HC Deb 17 March 1896 vol 38 cc1134-46

*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY, Lancashire, Blackpool) rose to move— That the Committee of Selection do appoint a Committee, not exceeding nine Members, to whom shall be committed all Private Bills 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 Three be the Quorum of the Committee. That it be an Instruction to the Committee in their Report, under Standing Orders 150 and 173A, to state their reasons for granting any powers in conflict with, deviation from, or excess of the general law. That it be an Instruction to the Committee not to insert in any Bill referred to them any provision which is already in force in the district to which the Bill applies under any public Act, or which might be put in force by adopting the provisions of any adoptive Act. That in the case of Bills reported from the Committee, Three clear days shall intervene between the date when the Report of the Committee is circulated with the Votes and the consideration of the Bill. He said the only difference between the present Motion and the one which was moved last year and the year before was that there was an Instruction to the Committee to which he understood the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir C. Dilke) strongly objected. The Instruction followed distinctly the lines of that of 1893, which was the instruction originated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Sir H. Fowler). In consequence of the many different questions that came before the Committee, and of the conflict between the desire of municipal and other local bodies to introduce improvements in the law and the general law it was then found desirable to give an Instruction to the Committee that they should report specially to the House their reasons for granting any powers in conflict with, deviation from, or excess of the general law. It was not found necessary to renew that Instruction last Session, because they had a comparatively old House of Commons constituting the Committee, and a Chairman of acknowledged experience presiding over its deliberations. At the present moment they had a House of Commons with a vastly altered personnel, a Committee which was not yet constituted, and a Chairman of whose personnel they knew nothing. Therefore, it seemed to him to be his duty to provide that the intention of the House, as exemplified in the last two or three years, should be carried out by proposing the Instruction of 1893, which, though not expressly renewed in the last two or three years, had been in substance carried out by the Committee. The objections which were entertained by the right hon. Baronet to these instructions were, that they ought not to fetter the Committee, who ought to have a free hand, and that municipal corporations and local bodies which came for local Acts, ought not to be fettered in this way by any action of the House of Commons. It was very far from the intention of these instructions to do anything of the kind. They had always proceeded upon the lines with reference to these Bills, that no local power ought to be given in the excess of the general law, unless strong local reasons existed in favour of such powers being given, and that there ought to be no statutory enactments permitted for any purpose that could be effected by bye-laws. He saw it was stated in a circular which had been issued by the Secretary to the Association of Corporations that by these instructions, legislation of a tentative character which had proved so beneficial in the case of private Bills was precluded. That was not the case, and there would be the same opportunity for local authorities to obtain similar legislation passed with the sanction of the House of Commons, on proper notice of the Committee, as there was formerly. He would go further and say, that surely it was much better that matters which had such a close bearing upon the life of their municipal and other corporations, should not be dealt with in local Acts which could not be amended without a great deal of trouble, but that, if Parliament took cognisance of such matters, they should be attended to in a simpler and readier manner in general Acts. He therefore proposed these instructions to the Committee, not as starting a new policy, for it was the old policy which had been acted upon for many years, but because it was a sound policy, with which he believed there would be general agreement, that the House of Commons ought to be cautious how it permitted alterations to be made in the general law by private Bills without itself having cognisance of the alterations of those general principles. The Motion to pass these instructions at the commencement of a new Parliament, when the Committee must necessarily be a new one, and the Chairman possibly an inexperienced one, and when they were simply designed to carry out the same principles which had been adopted for years past, ought to commend itself to the House. He was surprised that there should be any opposition on the part of the municipal corporations, because there was no intention of interfering with that power of proposing Amendments of their local self-government in which they were all interested. All the House of Commons desired to secure was that the Committee should have definite instructions that when the general law was altered by proposals made in private Bills, the House should have notice of, and power to deal with such alterations. He begged to move the Motion.


intimated that he would first put the first three paragraphs from the Chair, so that the general discussion could take place upon them.

Motion made:— That the Committee of Selection do appoint a Committee, not exceeding Nine Members, to whom shall be committed all Private Bills 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 Three be the quorum of the Committee."—(Sir Matthew White Ridley.)

* SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

observed that, although it was not proposed to offer objection to the first three paragraphs, it might perhaps be the most convenient course that the general discussion should take place upon them. None of them desired that municipal corporations should be left without control, and, on the other hand, there was no Member of the House who desired to so absolutely reduce municipal legislation to uniformity as to prevent clauses of any special nature being introduced into private Acts. There was really no difference of opinion upon the general principles of the question, but they had to look at the working of the present system, and, even without these instructions, there had, during the last few years, been a very large amount of interference by the Committee with the Bills of municipal corporations. He ventured last year to state to the House the cases of two such corporations—those of Gloucester and Cardiff—and he was able to quote other cases which had arisen during the course of the last year even without these somewhat harsh instructions to the Committee. There had been a correspondence in the course of last year between the Corporation of Cheltenham and the Local Government Board which struck at the root of many of the proceedings of the Committee. The Corporation of Cheltenham had pointed out that it was now twenty years since the original Public Health Act of 1875 was passed, and they stated that experience and the advance of sanitary science and the judicial interpretation of the Act and many of its provisions had shown the necessity of a further amendment of the law, but that time had not been found to make such amendments in the House of Commons except to a limited extent. Even without the special words of these instructions which were not found necessary last year or the year before—and which were recommended by the Home Secretary upon the some what curious ground of this being a new Parliament, and that the Committee would be inexperienced, and therefore, stand in special need of guidance by the House—there had been some remarkable cases of interference with corporations during last year. He would specify the cases of Southend-on-Sea, of Brighouse in Yorkshire, and of South Shields. The case of Southend was one of a class. Southend was a watering-place, and watering-place boroughs were boroughs which stood in special need of peculiar legislation. They had to cater for a class of visitors from outside as well as for their own resident population, and by the general admission of the House were in need of special legislation on subjects of this description. In the case of Southend there were clauses struck out by the Committee to a very large extent, and he would specify two sets of clauses so struck out. Even without the words of these instructions the Committee last year struck out of the Southend Bill certain clauses which were directed against the proceedings of jerry-builders and against circus processions, which seemed altogether to be clauses well within the control of the corporation. Surely it was for the inhabitants of Southend, through their corporation, to decide what they wished for themselves, as to circus processions in a watering-place. In the case of Brighouse, there were certain clauses with regard to the erection of temporary places, forbidding such to be erected without a licence, which were disallowed by the Committee, as were clauses relating to the making of manure pits near dwellings. In the case of South Shields, the Committee struck out a certain clause, which the Local Government Board desired should be struck out, without any reason being given except that it had been struck out in the case of the Bournemouth Bill by a previous Committee.


It was struck out on the Report of the Local Government Board.


remarked that other clauses were withdrawn from the Bill under pressure, because they had been previously withdrawn from the Bill of the Wigan Corporation. They were clauses relating to coal shoots and cellar gratings, which were to need the written consent of the corporation. The Cheltenham Corporation had directly appealed to the House by circulars issued among hon. Members. They said that the desire of the Local Government Board was to drive Corporations to proceed only by means of Provisional Order Bills, and prevent them from proceeding by private Bills of their own. The objection to Provisional Order Bills was that they were Government Bills supported by the Government. But if there was any objection to such Bills the Government did not press them upon their supporters as they did ordinary Bills promoted by them. A great landowner objected to a Provisional Order Scheme for Coventry, and the right hon. Member for East Wolver-hampton had to abandon it in consequence. When Cheltenham tried to obtain what it wanted by means of a Provisional Order Bill, the Local Government Board immediately began to raise difficulties. The Corporation very rightly said the question was whether the provisions sought were just and reasonable, and such as ought to be given without unduly interfering with personal liberty. There was a strong feeling on the part of many Members of the House against allowing Municipal Corporations in all cases to have their own way. He admitted that there should be some general control over them to see that they did not go beyond the general law, and that the appoitnment of the Committee suggested was necessary. He did not dispute that as a general principle. What he disputed was the extent to which it was thought necessary to go to prevent Municipal Corporations, on special occasions, from departing from the general principles of the law. As the Association of Municipal Corporations had pointed out, all our sanitary legislation had been built up by very gradual improvement, and the Local Government Board were often placed in a self-contradictory position. They objected to a particular clause because it went beyond the law, and they admitted another because there was a precedent for it in a private Act. When a clause first came without precedent they reported against it on the ground that there was no precedent. If, in spite of their reports, on a day when the Committee was in an indulgent humour, a clause managed to slip through, it became a precedent for the future. But until the precedent was created it was objected to on the ground that there was no precedent for the particular application made to Parliament. The Local Government Board was a department of which he wished to speak with the highest possible respect. No one could have more respect than himself for the permanent heads of the Department, but their minds in dealing with these Bills had got into a groove, and there was tendency to circumscribe the efforts of Municipal Corporations and drive them to legislate by Provisional Order, which, in the case of Cheltenham, was not applicable. There was a case in 1895 which showed the tendency to undue restriction on legislation by Municipal Corporations on the part of the Local Government Board. A Bill promoted by a County Council was reported against by the Local Government Board on the ground that there was no precedent. The Board of Trade, however, reported in favour of the Bill. The Committee took the view of the Board of Trade and passed the Bill. All admitted that some measure of control over local authorities was necessary, but the experience of the last few years showed that, apart from the Instructions in question, there had been undue interference with local authorities in their applications to Parliament by the Local Government Board.

* SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)

, in seconding the Amendment, said he supported the objection of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean to the Instruction before the House. His right hon. Friend's lengthened experience of Local Government, and his known familiarity with the proceedings of the Local Government Board, gave to his words an authority which should have weight with the House. The Home Secretary had disclaimed any desire to restrict the action of local authorities, but he himself was bound to say, having fully informed himself, and considered the matter on more than one occasion, that municipalities objected in the strongest way to what they believed to be the too great tendency of the Local Government Board to centralise administration instead of extending local action and opportunities for legislation by local authorities which were so much valued. He would point out to the Home Secretary that, after all, these Instructions were to a great extent unnecessary, and he hoped, after the arguments he had heard, he would not persist in pressing Nos. 4 and 5. With regard to No. 4, if the Home Secretary referred to Standing Order No. 173a, he would find the Committee was required by it to specially report and specify the clauses which departed from the general law. Again, he thought the 5th Clause superfluous, because it provided that no clause should be inserted where there were provisions then in force. No Committee would think of inserting such a clause knowing that provisions existed, and if the existence of these provisions was not known no mere Instruction would prevent that effect. The same with the adoptive Acts. If they could be applied, and the Committee overlooked the fact of their existence, an Instruction, would not prevent their doing so. As to the ability and impartiality of the Committee there could be no question, but he thought the Committee needed some of the municipal experience essential in dealing with these matters. In the case of the last Committee there were only two Members who really represented municipal boroughs, and a large majority whose experience was of a wholly different and, in fact, contrary kind. The "reasons" even now given by the Committee indicated this. They were generally no reasons at all. Take the reason given in respect of Clause 87 of the Brighouse Bill. It was said that it was allowed on evidence; but that was no reason at all. It stated simply the fact that evidence was given, but it did not even summarise it. As to Clause 101, it was said that the Committee after hearing evidence allowed the Clause, and the same as to Clause 104. He could multiply instances showing that the effect of these Instructions was rather to mislead the House than to aid it and give it useful guidance. The strong ground on which the municipalities took exception to the appointment of the Committee and to these Instructions was that they knew that good local laws had been developed by tentative experience and even experiments. The instances were numerous in which it had been and was desired by municipalities to have the opportunity of making such experiments, which would, in any event, be either examples or warnings, and the restriction of their liberty in this respect would limit their usefulness to the whole community.

* SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton)

said, he wished to call attention to the reasons that existed for supporting the Motion of the Home Secretary. This was a new Parliament, and it was the first time in this Parliament that the appointment of the Committee had been moved. Some fourteen or fifteen years ago, when the Leader of the Opposition was Home Secretary, a legal Member called the attention of the House and of the Government to the extraordinary powers attempted to be obtained, practically without the knowledge of Parliament, by means of private Bills submitted to Committees upstairs. The House on both sides felt that the evil was so great that some step must be taken to arrest it; and the right hon. Gentleman (Sir W. Harcourt) agreed to a Committee to examine and report on these Bills. The proposal met with general approval on both sides of the House, and notably from Lord Basing, then Mr. Sclater Booth, who had been President of the Local Government Board. The object in the appointment of the Committee was threefold. First to prevent, without the full knowledge of the House, alteration in the general law of the land by means of private Bills. This Session had already furnished one indication of what the opinion of the House was on that question. Let it be borne in mind that these alterations were generally of a punitive character—they involved the sending of men to prison—and he held that offences of this description should be created only by Parliament, openly and aboveboard, and ought not to be created by a small Committee sitting without the assent of the House. The second object was to prevent a corporation putting into a private Bill regulations which ought to be embodied in bye-laws. The third object was to endeavour to extend the system of Provisional Orders as being less expensive than private Bills, upon which the local expenditure had been enormous, so that the substitution of Provisional Orders was a great boon to ratepayers. Those who were Members of the 1886 Parliament would remember the serious public danger which arose from Eastbourne having obtained, in a local Act, powers under which an attempt was made to suppress the Salvation Army. The clause was passed in the Committee by a majority of one, and no special report was made to the House. The attempt to enforce it produced disturbances, and after a long controversy, the objectionable clause was repealed. There was nothing to prevent special clauses being passed in a municipal Bill so long as the attention of the House was called to them. He had no desire whatever to interfere with the legitimate development of Municipal Government. All he wished to secure was that before an alteration in the general law of the land was effected by a private Bill the attention of the House should be called to it and the sanction of the House obtained.


