HC Deb 29 May 1894 vol 24 cc1508-16

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [9th May],"That the Bill, as amended, be now considered."

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered.

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

said, he proposed to move the rejection of the new clause.


Order, order! The new clause has not yet been moved. Does the hon. Member for Central Fins-bury move it?

MR. NAOROJI (Finsbury, Central)

Yes, Sir, I move it; and I am sorry my hon. Friend feels compelled to object to it.

MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

said, the London County Council had agreed to withdraw the clause as it at present stood in the Bill, and to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green. Consequently, they were not prepared to accept the proposal of the hon. Member for Central Fhisbury. The circumstances were these: The County Council, when they brought this Bill before Parliament, introduced at the request of certain Vestries the clause as to staircases. Amendments were, however, introduced in Committee, and the County Council had inquired of the various Vestries and had found that there was almost unanimous? disapproval of the clause as it now stood. As the clause as now framed came very near to an infringement of the Standing Orders, and as the Vestries at whose instance it was inserted did not approve its present form, the County Council did not propose either to accept it or to insist on its reinstatement in its original form.

MR. NAOROJI (Finsbury, Central)

then moved to re-insert the original clause (Clause 6). He said, that the Vestry of Central Finsbury having received representations from various parts—there being many buildings of this kind in the parish—that a nuisance was caused by the want of light, satisfied themselves that there was a great deal of nuisance. It was satisfactorily shown by Mr. Walton, the Chairman of the Works Committee, that the owners of buildings who let them for their own profit ought to supply all the necessary conveniences. The County Council thought proper to insert the clause which he now proposed, and he protested against inflicting on the ratepayers any expenditure to redress or correct an inconvenience which ought to be set right by the owners of houses, and for that reason he moved the Second Heading of the clause.

New Clause—

Part III.—Lighting of Common Staircases.

5. The owner of any building designed for use in flats, or tenements, of which any staircase or passage is used in common by occupants of different flats or tenements, and is open at night, shall be bound to light every such staircase and passage and to keep the same lighted from sunset to sunrise on every night to the satisfaction of the lighting authority of the parish or district, in which it is situate, who may, by an order under their seal, prescribe the amount of light and the position of any lights to be provided, and may serve notice of such order upon the owner of the premises. Any owner failing to comply with the provisions of this section shall be liable to a penalty of not exceeding five pounds for every night in which he shall have so failed. Any lighting authority may, by agreement with the owner of any such building, undertake the provision and maintenance of the lamps and fittings and the lighting and extinguishing of lamps on such terms as may be agreed between them, "—(Mr. Naoroji,)

—brought up, and read the first time.

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

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

said, he was by no means satisfied that sufficient evidence was produced to induce the Committee to accept the clause in the first instance. He thought that the Committee in accepting it had exercised their power in a very dangerous degree. He had made the best inquiries ho could with regard to the procedure upstairs, and he found that the Committee had all the power of the House, and therefore had acted within its power. At the same time, he wished to draw attention to what he regarded as a very serious matter in connection with the clause. Private Bill Committees had often exercised the power of altering the incidence of taxation, but he did not think there was a single instance in which they had taken the initiative in imposing taxation upon the people in the shape of rates. The action taken by the Committee on this Bill, therefore, constituted an entirely new departure. As far as he could learn, the evidence produced in favour of the clause was of a very trifling and meagre character, whilst that against it was overwhelming. Singularly enough, evidence was given on the part of the Peabody Trustees and the Guinness Trustees—two of the largest owners of such property in London—and as far as he could learn it was the unanimous view of the tenants that no such lighting was necessary as was proposed by the Bill. He feared that some members of the London County Council thought that the British working man wanted a good deal of regulation and inspection. He was not of that opinion. He held by the old doctrine sneered at by some of the new politicians of the maximum of liberty and the minimum of restraint, and he was therefore strongly opposed to the retention of the clause in the Bill, and still more strongly opposed to the substitution of that which was proposed in its place. If such a regulation was to be made, let the matter be thoroughly threshed out by the Local Authorities who would have to administer it, and let them have ample op- portunity, which they had not had at present, of appearing before the Committee. As far as he could learn, all the Local Authorities in London, with one single exception, were opposed to the clause, the exception being the body represented by the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Naoroji). The Public Bodies of London certainly ought to have an opportunity of taking action, and preventing the London County Council leading them a fool's chase over this Private Bill legislation.

