HL Deb 10 July 1900 vol 85 cc1082-94

My Lords, I have been deputed on the unanimous desire of the Parliamentary Committee of the London County Council to move the motion standing in my name, for the recommittal of this Bill. It is a very unpleasant task to have in any way to impugn the action of one of your Lordships' Committees, and I hope I shall perform my task in a way that will not give any offence to anyone. I hope it is not necessary for me to tell the noble Earl the Chairman of the Committee, and his colleagues, that I do not for a moment impute anything in the nature of partiality to the Committee in the course they have adopted. This is no mere form of words. I am absolutely certain in my own mind that they came to the consideration of this Bill with every desire to do complete and substantial justice between everybody concerned. I would say in the first place that the action the Committee took was most unusual, and I think I might call it almost unprecedented. What the Committee did was this: They decided against the Bill after having heard the promoters, and the evidence of the promoters, solely on the opening speech of the counsel in opposition to the Bill. That is a very unusual course to adopt. The circumstances of this case make it extremely inexplicable to me and very mysterious why the Committee should have adopted that course. Now, my Lords, I quite understand that sometimes the Committee may adopt that course — that a prima facie case that appears to be a good case may be made out, and that the opposing counsel may make criticisms on the case and on the evidence of such a nature as to convince the Committee that what they thought was a good case was in point of fact a bad case. As regards this particular case, I think there is very little doubt that the promoters did make what the Committee considered a good prima facie case. At all events, it was a case good enough to satisfy the House of Commons Select Committee, with Sir William Houldsworth at its head, and clearly the noble Lords who composed this Committee considered that a prima facie case had been made out, because they asked the opposing counsel to make; his speech. Now, my Lords, if the ! counsel opposed to the Bill had merely contented himself with commenting upon the speeches and the evidence produced in support of the Bill, I could have understood the course that the Committee took; but the counsel against the Bill was not content with that very dull and prosaic method of proceeding. He took very high flights of imagination; he produced before your Lordships' Committee as facts that were uncontroverted and incontrovertible, facts that were very much in dispute; he raised to the position of axioms certain statements which he took for granted all through his speech— statements which had been completely riddled and disposed of in the House of Commons by the cross-examination of his own witness. That is my case, and I do suggest that there were two courses open to the Committee which they might have taken, and to which I could have taken no exception. One course was to disregard these statements of so-called facts utterly unsupported by evidence, because he called no evidence. The second course was, if the Committee were impressed with those statements of fact, to ask him to produce his witnesses in order that he might substantiate those statements. But the Committee did neither. Apparently these statements made a considerable impression on them, as they decided in his favour when he sat down, without hearing any evidence. My point is that the case was judged on an insufficient investigation of the whole matter, and that if the investigation had been carried, as I think it ought to have been carried, a little further, very likely the result might have been different. The Committee did not for a moment suggest that any further evidence was required. Now, my Lords, the very short facts in connection with this case, so far as it is necessary to refer to them—and I refer to them, not in order that your Lordships' House may retry the case, but in order to support my contention that the Committee came to their conclusion after insufficient investigation — were these: This Bill was a Bill to enable the London County Council to buy Spitalfields Market—market rights and all. The market in question had been in private hands for more than 200 years. It was a market entirely outside the City boundaries, and in a corner of what will hereafter constitute the new Borough of Stepney. The object that the London County Council had in wishing to buy, was that this market had outgrown its bounds, and had become a very serious nuisance to the neighbourhood. Your Lordships' House decided that this was a market as it is legally called, without metes and bounds, and being a market without metes and bounds, it had a right to spread itself for the purposes of the market over the public thoroughfares, and to create a nuisance which nobody could stop. The Home Secretary was applied to, the magistrates were applied to, and they said that there was no redress. Now, this market is practically under the control of one man, a lessee, who has more than sixty years of his lease to run, and he can do as he pleases. All the local bodies, without any objection—perhaps I ought to except the City, which does not appear to have taken any interest in the matter at all—but all the local bodies who interested themselves in this question of the market objected to the market remaining in private hands; there is no doubt about that; and most of the neighbouring local bodies wanted the London County Council to buy. On that point I would like to say this: that the localities principally affected by the market are Shoreditch and Bethnal Green, and not any part of the new Borough of Stepney, in a corner of which the market happens to be. Shoreditch and Bethnal Green have kept pressing the London County Council to do something to abate