HL Deb 24 April 1885 vol 297 cc608-17

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that about a week ago a Memorandum was circulated among their Lordships describing the general scope and operation of the Bill. That statement contained a very concise and lucid description of the provisions of the Bill, and as he presumed that those of their Lordships who were interested in the subject had read the document, they would not expect him to enter into the matter at such length as would have been necessary if that Memorandum had not been issued. He would, neverthless, say a few words as to the reasons which had induced the Government to deal with the subject in this particular form. In the first place, he would remind their Lordships that this Bill was no new measure. It had already been before the House of Commons, and, in fact, had passed through a Select Committee of the House last year. The Bill was now before their Lordships precisely in the shape in which it left the Select Committee of the House of Commons last year, with the exception of a few verbal changes. The Bill dealt with the whole municipal administration of towns. It consolidated and amended the existing legislation. It covered the same ground as was covered by the Police Bills of 1883 and 1850, and the General Police Act of 1862. The series of enactments had a twofold object. In the first place, they provided a municipal government for populous places which had grown up without having any constitution granted them by Royal Charter, or any other form of municipal government. And, secondly, they conferred upon the authorities of the existing Royal burghs and other burghs such additional powers as they did not then possess. These burghs had already a constitution of Magistrates, of Councillors, and other officers. The Magistrates exercised considerable jurisdiction, both criminal and civil; but under their constitution the powers of assessment which they possessed were of a very limited character. They had no means, and, indeed, it was not their duty by statute, to support any regular Police Force. Neither had they the means of making improvements of any kind—of providing for a water supply, or of taking any effective measures in reference to public health. These serious defects it was intended to remedy by these several Acts. The previous Acts of 1850 and 1862, were permissive in their character. They could be adopted either in whole or in part; but, as a matter of fact, they generally were adopted by a great majority of the towns. The last Act, that of 1862, was adopted by a very large majority of the burghs of Scotland. That Act was passed five years before the present Public Health Act, and it dealt with various topics relating to public health. Some of these matters were afterwards dealt with by the Public Health Act, such as cleansing of streets, the ventilation of buildings, the management of public sewers, the management of slaughterhouses, and many other matters of that kind. But it was a matter for serious consideration whether these subjects should be left out of this Bill, in order to be dealt with by some future measure as an amendment of the Public Health Act, or whether the Municipal Code, which was already provided by the series of Police Acts, should in these matters as well as in other respects be brought up to the present day. After much consideration the latter course appeared to Her Majesty's Government to be, on the whole, the best course to pursue. In the first place, the Public Health Act was a general Act, and applicable not merely to the urban, but also to rural communities. Any amending Act would also have to be general in its character, and would have to apply to all sanitary matters in urban as well as in rural dis- tricts. It appeared to the Government that any such general measure of amendment ought to be followed by a reform of local county government. The Government were already pledged to deal with that question; but the period at which they could hope to deal with it was still distant, and the matters requiring to be dealt with were of most urgent importance. The second reason was, that the municipal burghs of Scotland were taking a great interest in this Bill, and were very anxious that their sanitary provisions should be incorporated in a Burgh Police Code. In proof of this, he might mention that the largest towns in Scotland had private Police Acts of their own, and that most of these had been passed subsequent to the passing of the General Public Health Act. The Convention of Royal Burghs, to whom the Government were very much indebted for their careful consideration of this Bill, had unanimously approved of this manner of dealing with the subject. In fact, the opinion of Scotland was unanimous, with the exception of the Police Commissioners of Glasgow. Their objections, however, were only recently raised, and until quite lately this Bill had the absolute and unanimous approval of the burghs of Scotland. As he had already said, the previous Acts were permissive in their character; but after an experience of 50 years of nearly all the towns of Scotland, it was thought that probably the right principle of dealing with the municipal administration in Scotland ought to be pretty nearly settled. The great majority of the existing police burghs and the inhabitants of those populous places which had no previous municipal constitution of their own, having adopted the Permissive Bills, the provisions of the present Bill were made compulsory. But there was a partial exception. Six of the largest towns in Scotland had obtained in recent years private Police Acts of their own. These Acts had been found to meet the peculiarities of each case. These