§ THIRD READING. [ADJOURNED DEBATE.]
§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [31st May], "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ (3.5.) MR. BAUMANN (Camberwell, Peckham)
Before this Bill is read a third time I desire to offer a few observations both on account of the character of the Bill itself and particularly on account of the Report of the Parliamentary Committee of the London County Council, which reflects disrespectfully upon this House and the action of the Committee to whom this Bill was referred, and which contains a statement so recklessly untrue that unless it is corrected as publicly as it is made is calculated to mislead the public. This Report begins by a complaint against the House of Commons for its practice of referring London County Council (General Powers) Bills to Hybrid Committees. Now, I wish to point out the reason why the House refers these Bills to a Hybrid Committee is that the London County Council year after year persists in trying to change by clauses in a Private Bill the general law of the country. That is a practice which this House naturally resents, and which I hope it will never sanction, and it is well worth considering whether the Standing 419 Orders of the House should not be amended in such a way as to prevent these annual attempts by a Municipal Authority to change by a Private Bill the public law of the country. Then the Report goes on to complain of the composition of that Committee, and it is stated, apparently as a matter of grievance, that the Government nominated a majority of that Committee. I suppose the London County Council thinks that the majority in this House ought to be in a minority on a Committee; but, Sir, as a matter of fact, and I suppose by inadvertence on the part of the "whips," the Conservative Party actually were in a minority on that Committee; for out of nine members they were only four, including the Chairman. Then the Report goes on to say—and this is the most audacious of its mis-statements—The effect of the Committee's decision in reference to the Cromwell Road Bridge being carried out would be to leave the whole special benefit or increased rental of at least £3,000 or £4,000 a year, resulting from the carrying out of the improvement in the hands of the landowners of Fulham, out of which special increased rental the Bill proposed to intercept only £880 per annum.I confess I stand aghast at the colossal audacity, the monumental hardihood, of this mis-statement. The decision of the Committee was that the part of the Preamble which related to the imposition of a special "betterment" rate was not proved. The effect of the decision of the Committee was to leave the London County Council perfectly free to carry out this improvement, if they chose, in the ordinary way in which Metropolitan improvements have been carried out in London during the last thirty years. It was shown, in the course of our inquiry—I believe to the satisfaction of the majority of the Committee—that, if the London County Council had chosen to buy and re-sell the land contiguous to the bridge it might have pocketed the betterment itself. It was at the same time shown that the increased assessment which would follow from the rise in value on adjoining property in houses would have thrown probably more than the cost on those actually benefited by this improvement. The London County Council did not choose to take that course; it did cot choose to carry out this improvement 420 in the ordinary way in which improvements have been carried out during two generations. The London County Council is now sulking like a spoiled child. For the second time in two years the London County Council has refused to carry out a metropolitan improvement universally desired, an improvement much needed, simply because Parliament has refused to allow the Council to tax ground landlords in an unjust and unworkable manner. The London County Council has now practically abdicated its primary functions as a Metropolitan Authority—there is no Metropolitan Authority; the London County Council has abdicated its functions as an Improvement Authority—and has actually allowed a private company to come to Parliament for powers to widen Parliament Street. Since 1889, the ill-starred year of its birth, the London County Council has not carried out one single metropolitan improvement of any importance whatever; it is no Governing Body for London; it is nothing but a revolutionary debating society. This may be the last time I shall speak, in this House upon the London County Council, and I would say this: So long as there is a Conservative majority in this House, London ratepayers may indulge with impunity their wayward whims if they choose; but if with a Radical County Council we have a Radical majority here to aid and abet it—instead of a majority to check and control the London County Council—then London will have a rude awakening, and possibly Londoners may then appreciate the efforts—unrewarded, but not, I am happy to say, altogether unavailing—I have made from time to time for their protection, and may then recognise that the strongest language I have used against the London County Council falls very far short indeed of its deserts.
