§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER,
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that as probably Amendments to be submitted would offer occasion for answering any objections which might be urged against the measure, he would now state, as briefly as possible, the grounds on which he asked the House to assent to it. The subject was one to which he had for some time been calling the attention of Parliament and the country; and, therefore, no one had reason to complain that due notice had not been given of the intention of the Government to deal with the question, which was becoming one of very considerable importance. The principle of making advances from the State to local bodies for the promotion of great undertakings was of long standing. Since 1792 the State had been in the habit of making advances, from time to time, for all sorts of objects. Sometimes they had advanced money to assist trade, sometimes they had been made to assist cases of distress, some- 602 times to facilitate the construction of public works of importance. That system had gone on, under various forms, and of late years it had been put upon a better footing than before. It was now administered through the assistance of a body of gentlemen to whom the Government and the country were under the very deepest obligation. They ought never to miss the opportunity of thanking those gentlemen, who gratuitously gave their services as Public Works Loan Commissioners, for the very faithful and valuable assistance which they rendered to them in the matter. Now, he wished to say that the system had proved more costly to the State than, perhaps, some people were disposed to believe. He attributed the fact not at all to any want of care or to any want of astuteness on the part of the Commissioners. There was no doubt that the system on which they proceeded did necessarily involve them in a certain amount of risk, and from time to time there had been—and almost must be—a certain amount of loss in respect to advances. Up to a very recent period the advances were made upon a very moderate scale, and were generally confined to a few hundred thousands a-year. They were made on this principle—that there were many cases in which, although good security could be offered, it was difficult for persons who only wished to raise small sums to obtain the money they wanted on reasonable terms, or even any terms at all. Therefore, the State came forward and made advances on security at a moderate rate of interest. A new development had been given to this system by Acts of Parliament, giving advances for local works from the National Exchequer. Largo advances had been made; and if the Report of the Public Works Loans Commissioners of last year—the third annual Report—were examined, it would be seen at what a rate these advances were going on. In the Report there appeared a statement showing the sums advanced by the Public Works Loan Board between the 1st of April, 1869, and the 31st of March, 1878—a period of 10 years. For 1869 the sum advanced was £773,000; in 1870, £896,000; in 1871, £561,000; in 1872, £371,000; in 1873, £560,000. That brought them to 1873; but then suddenly a leap was taken, and they began to see advances 603 made at a much greater rate. In 1874 the sum advanced amounted to £2,076,000; in 1875, to £2,320,000; in 1876, to £3,320,000; in 1877, to £3,249.000; and in the year 1878, to £4,300,000. He did not know what the amount advanced in 1878–9 was, but he believed it to be still larger. It would thus be seen that between March, 1869, and March, 1873, £7,900,000 was advanced. That was an insignificant sum as compared with £20,580,000, at which figures the advances stood in 1878. In that way the advances were growing, and the credit which the State was providing was advancing at a rate which was very serious. But they were only now at the beginning of a great system, and this was the effect of the operation of certain Acts which had been passed quite recently and had hardly begun to develop themselves yet. Considerable advances had been made under the Education Acts, and advances under the Sanitary Acts were becoming of such a magnitude as to render it a matter of serious national importance to consider where we were going and how far the system could be carried. It was not comparatively a matter of much importance when only a sum of some £7,000,000 or £8,000,000 was concerned; but when the sum reached £26,000,000 or £27,000,000, and the advances were increasing every year, it was clear there would soon be an enormous sum lent out, and that it was a matter that ought to engage the serious attention of the House. Everyone who took the slightest interest in the welfare of this country should consider how far that system should be carried out, and how far restrictions should be put on advances that were now being made. "But," he might be told, "this is all very well; there are large advances made for excellent purposes and on good security, and they are made at a rate which does not involve any loss to the State, but, on the contrary, provides a certain profit to the State." They wore told that, generally speaking, these loans were made at 3½ per cent interest. The State could borrow at 3¼ per cent, and, therefore, there was a profit of ¼ per cent, and that was sufficient to cover any risk or any expenditure which might be incurred in connection with the system. If that were the case, there would be something 604 to be said; but the main point of his argument was that the amount of interest that they were now charging when they charged 3½ per cent was not sufficient to cover the risks which they ran. He had on former occasions given some figures to the House on this point; and he might say, speaking of the loan transactions of the State as a whole, that the result was something of this kind:—Since 1792 the State had been a lender of £85,883,000, and, assuming that all the debts outstanding were good debts, they should get back £89,900,000—that was to say, they should receive back all the principal advanced and the sum of £4,000,000 as representing interest. It was difficult to say how much that interest represented, but careful calculations had been made; and the result at which they arrived was that it probably represented something equivalent to 12s. per cent on all the money that had been advanced. If, therefore, they had boon paying—as they certainly had—a good deal more than 3 per cent, and had not received back more than 12s. per cent, it could not be said that these transactions had been an unmixed benefit to the State. Then he would, perhaps, be told that these advances were made in years gone by on questionable security and with results that they ought to have anticipated—in point of fact, that many of the loans were gifts. Of course, they were much wiser than their ancestors—that they knew; but, at the same time, if they were to go back and examine the history of these various advances, they would find, he thought, that probably there would have been great indignation expressed by those who made the advances if they had been called gifts. That might or might not be; but he could not help thinking that they were a little too apt to assume that what was done a few years ago was done recklessly, and that what they did now was done carefully, and that, therefore, they might assume that all these losses were matters of the past, and would never occur again. [An hon. MEMBER: They ought not to occur again.] He admitted that they ought not to occur again; but they might rest assured some bad debts would be made, and they must look for them. If the loans under the Harbours and Passing Tolls Acts wore carefully analyzed, it would be found that 3¼ per cent had been charged, and that there 605 bad been a loss of between £29,000 and £30,000 up to the 31st of March last, though the Acts were quite recent. This showed that with the best intentions and the utmost care they must make, and must calculate on making, some bad debts. What had been the result during the 62 years during which the Public Loan Commission had been in existence? They had been very careful in the advances they had made; but he found that in 62 years the sum issued from the Exchequer to the Public Works Loans Commissioners was £41,694,000. The whole of the money was to pay 3¼ per cent, and they ought to have received into the Exchequer £10,937,000, but they had actually received only £9,362,000, or about £2 15s. per cent, and this, notwithstanding that during a great part of the time the loans had been made, not at the low rate of 3½per cent, but that 4 per cent, and even 5 per cent, in some cases, had been charged. That had not resulted from any want of care, or of an earnest desire to examine into all the circumstances; but, as a matter of fact, 3½ per cent was not enough to cover the advances they made, and allow for bad debts. He was sometimes told they borrowed at 3¼ per cent, and even lower, and ought to make 3½ per cent and even more. He had examined into the matter; and seeing the large amounts that were now involved, and