this nuisance, and preferably to buy the market. With regard to the new borough of Stepney there are five constitutional local bodies which will constitute that new borough. Of those five constituent local bodies three back up Shoreditch and Bethnal Green in wishing the London County Council to buy. The other two local bodies that will compose the new borough of Stepney, wish, not that the market shall remain in private hands, but they think that, on the whole, it will be desirable that the new borough of Stepney should have control of the market rather than the London County Council. But we have a vast majority of feeling on the part of the bodies most interested in favour of the London County Council buying. After long negotiation the London County Council arranged to buy out the freeholders for the sum of £177,000, and they arranged with the leaseholder to buy him out under the Lands Clauses Act. Under these circumstances the London County Council brought in their Bill to carry these agreements into effect. The City brought in a counter proposition, that was heard before the House of Commons, offering to buy the market themselves on the terms on which it was offered to the London County Council, not because they wished to run the market themselves, not because they considered there was a nuisance to be abated, but in order to prevent the London County Council having control of it, and for the further object, as they stated, of transferring this market to Stepney on terms that had not been settled if Stepney should wish to have it. Well, it is extremely unlikely that Stepney will wish to have it, inasmuch as three out of the five local authorities that will comprise the new borough of Stepney have given evidence in favour of the London County Council having the market; and Stepney, moreover, did not oppose in the House of Lords. Consequently it seems to me to be extremely improbable that the new borough of Stepney will wish to take over this market. In the Commons the matter was fully argued as between the London County Council and the City. Sir William Houldsworth was in the chair, and the result, after argument and hearing witnesses on both sides on the question, was that the House of Commons Committee rejected the City Bill and passed the London County Council Bill. Now it would have seemed that this Bill came up to the House of Lords under far more favourable circumstances than it came up to the House of Commons, because in the House of Commons we had a great many local authorities opposing on preamble with a view to getting clauses, whereas in the House of Lords the City alone was the opposer, and the House of Commons, having decided against the City, the alternative before the House of Lords Committee was this —not whether the London County Council or the City should have this market, but whether the market was to remain in private hands, or whether it was to be in the hands of the only public body that had brought in a Bill that had been passed by the House of Commons. Now, my Lords, the peculiar part of this case to which I would draw your Lordships' attention is this: that the evidence relied upon by Mr. Littler, the counsel for the City before the House of Commons, to substantiate his case, utterly and completely broke down, and it so utterly and completely broke down that the cross-examination of his witness was an important factor in our case before the House of Lords Committee. Naturally enough, in opening before the Lords' Committee, the counsel for the London County Council referred to the discomfiture of the only witness that the City produced, namely, their town clerk, Sir John Monckton. Directly Mr. Worsley Taylor, for the London County Council, tried to refer to the evidence of Sir John Monckton in the House of Commons, Mr. Littler took strong exception to any reference being made to the evidence of Sir John Monckton. Mr. Littler said—I am quoting from page 8 of the Lords' Report— I am bound to say that when we are here in a fresh inquiry in one House, I do protest, unless there is some special reason for it, against going into what took place in the other House. Your Lordship will hear what my friend has to say here— Mr. WORSLEY TAYLOR: May I take it that my learned friend is going to call the town clerk? Mr. LITTLER: You 'may take' nothing from me; I never bind myself to bargains of this kind. But you may take it as a general principle which has been accepted many times, sometimes against me and sometimes at my instance, that if you want to prove what has taken place before another Committee you ought to call the witness who gave the evidence in question, and not read something that somebody said elsewhere, and only a part of that. If my learned friend is going to refer to Sir John Monckton's evidence, he must read the whole of it; and if that is done—well, how will your Lordships' time be occupied? I do think my friend must steer his case his own way, but I do protest. The CHAIRMAN: Shall we have Sir John Monckton? Mr. LITTLER: I do not know whether Sir John Monckton is here at the moment. Mr. WORSLEY TAYLOR: If my friend tells me he is going to call Sir John Monckton, I will not say one word more about it. Mr. LITTLER: I am not going to pledge myself as to whether I will call Sir John Monckton or not; but you may take this as a general principle, and I shall ask my Lords to follow it, that it is not right to read the evidence of a gentleman who can be produced. My learned friend had better rely on what he says before your Lordships. Then, after a further wrangle, Mr. Worsley Taylor says— I say again if I were certain that my learned friend would not take the course of simply relying on his speech, and so prevent our having the chance of cross-examining his witness and relying on him; if I were satisfied of that I would leave it at once. Then there is a further wrangle, and Mr. Worsley Taylor retires worsted. He says— I desire to avoid discussion