§ (3.14.) MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
I think that the course taken by the hon. Member is unprecedented. I am not aware that it is a rule in this House for a Member of a Committee on a Private Bill to have the Third Reading of that Bill postponed for two days in order that he may prepare a speech to exhibit his animus against the County Council 421 of London. The position of the hon. Member is peculiar. He is at present Member for a London constituency; but whether it is that the constituency has no confidence in its Member, or the Member has no confidence in his constituency, I do not know; but I understand the hon. Member will not woo the suffrages of the people of Peckham at the next election, but will turn his affections to a more northern latitude. What is his position in regard to this Bill? He is the last person who should bring this matter before the House, for he and those who voted with him are solely responsible for the delay which will occur in the carrying out of these admittedly urgent and necessary improvements. This question came before the London County Council, and the proposal was accepted by an enormous majority—a majority which if translated into what would be corresponding figures in this House would be represented by 400 against 24. This was the proportionate majority of the Council supporting the application of the betterment principle of the Cromwell Road improvement. I am not a fanatical admirer of "betterment"; in fact, when the Committee commenced its sittings, I had a very hazy and imperfect notion of what the principle was. I had the advantage, therefore, of coming to the subject with a mind not preoccupied by prejudice or partiality. But, I must say, if ever there was a case to which the principle of betterment might be applied—if ever there was a case conclusively proved—it was the principle of betterment applied to this improvement. It was a remarkable case; it was a case in which the owners of the land principally affected had themselves in 1884 gone to the expense of £2,000 in procuring an Act of Parliament to build a bridge to connect the parish of Fulham with Cromwell Road, and again in 1887 they went to the Metropolitan Board of Works and offered to pay a large proportion of what was then deemed the necessary cost of such a bridge. It was shown that the bridge would undoubtedly increase the value of the neighbouring property. The Council, therefore, may be said to have made a fair proposal in apportioning the cost—one-third 422 to the parish of Fulham, one-third to the ratepayers of the Metropolis generally, and one-third to the owners of property benefited. Not only so; the proposal was limited so that, unless it was proved that a special increase of value had accrued from the building of the bridge, no charge was to be imposed upon the leaseholders and owners. Now, the Committee never reached the stage of examination into the details proposed by the London County Council for the purpose of carrying out the principle adopted; they never reached those details, because on the preliminary point the Committee decided against the principle. The hon. Member has said that Conservatives were in a minority on the Committee, and this, though true in form, is not true in fact, because there was a Liberal Unionist on the Committee more Tory than the Tories themselves, so it was a Party majority. Every Member of the other Party was prepared to allow there was a case for consideration. The Committee were not pledged to details, but the majority decided absolutely they would not have the principle of betterment, brought in any form, under consideration. The hon. Member has taken exception to the statement; but I say it is perfectly correct; for there was the evidence before us that the enhanced value that would accrue from houses in a line with the bridge would be probably £3,000 a year, and that the maximum charge imposed would not exceed £800 a year—somewhat less than a third of the benefit obtained. Now, I am not quarrelling with the view of the hon. Member; he is just as much entitled to his opinion as to the proper mode of taxation as I am to mine, but I do entirely disagree with his view that the person to pay for these improvements is the occupier. I know that on a recent occasion the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House that in his opinion the rates in towns came out of the pockets of the occupiers, and the view of the hon. Member is that the improvements in the landlord's property should come out out of the pockets of the occupier. ("No!") In consequence of these improvements the occupiers would have to pay higher rents, and when the rate and tax 423 collectors come round they would require higher rates and taxes. So by giving effect to the view of the hon. Member, it would throw the whole burden on the occupiers.
§ MR. HUNTER
I am amazed, knowing the contents of the Bill. I do not conceive how else the hon. Member's words can be construed. If no share of the burden is thrown on the leaseholders and owners, it must all fall on the occupiers of the Metropolis. These are, shortly, the facts of the case, and I am bound to say I think a grave responsibility attaches to the hon. Member and his friends in standing in the way of these public improvements. If the principle of betterment were more doubtful than it is—I think it is entirely justified on its merits—but if it were more doubtful than it is it would be a very strong measure for a Party in this House, at the close of this Parliament, to defy the deliberate opinion of the electors of London. I do not pretend to understand the mysteries of London elections; but as an outsider it strikes me as extremely curious the electors of London having only this year appointed a body to carry on their local government, and returned an overwhelming majority pledged to the principle of betterment, Members of this House, elected at a much earlier period, and therefore, perhaps, not representing the present opinion of the constituencies, should now set themselves to thwart, frustrate, and obstruct the will of the people of London expressed by the body in whom the people have confidence.
