HL Deb 29 July 1844 vol 76 cc1505-9
The Duke of Buccleuch

moved the second reading of this Bill. The principle of the Bill had been already assented to by the House in a former Session. It was rendered necessary by the imperfection of the Act of 1776, which was now in force, but which was quite inadequate to carry out its own enactments. In some cases its provisions were too harshly and oppressively enforced, and in others they were too much relaxed. The present Bill provided for the proper width of streets, alleys, and courts, for the secure building of houses, for the construction of drains for every house, for ventilation, the height of rooms, and the spaces between the rear of houses. It provided also against the occupation of apartments as dwellings in the metropolis unfit for human habitation. All surveyors under this Act would be required to pass an examination as to their qualifications. This was a very desirable provision, for, under the existing system, persons were appointed who, however respectable in other respects, were wholly ignorant of the business of a surveyor. It was proposed to appoint, with salaries, certain official referees, who should determine all disputes under the Act. There would also be a registrar, to whom the surveyors would be required to report their proceedings once a month. Under the present system it frequently occurred that the surveyor was also a builder, and it was obvious that persons having houses to build within his district had a strong inducement to employ him as their builder. This Bill required that when a surveyor was employed to build houses in his own district, the official referee should appoint another surveyor to survey such buildings. Again, the Act now in force was very unequal in the extent of its application. For instance, part of Chelsea was included, and the whole of Kensington was excluded from it. He thought that the present Bill would best be discussed in Committee, and all he would now say was, that it would introduce great uniformity into the law, and would be simple and intelligible, and in many respects less stringent than the present law. He trusted their Lordships would allow the Bill to be read a second time, and he should be most anxious to consider any objections which might be urged in Committee.

Lord Campbell

was sorry to be compelled to oppose the second reading of this Bill. He gave credit to the Government in preparing this Bill for their desire to do what was right in remedying the defects of the present law; but it appeared to him that they had in this respect failed. Then, again, it was impossible to consider so voluminous a Bill at that late period of the Session. The Bill, which contained no less than 118 Clauses, 12 schedules, describing twenty separate forms of notice, and 107 folios, had come up from the Commons only on the 22nd instant. It was as long as the Code Napoleon; and was it to be expected that their Lordships should sit down night and day to examine such a measure at this season, to the entire neglect of everything else. The noble Duke said—"let the Bill go into Committee." But how long would it take to consider these 118 Clauses in Committee? Unless the Committee were a mere farce, it would occupy their Lordships five or six weeks. Their Lordships would scarcely believe that this Bill, which was brought up from the Commons on the 22nd of July, and which they were asked now to go into, affected property within the Bills of Mortality to the extent of many millions. As far as he had had an opportunity of examining the Bill, he found it most imperfect, and in many respects objectionable. He did not mean to say there was no want of legislation as to drainage and ventilation. On the contrary, he admitted that it was of the last importance that the attention of the Legislature should be directed to these subjects, but the provisions of this Bill in this respect were as nothing at all, and could only have effect when the question was taken up in a more comprehensive manner. As to the principle of the Bill, if the principle of the Bill was to be understood by its machinery, he entirely disapproved of it, though he agreed that it was necessary to legislate to protect the public against fire and nuisance. The legislature had a right to interfere with private property when that interference was necessary for the public interest, but not beyond that—to that extent he conceded the principle of the Bill; but if the noble Duke meant by the principle of his measure the machinery by which he proposed to effect his object, he (Lord Campbell) entirely disapproved of it. The Bill proposed to appoint a registrar and three official referees, with salaries of 1,000l. a-year, to be paid out of the county rates, instead of by those who would benefit by their services. The principle of the old Act of Sir R. Taylor, that they should interfere only for the public good, was altogether departed from, for they found in this Bill an immense number of regulations, interfering with private property in the most wanton manner, and without any reference to the public good. Then the official referees were to have a dispensing power, a power which had been taken out of the hands of the Crown, to withhold the operation of a prohibitory law, and to say non obstat. They were to have the power of enforcing or waiving at their discretion the operation of the 118 Clauses of which this Bill consisted. It was quite clear that there would not be time to discuss the Bill adequately, and he should, therefore, move as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.

The Earl of Cadogan

thought it would be more advisable to postpone the Bill till another Session.

The Earl of Besborough

remarked, that the Bill had evidently been prepared with great care, and it would be most unfair to reject it on the second reading.

Lord Kinnaird

supported the Amendment. Though he approved of many of its provisions, he thought it would be much better to defer the consideration of the Bill till next Session. With regard to the proviso which prevented cellars and apartments without chimneys being used as dwellings, he found they would have the same difficulty which had been experienced in Liverpool—when the Act in reference to that town, containing a similar provision, was passed, it was found that no less than 30,000 persons would have to be provided with other habitations, and as this was impossible, the Act had, in point of fact, become inoperative.

The Marquess of Salisbury

admitted the Bill to be beneficial in its object, but hoped this Bill would not pass into a law this Session. Let them make it as perfect as they could, with the understanding that it should not proceed further.

Lord Campbell

said, if the noble Duke did not intimate his intention to withdraw the Bill, after it had passed through Committee, then he should press his Motion to a division.

The Earl of Wicklow

thought the House could not enter into such an arrangement as was proposed by the noble and learned Lord. He wished that the Bill should be read a second time, and then let them proceed as far as they could in Committee. They did not know how long the Parliament might sit. The lateness of the Session was not an objection to the Bill, and while there was business it was their Lordships' duty to perform it.

Lord Cottenham

remarked, that the noble Lord on the Woolsack had, when he sat on the opposition benches, frequently objected to the Bills of the late Ministers on the ground of the late period of the Session at which they were presented to that House. It was a most important Bill, affecting great interests, and involving, not only large masses of property, but great numbers of the population, so difficult and important, so contradictory in some respects were the provisions of the Bill, that it was quite impossible at so late a period of the Session to give it that consideration which was indispensable. In passing the second reading, they were sanctioning the principle, not the mere form, in which an object could be carried into effect. Could they in two days master the details alone of this Bill? Was it fair that the House of Commons should have to consider this from the month of May till July, and now at the latter end of July that the Lords should be called upon to determine upon its merits? It was plain, if their Lordships now passed the Bill, they must take it on the credit of the Woods and Forests. That they roust do if they now passed the Bill. They could not exercise their judgment.

The Duke of Buccleuch

replied and maintained that, as the objections of noble Lords opposite applied rather to some of the details than to the principle of the measure, the House might very properly vote for the second reading. It was quite absurd to say that an exception was presented by the possibility of their Lordships not having made themselves minutely acquainted with all the details. Was it not perfectly notorious that ninety-nine out of one hundred noble Peers were never in the habit of looking at a Bill until long after it was placed on the Table of the House? The objections made to the details did not appear to him so strong as to prevent his asking their Lordships to go into Committee. He would therefore ask them to commit the Bill. It was an important and useful measure, and the principle was only that of a measure which had already been in existence for seven years. Any necessary Amendments might be introduced in Committee, when the measure he did believe would be satisfactory, not only inside but outside the walls of Parliament, and would be further useful as laying the foundation for future measures.

On Question, that "now" stand part of the Motion: — Contents 31; Non-Contents 8; Majority 23.

Bill read a second time.

House adjourned.

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