HL Deb 31 August 1893 vol 16 cc1533-54

Commons Reasons for disagreeing to one of the Lords Amendments considered (according to Order).


moved that this House do not insist upon its own Amendment with which the Commons have disagreed, but agree with the Amendments made by the Commons. With regard to the latter, he thought it would turn out they were little more than verbal. He would, therefore, split the Motion into two, the first being the important half—namely, that the Lords do not insist upon their Resolution which had the effect of throwing the Betterment Clause out of the Bill. The history of the Bill was very simple. It was a Private Bill promoted by the London County Council for the purpose of effecting improvements in London streets; and one of these improvements was calculated to enhance the value of adjoining property. The Bill contained a plan for carrying out the desirable object of getting back from the owners of these improved properties a portion of the enhanced value which the expenditure of the ratepayers had conferred upon those properties. That was known as the principle of betterment, and the Bill was passed by the House of Commons in that condition. When it came before this House the noble Earl (the Earl of Onslow) moved a Resolution to the effect that such a provision ought not to be embodied in a Private Bill, and that Resolution was carried, so that when the Bill came before the Committee they found no option left to them but to accept the Resolution and strike out all the provisions of the Bill affected by it. It that state it passed this House and went down to the Commons; and the Commons, as far as they could, had restored the provisions of the Bill. From that statement their Lordships would see that the only principle which this House had affirmed, and to which it stood committed, was that those provisions ought not to be the subject of legislation by Private Bill. He would not repeat the arguments he had already used on the former occasion as to provisions of this character having been inserted in Private Bills for a number of years and in innumerable instances; and that thereby great Codes of Law had been formed quietly, gradually, without disturbance, with safety derived from experience, and to the great benefit of the nation. Those arguments stood wholly unanswered. Further, the House of Commons had, after discussion, debate, and division, decided that this was a provision proper to be embodied in a Private Bill. The highest authority in this House—the Chairman of Committees (the Earl of Morley)—had also stated that, in his opinion, the machinery of a Private Bill was the proper method to adopt for that purpose. He would not disguise from himself that in all probability the majority of those who voted for the noble Earl's (the Earl of Onslow's) Resolution were influenced less by any question of machinery or form than by hostility to the measure itself, or even more by hostility to the London County Council, and a tendency to view with suspicion and dislike any proposal which proceeded from it. On no other ground could he understand why so large a portion of the speeches which were delivered in support of the Resolution consisted of attacks upon the London County Council, and, indeed, upon Municipal Bodies elsewhere. As to the hostility shown to the measure itself, the justice of the principle underlying the plan was undisputed. It was the plan that was attacked, and he gathered that the objections to it were twofold. In a letter published by its staunchest opponent the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll), he had objected that the question whether a property was enhanced in value or not was a speculative one; but if the noble Duke had had experience on a Loudon Assessment Committee he would not have raised that objection. Every five years the 39 Rating Bodies of London had to speculate in regard to thousands of houses as to how far their value had been increased by the expenditure upon them. The Assessment Committees had to guess; but being men of business, with some experience in the matter, they guessed very well, and their decisions were seldom disputed. If they were, the dispute went to the Quarter Sessions, but the Quarter Sessions had no greater resources than the Assessment Committees, having to guess also, though their guess was final and without appeal. The chief difference between that operation, which had been at work in London for a number of years under the Metropolitan Valuation Act, and the present proposal was that for the Quarter Sessions an arbitrator was substituted. That, in his opinion, was a distinct improvement, seeing that an arbitrator was a much more skilful tribunal than a Justice of the Peace, while his proceedings were simpler and swifter. The other difference was that instead of speculating upon the probability of increased rental value the arbitrator would speculate upon the probability of increased gross value; but what was there in either of those operations which made them one whit more speculative than the other? The second objection of the noble Duke was to the appointment of an arbitrator by the Government; but no valid reason