§ *(3.24.) MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)
The hon. Member has thought fit to take my hon. Friend to task for taking an unusual step; but if I wanted justification for that course, even if it were exceptional, I should find it in the words of the County Council in respect to the Bill; and I think, if it were worth our while to be thin-skinned and to ask your attention, Sir, to the words as a breach of Privilege, we should be justified in doing so. Two Members of the Committee are singled out and their conduct criticised in a manner that would seem to justify such an 424 appeal to the House; but I do not condescend to ask you, Sir, whether it constitutes a breach of the Privileges of this House. I prefer to treat it with the contempt it deserves; but, at the same time, in justice we are entitled to explain and justify the course we adopted. My hon. Friend has referred to the Report of the County Council as a misstatement, and he has not exaggerated. The Report speaks of two Members having strenuously opposed the Bill. In accordance with the practice which has grown up in Parliament—of which the Report speaks contemptuously—the Bill was referred to a Hybrid Committee, and the Resolution goes on to say that one of us not only strenuously opposed the Bill—which we did and we were perfectly justified in doing so—but that one of us moved the reference of the Bill to a Hybrid Committee. Now, neither of us did anything of the kind. My hon. Friend moved the rejection of the Bill, because it contained a proposal to over-rule the general law of the land. It was my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Whitmore) who moved the reference of the Bill to a Hybrid Committee, and he was not on the Committee. The right hon. Baronet the Chairman of the London County Council (Sir John Lubbock) assented to that course, and, in fact, I think proposed it. This was not all. The Report goes on to say that, having regard to what had taken place before the Committee, and to our having thought fit to reject the new principle of taxation, the Council left the Committee to proceed as it thought fit. This they did not do. Their counsel stated that as the Committee did not think fit to sanction the new mode of taxation proposed by the County Council, he would withdraw this Cromwell Road improvement altogether. Now, what are the facts of their proposal? It was not, as pretended, a method of imposing part of a burden on persons who would be benefited by the improvement in question; it was a case of an improvement in which the County Council, by their own evidence, showed that the improvement itself would be not a burden, but a source of income 425 to the rates of the parish. The Cromwell Road Bridge was to cost £66,000, the repayment of which, with interest, was represented by an annuity of £2,425 for sixty years. That was the extent of the burden on the parish of Fulham and the Metropolis, between whom it would be divided. It was shown that the annual rateable rental in Fulham would be increased by the improvements to a greater extent than this £2,425. The figures showed that the rating would be increased by £21,000. Now, the normal rate in Fulham is six shillings in the pound per annum, which includes the Metropolitan rate, estimated at half that amount, so that three shillings is the parish rate and three shillings the Metropolitan rate. Now, six shillings on £21,000 increased value would yield an increase of revenue of £6,300 a year. Half of this would be for the parish, enabling them to that extent to keep down the rates; and, setting off against this the debt of £2,425 a year, it was admitted there was a net gain to the parish of over £600 a year. Not only so; there would be a benefit of £3,150 to the Metropolitan rates, against which there would be no burden to be set at all. The proposal of the London County Council was that, in addition to these enormously increased rates on property under the Quinquennial Act, a novel system was to be introduced by which they would impose a mortgage upon all houses and all property, whether built on or not comprised within a geometrical area described with a pair of compasses. It was admitted in evidence before us that it was not certain, and it could not be said to be certain by anybody, that the property within this radius was all to be bettered. It was admitted that a great deal of the property would not be bettered, and after cross-examination by myself, Mr. Charles Harrison admitted that, so far as he was concerned, this circumference, this geometrical line, might be dispensed with, but he still wished that this power might be delegated to the London County Council to impose this mortgage as it may be called—this charge admitted by experts to be equivalent to a mortgage. The London County Council would take 426 power thus to impose a mortgage tax of £22,000 capital, or £880 a year, and have us believe this was all they intended to charge the people who were bettered, although the parish and the Council would each receive £3,150 a year beside; therefore, this contribution imposed by way of mortgage was an additional plum or