§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH,
in rising to move the following new Standing Order, to follow Standing Order 173:—That, in the case of any Bill promoted by a Municipal Corporation or Local Board, Improvement Commissioners, Town Commissioners, or other local authority or public body having powers of local government or rating, the Committee on the Bill shall consider the Clauses of the Bill with reference to the following matters:—1130
- (a.) Whether the Bill gives powers relating to Police or Sanitary Regulations in conflict with or excess of the provisions or powers of the general law;
- (b.) Whether the Bill gives powers which may be obtained by means of Bye-laws made subject to the restrictions of General Acts already existing;
- (c.) Whether the Bill assigns a period for repayment of any loan under the Bill exceeding the term of sixty years, which term the Committee shall not in any case allow to be exceeded, or any period disproportionate to the duration of the works to be executed or other objects of the loan;
- (d.) Whether the Bill gives borrowing powers for purposes for which such powers already exist or may be obtained under General Acts, without subjecting the exercise of the powers under the Bill to approval from time to time by the proper Government Department;And the Committee shall report specially to the House—In what manner any Clauses relating to the several matters aforesaid have been dealt with by the Committee; andWhether any Report from any Government Department relative to the Bill has been referred to the Committee; andIf so, in what manner the recommendations in that Report have been dealt with by the Committee; andAny other circumstances of which, in the opinion of the Committee, it is desirable that the House should be informed,said, that a number of Private Improvement Bills were introduced that Session by various local authorities, containing provisions, including the regulation of the police and sanitary matters, which were considered to trench somewhat on the general law of the country. Opposition was, therefore, shown to those measures; and it was agreed that they should all be referred to a Select Committee, of which he was the Chairman, with special reference to the manner in which they conflicted with, or were in excess of, the general law. The Committee arrived at certain general conclusions, which they embodied in a Report that was submitted to the House; and the new Standing Order which he now proposed was merely the natural logical sequence of the recommendations contained in that Report. The Bills so referred to the Committee were carefully considered, and their provisions were modified, and cut down considerably, so as to induce hon. Members who objected to them in their original form to withdraw their opposition. The Committee presented their Report on the 9th of June, and the Bills so reduced and so cut down were brought before the House within a week of the time that the Report was presented. A debate arose; the action taken by the Committee was canvassed on the one side and on the other, and the House, by an overwhelming majority, approved of the action of the Committee. In the course of his remarks as Chairman of the Select Committee, he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) intimated that he should be prepared to take some action before the expiration of the Session, with the view of securing that, in succeeding Sessions, Improvement Bills should be considered by Private Bill Committees on an uniform system, and on the financial principles laid down in the Standing Order which he now submitted to the House. It was a question at the time 1131 how such uniform action could be best secured—whether by the appointment of Special Committees, or by Standing Orders; and, after having had communication with the authorities, and his Colleagues on the Committee, he had prepared the Standing Order which he now desired to submit. That Standing Order would be found to be an exact reflex of the four propositions which were contained in the short, clear, and intelligible Report of the Select Committee; and there was nothing therein laid down, with regard to the future action of Private Bill Committees, which was not done with the assent of all parties. The objection which he understood had been made to this Standing Order was, that it tended too much to support the centralizing action of Government Departments in regard to their Reports on Private Bills; but what the Committee found was, that the recommendations of Government Departments had hitherto received but little attention from Private Bill Committees, especially in cases where the Bills were unopposed, and the object of the Order was to secure that Private Bill Committees in future would have regard to the principles there laid down, whether the Bills came before them as unopposed Bills or otherwise. With regard to the Local Government Board, the Board of Trade, or the Home Office, it was not their wish to set the recommendations of those Departments on a pinnacle, and say they were like the laws of the Medes and Persians, which were not to be altered. On the contrary, the feeling and desire of the Committee was that the recommendations of those Public Departments should be simple, clear, and reasonable; that they should have due attention on the part of the Committee; that officers on the part of the Departments should be examined and brought face to face with the promoters of the Bill, who would hear what they had to say, and have liberty to reply if they thought it necessary to do so. In that way they might arrive at an uniformity in the future action of Private Bill Committees beyond what had hitherto been the case, and in a way which all parties who had had experience in these matters must desire to see adopted. The only other point to which he should refer was the question of borrowing powers, which it was desired by this Standing Order to be restricted to a period of 60 1132 years. There were very good reasons why the term of 60 years should be fixed as the normal period for the repayment of loans. It was the same period as fixed for the repayment of moneys borrowed for Public Works by the Metropolitan Board of Works, and likewise the outside period fixed by the Public Health Act; but there was nothing in the Standing Order to restrict Parliament from extending it beyond 60 years if desirable. He might observe that, whereas he had received from an association of Municipal Bodies certain comments on the language of this Standing Order, he had seen no objection from them to the period of 60 years. They pointed out that the language of the Standing Order imposed on Private Bill Committees the duty of reporting more directly than the necessity of the case required; and, to meet their objection, he had struck out one of the sub-sections, so, as far as it was possible, to render the action of the Private Bill Committees less onerous to them. It was no new view of his that Parliament should take some action in this matter; and he should like, by way of justification of his own individual action, to refer to two speeches which he made when holding the Office of President of the Local Government Board, on