of this kind; I will not say one word more; I will leave my learned friend to put his reasons before your Lordships; I will substantiate my ease by my evidence, and if he does not call Sir John Monckton, then I shall ask your Lordships to remember what has taken place. There I will leave it. Then on another occasion Mr. Worsley Taylor tried to refer to Sir John Monckton's evidence, and Mr. Littler again tries to prevent any reference to it. Mr. Littler says— My strict rights are that if he wants to prove what Sir John Monckton's views are about the case he must call him in the ordinary way; he is alive and well. I will not go beyond the regular course, and I am bound to stand upon that in this case after the way in which I have been treated here. I certainly do object, my Lord, to any reading of any statement that any gentleman has given who is alive and well and can come before your Lordships. Mr. WORSLEY TAYLOR: This is the very first time, my Lord, I have ever heard that an admission made by a witness called by the opposite party in the other House might not before this tribunal—as before every other— be referred to. Mr. LITTLER: The evidence was given on another Bill. Mr. WORSLEY TAYLOR: Oh ! my learned friend surely will not take the technical point that it was on another Bill. Mr. LITTLER: I do; I am perfectly entitled to do it. My Lords, I have said that Mr. Littler made various statements in the course of his speech that had nothing whatever to do with, or, at all events, were not confined to, criticisms of the evidence and speeches of counsel on the other side, but in which he advanced on his own account certain propositions. I will only deal with one of those propositions in order to illustrate my meaning. Mr. Littler's contention all through his speech was that the City was the market authority, not only for the City of London, but for London within seven miles round St. Paul's. He says on pages 20 and 21, and in other parts of his speech, "The City are the market authority at the present moment," and he "objects to setting up another market authority," and so on. Well, if the learned counsel thought fit to take that line, and to contend that the City was the market authority for seven miles round St. Paul's Church, when the evidence on which he tried to make out that proposition broke down before the House of Commons, it does seem to me that Mr. Worsley Taylor was justified in supposing that your Lordships' Committee, if they thought there was anything in Mr. Littler's contention, would have insisted on his calling witnesses to support that contention, and certainly would not have decided against him unless they had heard a witness in support of that contention. Now, I think it may be taken as being a rule almost without exception—I have heard it so stated by persons who are perfectly conversant with proceedings in Parliamentary Committees—that when an opposing counsel, after a strong prima facie case being made for a Bill, refuses to call evidence to contradict the evidence that has been given by the promoters, that action on the part of the learned counsel is almost invariably by Private Bill Committees interpreted in cue way and one way only; that is to say it is considered as equivalent, in sporting language, "to throwing up the sponge." The learned counsel for the London County Council thought that if the Committee should be against him simply on the speech of Mr. Littler, the Committee would naturally ask that Mr. Littler should produce his evidence, and on this, and I think fairly natural assumption, he thought he might safely avoid further unpleasant wrangles with Mr. Littler. I do not think I need labour the point as to how extremely damaging to the City the evidence of Sir John Monckton was in the House of Commons, and probably would have been in this House had he been called. The pertinacity with which the City counsel fought every attempt to refer to his evidence shows how damaging he thought it would be to him. In fact when he was cornered he had to assert that he stood on his strict legal rights, and would take every objection that he possibly could in order to prevent that evidence being brought before the Committee. I say then that Sir John Monckton's evidence was essential to the formation of a right judgment, and that the Committee should not have been satisfied with the very strange reason given by Mr. Littler for not calling Sir John Monckton. The reason given by Mr. Littler is this, in his own words, quite at the end of his speech. He says— Now, my Lord, I do not see that any good object would be gained by calling before you any witness in this matter"— Mr. Littler, of course, knew that if he called no witnesses he would have the last word— If I thought it would I would call Sir John Monckton. It does so happen that this week is the week of the meeting; of the Common Council, when he is exceedingly occupied— exceedingly engaged; but if he could assist you at all I should he very pleased to call him before you. This is a matter of history and of evidence given before you of our legal position under the Act of Parliament, and no dozen witnesses could assist you in relation to it, and therefore I do not think, having regard to the length of time that this case has taken, I should he justified in taking up your Lordship's time by calling evidence which would ready only, after all, be repeating in the witness-box argument and not giving evidence as to fact. Well, it was an ingenious way of getting out of calling his witnesses, but I must say that I do not think that that is an excuse that the Committee ought to have considered satisfactory. Now, my Lords, it appears to me that it would set a very had precedent if this was the final stage of this Bill. It would set a bad precedent of a Committee relying solely on the unsupported statements of counsel who call no evidence. I think sometimes counsel are disposed even now under present