to assume long before the fact is proved or ascertained—and perhaps the fact will never be ascertained—we are going to assume that because your property lies in a geometrical figure described by a pair of compasses in a shape such as no property in this country has been found—that is in the form of a circle—that because your property lies within the magic circle described by a pair of compasses on paper, it shall be assumed that this public improvement is going to be an improvement to your property, and you shall by this Bill in advance be decreed to submit to a charge upon your property for a certain sum of money." I say that that is not only a breach of all good principle and practice, but it is a subversion of justice in not deciding upon facts, but upon probabilities. And these probabilities are to be decided by a body as to whose judicial faculties we can form an estimate by what they have done with regard to theatres and places of amusement—a body who devote their attention not to the performance of their legitimate business, but to extra-judicial or rather extra-political discussions upon matters which were never committed to their charge.
§ * MR. KIMBER
If we were to review all the political matters discussed in the hall of the London County Council, we should not be able to get through all the Business on the Order Paper to-day. I appeal to the right hon. Baronet himself whether he has not been obliged to call his Council to order when the discussion tended in a political direction? At all events, his predecessor did; and I think it is a matter of public notoriety that that body, to which I allude with all respect, have diverged from those duties committed to their charge by Act of Parliament for the purpose of going into matters which were not committed to them. The right hon. Baronet denounces 1548 recoupment as a speculation. But I think that that is a most legitimate kind of speculation, if we may call it so, that results in profit to the ratepayers, and does great credit to the Metropolis. But if they do not wish to speculate for a profit, or fear a loss, there is another plan suggested and well known, and adopted by various authorities; and that is by offering to give public contractors the execution of the work in question, and the power of doing that which, as in the case of Parliament Street, volunteers have come forward to do—viz., make an improvement, depending for its cost and their remuneration upon the improved value of the property. That is a most fair way, for this reason: that the charge is imposed upon the persons who get increment. It is fair and just because the incidence of the burden falls in the right place. The Bill certainly gives the right of appeal to a certain peculiar tribunal already remarked upon against the improper inclusion of a man's property; but why erect a tribunal of this absurd character, the nominee of the Council from whose decision the appeal is to be made?
§ * MR. KIMBER
That does not make the tribunal a fair one, or make the tribunal otherwise than the nominee of the Council. But the question of all others which ought to be, but is not allowed to be, decided, even by this tribunal, is whether the private owner's property has been actually bettered or not. That is the main point which is to be determined—and it is prejudged. It is to be decided and decreed by the Bill, that because that man's property is included within a certain circular line, therefore it has been bettered. It may be a slum and not a frontage at all; and very frequently actual damage may be done to a man's property, yet there is no appeal, no place for a man of that kind to come forward; he is not to be allowed to go into the consideration of the question, that instead of being bettered he may be worsened. But the right hon. Baronet says he may appeal to the law of the land. I utterly deny that. If you pass this Bill, I deny that any man within that 1549 so-called "betterment" area would have any right under the Lands Clauses Act, or any other Act on the Statute Book, to go for compensation. There is one other point to remember as regards betterment. If property has been increased in value, an increased assessment of rates falls upon all the interests in that property; because the amount of the assessment upon the property regulates the terms upon which a landlord and his immediate lessee settle the conditions of their lease; also the terms upon which the lessee grants a tenancy to the occupier, and the price which the occupier pays for a house.
