§ On the Order for the consideration of this Bill as amended,
MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton) moved to omit from Clause 36 (Improvement Area and Charges) the following:—
LANDS DECREASED IN VALUE.
At any time during the said period of three months after the last publication of the assessment the owner or lessee of any lands upon which a charge under this section is proposed to be placed who may be the owner or lessee of other property in the immediate neighbourhood of the improvement whether within or without the improvement area may give written notice to the Council that substantial and permanent decrease in the value of such other property has
been caused by the improvement, and that he claims that such decrease shall he considered by the arbitrator, and if it be clearly shown that any substantial and permanent decrease in the value of such other property has been caused by the improvement the arbitrator shall deduct the same before determining the amount of the charge in respect of such first-mentioned lands,
in order to insert—
PURCHASE OF ESTATE OR TERM IN CERTAIN CASES.
(9) If (a) any owner or owners of any lands comprised in the initial valuation upon which a charge is proposed to be placed who alone or together have power to sell the fee simple of such lands subject to any lease or leases thereof, or (b) any such owner or owners of any such lands, and any lessee or lessees of the same for a term having not less than twenty-one years unexpired at the date of the initial valuation, who alone or together have power to surrender his or their lease or leases so that the terms of years thereby created shall merge in the fee simple and inheritance of such lands, are of opinion that such charge is greater than it should be in reference to the enhancement or supposed enhancement of the value of such lands by reason of the improvement, they may at any time within the said period of three months (instead of giving any notice of objection under the preceding paragraph of this section) by notice in writing served upon the Council require the Council to purchase their estate and interest in such lands, and the Council shall thereupon purchase and take the same accordingly at the value specified in the initial valuation.
He said that the Amendment might be thought to contain a certain amount of verbiage, but this was necessary in order to bring the details of his proposal into harmony with the rest of the clause. But the effect of the Amendment which he had put upon the Paper was in reality extremely simple. The Committee upstairs had introduced into the Bill three alterations on which he wished to fix attention. These three alterations were in the Betterment Clause. In the first place the Committee had introduced the principle of Worsement; in the second place, they had given an alternative right with option to the landlord to compel the Council to purchase where he was not satisfied with the amount of Betterment, and in the third place they had introduced the principle of an alternative reference to the jury. He purposed to ask the House to accept the principle of Worsement and the principle of alternative purchase, not to make a certain alteration in the conditions of the application of those principles. Worsement in the clause now before
the House was dealt with in this way: Any property owner affected could claim compensation for Worsement to his property even when that property was outside the limits of the Betterment, and extended to an indefinite distance from the place where the improvement took place. He desired the House to change this by enacting that the area within which Worsement could be claimed should be the same area as that in which the local authority claimed for Betterment. The simple effect of this change would be that within the area affected the whole of the property if any one owner would be taken as a whole for the purposes of Betterment or Worsement, and that there should not be a roving commission, so to speak, for Worsement outside the area. He hoped he had made clear to the House the arrangement he proposed. Worsement was accepted, the area was to be identical with the area of Betterment, and Worsement was to be a set-off against Betterment. In other words, the owner's property, whether in two, three, or more portions, inside the Betterment area was to be treated as one. With respect to the clause as it stood at present, it gave the option to the owner of compelling the County Council or Local Authority to purchase the property on which they put a Betterment charge, and that that option might be exercised up to the latest period, after there had been a very large amount of legal expenses incurred. He proposed that the House should give the owner the right to compel the County Council to purchase, where he was dissatisfied with the charge, but to confine the exercise of that option to the beginning, or nearly the beginning, instead of the end of the whole proceeding. In that way a large amount of legal expense would be saved, and the owner would be prevented from applying the principle of "Heads I win, tails you lose." He also proposed that the alternative reference to a jury should be omitted. He had never, on his own account or on behalf of the County Council, asked the House to disagree with the conclusions of a Committee. No one had shown more adhesion to that general line of action than he had during a long connection with Private Bill legislation; but in the present case he believed there were reasons