circumstances to make somewhat haphazard and unfounded statements on behalf of their clients which they would find some difficulty in establishing, and if the promoters of a Bill are to have their Bill rejected simply on the statements of fact that are made by opposing counsel, it does appear to me that a great strain will be put on the consciences of a good many counsel to place facts in a way that is not perfectly just to the Committee. I think that in this particular case there is a special reason why your Lordships should look farther into this matter. In this particular case there was not only this, that the learned counsel refused to call any evidence, but there is on the notes in the other House strong reason to believe that the reason why he did not call evidence was that he knew that it would be extremely detrimental to his case. If Bills are to be rejected on the statements of counsel who there is good reason to believe do not call witnesses because they are certain to break down under cross-examination, then it appears to me that justice is not likely; to be done. Now, my Lords, this is a serious matter to the London County Council, because the agreement to buy this market lapses if it is not carried into effect this year. Last year they made a somewhat similar agreement, and your Lordships threw out that Bill, and that delay has cost the London County Council £7,000. There was a substantial reason, I think, for your Lordships throwing out the Bill last year, inasmuch as it was not a complete Bill. It only gave the London County Council power to acquire land and did not give them the market rights, and what the House of Lords Committee said was this; that they considered the London County Council ought to make a complete case; that they ought to buy up the market rights as well as buy up the land. The delay of a year has cost us £7,000. It is impossible to forecast what another delay may not cost. The nuisance is great. No local authority but the City is in favour of this market remaining in private hands, and while it does remain in private hands there can be no abatement of this serious nuisance.

Moved, "That the Bill be recommitted." —(The Lord Monkswell.)


I can assure the noble Lord that I readily accept his assurance that he does not intend to impute any partiality to the Committee in the decision they came to. At the same time I must point out that he is entirely wrong in supposing that there was any informality whatever in the procedure before the Committee. The case was opened in the usual way by counsel, and the promotors of the Bill called their evidence, which, I may say, did not satisfy the Committee. The counsel for the opponents then made their statement, and did not call evidence, and the counsel for the promoters were thereby precluded from making any reply. The room was cleared, and the Committee decided in the usual way. I do not see how we could have acted other than as we did, unless we had thrown out the Bill after the evidence of the promoters was concluded without hearing counsel at all. I understand from the noble Lord that his object in making this motion is to elicit from me, as Chairman of the Private Bill Committee to which the Spitalfields Market Bill was referred, a statement of the reasons which actuated us in throwing out the Bill. I shall be very happy to give him those reasons, and I shall be able to do so in very few words, because the point was a very narrow one, although the consequences, if the Bill had been passed, would have been far-reaching. The market powers of the City of London are of very ancient origin. They were conferred by a Charter of Edward III., and there was no attempt in the evidence to prove that those powers had been in any way misused or misapplied. I believe it is matter of notoriety that the markets which are under the direct control of the City are models of all that market management should be; I believe they are unequalled anywhere in the world. This being so, the London County Council come forward and practically attempt to supplant the Corporation as market authority. If we had passed this Bill there is no question that it would have boon taken to have been a precedent, and that the wedge, the thin end of which we had permitted to be inserted, would have been very soon driven home in subsequent Parliaments, until the Council had completely superseded the Corporation as the market authority. It was admitted that this was the first market that they had attempted to get hold of. Of course, it was admitted that they had no powers to get it in the Act which constituted them, and could not get them without coming to Parliament for the purpose. The Committee expressed no opinion whatever as to whether this change was desirable. For aught we knew, it might have been a desirable change or it might not, but what we felt, and felt very strongly and unanimously, was that a change of this far reaching nature ought not to be made by a Private Bill Committee of your Lordships' House upstairs, by five Members chosen at haphazard, with no special knowledge whatever of the subject, but that if it was made it ought to be made after full and free discussion on the floor of the Houses of Parliament. That was the reason why we determined that we would not proceed with the Bill. I think there is another point that I should mention, although I do not say that it would have weighed with us in rejecting the Bill. This was a Bill which proposed not only to acquire the markets, but also to remove the obstruction in the neighbourhood caused by the market. Although that was the professed object of the Bill, there was no power taken in the Bill to acquire adjoining property. We thought that that was a very grave and serious omission, but, as I said before, I do not know that that would have been sufficient to justify us in rejecting the Bill, and we rejected it entirely on the grounds that I have stated to your Lordships.