§ *(4.20.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE,) Tower Hamlets, St. George's
I do not think anyone can be surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham has considered it necessary to draw attention to this extremely important clause in the Bill. And he objects, so far as I understand the matter, to the principle embodied in this clause, and also to the details of the clause. My hon. Friend who has just sat down has taken exception to the London County Council having introduced this clause into a Bill dealing with a large number of other questions, and by so doing making it necessary for the House either to reject a measure of which they approve or to accept something of which they disapprove. There is undoubtedly a good deal of point in that contention in a general way; but in regard to this particular question, I would submit to my hon. Friend that it is hardly a question that can be dealt with in the general way that he supposes, but must accommodate itself in every case to the particular work to which it is desired to apply this principle. I would point out to my hon. Friend that, so far as the principle of "betterment" is concerned, it is not one that is absolutely novel. I have seen it stated in the document which has been published on behalf of the London County Council that this was a doctrine recognised with regard to private street improvements. No doubt that is so, but it is hardly a parallel case. The "betterment" principle with regard to private improvements is simply this:—where it is the duty of an individual 1550 to do a certain thing with regard to his property, then he has to pay for doing it. That of course is a very different principle from what is embodied in this Bill. But a very much better case, and one, I think, which is in some respect a parallel case, is the case of the housing of the working classes. Although the principle is embodied in the Act of 1890, it was not a new principle even then, but merely a re-enactment of the law which existed previously. At any rate it was not new in 1890. As my hon. Friend knows, the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, was a consolidating and amending Act. It was the consolidation portion that included this particular question of "betterment." If a house or houses are to be removed for the purpose of giving light and air to the houses remaining, then an arbitrator may be called in to say what remaining houses are to be benefited, and to assess the sum which ought to be paid on behalf of these houses. The money is originally payable by the occupier of the house, who has a right to claim re-payment of three-fourths of the whole from the owner of the house. That seems to me to be a much nearer parallel than the other one of which I have spoken, because it embodies this doctrine, that if in a particular case by means of a public improvement houses are benefited, then the property benefited shall pay a proportion of the cost.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
Yes; but that is another question. There are two questions involved—one the principle, and the other how the details are to be carried out; and, for my own part, I must say that I see nothing unjust or unfair in the principle of "betterment." As I have said, it is embodied in the existing law, but undoubtedly the great difficulty in the matter is how to apportion equitably any "betterment" made; and I do not think that difficulty has yet been solved. Certainly a proposal of the same kind made by the London County Council in 1890 was regarded by the Committee to which it was referred as altogether unsatisfactory; and the result of the deliberations of that Committee was to lead them to believe that, although the principle might be 1551 sound, the application of it as proposed in that Bill would be altogether unfair, unjust, and injurious. That being so, I cannot join with my hon. Friend in endeavouring to throw out a measure of an extremely useful and important character simply because there is, with regard to a particular improvement in this Bill, the principle of "betterment" involved. But I am bound to agree with much that has been said by my hon. Friend as to the details and the machinery by which it is sought to apply this principle. I think myself that it will be extremely difficult to prove before a Committee that an area of half-a-mile from one end of a bridge is going to be benefited by a particular improvement. Then, again, with regard to the proposal that it shall be in the power of the London County Council to defer all payment until the property falls into the hands of the ground landlord—whether fifty, or eighty, or ninety years hence—and to charge the amount at compound interest to the owner when the lease falls in—I think that proposal seems to me to have an element of very possible injustice. It is not impossible that so-called improvements of the present day might not be improvements 30 or 40 years hence. I do not say that with regard to this bridge, which I think would very likely be an improvement. If we were to assess at the present time the amount of additional value which is to be given to a particular property at £100, then at the end of 99 years it is quite possible, when the property fell into the hands of the ground landlord, that the £100 would be multiplied by 50, and the amount would be £5,000. That is a proposition which it would be very difficult to defend before a Committee of the House of Commons. Another objection is, that you are making the present ratepayer pay for the benefit of the future ratepayer. It would be the ratepayer of 30, 40, 50, or 60 years hence who will be coming into the accumulated sum, and I think that would be unfair and unjust to the present ratepayer. There are other objections which might be raised against the machinery of the Bill, including the serving of notices on the owners of property who, under the provisions, may have no opportu- 1552 nity of raising objections. In my opinion, the strongest objection is that with regard to the appointment of arbitrator. I would ask my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of London whether the London County Council would be prepared to accept an arbitrator selected by the person who objected? Of course, they would not. These are important details, and I think it extremely desirable that they should be investigated by a Committee of the House of Commons. I should hope and expect that the result of such an inquiry would be that they would be greatly modified. Under the circumstances, I trust the House will allow the Bill to be read a second time. I understand that my hon. Friend is willing for it to go before a Hybrid Committee. It would have been impossible for me to have accepted it unless he had been so willing, but the matter is one of such vital importance that it should be most carefully considered.
