§ Order for Third Reading read. [King's Consent signified.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ 11.1 p.m.
§ Mr. CROOM-JOHNSON
I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
I desire to raise a matter of some importance with regard to the Clauses inserted in Private Bills. An explanation is due to the House of why this matter is being raised at this stage on this Bill. It is because of a misapprehension on the part of myself and some of my hon. Friends as to the method by which we should proceed when the Bill came down for consideration after it had been before the Standing Committee on Unopposed Bills upstairs. There are two Clauses in the Bill, Nos. 50 and 68, which are, in themselves, good Clauses. One of them deals or is intended to deal with a case in which a forecourt of a building is left in a dangerous position and there is a question as to how that matter can be put right with due regard to the protection of the public. Clauses are frequently inserted in Private Bills to provide that a local authority may take steps to ensure that forecourts are fenced in order to make certain that the safety of the population is protected. Unfortunately, the Clause as drafted in this Bill goes further than that and proposes to provide 337 that as regards any forecourt where goods are offered for sale, and forecourts in which goods are exhibited, there is to be power in the local authority to provide for the fencing of the part of the forecourt in which the goods are displayed, wholly irrespective—and this is the mischief which has crept into an otherwise admirable Clause—of whether the exhibition of the goods for sale in the forecourt happens to be a danger to the people in the neighbourhood or not.
I should not be doing what I think is my duty to the House if I did not state that according to the report of the Committee on Unopposed Bills, a Clause of this kind in recent times and according to recent precedents is usually accepted and passed. Some of us who have been examining these more or less common form Clauses have come to the conclusion that, without intending to go beyond the necessities of the case, the drafting of these Clauses is such as to need further examination if the protection of owners of premises, as well as of the public at large is born in mind. It would not be in order to suggest a perfectly simple method by which this Clause might be amended, but perhaps I may be permitted to say that there were upon the Order Paper certain Amendments which we suggested and which we have taken the trouble to communicate to the promoters of the Bill.
Perhaps I may now say a word or two with regard to Clause 68. Here again is a Clause which is perfectly sound in what it seeks to do. It is aimed at the preservation of amenities in a neighbourhood—which is something with which, I suppose, in view of recent developments in the countryside and in our towns, the whole House would agree—by making provision with regard to erections in forecourts which are really and truly a blot upon the landscape. Here again, without, I am sure, it having been thought out and intended by the promoters, the Clause goes too far and is drafted in such wide terms that the exhibition by a newsagent of the placards of an evening newspaper would, I submit, be an offence, if the Clause were passed in its present form. In addition to that, if the owner of the premises put up a notice to say that there was going to be a public meeting of some political party in which he happened to be interested, or if he merely put up a notice regarding 338 his own trade, indicating, for example, that there was to be in the neighbourhood some particular form of activity, he might be committing an offence under this Clause.
Here, again, I ought to make it plain that the Clause has been put in its present form into quite a number of Private Bills in the course of the last few years. I want the House clearly to understand that. It is a matter which has only recently been brought to my attention, but I am told that although the Clause has been passed in this form, nevertheless it has never been enforced by any of the local authorities which have obtained it. I think it is not a sound thing that this House should pass legislation which is never enforced in any locality. One of the difficulties which arises in this matter is due to the fact that there is, apparently, no systematised attempt to introduce into the House from time to time an amending Bill dealing with public health generally. The result is that time and again, when local authorities come to this House for additional powers, they take these extra powers in the form of Clauses which have gone into other local Acts of Parliament, when perhaps, if they were proposed in the form of an amending Bill to the Public Health Acts, we should get an opportunity of having the matter considered by a Standing Committee upstairs, when the drafting of these things would be open to rather severer criticism than they get at present. The Committee on Unopposed Bills at present pays attention to the form of these matters, but there are some of us in the House who think that we might, perhaps, contribute from time to time something useful with regard to the actual drafting.