the larger applications likely to come, it was absolutely necessary they should take stops for putting some proper restriction on the rate of borrowing, and that was the first and main provision of the Bill. The measure proposed that in cases where a loan was granted by the Commissioners it should bear interest at not less than 3½ per cent if it was for a short period of not exceeding 20 years; 3¾ if not exceeding 30 years; 4 per cent if for 40 years; and if for more than that 4½ per cent. These rates had been decided on after careful consideration and communication with the Commissioners. Obviously, where the loan was for a long period the risk was greater; and it was, therefore, only reasonable that where the loan was only for a long period the rate of interest should be higher than if it was for a short period. That was one of the points of the Bill. The next point he had to draw attention to was the pro- 606 position in the Bill that the amount lent to any one body should not exceed £100,000 in any one year. Undoubtedly in the first beginning of those advances there was no question as to advancing largo sums, as they had done recently. The great object was to assist small communities with money which they could otherwise hardly borrow without great disadvantage, the amounts generally being so small that they could hardly raise them in the open market; but since the passing of the Local Authorities Acts, to which he had referred, and which had done a good deal to stimulate local enterprize or exertions for the improvement of great localities, there had been a tendency, and a very natural one, on the part of those communities to come forward and ask for the advance of large sums for the completion of important works. Take, for instance, the case of the school boards. They knew that to those boards there had been very large sums advanced, and this was a matter which stood on a different footing from the other class of cases to which he referred. They anticipated that the amount of money which would be advanced for school buildings would be something like £4,000,000; that was their anticipation at the time of the passing of the Education Act, 1870, but more than that sum had been taken by one school board alone—that of London. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), who had taken so great and honourable an interest in the improvement of the town of Birmingham, had been one of the most energetic of the applicants for advances from the Public Works Loans Commissioners. Although they had had some passages of arms, he hoped the hon. Gentleman did not think he wished to throw any blame upon him for the persistency—the successful persistency—he had pursued. He hoped the hon. Member for Birmingham would not for a moment suppose he was questioning the character or propriety of the advances he applied for; but here was a case where they were asked, in a single application, to advance £1,500,000. What was the immediate effect of that in other towns? There was a similar desire on their part for similar improvements, and hence there were the applications for the borrowing of money with which to carry out the improvements. They must, 607 therefore, be prepared from time to time for very large demands of the kind, and there was no particular reason why that which had been done for Birmingham should not be done for other towns. Then it might be said—"If you are calling on municipalities to carry out great works for the improvement of the condition of the labouring classes and the sanitary condition of these towns when we know that these things can only be done by borrowing, you ought to have taken into consideration the demands that would be made upon you." He wished to remind the House that when they saw what that system was likely to grow to, they did endeavour to introduce a system which he thought was a proper mode of dealing with cases of that kind—that was to say, in 1875 an Act, called the Local Authorities Loans Act, was passed, which provided facilities for those great local authorities to borrow directly in the open market the large sums they desired, and the object of that Bill was to obviate the necessity of claims of that kind on the Public Exchequer. An important community like Birmingham, and some other large constituencies of the country, might very well, by proper organization, raise the sums they required at a very reasonable rate of interest—just as the Metropolitan Board of Works had done in London. He did not know whether there were any defects found in the Local Authorities Loans Act; but they had always said, if there were any, make them acquainted with those defects, and they would be most happy to propose remedies for them. He had only heard of one defect at present, and that was that under that Act the communities who made use of it, though they could borrow on very fair terms, could not borrow on such favourable terms as they could raise money from the State; that was to say, that people in the open market did not care to do what the State did—that was, to lend at a probable loss. That was a matter which ought seriously to engage the attention of Parliament; and it seemed to him to be perfectly reasonable that the Government should do what they proposed to do by this Bill—namely, to introduce a limit beyond which the advances should not be made in each single year. That measure would produce a very considerable effect. He had ob- 608 served that the effect which very large advances of this kind being made in a single year exercised upon the Exchequer was by no means to be underrated. If very large calls were made upon the Exchequer for advances of this kind, of course the Exchequer must find the money by borrowing in the open market; and although the State might borrow £1,000,000 or £2,000,000, or even £5,000,000 or £6,000,000, without materially affecting the rate of interest, still, if it came to meeting an advance of £20,000,000 or £30,000,000 a-year, the State, going into the open market and borrowing those large sums, would inevitably raise the rate of interest against itself; and it was a matter very seriously to be considered whether the Government were justified, as a financial operation, in making these very large calls upon the Money Market. What he proposed, therefore, was that they should limit the amount that could be called for in any one year to £100,000. There was a third clause in the Bill, and that was a clause which, as he mentioned yesterday, he was prepared to abandon, at all events for the present year. It was a clause which prohibited the repayment of loans which were made for more than 20 years by means of annuities. It would be quite obvious to anyone who reflected on the subject that in the case of long loans there was a natural desire on the part of those undertaking the works to borrow money, and to spread the repayment of it over as long a period as possible; but the effect of spreading the payment for works over a long period was this—that those who had planned and executed the work, and perhaps the generation who were most benefited by it, passed away, whilst a very small proportion of the capital sum expended had been repaid; and that the repayment of the great bulk of the capital was thrown upon the succeeding generation, which might, perhaps, have views of its own; which might think, perhaps, that the action of its predecessors was not so good as should have been undertaken, and that the work was, perhaps, somewhat worn out; and that, at all events, the new works which had developed themselves rendered it very desirable, indeed, that the community should get rid of those old burdens as much as possible, in order to raise money for other purposes. 609 If that were a case in which anyone but the State was the creditor there would be less danger; but it was quite obvious that the relations between a large community borrowing from the State—the relations between debtor and creditor in that case—were very different from the relations between a borrowing community and a bank or private capitalist who had advanced the money. The latter would say—"You are bound to pay us this debt which you have contracted, and you have shown us no reason whatever why we should remit a portion of it to you." On the other hand, where the parties concerned were a great city and the State, the representatives of the city had always a temptation to come to the State and to say—"This was money expended under your encouragement, or the encouragement of the State, a certain number of years ago. We were stimulated to do these things, and we laid out—or our ancestors laid out—a great deal of money in great haste. The burden falls upon us. We find these works do not suit the present day. You are very properly calling upon us to execute other works, and will you help us to do that by taking off, at all events, a part of the debt which we contracted for those other public purposes, and which, therefore, you are quite justified in taking off?" Well, that was a danger which might be very large, and which they must not put out of sight. At the present