was given why an arbitrator should not be so appointed. What probability was there that a Government official would show favour to one side rather than to the other? But experience was better than à priori argument. The plan of resorting to Government Offices for the appointment of arbitrators in various Departments was not new. It had been followed for many years, and on a large scale, and he had never heard a whisper of complaint of improper appointments of arbitrators. It was true that in this case the arbitrator would go beyond the mere money value of the improvement, and would adjust the incidence of the charges upon the various classes of owners. That had to be done in some cases when the freeholder was not in possession; but in those cases would anybody seek to throw the whole burden upon the persons who chanced to be in possession? Where there was a diversity of interest among owners somebody must settle the question between them; and it was not uncommon to refer such questions to arbitration. How could such matters be better settled than by a single proceeding before a man whose duty it was to inform himself of the whole facts of the case? He did not wish to be disrespectful to the noble Duke; but he asserted that it was not the County Council's plan, but the noble Duke's objections, which were open to the charge of being speculative and contrary to the daily experience of mankind. This principle had been discussed now for four or five years, and its justice, which had at first been keenly disputed, had been established to the satisfaction of the great majority of reasonable minds; but, as everyone admitted, there was difficulty in the application of it, and the Comity Council had endeavoured to devise a good method of application. Three years ago they proposed a plan which, like most first attempts, was found to be faulty. Another, which was under discussion for some time, did not meet with sufficient acceptance. They had now produced a third—the present plan—which had been accepted by the County Council without any expressed dissentient voice, and, as far as he knew, with unanimous mental agreement, and it had been accepted by the great majority of Members for London constituencies. Surely, then, the time had come when the County Council were entitled to know from their opponents what it was they wanted. Their opponents said themselves that the principle was just, and that there probably was some good method of applying it. Well, what was it? Were they to go on contriving methods until one appeared to which there was no objection to be made? If they were to do that they would be waiting until the river flowed away, and would never get this reform at all. As to the general attacks on the County Council, they were utterly irrelevant to the present discussion, founded upon complete ignorance of the subject, and were really attacks on the electors of London. The noble Earl (the Earl of Onslow) had thrown out dark hints that the next municipal election would send a good many of the present occupants of seats upon the Council about their business; but he could state with confidence that at the present moment there was not the smallest symptom that the electors of London would fail to support their Representatives in insisting on improving the finances of London. They wore certain to insist that their Representatives should persevere in their efforts in that direction. This question had not been decided by Party Divisions in the House of Commons. A large proportion of those who voted "Aye" to this clause were among the habitual supporters of the noble Marquess, and upon the second Division only 10 London Members voted "No," while 27 voted "Aye" to the clause, and the Representatives of the nation voted in favour of it in the proportion of 5 to 2. He believed that in London there were very few constituencies indeed in which a candidate or a Member would stand up and tell the electors fairly and squarely that he thought the expenditure of London was rightly distributed, or that he did not think the present plan of alleviating the finances of London was a just and proper one to be carried into effect. The gist of the case was that the aim of the County Council was a just one. Londoners were eager—he might say impatient—for some action to be taken in the matter. The present plan was the outcome of years of incubation, and of attempts made by persons who understood the subject. It had been unanimously approved by the Municipal Representatives of the Londoners in the County Council, by the majority of their National Representatives in Parliament, and by the majority of the Representatives of the nation at large; and now, if the House of Lords stood in the path suggesting no alternative of its own, but simply saying "No" to whatever was proposed by the County Council, he was afraid there would be left a very painful feeling behind—a feeling that Londoners were not receiving due consideration in a matter of peculiar importance to themselves, and which had been brought to maturity by the most careful consideration and toil on the part of their Representatives. He begged to move the Motion which stood in his name.