Acts, consequently, the towns themselves were very anxious to retain so far as they possibly could. It seemed reasonable, however, that those provisions in the Bills which applied to certain matters pertaining to the public law should be made compulsory in all towns—such provisions, for example, as the estab- lishment and regulation of the Police Force. The Police Force was, of course, supported in great part by the Imperial Government of the State. That alone was some reason for dealing with it in a compulsory manner. But it was desirable that the case should be dealt with by one uniform system. The second matters which were compulsory were those portions of the Bill which related to public health, and also matters pertaining to the Criminal Law. While all these portions of the Bill would be compulsory, the remainder would be optional to the large towns. Therefore, while the Bill provided for a general repeal of the Police Acts, those parts of the private Police Acts which dealt with other matters which the Bill did not make compulsory were saved; while the other parts of the private Police Acts dealing with matters which were dealt with compulsorily by this Bill were repealed. This might, perhaps, seem rather a complicated explanation; but the Bill itself was as clear and as well-arranged as the complicated nature of the subject admitted of. The complication was in the subject, and not in the Bill. To sweep away all existing Private Acts, as was suggested, and to substitute a General Act of Parliament to simplify the law, would be a very unpopular measure, and would meet with considerable opposition. An objection to this Bill was that it had a somewhat grandmotherly tendency. To that he would reply that there was scarcely anything in the Bill that was not already contained in Private Acts of Parliament. There was very little new matter in the Bill, and certainly it contained no new principle. Therefore the Government, in asking the House to pass the measure, were not asking their Lordships to take a leap in the dark. An experience of 20 years, it seemed to them, ought to suffice to discover the right method of dealing with municipal matters. If their Lordships sanctioned the second reading, he would move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee of their Lordships' House. It was a very long measure, and one which the House would hardly care to deal with, except by a Select Committee. He begged, therefore, to move the second reading, on the understanding that it would be afterwards referred to a Select Committee of their Lordships' House.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Earl of Dalhosie.)


said, he was glad to hear from the noble Earl that he proposed to move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee of their Lordships' House. When their Lordships considered that there were 529 clauses in the Bill, besides 50 pages of Schedules, they would probably be of opinion that that was the right way of dealing with it. At the same time, there were one or two matters of general principle in the Bill to which he wished to call the attention of the House before the Bill went to a Select Committee—chiefly some of the provisions in regard to the police administration, and as to the enormous powers—he believed the unprecedentedly large powers—given to magistrates in burghs to deal with offences, many of which were of the most petty kind, and which he could not help thinking would be much better left to the general good sense of the community. With regard to the administration of the police, the present state of the law was this—that all burghs of 7,000 inhabitants or more might, if they chose, maintain their own police. The proposal in the Bill was that all burghs of 20,000 inhabitants should do so, and that all burghs which had more than 5,000 inhabitants, and which at present maintained their own police, should continue to do so. He thought it would be much more satisfactory if this Bill had gone a little further in abolishing independent jurisdiction in the matter of police. The Bill itself admitted this principle, because it said that in future no more new independent jurisdictions of this kind would be created, and it just continued those which were at present in existence. He did not think he should be contradicted when he said that it was in conformity with the general policy of Parliament—and it was a sound policy—that these small independent jurisdictions in the matter of police should be as far as possible abolished; and he ventured to express the opinion that no burgh which had less than 10,000 or 12,000 inhabitants was large enough to maintain its own police. It was the experience of everybody connected with the administration of police matters in Scotland that these small jurisdictions were very prejudicial to the efficient service of the police; that in many cases in small burghs there were constant complaints that the discipline of the police was not so efficient as in the counties; and there were also frequent complaints that in the small independent jurisdictions obstacles were raised to prompt apprehension of criminals who had committed crime within the bounds of their jurisdiction. In a small community of 5,000 or 6,000 inhabitants it was impossible to expect that the authorities would be able to engage a Chief Constable of the same education, efficiency, and ability as was the case in a larger community. There was not scope for the energies of an energetic and efficient public servant in such a small district. He wished to call their Lordships' attention to some of the large powers which the Bill proposed to confer on magistrates. He did not think it would be possible for the State regulation of