HL Deb 30 June 1891 vol 354 cc1831-6

House again in Committee (according to order).

Clause 50.

Amendment again proposed, To leave out sub-section (1.)—(The Lord Stalbridge.)


My Lords, I beg to remind your Lordships that the object of this Amendment is to leave out the sub-section which excepts Railway and Canal Companies, Gas and Water Companies, County Councils and Municipal Corporations, Local Authorities and Brine-pumpers, from the right to receive compensation under the Bill.


My Lords, it does seem to me that this Clause 50 is very unreasonable and unjust, and I ask your Lordships to let me make my protest against it. I shall not be long about it. Your Lordships had the other day a denunciation from my noble and learned Friend, Lord Grimthorpe, of the common-law of the land for this: that a man may find his wells dried up by his neighbour digging to a greater depth than he has sunk. Now that decision was come to by your Lordships' House a good many years ago, and, perhaps, something might be said in favour of it upon principle, and one might put this simply; it is very hard that I may not dig 100 feet deep because my neighbours have only dug 50. That indicates what is the principle of that decision. But whether the law is right or wrong in that matter has no bearing upon the case before your Lordships, because by the law of the land everyone is entitled to the support of what I may call neighbouring or adjacent land, whether it is underneath or alongside; and if anybody by any contrivance excavates what is underneath my land, and lets me down, or cuts away that land which is by the side of mine and deprives it of the lateral support to which by law it is entitled, that makes a wrong against me, and it is an actionable wrong for which I may sue him. But the difficulty in the case of the brine-pumpers is, that you cannot trace who it is that has taken away the support to which your land is entitled. It may be the pumper to the north or the south of you, to the east or to the west; and what in reality this Bill' is, is this: it is not a Bill to alter the law, but it is a Bill of procedure, a Bill to enable those who are wronged to get at those who have done them that wrong. Well, that is true, and if it is true it is a right thing to provide a remedy for one man who is so injured and so wronged; it is a right thing to provide it for everybody so injured and wronged. But this first sub-section of Clause 50 provides that there are certain persons and bodies who shall not be entitled to this, which I say is simply a measure of procedure—to participate in the benefit it gives against those who have wrongfully abstracted the support to which their land is entitled. Your Lordships know that Clause 50 says that— Nothing in this Act shall entitle the following persons or bodies of persons to compensation from any compensation board, namely, (1) Any Railway or Canal Company. I need not read the rest of that subsection. (2) Any Gas or Water Company. (3) Any County Council. I would not stand up for them. Or Municipal Corporation. (4) Any sanitary highway or other Local authority. (5) Any brine-pumper. Now, why are they not included? If instead of the support being taken away by brine-pumping, any man had managed to get at the support to which a railway is entitled, and had excavated the salt from underneath and let the railway down, the Railway Company would have had an action against the wrongdoer. But what happens in these brine-pumping cases, as I understand, is that the abstraction takes place, but you cannot say who has abstracted, because, as I said before, it may be one set of brine-pumpers or another. That, I believe, is the case. This is the case which I present to your Lordships on behalf of these people. I may say, as a matter of right and justice, they are entitled to compensation from those who wrong them; and when a procedure such as is in this Bill, which seems to me, I must say, to be admirably drawn, is brought forward for the purpose of getting at the wrongdoers. I cannot tell why one set of sufferers, in particular, should be left out of it. I understand there are two reasons assigned. One is that, if these Railway and Gas Companies and others are to participate in the fund that is raised, there will not be enough for an adequate compensation of the other people who would be entitled, not merely the poor people, but, if a man's land, worth many thousands, is let down the owner of it will be entitled to compensation. Well, I daresay, that 3d. is not enough to provide for everybody. What is the remedy? Why, not to take away from the people entitled—some of the people—but to raise the 3d. If the 3d. will not do, make it 6d. Why not? If your principle is right, it should be carried out to its legitimate consequences; and a sufficient sum of money ought to be raised to compensate the sufferers. Then the other reason is, to my mind, a very curious one. It is this: that the Railway Companies have made a great deal of money out of carrying the salt which the brine-pumpers have taken from under their railways, and from under other people in the neighbourhood, and, therefore, that they ought not to receive any compensation. How far that is true of a Gas Company or a Canal Company, I am sure I do not know, or of some others who are mentioned here. What is the answer to it? The Railway Companies have made no more then they have a right to make by the Statutes which called them into existence; and, I suppose, the same thing might be said of a great many other people in the neighbourhood. The small shop-keeper who has sold goods to the "poor people," of whom my noble Friend spoke so pathetically the other day, has got on tolerably well by the help this brine pumping has brought him, but he will be at liberty to come in and make his claim upon the fund. I am pretty sure it is hopeless, but I felt bound to make this protest against what seems to me, for the reason I have mentioned to your Lordships, a great injustice to those whose land has been let down by what may be called the excavation of the brine-pumpers.