Moved, "That this House doth not insist on the Amendment (viz., to leave out Clause 41) to which the Commons have disagreed."—(The Lord Hobhouse.)


asked their Lordships to support the decision of their Select Committee, and to insist on the Amendment introduced during the passage of the Rill through this House. He was quite aware that the result of such a proceeding, if carried, might be the loss of the Bill, and he was equally well aware that the improvements which the Bill proposed to carry out were very desirable and necessary improvements; but the principle involved was so important that he had no hesitation in asking their Lordships to pursue the course he advocated. If the Bill was lost, the loss would not rest upon their Lordships' House, but upon those who declined to accept their Amendment, because the 41st clause did not in any way affect the possibility of carrying out those improvements. All that the 41st clause did was to give to the ratepayers of the whole of this Metropolis a maximum possible sum of £150 a year. The London County Council's predecessors, the Metropolitan Board of Works, might not have been possessed of all the virtues; but they possessed at least one, that of humility. They were content to accept the wisdom of Parliament, and they had constructed such noble thoroughfares as Northumberland Avenue, Charing Cross Avenue, and Shaftesbury Avenue. During the four years the County Council had been in existence, what could they point to having done in any way approaching the magnitude of those works? People who had to catch a train at Waterloo had still to allow an extra 10 minutes for the block in the Strand, and the traffic from the great arteries of Holborn, Fleet Street, and the Strand, still had to go through tortuous streets and ill-paved slums. And what was the reason? It was because the County Council declared that it would not proceed with those improvements until Parliament armed it with further powers. A remarkable case occurred in June last. The Improvement Committee of the London County Council recommended that Bozier's Court, at the end of Tottenham Court Road, should be swept away; but the County Council decided not to undertake that improvement, although they acknowledged it to be urgently required, until an alteration was made in the incidence of taxation. In a less degenerate age such dictation to Parliament as had been exhibited by the London County Council would have been treated with contempt; but since one of the great Parties in the State had preached the doctrine that the Imperial Parliament was not competent to manage the affairs of the whole of the Kingdom, they must not be surprised if Municipality after Municipality went out on strike and declared it would not do its work until Parliament altered the general law of the land. The noble Earl the Leader of the House had said that noble Lords on that side of the House were very fond of finding fault with the County Council which they themselves had created. Yes; but the reason they found fault with it was not account of its administrative or executive work, but because it wished to force legislation upon Parliament and to appear in the character of a Legislative Body. He had no antagonism to the London County Council, but, on the contrary, admired many of its executive acts. Many Members of their Lordships' House were also members of that Council, and lent adornment to its debates and eminence to its doings; pre-eminently he would refer to the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who had not hesitated to give his great ability and services to matters of merely local or Metropolitan concern. But the point on which he quarrelled with the County Council was that they said to Parliament—"Though you have created us to administer the government of the greatest Metropolis in the world, and have laid down the conditions under which we are to raise and spend money, yet we decline to carry out the govern- ment of London and improvements in London until you alter those conditions in the manner which we dictate to you." As he had said on the former occasion, he was not opposed to the betterment principle himself, and he had conversed with some of the larger landowners in Loudon, and had found that there was a very general and widespread feeling that property should pay something in return for the benefit conferred upon it by the expenditure of the ratepayers' money. That principle had been accepted by a great many people, and if a Select Committee were appointed to consider how that could be done with justice they would have no objection. But this plan had been pressed upon them in a form almost savage in its ferocity to the unfortunate owners affected by it. They were not rich people. It was convenient for those who supported this measure to pretend that noble Lords who voted against the embodiment of this principle in a Private Bill were personally affected by it, and were personally interested in this question; but he believed he was correct in saying that not a single one of their Lordships were interested to the extent of one penny piece in the properties affected by this Bill. The landlords whose properties were affected were all poor people, and they were to have this charge or tax imposed upon them, not for five years, but for ever. That was to be done whether the property increased in value or not, whether the population migrated or not, whether or not trade had left the district, or whatever might happen. On the other hand, no proposal was made that compensation should be given where the property was deteriorated in value. It was conceivable that there might be cases in which what was known by the disagreeable word "worsement" might be the consequence of the improvement. It was said that this was not taxation on the capital value of the land. If it was not upon capital value he was at a loss to know upon what value it was thrown. It was to be a fixed annual sum placed upon the property, and if the property happened to be unoccupied and yielding no profit the charge remained just the same. That was an absolute proof that the charge would be upon capital and not upon annual value. It was said that this was not taxation in the proper sense of the word. He would not ask the House to enter into a close investigation of what was and what was not taxation, but would merely say that this was to he imposed by a public body for public purposes, and could be collected by all the machinery of Government. The principle of betterment had been in operation in America for many years, and American writers had long regarded this kind of assessment as taxation. It was urged that any injustice which might lie inflicted by this clause would be set right by the independent authority of the arbitrator. He would be disposed to accept that principle if they were living in the days of Balaam and the prophets, or even in the more modern times of the Hesperides of the classics; but unfortunately they were living in the 19th century, and the surveyors who must be chosen for this kind of work were very matter-of-fact people, and some of the most eminent surveyors had declared that it was utterly for them to prophesy unless they knew, and they would not undertake to say what might be the increased value of property under this Bill. Mr. Vigors, the well-known surveyor, told the House of Commons Committee that he would decline to attempt it. Mr. Driver, the President of the Surveyors' Institute, in his evidence last year, said it was perfectly impossible for any man, honestly disposed, to undertake such an office, and that he would have to draw upon his imagination for his facts. Similar opinions had been expressed by Sir Whittaker Ellis, Mr. Shoppee, and other well-known surveyors, that— It would be impossible to apply the principle equitably and without the risk of doing a grave injustice, and that all experienced surveyors were agreed that none of the plans put forward for the purpose were even approximately just or practicable. This matter had been considered by several Committees presided over by men of high position in Parliament, and who had hold high office. First of all, Sir Joseph Bailey had said the subject ought to be decided by a strong tribunal, by a Joint Committee of the two Houses, or by a Select Committee, and that it was wrong to allow the principle to be introduced in a Private Bill. Sir James Fergusson supported the Amendment made by their Lordships for the same reason. If the political opinions of both these gentlemen would not commend themselves to noble Lords opposite, he would ask them to admit the authority of Mr. Fowler, President of the Local Government Board. When the Strand Improvement Bill was under consideration by a Select Committee of the House of Commons, the Chairman, Mr. Fowler, drafted a Report which was not adopted by the Committee, because the betterment part of the scheme had been withdrawn by the promoters. But Mr. Fowler said— That the House should authorise the adoption of this principle before it is inserted in any Private Bill. In conclusion, he asked their Lordships to adhere to the Amendment which they had made—first, because if they did not a very grievous injustice would be inflicted upon a body of poor people, who were ill-able to afford such expense; secondly, because all the surveyors and practical men who would be called upon to act as arbitrators had declared that they would not be able to carry out the duty thrown upon them—that the plan was utterly impracticable; and, thirdly, because all the Chairmen of the Committees who had considered the question since it was started in Parliament had declared with one voice that the principle ought to be settled on broad and general lines before it should be introduced in any Private Bill. For those reasons, he asked their Lordships to adhere to their Amendment.