profit to the Public Authority, and the effect generally would be that the London County Council or Local Authority would get in assets which they might spend or squander as they pleased and boast that they had kept down the rates. They would not be accountable to the ratepayers in the same manner as they would if they raised the money in a direct manner for their expenditure. Not only so; the charge of £4 per cent. per annum was to be a perpetual charge, unless and until the capital was paid off. Even that was not all; they asked for power to settle the incidence of the charge as between owners, lessees, and occupiers. They would take power to exempt occupiers altogether, and to roll up against the owner a charge of four per cent. at compound interest, so that when the owner came into possession he might find a mortgage for the capital sum, plus sixty years compound interest at four per cent., though the money had been recouped over and over again from the rates. Now how, with any sense of decency, could such an alteration of the incidence of taxation be allowed to pass in a Private Bill to over-ride the general principles of taxation in the Metropolis? If we are to be taken to task for what we did in the exercise of our judgment, which I claim on behalf of myself and my hon. Friends on the Committee to have exercised with thorough conscientiousness—for not one of us had a scintilla of property in the neighbourhood—if we are to be held up to opprobrium in the Press and subjected to criticism by the London County Council, where is the independence of this House? Is the London County Council to take upon itself the right to settle these matters? I think that, instead of being held up to opprobrium, we are entitled to commendation for having made a stand against a sort of "rampage" on the part of the London County Council 427 seeking to over-ride the just interests of the ratepayers of the Metropolis. Let me allude to the constitution of this Committee which has been animadverted upon. I think we were much more entitled to complain, for there were, in fact, on the Committee three Conservative Members, besides the Chairman, one Liberal Unionist, and four Radical Members. We know that our friends the Liberal Unionists do, on the great and all-important political question of the day, assist us, but their alliance on that question does not bind them on every other question. What took place on the Committee? Great unfairness was exhibited by the London County Council in the management of their own case. They instructed counsel to open the case as one of assent on the part of the freeholders to this exceptional taxation. In the most airy manner we were assured there was a unanimous assent on the part of owners, lessees, and occupiers, to the proposals; but presently it came out by abundant evidence that there was no such assent, and we had evidence from witnesses that they had dissented from the proposals of the London County Council. Away went all question of assent, and then it was proved up to the hilt that the London County Council had given no notice of their Bill to owners, lessees, or occupiers. Strictly speaking, under the Standing Orders of this House—and it appears to me it is a great defect in the Standing Orders—in cases of this kind owners, lessees, and occupiers are not required to have previous notice of the deposit of such a Bill, and the ordinary Gazette notice did not give sufficient information of the nature of the Bill. It was because of this gross unfairness that we were indebted for the support of our Liberal Unionist friend on the Committee—it was because of his sense of what was fair and due to the people that he voted with us. Even then the Committee were equally divided, and only the casting vote of the Chairman threw out the obnoxious clause. The London County Council evidently intend to make this a charge against Conservative Members—in fact, I have had an intimation of it in my own constituency—that we have thrown out a useful Metropolitan 428 improvement simply because we have not chosen to sanction the introduction of a new, unjust, and altogether extravagant proposal on the part of the London County Council to make a profit for their own revenue. They say they left it to the Committee to deal with the improvement, and that the Committee threw it out. We did nothing of the kind; we left the clause for making the bridge in the Bill, and the County Council withdrew it. We only struck out the novel taxation clause, the anti-ratepayers' clause for the imposition of a tax twice over upon the same people for the benefit of the revenues of the County Council and the Vestry. I have taken this opportunity, having seen the statement in the Press but an hour ago, to contradict it, and to show its falsity and unfairness. My hon. Friends and I testified to our desire that this important improvement should be carried out. ("Oh, oh!"). My hon. Friend opposite says "Oh!" Let me give another illustration of the intention of Members on this side of the House who were on this Committee to facilitate improvements, and of the temper displayed by the County Council in