HL Deb 21 June 1895 vol 34 cc1619-27

*The EARL OF BELMORE rose to call attention— to the effect of the Local Government Acts, in certain cases, upon procedure in Private Bill legislation. The subject to which he wished to refer was of some public importance, as it concerned the system of Private Bill legislation, although, perhaps, of not much popular interest, and he asked specially for the attention of the Chairman of Committees to what he was going to say. He was aware that the notice which he had put upon the paper was rather vague, but he could not help that, as he suspected, at the time he gave the notice, that its application was not confined to one class of cases only. This view had been since confirmed. The cases to which he desired to direct particular attention were the cases of Bills for altering the boundaries of counties or boroughs. But there were other cases—e.g., Bills for Electric Lighting. The old procedure in such cases was, of course, by Private Bill, and that procedure could still be adopted, but, under the 54th Section of the Local Government Act of 1888, the procedure could now be by way of Provisional Order. A representation might be made to the Local Government Board that an alteration in the boundaries of a county or borough, or of both, was desirable, and the Local Government Board, unless for special reasons they thought it undesirable to do so, could then cause a local inquiry to be held and, afterwards, could make an Order which was provisional until confirmed by Parliament. This procedure, under the Local Government Act, was not compulsory, but purely voluntary on the part of those who wished to proceed. Procedure by Provisional Order, as compared with procedure by Private Bill, afforded two advantages. One was that it probably saved a great deal of expense, and the other was that it enabled a local investigation to be held by a Local Government Board Inspector, a course which his experience led him to believe was most desirable. To illustrate his views, he proposed to refer to two or three cases which had come before Parliament in this or in previous Sessions. There was, first, the Leamington case. It was desired by the borough of Leamington to incorporate two parishes which bounded the borough and into which the borough had overflowed. They asked for a local inquiry under the Local Government Act and obtained an Order. What was the result? The two parishes sought to be incorporated declined to be incorporated, and followed the Provisional Order to that House and the House of Commons, and there were there inquiries instead of one and great expense was incurred. The next case was that of Folkestone. This was a case originally brought under sub-section F. of the 54th Clause of the Local Government Act. It was not Folkestone that moved in the matter first, but the neighbouring small town of Sandgate. There was an overlapping area between these two places for sanitary purposes, and part of the original borough of Folkestone projected into a street in Sandgate. Well, Sandgate applied to the Local Government Board, and an inspector held two inquiries into the case, and the Folkestone people learned from him that he was going to recommend the Local Government Board to make an Order, the effect of which would be to cut off that part of their borough which was really a part of Sandgate, and to incorporate it into Sandgate. Thereupon they went to the Local Government Board and objected to the plan, and asked the Board to hold their hands until a Borough Extension Bill could be brought it. They said that if their request were refused they would follow the proposed Provisional Order through Parliament and oppose it. The Local Government Board acceded temporarily to their request, abstained from making an Order, and allowed them to bring in their Bill. The Bill was brought in in that House, and was thrown out in Committee upon the promoters' own case, the Opposition not being called upon. What the result would be he did not know. If the Local Government Board were to make an order now there might be four or five, inquiries before a final settlement of the controversy. He now came to the most important case, that of the Bristol Extension Bill, which came before him in a Select Committee this year. The consideration of the Bill was prolonged, for it occupied 10 days (or parts of days), and great expense must have been incurred by the promoters and the Opposition, with very little result as regarded the promoters. The Local Government Board in this case made a Report to Parliament, which was referred to his Committee. In that Report the Board said that doubtless the promoters of the Bill would tell the Committee the reasons which rendered it desirable that the extension of the city should be effected by means of a private Bill instead of by Provisional Order. The Board pointed out that besides altering the municipal areas, the promoters proposed to make a very considerable alteration in the Poor Law areas, and that they were going to consolidate with the existing Bristol Union the greater part of one populous union, and part of another populous union, which proceeding would involve a very great shifting of the incidence of poor-law taxation. The Committee felt so much difficulty in regard to the matter, the shifting incidence of taxation was so great, and there were so many things which ought to have been inquired into which could not be inquired into in the Bill presented to them, there