said, he was glad that the noble Earl opposite had not made so violent an attack upon the Loudon County Council as he had made in his former speech; and in that respect, certainly, he had effected that which he would prevent them from carrying out—a great improvement. The noble Earl said that the County Council should accept the decision of Parliament, and he fell foul of them for suggesting to that House that their Lordships should accept the decision of the great majority of the ratepayers of London and of the House of Commons. Surely it was as reasonable for them to ask the House to accept a decision of live to two, not a Party majority, and a majority which was growing. The noble Earl talked about dictation to Parliament on the part of the County Council; but how would this matter appear to the ratepayers out-of-doors? Where would the ratepayers consider the dictation lay? Would they not rather think it existed on the part of noble Lords who, as had been shown by the noble Earl's own speech, did not know a great deal about the subject. The noble Earl could hardly have mastered the proposal, or he would not have described it as "almost savage in its ferocity to the landowners." Was not the present system rather to be described as savage in its ferocity? Under it the Loudon County Council were allowed to schedule lands, which might be compulsorily purchased beyond the limits necessary for improvements; and this was the scheme of recoupment to landlords; they could take the property simply at a valuation, irrespective of the improvement itself, and the owner might get no benefit whatever from the improvement. That law had been in operation for 20 years, and it might be worked most unjustly to the landlord. Under the betterment system, however, the landlord must be benefited by the improvement towards which he was called on to pay. Under the principle of recoupment cases of this kind were possible—there might be two houses standing together, one of them being a shop and the other a private residence, required for the purposes of an improvement. The shop, however, might he left alone because of the larger amount of compensation payable to the owner of the property; but the private residence might be taken at a valuation which would, in all probability, give the owner little more than the bare value of the property, while, on the other hand, the owner of the shop would be enormously benefited by reason of the improved position of his property in the new thoroughfare. Their Lordships would see how thoroughly unjust and inequitable that system was as compared with betterment. Another, and very serious, objection to the recoupment system was that it was not only unjust, but thoroughly wasteful and extravagant. Where a man's trade interest was bought up and extinguished, a valuable property was destroyed, just as if by a bombardment. And they could not buy up a tradesman's house and shop without buying up his trade interest as well. He knew something of public feeling in London on this question, and he maintained that the ratepayers throughout the Metropolis were almost unanimous in favour of the principle of betterment. This was made abundantly manifest at the last election for the County Council, and it resulted in the return of a large majority of Members who pledged themselves to adopt the principle, and, if possible, to secure its application to London. It was a point of importance in this matter that those who directly benefited by the improvements should, as far as possible, be made to pay for them; otherwise there would be a danger of the County Council succumbing to the principle of what was called "fair play" in the work of improvements. If the whole of London was called upon to pay for an improvement which benefited only a part of it, there was danger of feelings of jealousy and dissatisfaction being aroused between the different parts of the Metropolis, as, indeed, had already been the case in more than one instance. In the case of the Western Thames Embankment the people in the East of London said that, as so many millions had been spent to benefit the West End, so many more millions must be expended for the benefit of the East End. If London improvements were paid for all over the Metropolis there would be danger of competition between one part of London and another, so that one particular locality should not get an unfair share of improvements. For that reason, also, it was highly desirable that as far as possible improvements should be paid for by those who specially benefited by them. One word in conclusion. The noble Earl opposite had gone in some detail into this clause. It was, no doubt, long and somewhat complicated, and he was sorry their Lordships had, by their previous vote, shut themselves out from considering its details; but he would respectfully submit to them that that was not a sufficient reason for throwing over a Bill which had been carried by a majority of 5 to 2 in the House of Commons, and was supported by the almost unanimous vote of the ratepayers of London through their representatives on the London County Council.


