HC Deb 01 March 1893 vol 9 cc693-707

in moving the first of the Motions that stood in his name, said: I would point out to the House the Instruction is in a somewhat new form to that in which it was moved last year. There are undoubtedly arguments in favour of inserting provisions under the general law, and there are undoubtedly arguments especially in reference to Consolidation Bills by which localities seek to codify their local law. The object of the Instruction is to guard against the danger that arises under the present practice with regard to Private Bill legislation, which might lead to confusion between the general law and private law. The Instruction, as it stands, is designed to further limit the power of the Sanitary and Police Committee. There is a proviso in the Instruction which excepts from its operation certain Bills, perhaps the most important of which is the Bill brought forward by the Corporation of Leeds. I wish to explain to the House why that exception is made, lest it be thought that I have some sinister motive in putting it in in the interest of my constituents. This Bill, which is a Consolidation Bill, was brought forward last year under the Instruction as ordered by the Hous; but owing to the General Election, it and one or two others were suspended under the Standing Order, and come forward in the natural course of things this Session. They are not, therefore, in the nature of new Bills introduced this Session. The Instruction, as it stands, would undoubtedly press very severely upon the promoters of these suspended Bills, and we hold that promoters of Bills brought forward under the Standing Order of last year, and suspended under that Standing Order, are entitled to say that they should have the same chance this Session. We, therefore, propose by the exception inserted in the Instruction to give them the benefit of the Standing Order, of last year, so that they stand in the present Session precisely under the same advantages as they stood last year. I think the House will agree that this is only fair, and I beg, therefore, to move the Motion that stands in my name.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Committee of Selection do appoint a Committee, not exceeding Nine Members, to whom shall be committee all Private Bills promoted by Municipal and other Local Authorities, by which it is proposed to create Powers relating to Police and Sanitary Regulations which deviate from, or are in extension of, or are repugnant to, the General Law."—(Mr. Herbert Gladstone.)


I will trouble the House for a minute or two with reference to the appointment of this Committee, in which I have taken a great interest for the last 10 years, and with reference to which I feel it my duty to make a short statement to the House. I must say that I had considerable doubts as to the wisdom of appointing this Committee this year. Indeed, if it had not been for the fact that Bills had been hung up by the dissolution of Parliament, I should certainly have taken an opportunity of discussing the question very carefully with the Home Secretary and the Under Secretary before the Motion was brought forward. I think a state of things is now arising to which it is my duty to call the attention of the House. I am dealing solely with sanitary legislation; the Home Office deals with police legislation, and it would not be becoming in me to make any remark in that regard. The House will remember that this Committee was originally appointed some 10 years ago, and attention was called to the danger that would arise in consequence of Local Authorities by these Bills proposing to alter the general law of the land. This Committee has been at work now for a considerable number of years; the original idea was when it was appointed that it should not encourage in any way legislation on matters which had been already dealt with by the general law of the land; and that if it felt itself compelled to grant special privileges, it should specially report to the House and state the reasons. We have long since passed away from that state of things, and Local Authorities are now prepared to entertain the opinion that they are at liberty to come to this House, and running the gauntlet only of this Committee, to propose serious alteration in the general law of the land. The House will remember how, I may say, the public peace—certainly the Business of the House—was placed with reference to the insertion in the Eastbourne Bill of clauses which never would have been inserted if they had been brought before the general notice of Parliament. Many of these sanitary questions can be dealt with through the Local Government Board by means of bye-laws, which would have to receive the approval of that Department, and which would afford a shorter, a more simple, and a more satisfactory method of settling them than that of Private Bill legislation. If you make a bye-law which the Local Authority wishes to alter, the Local Authority can alter it; but if you put it into an Act of Parliament, it requires all the machinery of an Act of Parliament to alter it. If there is to be any alteration made in the general law of the land, it is to be made by this House and by no one else, and after public discussions, with the light of the Press thrown upon it, and an opportunity given to gentlemen of all shades of opinion, and representing all interests, to give their views upon the question. But there is another machinery for legislation—to which I wish to call the attention of the House, and especially of this Committee which is going to be appointed—which I think is the true mode of supplying those needs which cannot be met by Bills, and that is the system of Provisional Orders. I think it is in the development of that system that the true remedy for dealing with Private Bill legislation is to be found. Under our system of Provisional Orders you have the greatest amount of care taken at the least cost. So far as sanitary matters are concerned, if an application is made to the Local Government Board, we send an Inspector down on the spot; he holds an inquiry, and everybody has the right to go before him. There is not the costly expense of the Private Bill legis- lation of this House. The Inspector then comes back to the Department and makes his Report, which then goes through the different branches of the Local Government Board—the Legal, Finance, and Sanitary Departments—and the Provisional Order is drawn up by them in a manner that ensures that the legislation in reference to it is of a scientific, I might almost say artistic, character. The Provisional Order, so drawn up, is then brought before this House, and any Member who may desire to object to it in principle or in detail has an opportunity of doing so. I might say that this year the Department has had to deal with 90 Provisional Order Bills, and one-third of these are amending Acts which have run the gauntlet of Committee. I am told by those in my office who are best able to form an opinion, that probably not half a dozen — probably not more than two or three—of those Bills will be opposed. Now, let me call the attention of the House to the cost that is being incurred in Private Bill legislation by the different Local Bodies. A Return was laid upon the Table shortly before the Dissolution, and I find that in the last six years the Town Councils, Improvement Commissioners, and the Local Boards of England and Wales have spent £473,000 in the Parliamentary procedure of promoting Bills.

SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)

Including the cost of Railway Bills?


Excluding railways. In my opinion, five-sixths of that legislation could have been more successfully carried out by means of Provisional Orders at comparatively little expense. It is becoming something intolerable. I had a case brought before me this morning in which the rateable value of a district to be affected by a Local Improvement Bill promoted by the Local Authorities is only £7,400 a year, and the cost of the Private Bill they obtained was over £4,000. I think I should be wanting in my duty if I did not call the attention of the House to this question of cost, and I would like to call attention to the period which is allowed for the payment of these costs. To check local extravagance you should make the ratepayer feel its pressure. If you allow people to come to Parliament and extend the period over a number of years, that pressure is not felt. I am told that in no case did the Committee allow a less period than 10 years for the payment of costs. I think 10 years is too long. The ratepayers of the day ought to bear the burden, and not throw it upon posterity. There is another point I should like to call attention to—namely, the labours of this Committee. Gentlemen have complained of the enormous burden this Committee is to those who serve upon it. But so it will be unless they put their foot down at once, and say they will not deal with special exceptional cases that require special exceptional legislation, and that they will not allow promoters to waste the time of the Committee by discussing general legislation with which this House has already dealt, or by discussing matters that could be better dealt with by bye-laws or Provisional Orders. I recall for a moment that I had the honour of sitting on that Committee, under the Chairmanship of Lord Basing, who was then Mr. Sclater Booth, and I remember that in one morning we struck out 100 clauses at one fell swoop from a Bill which we did not think proper. There is another point, and that is the Standing Order which requires that this Committee is to report to the House the reasons why they deviate from, or grant powers in excess of, the general law. The intention of everybody was, I think, that the Committee should, as an ordinary Committee does, make a Special Report to the House and state why they have departed from the general law, but I am sorry to say a practice has sprung up to which attention should be drawn. The Committee schedules clause after clause, and they put in these words "allowed under the special circumstances." But that is not stating to the House the reasons why they should be allowed. This is simply a matter of fact; and I am told that the Report is not drawn by the Committee or by the Clerk of the Committee, but by the agents of the promoters, which is not in accordance with the practice of the House. The only other point has reference to the Reports of the Government Departments. The House has required the Home Office, Treasury, Local Government Board, and Board of Trade to make Special Reports upon these Bills. These Bills are dealt with judicially, and I think that the Reports should not be relegated to the rank of ordinary petitioners They should be regarded as the Reports of Departments responsible to the Government and to Parliament, and not merely as those of the clerks of those Departments; and if the Committee overrule the Reports of the Departments, they should state their reason for so overruling them. I am sorry to have detained the House, but I think this private legislation is becoming fraught with danger. I think we are using machinery that was originally given to great public companies who had no other means of carrying out their enterprises, except by what I may call a Parliamentary contract; we are using that machinery to enable persons interested in a certain class of legislation, which, if they proposed in this House, they would not be able to carry, which the House would not sanction, but which we enable them to propose by means of a Private Bill Committee. We are opening the door to a great deal of mischief, to a great deal of conflict, and a great deal of confusion. The Infectious Disease (Notification) Act, and the other Acts mentioned in the Notice of Motion of my hon. Friend, were carried into law by the wise action of my predecessor, Mr. Ritchie; and the House having passed legislation, it seems to me that it is wisest and best to adhere to the old legislation, and not to allow that to be departed from or in any way dealt with except by a full House.