being no opposition on the part of the two Poor Law Unions concerned, to one of which it possibly would not have made much financial difference, whilst in the case of the other, 22 rural parishes would have escaped paying £6,000 a year, which was now the loss upon the urban part of one parish sought to be incorporated with the Bristol Union, that when the promoters finished their case, the Committee informed them they did not think they could go on with that part of the Bill at all, and that, if it were gone on with, it should be by local inquiry. They proceeded to hear the Opposition upon the municipal part of the case (having first struck out part of two Somersetshire parishes, which the promoters accepted), after which they made some further reductions of the proposed extension of the City of Bristol. In order to give an idea of how great was that extension, he might mention that they proposed to absorb one-fourth of the whole population of Gloucestershire, and one-seventh of the rateable area. The Committee made considerable reductions both as regards area and rateable value and population, and they announced their decision on a Friday afternoon, and the promoters had till Monday to consider what they would do. On Monday morning, their counsel informed the Committee that, having considered the matter, they found the decision would make such a difference in their calculations on certain differential rates they had offered to some parts proposed to be included, with the view of smoothing down difficulties, that they would have to make the calculations all over again, and that this would probably lead to another prolonged inquiry upon clauses, and upon the whole they thought it better to drop the whole Bill with the exception of one part about which they had been able to come to terms, and they so took their Bill which, from having originally been a very large, had now become a very small one. He did not move anything, and he thought it was hardly his place as a private Member to take that course. But having laid before their Lordships the main facts, he wished to make some suggestions as to how a remedy might be found for this state of things. One thing that might be done would be to make a local inquiry compulsory, though he was not prepared to say he would go so far as that until something less drastic had been tried. But it was worthy of consideration whether the precedent set by the Irish Tramways Act could not be followed either with or without legislation. The Tramways Act provided for local inquiry by the Grand Jury in relation to any tramway proposed to be made in any county in Ireland, this being followed, if necessary, by another inquiry before the Judicial Committee of the Irish Privy Council. If the Bill were unopposed before the Lord Lieutenant in Council the Lord Lieutenant might make an absolute Order which became law at once, but if opposed a Bill must be brought into Parliament to confirm the Provisional Order. In 1885, a Provisional Order Bill, to confirm a Tramway Order of the Irish Privy Council, was sent to a Select Committee of which he was Chairman, and was rejected. More than a month afterwards, Lord Spencer moved that this Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House, on the ground that under the terms of the Tramways Act of 1860, it should have been treated as a public Bill; and in spite of Lord Redesdale's opposition, on a division, the House adopted that view, and restored the Bill to the Paper. It failed in the House of Commons for that year, but was revived the year after, and since then no one had thought it worth while to follow an Irish Tramway Bill to Parliament. Although the effect of Lord Spencer's Motion had been to reverse the decision of his Committee, he did not complain of that, and though there was a great deal to be said for the principle for which Lord Spencer had contended, it had occurred to him whether something of that sort might not be done with regard to Local Government Order Bills relating to alterations of boundaries of counties and boroughs, and then either by law or Standing Order it might be provided that where there had been a local inquiry a Bill should not be heard before a Private Bill Committee unless the House made a Special Order to that effect. If that were done it would encourage persons to go to the Local Government Board and ask for a local inquiry, and it would save a great deal of expense. Another point to which he wished to draw attention was the multiplication of oppositions in consequence of the Local Government Acts that were in force. In one part of the Bristol Bill there were four oppositions covering the same ground more or less. It had occurred to him whether some arrangement could not be made to consolidate opposition in cases of this sort. He heard, indeed, outside the Committee Room that the matter had been considered, but he supposed the minor opponents thought if they did not enter a separate appearance that they might be shut out from having some point urged. He thought that by judicious arrangement there need be no fear of that. It might be provided that even if they were to have separate petitions the County Council should be entitled to go into the petitions of the minor authorities and to fight their case for them, possibly sharing the expense instead of having four sets of Queen's Counsel with their juniors and witnesses besides. For these reasons he wished to bring the matter before their Lordships.