My Lords, the noble Lord opposite has expressed himself with such extraordinary energy in favour of the principle of betterment that I should like to say a few words to record what is the point of view from which I regard this question. I have no metaphysical or à priori objection to the principle of betterment. On the contrary, it seems to me, as stated by Mr. H. H. Fowler, a very sensible principle, that if you can ascertain clearly and without doubt that a public improvement is going to increase the fortune of a man, you may make that man a contributor to the carrying out of that public improvement. I have nothing to say against that principle. After all, it is a well-known principle, and it is analogous to that which is applied in the case of building sea walls on the coast of this country. Those walls protect the property, and therefore preserve the fortunes, of a certain number of proprietors. There is no doubt who are the proprietors benefited by the sea walls, and, therefore, in the rates raised for erecting them a further burden is placed upon those proprietors. That is a principle which is perfectly reasonable and just, and no one would object if a mode of equitably applying it to the case of London improvements could be discovered. On the contrary, it would be a matter of congratulation if this could be done, for undoubtedly there is considerable difficulty in finding where the money for the improvements which this city requires is to come from. But because you have an impression that one man pays too much and somebody else ought to pay something, it does not follow that you are thereby absolved from taking any trouble to get at the right person to pay. That is the fallacy which seems to me to pervade the speeches of those who support this clause. They seem to think that when it is once established to be important that persons who do not pay now should be brought in to pay, that all objections to the form or machinery of the measure are to be thrust aside as unimportant and vague. This Bill is entirely a question of machinery and detail. Find us the person whose fortune is manifestly bettered—find it without uncertainty and without injustice—and we will make no objection whatever to his contributing to the improvement which betters his fortune. But you must find it without uncertainty and without injustice to himself. This clause in the County Council Bill appears to me, I confess, to be the least equitable of all the proposals that have been made. The idea which the County Council appear to have conceived, that participation in the value of improvements is purely a question of proximity to it, is, in my opinion, an entirely groundless assumption. That a now street affects the houses immediately adjoining, that is upon each side of it, everybody knows; but it does not follow that the value to proprietors or occupiers of adjacent properties depends on their proximity to the new street. This plan of taking lines of deviation—which we have never been allowed to see, and therefore I do not know exactly what they are—that shows the manner in which this question, like others, has been dealt with—this mode of taking two parallel lines, I suppose on each side of the street, and presuming that every person included therein will benefit by the improvement, has not the vaguest shadow of foundation. The County Council appear to think that the action of an improvement is a radiating action, like the action of heat, light, or gravitation, and that people benefit in inverse proportion to the square of the distance. I cannot imagine where they got that idea from. The truth is, so far as my observation has led me to a conclusion, that the population or owners in the immediate neighbourhood of an improvement may not only not benefit, but may, and constantly do, suffer loss, because the good shops and good customers desert the old and smaller streets and go to the new street; and therefore your neighbours, these people within the area of deviation whom the County Council propose to tax, are likely to suffer loss rather than to derive benefit from improvements you have been making. Then you fall back upon your arbitrator, and you tell me the arbitrator will discover all this. I have not a word to say against the action of the arbitratros of the Local Government Board. Perhaps it would be desirable, if they are to be entrusted with great powers of this kind, that they should be made a more permanent body, and that they should not be appointed simply ad hoc for deciding cases in which at some future time political passions might arise. At all events, I have nothing to object to in the decision of the Government arbi- trator; but official arbitrators have hitherto been employed to decide questions of fact, such as the value of this property, or that property, or of the growth of value in a neighbourhood; but now they are to be asked to decide what will be the effect of an improvement that has not yet been carried out upon various properties which it has not yet, therefore, affected. An arbitrator decides every day, and decides with very fair accuracy and contentment to the parties concerned, upon values or rates of increase that are actually in existence; but here you are asking him to decide in eases whore there exists no code of rules, no accumulated body of experience, no basis for decision, which would enable a surveyor to give evidence or an arbitrator to decide upon the probable effect in the future of an improvement, the action of which must be absolutely uncertain. The serious consequence of asking an arbitrator to decide something which he cannot possibly know, and with respect to which he must draw entirely upon his own imagination, is the enormous cost which you inflict upon the suitor. You know that these land disputes are not cheap questions at any time. You know that these miserable people who are caught between the lines of deviation are not rich; and when the London County Council assesses some huge sum upon them, if they have to fight—and no doubt the County Council will assess the largest sum it can in order to make precedents for future work—they will have to appeal to arbitrators against the County Council assessors. The County Council will have a serried array of expert witnesses, and the unfortunate appellants will be compelled to produce experts on their side. There is no other legal amusement in the world that is as expensive as that of fighting expert evidence; and the more uncertain a matter is, and the more it is a question for the arbitrator's imagination, the more will it be necessary to rely upon the evidence of this body of experts on each side, who will have to collect, painfully, such facts as can be obtained from the few parts of London where improvements have taken place, and where, of course, they would be able to show that one house had been improved, and that other houses had not been improved at all. These uncertain- ties will mean nothing but expense to the litigants. But see what the position is in which you put these unfortunate people, who are caught between the lines, of deviation. They are to be for seven years kept in uncertainty about their property. When you impose a tax there is an end of it, and the various interests concerned. But now, for seven years, there may be upon those wretched people the uncertainty whether or not their property is to be selected for being mulcted in this manner, and they will have no means of accelerating the decision or escaping from the uncertainty. The very first effect of this Bill, I venture to say, will be to lower the value by 50 per cent. of every inch of property. The values might increase afterwards, but at the first moment the feeling of panic at being exposed for so long a period to an uncertain tax would diminish the value of, and be a heavy burden upon, property within the lines of deviation. No one wishing to sell a lease would have the slightest chance of getting the fair value which it bears at this moment. Those, my Lords, are the grounds on which I object to this ill-constructed and slovenly measure. And I wish your Lordships would look at it by the light of precedent, and consider the irregularity of form of which we have been guilty. We have Public Bills in both Houses of Parliament. If this had been a Public Bill it would have been exposed to ample discussion in the House of Commons as each line of it was taken through Committee; public opinion would have been turned to it, and information would have flowed in; and this new principle of taxation, if agreed to, would have been established in the light of day. Even if it had been treated as an ordinary Private Bill it would have been considered fully, and counsel would have been heard upon each side before men who would have dealt with it according to the best of their ability. But you did not even do that. A thing called a Hybrid Committee was appointed to consider the measure, where the men were not selected on account of their impartiality, but on account of their opinions, five of its Members being on one side and four on the other, and the fifth man on the side of the majority was actually the member of the County Council who was most interested in the proposed legislation and in pushing this Bill. My Lords, this Bill has been, not for the sake of the money to be obtained by it, but for the sake of clandestinely and insidiously setting up a precedent, driven through the crooked backways of a Hybrid Committee, instead of being submitted to a Public or a Private Bill Committee in the public light of day, where all Bills which come before them are fully discussed. In such circumstances, objections of form become objections of substance and reality. Such forms are meant to prevent haste, and to protect the weak from injustice. In this case those forms have been deliberately set aside; and it is to protect the weak from injustice that I ask your Lordships to insist upon your Amendment.