why this matter should be dealt with in the way he proposed. When he brought forward the Second Reading of this Bill he adopted the clause which had already been approved in two successive Sessions. The House, by large and increasing majorities, had insisted on the Betterment Clause in a certain form, and reinserted that clause in the Bill which it sent back to the House of Lords, where the Bill was in consequence rejected. The same clause was passed last year, but so seriously altered by the House of Lords that the promoters of the Bill thought that, so far as the Betterment Clause was concerned, the Bill was practically destroyed. He believed that he was acting in every way with proper deference to the House when he introduced the clause again this year in the form so frequently approved of by the House. He then stated, however, that he hoped means would be found of preventing by some agreement the deadlock in which matters had so long continued. That statement of his was received with considerable signs of approval by Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and he proceeded to act in the spirit of that statement. He proceeded to inquire whether it would be possible to have a Joint Committee of the Lords and Commons on the matter, but he found that precedent was against that. A County Council election took place in London a short time since, and they now had the advantage of the presence on the Council and Parliamentary Committee of Lord Cadogan and other noble Lords who had hitherto taken a very active step in supporting the view taken by the House of Lords on the matter. When he laid before the Parliamentary Committee of the County Council what seemed to be a reasonable and fair compromise, he was supported most fairly by Members of the other House as well as by hon. Gentlemen opposite; and Lord Cadogan and himself brought a proposal before the Parliamentary Committee and the Council, which had the support of both those bodies, and which he had reasonable grounds for believing would be supported also by the House of Lords. At any rate, they would receive then the strong and loyal support of the gentleman he had named, and he wished on this occasion to bear testimony to the fairness with which Lord Cadogan and
his friends had endeavoured to bring about a reasonable and working compromise in this difficult question. The Amendment he moved had for its object the carrying out of that arrangement from which they had so much hope, and he would appeal to hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House who might be as desirous of coming to any compromise, and who might wish to support in toto the conclusions of the House of Commons as against those of the House of Lords, to waive their opposition and to accept and support what he believed to be a reasonable solution of the question. He would not say that that solution was one that he should altogether have desired, but neither was it what those who disagreed with him would have desired altogether, but it was a reasonable compromise of give and take. Now that matters had come to this point he thought it was rather for the House itself to pronounce whether it would take this step or not. He believed that the Committee would have no serious objection to this solution of the question. He believed that the clause he proposed would do substantial justice; at any rate, the principle of the area should be identical for Betterment and for Worsement, that Worsement should be a set-off against Betterment, and that portion of a man's property in the area should be regarded as one, was a reasonable principle and that when they went outside the area they were led into great difficulties. He would like to point out that he believed the difficulties would be met if the boundary lines were justly and fairly drawn, and that question in the future must occupy the consideration of both Houses. Without detaining the House any longer, he would express the hope that he had made a rather complicated matter clear to the House, and would ask the House to join with those who had loyally endeavoured in the public interest to come to a reasonable agreement on a very difficult matter.
§ MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)
said, he desired at once frankly to support the Amendment and to state briefly why he did so. It was for the reason which the hon. Member opposite had expressed. The Amendment which he now proposed would restore the Betterment clauses in 343 this Bill to the form which the Parliamentary Committee of the London County Council unanimously decided they should take. He had supported that compromise, and he felt bound to adhere to it as long as he could. The proposals had all the merits and demerits of a compromise. Undoubtedly they were not what he would have supported if he could have had his own way. He preferred the clause in the shape it took after it had been amended by the Commons Committee; but speaking now as a Member of the London County Council, he felt bound in honour to support the compromise which at their request had been arrived at by Earl Cadogan and the hon. Member for Shoreditch. It was a fair compromise, which he believed would be acceptable not only to that House, but also in another place. The noble Lord and the hon. Member had done what they could to arrive at a settlement, and their scheme had been unanimously accepted by the Parliamentary Committee of the London County Council. He confessed that in these circumstances not only did he think he was bound to support the Amendment, but he had much hope that the House would accept it, not because the terms were acceptable to extreme men on the other side of the House, but because they did seem to offer a fair prospect of bringing to a close a vexed question which had been debated too long and in too controversial a spirit. It seemed to him to be more important that they should come to a fairly satisfactory settlement, which would enable the London County Council to proceed with great public improvements than they should further debate the question with the result of still further delaying improvements which all desired to see carried out.