As I was the Chairman of the Committee last year I may be allowed to say a few words. So long ago as 1870 I was greatly struck by the condition of our Private Bill legislation with regard to towns, and then mentioned the subject in a discussion which led to the course adopted by the Departments, as subsequently both the Local Government Board and the Home Office made Reports which were submitted to the Police and Sanitary Committee. Then commenced the history which has been described by my right hon. Friend. I feel I am bound to express the obligation of the Committee to the highly satisfactory and complete Reports both of the Local Government Board and the Home Office; if the Committee had not had the guidance of those Reports, their labours would have been absolutely impossible. Guided by their suggestions, we have been able to deal with the Bills before us; and although our conclusions may not have been in every case infallible, still in the main I believe they were sound. I entirely concur in what my right hon. Friend says as to the agents giving reasons. I believe it is right that the Report of the Committee should be such that those reading it would be able to understand what the reasons are and the validity of those reasons. Whether hon. Members would read those Reports is another matter.


The Department would read them.


If the Department reads them I shall be satisfied. The practice adopted last year was this: The agents submitted to me, as Chairman of the Committee, their reasons, and I then modified or enlarged them as I thought most fitting. If I have the honour to be Chairman this year I shall take care that the reasons given by the agents are given at greater length. I concur with the spirit that animated my right hon. Friend in almost every sentence, and with every word he said with regard to the cases of Torquay and Eastbourne. I was not a Member of the Committee when these cases were decided, though I was when the Torquay case came before a Select Committee on which I served, but I entirely agree with the action the House took in regard to the Eastbourne case. I also entirely concur with what he said as to the bye-laws. We have said that we will not embody in any general Act what can be done by bye-laws, and the same remark applies to Provisional Orders. The Committee have frequently said, "We dismiss clauses dealing with matters which may be subject to bye-laws and Provisional Orders. I will not state the reasons for this action, as they have been given by my right hon. Friend; but there is one point as to which I should desire to draw the attention of the House, and that has reference to the boundaries of boroughs. In Manchester, perhaps the largest city in England and Wales, the boundaries were enlarged so as to double the area, while the rating power has been increased by probably more than half, and that is the clearest proof that can possibly be given that the system of Provisional Orders is applicable to the most difficult cases. The Manchester case, which is of the highest interest, was finally settled in the Committee-room upstairs; and I believe the whole of that difficult case was solved in the course of one sitting, or a sitting and a half. I have myself felt that the Committee ought to be most careful how they deal with the extension of boundaries. I do not say the House ought to shut its doors altogether to the discussion of such extensions, but we ought to be most careful in the matter, and I should not object to some Instruction to the Committee not to deal with cases of borough extension except under special circumstances. I remember in one case, before Parliament authorised Local Authorities to proceed by Provisional Order, we had an extension scheme. I visited the place in the course of the autumn after the decision, and I found our boundary such that no one visiting the locality could have approved it after even a short and hasty inspection. I quite concur with the right hon. Gentleman as to the borrowing powers. I feel that the time should be limited, and sharply limited. In my own time a district in Wigan, which in my childhood was green fields and in my boyhood was a colliery district, is now green fields again; but what would have been the condition of that district if able to borrow money over a lengthened period? In regard to the question of the payments of the cost of the Bills by the promoters, if I am appointed Chairman, I will take care the suggestion is attended to, as my own opinion is that five years is amply sufficient. Then comes the question of the labours of the Committee. In the year 1890 I have passed four hours of each of the 51 sittings in that room, and often two hours in the Library beyond the time allotted to the Sitting. The result of that self-denial was that I was compelled practically to withdraw myself from the House during almost the whole of that Session. Such self-denial the House is not justified in putting upon any of its Members. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his speech. I concur entirely with the spirit shown by him from the beginning to the end, and there was scarcely one word that fell from him from which I would venture to dissent.

SIR BERNHARD SAMUELSON (Oxfordshire, Banbury)

My right hon. Friend below me has dealt very severely with the subjects to be referred to the Committee about to be appointed, and on that point I would like to say a few words. I understand he will decline to appoint it next year. [Mr. H. H. FOWLER dissented.] My right hon. Friend shakes his head, but I understood him to deal with the subject-matters referred to the Committee this year only.


I simply reserve to myself the right to oppose the re-appointment of that Committee at a future stage.


I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see cause to put the power he reserves into effect, because I cannot think that this Committee is otherwise than a Committee it is not desirable to re-appoint. The Committee, by its constitution and the amount of Bills referred to it, becomes so wearied that very few of the Members of that Committee are willing to go through its. labours, and the consequence is that matters not of a purely public character spoken of by those who have preceded me, but other matters affecting private interests, such as the compulsory purchase of land, questions of rating, and various other questions of that sort, are settled by only a few of the Members or are heard only by a few of the Members. It is true the Members of the Committee have before them the proceedings of the Committee on which they have ultimately to come to a decision in print, but they are questions affecting important interests in regard to which they have to perform the functions of a Judge without having actually heard the evidence. I say, under those circumstances, it is difficult for them to arrive at a just judgment. And not only does this inconvenience arise, but another one also arises, and it is this: In consequence of it often happening that there is no quorum, witnesses, counsel, and others are frequently kept in London at a great expense to suitors, as I may call them, and thus an enormous expense is incurred that ought not to be incurred. Of course, that would be to some extent remedied if the number of Bills referred to the Committee in former years be diminished, and I think that some improvement might be made in the present year by the authorities whose duty it is to say what Bills shall or shall not be referred to the Committee, taking care that only such Bills are referred as really contain provisions of the nature that this Committee was originally appointed to consider. If only Bills be referred to the Committee which deviate from, or are an extension of, or are repugnant to, the general law, then a very small number of Bills would be referred to the Committee; the labours of the Committee would be very much diminished; they would not be fatigued as they have been of late years, and a quorum would be more easily obtained, so that justice would be assured. By the Amendment I have placed on the Paper the object I wish to effect is this: that there shall be a careful selection of the Bills referred to the Committee; that only such Bills as really embody in them the provisions with which the Committee was originally intended to deal shall be so referred, and all others dealt with in the usual manner. By this means a considerable diminution of the labours of the Committee would result; they would be able properly to do their work, and it would not so frequently happen that a quorum could not be obtained, thus leading to the saving of considerable expense. I may mention that in the case of the Middlesbrough Corporation, I believe on two or three occasions no quorum could be obtained—the hon. Baronet will correct me if I am wrong— but on one occasion the Committee had to adjourn for three days because they could not get a quorum, and that in spite of the utmost exertions on the part of the excellent Chairman to obtain a quorum. What I wish is that those who are charged with the work of this Committee shall not be unnecessarily overburdened, and that only such Bills be referred to the Committee as contain provisions such as it was originally intended the Committee should deal with. I believe a great improvement would result, and I throw that out as a suggestion to my right hon. Friend. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir J. Mowbray) is not here; if he were I believe he would support this recommendation. I therefore beg to move the Amendment standing in my name.

Amendment proposed, At the end of the Question, to add the words "Provided that only Bills proposing to create such exceptional powers be referred to the said Committee."—(Sir Bernhard Samuelson.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."

MR. HOPWOOD (Lancashire, S.E., Middleton)

My first words should be those of apology, because I do not feel that I have any authority in this matter or that I can help its deliberations by any district suggestions; but as one who has taken some interest in this matter in years past, I hope the House will allow me to say a word or two upon it. I must say the vigorous speech of my right hon. Friend upon this matter has put the House in possession of everything that can be said upon it. I am sure it will lead to a very considerable improvement even in the deliberations of the Committee if the Committee should in future years be re-appointed. I have no doubt my hon. Friend the hon. Baronet (Sir F. S. Powell) opposite did render excellent service when he secured those first Reports of the Departments on Private Bills to be made a necessary assistance to Committees of the House; that, I have no doubt, made the subsequent history of this matter become of interest to the House. When, on a later occasion, I had the honour of calling the attention of the House to the extraordinary way in which private legislation had been conducted in this House—I mean in its permitting that a Committee should have power to suggest and that its suggestion should receive such weight as to be carried into law to alter the law of the land by miserable, vexatious, irritating legislation up and down the country, wherever there was a Local Municipal Body urged by someone to get something introduced into a Private Bill by which the inhabitants might be governed and very often irritated—the instances produced to the House showed that state of things must be put an end to, and accordingly this Committee was appointed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir W. Harcourt), then the Home Secretary. The Committee was intended to deal with that side of the question, and it was never intended that this Committee, because it had a little additional credit attached to it by being specially appointed, should, in other respects, have extraordinary power, and wander into fields of legislation to the extent that has been pointed out by my right hon. Friend, and the result of which has been this enormous expenditure. I can only think that it in some degree grew out of the excessive care—perhaps the over-studious care and anxiety—of the Committee to entertain and discuss all points put before it, and that the Committee itself was sometimes misled into the belief that the extensiveness of its functions was justified by the special character attached to it. I should think the instance given by my right hon. Friend of 100 clauses struck out in a morning was the way to deal with a great number of the Bills coming before the Committee.


I did not say 100 clauses were struck out.


