HC Deb 18 April 1898 vol 56 cc292-9

In connection with the consideration of this Bill in Committee, the adjourned Debate on the question— That it be an Instruction to the Committee to take into consideration whether the offices and buildings of the Stock Exchange shall be exempted from the operations of Parts VI. and VII. of the principal Act"— was resumed.

MR. E. H. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

When I originally intervened with regard to this Instruction—

MR. B. L. COHEN (Islington, E.)

I rise to order. Has not the hon. Member already spoken upon this Instruction?


Upon the point of order I should like to say that what I did was to move the adjournment of the Debate, and I did that for the general convenience of the House, because I thought that it was undesirable that a question of this kind should be brought forward on a day which had been fixed for the discussion of another very important matter; and even if I was technically out of order I would put it to you, Sir, whether the House would not grant me its indulgence in consideration of the fact that I moved the adjournment solely in order to consult the convenience of the House.


When the adjournment of the Debate is moved by an hon. Member in accordance with an understanding, that does not exhaust his right to speak again; but I am not quite sure whether this case should be considered as coming strictly within that rule. The adjournment, however, was ultimately assented to, and under the circumstances I think I ought to rule that the hon. Member is in order in speaking.


When I originally intervened in this Debate I was assured by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the London County Council did not object to this Instruction, as if, indeed, that fact must necessarily be a conclusive argument against me as a Member of this House! I must congratulate hon. Gentlemen in that quarter of the House upon their newly - developed respect for the opinion of the London County Council; but I, myself, should very strongly dissent from the proposal that, because the London County Council thinks this or that therefore a Member of this House has to abdicate his right of private judgment. But, Sir, I think that the statement that the London County Council does not object to this Instruction is inaccurate—or, I should say, is, at least, misleading. So far as I am able to ascertain, the London County Council has not had this matter before it, and could not have it before it; and I do not think that even a Parliamentary Committee has given its assent to this Instruction—although the Stock Exchange has considerable influence upon the Parliamentary Committee of the London County Council. I believe, in fact, that this Instruction is the result of a deal between the Parliamentary agent on the one side, and the Parliamentary agent on the other; and, so far as my experience goes, I think that deals of this kind ought to be regarded with great suspicion. I have, I think, a special claim to intervene with regard to this Instruction, because, while I was a member of the London County Council in the autumn of 1893 and the spring of 1894, I took an active part in threshing out this Bill; and, along with some of my colleagues, I spent a great many days in working out the details of the principal measure which is here concerned, and I therefore can claim to have had an opportunity of acquiring a knowledge of the principles of the Act which few other Members could possibly have. Now, with regard to the Instruction, this is really a very short and small Bill. It deals, I may say, practically only with technical matters. It is simply a Bill to correct two or three drafting errors which were almost inevitable in a Bill of such a character. There are many of us, both inside and outside the London County Council, who think that the time has come for carrying much further the reform of the building laws of London. This Bill is a compromise, and those larger questions have been advisedly left out of it; and now the hon. Gentleman comes forward and desires to raise a highly controversial question. I think I may say that this Instruction is, in effect, a breach of the understanding with which this Bill was introduced; and if this Bill is carried, then I, for one, shall not consider myself precluded from raising these larger questions on another occasion. The members of the Stock Exchange desire to have their offices and buildings exempted from the provisions of Parts VI. and VII. of the principal Act. But I think it will be sufficient for all practical purposes if I confine my observations to Part VI. Part VII. is entitled "Construction of Buildings." It comprises a number of regulations of a character which the House will easily understand from the heading; but the main object of those regulations is to provide precautions against fire, and those regulations are in the interests of the neighbours of the buildings which are particularly concerned. Now the Stock Exchange desires to be exempted from these regulations. For my own part, I must say that I think that all exemptions from the General Building Laws of London ought to be most jealously regarded and most strictly scrutinised. To make such exemptions is very unfair to the general public. The general public are subject to the disadvantage and to the pecuniary loss which is involved in a compliance with these regulations, which are, by some, thought to be stringent; but every member of the general public who bears that burden has some compensation in the fact that his own premises are less liable to fire if his neighbours generally comply with those regulations. On the other hand, if a man's neighbours are to be exempt from these regulations, of which he bears part of the burden, then he has no compensating advantages, because of that neighbour's exemption from regulations framed for the general good of the public. I feel that to be very unfair, and the House ought to be very careful in intervening in this matter. Now, it may be urged as a plea on behalf of the Instruction that it is not a peremptory Instruction, but only an enabling Instruction; but I say that it is peremptory so far as it does absolutely require the Committee to consider the claims of the Stock Exchange to the exemption which it seeks. What I want to ask the House is this: why should this Committee be peremptorily instructed to consider the claims of the Stock Exchange more than the claims of the hundred other great Corporations which carry on work in the City of London? Either the Stock Exchange has a locus standi before the Committee to which this Bill will be referred or it has not. If it has a locus, then the intervention of this House is not required. If it has no locus at present, I presume it may plead for the Standing Orders to be dispensed with; but if the Stock Exchange has no locus, and if the proper Committee for dealing with that subject has refused, or will refuse, to give it a locus, then I very strongly object to the intervention of the House on behalf of the Stock Exchange. There is a suspicion abroad that the Stock Exchange and the interests which it represents have acquired far too great an influence in this House, and I personally do not think that the Stock Exchange is precisely that institution on behalf of which such a concession as that sought for by this Instruction ought to be made. There is one point, however, which I think may be made on behalf of a part of this Instruction, and in regard to which I am willing—without prejudice to my rights to oppose the Instruction altogether if the olive branch I am now holding out is not accopted—to make a proposal to the hon. Member who is in charge of the Instruction. He has told us that these buildings of the Stock Exchange are empty, and that they contain nothing inflammable, and that if they come under the operation of Parts 6 and 7 of the Act certain extensions, which are urgently required, cannot be carried out. That contention on the face of it makes out a somewhat strong case. But, then, I remember very well, carrying my mind back to the preparation of this Bill, that we made an express provision for the purpose of meeting such hard cases as that to which the hon. Member refers. Section 82 of the principal Act enables the London County Council to sanction a departure from the requirements of Part 6 in such cases. There, Sir, you have actually a provision made by the London County Council to meet hard cases. That being so, I come to the point I referred to a few sentences ago. I certainly think that something may be said for a limited part of the Instruction, because one section of the principal Act, and one section alone, may press hardly on the Stock Exchange. I refer to Section 75, which provides for buildings of the warehouse class; and, as I understand, if the Stock Exchange is not a public building, it will come under the head of buildings of the warehouse class, and cannot exceed 250,000 cubic feet without having party walls. That, I believe, is what the hon. Member for Peckham complains of, because, if the Stock Exchange comes under the category of the warehouse class, then, in their proposed extensions, they would not be able to get the space which they require without erecting party walls. Now, Sir, Section 76 provides that the County Council may grant exemption from the provisions of Section 75 in the case of buildings used for trade and manufacture. But I presume that the buildings of the Stock Exchange are not used for the purposes of trade or manufacture, and therefore the Stock Exchange could not ask the County Council to exercise its discretion under that Section, and as that Section is particular, and the other Section to which I have referred—Section 82—is general, then, in accordance with the well-organised rule of construction, Section 76, the particular Section, would probably override Section 82, the general Section, and therefore, in that respect, I repeat that the London County Council could not exercise its discretion. In order to show that I am not at all disposed to be unreasonable with regard to the Stock Exchange, what I propose is to leave out from the Instruction the words "Parts VI. and VII.," and to substitute the words "Section 75." If the hon. Gentleman will accept that Amendment in the spirit in which it is offered I shall not press any further opposition to this Bill, but if he will not accept this compromise, which I think is a most reasonable one, and gives him all that he is entitled to ask, then I shall persevere in my opposition. I will put the case in a nutshell. The Stock Exchange is asking to be exempted from 35 Sections of the principal Act. They have no case with regard to 34 of those Sections, but they may have a case with regard to the 35th—that is, Section 75—and I am willing, so far as that Section is concerned, to move in the direction I have indicated. I beg, Sir, to move as an Amendment to this Instruction— To omit the words 'Parts VI. and VII.' in order to insert the words 'Section 75.'