§ MR. GEORGE HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N. E.)
said, he could quite understand why the hon. Gentleman supported this so-called compromise, because it was a complete giving up of the whole case that had been contended for, an abandonment of the position that had been taken by the Members of the London County Council on that side of the House. The position originally taken by them was that some of the advantage gained was to be secured to the general public; but 344 now the position was that the property-owners of the one side or the other would share whatever was got by Betterment, and what was gained by Betterment and lost by Worsement would to some extent balance the other. To his mind this was an entire and absolute giving up of the whole position taken by the Members of the London County Council on that side of the House. He was at a loss to understand why the hon. Member for Shoreditch should have taken such elaborate pains to show why he was prepared to give up his case and accept the compromise. It was clear that this was an absolute giving up of everything they had contended for Session after Session, and of demands which had been endorsed by majorities on that side of the House, and by a Committee upstairs. Now, forsooth, they were to abandon the whole case, and, by adopting the view of the hon. Member for Shoreditch, to appear to show the House and the country how reasonable the contentions on the other side had been! He would not trouble the House to divide, and he could only say that, if the London County Council accepted this compromise, he would wash his hands of the whole thing.
§ *MR. B. L. COHEN (Islington, E.)
said, he congratulated the hon. Member for Shoreditch on having had such an impartial tribute as was contained in the last speech paid to the equity of the compromise which he and Lord Cadogan had arrived at. Until he heard the last speech he could not quite get over the qualms of conscience he felt at the surrender which, in his innocence, he thought had been made by his own side. The unintentional tribute paid to the equity of the compromise reconciled him to an arrangement which would terminate the controversy on which the London County Council had wasted too much time and money, and would expedite the carrying out of needed improvements. He spoke not only as one of the Members for London, but also as a Member of the London County Council, and one of the Members of the Moderate Party in the Council, when he said that he deeply deplored that the record of the London County Council on this question of Betterment was far from creditable. They had spent six years, and he did not know how many 345 thousands of pounds in a controversial struggle, and as one who had always been in favour of a reasonable principle of betterment, he rejoiced that an infusion of Moderate elements into their counsels had been immediately followed by arriving at the solution of a question which had been too long needlessly delayed.