said, that, in common with every one of their Lordships, he sympathised with the object the noble Earl had in view to cheapen and shorten the process by which public and other bodies could pass through Parliament their several inquiries. He ventured to think a good deal of what the noble Lord said would apply very much more broadly than to the class of Bills to which he had specially called attention. Indeed, the question of local as against Parliamentary inquiry had been the subject of not infrequent discussion and inquiries by committees and other bodies. As regarded the question of boundaries, the alternative no doubt, existed, to any Town Council or any county, either to go directly to Parliament for a private Bill, or else to proceed under the 54th Section of the Local Government Act by Provisional Order granted by the Local Government Board. When the Local Government Act was first passed, it was considered by the Police and Sanitary Committee, an influential Committee of the House of Commons, whether municipalities, having the alternative of altering their boundaries by Provisional Order, should be allowed to proceed by private Bill at all, and that Committee, in the case of Grimsby, the first which was brought before them, decided that on broad grounds they could not lay down, that a municipality was not, under any circumstances, to come to Parliament, even in future Sessions, for an extension of area, but they thought the result of such applications should depend upon the facts of the case. The following Session the case of Leicester came up, which was purely one for the alteration of boundaries. In that case it was argued that the Provisional Order method should be adopted, but the Committee, after careful consideration, determined that the Bill should proceed, on the ground that it was fair to allow the municipality to proceed in that, way if it so desired. He thought it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to debar the municipality from exercising their right to come to Parliament and apply for a private Bill. He was inclined to think that encouragement should be given, as far as possible, to proceed by local inquiry. As regarded the cheapness of local inquiry, he was not altogether so sanguine as his noble Friend. He had experience of one local inquiry directed to this very subject of the alteration of boundaries. The inquiry by the Inspector of the Local Government Board, although held in a town at a distance of 250 miles from London, was attended by almost as many members of the Parliamentary Bar as if it had taken place here. He was not, therefore, quite sure that cheapness was always the result of local inquiry. At the same time, no doubt local inquiry did, in some cases, elimi-inate a certain amount of the opposition which might otherwise have been brought before the cognisance of a Parliamentary Committee. He did not think it would be right or just upon the municipalities of this country to leave them absolutely and entirely in the hands of the Local Government Board, however admirable the administration of that body might be. If they made local inquiry absolute in all cases, they would leave it entirely to the Local Government Board to debar the municipalities in these particular cases from coming to Parliament at all. He scarcely thought that was a course which Parliament would consent to adopt. There was another point which was a much less important one. It was this, that municipalities in altering their boundaries had constantly to introduce into their Bill other matters which could not be settled by Provisional Orders. He thought their Lordships would agree with him it would be hardly fair to a municipality to oblige them to come for these incidental and less important purposes to Parliament, and, at the same time, insist that they should always be subjected to the expense of a local inquiry for the main objects they had in view—namely, the alteration of the boundaries. Sympathising as he did most earnestly with his noble Friend in his desire to simplify and cheapen the procedure, in these cases, he scarcely thought it would be advisable by Standing Order or by legislation to debar these municipalities or any other public bodies from the right they had at present to come to Parliament and apply for a private Bill. The noble Lord referred to the precedent of the Tramways (Ireland) Act, but he thought that case scarcely bore upon the particular case his noble Friend had brought before the House. The Tramways (Ireland) Act dealt with baronial guarantees, and required not merely a local inquiry upon the spot, but involved an inquiry before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Dublin, a body of great eminence and practical utility, analogous to which they had no body in England. He thought it was but reasonable that the orders issued under such high authority should scarcely ever be revised by Parliament, and, indeed, he thought he was right in saying that these orders were not provisional orders at all, and it was by mistake they were originally so called. They were called afterwards, as they were now, Privy Council Orders (Ireland) Bills, and that took them entirely out of the category of private Bills or Bills dealt with by a similar procedure. Lastly, the noble Lord referred to the question of the consolidation of opposition in cases like the Bristol and Leamington Bills. No doubt this was desirable where that opposition was founded on identical grounds, but there were cases in which the opposition, by the different bodies, would be on separate and dissimilar grounds, and while he sympathised with the noble Lord's desire to consolidate the opposition as far as possible, he confessed, having thought the matter out carefully, that he did not see any means by which they could force the various public bodies to consolidate their opposition if they did not desire to do so. It seemed to him the question was entirely in the hands of the Parliamentary Committee, who could decline to hear a repetition of the same evidence from several local bodies, whilst, however, giving every facility for the tendering of evidence on any new points. He thought he had answered, as far as he was able, the questions put to him, although he was afraid that his noble Friend might not regard the answer as, on the whole, satisfactory. As he had said at the beginning, if they were to deal with a question of this kind they would be merely dealing with the fringe of a large subject, which would require a great amount of consideration indeed.