I am sure, if it is any gratification, I should like to offer him and the other Members of the House who were Members of the Committee, every appreciation and thanks for the public service he and the other Members have rendered. But with regard to these Bills, a Municipal Body wants some improvement, and thereupon, in the discussions, in Town Council or elsewhere, with the agent it is decided to go for considerable other powers. Thereupon the agent, from his resources, ascertains whatever has been possessed in the shape of arbitrary, singular, or particular power by other Corporations, and puts it all in the Bill. There is a specimen of that in the Leeds Corporation Bill, an enormous number of clauses drawn from the statute law of the land. It seems to me absurd this House should include in a Private Bill clauses that belong to the public law of the land; and if this Instruction were not added on this occasion to reject such clauses as those, the time and labour of this Committee would be extremely multiplied and made more onerous and more harassing. My hon. Friend who has just spoken (Sir B. Samuelson) has proposed an Amendment which I have no doubt will be dealt with more effectually by my right hon. Friend on the Treasury Bench (Mr. H. H. Fowler); but it does seem to me an odd thing that we should have a Committee appointed to investigate these matters and to ascertain that there is nothing in the Bill repugnant to the general law of the land or an extension of it, and yet someone is to do the work beforehand. My hon. Friend's Motion imposes on some official of this House the duty of investigation, which is all the more difficult unless he relies entirely on the Department reporting upon it. I do see that in some future time it may he so conducted; but to suggest on this occasion it should be thrown on any official of this House to go through clauses and ascertain and certify to his own mind, and the minds of those under whom he acts, that he is sure that Clause A does not exceed the general law, that Clause A is not repugnant to it, is not a suggestion that will commend itself to this House. I think my right hon. Friend has done immense service in drawing attention to this, and I am quite sure his trenchant remarks will bear good fruit.


Perhaps the hon. Member (Sir B. Samuelson), after the interesting discussion we have had, will withdraw his Amendment. The House will see that the Amendment is contained in the first paragraph of the Motion, and as a matter of fact I am informed, and the hon. Baronet is no doubt aware that the Home Office has to do with this question, that as there are few Bills referred to the Committee which do not contain clauses in excess of the general law, the saving in the work of the Committee would be almost nil.


As my purpose has been answered by calling attention to the question, I would ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

Before the Amendment is withdrawn may I point out that, although this business is important, it trenches largely upon the time of private Members? I think that the Government — having taken Tuesdays and Fridays — have no right to cripple the time of private Members on Wednesday. There is no reason, if this is permitted, why Debates of this character should not go on during the whole of Wednesday. I do not offer any opposition now, but I give the Government fair notice that if this practice is adopted upon any other Wednesday I shall move the adjournment of the Debate.

MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)

Before the Amendment is withdrawn, I would like to say that in addition to the National Education (Ireland) Bill, there is a second Bill of a most important character affecting agricultural districts, and I believe the Government have seized this opportunity for depriving those who represent agricultural districts of any chance of discussing agricultural questions. The question under discussion is one that should have been brought forward as the Public Business of the House, and not on a Wednesday as Private Business. The conduct of the Government is certainly most scandalous, and I wish to protest most earnestly against the time of the House being occupied in this manner. We have only five and a half hours left to discuss many important measures, including the Swine Fever Bill. We hear a great deal from the Government of their interest in the agricultural labourer, but we do not know that they have ever done anything so audacious in the way of neglecting his interests than they have this morning.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to. Ordered, That the Committee of Selection do appoint a Committee, not exceeding Nine Members, to whom shall be committed all Private Bills promoted by Municipal and other Local Authorities, by which it is proposed to create powers relating to Police and Sanitary Regulations which deviate from, or are in extension of, or are repugnant to, the General Law. Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records. Ordered, That Five be the quorum of the Committee. Ordered, That Standing Orders 150 and 173A be applicable to all Bills referred to the Committee; and that it be an Instruction to the Committee in their Report under such Standing Orders to state their Reasons for granting any powers in conflict with, deviation from, or excess of the General Law, and the text of the Clauses by which such powers are proposed to be conferred. Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee (1) that they shall not sanction in any Bill referred to them any Clauses relating to matters which are the subject of provisions in "The Infectious Disease Notification Act, 1889," "The Public Health Acts Amendment Act, 1890," "The Infectious Disease (Prevention) Act, 1890," "The Museums and Gymnasiums Act, 1891," and "The Private Street Works Act, 1892," unless the Committee report that the insertion of such Clauses ought to be allowed, with the Reasons on which their opinion is founded, (2)that they shall not sanction in any Bill, unless they see fit to do so, in the case of Bills suspended in Session 1892, under the orders of the House of 20th June, the insertion of any provisions contained in the five Acts above cited or in any Public Act. Ordered, That in the case of Bills reported from the Committee, three clear days shall intervene between the date when the Report of the Committee is circulated with the Votes and the consideration of the Bill.