§ *MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)
said, it was not surprising that his hon. Friends on that side of the House should feel twinges of conscience at supporting a compromise in vindication of whose merits they had not advanced a single word. He appealed to the House whether it ought, on a Motion of this character, to go contrary to the well-considered, patiently matured, and unanimous decision of a Committee of that House, arrived at after hearing witnesses and counsel. He appealed to the House whether it was a fair proceeding to ask it to rehear the case in this way. In 1893, when a very similar question was raised, the Secretary for India, then the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Fowler) quoted Sir R. Peel against the course then proposed, and said it was the duty of this House to support the decision of one of its Committees. The right hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney) also delivered an opinion to the same effect. The ground on which they were asked to ignore the decision of a Committee was that a compromise had been come to; but was this House a party to the compromise? It was true that the authors of the compromise had appealed successfully to the amiability of his Friends, but they had not yielded from any sense of the justice of the Amendments themselves. That admission had been made, and the reason given for accepting the Amendments was that they would terminate a struggle that had been protracted too long in a controversial spirit. But if they thus reversed the decision of a Committee that sat for days, would not that be reviving the controversy in an acute form? To accept at the instance of the London County Council a compromise by which the decision of a Parliamentary Committee would be overruled was gross disrespect to the House of Commons. Perhaps they would hear presently what the Chairman or some Member of the 346 Committee would say. What was the case on which the Amendment was based? A Betterment area was laid down (quite on arbitrary lines) on a map by the County Council, including one man's property, and omitting another. Betterment was claimed on all the property within the area. The House of Lords, in the clause they inserted in the Manchester Bill, and in this very Bill also, and which the Committee of the House had adopted in the Bill, provided that if a man was charged with a Betterment charge on property inside the area, if he happened to have property "worsened," whether inside or outside the line, he should set off the one against the other. Reason and right alike dictated this. This line might be drawn purposely and intentionally between two properties, one might be bettered and the other worsened. The County Council drew this imaginary line wherever they thought they could make a Betterment charge and exclude the Worsement claims. But why a man whose house happened to be outside the boundary line—which might be a grocery or other business, which might be absolutely ruined—should be charged with a Betterment charge inside the line, and not be allowed to set off the damage done to his property outside, he was at a loss to conceive on any principle of equity or justice. The House of Lords inserted a proviso that if a man's property was worsened outside the line he should be able to set it off just as much as if inside the line. The second Amendment appealed to the House on the question of purchase. It would be recollected that in the new clause which was inserted in the Manchester Corporation Bill, and also in this Bill, by the House of Lords, and which was also in the Bill as settled by the Committee, it was provided that, after the value of a man's property had been ascertained, it should be competent for the owner, if he preferred, rather than keep it and submit to the Betterment charge—to call on the Council to buy it at arbitration value. The County Council proposed by the Amendment to evade the judgment of an arbitrator and jury altogether. The moment the Council gave a man notice, and before arbitration as to the value, a 347 man was bound to elect whether he would call upon them to buy or not. So a man was not to have the option of holding his property and waiting to see how much it might be assessed at before he determined whether he would give it up or not. A man's property had hitherto been considered his castle. His business and trade were in many cases his living, but here a man was not to have the option of waiting to see what ail impartial jury might put as the value of his property before he determined whether he would give it up or not. On the ground of equity and justice it was a gross breach of principle. He opposed this Amendment on the double ground that it was opposed to the deliberate decision of a Committee of the House which had heard this particular case by witness and counsel on behalf of the parties; and, secondly, because the compromise made elsewhere was not what the House would recognise as a reason for overruling its own Committee's decision.
§ MR. BENN rose to address the House, but
§ *MR. SPEAKER
This being an Amendment, the hon Member, by formally seconding it, had exhausted his rights.
§ MR. JAMES ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
said, that if he needed anything to confirm him in the attitude he had taken in this matter, it was supplied in the speech of the hon. Member for Wandsworth. He was himself one of the Members of the House who had this question of Betterment before them in the Committee upstairs. He was a member of the Committee that first passed a Resolution in favour of Betterment, and included a Betterment Clause in a Bill submitted to them. He failed entirely to see the value of the compromise which had been suggested. He could quite understand the action of the hon. Members for Chelsea and East Islington in accepting the compromise, because it seemed to him that it gave them everything they desired, and left those who were fighting for Betterment without 348 anything to rely upon when the compromise was carried out. Where a man's property was bettered, he should contribute to the expenses of the Local Authority by whom expense had been incurred in bettering his property. As to "worsement," he did not know that it differed from what was already admitted by law in the famous Putney Case, which had been quoted so often. In the Putney case, worsement was as clearly defined as it could be; and if in this compromise his hon. Friends had agreed to anything that went beyond the Putney case, then he at once joined issue with him and said they had given away the interests of the people of the Metropolis. He wanted it to be clearly understood that he and other Members representing London had had no part whatever in this compromise. It was a compromise made by representatives in this House, sitting on both sides, upon the County Council, and those who did not happen to belong to the County Council had not been consulted in the case. Those who entered into the compromise must bear the whole of the responsibility for it, and it must not be thrown upon those who had never been consulted. For himself, he repudiated any part in the compromise.