moment there could be no doubt whatever that the securities offered were good, and that the intention of repayment was perfect, and that the State was making these advances simply and entirely on commercial principles—making a fair bargain, and expecting to be repaid—but in the course of 20 or 30 years who could say what the relations between them might be? Again, there was always very great difficulty even with regard to the security. Where the security depended on the rates of a great community, one would be inclined to say those rates were a practically inexhaustible security; but changes might take place, and they did sometimes take place, even in very flourishing places, and it might turn out that the security became, in the course of time, somewhat deteriorated. He was informed one day of a case where a considerable sum had been advanced upon the security of the rates of a great 610 district, and he was told that amongst the ratepayers of that district there was a gentleman who was connected with mining operations. Well, it was considered exceedingly probable that his mine might be exhausted before the period came when the loan was paid off, and then the rates would feel it; and thus they might have serious difficulties which they could not at present contemplate or estimate. All these things were in the future, and they could not foresee the future sufficiently to imagine all the difficulties which might arise. Therefore it was desirable that they should, as far as possible, endeavour to limit the period during which those loans were to be repaid; and therefore it -was that he proposed that they should prohibit the advance of loans to be paid by way of annuities, if they exceeded the period of 20 years. However, he was willing to let that matter stand over for further consideration. He thought, if the House were prepared to agree to the two first propositions which he made—one, that they should fix the rates of interest in the manner in which they were fixed in the 2nd clause of this Bill; and the other, that they should adopt the limit of £100,000, for the advances to be made in such cases—they might leave the question of repayment by annuities where it at present stood; that was, that there was a discretion to be exercised in the matter, and although many loans were made on better terms, when the money was repaid in a short period, still, there was no prohibition of repayment by annuities. He would only add that in Committee he would propose to introduce words to exempt cases in which anything had passed. The 5th clause provided that nothing in the Act should apply to any loan granted before the passing of the Act. He proposed to extend that as follows:—Provided, That, where, though a loan has not been actually granted before the passing of this Act, negotiations for the same have proceeded so far as to make it in the opinion of the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury inequitable for such loan to be subject to the provisions of this Act, or any of them, such loan shall, for the purposes of those provisions, be deemed to be a loan granted before the passing of this Act,They knew that there were not a few cases in which public bodies had undertaken to contract for works on the understanding that they would receive 611 loans from the Public Works Loans Commissioners upon the terms which had been before the public for some time; but, perhaps, they would not have actually completed their arrangements so far as to get a grant from that body, although they might have carried them so far as to have established a moral claim for consideration; and he proposed to provide for the admission of such moral claims. They had no desire in any way to defer the work, which they had themselves been so anxious to promote, of local improvement, and they had no desire to draw back from the negotiations which they had entered into. He was not so much looking at the present or the past as to the future, because he was quite satisfied the system was growing in an alarming way. He was sure there was a necessity that they should put a limit upon it. Although he was ready to allow that no harm had been done, yet he thought it was necessary they should stop soon, and the sooner they did so, the less would be the inconvenience they should entail on all. He should have several opportunities of answering any objections that might be raised; but he hoped in what he had said that he had convinced the House it was a matter that they took up because they believed it to be of great national importance, so that they were only doing their duty in asking the House to agree to what was suggested.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I have to move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months, and, in doing so, I think that it can only be described as meddle and muddle legislation. We are nominally engaged in the consideration of the Public Works Loans (No. 2) Bill; but we are really engaged in considering the fourth distinct proposal which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made upon this subject in the past few months. When the Bill was introduced in the earlier part of the Session, a mistake was made, and it was withdrawn, and a substituted Bill laid upon the Table. That substituted Bill might have been supposed to contain the conclusions of the Government in reference to the subject. The Bill re- 612 mained on the Notice Paper for a considerable time, and was withdrawn a month ago in consequence of an irregularity, and a third Bill was introduced. I find that in the third measure some very material alterations were made. In the first place, the money clauses were added; though I do not complain of that, if it was to the convenience of the House. But, in addition to that, an exception was made for the first time in favour of loans advanced under the Irish Land Act. Under the original Bill the whole of the system which has been in operation in Ireland, and under which a large number of persons have become proprietors of the land which they held, would have been done away with. But alterations were made in that respect in the third Bill. Well, then, we come to the statement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made to-day; and it now appears that in accordance with the pledge which he gave yesterday, he is prepared to make a further change in the Bill, dropping the 4th clause with reference to payment by annuities, and introducing a new clause. The Annuity Clause was a clause which most seriously affected local authorities. Under the existing system, the School Board of London—the largest borrower under the Acts—has to pay annually for the money which it borrows, both for sinking fund and interest—a rate equivalent to 4½ per cent per annum; but, under the Public Works Loans Amendment Bill (No. 2) they would have had to pay, in their first year, over 7 per cent. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: The loans already granted would not be affected.] But it would have had that effect in regard to all new loans; and, as the population of London is annually growing, and a considerable number of new schools erected every year, the charge upon the ratepayers would have been materially increased by the operation of that Bill. I may say that I acknowledge the great concessions made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in striking out this 4th clause; but it is to be regretted that the Government did not consider the propriety of taking that step at the commencement of the Session, because, if that had been done, a good deal of the opposition to this Bill would have been removed. I, at least, should have withdrawn my request that the Bill should be put down 613 as the First Order of the Day. But, even as the Bill stands, I still object to it, because I believe it will tend to increase the burdens of the local authorities throughout the country, and without any sufficient necessity, or proportionate gain or advantage. Now, I must say that this measure is extremely inconsistent with the past professions of the Government. They have stated that they have done all in their power to relieve the local rates. I venture to think that their proposals have not had the desired effect, but have promoted local extravagance, and thrown away the money which would otherwise have come into the Imperial Exchequer. Still, their intentions were good; now, however, by the Bill before the House they are taking away with one hand what they have given with the other; and they are burdening us with unnecessarily stringent terms for loans which we raise to carry out the duties which the Government has imposed upon us. I admit that the continued and rapid growth of those loans call for the very serious attention of the Government, and also that the conditions under which loans are made could very well be revised and modified to advantage; but I do complain that a matter of this importance, affecting the whole local government of the country as it does, should be brought before a small House at the latter end of the Session. I therefore thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be satisfied with calling attention to the subject, and should now leave the matter over until next year. I would now wish to draw the attention of the House to the fact that this Bill will very materially affect a number of separate and distincts Acts; and, from a Return that has been issued, it will be seen that the numbers so affected will be 18. in England and 49 in Ireland. Seeing that there are several Consolidation Acts amongst them, I think it will be observed that the items of legislation which will be affected cannot but be very much more numerous. Loans have been made for almost every conceivable purpose—sanitary works, waterworks, artizans' dwellings, education, school boards, markets, fairs, free libraries, public buildings, police stations, lighthouses, and other matters, including the "Bright Clauses" of the Land Act, and other matters connected with the 614 land in Ireland. Now, it is to be observed that, in many cases, it is desirable to grant loans which, in other cases, it is very undesirable to grant. It requires that each application should be very carefully considered on its own merits; and, therefore, it seems to me perfectly monstrous that, at this period of the Session, at one fell swoop, we should destroy the conveniences that have been afforded in times past for dealing with applications as they arose. I am now going to call attention to one of the clauses of the Bill, and the manner in which it affects the Artizans' Dwellings Act. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has referred to the case of my own borough; but I am happy to say that in Birmingham the requirements of the town have been completely satisfied. The Government granted to us £1,500,000 at 3½ per cent to carry out the work, and I say, further, that there is not the slightest doubt about the security which we have offered. In the first place, there is the freehold property of the actual value of the money advanced, which is yearly increasing in value, and there is, in addition, the whole of the rates of Birmingham, amounting to the annual rateable value of £1,500,000. The Times, in an article, stated that I wished to make a raid upon the Public Exchequer; but it is not I who went to the Government, the initiative came from the Government. They introduced into this House a Bill, and they take credit for the provision which they have made; but because Birmingham has taken advantage of the Artizans' Dwellings Act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was surprised, and seemed to indicate that we should not have done so much, and that the Act should have been, like the Agricultural Holdings Act—a sham. If the present proposals of the Government had been the law in 1875, we should never have undertaken the great scheme of improvement which is now in progress. The low terms at which the money was offered us was a main inducement to the local authority, which would not have been justified in carrying out the work on any other conditions. I think, therefore, that if this Bill passes, all hope for further progress under the Artizans' Dwellings Act may be banished. The case of the Metropolitan Board of Works has been mentioned, and the fact that the Local 615 Loans Bill could be applied to the wants of local authorities; but, until Parliament chooses to give to provincial Corporations the same facilities that have been given to the Metropolitan Board of Works, it need not expect that they will take advantage of the Local Loans Bill. The Metropolitan Board of Works has been allowed to compound for stamp duty, and trustees have been authorized to invest in its stock. This last provision chiefly accounts for the high price commanded by Metropolitan stock in the market. In the autumn of last year the Chancellor of the Exchequer paid a visit to Birmingham; and I can say that there is no Member of Government to whom we should show more respect than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But he fell into bad hands, and confined himself to the Conservative Party of Birmingham. They constitute only a small portion of the community, and I am afraid I must say not a very intelligent portion of it either. Those persons must have told him that it was very desirable that he should explain to Birmingham the cause of the ever-increasing extravagance of the Government, which was then considered a serious matter in Birmingham. In an electioneering speech which he made on one occasion, he devoted himself to this subject of finance, and I am bound to say that he commented upon the expenditure of the local authorities of the country, rather than the expenditure of the Imperial Government, as the serious point; and he attributed the great amount of the loans that had been granted to local authorities to the action of the late Government. He said the late Government "are responsible for this legislation, and it is for us to see how it is to be stopped." But I think it will be seen that it is perfectly unreasonable to talk about local loans in reference to Imperial expenditure. All that ought to be shown in the national balance sheet is the loss or profit made on the transactions with local authorities. It is not true that the late Government were responsible entirely for the legislation referred to. Parliament thought fit to impose upon local authorities some new duties. Sometimes they wore forced to carry out Acts, while at other times the Acts were permissive, and they were thus tempted to put them in force; and in return for the 616 performance of those duties, some assistance was given by granting facilities for raising of money. The Chancellor of the the Exchequer, on May 24, 1875, said—It was important to bear in mind that a great proportion of the services—such as education and sanitary improvements—for which local authorities incurred debt were rendered for Imperial reasons and by Imperial legislation. It was therefore quite reasonable that the Imperial authority should assist the local authority, not only in the way of direct subventions, but also by facilitating the borrowing of money.—[3 Hansard, ccxxiv. 800.]That is the whole question. Then, when the Public Health Act was under consideration, in 1872, it was agreed, by Mr. Disraeli and other Conservatives, that assistance should be given to local authorities in aid of local burdens; and the provisions relating to sanitary loans were forced on the late Government by the Tory Party, and were the conditions on which the present Prime Minister supported that Bill. Well, at a later period of the same discussion, the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes) proposed, as an Amendment, to leave out the words "not less than" before the rate of interest, which was 3½ percent. That was carried against the Government by a Division in which all the Conservative Party voted against the Government. In this case, it is perfectly clear that the pressure came chiefly from the other side of the House in order to increase the amount of these loans, in order to lengthen the term of these loans, and in order to reduce the amount of interest on these loans. It was most extraordinary, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman should go down to Birmingham and tell those innocent Conservatives there that the increased expenditure on this head was due to the action of the late Government. The Bill now presented for our consideration, if I may judge of its purpose by the statement which was made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has for its object the abolition of this system of loans altogether. Everything which he said would apply to the whole system of loans. If that be his opinion, why does he not bring in a Bill to that effect? Why not abolish the whole system? Instead of that, he seeks to secure the same result by a side-wind, by making the conditions of the loan so onerous that nobody can take advantage of them. What are the proposals of the 617 right hon. Gentleman? Firstly, he proposes to limit the amount to be lent to any single authority. Well, I must say that that is a very mistaken policy indeed. He is going to cut away all the best and safest customers. The only persons who are at all likely to take more than £100,000 a-year are—firstly, the London School Board, which has behind it the whole rates of London, an absolutely undeniable security; and, secondly, those large Corporations which may require money to carry out a great scheme under the provisions of the Artizans' Dwellings Act. They are both cases in which the money is absolutely safe, and in which a profit might be made by the Exchequer, which might possibly cover the loss arising in other directions. We had an instance given us by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to which a loss might be anticipated. In the North there was an advance on the security of the rates, the chief part of which were levied on a mining property which is supposed to go out of working. That was not an authority looking to borrow £100,000; it was some little authority to which no