the occasion of introducing what was called "The Local Budget," in the years 1876 and 1877. In 1876, he had occasion to notice the inconvenience which arose from the enormously lengthened periods for which local authorities were permitted to borrow by means of Private Bills, the Government Departments being restricted by the Public Health Act to an outside period of 60 years. On the 4th of July, 1876, in his speech introducing the Local Budget, he said—I think that some additional precautions should he taken by Parliament to secure uniformity between the practice of the two Houses of Parliament as to the provisions which are inserted in Private Bills. I am not sure that the principles which are acted on in the Local Government Office might not, with advantage, he communicated to the Private Bill Committees of both Houses of Parliament. And there is no security that those who direct the action of the Committees of both Houses will take the same views of the subject. Indeed, within the last two or three years, there have been cases where the money proposed to he borrowed has been spread over such a long series of years as certainly would not he sanctioned by any Government Department. As a general rule, the repayment of a loan should he conterminous with the estimated duration of the works for which 1133 the money is required; hut I do not Bay that that should he a rule without an exception, for there are some works or objects which are almost permanent."—Hansard, ccxxx. 958–9.Again, next year, on April 23rd, 1877, he said—Parliament would do well to pay a little more attention to Private Acts of Parliament, not with the view of checking the expenditure which the local authorities thought advisable to incur, but with the view of securing a greater efficiency of financial arrangements. Whereas it was an axiom with the Local Government Board that the period for repayment of any loan should be in accordance with the probable duration of the works to be constructed, they found great difference in the practice of Parliament with regard to Private Bills; and, again, that whereas the Departmental view was that repayment of the capital should commence at the earliest possible date, Committees varied very much on that point. As instances of Private Acts granting what he thought must be considered, primâ facie, an undue period for the duration of loans, he would mention the Birmingham Gas Act of 1875, giving 85 years; the Birmingham Waterworks Bill, 90 years; and the Rochdale Bill, 100 years. And in 1876 the term named in a Leicester Bill was 80 years; in a Stockton and Middlesborough Bill, 90; in two Halifax Bills, 100 and 110 years; and in a Huddersfield Bill the term for the repayment of the loan was 100 years."—[Ibid. ccxxxiii. 1723.]To show how difficult it was to control the action of Private Bill Committees, he might mention that while the Committee to which he had alluded was holding its sittings, and cutting down the period for the loans to 60 years, a Committee, presided over by a Friend of his own in another room, granted 120 years for the repayment of a loan, he being ignorant of what was going on in the other Committee. The object of the reform which he proposed was to secure a certain uniformity of action in future, and a greater efficiency of financial arrangements. Opinion was so strong among many hon. Members on this subject that he was informed that unless this Standing Order was passed this Session, every Private Improvement Bill with respect to which the slightest suspicion was entertained that it would transgress the reasonable limit laid down by the Committee as to the extent of the powers to be given by a Private Bill, and laid down in the proposed Standing Order, would be blocked. The block system now applied to public measures would be applied to Private Bills; and next year would, therefore, witness a dead-lock of the Private Bills. He would, in conclusion, ask the House to 1134 accept his proposal as the logical con-elusion of the action taken by the House in the present Session, and pass this Standing Order, and see if it would work satisfactorily.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the case of any Bill promoted by a Municipal Corporation or Local Board, Improvement Commissioners, Town Commissioners, or other local authority or public body having powers of local government or rating, the Committee on the Bill shall consider the Clauses of the Bill with reference to the following matters:—
And the Committee shall report specially to the House—
In what manner any Clauses relating to the several matters aforesaid have been dealt with by the Committee; and
Whether any Report from any Government Department relative to the Bill has been referred to the Committee; and
If so, in what manner the recommendations in that Report have been dealt with by the Committee; and
Any other circumstances of which, in the opinion of the Committee, it is desirable that the House should be informed."—(Mr. Sclater-Booth.)
§ SIR CHARLES FORSTER
said, that Municipal Bodies were of opinion that this proposed Standing Order would injuriously affect public improvements; and he suggested that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sclater-Booth) ought to draw a distinction between securities upon real estate and securities invested upon mere local improvements. He (Sir Charles Forster) felt that on an evening such as the present, when important Public Business was about to be brought before the House, it would be impossible to go fairly into the question. Therefore, trusting it would receive a 1135 more lengthened consideration on a future occasion, he begged to move that the debate be adjourned.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON,
in seconding the Motion for the adjournment of the debate, said, that the proposed Standing Order involved matters of very considerable importance to Corporate Bodies and other local authorities throughout the country; and he could assure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Hants (Mr. Sclater-Booth) that strong representations had been made to him (Mr. Serjeant Simon) with reference especially to the hard-and-fast line laid down as to the period for the repayment of loans. When the varied circumstances of the different Corporations and other local bodies were considered, he thought they ought not to lay down a hard-and-fast line, and say that within a given period, no matter what the circumstances of the case might be, repayment must be made. It should be remembered that the expenditure which necessitated these loans was not always a matter of choice with the local bodies, but was often forced upon them by the Local Government Board for sanitary purposes, and by River Conservancy Boards; and when they were obliged to raise considerable sums by way of loans, it was very hard on them that they should be bound to repay the money within a certain period. Under these circumstances, he seconded the Motion of adjournment. The matter ought to be discussed when the House would be more likely to consider it deliberately than at present.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Sir Charles Forster.)
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Friday.