said, that during the six years he had had the honour of sitting on the Grand Committee several applications had been made to the House to alter its decision, and only in one case—a case in which the Committee, although bound by the Instruction, desired to act differently from it—was that alteration made. That was a good proof that the actions of this Committee were always guided by the sentiments of the House. He thought a Committee was bound to have reasons, arid having reasons it ought to be able to give them. While serving on Committees he had always made it a point to pay special attention to the statement of reasons. He was never content with what the agents said; and endeavoured in every report to set forth reasons. He did not think the important branch of the law dealt with by the Committee ought to be left in the hands of a Committee upstairs without the supervision of the House of Commons. At the same time he had no desire to fetter the Committee. Everyone of the public Acts of the House were largely built up from private legislation—the Public Health Act being a case in point; and the attempts made by boroughs to amend their local Acts had led to Statutes of a general nature. He therefore felt they were bound to exercise the greatest sympathy towards corporations in their endeavour to amend the law under which they lived; and he thought that the Local Government Board had not in some instances done justice to the promoters of private Bills in reporting against their schemes.

MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)

The House would be wise in accepting the Instruction. If it was not accepted the dangers and inconvenience which had before occurred, as his right lion. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton had pointed out—notably in the Bourne mouth case—would be certain to occur again.

Question put and agreed to:— That the Committee of Selection do appoint a Committee, not exceeding Nine Members, to whom shall be committed all Private Bills 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 Three be the quorum of the Committee.

Question agreed to:— That it be an Instruction to the Committee in their Report, under Standing Orders 150 and 173A, to state their reasons for granting any powers in conflict with, deviation from, or excess of the general law. That it be an Instruction to the Committee not to insert in any Bill referred to them any provision which is already in force in the district to which the Bill applies under any public Act, or which might be put in force by adopting the provisions of any adoptive Act."—(Sir Matthew White Ridley)


asked, whether he would be in order in moving an Amendment to Paragraphs 4 and 5 now before the House, to which he objected?


There is no occasion to move an Amendment. I have put the first three paragraphs of the Question separately from the others, in order to avoid complication by the moving of Amendments. If the hon. Member objects to Paragraphs 4 and 5, he can vote against them.


said, there was a strong feeling entertained by corporations in regard to the way in which their Bills were ill-treated and, sometimes eviscerated by Committees of the House. He had in his mind a copy of a Bill from which the Committee had struck out all the really operative clauses, and left only the shell. The corporations did not require that they should be allowed an entirely free hand. They only suggested that they should have local Home Rule. [Ironical Nationalist cheers.] The corporations objected to interference with their Bills on purely local affairs, and he hoped the House would sustain them in that objection negativing these two clauses—the Instructions.


said that anyone listening to some of the speeches in the Debate, and unaware of the facts, would believe that, when corporations required special provisions for their localities, the Grand Committee would not listen to their demands. He asserted, as Chairman of the Grand Committee, that, whenever special legislation was asked for in a private Bill, the Grand Committee invariably granted that special legislation, when it was shown there were special circumstances demanding that there should be a departure from the general law. If the Instructions were not passed, Counsel appearing before Committees would be able to argue, day sifter day and week after week in support of their particular views; whereas, armed with this Instruction, the Committee would be able to tell them of the wishes of the House of Commons, and thus stop their speeches. Another effect of passing the Resolution would be that corporations would not ask Committees for permission to depart from the general law, unless there were special reasons for such departure. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had said that some of the Government public legislation had been built up on the proceedings of Committees on private Bills. The Grand Committee recognised that fact; and, at the end of their deliberations last year, they recommended that many of the clauses embodied in private Bills—which were not in themselves objectionable, but being departures from the general law—had to be rejected, should be introduced in a general Bill and passed by the House. If that recommendation were adopted, the main objections of the right hon. Baronet would disappear, and the House would have a sufficient control over legislation upstairs. He hoped that in the interests of good legislation the Instructions would be passed as they stood.

MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)

said that there was a tendency on the part of the Local Government Board to draw its power over the local authorities too closely, and to that system the House should object. The question was really one between the Local Government Board and the local authorities, and not between the House and the local authorities. The Chairman of Committees was always a Gentleman who, in a previous Parliament, had served in the Local Government Board, and thus was greatly influenced by that Department; and he, in turn, practically controlled the Committee, The principle laid down by the hon. Member for Stockport was just.

MR. T. R. LEUTY (Leeds, E.)

said that only lately the Leeds Corporation promoted a Consolidation Bill in which they re-enacted powers already conferred on them. But those powers, as far as they deviated from the public law, were taken out of the Bill by the Committee. The consequence was that, after much expenditure of time, labour and money, the Corporation found themselves compelled to work, not under a Consolidation Act, but under one more Act in addition to all those which they had wished to consolidate. Seeing that the Corporation must hold a meeting of Burgesses before it could promote a Bill, its proposals wore entitled to careful consideration. He hoped the House would not continue to apply this hard and fast rule, and that the Instruction would not be carried.