My Lords, I must say I have heard with astonishment the last portion of the argument of the noble Marquess. I can hardly see upon what ground he can possibly base it. He has just told your Lordships that the Bill was not submitted to an impartial tribunal, but to a Hybrid Committee in the House of Commons, and he has criticised the mode in which the Bill passed through that Hybrid Committee. Well, in your Lordships' House there are no Hybrid Committees, and the clause now under consideration might have been considered by an impartial Committee of this House, but for the action of the noble Marquess and his friends, who carried a Resolution ex-eluding the clause from consideration by the Committee. I can only suppose that the noble Marquess has forgotten the nature of that Resolution. I submit to your Lordships that that is the very point of which we complain. Why was not this clause allowed to be examined? It seems to me very proper that it should have been examined. I do not assent for a moment that the clause in this particular form as sent up from the House of Commons is perfect. I think, indeed, it is one of those clauses which it is exceedingly desirable should have been examined by a Select Committee, and if there was any wish afterwards to review it it could have been discussed. In any case, light would have been thrown upon the noble Marquess's metaphysical opinion. I believe he said it was not a metaphysical opinion, but a sort of pious opinion, that betterment is in itself a good thing. In point of fact it is impossible to argue against the principle. Nothing is more easy—and it is a very common thing in private discussions—than to admit that a principle is a good one, and at the same time to take extraordinary care that that principle shall have no practical application. That I imagine to be entirely the position of the noble Marquess and his friends. They admit the principle to be sound and rational, but he and his friends have prevented that principle from being carried out in a Bill which has been placed on the Table of this House. But, my Lords, see what a position that places this House in. The noble Marquess, who from his ability and position has great weight, tells the House that in his opinion the principle of betterment is a sound and a good one, and at the same time he has supported the proposal made on the other side of the House which has prevented the possibility of the application of that principle under the Bill before your Lordships. I rather thought the noble Marquess would have taken up another ground, which was the ground taken up on the previous occasion, that this provision ought not to be put forward in a Private Bill. Of course, I understand that ground perfectly well, though that was not quite the ground taken by the noble Marquess the other night—that it was a matter to be dealt with by a Public Bill.