individual conduct to go further than this Bill proposed. There were pages upon pages dealing- with some of the most minute offences. How far these provisions were in advance of some of the Private Acts of burghs he was not able to say; but this he would say—that if the present Code as it stood was to be extended to all the burghs in Scotland, it would cause a very great deal of inconvenience and heartburning, and it would be a great surprise to the population, because he did not believe that one-half of them knew what was being proposed in their name by the magistrates and Commissioners of Burghs. He would like to mention one or two of the provisions of the Bill by way of illustration. It was provided that no refreshment of any kind might be sold after 12 o'clock at night, not even in a baker's shop, under a penalty of £5. A chimney sweeper might not walk on the footpath, and you might not carry a bundle on the footpath if it incommoded anyone else. There was no definition of a bundle, and he believed this would be a fruitful cause of litigation. If anyone had a spite against a person, he might jostle against that person when he was carrying a bundle, and that person might be taken before a magistrate and accused of "incommoding." Then there was a provision that no colourable imitation of a bank note was to be made or exhibited. That was a reasonable provision; but he did not see why there should be any further regulations as to a forged bank note in a burgh than in a country district. Then there was a provision against unlawful games, and a person could be find 40s. for playing any unlawful game in the streets. But there was no definition of an unlawful game. All tables for billiard playing were to be licensed; and if they were kept open and anyone was found playing upon thorn between 12 o'clock at night and 8 in the morning, they were to be fined 40s. or £5—he forgot which. Just to show their Lordships how very far-reaching this Bill was, he would tell them what it was thought necessary not to make an offence. Sub-section 36 of Section 393 provided that— It shall not be deemed an offence to lay sand or other materials in any street in time of frost to prevent accident, or litter, or other suitable materials, to prevent the freezing of water in pipes, or, in case of sickness, to prevent noise, if the person laying such things causes them to be removed as soon as the occasion for them cases. When anything of that sort had to be specially exempted, it showed how far-reaching the provisions of the Bill were. There were provisions which were extremely onerous upon another matter. As had been shown more than once on the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, there was a difference of opinion as to the clauses anent the keeping of disorderly houses; and he thought a very general opinion had been expressed in the House, or a very considerable body of opinion, that many of these clauses were not in conformity with public policy. They would find all these clauses embodied in this Bill. He knew what the answer would be. Some large towns had got Acts, such as Edinburgh and Glasgow and Dundee, and he thought Greenock, in which these clauses were incorporated, and the surrounding districts and other burghs, such as Leith and other places, complained of the effect of these clauses in Private Acts for large towns. Houses which these clauses were intended to suppress simply migrated beyond the bounds of these large towns, and went to the country district; and if they extended all these clauses to other parts of Scotland round the outskirts of every town, the same class of houses would grow up, and there would be no proper supervision. There would not be even the same amount of possibility of dealing with these matters as in towns. He thought it would be better if these matters should be dealt with comprehensively in one general Bill for the whole country. As the noble Earl had said, this Bill was now compulsory. Formerly any burgh might or might not adopt the measure if it wished it, according to a plebiscite of the inhabitants; but under this Bill, in any burgh of 2,000 or more inhabitants, any seven ratepayers might present a petition to the Sheriff, and the other inhabitants of the burgh would have no option but that the Act should be adopted. Surely the 1,993 other inhabitants might be allowed to have some say in the matter as to whether this Bill was or was not to be adopted. There were also some provisions as to the compulsory taking of land which he should certainly like to have explained. He did not know how far they came in advance of the present law; but there were provisions in the Bill to enable the Commissioners of any burgh to take land compulsorily for the purpose of storing manure, and for making gasworks and waterworks. They had not to go to Parliament for the powers, but might go to the local Sheriff-substitute, whose judgment was final. It seemed to him that this was a provision which should be very carefully considered by Parliament before it was allowed to pass. Then there were various other matters of detail; but he thought he had said enough to show that this Bill required most careful consideration, and that the Select Committee upon it should be a strong and representative one, and that plenty of time should be given for its consideration. He might venture to make a suggestion. He had a strong impression that before such a Bill was passed affecting Scotland everybody should be made thoroughly aware of its provisions, and he would not be sorry to see the Select Committee sitting in public. He had no intention of opposing the second reading; but the subsequent stages of the Bill would require most careful consideration.


