HL Deb 05 August 1904 vol 139 cc1086-94

House in Committee (according to order).

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2.

Drafting Amendments agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3.


My Lords, I rise to move that Sub-section 1 of Clause 3 be omitted. I am very well aware of the extreme inconvenience, on an evening like this, of introducing any matters of contention on a private Bill; but my apology for doing so is that it is quite unavoidable. The whole story which I wish to lay before your Lordships is this. The city of Newcastle brought in a Bill to extend its boundaries into the county of Northumberland. The County Council of Northumberland has not opposed that extension, but it thought that in consideration of the extension it ought to get some benefit, and one of the benefits which it asked Parliament to confer upon it was the abolition of a certain toll of a very curious and exceptional character, which has been enjoyed by the city of Newcastle from, I believe, time immemorial. I am not going to trouble your Lord ships with the pros and cons of this toll and the reasonableness of the county council's contention that it should be abolished. That, of course, is a matter which it is impossible for your Lordships to go into.

But I may tell you that in another place the abolition of the toll was given in a clause so framed, and clogged with such conditions, that the county council felt that it was far more disastrous to accept it than to allow the toll to remain as it is. However, after protesting in the strongest way against the clause, it reserved itself for this House. The question was brought before a Committee of your Lordships' House, and that Committee was informed by counsel for the county council that we, the opponents of the Bill, would much rather not have the toll abolished than have the clause in the form in which it stood. The Committee considered the whole question, and came to the conclusion that the clause which had been framed in the Lower House was a proper clause, and that if we wished for the abolition of the toll were to take it with those conditions attached. So far the Committee was entirely within its rights. I am not asking your Lordships to review that decision—that would not be right—but when this decision of the Committee was announced the County Council of Northumberland asked to withdraw the clause. The Committee, however, refused to allow them to withdraw it, insisting that the clause should remain in the Bill with conditions a tached which the party who had asked for the clause said were more disastrous than not having the clause at all.

That is a position which, as far as I can ascertain, has never been before assumed by any Committee of your Lordships' House. I do not ask your Lordships to take that on my ipse dictum, because, although I have served on a good many Private Bill Committees in this and the other House, my experience cannot possibly justify such a statement. I have made inquiries of those whose business takes them constantly into the Committee Rooms of both Houses of Parliament, and they say there has never been an instance in which the opponents of a Bill asking for certain concessios, and having those concessions forced upon them clogged with conditions which make them no concessions, have been refused the right of saying they would rather not have the clause at all. If that is the case, I say this is against Parliamentary practice. I go further than that, and say it is against public policy, because it is evident that if opponents when asking for some modification of the provisions of a Bill, some concession which may make the Bill more palatable, are liable to be saddled, against their will, with conditions which are very onerous, which never would have been forced upon them if they had never asked for these concessions—it is evident that if this is done parties will be very careful in coming to Parliament for a remedy of those grievances for which, I submit, they have a right to ask in such circumstances as these. I am not for one moment asking your Lordships to reconsider the decision of the Committee that this clause, if given at all, should be given subject to these conditions. What I do ask your Lordships to say is that the liberty which has always been given to opponents to a Bill to withdraw a clause if it does not suit them should be extended to us in the present instance. I beg to move that Sub-section 1 be omitted from the Bill.

Amendment moved— In page 4, to leave out Sub-section 1."—(The Duke of Northumberland.)


My Lords, as I was Chairman of the Private Bill Committee to which the noble Duke refers, perhaps I may be allowed to reply to him. Let me at once say that any criticism falling from the noble Duke on the decision of any Private Bills Committee of this House must properly command the deepest respect alike from that Committee as from the House at large, coming as it does from one of its most experienced chairmen. On a question of public policy I imagine we are all in general agreement with the noble Duke. Certainly my Committee was so, and I can assure the House that, were the history of this case what the noble Duke believes it to be, we should no doubt have done that which he asks your Lordships to do now. But I cannot admit that it is so. The case, shortly stated, was this. Since so long back as the reign of Edward III. the city of Newcastle has enjoyed the right of levying what is called a through toll on various articles coming in there from, or going thence into, the county of Northumberland. When the Provisional Order came before Parliament for confirmation the opportunity was taken by the County Council of Northumberland to press forthe abolition of that toll without any compensation to Newcastle. The Bill was under the consideration of the Commons Committee for, I think, over eight days, and their decision was that the toll should be abolished in two years, or at the most in four, but that on the question of compensation, which was not free from difficulty, it should be left to the Local Government Board to say, after proper inquiry on the spot, whether compensation should be payable at all, and, if so, to what amount; and the Committee proceeded themselves to frame a clause to give effect to this decision.