MR. BOULNOIS (Marylebone, E.)

said, he had placed a Motion on the Paper for the rejection of the clause altogether. He hoped it would be rejected, because it had been amended by the Committee in an extremely questionable way; and if the hon. Member for Shored itch (Mr. J. Stuart) had not announced that the London County Council would withdraw the clause, he was not at all sure that he should not appeal for Mr. Speaker's decision as to whether it was not ultra vires for a Committee to insert in a Bill a clause which imposed taxation without giving any notice to the ratepayers. Even if the Committee had not exceeded its powers, he thought it would be extremely hard that the unfortunate ratepayer, and especially the smaller one, who was just now overburdened with rates, should have an additional rate put upon him for the lighting of common staircases. In a former Debate the hon. Member for Finsbury had said that the lighting of these staircases might be taken at 3d. a room per night. In the Division he represented there were probably something like 1,000 of these rooms, and if the estimate of the hon. Member was correct it was no exaggeration to say that the ratepayers of Marylebone would be mulcted in something like £4,300 a year, or more than ½d. in the £1 on the rates. He had ascertained from the superintendents of many of these dwellings that they did not think it "was necessary to light the staircases all night. They were now lighted on five nights of the week till 11, and on Saturday till 12. The inmates of the dwellings stated, he believed without exception, that they would infinitely prefer that the lights should be put out at 11 o'clock, as tramps and the houseless poor were afraid to enter the staircases after dark, and they would inevitably do so if they were lighted. This was another instance of the rather hurried way in which the London County Council carried on their legislation. His hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch (Mr. J. Stuart) said the clause was introduced into the Bill at the instance of two or three Vestries. He thought it was a great pity that the County Council had not inquired whether the clause was necessary before they introduced it into the Bill. He understood that the opponents of the clause had spent over £200 in protecting their rights, and he left the House to reckon what the London County Council paid out of the ratepayers' money in carrying on the contest. He hoped the House would strike out the clause and would reject the new clause proposed.

* SIR J. GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)

said, he was asked to state on behalf of perhaps the oldest Association in London for the erection of workmen's dwellings that they considered that the proposed clause would be a very great hardship. He was informed that the owners of these dwellings were already hampered in many unnecessary ways under the Metropolitan Regulations, and the proposed clause would throw a very great burden upon them. In the case of the Association for which he was asked to speak, it would throw upon them an expense of something like £10,000 a year. Their tenants had asked them not to light all their staircases and passages throughout the night, as they wished to have the lights put out late at night, just as hon. Members desired to have the lights turned out in their own houses when they went to sleep. Associations established for the purpose of assisting working men to get decent lodgings ought to be assisted in every possible way in pursuing the philanthropic objects they had in view. The proposed clause was struck out in Committee, and it seemed a little strange that the House should be asked to re-insert it without having had the opportunity of hearing any evidence on the subject. He thought it was very much to be regretted that the habit of endeavouring to review the proceedings of Private Bill Committees in the House, more or less on political grounds and without hearing evidence, was so much on the increase. He believed it was likely to injure the power and prestige of the House as an impartial tribunal for the transaction of Private Business if that practice continued to be pursued.

MR. CODDINGTON (Blackburn),

as the Chairman of the Committee which had considered the Bill, wished to say that the Committee was quite in agreement with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) in regard to this matter. The Committee considered the evidence very carefully, and they came to the conclusion that if the authorities had power to compel the owners of industrial dwellings to light their staircases after 11 o'clock at night, the authorities should, at all events, pay a portion of the cost. It was generally understood by the Committee that both parties were quite satis-fled with the clause in the form in which it was eventually adopted. To recommit the Bill would be an injustice to the proprietors of industrial dwellings, and he should, therefore, oppose the Motion.

* SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)

said, he bad received a communication from Mr. Morrison, formerly a Member of the House, to the effect that the Industrial Dwellings Company with which he was connected had tried the lighting of their staircases throughout the night, and had -found that the result of lighting them was to attract persons who were described as tramps, but might be described by a more opprobrious term. The plan, therefore, now adopted by this particular Company was to put out the lights on their staircases at 11 o'clock. The plan, therefore, which was proposed had failed on trial. He hoped the House would not fall into the practice of not accepting the Reports of Committees. He believed the hon. Member who had spoken brought an impartial judgment to bear upon the question, but the real tribunal was the Committee who heard the evidence, saw the witnesses, and had the opportunity of cross-examining them. The conclusions which the Committee arrived at were worthy of support.

MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

thought that what had fallen from the Member for St. Pancras (Sir J. Goldsmid) and the Member for Wigan (Sir F. S. Powell) as to the action of the Committee upstairs was altogether beside the point. As he understood the position, before long the Member for St. Pancras (Sir J. Goldsmid) would be supporting the Member for Bethnal Green in upsetting the clause passed by the Committee upstairs. It was not correct to say that the Committee threw out the clause of the County Council; what they did was to take the clause, to accept the principle contained in it, but amending it with regard to the responsibility of those who were to pay for the lighting. He had not heard the evidence taken before the Committee upstairs, but he happened to have in his constituency a large number of these blocks and was conversant with the opinion of the people living in those blocks. He was glad to hear the Member for Bethnal Green say he liked the maximum of liberty; those who lived in these blocks also liked the maximum of liberty and did not like the idea of having to find their way home at 11 o'clock at night, and have to go upstairs in total darkness. There was something to be said for liberty on the other side of the question. He must confess he stood with his colleague for Central Finsbury (Mr. Naoroji) in the position of being in favour of lighting these buildings, he did not 'say all through the night, but certainly up to 11 o'clock was not sufficient for the personal convenience of the working classes. He was bound to admit the position this afternoon was a very peculiar one. The County Council brought in in their original Bill a clause with regard to lighting. That was amended by the Committee upstairs, and this afternoon they found the County Council had run away entirely from the original clause that they had put in the Bill. His hon. Friend had tried to bring back the Bill to where it was when it was originally discussed, and he did not think he had done anything rash in that, but still, as they were in a very small minority, he would advise his hon. Friend not to put the House to the inconvenience of dividing; he would advise him to withdraw the original clause of the County Council and leave the matter where the Committee left it. Then the moment they came to the Committee's clause they were all going to say determinedly they objected to their putting a rate upon the inhabitants of the locality without the people in the locality having an opportunity of expressing an opinion in regard to them. And they were not the only persons who differed from the Committee; the County Council, and those who spoke on behalf of the owners of these places, all demurred to the ratepayers being called upon to pay for lighting. He felt very pleased that this Debate had arisen, and with all duo respect to those gentlemen who read them lectures he would say that if it had not been for the action of his hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) before the House rose for the Recess, they would have had the clause that they were presently going to throw out in its entirety and the rates thrown upon the inhabitants.

MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)

thought they were practically unanimous now in favour of this House rejecting any dealing by this Bill with this question at all. After all, the Local Authorities were the best judges of how this question should be dealt with, and it was only right, he thought, that their views should be followed very largely with regard to it. They stood now in the position that the Local Authorities desired this clause should be omitted from the Bill, the County Council were willing that course should be followed, the Committee who went through the question were in favour of that course, and considering there was such a large consensus of opinion on one side he thought it would be better if the hon. Member would not persevere further.

MR. WILSON LLOYD (Wednesbury)

said, it now appeared that the County Council put forward this question of lighting the staircases entirely without proper knowledge of the subject, thus putting the owners of these large properties, valued at £3,500,000, to great expense, and saddling them with a large addition to the cost of lighting. It appeared that was a false position which they objected to in Committee, and they had got the Committee to accept their view of the case. It was quite wrong to say that this was a fixed tax, and that the Committee had done wrong, because it was a purely permissive clause, and gave the Vestry power to light these places if they wished, but the Committee considered that if they did they should pay a portion of the expense. He thought it was greatly to be regretted that the work of a Committee which extended over several days, two days of which were occupied in taking evidence on this important question, that after considering that evidence and coming to a conclusion on the subject, that the House without any proper information should undo their work.


asked leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

moved the clause standing in his name, the necessity for it arising from the fact that it was impossible otherwise for the County Council to pay the expenses of such recreation ground; it could not contribute out of any rate without the permission of the House.

New Clause.

Clause 14A.

(Power to contribute towards purchase of land adjoining Paddington Recreation Ground.)

The Council may, if they think fit, expend on capital account a sum of money not exceeding £0,000 as a contribution towards the cost of acquiring land adjoining and to be added to the Paddington Recreation Ground, authorised by 'The Paddington Recreation Ground Act, 1893,' "—(Mr. J. Stuart,)—brought up, and read the first and second time, and added.


moved— That lines 8 to 7 inclusive in the Preamble of the Bill be omitted.

Question put, and agreed to.


moved— That Part III., Clause 5, Sub-sections 1 to 6 inclusive, be omitted from the amended Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill to be read the third time.