HC Deb 24 February 1893 vol 9 cc299-310

Order for Second Reading read.

MR. HOWARD (Middlesex, Tottenham)

I rise to move the Second Reading of the Middlesex County Council Bill, which is promoted by the Middlesex County Council, and seeks to acquire additional powers for that Body. The first two clauses are simply clauses to remove the inconvenience which Middlesex suffers as against other counties which have not the same position of affairs to contend with. I do not think these two clauses contain any contentious matter. As to the 3rd clause there is no doubt it is somewhat more contentious, but the object of it is simply to overcome schemes promoted by outside authorities, and which reduce or destroy the rateable value of property in Middlesex. Middlesex has been a great sufferer in this respect, and the rateable value of property has been thereby considerably reduced. This is especially the case in my own division, that of Tottenham. Only during the last year an infectious hospital has been placed amongst us. Now, Sir, I venture to submit it is a travesty of Local Government if outside authorities are to come in and over-ride every Local Authority in the district. What we ask by this Bill is simply to give power to the Middlesex County Council to say whether or not an outside authority should come in in this manner, and I think that the House will feel that we are right in coming here to protect a county like Middlesex from having a London Infectious Hospital planted in our midst without our being able to say a word in our own defence. I therefore beg to move the Second Reading.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Howard.)

MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

I rise to move the rejection of this Bill. As my hon. Friend has said, it is a Bill promoted by the Middlesex County Council, and it applies to, or rather, I should say, it is directed, against all Local Authorities having jurisdiction, wholly or partially, outside that county from coming into Middlesex for any purpose whatever except under one or two alternative conditions, either by getting a separate Act of Parliament or by obtaining the consent of the Middlesex County Council. In opposing this Bill I am mainly interested, in so far as it interferes with the necessary operation of the London County Council; but I am informed that the Bill is not purely directed against the London County Council, but against the Metropolitan Asylums Board, with the object of preventing the acquisition by that Board of land in the County of Middlesex for the erection of a hospital for infectious diseases. Of course, the presence of a hospital for infectious diseases in a district is not a desirable acquisition to that district. But a hospital must be erected somewhere, and it seems only reasonable that such a hospital should be erected, more or less, in the open country rather than in the dense population of London. If burdens of this character have to be borne by the County of Middlesex, I would point out that that burden, whatever it may amount to, arises out of its proximity to London, and that that proximity, on the whole, confers on the County of Middlesex the balance of advantage. But Middlesex is not the only county surrounding this great Metropolis. Kent and Surrey stand in exactly the same relation to the southern part of London as Middlesex stands to the northern portion, and why should an exemption be granted to Middlesex that is not also extended to Kent, Surrey, and Essex? It is obvious that if Middlesex is to be favoured as the hon. Gentleman suggests, the burden on other counties surrounding London will be trebled. This is not a question concerning only the hospital for infectious diseases. It may be a question whether some limitation might not properly be placed on the powers of a Local Authority to acquire land in another district for objects which are offensive or unpleasant, such as hospitals for infectious diseases or the disposal of sewage; but that is a question that I have no doubt will be fully considered when raised in a proper manner before this House. But justice imperatively requires that limitations of this kind should be granted and imposed, if at all, by a Public Statute, and not by a Private Bill introduced as this is. I desire, as a member of the London County Council, just for a moment to point out to the House how this Bill would cripple the operation of the London County Council. This Council has powers conferred by Public Statute to obtain land for at least six distinct public purposes, and those are—open spaces, lunatic asylums, industrial schools, main drainage, fire brigade buildings, and the housing of the working classes. These are powers conferred by Public Statute—general powers to acquire land anywhere; and if this Bill became law, then it would be impossible for the London County Council to acquire a single yard of land in the County of Middlesex for any of the purposes I have mentioned without either by obtaining a special Act of Parliament, or, in the alternative, the consent of the Middlesex County Council which might, on the one hand, be arbitrarily withheld or, on the other, granted subject to an arbitrary bargain. I will give to the House a practical illustration of the mischievous effect of this Bill in relation to one of the most important of the subjects I have stated—namely, the housing of the working classes. Many of us think one of the most effectual modes of grappling with this great question is to provide dwellings for the working classes some miles out of town, and that view the House confirmed on Wednesday last. The House is no doubt aware that, under part of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, the London County Council has power to acquire land and erect workmen's dwell- ings out of the locality; and there is at this moment a project before a Committee of the London County Council to erect such dwellings some miles out of town. It is very probably the most convenient site we could find for the purpose and be situate in the County of Middlesex, and if that Bill becomes law we could now proceed without either the expense of a special Act of Parliament or with the consent of the Middlesex County Council, and this interference with the beneficent powers conferred upon the London County Council by Public Statute is to be brought about by a Private Bill. But, Sir, it is not only the London County Council that is deeply concerned in opposing this Bill. I am glad to see that the hon. Baronet who represents the Uxbridge Division (Sir Frederick Dixon-Hartland) has put down a notice of opposition to the Second Reading in terms similar to my own, and many Local Authorities—I may mention amongst them the Vestry of Hampstead —have petitioned against this Bill. I do not for a moment suppose that this Bill, so monstrous as it is, has any chance of going successfully through the ordeal of a Committee upstairs, but I do not think the petitioners should be put to the trouble and expense of further opposing it, and, therefore, I ask the House to take upon itself the responsibility of rejecting it. Just one word upon what my hon. Friend the Member for the Tottenham Division (Mr. Howard) said regarding the provisions for music and dancing licences. I have nothing to do with them; but I may point out that one hon. Gentleman, whose name is on the back of this Bill, with a wise idea as to the fate of his Private Bill, has taken the precaution to put these licensing provisions in a Public Bill, so that the House will have another opportunity of pronouncing an opinion upon them. I now ask the House in the terms of my Motion to reject this Bill.