When the Bill came up this clause was embodied in it. The noble Duke's county council opposed it, seeking to have the last four lines struck out, the effect of which would have been, by undoing the Commons' decision, to free the county from toll without any liability to pay compensation. Their counsel and witnesses were fully and attentively heard, and my Committee had the advantage of hearing the noble Duke's own evidence and that of his vice-chairman; and in the end it came to this, that Newcastle would only accept the clause if it remained as printed, and Northumberland only if the question of compensation was decided in their favour. My Committee, in the end, arrived at the unanimous opinion that the decision of the Commons Committee was a reasonably fair and proper decision, and we determined to maintain it. It sçemed to us that the effort of Northumberland to free themselves by a Provisional Order Confirmation Bill from the possibility of being found liable to make Newcastle reasonable compensation for the loss of this toll, was in effect an effort, by a side wind, to get behind the general law as enacted in the Local Government Act of 1888. To that proceeding we would be no party. We con- sidered that in all the circumstances the proper course was to free the county from toll, and leave the question of possible compensation to be settled under the provisions of the general Act. I venture to think that our decision was a right one, and I hope your Lordships will not disturb it.


What the noble Earl has argued is whether the Committee was, or was not, right in saying we should not get this clause unless we paid the corporation compensation. That is not the question which I am asking your Lordships to consider. I am quite willing to admit, for the sake of argument, that we were wrong, and, that the Committee was right in placing us in that position if this toll is to be abolished. But I say he Committee had no right to deprive us of the liberty, if we were not prepared to accept that, of withdrawing the clause altogether and leaving the whole matter in status quo.


My Lords, I rise, as a member of the Committee, to say only one word. As the noble Earl, the chairman of the Committee, has already informed your Lordships, we were absolutely unanimous in the decision at which we arrived. We considered the matter most carefully, and were surprised, after our decision, that the learned counsel representing the Northumberland County Council should have made this extraordinary demand, for which we could not see the slightest justification.


My Lords, I think that probably the House will expect me to say a few words on this matter. This, of course, is not an ordinary private Bill in which there are promoters and opponents. This is a Bill to confirm a number of Provisional Orders affecting certain large towns and cities in the North of England. Therefore, technically, the Local Government Board are the promoters of the Bill. In the other House the Northumberland County Council opposed the Order and made certain requests. The Committee of that House proposed to put in a clause which they thought was for the protection of the County Council of Northumberland. The latter council, however, did not like the clause, and they therefore exercised their right, and withdrew from the discussion on the clause, so that they might not be precluded from raising any matter of principle in the second House. When the Order came up to this House the county council opposed the clause. They were heard by a Committee of this House and the Committee confirmed the decision of the House of Commons.

The peculiarity of the matter is this, and to this extent it is, so far as I can find out, without precedent. The noble Duke lays stress on the point that it is very hard to force a body to take a clause which is supposed to be for their protection, but which they do not like, and I think he is right in saying that there has been no case—at least I have been unable to trace a case—in which such a clause has been forced upon those for whose protection it is ostensibly put in. But in this case, as I have said, the Local Government Board are the real controllers of the Order in the shape of being promoters. They think, as I understand it, that the clause is a good clause This matter was brought before me as Chairman of Committees, but I said I was not a tribunal of appeal over and above a Committee of this House, and that it was perfectly obvious that this was a Committee point, and not a point of Parliamentary practice which should be decided by me in virtue of any instructions of the House. Therefore I told the County Council of Northumberland that if they wished to move the omission of the clause they must do it at some stage in the House.

The point in dispute is this. This through toll is a very ancient toll levied by the Corporation of Newcastle upon all goods, wares, merchandise, articles and things passing in and out of the city of Newcastle, and therefore it is a tax upon food and affects all the districts surrounding Newcastle. The Corporation of Newcastle raise about £8,000 a year in this way. There will be only one opinion in your Lordships' House as of this tax. It is a tax which ought to be abolished, and, of course, apart from the particular points which the County Council of Northumberland raise' I am sure the House would be very sorry to continue a thoroughly bad tax as a matter of policy. All that is imposed on the County Council of Northumberland is this. It is distinctly stated in the clause that they shall not have to pay compensation to the Corporation of Newcastle. But there are these words— But in the adjustment between the County of Northumberland and the city regard shall be had to the exemption therein provided. Your Lordships know that when a great city extends its boundaries, there are questions of rating and adjustment of expenses which have to be considered, and under the Act of 1888 the Local Government Board appoints an arbiter to take these matters into consideration. The proposal in the clause is to leave this matter as one to which regard is to be had by the arbiter. I confess that if I was arbiter I should pay very little regard to it. It seems to me an extraordinary thing that the county council should not want to get rid of this toll, and I hope, even at this late hour, the noble Duke will not persist in his objection. If, however, he does, it is one which is perfectly fair for the House to decide, having heard the statement of the noble Duke and of the noble Earl who presided over the Committee.