I am sorry that my hon. Friend opposite has raised this opposition to this Instruction, and I am surprised at the observations which have fallen from him. The hon. Member began by appealing to the House for its indulgence on what he describes as a technical objection. You, Sir, decided that he was quite within his rights in speaking again, but after the hon. Gentleman has sought protection and indulgence on a "technical objection," I am rather surprised that he should immediately himself raise a technical argument in replying to the speech of my hon. Friend on my left. It is true—and I will make the hon. Gentleman a present of this admission—that the London County Council has never assented to this Instruction, and to that extent he is right in his technical objection; but it is not true that the Parliamentary Committee has not assented to it, because a Parliamentary Committee specially left these points to the discretion of two or three of its Members, who have met on this subject, and who have not the least objection to this Instruction. Probably we should have objected to this Instruction—personally, I should have done so—if it had been what the hon. Member, in his concluding sentences, attributed to it. The Stock Exchange do not claim to be exempted by this Instruction. All they claim is that the Com- mittee shall be instructed to consider whether they are entitled to this exemption. I myself do not pronounce any opinion as to whether they are entitled or not. I do not possess the knowledge of these technical subjects which the hon. Member opposite either possesses or thinks he possesses; but I do say that if the Stock Exchange, or, so far as I am concerned, any private individual or public body, thought that their legitimate rights were being interfered with by legislation of the London County Council, I hope that the London County Council will never object to that body or individual, as the case may be, being heard in support of the protection of their rights in Committee upstairs. Now, I want to come to the merits of this question. We of the London County Council do not, by assenting to this Instruction, in the least pronounce that the Stock Exchange is entitled to exemption. All we do is to assent to the Stock Exchange being allowed to present its case before the Committee upstairs. I do not personally see why the Stock Exchange should claim exemption from Parts VI. and VII. of the principal Act. In my opinion Part VII. cannot touch it. But there, again, that is a question on which I do not allow myself to dogmatise, but I do say that if the Stock Exchange thinks it is entitled to exemption by all means let it be heard. All I ask is that it shall be allowed to be heard upon this point before the Committee. The hon. Gentleman opposite is mistaken in thinking that there is any force in his argument as to whether there is or is not locus standi. They have a locus standi, and they do not bring in this instruction for the purpose of considering their rights as affected by this Bill. All they ask is that the Committee should consider whether the offices and buildings of the Stock Exchange shall be exempted from the operations of Parts VI. and VII. of the principal Act—a point which, without instruction from this House, a Committee upstairs could not in any way consider. I hope, therefore, that so modest and so reasonable a request as that will be agreed to, if not unanimously, at all