THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. GEORGE RUSSELL, North Beds.)
I understand that last week an arrangement was arrived at between the hon. Member for South Islington and Her Majesty's Government that the Motion for the Police and Sanitary Committee should be moved in the terms in which it stands on the Paper. I have only to observe that we fully agree with the view of the Association of Municipal Corporations that Standing Orders 150 and 173a are already applicable and the Government will not move an Instruction. I beg to move—
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Committee of Selection do appoint a Committee, not exceeding Nine Members, to whom shall be committed all Private Hills 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.
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.
That Five be the quorum of the Committee."—(Mr. George Russell,)
§ * SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, that as some exception had been taken by Municipalities to the action of the Police and Sanitary Committee in excising and restricting certain of their Bills, he had feared it might have been necessary for him to oppose the Motion. No doubt the Committee had been controlled to a large extent by a special Instruction which had been passed by the House previously for 1240 their guidance, with the result that its operation in the last two or three years had been undoubtedly of a character to produce what was felt to be a too centralising spirit on the part of the Department in dealing with the local Private Bills of Corporations. However, the matter had been met in a very cordial and generous spirit by the Local Government Board, the Under Secretary of which had seen him, and done his best to meet the Corporations' wishes; and therefore he would not divide the House on the subject this Session. He would only express the hope that in the coining year the Committee, unfettered by an Instruction and with a greater representation of the Municipalities on it, might allow more liberty to that spirit of local legislation which had been the chief means of building up the statutes of local government, such as the Public Health Act and others. In that hope he assented most readily to the Motion.
§ MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
said, that as he had been Chairman of this Committee during the last Session of Parliament, he might be allowed to say a few words on the Motion. He regretted that his hon. Friend the Member for Islington had not thought fit to promulgate more definitely the charges he desired to bring against the Committee, because he questioned whether it would be possible for his hon. Friend to establish the central charge he had advanced—namely, that the Committee had been governed by a Departmental feeling of centralisation, and had been narrowly controlled by the Instruction of the House. Of course, it was impossible for him to say who would compose the Committee in the future, or who would be Chairman of it, and he did not know whether notice would be taken of the suggestion of his hon. Friend, that there should be a larger representation of Members representing Municipalities on the Committee; but he ventured to point out this simple fact in connection with the previous Instruction—that all the House of Commons had done hitherto, and all the Committee did last Session, was to decline to allow any changes in the law to be effected in eases where the existing Statutes had been recently passed. Undoubtedly, it would be a serious thing if the Debate had been 1241 allowed to pass without a single word being said against the impression which had been conveyed to the House, that because the Instruction moved last year and the year before was not moved this year, therefore the Committee, however composed, was to understand that it was not to be governed by that Instruction. He did not know whether his hon. Friend the Member for Islington had actually in mind what the Instruction was; but he ventured to repudiate the idea that there had been on the part of the Committee any attempt at centralisation, or any inclination to give into the representations or recommendations of Government Departments. He could show that on many occasions the Committee did give special powers to the Local Authorities, when they were able to show that their local circumstances made it absolutely necessary that there should be some small changes in the existing law; but the House would agree that it would be intolerable if a small Committee sitting upstairs were to allow the law to be extended, curtailed, or materially altered, when the House as a whole had within the four or five years dealt with the identical subject in a comprehensive way, and had declared what the intentions of the Legislature were on that subject. To allow anything like that would be throwing on a small Committee a very great and serious responsibility; and he, for one, would feel himself absolutely unable to serve on the Committee if it had to accept that very onerous task, which properly belonged to the House, and of which the House could not divest itself. He thought it his duty to say so much, because if it were his fortune to be on the Committee again this year he should not like his hon. Friend to think that, because he had allowed the matter to pass in silence, he had acquiesced in the suggestion that the action of the House in not moving an Instruction relieved the Committee from the course it had taken up last year, which was supported by every Committee, and was not desirable in the interests of well-conducted legislation. He would, however, suggest that the quorum be reduced from five to three, as on some occasions there had been a delay and inconvenience caused to witnesses through the failure of the required number of Members turning up early.
§ MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
thought the Committee should have access, more than hitherto, to the Reports made to the Local Government Board with regard to those particular measures when they dealt with the law as it existed. In fact, he thought all Members of the House ought to have no difficulty whatever in getting access to-such Reports.
§ * SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
said, that as he had been for six years a Member of the Sanitary and Police Committee, he might be permitted to say a, few words on the Motion. His hon. Friend had made some reference to what was known as the adoptive Acts. Those Acts had been passed because in their absence the labours of the Police and Sanitary Committee had become almost crushing. The subject-matter of many of those adoptive Acts came before the Committee in a most perfect form; every one of their clauses had been fully discussed; and the body of adoptive Acts presented the result of the most careful consideration in such a form that any Local Authority might adopt one or all of those Acts, and have the advantage of that body of legislation. He was sure it would be a great injury to Public Health Pills if the whole subject were thown again, as during former years, in a confused shape before the Committee. He was sure that legislation would be less satisfactory than at this moment, and that the duties of the Committee would become so formidable that no Committee could possibly undertake them. He hoped the Police and Sanitay Committee would act in a thoroughly independent spirit. It was their duty to stand between the Departments and the public and to investigate the recommendations of those who appeared before the Committee. Sometimes they must decide in favour of the promoters, sometimes in favour of the objectors, and sometimes in favour of the Departments, but they should proceed from first to last in a judicial spirit and, guided by the arguments, decide according to the facts as they arose. He believed good work would continue to be done by the Committee if the adoptive Acts were not interfered with, but if they were private legislation would sink into chaos.
§ MR. WHITELEY (Stockport)
said, that with the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean and the hon. Member for South Islington he had been requested by the Association of Municipal Corporations to support their complaint on this point. He could assure the House that great injury and injustice had been done the Municipalities by the manner in which their Bills had been mutilated by the Police and Sanitary Committee, He ventured to hope that that would not occur again. It, was local action which the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Long) had referred to on the part of the Municipal Corporations of the Kingdom which had resulted in the building up of the Statutes.
§ MR. W. LONG (interrupting)
said, he had referred to proposals to deal with subjects which had been dealt with by Parliament within the past three or four years. The hon. Member's statement was based on existing Acts of Parliament passed before the general law was laid down. It did not refer to recent Acts—those of 1889 and 1892.
§ MR. WHITELEY
said, that at any rate he ventured to hope that Municipal Corporations would not have this injury done to them during the present Session.
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
said, that objection had been made that hon. Members had not access to the Local Government Board Reports. The Local Government Board would have no objection to the Sanitary and Police Committee having access to these Reports.
§ Motion agreed to.