§ *MR. TATTON EGERTON (Cheshire, Knutsford)
said, that as Chairman of the Committee of the House that considered this Bill, he ought, perhaps, to say a few words. The Mover of the Amendment fairly stated the principal points, but omitted some of the facts with regard to the Manchester Corporation Bill. The facts were, that the London County Council and the Manchester Corporation brought in two Bills. Both contained the principle of Betterment. The whole question of Betterment was raised and adjudicated upon by the Committee, who introduced certain Amendments, which were accepted by the Manchester Corporation and were now Acts of Parliament. But the London County Council refused to accept these Amendments, and withdrew their Bill; but it had been brought in again this Session. The Committee upstairs heard counsel for the promoters and also on behalf of the owners, occupiers, and lessees. Nearly every speaker in the discussion had referred too much to the compromise in the London County 349 Council, and had ignored the fact that there was such a person as an owner or occupier, whose interests were directly opposed to those of the London County Council. The London County Council was on doubt acting in the interest of the ratepayers, but they certainly did not represent the interest of the occupier. The Committee of that House acting as an independent body had felt that the occupiers of the metropolis required that protection which by their action they had tried to give them, and they declined to alter in any shape or form the decision that had been arrived at by the Committee of the House of Lords last year upon the point, and they, therefore, accepted the terms of the Manchester Corporation Bill, which had been agreed to by that House. The Amendment now moved went beyond the terms in which the Bill now before the House was originally brought up this year, while it did not go as far in the direction of protecting the proprietor and the occupier. He trusted that the House would support the recommendation of their Committee and would reject the Amendment. If any Amendment of the Bill were required it might be modified in another place.
§ SIR J. BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camberwell, Dulwich)
said, that he certainly felt bound to support the Amendment which had been moved, whilst at the same time he heartily disagreed with the principle which it embodied. Their opponents in the London County Council had refused to go on with the improvements which London so greatly needed until the question of Betterment was settled, and it was eventually proposed that a compromise should be arrived at by which all the members of the County Council should hold themselves bound. Therefore, it was, that he felt himself compelled to support this Amendment, which embodied the terms of the compromise arrived at, but with which he thoroughly disagreed. He looked upon the terms of that compromise as being thoroughly inequitable. He wished that the London County Council would defer the question of Betterment, and would at once proceed to the improvement of the Metropolis. Although he felt himself personally bound to vote for this compromise, he thought that the House would be taking 350 a very serious step if they were to set aside the decision of their own Committee on the subject.
§ MR. G. J. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
said, that the House was placed in a very difficult position in reference to this subject. On the one hand, hon. Members had before them the fact that the London County Council had agreed to a compromise on the question; and, on the other hand, they had the finding of their own Committee, which adopted a different view of the matter. For his own part he did not desire to enter into the arguments or the merits of the case as regarded Betterment which was an extremely complicated one, but he thought it would be a very serious step on the part of the House of Commons if they were to allow a compromise entered into by the members of the London County Council to upset a decision of their own Select Committee. It had been urged that it would be most unfair to set aside the compromise that had been arrived at by the London County Council; but on the other hand it was contended that it would be most improper for that House to allow a local body like the London County Council to determine for it for all time a question of this importance in a manner that was opposed to the Report of their own Select Committee. It appeared to him that the House should support the finding of their own Select Committee, which would leave it open to the other side to reconsider their position when the Bill was in another place. In his opinion, the very serious and important question of Betterment ought not to be decided for the House of Commons by the London County Council. If that House were to permit such questions to be determined for them by the various local bodies much confusion would arise. He should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the President of the Local Government Board what the views of the Government were upon this point.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. G. J. SHAW LEFEVRE, Bradford, Central)
said, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken was mistaken in supposing that the Select Committee of that House were unanimous on this subject.