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. Pickers gill.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


I feel that this Bill ought to have the attention both of the Home Secretary (Mr. Asquith) and the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler), because it is putting in the hands of the Middlesex County Council a power that is already vested in the two Departments I have mentioned. For instance, many of the cemeteries in the Middlesex district are used by people from London; many of these cemeteries will require to be enlarged; but under this Bill that could not be done without the consent of the Middlesex County Council; and if that consent were refused, I suppose the dead would have to be buried in some of the already overcrowded cemeteries of Loudon. As has been well said, why should Middlesex be able to exclude these Public Bodies? Middlesex ought to bear its share of this necessary public work. Then the County Council of Middlesex, in regard to licensing, asks to be allowed to grant licences for music and dancing at any period of the year. They have, in common with other County Councils, that power once a year, and any application made at any other time has to be made to the Home Secretary; but if the County Council of Middlesex is to grant licences all the year round, the same thing ought to be extended to all the other County Councils. The 25th section of the Public Health Act gives power to a Burial Board to provide a cemetery within or without the limits of a parish, and that is desired to be altered only with regard to Middlesex. I think a Private Bill to alter a Public Act is a wrong way of proceeding; and then, if these alterations are really required, they should extend to all and every county. For that reason I support the Motion to reject the Bill on the Second Reading.

LORD GEORGE HAMILTON (Middlesex, Ealing)

I agree with my hon. Friend who has just spoken, that these proposals are worthy the close attention of the Home Secretary, the President of the Local Government Board, and the House generally. The hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill made use of the stock argument that an Urban Authority should have power to place its nuisances connected with its administration, in the rural district, because less damage would be done to the community at large. But it never was intended by Parliament that any Urban Authority should be able to get rid of its nuisances by putting them on another Urban Authority. The whole object of these powers was to give to those who had the control of the affairs of populous districts the power of placing sewage works, fever hospitals, and such like nuisances in places where there is a sparse population. Amongst the powers given three years ago was that of acquiring land in the County of Middlesex for certain purposes, but in the meantime the area of the County of Middlesex immediately surrounding London has become as populous as London itself. Though the population of London has rapidly increased, in no part has the ratio of population so rapidly increased as the area surrounding London. I can speak with some authority upon this point, because I have represented that area for some years past, and at the present moment it numbers more than 500,000. I do ask, is it fair an Urban Authority inside London shall have power to put its nuisances upon such a populous district, and that Urban Authority have no control over the matter? The hon. Gentleman says it is better to place a fever hospital in an isolated district rather than a populous one. But what do the Metropolitan Asylums Board do? They previously purchased a small piece of land in the most populous part of the metropolitan area, though there were many parts within the area less thickly inhabited; and having purchased that land, they put the fever hospital there in the midst of this populous part, which is a great nuisance to the neighbourhood, deteriorates the value of property, and produces disease in the locality; and the inhabitants who have to bear this nuisance are unable to avail themselves of the hospital because it belongs to another authority. It is cases like this that make the system of local administration a farce. In the same way, the London Central Authority has power to place cemeteries in any part of Middlesex, and when a cemetery is acquired it is only rated at its agricultural value. This Bill may, in the opinion of some, go too far. I do not press that the power of limiting, or the locus standi, of the Middlesex County Council, shall apply to the acquisition of land except in cases where the land required is for purposes which might constitute a nuisance, such as sewage farms, fever hospitals, or cemeteries, and I am quite ready to limit the power which the Middlesex County Council ask for to those three purposes. I do hope the Government will allow the Bill to go to a Select Committee. It is a most important question, and one which every day assumes greater importance, so rapid is the increase in population in the area surrounding London that is not under the control of the London County Council that many of us may live to see it equal to, if not greater than, the population of the Metropolis; and, in the meantime, it is a monstrous injustice that upon this growing populous district, in consequence of an obsolete law, the London County Council should have power to put these nuisances. Now, I am quite ready to undertake that the powers shall be strictly limited to the three purposes I have mentioned. On that undertaking I hope the Government will allow the Bill to go to a Select Committee; and if they oppose it, I hope my hon. Friend will take a Division, as it is a matter that affects a very wide and important district.