Yes, and I entirely retain that opinion; but what I pointed out was the extreme injustice of not letting it go before, not only a Public, but even a Private Bill Committee.


But it had to be considered in this House, as all Private Bills have to be considered, that is under the Forms of this House. I think the noble Marquess relied upon the argument brought forward on the Resolution—an argument I can perfectly understand, and which is quite legitimate—that you ought first to have a general law upon the subject laying down the general principle by which the whole matter would have been settled. With regard to the objection the noble Marquess took to the arbitrator, I am sure the noble Marquess must know that arbitrators have constantly to decide questions upon which they have no general principles to guide them. I should like to know, in a case where a number of houses inhabited by the working classes have been destroyed, upon what principle the arbitrator determines exactly the number of tenements requiring to be built on account of that destruction? But it is a decision to which they must come to the best of their ability. I am assured by my noble Friend (Lord Farrer), with his great experience at the Metropolitan Board of Works, that there are numberless instances of matters being decided by arbitrators in which there is just as little guidance from general principles as there would be in this case. The noble Marquess said that in all probability property affected by the improvements would decrease in value. If that happens, then it is quite clear that the principle of betterment would not have any application, and I do not see how an arbitrator could say in that case that the value of the property had increased. I still think that the best mode of proceeding is by a Private Bill. There are, no doubt, great difficulties in the way of formulating a satisfactory scheme; but the proposition here is to carry out the principle with a real and genuine desire to do justice to everyone. Considering the very strong opinion on the part of the population of this great city in favour of some such scheme as this, and considering the largeness of the majority in the House of Commons against your Lordships' Amendment and its nonparty character, I think it would be a lamentable thing for the House to commit the grave mistake of refusing to consent to the Amendment.