money at all should have been lent. If the facts are as stated, some blame attaches to the Public Works Loans Commissioners. Ono thing is absolutely certain, as I shall show. The loss arises on small amounts, yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to stop the operations of the Public Works Loans Commissioners in cases whore no loss can, by any possibility, be expected to accrue. Secondly, the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to raise the rate of interest at present charged on these loans. I would ask, why does he take away the discretion of the Public Works Loans Commissioners? They are authorized to charge such a rate of interest as may be necessary to save the Treasury from loss. Why should you make an iron rule, the practical effect of which will be to exclude every considerable Corporation from the operation of the Bill, and to leave as applicants for public money only those authorities which have no credit, and which have no sufficient security? Well, then, the next proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is included in the same clause, is to lessen the period over which these loans are granted. That is a curious thing. The long loans 618 are made for the purchase of freeholds, or the erection of substantial and permanent works, where the security is absolutely undeniable, yet in these instances the most onerous terms are to be demanded; and in cases where short loans are made—say, for paving, which may be destroyed in a few years—the Chancellor of the Exchequer is prepared to allow the continuance of the loans at the lowest possible rate. It seems to me that this Bill is not at all likely to achieve its object, but it is likely to harass the local authorities in their work. Now, I proceed to ask what are the objects which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated have induced him to make this great change? In the first place, he says that these loans have hitherto involved the Exchequer in a considerable loss. I venture to say, in the first place, if that be true, the alterations which the Chancellor of the Exchequer now proposes will not save the Exchequer from loss. The losses he mentions are a great deal more than would be set right by an additional ¼ per cent rate of interest. It is an argument in favour of stopping the loans altogether; but not an argument for making the obligations more onerous in cases where the loans should be continued. There is no fear for losses in the future under circumstances which have existed in the past. There has been a very useful Return made by the Secretary to the Treasury, which gives the total amount of money advanced by the Public Works Loans Commissioners under different heads, and of the amount of loss already incurred or anticipated. Now, it will be seen by a reference to this Paper, that by far the largest loss has been experienced in the case of certain Irish loans, under the head of "Union Workhouses for Ireland." It is anticipated that in this respect the Exchequer will suffer a loss of £1,370,000, out of a total loss anticipated at about £2,000,000 sterling. What is the nature of this loss? It is really a loan which is more in the nature of a gift. At the time it was made it was not seriously anticipated that it would be ever re-paid, and, in fact, the Chancellor of the Exchequer admits this. I have a quotation from a speech which he made on February 11, 1875, in which he states with reference to this subject—The cases in which the least profitable loans have been made, and in which most losses have 619 been incurred, have been those in which Parliament has for some reason or another itself interfered, and ordered money to be lent, overruling the discretion of these gentlemen (the Public Works Loans Commissioners).—[3 Hansard, ccxxii. 223.]That is perfectly true. Loans of this kind are very much in the nature of loans made by persons to those who apply for charity. They say—"We will give you money as a loan," although in their hearts they never expect to have it re-paid. That is what Parliament has done in times past again and again in reference to these loans; but it is very unfair to consider losses thus anticipated, and since sustained, as a part of the enormous system now in operation. I have another remark to make in reference to these losses. It will be found, with one very inconsiderable exception, to which I will not allude, that no losses have been incurred in cases where rates have been given as security. With regard to losses which may be incurred where money has been given on the security of an undertaking, this raises the very important and arguable question whether it is right to lend money in such cases—for a harbour, for instance, the success of which may be interfered with by the erection of another harbour in its neighbourhood? That is a question which ought to be fairly discussed. I think that it is most unfair to punish the innocent with the guilty, and to inflict penalties on authorities throughout the Kingdom whose security is sufficient, because money has been lent in times past on a security which is entirely insufficient. Another point to which I will call attention is this—that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to remedy this loss by raising the rate of interest. But if he will look to his own Returns, he will see that all these losses occurred in cases where the rate of interest has been high. In fact, the rate of interest indicates the value of the security at the time the loan was made. One or two other large losses were purely exceptional in their nature, and the repetition of which there is not the slightest reason to anticipate. £100,000 was lent by Parliament for making Battersea Park, and a more unjustifiable loan was never made, in my opinion. Battersea Park is, to all intents and purposes, for the benefit of those immediately surrounding it. It ought to have been paid out of the local fund. In 620 Birmingham we have to provide such places for ourselves, and to maintain them; but in London it seems to be a matter of Imperial concern. It is anticipated that the money, given as a loan, will be wholly lost and wholly irrecoverable. I do not know how this is; but if the matter is brought before Parliament I shall oppose the writing of this off as a bad debt. It ought to be collected from the ratepayers in the district. We seem also to have lent money for the Thames Tunnel. I inquired under what circumstances money was lent for an undertaking of this sort; but I have been unable to obtain any information on the subject. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to imagine that we are not more wise than our ancestors. I certainly hope we shall never again lend money for such an undertaking as the Thames Tunnel. When these losses are excluded from consideration it will be found that the remaining losses are of an exceedingly trifling character. As a matter of fact, the normal operations of the Public Works Loans Commissioners have been conducted, and will be conducted, at a considerable profit. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, says that he can well imagine that years hence pressure may be brought to bear by a particular authority to secure a remission of loans granted from the Exchequer. Such a thing is possible, I admit; but it seems to me impossible that Parliament should ever accede to such a request, for this reason—the interest of every other locality will be against the particular locality claiming such remission. Surely, the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot imagine that the local authorities will adopt log-rolling tactics and require the remission of these loans, so that the Imperial Exchequer should take upon itself the whole of these local burdens. I think I have shown that, at all events, with regard to the loans which are now applied for, for instance, loans for education—which are accountable for £12,000,000, out of £22,000,000 advanced—for sanitary purposes, and for the Artizans' Dwellings Act, made to large Corporations, there is no real reason for anticipating any loss. On the contrary, the rates are sufficient to provide for them. The Chancellor of the Exchequer goes on to say that these advances embarrassed the Exchequer. Well, 621 in what way? In the speech, which the right hon. Gentleman made in introducing his Budget, he stated that the floating debt was about £12,000,000 and that he did not consider that excessive. If not excessive, it was clear that up to the present time the Exchequer had not been embarrassed by the advances which had been made. I do not think that it will be embarrassed in the future. It must be borne in mind that the advances to school boards must be very much less in the future than in the past. We were told the other day by the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council (Lord George Hamilton) that the task in that direction had been almost completed. Under these circumstances, that item will cease to figure in the annual loans to local authorities. I do not think that under other heads there is likely to be any demand at all equivalent to that required for educational purposes. There is another point, and upon which I should agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I agree that the present system under which money is raised for these loans is likely to create, sooner or later, considerable difficulty. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is doing what some banks have done, and done with unfortunate results—namely, lending money for long terms and borrowing it for short terms. At any moment he may be called upon to make enormous re-payments for which there is no sufficient provision. The reason is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not satisfied with a legitimate profit, but wants a special profit. He can raise these Exchequer loans at considerably less than he can borrow on Consols; therefore, he goes into the market for these short loans, instead of raising by Terminable Annuities for a considerable period, or by additions to the Consolidated Fund, sums which are lent out for terms, in some cases, exceeding 60 years. If the excessive issue of Exchequer Bonds were to be continued, I certainly see great inconvenience might ensue. Surely, so able a financier as the Chancellor of the Exchequer can devise some means by which the difficulty could be avoided. Now, another point which ought to be attended to is the separation of accounts of the local loans altogether from national operations. I do not see why there should not be a loan to be known as local 622 Consols or by some such term—raised for the purposes of local authorities, and by which the obligations for local objects should be clearly separated from obligations for Imperial purposes. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer is prepared to consider alterations in the Local Loans Act, which would bring local authorities themselves into the market for borrowing, he will have to provide, in addition to the facilities already mentioned, some arrangement by which small local authorities may amalgamate with other local authorities. By this consolidation small loans might, no doubt, be raised on satisfactory terms. I think I have now dealt with the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and with the arguments he has used in support of this Bill. I have heard another argument advanced in previous discussions in respect to which I will say one word only. It has been said that the advantages which are given to local authorities to raise this money increases the facilities for extravagance. I have said before that I think the House of Commons shows a very great tendency to vicarious economy. It never interfered with the Government when it made a large expenditure for Imperial purposes; but it is always carping and nibbling at the expenditure of local authorities, which is, to a large extent, due to the action of the House of Commons. By far the larger portion of the whole money raised under these loans has been raised under distinct compulsion from the House of Commons. If you want to stop local expenditure, reverse this legislation. Repeal the education measures, and the sanitary arrangements which make drainage compulsory. Reverse all these; repeal them if you can; and then you may talk about economy to local authorities. The expenditure is necessary. I believe that you cannot repeal the legislation. As a matter of fact, the expenditure of local authorities is increasing, will increase, and ought to increase. We are every year advancing in civilization; new demands are arising. The present generation would not be satisfied to rest under circumstances which contented our "wiser" ancestors. They would not be satisfied with boroughs where all provisions for proper sanitary conditions and a satisfactory water supply were neglected. Under these circumstances, it is absurd to, at 623 the same time, expect these provisions should be made by local authorities, and then to complain of the expense which it involves. I cannot help thinking that the House of Commons ought to be proud of the local government of the Kingdom, of the local enterprize and intelligence which is being shown by many authorities in this respect, as contrasted with almost every other country in the world. Never has our activity been greater in the local work of the country. We have a right to expect the co-operation and assistance of the Government, and to deprecate the attempt now made to hamper and harass our operations. The Government was ready to lend money, although no money was to be spent for local authorities. In past times we have lent money to Greece, Turkey, Holland, &c. We have subsidized almost every Continental nation. The present Government lent £4,000,000 to the Khedive for the Suez Canal. They could find money for a speculative investment; but they could not find money to lend to great Corporations to carry out important local improvements. If it was right for the Imperial Government to make these foreign speculations, à fortiori it must be right for them to make an investment where there was an absolute security, and where these investments are calculated to promote the health and happiness of the community. It may be necessary to modify the conditions under which these loans have been granted for certain places. It is wrong, however, to attempt to deal wholesale with the subject; it is unfair to ask the House of Commons to consider so important a subject at this late period of the Session. It is wrong to throw obstacles in the way of local work, and unnecessary to increase the already heavy burdens of the ratepayers. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time this day three months.
§ MR. RYLANDS,
in seconding the Motion, said, that this was a question not only affecting in some degree the national finances, but was one connected with past legislation of the House of a very important character. It was a question of the greatest interest and importance; and he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether it was either reasonable or desirable in the public inte- 624 rest that a question which affected to so great a degree many of the interests of this country, as well as the national finance, should be seriously debated in the middle of August, when a number of the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen whose opinions on the subject ought to be taken were unfortunately absent from their places? He would give the Chancellor of the Exchequer full credit for having approached this subject with the greatest possible anxiety, and with the view of placing, if he possibly could, this public loans question upon a more legitimate basis. He recollected perfectly well that on former occasions the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) thought that it was a matter which seriously deserved the consideration of the House. That right hon. Gentleman was, unfortunately, absent that day. Upon a matter of the kind before them his views would be of great value and weight. If it was a question of emergency; if there was anything in connection with the Public Works Loans Commissioners which might interfere with the national finances, there might be some excuse for the course which the Government had taken, which would justify the House rushing in this inconsiderate way into a matter which required to be treated with the greatest care. He would venture to suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, having regard to all the circumstances connected with this very difficult question, having regard to the very great interest which would be naturally excited in localities which, at present, he believed, had taken no notice whatever of the proposals of the Government, and having regard to the desirability, when dealing with a question of this kind, of not dealing with it in a haphazard way, but in a mode which was likely to be a permanent and satisfactory mode, it would not be better to be satisfied with the vote of the House on the second reading of the Bill? Under the circumstances, he had no doubt the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) would agree to the second reading being taken unanimously as to Parts 2 and 3, which provided the necessary means for the Public Works Loans Commissioners carrying on their operations for the coming year. Then in the beginning of next Session a strong Select Committee could 625 be appointed to deal with the general question, with the view of putting it on a permanent and satisfactory basis. He really thought that by those means the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not lose, but gain time in the object he had in view. Of course, he could see that they were now challenged by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to review our entire policy as regards local loans, although, perhaps, not by the Bill itself. No doubt, they had adopted a policy of a remarkable character—a policy of State intervention, with the view of facilitating the raising of large sums of money for different localities—and they expected that the localities would, to some extent, be