One or two hon. Members who have spoken upon this question have appealed to the Home Secretary and the President of the Local Government Board to state their views; but the noble Lord deprecates any statement of our views, and says the primary course would be to allow the Bill to go to a Select Committee. There are one or two points I should like to correct in the statement of the noble Lord about which he must have been misinformed, as he would not intentionally mislead the House. He referred to an obsolete law under which the London County Council could inflict a nuisance upon another district. That is beyond my comprehension altogether. No Public Body has any power under any legislation to create a nuisance anywhere. No Public Body could acquire land except in one of two ways, either under Parliamentary powers which it had already received, and then by agreement with the owner, or compulsorily by the sanction of this House, either in the shape of a Provisional Order or an Act of Parliament; and no Bublic Pody can borrow money for any of the purposes the noble Lord has mentioned without the sanction of the Local Government Board, which sanction is rarely given without a previous local inquiry, and I can only say from the experience of my short period of office that the protection afforded to the public by means of the inquiry and the action of the Local Government Board is at once economical and effective. I must correct the noble Lord with reference to the action of my predecessor in the establishment of a fever hospital at Tottenham. I am not going to embark upon that subject, but I can tell the noble Lord that he has been misled as to the facts. All that has been done has been done by Mr. Ritchie himself, who sanctioned for 12 months the erection of a temporary hospital to meet a temporary emergency, after which the question would have to be carefully considered. As to the death rate, that has rather decreased than increased. The proposal here is an attempt by Private Bill to alter the public law. If that law is to be altered, I am prepared to argue it at the proper time and under proper circumstances, but I think we have had enough of private alterations of public procedure. Public Bodies can, as I have stated, purchase by agreement, or compulsorily, if Parliament sanctions it; but this Bill proposes there is to be a new Body, entitled the Middlesex County Council, and they shall have the power to interfere with compulsory purchase, and are to be legally entitled to veto any agreement between a landowner and the London County Council for the purchase of land within their district. I say no such power has been asked by any Public Body before; it would be an entirely new departure in our legislation, and if it is to be made, let the other County Councils of England have the same power. Why is Middlesex to have it, and not Kent, or Surrey, or Essex, or Lancashire? The noble Lord has been for many years in this House a strong defender of freedom of contract, but this is the most extraordinary proposal to annul freedom of contract that has ever been submitted. I am authorised by the Home Secretary to say that, so far as his Department is concerned, he concurs in the views the Local Government Board take that this is a Bill the House ought not to allow.

MR. STEPHENS (Middlesex, Hornsey)