withdrawing a proposal as soon as they found they could not carry the unjust conditions tacked on to it. A proposal was brought before us to throw open Lincoln's Inn Fields to public use. All approved of the project, but it was proved and admitted that the Council already had the power to acquire the land under the Open Spaces Act of 1881. My hon. Friend need not shake his head; they have the power, on giving proper notice and getting the assent of two-thirds of the persons interested. But the Council wanted a clause giving them power to override opposition and dispense with the necessity of getting any majority by simply making such agreement as they liked with a certain number of the trustees they could manage to get hold of. This was resented by the trustees and occupiers of this noble square, and so the clause was thrown out. But it is given out to our discredit that we have prevented the people of London having the use of Lincoln's Inn Fields. But we did not throw out the project. We approved of it; but the London County Council sought to evade the requirements of 429 the public law as comprised in the Act which their predecessors, the Metropolitan Board of Works, were parties to obtaining—the Open Spaces Act of 1881. But I have trespassed too long on the time of the House. Let me only say we wish well to all improvements in the Metropolis promoted by the London County Council, so long as these improvements are carried out in accordance with the law of the land and the accepted principles of taxation. Until those principles are reviewed in this House, discussed on their merits, and altered, should Parliament see fit to alter them.
§ (3.44.) MR. SINCLAIR (, &c.) Falkirk
As the Member of the Committee referred to by the hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter) as "more Tory than the Tories," I claim the right to be heard for a few moments. I simply dismiss the observation of the hon. Member by saying he would have been nearer the truth if he had said "more Constitutional than the Constitutionalists." Language of this kind does not deserve any consideration from those of us who have endeavoured to do our duty, and to maintain the Constitution in things small as well as in things great. I absolutely deny that my action on the Committee was dictated by political reasons. Nor was it the case that the question of betterment caused me to give the vote I did, which had the effect of the betterment clause being thrown out. I have not had the advantage of hearing the opening of this Debate; but I think it has been made clear to the House that the advantage of this improvement to Fulham, and to London as a whole, was admitted by the Committee. The Committee were prepared to pass the improvement had it not been withdrawn by the London County Council because they did not get their way in the mode of levying the charge for meeting the cost of the improvement. The amount was divided into three parts: a third was to be paid by the whole of the Metropolis, a third was to be paid by the parish of Fulham, and the remainder was to be paid within what was called the "betterment" area, included in a radius of half a mile from the proposed bridge. This charge was 430 something new; there has been no such charge levied in London, or, so far as I am aware, in any part of the United Kingdom; at least, no evidence was given of anything of the kind. The proposal was that those within this area who were "bettered" should pay a tax or charge of four per cent. for ever upon a sum of £880 a year, while the payment of the remaining two-thirds was to be met by a charge of three per cent. in the case of the Metropolis, and three and a half in the case of Fulham for a term of years—I think fifty-seven. But the point I took exception to was this—the charge was new, and no sufficient notice was given to those who would have to pay it—absolutely no notice except that which the law requires should be given for rates. Here was a new charge to be levied, and it seemed to me only reasonable that those upon whom it was proposed to be levied should have notice, and for this reason I voted against the proposal. I stated in Committee, and Members of the Committee will confirm me, that it was not as against the principle of betterment per ae, and not even as against that principle as embodied in the Bill; but it was as against the absence of sufficient notice that I felt compelled to vote with my hon. Friends opposite in opposition to the levy of a charge such as this, of which no notice had been given except the notice which appertains to ordinary rates. In regard to Lincoln's Inn Fields, I have this much to say—that upon that particular proposal I did not go with my hon. Friends on the other side of the House. I was the only Member of the Committee who voted in favour of it, and it was because of the absence of other Members of the Committee that it was not carried. Whether I was right or wrong in doing so, it is only fair that this should be known. I do not want to take up time, and only because of the attack made upon me by the hon. Member for Aberdeen have I intervened at all in this discussion.