controlled in their dealings with this public money. As far as his sympathies went they were entirely in the direction of decentralization. He would be very glad to see a system by which money raised by local authorities should not be under the control of the Executive power. Nothing could be more unfortunate than that in every important act which Town Councils or Local Boards of every description might be called upon to take, the local body should have to go to the President of the Local Government Board, ask for an inspection, and submit to a central control. This tended to depress public spirit in localities, and in some cases led to serious errors in administration. This was a point of the greatest possible importance. He had no doubt at all that by the aid of the careful inquiries of a Select Committee they would be able to elaborate a scheme under which certain classes of loans by the Public Works Loans Commissioners should be entirely thrown on localities which should be held responsible. In addition to this, they could, in the Select Committee, deal with the various modes by which the raising of public loans could be most efficiently carried out. Being a Member of the House of Commons at the time, he recollected perfectly the circumstances to which the hon. Member for Birmingham had alluded, and could bear testimony to the accuracy of the statement the hon. Gentleman had made—namely, that there was at that time a strong demand that local bodies should have relief in a variety of ways from the State, and the demand was almost unanimously made by the Conservative Party. It also received the support of a consider- 626 able number of country Gentlemen on the Liberal side of the House; and the late Government, powerful as it was at that moment, and having a large majority in the House of Commons, were left in a considerable minority on the Motion of the hon. Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes). There could be no doubt of the pressure continually: put on the Government. There had been a tendency, from time to time, to give assistance, either directly or indirectly, from the Imperial Exchequer for local purposes. He was not prepared to dispute that there were certain matters in which the State should, and he thought very properly, assist local bodies in raising money. He was disposed to think that that might be very fairly said to be the case in the matter of national education and of sanitary improvements. But other advances were open to more question, and it might be fairly referred to a Select Committee to determine what were the objects with regard to which it was right and necessary that Imperial assistance should be given in the raising of loans for local purposes. He was bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after the modifications proposed to be made in the Bill, had shown a desire to meet the views expressed by the opponents of the measure. He (Mr. Rylands) was strongly of opinion that in the case of those local bodies which had been called upon by obligations placed upon them to enter into certain arrangements, that it would be most unfair that in the case of prospective arrangements they should be placed in the Bill under terms not contemplated at the time when the obligations were entered into by them. He understood that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was quite willing to recognize such bargains, so to speak—that was to say, not only money that had been actually advanced, not only money not even actually applied for as yet to the Public Works Loans Commissioners—but also to recognize what was an implied bargain. It was very possible that loans had as yet not been applied for, but with regard to which the local authorities had entertained reasonable expectations that, when applied for, they would be granted. He was sure that this was a very important concession on the part of the Government. 627 He wished to point out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer another matter for his consideration. The right hon. Gentleman had recognized fully, he I thought, the sort of bargain which had been entered into by individual bodies with the State. There was something, however, beyond this. Various Acts of Parliament had been passed in the House after considerable discussion—a part of the provisions contained in which dealt with the loans to be provided under these Acts by the Public Works Loans Commissioners. That was of; great importance, because it really touched the basis upon which former Parliaments had acted in the case of certain statutes. They would, in point of fact, repeal the conditions under which certain Acts of Parliament were passed, if they passed the measure before them. There could be no doubt whatever that some of the Acts were passed on conditions which would be disturbed by the Bill before them if it was passed in the form proposed by the Government. Whether the last Parliament was right or wrong; whether the conditions under which these Acts were passed were wise conditions or not; they ought not to reverse the legislation of a former Parliament by the incidental operation of a Bill introduced at so late a period of the Session as the present. He did not at all approve of the Bill being adopted in this rough-and-ready sort of way of applying the same rule to everything. It was extremely necessary that before they legislated in that direction they should have the opinion of a Select Committee of the House of Commons, which would go into the question of the various Acts of Parliament affected by this proposed legislation, and recommend to the House how far any Bill dealing with these loans should apply to the particular Acts of Parliament in question. He should second the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham for the rejection of the Bill, certainly not without considerable sympathy with the object which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had in view. He did it because they ought not to be asked to pass the first portion of the Bill at that period of the Session. He hoped that the proposed legislation on the subject would be most carefully considered, and that a Select Committee would be appointed which would command the confidence of the 628 House, and whose decision would bring about legislation which would give satisfaction to the country, and, at the same time, meet the reasonable expectations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Chamberlain.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. THOMSON HANKEY
did not agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), who said that these public loans were nothing more or less than investments of national money in local improvements, and that he thought that was a wise policy. He entirely dissented from the principle that it was part of the duty of the Government to borrow money, in order to lend it out for the purposes of local improvement. He held that it was no part of the duty of the Government to do so, and that rates were by no means so satisfactory a security as the hon. Member seemed to suppose. A locality which was rich to-day might be poor 25 years hence; and money which was advanced to it on the strength of the existing rates might ultimately be lost. He thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer had done excellent service in bringing the matter forward. He differed from the hon. Member that the idea of this Bill arose out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's visit to Birmingham. He knew nothing about the visit of the right hon. Gentleman to Birmingham; but he was quite sure that long before that visit the Chancellor of the Exchequer had frequently spoken to him upon the subject. With regard to the proposal for limiting the loans to £100,000 for each year to any single body, he did not think that that provision would really check public works, or would be any inconvenience to the country. There might be cases in which it might be to the public interest to make loans to local bodies but, generally speaking, it was a dangerous thing to encourage loans of this kind. If rates were the indefeasible security the hon. Member imagined them to be, local bodies would have no difficulty in obtaining the advances they required from capitalists who were seeking good in- 629 vestments. He trusted the hon. Member would not persist in his Motion, seeing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was bound to ask the House to give effect to engagements into which Parliament itself had entered. At the same time, he must say that he saw no reason why the amending clauses to which objection had been taken should not be postponed.
§ MR. GILES,
who said that he, as did the hon. Member for Birmingham, represented a borrowing Corporation, announced his intention to vote for the second reading of the Bill; but hoped that, when it got into Committee, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be disposed to make some exception in favour of Corporations who required loans for useful sanitary improvements, and who had ample security to offer.
