HL Deb 04 July 1895 vol 35 cc173-7

*THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (The Earl of MORLEY) moved a Resolution providing for various Amendments in the Standing Orders of the House, which were only to apply to Bills not now before the House. He said it was not usually necessary for him to say anything in moving this annual Motion, but there were one or two points which he thought he would be wrong to pass over sub silentio. The majority of alterations made were of a technical and verbal character. The first point to which he wished to refer was a new Standing Order, No. 45b, which proposed to give some indication of what the limits of the improvement area under a betterment clause should be. It was extremely difficult to draw any clause that would be perfect in this case, but he thought that there must be some such clause, and, until something better could be found, the clause he proposed would be some guidance to those who had to fix betterment areas. The main object of the clause was that the area to be fixed should extend a uniform distance on each side of the work to be constructed. If the authority which proposed to fix an improvement area were allowed to deal with the question exactly as they liked, it would be quite possible for them to make the line such as to exclude entirely anything that could possibly be worsement, and to include only those properties that would be clearly bettered. The proposal was, in the case of a street, that a maximum of improvement area should be laid down, and that maximum, for want of any better suggestion, was fixed at three times the width of the improvement measured from the central line of the work. There were cases in which there was no definite work contemplated, and in which it would be difficult to lay down any rules, and in such cases the Standing Order was so worded that the matter would be left to the Committee to which the Bill was referred. The other Standing Order to which he wished to call the attention of the House related to the London County Council Money Bills. There was at present a Standing Order in the House of Commons relating to such Bills, but there was none whatever in their Lordships' House. That was brought particularly to his attention by the London County Council Money Bill of the present year. He found in that Bill it was proposed, amongst a variety of other sums, to raise money on capital account to meet the expenses of the purchase of the undertakings of the water companies, whenever that took place, without any limit of any kind, without any maximum or any reference to any public authority. That seemed to him so contrary to general practice that he thought it hardly right to pass the clause in such a form. It was a matter of no inconvenience to the County Council, because it was obvious that the Bills could not pass this Session. He thought it desirable that there should be some Standing Order of the House dealing with these Bills, and he had taken precisely the Standing Order of the House of Commons. Thus the London County Council would be in no worse position than at present, because their Lordships' Standing Order would be precisely the same as the Standing Order of the House of Commons. He had simply made the Amendments in it necessary to bring it into relation with the position of the House as regarded the House of Commons. That was the only alteration he had made, and in principle, and almost in wording, it was identical with the Standing Order of the House of Commons. He thought the House would agree that it was desirable that, in the case of these Bills, there should be some guidance to the House and himself in dealing with these Bills, which were of very great and growing importance.


As regards the last matter, of course if there are Standing Orders in the House of Commons relating to the London County Council Bills in these terms, there is great reason in the proposal to make a Standing Order in this House to correspond with them. As regards the other Standing Order, I cannot help thinking it is undesirable to pass a Standing Order which the public bodies interested have had no opportunity of considering. Such a Standing Order would have reference to all Bills brought in by municipalities and police authorities in the future, and I should have thought that it was only reasonable that they should have had an opportunity of considering its terms and formulating objections to them. At all events, so far as one body is concerned, I believe there is grave objection to the new Standing Order, and certainly it seems to me to be open to considerable criticism. It lays down a hard and fast line as to the limit of the improvement. It assumes that in no case can anything beyond that be a proper limit. That seems to me not to be founded on any sound principle, and therefore I should have thought it would be better not to pass it without further consideration. I venture to submit that it is only reasonable that we should at least invite representations from municipalities affected by it before we make it one of the Standing Orders of the House.


It seems to me that the noble Lord, though very careful for the interests and convenience of municipalities, has allowed to go out of sight the fact that this new jurisdiction seriously affects private individuals who are owners or occupiers of houses and lands. It imposes a new liability; and exposes them to a new risk. It gives to those who promote these Bills the power of drawing them within the mischief of them, a power which they never possessed before. Before this, the only burden which the promoters of Bills like these could place on the private occupier or owner, was to purchase his property, which was, of course, a risk which they would not undertake, on account of its onerous result to themselves, without adequate reason; but the power to place everybody within the liability of being supposed to be benefited by some improvement is obviously a power that might be exercised very recklessly, and the surveyor or other officer of the Department might sweep in property with very little regard to the rights of individuals, and thinking only of the municipality or persons moving in the matter. I quite admit that if we pass a Standing Order we should do so with full consciousness that it may be necessary to revise it another year, but of the two risks—the risk of inconvenience to municipalities and the risk of exposing the occupier or owner of land to unjust encroachment—I think the latter the greater. Therefore I should prefer to begin by passing this very carefully considered Order, and if the municipalities should think it defective in any respect, we shall always be ready to consider respectfully any objections they may have to make.


I move, by way of protest, to omit the new Standing Order 45b.


It is very important that the Standing Order should be introduced before the coming Session. It is very likely it may require amendment, but it is necessary we should have some such Standing Order to guide us.


, as Chairman of the Committee which had dealt with the Bill just passed, wished to say that it was the opinion of the Committee that there should be some controlling power with regard to fixing the area of betterment and worsement. It was proposed before the Committee that the areas of betterment and worsement should be the same. Without bringing any accusation against an authority like the County Council of trying to deal unfairly with those whom the Act affected, yet there would be a tendency to make the area include those likely to be bettered and exclude those who were likely to be worsened. It was, therefore, extremely important that no arbitrary line should be taken, and that Parliament should have some sort of control in the matter to see that no unfairness was practised on landowners. There ought to be some Standing Order which would give power to Parliament to control the area.


said, that the Committees would have full power of control. The question was whether it was desirable to lay down as a hard and fast rule that the improvement area should never exceed three times the breadth of the street.


pointed out that if the question were left to the Committees, the parties in some cases might have to incur unnecessary expense.


doubted whether the Committee could exercise such complete control as the noble and learned Lord imagined, because if a Committee were to alter the area of improvement mentioned in a Bill, owners interested would have just cause to complain of want of notice.


was strongly of opinion that it was desirable to define the meaning to be attached to the expression "improvement area."

Standing Order 45b agreed to.

Standing Orders amended accordingly, and to be printed as amended. (No. 185.)