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
said, that he believed that two of the Members of the Committee had expressed their dissent from the views of the majority on the subject.
§ *MR. EGERTON
said, that that was only at a private meeting of the Members. No hon. Member of the Committee had expressed their dissent from the finding of the Committee in an official manner.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, that he thought that he was justified in believing that the Committee of that House which had sat to consider this question of Betterment were not unanimous on the subject. Since the question had been before that Committee, the matter had been under the consideration of the London County Council, the members of which had agreed to a compromise, the principle of which was embodied in the Amendment which was now before them. The question was whether it would not be wise for the House to agree to that compromise. Seeing that this question had been so long the subject of discussion, and that it had given, rise to so much Party feeling, he thought that it would be wise on the part of the House to accept that compromise as a settlement of the matter, especially as there was reason to believe that that compromise would be agreed to by the other House of Parliament. He thought that it would be a very great advantage if such a question as this were settled, not by a general Act of Parliament, but by successive Bills, so that public opinion might be allowed to grow gradually with regard to it.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said, that he desired to place before the Committee the position in which this question stood. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had complained of the very large inroads upon the time of the House caused by the discussion of private Bills. In former times all questions relating to private Bills were thrashed out on the floor of that House, but that state of things had been put an end to many years ago, when the House decided to refer such measures to its Committees. In his opinion, it was the duty of the House to support the finding of those 352 Committees. The London County Council, on the other hand, asked the House to support the Amendment, which was based upon the compromise that the members of the former body had arrived at, and which was opposed to the finding of the House of Commons Committee. As he understood, the Committee upstairs simply incorporated a decision previously arrived at by Parliament. He would point out how dangerous it was to thrash out on the floor of the House details which had been fully considered by a Committee which had heard witnesses and eminent counsel on both sides, and after half-an-hour's decision to reverse the decision of that Committee. Unless they were prepared to hear counsel at the Bar, and to examine witnesses, and so judge each question on its merits, they were bound to stand by their Committee. He had always heard the authorities of the House lay it down that Committees of the House, if they were to have important functions given to them, should be supported by the House.
§ MR. H. D. TOLLEMACHE (Cheshire, Eddisbury)
said, as a Member of the Committee he hoped he should not be reflecting on the status of the Committee when he suggested that a Committee such as this was scarcely a body of sufficient authority to lay down what might be held to be a precedent on the very wide question of Betterment and Worsement. The Committee had had the advantage of the almost unanimous Report of the Select Committee of the Other House on this question. Those recommendations had been adopted by the Manchester Corporation, a great body which could compare with the London County Council, and he understood that, so far as those recommendations had been tested in Manchester, there had been no objection to them. He thought the House had a higher function than to register the decrees of a body like the London County Council. The property owners ought to have been carefully and liberally considered, but they had been no party, as he understood, to this compromise, which was simply an arrangement come to by different political parties on the London County Council. He submitted that neither a Committee upstairs, nor the House, was justified in ratifying such a compromise. The hon. Member for Hackney, before the House 353 of Lords, said he thought the owner ought to be able to set the Worsement against the Betterment in respect of property outside the lines of deviation, because he had had no voice in the drawing of the lines of deviation. He regretted that unfortunately he had paired on that occasion, and so could not vote against the Amendment.
§ *MR. PERCY THORNTON (Clapham)
said, he had not had sufficient opportunity of examining the details of the compromise. Indeed, any Member for a Metropolitan constituency who was not on the County Council had to make up his mind upon most complicated details in a few minutes, as the nature of this compromise had not been indicated until the hon. Member for Shoreditch spoke. No man was more desirous than he was to see a fair improvement rate where a man had been bettered, but he felt it his duty to give his vote on behalf of the Committee on that occasion.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 143; Noes, 186.—(Division List No. 108.)
§ On the Motion of Mr. STUART, the following paragraphs were inserted in the clause after the last Amendment:—