§ (4.38.) MR. LAWSON (St. Pancras, W.)
I understand that the hon. Member for Peckham is not willing to withdraw his Motion. He said he was following an old-fashioned method of dealing with a Private Bill. I do not know whose fashion he is following. It has not been the fashion of this House in dealing with Bills brought up by Corporations, because one clause is objected to, to throw out the whole Bill and to injure the community to a large extent. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion once again indulged the House with the view of the London County Council which is taken by hon. Gentlemen opposite. He said the members of the Council mainly occupied their time in political discussions; but my right hon. Friend (Sir J. Lubbock) said that during his tenure of office he had never had occasion to call the members to order for such a cause, or to object to any desertion of their administrative work. I am afraid that some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite have been avenging themselves upon the present County Council on account of the election. I can quite understand the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board saying that they had some right to object to 1553 the details of the 7th clause Even if the Committee took the view of the right hon. Gentleman, there would not be much difficulty in substituting an ordinary arbitrator for the arbitrator proposed to be appointed under the Bill. But when he said he objected to details, he took the version given of them by the hon. Gentleman opposite. The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Baumann) said that the freeholder might possibly have to pay the whole capital charge; but if he looks again to the Bill, he will find there is no obligation to pay the capital charge. It has also been suggested as a great hardship that the original lessee would have to pay a sum down if he continued as before, but he will simply have to pay as his predecessors have done years before. There is no suggestion that he would have to pay down the whole sum. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has stated that, so far as the principle of betterment is concerned, it is a fair one. I would supplement that by saying that it is not only in the Artisans' Dwellings Act, but there is also a Betterment Clause of much the same kind as that imposed by this Bill in the Act of Parliament passed in 1834 authorising the construction of what is called the Bayswater sewer. In that case one moiety of the cost wasdefrayed out of the Land Revenue of the Crown in consideration of the advantages which the property of the Crown derived by diversion of the soil drainage from the Serpentine River.Then, again, in the Consolidation of Sewers Act of 1848, a special sewer rate is charged on such occupiers as benefit by the work. The same may be said with regard to the Thames River Prevention of Floods Act, 1879—a special charge is levied for special benefit. That is the whole principle of betterment, and it has been embodied in every Act that has been passed since 1855. In the Metropolitan Local Management Act, 1855, it is provided that—Any Vestry or District Board may levy a rate for defraying any expense incurred for any particular part of the parish or district.I believe that clause has since been repealed, but it expresses the 1554 exact form of betterment that the County Council now ask for. I am myself strongly opposed to the London County Council going in for land speculation. The Metropolitan Board of Works owed most of the scandals which surrounded its close to having engaged in such speculation. It was proved conclusively before the Parliamentary Committee over which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. Bowler) presided that the recoupment in the case of the Strand improvement did not save to the ratepayers the cost of the improvement. There is no alternative, therefore, but betterment, and I hope that the House will not throw out this Bill because of some alterations which it may think ought to be made in the 7th clause. I can hardly believe that the House will inflict such a great injustice upon London as a whole.
*(4.52.) MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
I do not intend to follow hon. Members into the details of the Bill. I am one of those who think that the details of any private measures are far better considered—are far better dealt with—in the Committee Room upstairs, subject always, however, to the condition that such measures are founded upon principles which have received the formal sanction of Parliament, failing which this House is bound to accept its own share of responsibility. But this is certainly a case in which the House should not shirk its responsibility. I was, I must admit, surprised and disappointed with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Local Government Board. He gave absolutely conclusive reasons why the House should not sanction the Bill; but he lacked the courage of his own conclusions. He was willing that a Committee should deal with it, instead of inviting the House to discharge its duty with regard to it. Such a monstrous and mischievous proposal ought not to receive the approbation of Parliament. It is nothing but a roving scheme for levying blackmail right and left. It is quite possible that a strong clause may have slipped almost unobserved into some Consolidation Bill which may be capable of being twisted into some kind of endorsement of this unsound principle of so-called "better- 1555 ment"; but, notwithstanding what has just been stated, I undertake to assert that in no distinct manner has the principle of betterment received the sanction of Parliament up to the present time. The Strand Improvement Scheme was stoutly objected to and opposed on account of this very principle being involved. It was one which Parliament could never have assented to. I must protest emphatically against this Bill and the action which we are recommended to take in regard to it.