said, from the speech which the noble Lord had just delivered, their Lordships must see how desirable it was that a measure of this character should be carefully considered before it became law. The Bill embodied, in a compulsory general Act, all those different provisions intefering with men in their private business; and it confirmed, he thought unnecessarily, those provisions which had already been passed by both Houses of Parliament in Private Bills. When clauses such as these were inserted in Private Bills, those who were opposed to them had an opportunity of appearing by counsel or otherwise in opposition. It became, therefore, more necessary, when all these provisions were to be embodied in a general Bill, to carefully consider how far they should apply. Under the provisions of this Bill the municipal authorities could regulate the size of every room and of every window in every dwelling house, and the ventilation of every dwelling house. It imposed heavy fines on omnibuses that were not in a proper state of repair; and if the horses were not properly trained there was a heavy penalty. There was a penalty of £2 or £5 if a slow vehicle did not immediately get out of the way of a faster vehicle passing. But he thought the most extraordinary provision of all was one dealing with morals. The object, no doubt, was that everyone should live in the Palace of Truth. It was provided that anyone who attempted to commit a falsehood would be liable to a penalty of £10 or two months' imprisonment. What they were fast coming to, if this kind of legislation was about to pass, was a state of things where every citizen would only be able to live and move and have his being by the favour of the Secretary of State, or of some municipal authority. He hoped their Lordships would put their foot down on this kind of legislation, and that the Bill would come out of the Committee very different to what it was now.


said, this was, no doubt, a very important Bill. Having devoted weeks to the consideration of the measure, he had tried to understand it, but had failed to do so. The whole principle upon which the Bill was drawn up was most inconvenient. It was partly a mere condensation of the existing law, and it was partly an addition to the existing law. It was very difficult to make out what clauses were new legislation and what clauses were old legislation. He suggested that what was a mere re-enactment should have been treated in one type, and what was new in another type. His noble Friend who had charge of the Bill (the Karl of Dalhousie) said there was very little in it that was new; but he (the Duke of Argyll) could not believe that all the provisions that had been detailed could be found in existing Statutes. Certainly, he had never heard any such powers in regard to the classes of offences which had been mentioned being exercised by magistrates, although he had no objection to sweeps being prevented from walking on the footpath. There were one or two clauses in the Bill with respect to which he bad heard very serious remonstrances. One in particular was a very important one—that was the power given to populous places to annex parts of counties with the view to include them in the rates. That was a very important question. He had heard contests on behalf of his own tenants and feuars, who objected to be included in towns or cities that wanted to annex them. As he understood the Bill, this power of annexation was carried much further than under the existing law. Under the Bill, not only great cities and important towns, but populous places, constituted into police burghs, would have the power of annexing parts of neighbouring counties at the discretion of the Sheriff of that part of the district which had the majority of ratepayers, which was, of course, the populous place itself. Therefore, the Sheriff had the power of annexing new land to these populous places; and if the Sheriff of the less populous place objected to the annexation he would have no power to resist it. He had heard remonstrances on these points from persons well versed in the law. It would be absurd to oppose such a Bill as this on the second reading; but it was one that would require the very close attention of their Lordships.


said, it might be as well to state, with reference to the expression "falsehood," which had a somewhat ridiculous appearance, that the Scotch law phrase "commit falsehood, fraud, and wilful imposition," was a synonym for the old English word "swindling."

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and referred to a Select Committee.