wished to say a few words, not in reference to the principle of betterment, but rather with regard to the position in which the House found itself in consequence of the Resolution passed by their Lordships, and of the action taken by the House of Commons upon it. The Resolution did not condemn nor impugn the fairness or equity of the principle of betterment, but stated that the House required further information as to its application, and that the principle should be practically carried into effect in a more public manner. The result was that when the Bill came before the Private Bill Committee to which it was referred, that Committee considered that they were debarred from dealing with Clause 41 at all. He did not think the Committee could have taken any other course; but the result was that the opponents of the clause were debarred from being heard by the Committee, whether their objections were generally to the principle of betterment, or local objections which might go to the point that the particular area involved was not one suited to the application of that principle. In the Debate which took place on the Resolution he ventured to express an opinion that where property was improved by the expenditure of public money it was just and fair that that property should contribute to the expense of the improvement. He also expressed the opinion that a principle of this kind, when confined to a limited and local area, might very properly be dealt with in a local Act; but the Resolution of the House maintained—and he thought that there was great force in it—that some general principles ought to be laid down by an authority that would not be disputed to guide the conduct of Committees in dealing with individual cases. He would suggest that that excellent end might be attained by the appointment of a Joint Committee, such as that which sat to consider the question of electric current disturbances during the present Session. The Betterment Clause had been reinstated by the House of Commons by a very large majority, and that fact, of course, could not be disregarded, especially considering how that majority was formed. But there was the great difficulty which had not been alluded to by any previous speaker, that if the clause was allowed to stand no opponent of the Bill could possibly be heard against it. They would be absolutely debarred from their Constitutional right to be heard. It was impossible, in the present stage of the Bill, to refer it again to the Committee, while by the action of the House the other day the opponents of the Bill were debarred from being heard against the principle of betterment as carried out in the clause which had been struck out of the Bill. Therefore, if their Lordships did not maintain their Resolution, they would pass a Private Bill without giving its opponents an opportunity of being heard. The only possible solution to his mind was to postpone the operation of the clause until a future Session, when the possibility of applying the principle might be considered by a Select or Joint Committee. He did not say that that was altogether a satisfactory solution, but he threw it out as a suggestion. The result of that would be that the County Council would obtain the clause as it stood; that the opponents of the measure would hereafter have the opportunity of being heard against it; and that owners or purchasers of property would be warned that their property might be burdened by a charge. He was afraid that would hardly be accepted as a compromise by either Party; but, failing that, he regretted that it would be impossible for him, in the position he had the honour to hold, to support a Motion which would prevent all the opponents of the measure from being heard.


I merely wish to say one word on the point to which my noble Friend (the Earl of Morley) has alluded. I cannot myself entertain any doubt that the opponents of the Bill are those persons at whose instance the proceedings were taken which prevented them from being heard, and, therefore, I have not the slightest fear that injustice will be done to them.


said, it could not be contended, as had been said, that the last election of the County Council turned upon the question of betterment. No doubt the Metropolitan Radical Federation referred to the question in their programme; but it was mixed up with revision of taxation, the revision of the distribution of rates between owners and occupiers, the special taxation of land values, the rating of empty houses, vacant special rating, and other questions. It was rather strange that the Earl of Rosebery, when he was asked to sit for St. George's, Wapping, and declined, though he issued an address which occupied three-quarters of a column in The Times, did not mention betterment as one of the subjects which the London County Council ought to deal with.

On Question? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 27; Not-Contents 50.


moved that the House do insist on the Amendment it had made in the Bill.

Motion agreed to.

A Committee appointed to prepare a Reason for the Lords insisting on their Amendment:—The Committee to meet forthwith.

Report from the Committee of the Reason to be offered to the Commons for the Lords insisting on their Amendment, read, and agreed to: And a Message sent to the Commons to return the Bill with the Amendment and Reason.