§ *(3.52.) SIR JOHN COLOMB (, &c.) Tower Hamlets, Bow
As a Member of the Committee I may be allowed one or two observations, and I doubt if I should have intervened at all but for the assertion of the hon. 431 Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter), who talked about the Committee having obstructed the application of the betterment principle. I make some excuse for the hon. Member, as he did not hear the argument of counsel against the preamble of the Bill.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
I apologise if I am mistaken, but I thought that during the first part of that which I considered powerful argument hon. Members opposite were absent from the room.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB
I accept the correction. The parish of Hammersmith is divided from Fulham by the railway, the latter parish being cut off from through communication with the East of London. It is quite true, as the hon. Member says, that in 1884 a Bill was promoted whereby certain owners took upon themselves the cost of constructing a bridge, but the hon. Member did not state that it was proved in evidence before the Committee that the owners were two jobbing builders, and that the Bill was promoted by a bubble company which burst the next year. Then the London County Council took up the proposal, and they sent down their surveyor to report on the construction of the bridge, and what area would be bettered by the construction. The surveyor went down, and he marked certain plots here and there which he said without doubt would be bettered. Then the County Council, having the report of their surveyor, measured the distance from the bridge to the most extreme point of the blocks their surveyor said would be bettered, and then drew a circle enclosing a half mile radius, and they said, "This is the betterment area upon which we purpose to put a charge for ever of four per cent. on a third of the cost of the improvement." This was not founded upon any reason given by the surveyor; it simply originated from an abstract love of geometrical precision in the minds of the County Council. I did not vote against the abstract principle of betterment; there was no decision upon that. I objected 432 to a fantastic faddist application of the principle of betterment which I believe would end in stopping all improvements in London. As an East End Member I know the importance of through communication under the Thames; but if you apply such a principle as this proposed to be applied to the Cromwell Road Bridge, you would beggar the whole East End of London. The East End has contributed for years to the making and freeing of bridges across the Thames in the West of London, at an expenditure of six millions; and if you apply in the same way this principle of betterment to the Blackwall Tunnel, then, although the people of East London have contributed forty years to the cost of bridges in the West, the County Council may say, "You shall not have this tunnel unless you allow us to take the compasses and describe a half mile radius enclosing a betterment area, within which the people shall pay a perpetual charge of four per cent., or a third of the cost." Sir, the whole thing is a monstrous fad, and I shall take care to tell the people of the East End pretty plainly what they may expect if doctrines based, not on any sound principles, but on the foolish fads of those who do not know their business, are allowed to prevail.
§ (3.59) MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
I venture to say the time of the House has been practically wasted by the discussion of a clause which is not in the Bill before us. The opposition which hon. Member after hon. Member has arisen to express to the introduction of the betterment principle by the London County Council would have been all very well if the speeches had been delivered, as, indeed, some of them were, when the Bill was before the House on the Second Reading, and then contained the clause in question. But there is no such clause in the Bill now, and so there is no object for all this talk and rhodomontade.
§ MR. KIMBER
But a personal attack has been made upon us in reference to the withdrawal of the clause.
§ MR. STUART
I was not referring to the hon. Gentleman's discussion of what he calls a personal attack. I was referring to the betterment principle, 433 which the hon. Member discussed at very full length. As to the personal attack to which the hon. Member refers, I have looked through the Report of the London County Council, and the only passage I can find that can be construed into an attack is—Two Members of the Committee had strenuously opposed and spoken in the House against the proposal in the Bill.If hon. Members have taken that course they have emphasised it by the course they have adopted to-day. I think it would be useless and unsuitable for me to attempt to defend the London County Council for introducing the betterment principle to begin with. These gentlemen on the Committee have thrown out that principle, and the County Council has not been able to introduce it again. The only thing these gentlemen have done by their remarks to-day has been to show their own extreme opposition.
§ MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)
I must beg the hon. Gentleman to allow me to correct him. He says the Committee threw out the clause. Thai is the gist of the whole matter; we did not throw out the clause, the County Council withdrew it. We should not have risen at all on this occasion if we had not been personally attacked by the London County Council for the course we took in the Committee. I thought I was entitled to explain what took place, and it is they and not I who are chargeable with the withdrawal of the clause applying the betterment principle.
§ MR. STUART
I am not making an attack on the hon. Gentleman of the character of which he has complained. But I ask leave to say that hon. Gentlemen have shown a strong opposition to the proposed methods of relieving the ratepayers of London. There has been an excuse made for the action of the hon. Gentleman behind me, on the ground that insufficient notice had been given, but the whole notice that is legally requisite was given. I will not enter into the discussion whether the betterment principle is a new or old one. However, the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) admitted that the principle had been sanctioned 434 by the House in other cases. Hon. Gentlemen have been attacking the London County Council in a most unnecessary manner because it withdrew all clauses in reference to a certain improvement when the betterment principle was not admitted. The County Council could have done nothing else. The Fulham Vestry had entered into an arrangement with the County Council to pay two-thirds of the cost of the improvement on condition of receiving one-third back by the Betterment Clause. When that clause was thrown out the Vestry, which was not before the Committee, was consulted by the County Council, and declined to proceed with a two-thirds liability without the clause, and it was technically impossible for the Committee to have forced on the Vestry that liability. The County Council, therefore, withdrew the whole of the clauses, as there was no alternative plan before the Committee. Hon. Gentlemen take out the Betterment Clause, and then are angry with the County Council because it do not go on with the improvement. I hope the House will consent to read the Bill a third time. Hon. Members made a brave show on the Second Reading, and the hon. Member for Camberwell (Mr. Baumann) called on the Conservative Party as a Party to rally round him and make a protest against the betterment scheme. What it is that hon. Gentlemen complain about at this moment I quite fail to see.
§ (4.5.) SIR JOSEPH BAILEY (Hereford)
As the Committee has been blamed somewhat for its action, I think it right that I should say a few words on the matter. I entirely agree with the hon. Member who has just sat down that under the circumstances the London County Council had no other course open to them than to withdraw that portion of the Bill for this year. There was that in it which required a good deal of adjustment, and it was the feeling of the Committee that it was impossible to make those adjustments at this period of the Session. I do not want to go into the merits of the Bill, which I have no doubt the House will read a third time. The Committee, 435 like all Hybrid Committees, was composed of four and four, the Chairman not voting unless the other Members were equally divided. They were so divided on the Betterment Clause, and I voted against it because I thought it was inapplicable, because I thought the benefit was hypothetical, that there were great difficulties as to the assessment of the various properties, that the notice, though legally sufficient for a Private Bill, had not imbued the people of the district with the knowledge that this betterment plan was going to be used, and of the mode in which it was going to be raised—namely, by perpetual annuity and not by a rate involving repayment of principal and interest running over a certain number of years; and that it contained powers for varying the liability to taxation of the owner of the improved leasehold and of the improved leasehold occupier. These matters involved such great difficulties as to render the principle of betterment unsuitable for that occasion. I desire also to say that, in my opinion, a Hybrid Committee is the very worst tribunal to settle a matter of this kind. There can be no doubt that one or two Members of this Committee had spoken strongly against the principle on the Second Reading, and that one or two other gentlemen were equally strongly in favour of it. Without expressing any opinion on the principle generally, we had sufficient evidence before us to be aware that the question will be brought up by the London County Council again and again till it has been decided one way or another. I think it extremely undesirable that it should come repeatedly before Private Bill Committees, because you will have patchy legislation. Any change in the liability to taxation must be unfair for a time, but I do not say that it may not be desirable to make an improvement even at the expense of some temporary unfairness; but the question should be settled by a Royal Commission or a Committee including the best financiers of which the House of Commons can boast. It is wrong to let the London County Council bring the question up in Private Bills year after year, when one Committee may 436 decide one way and another Committee the other.
