§ House in Committee (according to Order).
§ [The Earl of ONSLOW in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:
LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
said that the Amendment standing in his name was to give effect to what the Select Committee agreed upon if it were necessary. When this Bill was referred to the Select Committee it was understood that it only applied to places which had building by-laws under the general law, but not to those which had building by-laws and regulations under a local Act of Parliament. It did not seem to be quite clear in the words of the exemption section that it only excluded 1056 the administrative county of London. He could not undertake to say whether or not there might be some obscure references in other parts of the Bill which might exclude not only London but any place which had a local Act of Parliament. But as the intention of the Committee was that no place which was working under a local Act should be included he thought it well to make it clear.
In page 1, line 9, after the word 'London,' to insert the words 'and of such places as have received their authority in reference to public health, or to regulations affecting building, from local Acts of Parliament.'"—(Lord Stanley of Alderley.)
§ LORD HYLTON
hoped his noble friend would not think it necessary to press this Amendment. He had taken legal advice and was told that the Amendment was quite unnecessary, because where special Acts existed they were not affected by this Bill, which only affected by-laws made under the general Public Health Act:
LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
said that after that statement on the part of the noble Lord he would not press his Amendment. It was clear that the Bill had no chance of becoming law this year, and therefore if anyone looking into it felt apprehensive that this point was not safeguarded, it could be made clear by drafting.
§ Amendment, by leave of the Committee, with drawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to:
§ Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to:
§ Clause 4.
§ LORD BURGHCLERE
asked to be allowed to say a few words on this clause as a member of the Select Committee to which this Bill was referred. Their Lordships would perceive that Clause 4 was in substitution for Clause 5 of the original Bill, to which he thought there was some general objection in all quarters of the House. By Clause 5 the Local Government Board were permitted to 1057 over-ride the decisions of the elected authority—namely, the district council—and substitute by-laws of their own in place of the by-laws which had been made by the district council; but by the present clause, as approved by the majority of the Select Committee, the Local Government Board were not enabled to over-ride and themselves enact by-laws for an area presided over by a district council, but only to cancel existing by-laws. Their Lordships would see that the position in that case would be that if the Local Government Board were permitted to cancel by-laws the area affected would then become without any by-laws at all. There were many districts in the country at the present moment which had no by-laws. He thought it would be generally agreed that it was desirable that they should have by-laws, and the effect of this clause would be simply to add other areas to those which already had no by-laws.
Then there appeared to him to be a great defect in this clause, as it pointed to no persons who were to set the Local Government Board in motion, and left it, therefore, to the Local Government Board itself to take the initiative. He did not know what the opinion of the Local Government Board was upon this clause, but he ventured to think they were not perfectly satisfied with it as it at present stood, because it was obvious that if the Local Government Board had to take the initiative, not only with regard to districts, but with regard to villages and specific buildings, they would be compelled, if the Bill was to be of any value at all, to increase their inspectors, which would also mean an increase in expenditure. There was another objection to this clause. It gave the Local Government Board power to disallow a set of by-laws which had been agreed to by the district council and had become, in consequence of the solemn approval of the Local Government Board, the law in that district. The Local Government Board were given power to break this solemn contract, and to cancel the existing law on their own ipse dixit.
He would not go so far as to say that they were reviving the dispensing power 1058 of James II., but he would say they were putting a new power in the hands of a Ministerial Department which he ventured to think had never been given to any Department before. It was obvious that there must be some form of dispensing power, but the question was in what body the dispensing power was to be vested. For his own part he had ventured to suggest to the Select Committee that all district councils should be given a statutory dispensing power within safe limits. But, if they did this, they were faced with this problem. How were they going to set them to work if they were lazy and refused to put the statutory power in action? or how were they to restrain them if they put it too much in action and used it for unsatisfactory purposes? He would suggest that the electors, if they considered themselves aggrieved by the action of the district council in not putting the Act in force, should have the right to appeal to the Court set up by this Bill; that the decision of that Court should be final, unless when it was referred again to the district council a majority of that council should disapprove of it, in which case it should be open to the electors to call upon the Local Government Board to hold an inquiry, and their decision would be final. In that way the objections to Clause 4 as it stood would be got over and the Local Government Board would not be unnecessarily called upon to increase the number of their inspectors or incur additional expense.