My Lords, I should like to say one word, not, of course, on the merits of the question, of which I have no more knowledge than any one of your Lordships. I quite understand my noble friend opposite, to whom, as a member of the London County Council, this subject is one of great interest, calling upon your Lordships to take this step, but to recommit a private Bill that has been carefully considered by a Private Bill Committee is a very rare and most unusual step to take. I remember no case in which it has been taken, except where it was alleged that the Committee had refused to hear evidence either for or against the Bill. Where a Committee have refused to do that, the Bill has been recommitted on the ground that evidence had not been produced to satisfy them. In this case nothing of the kind is stated. It is quite true that the counsel for the opposition took the somewhat astute course of not calling evidence, but surely the counsel has to manage his own opposition as best he can, and I think your Lordships must give the Committee, which was an experienced Committee, and their chairman, who is a very experienced chairman, credit for being able to take the statements of counsel at what they are worth. If they had had any doubt about those statements, I take it that they would have given them no more credit than they thought they were worth. Of course that is quite a different thing to a counsel who calls evidence and confirms that evidence by having his witnesses cross-examined. My Lords, under these conditions it does not appear to me that there has been any irregularity in the proceedings of the Committee, or that the Committee refused to listen to any evidence which was tendered to them. As to the wisdom or unwisdom of their decision, of course I say nothing; I know nothing of the facts of the case: but under these conditions, as the matter seems to have been discussed before them in the only way it could be discussed, I venture to think it is hardly a case for taking so strong a measure as recommitting the Bill.


Of course I shall not attempt to divide the House after the opinion expressed by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees on the matter, but with regard to this question of market authority there is a good deal to be said. The noble Earl, who was chairman of the Private Bill Committee, has put it simply from his own point of view. My statement would be this, that if the noble Earl had had the advantage of hearing Sir John Monckton, it would have been elicited that this claim of the City to be the market authority is an absolutely antiquated claim, and is certainly, as the noble Lord knows, quite contrary to the "Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the existing state of the Corporation of the City of London, and to collect information respecting its constitution, order, and government, etc." That Commission was appointed in 1854. The Commissioners refer to this very Charter of which the noble Earl spoke, and they say— The brevity of the ancient Charters, the antiquity of the language in which they are couched and the vagueness resulting from the use of concise and general expressions make it often a hard matter accurately to define their meaning. They refer often to a state of things which has wholly passed away, and their language has, therefore, to be explained often through the doubtful medium of antiquarian research. It is also often uncertain what Charters and what portions of Charters are actually in force; how far a subsequent Charter repeals or interferes with the provisions of a former Charter; a question depending upon the intentions of those who gave and received the Charter many centuries ago, and obviously full of doubt and obscurity. The Charters of Edward III. and Charles I. granted to the Corporation contain a declaration that no market shall be granted by the Crown to be holden within seven miles all round about the City. Whatever may be the right which these grants may be held to convey for the prevention of new markets. That is not the case. This market was a market in private hands for 200 years. Prevention of new markets is a totally different thing. Whatever may be the right which these grants may be held to convey for the prevention of new markets within seven miles of the City, it seems to us unsuited to the state of things which has grown up since the reign of Charles I., and we think that any such restrictive privilege which the Corporation may now possess with respect to markets without the limits of the City should be repealed.

My Lords, I wish to withdraw my motion.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.