§ Order for First Reading read.
§ SIR H. JAMES (Bury)
I desire to ask your judgment, Mr. Speaker, on a point of order affecting this Bill—whether this Bill is a fit subject to be introduced into this House as a private Bill. I do not now ask you to fix any definite rule as to what constitutes a public Bill; it is difficult to form an exact rule, but I respectfully suggest to you that this Bill clearly goes beyond the line which divides private from public Bills. In the first place, although, without doubt, it only refers to London, it affects 5,000,000 of Her Majesty's subjects. It is, moreover, stated in the Preamble that it is introduced for the, purpose of forming a common basis of Imperial and Local Taxation. It also proceeds to change entirely the law as to the mode of assessment for rating and 707 taxation, it abolishes the jurisdiction of a Court which has hitherto administered the law, and creates a new tribunal of an entirely different character. But there is one reason why I especially call your attention to this matter. This Bill repeals five public Acts of Parliament, and once you get a private Bill repealing a public Act, you are treading on most dangerous ground. The Bar Committee have remonstrated with the Lord Chancellor on the practical inconvenience to anyone connected with the law of this course being taken in the case of Bills of such importance. If a public Act repeals a public Act, we can turn at once to our digest, but on library contains all these private Acts, and, therefore, students and practitioners who are not acquainted with the proceedings of the House never know whether there has been any repeal of a public Act by a private Act. The Court takes no judicial notice of private Acts; they have to be given in evidence like any other document. This Bill offers a most flagrant example of the evil to which I have referred; and I am sure great practical evil will follow in the administration of the law under this Bill if it is dealt with as a private measure. I respectfully ask your ruling as to whether this Bill ought to be treated as a private Bill.
§ MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
The proceeding the promoters of this Bill have taken is, they believe, similar to that taken on the London Streets and Buildings Bill, which was passed through this House as a private Act last Session; and in that Bill a number of public Acts were repealed. In that case the difficulty about public and private Acts was met, as the House will recollect, by an entry on the Public Statute Book, to the effect that that Act had been passed and others repealed by it. The present Bill proposes to deal in the same, way with the question of the assessment and valuation of property in the Metropolis. With respect to the assessment of London there have been special London Acts, such as the Metropolis Valuation Act of 1869. The general law of 1862 is undoubtedly dealt with to some extent in the present Bill, but the relation of London to that general law is not altered by any provision of the Bill, and I submit that this case is practically on all fours with the 708 Streets and Buildings Bill. The alterations of the powers of a corporation, the constitution of a local Court, and the assessment of the poor rate are, I submit, fit subjects for a private Bill if other things are in order. This Bill was drafted in consultation with the majority of the Local Assessing Authorities of London, and the contention upon it will not be found to be widespread, while a large portion of it is very generally approved. When the substance of this Bill was introduced into the House last Session as a public Bill, considerable objection was taken, on the ground that the local interests with which it dealt could only be adequately represented by the right of appearing, by counsel or in person, before a Committee upstairs. The Bill affects the quinquennial valuation of London, and I believe oil all sides of the House there is a desire for uniformity in that matter. Hitherto, no doubt, Bills of this class affecting London have been introduced as public Bills, but I submit that the real reason of that has been that London has no representative authority interested in all parts of it to take up such Bills. I submit that the procedure on private Bills insures justice and full examination of the subjects dealt with, and that in such a complicated matter as this it is really for the public convenience that it should be dealt with by the methods of private legislation.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
In reply to the inquiry of the right hem. Gentleman, I have to say that the question now raised is one of great importance, because it touches on the question of what should be the scope of, and the interests involved in, a measure introduced into this House as a private Bill. I observe that this Bill in its Preamble professes to repeal certain specified Acts, and I have to observe that all those Acts were introduced into this House as public Bills. It further proposes to amend and to incorporate the provisions in a Bill introduced last year, touching the Metropolis, which Bill was also introduced as a public Bill. I am far from saying that, because a private Bill affects public Bills and repeals public Acts, that that is always a fatal objection to its being introduced as a 709 private Bill. But we must consider the scope of the public Acts which a private Bill proposes to repeal, and in this instance the Acts proposed to be repealed are of such vast magnitude and cover such a vast area that, I think, there are objections to the Bill being proceeded with as a private Bill. The Bill covers the whole of the Metropolis, and, though it does not quite follow from all precedents that a Bill affecting the entire Metropolis must necessarily be introduced as a public Bill, still I think that a review of these precedents will establish the conclusion that Bills affecting the Metropolis should, as a rule, be introduced as public rather than as private Bills. There was, it is true, in 1857 a Thames Navigation Bill, which was introduced as a private Bill; but, on the other hand, there was a Weighing of Corn (Port of London) Bill in 1864, which was introduced, and properly so, as a public Bill, seeing that it covered an area extending over nearly four counties and affected a population of 4,000,000, and also an extensive foreign trade. In the year 1889 the Coal Duties Bill was introduced as a public Bill. I may here remark that, when the Thames Navigation Bill was introduced in the year 1881 as a private Bill, objection was taken on the score of the multiplicity and vastness of the interests involved, and the private Bill was given up and was re-introduced as a public Bill. In 1890, on the London County Council Bill, there was objection taken on the ground that certain clauses were thought to be too large to be included in a private Bill, and they were expunged. If I am asked whether any clauses might be expunged from the present Bill, and the Bill so brought properly within the scope of private Bills, I should say that nothing of the Bill would be left, because the whole Bill is of such vast importance that it is impossible to separate the clauses. But more than that, this Bill contains clauses altering Acts which affect not only local rating, but affect 710 also the basis of Imperial taxation. That is another very serious objection. Whether railways would be affected by the Bill is a moot point, but it is one which should clearly be discussed in this House, as to whether the altered mode of assessment of railways would affect the status of railways within the Metropolitan area. I mention that, to show that the interests involved are much more than local, that they cover Imperial taxation as well as local rating; and if I am told that the Bill is a local Bill I am bound to reply that it is local only in the sense in which a Bill that applies to Scotland or Ireland may be called a local Bill; I should say that the magnitude of its scope, the area touched upon, the interests implicated are so vast that I think full publicity should be given to the Bill, and that it should go through all the stages of a public Bill, and when it is placed on the Statute Book it should be accessible to all as in public Acts, and not placed among those which are merely local and personal. On these grounds, therefore, looking to the magnitude of the area, the magnitude and multiplicity of the interests involved; looking to the fact that a new jurisdiction and a new Court of Record are sought to be created in the matter of assessment, apparently doing away with an appeal; looking to the interests involved; to the fact of the repeal of public Acts, which have been themselves introduced as public Bills; and looking to the great interest of the Metropolis, I think full publicity should be given to the Bill; and, in my judgment, it would be unwise and improper to introduce it as a private Bill. In these circumstances, and for these reasons, which I hope I have not stated at too great length to the House, I have no doubt upon the matter, and am of opinion that the Bill ought to be introduced as a public Bill.
§ Bill withdrawn.