He had not put down an Amendment in this direction because he felt that the Bill could not become law during the present session; but if he was assured by the representative of the Local Government Board that they absolutely approved of the course laid down in this particular clause, and if he was also assured that the Government were prepared to give facilities in another place in order to enable the Bill to become law this session, then he reserved to himself the right of putting down Amendments on the Third Reading. He was sure they were all anxious that something should be done in this direction, and he looked upon the Bill as a step in the right direction.
, on behalf of the Local Government Board, assured the House that that Department looked upon the Bill with very great sympathy, but there were some of its details which required alteration. He thought that every one of their Lordships must feel that something was necessary in the way of an amendment of the present working of by-laws in rural as opposed to urban districts, and the President of the Local Government Board looked with great sympathy upon the attempt to modify the present action in this matter. At the same time, the Local Government Board felt that there was no chance of the Bill passing into law this year, and they certainly did not propose to give facilities in another place for the passing of it. It did not seem necessary, therefore, to go into it in very great detail. As Lord Burghclere had said, there were considerable differences of opinion with regard to this clause, and the Board did not feel themselves able at present to advise in these particular details. The suggestions of Lord Burghclere were not on the Paper, and therefore he could not state what the view of the Local Government Board was concerning them. But the suggestion that there were no means of putting the Local Government Board in motion was hardly correct. What would take place would no doubt be this, that an aggrieved person would write to the Local Government Board, who, if they thought fit, would act on that person's suggestion. He did not think there would be much difficulty in that course. While approving of the general principle of the Bill the Local Government Board withheld their consideration of its details until next year.
§ LORD HYLTON
hoped Lord Burghclere would acquit him of any discourtesy if he did not enter into any lengthy defence of this clause as it stood, as his noble friend had not put down any Amendment. They all felt that owing to the advanced stage of the session the Bill could not become law this year, but he hoped the Local Government Board would be good enough to give the details of the Bill their careful consideration during the recess, in order that early next session, when it was reintroduced, 1060 the Local Government Board might not tell the House that they had not had time to consider the details of the measure. He really thought that in self-defence he must say that the Bill was brought in some months ago; it had had the good fortune to be favourably received by their Lordships' House and of being fully considered by a Select Committee. He could not help feeling that the Local Government Board had had ample time to consider the details. At any rate, he hoped that during the recess the matter would receive their full consideration. As regarded the dispensing power which Lord Burghclere would like to see given to district councils with regard to by-laws, he could only repeat what he had said when moving the Second Reading of the Bill, that he thought it would be a great misfortune to allow districts council to have this dispensing power, as it would undoubtedly lead to very undesirable results, and would not, so far as he could see, prove useful in any case.
§ LORD BURGHCLERE
pointed out that district councils had a dispensing power at the present moment, because all they had to do was to make a fresh set of by-laws and get the Local Government Board's approval to them.
LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
said that as he understood Lord Burghclere did not intend to divide on this clause he should not do so, because he thought everyone was agreed that there should be some amendment of the law to enable more reasonable regulations for buildings to be applied. If he might be allowed to correct the noble Lord who represented the Local Government Board, he would point out that the application of strict town conditions was inapplicable, not merely in rural district areas, but in many urban districts as well. The question was not the character of the local authority controlling the building but the character of the building itself and of its isolation. He did not think that at this moment they could discuss the rather elaborate alternative which had been sketched by Lord 1061 Burghclere and which was not even on the Paper. He did not himself place very high the danger of the action under Clause 4; but he did place rather high the mischief of putting into an Act of Parliament a transition from the region of settled rights to the region of dependence on an arbitrary will. On that account he would be glad to see Clause 4 out of the Bill. As they were all anxious that something substantial should be done, he urged upon those who would have the Bill in hand with a view to its presentation next year, that they should consider what was the best policy in order to put the Bill in such a form as to make the possibility of its becoming law as certain as possible.
§ On Question, Clause 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5.
LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
explained that this Amendment was also one to give effect to what was agreed to in the Select Committee. Lord Ken-yon had communicated to him the opinion of the Local Government Board that there was a danger, if the provision stopped short at the words "an appeal to a Court of quarter sessions," that the person who would now have a right to take the opinion of a superior Court on the legality of a by-law might be shut out. He therefore moved to add the words in his Amendment.
