HC Deb 09 February 1893 vol 8 cc850-8

Order for resuming Proceeding on First Reading read.

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

Sir, on this Bill I rise for the purpose of raising a point of Order, which I respectfully submit to your decision from the Chair. This Bill, without in any way entering upon its merits, is a Bill of a very comprehensive character, involving principles which I think, on all sides of the House, will be admitted to be novel, and which extends over an area of very great capacity. If this Bill were introduced by any ordinary Local Authority I should equally have felt it my duty to call the attention of the House to the serious departure from the general rule which prevents questions of this magnitude being raised in a Private Bill. But, Sir, it is not necessary at the present moment to take that consideration into our view, because the Bill is proposed, as its title signifies, by the London County Council. With respect to this category of Bills, the Standing Orders of the House make certain provisions. In Standing Order 194 provision is made regarding a Bill proposed by the London County Council containing power to raise money, that it shall be introduced as a Public Bill, and subsequently, as the Standing Order goes on to say, "referred to a Select Committee in the manner specified." I think it will not be contended that the present Bill in any way conies under any of the exceptions which follow Standing Order 194. I would undertake to say, for my own part I think there will be a general agreement, that this measure is a Bill containing power to raise money, because the Bill provides for the collection of a rate, an entirely new charge upon person who were hitherto not subject to those charge, and it makes provision for the method of its collection. With respect to that, I do not desire to dwell upon it, because I have objections to urge out the point of Order which are anterior and superior to any question of Standing Order 194. It has been laid down emphatically by successive occupants of the Chair that measures dealing with a large area such as this is, and which is now included in the administrative County of London, should be dealt with as Public and not as Private Bills. In the year 1881 the Thames River Bill was brought in by the then President of the Board of Trade. An Amendment to that Bill was moved by Mr. Ritchie, the purport of which was that the character and objects of the Bill were such as to constitute it a measure of public policy which ought not to be dealt with by any Private Bill. An Amendment of that character would obviously be appropriately moved at some stage or other of this Bill, if it should come to any subsequent stage. But I will not detain the House with reference to a possibility that I think will never arise Now, Sir, anterior to these various points on which I have briefly touched there is the emphatic ruling of successive occupants of the Chair that measures affection so large an area as that of the County of London should be dealt with by public legislation. I will draw your attention, Sir, to the action taken by one of your predecessors in the Chair, the late Lord Ossington, in connection with the Weighing of Grain (Port of London) Bill in 1864. The question was raised as to whether the Bill should or should not be received as a Public Bill. The point was raised that it should have been dealt with as a Private Bill. Mr. Speaker Dennison says— The question raised by the hon. And learned Members for the Tower Hamlets is one well worthy the consideration of the House, and has quite properly been brought under its notice by the hon. And learned Gentleman. This Bill has certainly many features which are characteristic of a Private Bill. But it has been the policy of late years to introduce Bills relation to the Metropolis as Public Bills, on account of the great extent and the general interests involved. IN 1843, and the general interests involved. In 1843, and again in 1846 and 1851, Bills for the regulation of coal whippers were treated as Public Bills. In 1845 the Vent and Delivery of Coals in London and Westminster Bill was introduced as a Public Bill. In 1852 the Ballast Heavers (Port of London) Bill, and in 1861 the Annoyance Jurors (Westminster) Bill were were brought in as Public Bills, though if they had related to other towns they would certainly have been regarded as Private Bills. The Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Bills of 1861 and 1863, which affected the rights of the City of its local dues and taxes, were brought in as Public Bills. The Bill now before the House relates to the Port of London, which cover an extensive area, ranging, I believe, over a considerable part of four counties, and containing a population of nearly 3,000,000. And he goes on to say— The Bill concerns the home and foreign trade of the Port of London, and also the public Revenue; and on these grounds it seems to me that it has been introduced, not improperly, as a Public Bill. At the same time, as there are allegation of fact in the Preamble which are open to dispute, and which require to be established by evidence, I apprehend it will be the pleasure of the House to commit the Bill to a Select Committee by whom these facts will be inquired into. Hon. Member will see, on reference to the record, that the Bill was in accordance with the decision of Mr. Speaker Dennison, dealt with as a Public Bill and referred to a Hybrid Committee. This point was again raised during your own occupancy of the Chair in the year 1889, the point being ill connection with the Coal Duties (London) Abolition Bill. I must remind the House that that Bill was introduced as a Public Bill, and upon a point of Order being raised you, Sir, said— I understand the objection of the hon. Member to be that this Bill, inasmuch as it deals with the charters and private rights of the Corporation of London, ought to be proceeded with in the form of a Private Bill. Since the Bill appeared on the Paper it has been carefully examined, and I have come to the conclusion that it may be properly introduced as a Public Bill. This is in accordance with precedent, the chief of which was the precedent of 1864, on the introduction of the Weighing of Grain (Metropolis) Bill, when it was ruled that the question affected so large an area and was of such great public importance that it ought to be dealt With as a Public and not as a Private Bill. I may remind the hon. Member that the local duties have been dealt with by Parliament in various ways from time to time since the charters were first granted, and that the charters themselves have been renewed by Act of Parliament. It, therefore, appears that the subject may properly be introduced in a Public Bill. If it is thought that any private rights are affected, or that the statements in the long Preamble of the Bill are not well founded, it is competent, in the event of the Bill being read a second time, for any Member to move that it be referred to a Committee of any kind. That, Sir, is an emphatic declaration, and the point of Order I submit to you is whether this London Owners Improvement Rate or Charge Bill should be further proceeded with as a Private Bill, or whether, in accordance with precedent, it should be introduced as a Public Bill?

MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

On the point of Order, Mr. Speaker, I presume I may deal briefly with the points raised by the right hon. Member. In the first place, the right hon. Member has referred to precedents laid down by Lord Ossington in 1864, and by yourself in 1889. In 1864 the Speaker of that day laid it down perfectly clearly that it was not only the character of the Bill as covering a large area that was in point, but that another important matter was that it extended Over a variety of jurisdictions. The Speaker then laid it down dint it extended into three counties, and that it was a Bill that affected the public income, inasmuch as it touched upon the receipts of the Excise. I submit, Sir, that these considerations denote a great and considerable difference between that and the present instance. Also, when you laid it down that the Coal Duties Bill might be proceeded with as a Public Bill you also instanced then that this subject was one which had been dealt with in a long series of Piddle Bills, and, as I submit, of a special character. But in the present Bill, as you, Sir, recognise, there is nothing that interferes, as either of those Bills did, with the external relations of due area which is represented by the body introducing the Bill. The whole effect and character of the Bill deals with the internal circumstances in that area, and the area concerned is entirely under the one jurisdiction. At the time Lord Ossington laid down the ruling just quoted, I would venture to submit there was not then any representative body for the Metropolis, nor was London itself a county. That fact has given rise to certain alterations in our procedure. The County Council Money Bill, once brought in as a Public Bill, is now introduced as a Private Bill, showing that the Legislature has recognised that a distinct, difference exists owing to the important changes made. In reference to those precedents on which the right hon. Gentleman rested his case, I would like to point out they both relate to a different state of circumstances to those you are called upon to decide to-day. Those Bills were brought in as Public Bills. The Bill on which Lord Ossington gave his ruling concerned the home and foreign trade a the Port of London, and also the public Revenue and all these grounds it seems to me that it was introduced, not improperly, as a Public Bill. I venture to say that the decisions both of Lord Ossington and yourself amount to this that the Bill might he proceeded with as a Public Bill, but did not necessarily imply that a Bill or the character we are dealing with to-day might not be introduced as a Private Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that the scope and character of the Bill are such as to preclude it being dealt with as a Private Bill—that is to say, it alters, to a certain extent, the ultimate incidence of the rate. From that point of view, I may refer to the Bill brought in in 1867 by the City of London, which proposed to alter the incidence of a rate within its own jurisdiction. That Bill was read a second time, and also went before a Committee. In addition to that, there is a still more important precedent; there is the precedent of the Newcastle Improvement Bill in 1865. That Bill made a distinct alteration in the rates, considerably larger and more important than is made here, for it provided that one-fourth of the general rate of the town, which at that time amounted to 2s., should fall on the owner, and be deducted in equal manner provided for in this Bill. But it went further, and dealt with the debt remaining over under the previous Bill of 1855, which was 10 years before, and which is on all-fours with this Bill. As regards the Standing Order which deals with County Council Bills, containing powers to raise money, I contend that in that case the word "raise" is intended to be taken in the sense of borrowing money, and not in the sense of raising rates. I submit, therefore, three reasons for your consideration: The first is, that the whole of the correspondence in Paper No. 327 of 1875, upon which the Standing Order arises, refers only to future liability and not to the present raising of the rates; that it refers, indeed, to an entirely different matter; secondly, that every Bill introduced since the Standing Order, whether by the Metropolitan Board of Works or by the London County Council, has contained powers to raise money by means of a rate. For an instance of that we need only go back to last Session, when a County Council Bill which passed into law contained a clause to the effect that— the costs and expenses incurred by the Council in the execution of this Act, such as are not otherwise provided for, may be defrayed out of the estimates for general purposes within the meaning of the Act of 1888. That, too, will be found in connection with the Thames River Prevention of Floods Amendment Act of 1879, which covered a great variety of interests and contained a clause for raising the expenses incurred under the Act by means of a rate. Again, in the Strand Improvements Bill, a clause was introduced for raising money in a new manner by the employment of what is now known as the betterment principle, and that Bill passed the Second Reading and went to a Committee upstairs. The present Bill does not differ essentially from any of the previous Bills; it is introduced by the Local Authority for the levying of a rate, and the specific purposes for which the rate is required are mentioned in the Bill itself—in the third clause. That clause does not occupy very much space, because for the convenience of the House the details are amplified in another Bill. For these reasons, I submit that the Bill may properly be introduced as a Private Bill. I thank the House for allowing me to offer these few words of explanation.