§ (4.10.) MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
When the clause was thrown out we were quite sure that before long the majority of the Committee would find out their mistake and endeavour openly, inside and outside of this House, to explain their conduct. The speeches we have heard show that our anticipations were well founded. The hon. Members for Peckham (Mr. Baumann) and Wandsworth (Mr. Kimber) have discovered their mistake, and that their constituents are demanding a better reason for their action than they gave to the Committee; and these speeches have been delivered for the benefit of their constituents. They will probably have to repeat them, and when they do I hope they will be able to give more substantial reasons than they have given to-day. It is important that we should know where we are on this subject. I think at present the statements made on the other side are somewhat misleading. It is true that the property-owners were not personally notified of the proposals of the London County Council, but it is equally true that every legal notice was served on every property-owner in the district. The hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Sinclair) took refuge behind the contemptible plea that the County Council ought to have given notice which the law does not require. The reasoning of the hon. Gentleman was of a specious character, and seemed only to be used to justify the vote he gave. Practically speaking, the question was decided by the hon. Member. He said he was in favour of the principle of betterment, but because the County Council had not done that which the law did not say they ought to do, the hon. Member set himself up above the authority of Parliament.
§ MR. SINCLAIR (, &c.) Falkirk
I have never blamed the County Council for not giving this notice. I believe fuller notice ought to have been given by the Vestry, but the County Council taking charge of the Bill ought to have seen that the notices were fuller than they were under the circumstances. A new charge was proposed to be imposed, such as had 437 never been imposed before, and this charge was to be imposed along with rates which would have to be paid at the same time, the legal notice being given for those rates.
§ MR. CREMER
The hon. Member has not challenged the assertion that the County Council had done all they were legally compelled to do. The improvement would cost £66,000, and the County Council was prepared to bear one-third and spread it over the whole Metropolitan area; the Parish Vestry was prepared to bear one-third, and the County Council sought to impose on the property-owners within a half-mile circle another one-third, which the majority of the property-owners in the district expressed their willingness to bear. It is quite true there were one or two objections.
§ (4.17.) SIR HENRY JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
I rise to order, Sir. We have now been occupied over an hour in discussing, on the Motion for Third Reading, a clause which has been withdrawn from the Bill. The matter was raised to meet some personal attack; but I ask you, Sir, whether it is in order to carry on a protracted discussion on matter which is not contained in the Bill now before the House?
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I have allowed the discussion to go on as long as it has done so as to permit of personal explanations. Then a question arose as to the circumstances under which a clause was withdrawn. Of course, a discussion of the circumstances under which a bridge was proposed to be built, and the application of the betterment principle to it, is unnecessary now, as the clause has been withdrawn from the Bill.
§ MR. CREMER
I do not know, Sir, if you have decided that I may not continue the line of argument I was using, but I will content myself with saying that, except in two instances, the property-owners expressed their willingness to pay. It is very well for hon. Members who have been endeavouring to talk to their constituents to try and close the mouths of those who want to put the other side of the question; but I will not pursue the matter, as there will be a chance of thrashing it out before 438 the Metropolitan electors. The hon. Member below me said that but for the absence of a portion of the Committee a clause referring to Lincoln's Inn Fields would have been adopted. I was in an adjoining Committee room, but before I went to it I notified the Chairman of the Committee and asked him to send for me if a vote were to be taken. A vote was taken and I was not sent for, and I thought it rather sharp practice. I have no explanation to offer for the absence of my hon. Friends; possibly they were in the same dilemma as myself.
§ MR. CREMER
Before I left the room I told the Chairman and the clerk of the Committee where I should be. I am very glad the County Council have had the courage to abandon the proposal to build a bridge, and have declined to accept the hon. Members for Peck-ham and Wandsworth as the oracles of this great Metropolis, being perfectly satisfied that a new Parliament will mean a more equitably constituted Committee, composed of men who will not go to it inspired with opposition as shown by their speeches in this House. The London County Council have been like the red rag to a bull to certain Members of the House, and it was quite clear from the composition of the Committee that our chance of getting the betterment principle approved was exceedingly small, and the County Council have acted wisely in withdrawing the clause and refusing to make any improvement unless the principle of betterment is first sanctioned by Parliament.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed, with an amended Title.