I might add one other thing in conclusion. I regret that this question should have arisen with regard to a Bill where there were other questions that arose and where the promoters met us in the frankest possible way in order that we might look to get a perfectly workmanlike piece of drafting. One has no views at all about any particular local authority. These Clauses, or one of them, may conceivably be discussed on another Bill with regard to which there is already a Motion on the Order Paper, but, having regard to the fact that these two Clauses do seem to impinge very seriously on the liberty of the subject, and to go beyond 339 what I believe is really the intention of the local authority which has introduced them, the only method by which the matter can be raised at all is by raising the motion that we raise this evening, which formally, at all events for the present, is the rejection of the Motion for the Third Reading.
§ 11.13 p.m.
§ Mr. LYONS
I beg to second the Amendment.
In a sentence or two I would like to add one or two observations. Section 50, which is the first to which my hon. and learned Friend made reference, goes a great deal wider, in my judgment, than is necessary for the protection of the amenities about which this Bill is introduced, because it provides that:In any case in which the forecourt of any premises adjoining a street is a source of danger, obstruction or inconvenience to the public, or in which any steps or projection are or is placed in such forecourt or any goods are placed therein whether for sale or not, the Council may require the owner of the premises well and sufficiently to fence such forecourt from the street.In our judgment, and I think the House will agree, that means that if any tradesman in the borough of Rhyl desired to expose for sale any article of merchandise, he could be called upon at once, in a somewhat arbitrary manner by the local authority, to fence his forecourt from the street."
Clause 68, the other Clause of which my hon. and learned Friend made mention, would make it an offence to have exhibited any one of the signs that we have just seen in the forecourt of Westminster Hospital. It seems impossible under this Clause to have any placard or bill, or inducement of any sort or kind, however innocuous it may be, in the premises of the ratepayers of Rhyl in future, a departure in the functions of local authorities clearly wider than ever has been the case before, and making a great inroad on the proper enjoyment of the rights and liberties of the ratepayers in Rhyl. While realising the way in which the promoters of the Bill met those of us who had objections to other Clauses, we do feel that these two are really objectionable. They go to a far greater extent than either the promoters in fact intended, or than is necessary for the protection of the proper amenities of the borough.
§ 11.14 p.m.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS (Captain Bourne)
As Chairman of the Unopposed Bills Committee before whom this Bill came, I think I ought to offer one or two observations. In the first place I would like to point out to the House that this Bill contains many other provisions, some of which are of very great importance to the urban district of Rhyl, and, speaking as one on whom this House has placed a very considerable responsibility for the conduct of private business, I think it is my duty to advise the House that whether they like or dislike the particular Clauses to which the hon. and learned Members call attention, it would not be fair on the promoters of the Bill to reject it because of these Clauses. As the hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Croom-Johnson) has said, these two Clauses have been common form in many Bills that have been introduced into this House since 1925. The object of Clause 50 is to prevent forecourts being unprotected, and a danger to the public. I am not prepared to say that the wording of that Clause is perfect. The object of Clause 68 is to prevent the erection in a forecourt of something which might be objectionable to the amenities of the place. I would like to remind the House that in the case of Rhyl, which is a small town on the Welsh coast and which depends very largely for its prosperity on tourist traffic during the holiday season, it is a matter of some importance that the amenities of the town should be preserved, and that offensive things should not be permitted to be placed in the forecourts of occupied houses. It may be that the position is hard in the case of certain individuals, but in those cases we must look to the benefit of the district as a whole. If the district loses its tourist traffic, every individual suffers, and the individual must be prepared to make sacrifices for the common good.
The hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater and the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) said that this Clause might be used to prevent legitimate trading. I must admit that if I were sitting on a bench of magistrates and had to consider what was legitimate under Clause 55 or this Clause, I should find it difficult to reconcile the two. The object of Clause 68, and 341 the evidence given by the promoters went to show that it was meant to deal with certain forms of exhibitions, such as photographers' stands, or, what is more often the case, stalls put up in fore courts where a crowd might gather in a narrow street and interfere with the general convenience, or where often the contents of the stalls might be offensive, or be in close proximity to the sea front and be likely to injure the general prosperity of the district. The last Public Health Act to which the hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater referred was passed in 1925. There has been no real consolidation of the law as exemplified by Clauses put in various private Acts since that date, and the drafting of a lot of these Clauses is not in itself satisfactory. The Unopposed Bills Committee has at my instigation amended a great many of them. We have not been at all satisfied with the wording in many cases, and we feel that if no Public Health Bill is forthcoming in the immediate future—and I believe that is the case—it is time that these Clauses should be overhauled, that they should be considered, that the drafting should be considered, and the relation of the Clauses the one to the other should be considered; and that for local legislation Clauses in Private Bills there should be something resembling a model Bill such as exists in the case of gas, water and other provisions in ordinary private Bill legislation. Unfortunately, the Lord Chairman has been unable, for domestic reasons, to attend another place for some little time, and it has not, been possible for the Chairman of Ways and Means and myself to consult him in this matter. But I am prepared now, on behalf of the Chairman of Ways and Means and myself, to give an undertaking that we will consult the Lord Chairman at the earliest possible moment, to see if we cannot set up a small technical committee to consider the drafting of these Clauses, the relation of these Clauses one to another, and to make a report which will produce a model Bill of local legislation Clauses to be incorporated in the Private Bills promoted by local authorities in future.
I think I ought to warn the House that it may not be possible to set the committee to work before the autumn, 342 for the reason that those on whose advice we most largely rely, that is to say, Government Departments who are interested in Private Bill legislation, those who promote Private Bills, and above all, the counsel of the Lord Chairman and the counsel of yourself, and the Members of this House who take a great interest in. Private Bill work, are at this moment up to their eves in private Bills, and I do not think it would be practicable to undertake what will be rather a heavy job until the present pressure of Private Bill legislation is over, and that is bound to take a little time. We have rather a large number of these Bills this Session. But I am prepared to promise my hon. Friends that we will consult with the Lord Chairman and see whether something on those lines cannot be done at the earliest possible moment. I fully agree, after having had some four years' experience as Chairman of the Unopposed Bills Committee, that the drafting of a lot of these Clauses does require attention, and I think it would be for the general benefit of our Private Bill legislation if what I have suggested could be done. After these observations I hope that my hon. Friends will not feel bound to proceed with their opposition.
§ 11.23 p.m.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
On behalf of my hon. and learned Friends who have moved and seconded the Amendment, I want to say how exceedingly grateful we are to the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means for the constructive and statesmanlike speech he has made to-night. During the last two or three years a number of us have been examining with such care as other occupations permit the Private Bill legislation, because we felt that the general law of the land should not be altered for the reason that a Clause in a particular Bill casually become law and then later is copied in subsequent Bills, and ultimately what is intended for one corporation becames the general law of the land, without this House really effectively considering the change that was being made. In that way the liberties of the subject may be whittled away, and on a number of occasions some of us who have been associated together, and perhaps have rather identified ourselves together, have been definitely pursuing a, campaign for safeguarding the liberty of the subject as we 343 see it, a not unworthy purpose at this time, when the liberty of the subject is not much cherished in other lands. There may be differences of opinion from time to time as to whether a particular thing conflicts or not with the liberty of the subject, but the underlying principle is certainly one worthy of consideration.
It seems to me that the proposal of the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means offers a solution, in part at least, of the situation with which we are faced as regards this rather muddled mass of local legislation, which can even be passed without the knowledge of the town councils concerned. I recall a Bill which was promoted by a corporation, and which contained two Clauses that I did not like. I drew the attention of the town clerk to them, local people got excited, and eventually they were dropped. Not one member of the town council to whom I spoke was conscious of the fact that the Clauses were in the Bill, they all argued that they were nonsense and were glad to have them dropped.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Certainly, and not for the first time. The suggestion made 344 by the Deputy-Chairman is one of the greatest value, and in the circumstances it would be only fitting that we should not proceed with our opposition to the Bill, and we shall have to consider with great care whether or not we should persist in pressing our Amendment to another Bill. I understand that it is the intention of my hon. and learned Friend to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. CROOM-JOHNSON
In view of the statement which has been made by the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.