I am now in a position, having heard the arguments on both sides, to give a decision upon the point of Order. I have given considerable attention to this matter, and I wish emphatically to distinguish the question of Order from the question of policy. A great many of the precedents that have been cited are not very applicable to the present case, because they deal with a time when there was no such constituted body as the County Council of London, to which the Standing Order specifically refers. The hon. Member for Hoxton who has just sat down has alluded to a precedent in 1867, and has cited the Report of the Committee, on which he has laid great but not undue stress. The Committee reported that the Corporation of tine City of Loudon introduced a Bill to authorise the levy of a rate of 6d. in the £1 on the owners of property for improvements in the City of London; and the Committee go on to say that, pending the general inquiry referred to, it is expedient to empower the Corporation of London or any other Local Authority within the metropolitan district, except the Metropolitan Board of Works, to levy a rate. The argument that might be founded on that would be that the Metropolitan Board of Works, having power to levy rates, the London County Council, as its successor in some sense, must be considered to have equal power to levy a rate over the whole Metropolis, and that therefore a Bill embodying such a provision could be introduced as a Private and not as a Public Bill. I am, however, brought face to face with Standing Order No. 194; and I confess that, looking at it as carefully as I can, I find it impossible to get over the stringent provisions of that Order that this Bill should be introduced not as a Private Bill, but as a Public one. If the House will bear with me for a moment the provisions of that clause are that— All Bills promoted by the London County Council containing powers to raise money shall be introduced as Public Bills. The Bill before us empowers the London County Council to levy a rate, and I cannot distinguish between power to raise money and power to levy a rate, especially as in the exceptions to that general principle, there is the exception of the case of borrowing, it being provided that Bills empowering the London County Council to harrow money shall be introduced as Private Bills. Bills, however, for empowering the Council to raise money should be introduced as Public Bills. The hon. Member has cited the case of the Strand Bill, and said that what was called the betterment principle was introduced in a Private Bill. But the Bill empowering the London County Council to raise money in that manner was simply to enable a local rate to be raised for local purposes. This Bill is of an entirely different nature. It gives power to the London County Council to raise a rate over the whole administrative area of the County of London, a rate which is now levied for the first time—a new rate. That is a matter of policy which I wish emphatically to distinguish from a point of Order, and I think the House will, when the matter comes before it, decide in its wisdom whether it is proper that a new rate shall be levied over the whole administrative area, of the County of London for any purposes. Bills hitherto promoted by the London County Council have only been for a limited rate over a limited area, and for a limited purpose. This is over the whole administrative area of the County of London, and it is to be applied for such purposes as may be thought proper and expedient. Under these circumstances, I am precluded from sanctioning the introduction of this measure as a Private Bill. The interests are too vast, and the terms of the Stand- ing Order 194 are too specific and stringent, when looked at both in regard to the main clause and to its exceptions. I am obliged to come to the conclusion that the proper mode of proceeding to deal with this matter is by a Public Bill, so that the whole matter should be before the House, and the-whole question of policy should he hilly and adequately considered.

Further Proceeding adjourned to Thursday next.


I beg to give notice that on the next available day I will ask leave to bring in a Rill for authorising an improvement rate in the County of London.

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