In page 3, line 19, after the word 'sessions' to insert the words 'and to such other appeal as may now by law be open to him'"—(Lord Stanley of Alderley.)
said that since he communicated with the noble Lord he had had a further opinion on this point. Clause 5 of the Bill purported to give to persons aggrieved by the requirements of any by-law the right to obtain a summons for the decision of a Court of summary jurisdiction as to the validity of the by-law, subject to an appeal to quarter sessions. The Amendment sought to give an addition to the right of appeal. It was not at all clear what was meant. Perhaps the noble Lord wished to enable one of the parties to 1062 have a case stated under the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879, but the right to have a case stated was not, strictly speaking, a right of appeal. It was only a right to have the decision of the Court reviewed on the point of law. The Amendment as it stood would effect nothing, but would leave matters precisely where they were.
LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
intimated that he would not press his Amendment, his object having been to call attention to a matter which they all agreed to in the Select Committee. The Bill would pass into careful hands before it appeared in Parliament again, and he hoped it would be made clear that the Court of quarter sessions was not to be the final Court of Appeal.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (The Earl of HALSBURY)
said that the first part of Clause 5 was intelligible enough, but the second part was an entirely new departure. As a matter of drafting it ought to be in totally different sections. The first part of the clause contemplated deciding a point of law, whether a particular by-law was valid or not; the second part referred to a question of discretion, whether or not under the circumstances the law ought to be insisted on. Those were totally different things, and had no relation to each other. With regard to the first part of the clause, he agreed with what had been said by the noble Lord in moving the Amendment. The question of the validity of a by-law was a matter of extreme importance, and the notion of leaving the final decision on that point to a stipendiary magistrate or even to quarter sessions was a mistake. The question of the validity of a by-law might affect the whole neighbourhood, and he thought it an extraordinary thing to leave the final decision on such a matter to the tribunal in the clause. The second part of the clause was a novelty in our law. It was to this effect—Any persons challenging the reasonableness of such requirements may appeal to a body of three persons appointed by the county council, who shall determine whether it is reasonable and desirable that such requirements be dispensed with.Not only was this provision a novelty in our law, but the course proposed did 1063 not seem to him to be either a practicable or a desirable one to pursue.
§ LORD HYLTON
said his original Clause 5 was differently worded. He was not responsible for the present wording, for his clause was considerably mangled, he was sorry to say, in the Select Committee. He fully recognised that there was a certain amount of novelty in the clause as it stood. But the tribunal proposed to be set up was not a novel one, because all new buildings in London could be referred, in the last event, to a tribunal of skilled persons; and it was the opinion of the Select Committee that it would be a good thing to get the county councils in the country to set up such a tribunal, which should include the county surveyor and possibly the county medical officer of health. He recognised that the Bill might require some amendment should it be brought forward in another session, but its promoters were very anxious, and he hoped the House would take this view, that the Bill should pass their Lordships' House as it stood this session. They knew it could not go any further this year, but there was a general feeling, not only in the House but in the country, that some considerable amendment of the present system of building by-laws was absolutely necessary, and if this Bill were read a third time as it stood it would show that their Lordships sympathised with the desire for some reform in these matters.
§ LORD BURGHCLERE
pointed out that the provision originally gave to the Court of summary jurisdiction not only the power to decide on the validity of the by-law, but also with regard to the reasonableness of each requirement. He had ventured in the Select Committee to say that he did not like the idea of a judicial body of that kind interfering with what he might call the administration of an elective body, and he proposed to divide the two things, giving to the judicial body the power of deciding on the interpretation of the law, and to the committee of the county council the power of deciding on the administration of the law. He thought that was the idea in the heads of those who supported the Amendment bringing 1064 the clause into its present form. As the Bill would not be further proceeded with until next session, there would be ample time for this point to be considered.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said that both Lord Kenyon and the noble Lord opposite misunderstood his criticism. He said nothing about the propriety or impropriety of having some authority which might make a by-law elastic. That was a totally different thing. This clause gave the three persons to be appointed under it power to over-rule the by-law.
LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
said they had plenty of evidence that occasionally local authorities waived their by-laws when it became a matter of common sense that they should be waived. Sometimes, if the local authority were a mixture of technicality and virtue, they insisted on their by-laws being carried out, however absurd they were. He entirely agreed with Lord Hylton that it would be very undesirable to give the local body which made the by-laws power to dispense with their own by-laws, but they felt that there should be a body external and impartial to which there should be a prompt and cheap appeal. It could be dealt with in this way with a minimum of cost and a maximum of speed. It was extremely desirable that they should have a new enactment to meet this growing evil.
§ Amendment, by leave of the Committee, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Clause 5 agreed to
§ The Amendments proposed by the Select Committee made; further Amendments made. Standing Committee negatived; Bill to be read 3a on Monday next; and to be printed as amended. (No. 159.)