§ *(4.57.) MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
I had no intention or desire to prolong this Debate, but I must make some reply to the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. This is a fair and reasonable proposal for the House to send to the Committee upstairs, because it is one with regard to which all the parties concerned—the London County Council, the Vestry, and the owners of the neighbouring property—are willing to bear their share of the cost of the improvement. It has been said that it is possible that accumulated interest under the provisions of the Bill may make £100 into £5,000, and there have been other vague fears and doubts of that kind. The whole sum is £22,000, and all that would be dealt with in any postponed manner is the residuum of that. Of course, a little injustice is as bad as much injustice, but there is a clause in the Bill under which it is said that consideration should be taken, by those who arrange what the improvement rate is to be, of all the circumstances of the case. Surely no arbitrator, however appointed, would aid such an absurd result as that sketched by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Baumann), a result which really would be the outcome of failure to take into account the whole of the circumstances of the case. I admit that such matters as the appointment of arbitrators should be fairly considered by the Committee upstairs. Under these circumstances, I hope the House will, without further discussion, proceed to a Division. The time of the House is continually wasted by the reiterated opposition of a number of Members on the other side of the House to everything that the London County Council proposes.
§ *(5.4.) COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)
I should not have intervened in this Debate had it not been for the observations characterising this Bill as outrageous and as an attempt to levy blackmail. It appears to me the Bill does not deserve those terms of opprobrium. As to what has been said regarding the County Council, I would point out that the Council is exactly that which the constituencies have made it. Therefore, no improper motives ought to be attributed to the Council, because it stands on equal authority with this House by reason of the votes of the constituencies. I think the Bill is not unsound. There are, no doubt, errors in the seventh clause. Yet I would point out that the principle has not been introduced by a side wind, but has heretofore received the approval of Parliament. In the Metropolis Management Act of 1855 there is a clause which empowers a Vestry to levy a special rate upon a special district which has benefited by work done by the Local Authority. That applied to work of a public character. Where a public improvement is to be made, and can be proved to be for the benefit of a special district—whether that work be a sewer or a road, or, as in this instance, a bridge—the principle already stands. My own opinion is that the freeholders, or the Railway Company, ought to have made this bridge in the first instance; but, in order that a work of great public utility may be completed, the present arrangement of division of cost has been devised. I hope the Bill will be read a second time.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
Main Question put, and agreed to.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Select Committee of Nine Members, Five to be nominated by the House and Four by the Committee of Selection.
Ordered, That all Petitions against the Bill presented three clear days before the meeting of the Committee be referred to the Committee; that the Petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents, be heard against the Bill, and Counsel heard in support of the Bill.
Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.
Ordered, That Five be the quorum.—(Mr. Whitmore.)
§ *(5.10.) COLONEL HUGHES
I beg to move the following Instruction to this Bill:—That it be an Instruction to the Committee to consider the desirability of inserting a Clause enabling the Clerk of the County Council of London to correct the Totals of the Valuation Lists, so far as the same have been affected by the decisions on any rating appeals, and that Section 44 of 'The Valuation of Property (Metropolis) Act, 1869,' should apply thereto as if such correction had been duly made on an appeal against Totals.I do so in order to remedy an injustice, admitted, I think, by the County Council. The President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) will understand exactly what is intended, and I hope therefore that he will, even though objecting to the form of the Motion, assent to my effort.
§ MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. COURTNEY,) Cornwall, Bodmin
The Motion having been objected to, cannot be taken to-day.