HC Deb 16 July 1894 vol 27 cc3-13

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the case of the London Streets and Buildings (re-committed) Bill, Standing Orders 84, 214, 215, and 239 be suspended, and that the Bill be now taken into consideration provided amended prints shall have been previously deposited.

MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)

moved to leave out all the words after "be," in order to insert "considered upon this day three months." He said he must ask the indulgence of the House in the somewhat difficult task he had undertaken. The Committee to which the Bill had been referred had been appointed on his own Motion, and he was bound to say that the Members of that Committee had done their work in a most exemplary manner. If he objected to the Bill in its present form it was rather because of the materials upon which the Committee had to work than because of anything that was done or left undone by the Committee. He hoped, therefore, that the Members of the Committee would not take offence at his action. He objected to the policy which had been pursued in regard to this Bill. He was of opinion that a great province like London ought to be governed not by Private Bill legislation, but by Public Acts. In the present instance the Public Acts, nine in number, under which London had been governed for a great many years, were proposed to be repealed. One of the counsel representing the London County Council before the Committee stated that the Bill covered many thousands of cases, and affected the interests of a vast population. The policy of the House had been for very many years past not to resort to Private Bill legislation, but, on the contrary, to substitute as far as possible Public for Private Bills. This policy had been carried out in the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act, the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, the Municipal Corporations Act, and similar measures. Recently a Bill was carried through the House without opposition for the purpose of embodying in a Public Act many of the provisions that had been put in a Private Act by a Committee upstairs. This showed that the tendency of the House was to minimise Private Bill legislation as far as possible, and to maximise Public Statute Law in regard to these matters. All the great municipal towns in the country were governed by the Municipal Corporations Act, but that Act did not apply to London. The Acts under which London had been governed were the Metropolis Management Acts, which would be practically repealed, and the Buildings Acts, which would be repealed by this Bill. As some Members did not agree with him as to the importance of substituting public for private law in regard to the government of London, he would give some reasons why this should be done. In the first place, public law was known, or might have been known, to every person in the land. Public Bills were discussed in the House and held over from time to time in order that they should be thoroughly understood, while every Member could get a copy of a Public Bill, and everything in connection with it was done publicly and aboveboard. Very few Members of the House, however careful they might be to watch the proceedings, could by any possibility keep pace with Private Bill legislation, which was relegated to Committees upstairs. It was a very difficult thing for a Member of the House to get a copy of a Private Bill, and there was a greater amount of what he might venture to call, not in the bad sense of the term, secrecy in the mode in which Private Bill legislation was carried on. This was necessarily so, because no Member could keep his eyes upon all the Private Bills. He felt that as regarded London it was more important to have public legislation than it was to have it with regard to any Municipal Corporation in the country. All the great towns except London had the Municipal Corporations Act to fall back upon, and all Private Bill legislation must be in conformity with that Act. If any Private Bill did not conform with the Municipal Corporations Acts a Report had to be made to the House with regard to the divergence from that Act. In the present case, though the Bill before the House was one of vast importance, and though it proposed to repeal some nine or 10 Public Acts, no Report whatever had been presented by the Local Government Board with regard to the clauses of the Bill, and their bearing upon the public law. Perhaps it might be that the Local Government Board felt that in this particular instance, as the proposal of the promoters was to repeal all the public Acts referred to, it was not necessary to make a Report to the House upon it, but he thought this was all the more reason why there should have been a Report as to the nature of the changes made by the Bill. He might remind his hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Stuart) that he had followed him into the Lobby over and over again when complaint had been made with regard to action taken under Private Acts, because he felt that it was absolutely necessary to watch Private Bill legislation where it touched public rights. It might be suggested that the London County Council was so far superior to the Municipalities of the Kingdom that it would not degenerate into some of the proposals that came before the House. He was not so sure of that, but in any event he did not accept the plea that it was less important to have public law for London than it was to have public law for the Municipalities of the Kingdom, or that the London County Council was less likely to go wrong than the Municipalities. If any interest were adversely affected by this Bill it would not be possible to call upon a Member to bring forward an amending Bill, as the only chance of effecting an Amendment would be by putting into motion the expensive and costly enactment of Private Bill legislation. It was almost impossible for any interest, however large, except those represented by wealthy Corporations and companies, to call into existence that machinery. The present Bill affected a vast variety of interests all over the Metropolis, and if those interests were injured all they could do would be to resort to Private Bill legislation, and the ratepayers of London would be mulcted in a portion of the expenses, whilst the private interest affected would have to pay twice over. Had the Bill passed in its original form he believed that London would have been up in arms, as the interests that would have been interfered with would have been of a vast character. The Bill had been shorn by the Committee of some of its worst features. In the form in which it passed the Second Reading the measure absolutely proposed that the County Council should be able to make bye-laws of any kind irrespective of the Act, and the Committee had put in a clause providing that such bye-laws should only be valid subject to the provisions of the Act. He would remind the House that the General Powers Bill of the London County Council had also to be amended by the House, and it was obvious that it was absolutely necessary for Members to watch the London County Council. He had all through been a supporter of the London County Council, believing as he did that it was going to do great things for London. It was because he held that belief, however, that he thought Members ought to watch the County Council and see that they did not take a false step. The Bill was an immensely better Bill since it had been amended by the Committee, and had it been a Public Bill he would not have raised his voice against it. He felt that the action he had taken earlier in the Session had been justified by the results. He would mention one point to show how careful Members ought to be in regard to putting into Private Acts conditions that had hitherto been in Public Acts. Members who knew anything about architecture knew what "footing" meant. The footing of a house meant the absolute foundation of the walls on which the House stood. Without a footing the house would topple over and fall to pieces. On the suggestion of counsel representing the Duke of Westminster, power was given by the Committee to the London County Council to dispense with "footing" subject to the approval of the surveyors in the various districts of London. He thought this was a dangerous power, and no such power existed under the Acts proposed to be repealed by the Bill. Apart, however, from any defects in the Bill itself, he objected to the Bill as a matter of public policy on the ground of its being a substitute for a number of Public Acts that had been on the Statute Book for many years. If he could have proposed that this Bill could have been transformed into a Public Bill, or that after its passage it could be published amongst the Public Statutes, it would have removed some difficulties he felt with regard to it; but, as it was, he felt he had no other course open to him but to move that the Bill be considered that day three months.

MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)

seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Bill be considered upon this day three months."— (Mr. Howell. )

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

MR. STUART - WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

said, that the discussion started by the hon. Member was essentially of an academic character. He (Mr. Stuart-Wortley) could hardly believe that at this late stage the fruits of the laborious inquiry which had taken place, and the great expenditure that had been incurred, should be entirely cast away by a vote of the House. He thought it right that the House should be reminded that there was perhaps no Member of the House who was less entitled to propose the Amendment than the hon. Member himself. Not only could it be argued in regard to what the hon. Member had said that the House was fully seised of the particular issue stated by the hon. Member when it read the Bill a second time, but it could be pointed out that its attention was specially drawn by the hon. Member himself to the particular aspect of the question raised by the hon. Member. The hon. Member's opposition was finally withdrawn on terms practically of his own choosing, which were that the Bill should be referred, not to the ordinary Private Bill Committee of four Members, but to a Hybrid Committee consisting of an exceptionally large number of Members. The Bill now came before the House for consideration, after having been examined by the Hybrid Committee, and it was under such circumstances that the hon. Member raised this discussion. Having had a Parliamentary experience as long as that of the hon. Member, and having presided over the Committee which considered the Bill, he (Mr. Stuart-Wortley) did not think the precedents quoted by the hon. Member in support of his view at all applied to the case. The regulations applicable to streets and buildings in provincial boroughs were almost invariably contained, not in Public but in Private Acts. It was obvious that a Bill of this kind, whether it were called a Public or a Private Bill, must be brought in upon notice, must go before the examiners, and must be referred not to a Committee of the House, but to a Hybrid Committee, having the power to hear witnesses, and so on. The labour and trouble that had to be gone through was greater in regard to Private Bills than in regard to Public Bills. While there was the same lengthy discussion before the Committee, the same expense incurred, and the procedure up to this point practically identical, he would like to ask the House to consider what was the difference of the fate of the Bill on subsequent stages. It was this: In the case of a Public Bill the subsequent fate of it, after all that labour and expense expended upon it, might be to make it the sport of the political exigencies of the Session, whereas in regard to a Private Bill, it was sure of its opportunity of being considered. Under all the circumstances, he asked the House to say that this Bill had received not only ordinary discussion, but even more than the ordinary discussion given to Public bills, and therefore to treat this Motion of the hon. Member as having no doubt raised a subject of great academic importance, but not as one requiring the serious consideration of the House.

MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)

said, he rarely had the pleasure of finding himself in sympathy with members of the London County Council; but as his name appeared upon the back of the Bill, he would appeal to the hon. Gentleman not to press the Motion he had made. As his hon. Friend was aware, he (Mr. Cohen) had condemned the resort to Private Bills to the somewhat clandestine and somewhat costly process of Private Bill legislation; but he hoped that his hon. Friend would on this occasion be content with the discussion he had raised. This Bill was not only not condemned, but was approved by his hon. Friend opposite, and advocated by him in The Times on the 5th April. The interests of the people of London were affected by this Bill in such a way as he hoped would lead the House to support the measure. It was true that it repealed some Acts of Parliament which were passed in 1844, 1855, 1860, 1861, 1862, 1869, and 1871, but he would ask his hon. Friend, if this Bill before them was the good and urgent Bill he admitted, if it was a legitimate Bill, and one founded on an equitable basis, whether they ought to wait until they could repeal those Acts of Parliament by incorporating into a Public Bill the provisions contained in the present Bill, or whether they should not proceed as they had done with the Bill before the House? The House of Commons was now congested with a pressure of business such as was never known in the days when those Acts were passed. The Bill was one in the interests, almost, of humanity, and therefore he thought they ought not to reject it on the mere technical ground of procedure.


said, he entirely agreed with what had fallen from the hon. Member opposite with regard to this Bill, and he thought it would be a great misfortune if, after all the labour expended upon the Bill by the Committee which was presided over by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Stuart-Wortley), they were to reject the Bill. By a very fortunate circumstance, it had been possible to deal with a most important matter by a Private Bill. The hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill having moved that the Bill should be referred to a Hybrid Committee instead of to an ordinary Committee, he thought the hon. Gentleman ought not now to object to the measure. He hoped the House would pass the present stage of the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered.

MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

said, the new clause standing in his name, he thought, would receive the support of every Member of the House. Sometime ago he moved an Instruction to the Committee that it should consider the question, but the House thought it would result in the loss of the Bill; but this clause simply asked that after the passing of the Act the site and premises should be drained in such a way as to carry away all surface water, and that the drainage should be done to the satisfaction of the Local Authority. The only interest that was not protected by this clause was that of the dishonest builder and the dishonest surveyor, and the sooner they took action to prevent dishonest people putting in bad and improper work the better. He could not conceive how the promoters of a Bill, which was in Committee 22 days, and before whom were called an army of experts, could allow a Bill of 214 clauses to pass without noticing this first and most important matter in the construction and building of a house. What was the value of a house if the water was soaking through the flooring and through the walls, laying the seeds of disease and rheumatism, diphtheria, typhoid, and many other diseases? The large majority of the houses in the suburbs of London were affected with damp through not protecting the premises from surface drainage. If they went to the County Council they were told they had no power, and the Local Authority said the same thing. Of course, they might be told that the bye-laws of the County Council were approved by the Home Secretary, and that they could provide that the site of the House should be covered with concrete for at least six feet. He had here a sample of concrete he had taken from the floor of a house, and this material was composed of coke, breeze, cinders, earthy matter, and a little lime. He had to hold it in the most careful manner because it crumbled and was not concrete at all. He was afraid that in a large number of cases no provision was made for concrete, and one was inclined to ask where the district surveyor was and what were the Local Authorities doing? He thought some provision should be made through this Bill to give power to the Local Authority or the County Council to see that these sites were free from damp, so that the health of the people might be preserved. All he asked was that those in charge of this Bill should insert some clause that would prevent the dangerous work of these builders being carried out. When this state of things existed in the better class of houses, what could it be in the houses of city clerks and working men? And there were tens of thousands of such houses which were in a most insanitary condition and bad to an alarming extent. He would not occupy the time of the House longer, but he hoped that those in charge of the Bill would not now, as on the former occasion, object on the ground that the Bill was already overloaded. A month ago he was told the Bill was overloaded, and that his Instruction would render its passage impossible, but since then they had added 22 clauses to it.

New Clause—

(Drainage of Sites of Houses.)

The site of every house and premises to be built after the passing of this Act shall be drained in such a manner as to carry away all surface water, and such drainage shall be done to the satisfaction of the Local Authority."— (Mr. Weir. )

Clause brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."


said, that perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if he said at once they must oppose the introduction of this clause. The Bill was a very large one, and they had just managed to carry the consideration of it against a complaint that it was already too large. This clause would greatly enlarge the scope of it, and whatever views they might have as to the policy of such legislation and its desirability, he must confess it would be impossible to introduce a clause of this kind into the Bill without very careful examination by the Committee, and if it had been placed before the Committee it would have accepted it for a considerable time longer. The House objected formerly to the Instruction on the grounds he was now pleading, and, therefore, he felt it his duty to oppose the clause.

Question put, and negatived.

SIR C. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

said, the clause next on the Paper was the ordinary devolution clause which had now been placed in the hands of all District Councils and Parish Councils created by the Local Government Act. If, therefore, the circumstances of London were such as to make it desirable this power of devolution should exist, this clause ought to be inserted, and he believed there would be no opposition to it in another place. Dr. Longstaff was favourable to the clause, though he could not say what views those who represented the County Council in the House took in the matter.

After Clause 210, insert the following Clause:— (Transfer of Powers to Local Authority.) 210A. "After the passing of this Act it shall be lawful for the Council on the application of any Local Authority to transfer to such Local Authority any of the powers conferred by this Act upon the Council, and thereupon all the provisions of this Act and all bye-laws made thereunder relating to powers so transferred shall be construed as if the Local Authority were named therein instead of the Council."—(Sir C. Dilke. )

Clause brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."

MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)

trusted the London County Council would accept this new clause. When it was attempted to move it in the Committee, of which he was a Member, it was ruled out of Order on a purely technical point, and he did not think that any Members of the Committee had any objection to it on any ground of principle. For his part, he most heartily concurred that it was a proper addition to the Bill, and if added would be very acceptable to all the Local Authorities throughout London.


said, he could not accept the addition of this clause, at any rate at the present stage, and if there was a desire to raise the question before the Committee in another place it could be done. He could not feel it was germane to the present Bill, as it made a very considerable alteration, and if such an alteration was to be made it should be made in other Bills. He would ask the House not to interfere with the Bill as it passed through the Committee.

SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)

thought there was much force in the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke), but he would appeal to him not to press the matter now, as it might be dealt with in another place. He had great confidence in the opinion of Dr. Longstaff in this matter; but he hoped it would not be pressed now, and that the Bill might be allowed to go to another place as it stood.


said, he would accept the suggestion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That Standing Orders 223 and 243 be suspended, and that the Bill be now read the third time.—(Mr. J. Stuart.)

Bill read the third time, and passed.

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