My Lords, I am sorry to again trespass on your Lordships' time, but, with all due respect to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees, I submit that he has raised an entirely different question, viz., the merit of the clause itself and the demerits or otherwise of the toll. If we are to go into that I must give him an answer. This is a toll which is paid by those who bring goods into Newcastle from a very small district around the city; it is an onerous tax on that small district of which the county council think it ought to be relieved. Whatever words you use, the payment for the removal of this toll is to fall on the rates. The rates of Northumberland are paid over a district sixty miles long and forty miles broad, and nine-tenths of the people who would have to pay for the abolition of the toll have no more interest in it than your Lordships. That was one of the reasons why we thought that to put upon the rates the compensation for the abolition of a local toll was unjust, and we resisted it. I did not raise that point before. To come back to my original proposition, I say, with all due respect to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees, that it does not seem to me to make one bit of difference who are the promoters. Petitioners who ask for a favour have a right to withdraw a clause if it can only give them that favour acompanied by conditions which they think disastrous.


My Lords, I am instructed by the Local Government Board to say that, in their opinion, when a decision has been come to by Committees of both Houses, it should be upheld in this House. They therefore instruct me to resist the Amendment of the noble Duke.


My Lords, this is a very important question. It affects the right of opponents putting forward

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to; Standing

a clause for their protection to withdraw that clause when such obligations are imposed by it which make it inadvisable to accept it. I understand that on all sides it is admitted that there is no precedent for such a course. If so, I think we ought not to establish that precedent to-day. The noble Lord the Chairman of Committees has given reasons why he thinks the County of Northumberland should accept this clause. That is a matter for the county council. In this case they have a clause put upon them, as opponents, with obligations so onerous that they think they cannot accept it, and all persons in that position up to now have had an opportunity of withdrawing the clause. I hope the noble Duke will take the sense of the House on his Amendment.

On Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause," their Lordships divided—Contents, 38; Not-Contents, 46.

Marlborough, D. Drogheda, E. Davey, L.
Malmesbury, E. Farrer, L.
Ailesbury, M. Onslow, E. Glenesk, L.
Camden, M. Selborne, E. Kenyon, L. [Teller.]
Hertford, M. Spencer, E. killanin, L.
Ripon, M. Waldegrave, E. Kilmarnock, L. (E. Errol.)
Colville of Culross, V. Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.) [Teller.]
Pembroke and Montgomery, E. (L. Steward.) Hrtchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)
Monkswell, L.
Clarendon, E. (L.Chamberlain.) Rathmore, L.
Bathurst, E. Balfour, L. Redesdale, L.
Carrington, E. Brassey, L. Shuttleworth, L.
Chesterfield, E. Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.) Stanley of Alderley, L.
Crewe, E. Burghclere, L. Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)
Denbigh, E. Coleridge, L.
Halsbury, E. (L. Chancellor.) Saint Germans, E. Cheylesmore, L.
Stanhope, E. Cottesloe, L.
Argyll, D. Tankerville, E. Ellenborough, L.
Northumberland, D. [Teller.] Churchill, V. Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)
Wellington, D. Cross, V. Gage, L. (V. Gage.)
Knutsford, V. Glanusk, L.
Bristol, M. Sidmouth, V. Hampton, L.
Winchester, M. Hylton, L.
Zetland, M. Lichfield, L. Bp. Kinnaird, L.
Camperdown, E. Peterborough, L. Bp. Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)
Cawdor, E. [Teller] Newton, L.
Chichester, E. Addington, L. Ravensworth, L.
Derby, E. Allerton, L. Robertson, L.
Grey, E. Armstrong, L. Sinclair, L.
Hardwicke, E. Barnard, L. Wolverton, L.
Lathom, E. Belper, L. Wynford, L.
Portsmouth, E. Burnham, L.

Committee negatived. The Report of Amendments to be received on Monday next: