HL Deb 09 August 1881 vol 264 cc1365-71

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

LORD THURLOW, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the Bill was nothing more nor less than the Annual Budget of London outside the City for the coming year, and was equivalent to the Annual Money Bill which was brought in since the year 1875. The Bill of last year provided funds up to the 31st December next, and unless the present Bill should become law by that date, the Metropolitan Board would be absolutely without borrowing powers. The Bill conferred new powers up to the 31st of December, 1882. The objects of the Bill, which were sufficiently shown by the Schedule attached to it, related to certain supplementary provisions for 1881, and provided funds for the maintenance of the Fire Brigade, the building of certain stations, and the purchasing of some new sites. Money was also required to continue works on the Thames Embankment, and £ 100,000 for main drainage works. Then, with respect to the service of 1882, three Bills had already passed both Houses, requir- ing money for the purchase of lands and manorial rights on Hackney Commons, Brook Green, and Hammersmith; and for building new bridges at Battersea and Putney, which would cost £760,000. The other provisions of the Bill were similar to those which were contained in former Bills, and related to the ordinary expenditure of the Board for 1882 for large street improvements, authorized by Acts of 1872 and 1877, and included in former Money Bills—such as Coventry Street, Haymarket, the new street from Regent Street to Bloomsbury; and for smaller street improvements, such as widening streets by setting back houses where opportunities might occur; also for drainage and for the fencing of parks and commons, of which an area of 1,666 acres was now under the jurisdiction of the Board. Expenditure would also continue under the Thames River Prevention of Floods Act and the Artizans' Dwellings Act. The Bill not only provided for the Board's own requirements, but enabled it to lend money to the School Board, the Asylums Board, and other local bodies, to the extent of £ 1,100,000; this was in conformity with former precedent. Although the gross borrowing power of the Board was stated in the Bill at £4,548,335, it might be well to point out that the new net borrowing power conferred by the Bill was only £1,463,629. Then they came to Clause 14 of the Bill, with reference to which a Petition was now lying on the Table. This clause was introduced into the Bill on its passage through Committee in the other House of Parliament, and met with the hearty approval and support of Her Majesty's Government. It was very short and simple, and he would read it to the House— The Board may, as part of their general expenses, pay all costs, charges, and expenses which may be incurred by them up to December 31, 1882, incidental to any inquiry to be instituted with respect to markets for the sale of food supplies within the Metropolis, as defined by the Metropolis Management Act, 1855, and preliminary to, and incidental to the preparing, applying for, and obtaining an Act of Parliament with respect to such markets or any of such markets. Now, he ventured to think, considering the importance of the question of the market accommodation of the Metropolis, as lately brought to light, especially in connection with the collapse of the Billingsgate Fish Market—about which he would presently quote a few words from a Report by Mr. Spencer Walpole, Her Majesty's Inspector of Fisheries—that it would have been very shortsighted—to use the mildest term—if the Metropolitan Board of Works in their Annual Budget Bill, had made no reference to the subject, and that the reference made to it in Clause 14 was of a very moderate and inoffensive character. Mr. Walpole, in his Report, said— Billingsgate owed its connection with the fish trade of London to its position on the river. The Thames was the highway, and practically the only highway, by which fish could be brought into the City. But he went on to say— These conditions have changed. The railways have superseded the river, and fish, instead of being sent up to London in smacks, is now carried up by fast trains, run specially for that purpose. Owing to the bad land approaches to Billingsgate vans were delayed for days on their journey from the railway stations to the market, and Mr. Walpole mentioned a case of one van that was crowded out and unable to reach the market and be unpacked for 11 days. It was hardly necessary to add that the fish it contained was then found to be unfit for food and condemned. Clause 14 of the Bill did not touch the legal question of the binding and perpetual character of the Charters of Edward III. and Charles II. These would have to be produced; and it was possible, if not probable, that their inapplicability to the ever-growing requirements of London might be transparent. They were granted at a time when the City of London was everything, and when the Outer Circle was not even dreamt of. Their Lordships knew that each succeeding Census showed the City of London to be steadily decreasing, not, indeed, in power, nor in dignity, nor in wealth, nor in prosperity, but in population, so much so, indeed, as by 54 per cent in 20 years; while London outside the City had actually increased during that period by a similar amount, or more than one-half. The Census taken the other day put the population of the City at 51,306, and of London without the City at 4,713,000. Her Majesty's Government were of opinion that these facts materially affected the question of the ultimate market authority for London; but what did Clause 14 really propose in the meantime? It did not set aside the ancient Charters conferring monopolies which were, no doubt, suited to the spirit and possibly to the wants of the 14th century, nor did it provide funds for the immediate acquisition of sites for new markets, for the preparation of plans, or for advertising for tenders. It only provided funds for the purpose of legal inquiry, and, if necessary, to defray the expenses incident on going to Parliament for further powers. Having regard to their duty towards the public, he did not think the Metropolitan Board of Works could have done less. He would now say a few words about a Notice given by the noble Earl opposite (Earl De La Warr) for referring this Bill to a Select Committee. There was no precedent for this course, either in this or in the other House of Parliament. Such a course, indeed, had never been proposed with reference to a Metropolitan Board of Works Money Bill until this year, when it was rejected in the other House of Parliament by an overwhelming majority. The Bill bristled with figures, representing many millions, much of which had not only been already spent, but actually already voted by Parliament. These figures represented the public works, the Fire Brigade, and drainage of the Metropolis—subjects which it was quite impracticable for their Lordships to deal with in a Select Committee. The course proposed by the noble Earl would be as inconvenient as it would be unprecedented. There could be no doubt that the proper course for their Lordships to take on the present occasion was the one pursued in previous years on Bills of this kind—that of referring them to a Committee of the Whole House.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Thurlow.)

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly.


said, he rose to move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. He did not object to the whole of the Bill, but only to Clause 14. With that clause in it he failed to see how the measure could be described as a purely financial measure. By that clause it was proposed to give power to the Metropolitan Board of Works to inquire into the subject of provision markets in the Metropolis, and, if necessary, to apply to Parliament for an Act dealing with such markets. The Corporation of the City possessed market rights and privileges which dated back 500 years and more, and which had been confirmed by several Acts of Parliament, one of them being a recent Act. Their Lordships should bear in mind that upon the securing of those rights between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000 were invested in the City markets. This was a very grave and serious question. What had occurred in the other House of Parliament, he believed, was this. The Bill passed the second reading, probably, with little or no attention, and in Committee this clause was introduced unexpectedly, no Notice having been given to any of the parties concerned, who did not know of it sooner than the public generally. And yet this very clause most materially affected their rights. The Bill was passed in a House, he believed, of 59 Members—a Bill which concerned the ancient rights and privileges of the Corporation of the City of London, and involved very large interests. He asked their Lordships whether that was the way a question of this kind should be disposed of, and whether it was not very reasonable that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, where the interests of all parties concerned might be considered? The Corporation were ready to do anything they could to promote the establishment of good markets, and they would support any well-founded scheme for that purpose. They did not ask that the clause should be rejected, they courted inquiry; because they well knew, and he well knew, that if an inquiry were given it would be shown that they were far from disregarding the duties and responsibilities imposed upon them. A very careful inquiry had been made by the Corporation into the state of Billingsgate Market, and witnesses were examined from all parts of the country to ascertain what was best to be done in the public interest. The matter was under the consideration of the Corporation, who were doing their best for the benefit of the public. The markets of London were, as their Lordships knew, wholesale markets. The City of London would rather encourage the establishment of retail markets; but the retail markets of which they lately had experience had in two instances entirely failed. One was most liberally founded, or attempted to be founded, by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, and another by a large Railway Company; and yet both failed. It was a very important question that this Metropolis should be supplied with better markets, and the Corporation of London were ready to do everything in their power to promote their establishment. He hoped these reasons would be considered of some weight, and would induce their Lordships not to reject the Bill, but to refer it to a Select Committee, where the views of all the parties concerned might be heard. He begged to move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.

Moved, "That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee."—(The Earl De La Warr.)


said, he was very glad the Government did not intend to consent to refer this Bill to a Select Committee. The case put by the noble Earl was a very good case in its way, but it had no reference to this Bill. In fact, the noble Earl had so carefully studied the Petition of the City of London that he had not read the Bill itself. The clause to which objection was raised did not interfere with any of the privileges of the City. It simply authorized the Metropolitan Board of Works to pay any expenses they might incur in their inquiry how to provide a better supply of fish for the Metropolis. The noble Earl said that the City of London was willing to assist in any inquiry. How, then, could the City of London or the noble Earl say that this was an attack upon their interests? Their Lordships had seen the Petition drawn up by the City Remembrancer, and circulated among the Members of that House. It was of a very extraordinary character. It said that— The Metropolitan Board of Works proposed to take advantage of the outcry against the Billingsgate Market to repeal by a side-wind the Charters and Acts of Parliament defining the City's market rights. No such thing. The intention of the Metropolitan Board in this Bill was only to institute an inquiry with regard to the markets which supplied food to the Metropolis. But the City Remembrancer worked himself up to a high pitch of excitement as he proceeded; the Petition said— No institution, no property is safe, if it may be taken away or prejudicially affected without notice. No one proposed to do either; and it was wholly unnecessary to give notice to the City about the inquiry which the Metropolitan Board of Works proposed to hold. The Petition went on to say— The Metropolitan Board of Works have not now and never had any responsibility about the food supply of the Metropolis; but the Corporation always have had, the Charters being not only to the City, but within seven miles circuit thereof. But if the Corporation had always had charge of the food supply of the Metropolis, then it was high time there should be an inquiry into the manner in which that responsibility had been discharged, for everyone was aware that the distribution of food, and more particularly of fish, to the Metropolis was in a most unsatisfactory condition. This Petition partook somewhat of an Irish character, because, having stated that property and every other institution was not safe, it pointed out that the attempt of the City to establish a second market had been a failure. But if that was the case, how could the property of the City be injuriously affected? It would be wholly without precedent if their Lordships were to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. If there were any objection to any particular clause, the proper way was to consider it in Committee of the Whole House, where the noble Earl would have an opportunity of submitting his case. On these grounds, he held that the Motion of the noble Earl should be rejected.


said, a Metropolitan Money Bill was a comparatively recent thing, and he objected very strongly to a matter of this importance, which, apparently, affected the rights and privileges of many persons, being introduced in this way, instead of by a separate Bill. The clause referred to was fairly open to objections, and he should therefore support the Motion of the noble Earl for referring the Bill to a Select Committee, before which the case for the City of London might be heard.

On question, resolvedin the negative.

Bill committedto a Committee of the Whole House on Thursdaynext.