My Lords, this Bill is not a Government measure, but perhaps your Lordships will expect me, as representing the Local Government Board, to say one or two-words upon it. There is no doubt whatever that there is something to be said from the point of view of the noble Lord (Lord Stalbridge), as expressed in his Amendment; but on the other hand the Local Government Board think that, as the question has been brought before a Select Committee of the other House, by whom it was considered with the greatest possible care, and as the decision of the Select Committee was accepted by the House of Commons, it would be wrong not to adhere to the clause. I must remind your Lordships of this: that in a matter of this kind the result arrived at is generally somewhat in the nature of a compromise. The President of the Local Government Board is of opinion that the omission of these various properties, or classes of property, that are mentioned in the 50th clause as excepted from the operation of the Bill, is, to a certain extent, a compromise, and that it would be much better not to disturb what has been agreed to in the other House. Therefore, I hope, speaking' for the Local Government Board, that your Lordships will accept the clause as it stands in the Bill.


My Lords, I will not put the House to the trouble of dividing, as I am sorry to see that Her Majesty's Government oppose the amendment. With regard to what has just fallen from the noble Lord who represents the Government I would simply say that in the Select Committee of the House of Commons, before which this Bill came, the members on this point were even and the question was only decided by the casting vote of the Chairman. There can, therefore, be no doubt that in the Committee of the House of Commons by whom the matter was very carefully considered their opinion was equally divided upon this question. Their decision was no doubt freely accepted by the House of Commons, because naturally that House, having sent a matter for the consideration of a Committee, would not trouble itself afterwards with the Committee's decisions, and they accepted them en bloc. But I think this Government and succeeding; Governments will find this an exceedingly awkward precedent. I may truly say that I have all the legal opinion in your Lordships' House in my favour; but the weight of opinion of other noble Lords—those who are not lawyers—will no doubt carry the day. All Governments seem to govern more by expediency than upon principles of political economy, and I suppose we may assume that is the case now.


I am exceedingly glad that the opposition to this clause has been practically withdrawn, for I am sure if this Amendment had been carried the whole operation of the Bill would have been greatly affected, and practically the Bill would have been of no effect whatever. If the Railway Companies had come in there is no doubt that all the other Companies and classes enumerated in the clause would have had to come in against the wishes even of the bodies interested themselves. For instance, the Local Boards of Northwich and Winsford have petitioned against their admission, but they would have had to be let in if this amendment had been carried. I will say no more, for anything I might say would only be a repetition of the argument I used the other day. I have only to again express my satisfaction that this Amendment has not been carried.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.



My. Lords, I suggest that it would be better to take out the preamble of the Bill. I think preambles never do any good, and this one is not an exception. It recites that the remedy given under this Bill is applicable in all cases of injury to property; but it appears from the discussion on clauses which has taken place that that is not the case, and, therefore, the recital in the preamble goes somewhat beyond the provisions of the Bill; and the more so, as I understand the Bill, as it stands, leaves open to any Railway Company, or anybody else such rights of action as they have at present. That really is the answer, to my mind, to a great deal that has been urged by way of objection to the exclusion of these public bodies and others. They are only excluded from the new remedy. The Bill does not prevent them having any right of action which they have at the present time.

Preamble omitted.


Your Lordships will recollect that the consideration of Clause 38 was postponed.


The preamble has been passed; the noble Lord should have called attention to it before.


It will probably be remembered that I objected to the postponement, and suggested that the noble Lord might take his objection in the Standing Committee. I did not understand that there was anything postponed for your Lordships.


That is quite right. It was to be taken in Standing Committee.

Bill re-committed to the Standing Committee; and to be printed as amended. (No. 203.)