said, that they in Middlesex did not know any reason why Kent or Surrey should not have the power asked by this Bill; that was for them to say; but he thought that the outlying districts of London ought not to become mere places for the deposit of whatever was dangerous, infectious, or polluted. He could give the House an illustration of the extraordinary inconvenience to which some of the outlying districts were put. In his own parish of Finchley they had three cemeteries belonging to three wealthy London parishes—Islington, St. Pancras, and Marylebone. Those cemeteries derived a profitable trade, and yet were rated at an agricultural value. But around those cemeteries no building took place, the result being that the rating value was lowered, which was a great hardship upon the district which had to incur heavy expenditure. London should make provision within her own limits for all cases that had been mentioned. So far as hospitals for infectious diseases were concerned, the Local Government Board and all concerned ought to feel that there was no sound sanitary reason why persons suffering from such diseases should be transported from one Urban Sanitary or Local Authority to another. They could be provided for in London itself, and in a far better way than by having them sent to some other and more remote part of the district around the Metropolis. Taking them to distant parts appeared to him as likely to leave the germs of disease, or to cause its spread either from the patients themselves or from the passing to and fro of the attendants. That was a great danger which it should be easy to avoid. He did not see why provision should not be made within the borders of a county to look after the infectious cases arising within its borders, and he was of opinion that the Middlesex County Council could not do otherwise than it had done. He presumed, indeed, that its action would be followed by other counties. These outlying districts were supposed to be part of the Metropolis; but they would not be long part of it if they were to have these institutions placed in their midst. So far as open spaces were concerned, they had not been very successful as yet in their invitation to the London County Council; but while they hoped for their cooperation in the preservation of such spaces, they declared that, having heavy burdens of their own to bear, it was too bad if they were to be asked to support the institutions of other authorities.

MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

said, he would like to point out to the hon. Member who had just spoken that in his (Mr. Bartley's) district, which was smaller by far than the hon. Member's—being only a mile and a quarter in extent—he had a larger population, numbering nearly 100,000 persons; and to have a cemetery in such a district was simply, he maintained, an impossibility. It was carrying the idea too far to imagine that they could keep all these institutions within their own district boundaries.

MR. J. W. BENN (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)

said, perhaps the House was not aware that the Middlesex County Council had a lunatic asylum in London, and that they had just erected offices for their own convenience in the Metropolis. Would the promoters of the Bill propose to remove these offices? He was rather astonished that they should hear those complaints from the Middlesex County Council of the burdens that were inflicted by the London institutions being sent out there. He would remind them that London received a large addition to her unemployed and paupers from the County of Middlesex, and the difficulties with which the London County Council were confronted were thereby aggravated and increased.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said there were one or two reasons why the Bill should be rejected. There was a tendency on the part of the persons promoting or managing asylums, industrial schools, hospitals, and kindred institutions to shift from the centre of the city or town as the population increased. The reason of that was that the health of the inmates was of considerable importance, and it was materially improved by the change, and, besides, economy of administration was marked in every case where transfer of hospital had been effected from the centre to the suburbs. Now, if that view were generally adopted, the Middlesex County Council should not have the power of determining that institutions of that class should not be erected in their county—they should not have the power without at least consulting with the London County Council. It had also been suggested that hospitals in London should be turned into surgical depôts, and that patients should be received in institutions outside London. The County Council, however, under this Bill would not have the power to erect a hospital or any other building in any part of Middlesex unless the Middlesex Council approved. He regretted that the Chairman of the Middlesex County Council had not considered what were the relations between that Body and the London County Council. The Middlesex County Council wanted the London County Council to contribute £275,000 for the acquisition of the Alexandria Park for the benefit of the Middlesex people. Not three years ago they came to them and suggested that it would be more convenient for them to send their pauper lunatics to Wands-worth. The London Council at once transferred the Wandsworth Lunatic Asylum to the Middlesex County Council. In fact, the London County Council had shown a disposition to make concessions in every reasonable respect in their relations with Local Authorities. The proposal in the Bill meant practically to put a fence round London and give the Middlesex Council power to say whether certain institutions should be erected unless on conditions which they would impose. There was no attempt in the Bill to provide for the requirements of the London people who were pushing themselves out to the county districts beyond the Metropolis. The Bill was nothing more nor less than an attempt on the part of a comparatively small number of rich people who made their money in the City, and by living in the suburbs escaped the poor rate and the pauper lunatic rate, and enjoyed all the pleasures and amenities of the City, to throw on the London County Council all the burdens and physical disadvantages of looking after the poor, the sick, and the lunatic paupers. He only hoped that the remarks made by the last speaker on that side of the House would go home to every Member who had listened to them. He said it was perfectly possible for an infectious disease hospital to be erected in a crowded district without being a danger to the community at large. If that was applicable to Battersea, Chelsea, and other districts of London, it was doubly applicable to districts 20 miles from London, where the chances in the country of infection were considerably reduced. He trusted that this attempt on the part of the Middlesex Council would obtain no support from the House—that it would be resisted by the House, and that, in the interest of 5,000,000 of people, it would meet with the treatment it undoubtedly deserved.

Question put, and negatived.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six mouths.