§ MR. CHILDERS
quite agreed with those who had thanked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the introduction of that Bill; but, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman would allow him to remind him that in 1875, and in different years since 1875, in the Budget debates, and also on the introduction of the Local Loans Bill, he (Mr. Childers) had warned the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the danger which the continually increasing local loans were occasioning, and begged him to take the subject up and deal with it as a whole. He thought, therefore, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to be thanked for bringing in the Bill; and though it was most unfortunate that it should have to be discussed at that time of the Session, yet it was one that had to be discussed. But he must remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer of what his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham had alluded to, which was, that the present Government did take the greatest credit in the country, over and over again, for the extension of that system of local loans. The benefits which the country were to derive from an increasing access by Corporations to the Exchequer were brought forward, over and over again, in support of the policy of the present Government. Having made all the political capital they could by this clause, it was hardly fair of them to turn round and say now that the evils of that system 630 were due—not to the legislation to which they were parties, and which they strongly supported when they were in Office and out of Office—but to their Predecessors, and not to themselves. Now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given two reasons for dealing with the question. The first of those was that our local loans, for a long series of years, had been of such a nature that the country had experienced a serious loss through having to borrow at the rate of 3 or 4 per cent, and lending to the local authorities with a return of only £2 15s. per cent. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had also explained the financial difficulty of having these large loans; that the system had increased beyond what was convenient for the Government; and that, irrespective of the loss on interest, the total amount was growing at so alarming a rate that it was necessary to check it. Now, what he wanted to point out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer was, that if it were necessary to do that it had better be done directly, and not indirectly. That was what he urged upon him in 1876 and 1877, and again last year. What he understood was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had come to the conclusion that under certain Acts—take, for instance, the two main ones, the Education Acts and the Sanitary Acts—the Treasury and the Government, collectively, had no authority over the gross amount of loans, and that if a body wishing to borrow money obtained the consent say, of the Education Board or of the Local Government Board to a particular loan, the Treasury had nothing to say to it, whether the aggregate amounts in the year came to £1,000,000 or £100,000,000. He ventured to say that was an entire delusion. It was possible that a mere lawyer's construction might say that this was permissible under the Acts in question; but it certainly never was the intention either of Parliament, or of those who introduced the Acts, to produce such a result. On the contrary, the view of those who introduced that legislation was that the total charge would be limited to amounts which were then stated to Parliament; and it was, he believed, on the faith of that understanding that Parliament passed the Acts. He was sorry his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) was not here to-day to confirm this statement. The late Government never dreamt that 631 the effect of their legislation would be such as to put it out of the power of the Treasury, as representing the supreme Government, to determine what should be the total amount to be expended in each year; but the present Government had thought fit to place this interpretation upon the Acts—that the Treasury had no voice as to the total amount which should be so lent. That was a position for the Treasury which he was very sorry indeed to hear put forward. He had always understood that they were supreme, and that it was for them to decide the total amount in each year which they were prepared to lend under the Acts; and if that were not so, the first step should be to put this straight. If it was the view taken by the Government that they had no option in the matter, they ought to ask for that option; and he was perfectly certain that Parliament would not hesitate for a moment in granting it. If the Government were to say—"We are now in the position of having indefinite claims made upon us, which we have no power of restraining," Parliament, he was sure, would at once give the Government the powers of restraint, which were demanded by every condition of sound finance. He had pointed this out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the strongest possible way, three years ago; and he then warned the right lion. Gentleman that if he allowed the matter to drift, as it was then drifting, and permitted all the local authorities to borrow what they pleased, without allowing the Treasury a controlling voice, the demands would become so heavy that the Treasury would be placed in the very difficult position in which they now found themselves. In these circumstances, he hoped the right lion. Gentleman would now reconsider the question, and insert in the the Bill at least a clause giving the Treasury the power of restraining and limiting the demands upon them. Such a clause, he believed, would be found to remove all the difficulties of the situation. As to the merits of the present Bill, he had listened with considerable interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham. On some points he agreed with that hon. Gentleman, but on others he could not agree. He could not agree, for instance, with the doctrine as to the better security of long loans. 632 On that point he preferred the doctrine of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Nor did he agree with the hon. Gentleman in contesting the reasons of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with respect to repayments by way of annuity. But the point on which he thought the lion. Gentleman had most conclusively proved his case was, that it was too much to ask the House on the 9th of August, at one blow, and in one clause, without any inquiry whatever, to alter the arrangements of 30 or 40 Acts of Parliament by dealing with the rates of interest which were to be paid on loans for public purposes. He had looked into the provisions of one or two of these Acts. In the Education Act, for example, it was set forth in Clause 57 that such loans as it defined were to be repaid within a period not exceeding 50 years, and to bear interest not at the rate of not less than 3½ per cent, but without variation at the rate of 3½ per cent per annum. So far as the rate was concerned, that was a contract with the school boards of the country. But the 2nd clause of the present Bill distinctly repealed that clause, because it said that upon any loan for a period not exceeding 30 years a rate of interest of not less than 3¾ per cent per annum would be charged. The Education Act gave a fixed rate of 3½ per cent; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer now said, that if these loans were for certain periods, although within the maximum of the Education Act, they must be at rates of from 3¾ to 4½ per cent per annum. There might be some reason for such an important change; but these were not questions that ought to be raised on the 9th of August. In conclusion, he begged to suggest that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should leave out of the Bill, not only the 4th clause, but also the 2nd and 3rd, and content himself, for the present, with passing the remainder; and that, at the beginning of next Session, a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire specially into the questions dealt with by Clauses 2, 3, and 4—that was to say, the rate of interest, the maximum amount to be lent in any one year, and the comparative advantages and disadvantages of the system of repayment by way of annuity. He hoped the Government would withdraw the clauses he had named, and consent to have the subject referred to a 633 strong Financial Committee of this House next Session. If they took up all the different Loan Acts now in force, and if those who came under those Acts had an opportunity of stating their case, his own impression was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would arrive at a sound conclusion. But he could not help thinking, if the Bill was forced through—and he admitted the Government could force any Bill through if they chose—now, at the end- of the Session, there would be a feeling that justice had not been done, and, in the end, the Government would get more discredit than credit by the arrangement. He asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to re-consider the provision, and to comply with the request made by the lion. Member for Birmingham, and the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), and give them the assurance, if the Bill was read a second time, that those three clauses should be referred, next Session, to a strong Financial Committee of the House, which would be able to deal with them.
§ MR. J. G. HUBBARD
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given excellent reasons for calling the attention of the House to the aggrandisement of local indebtedness. Local authorities borrowed from private sources upon authority given to them by means of private Acts of Parliament. He had known cases in which power had been given to local authorities for terms of 80 years; and whatever would be the result of this discussion, the powers given by Parliament in this respect ought to be put under much closer and stricter surveillance than had been the case heretofore. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would, he thought, have treated the House more fairly if he had told them how the loss of £1,370,000 was made up. The fact was, that £1,375,000 had been lent to Irish workhouses, with the sanction of the Treasury; and the Public Works Loans Commissioners had had nothing to do with those loans. He maintained that, during the 20 years he and the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Thomson Hankey) were on the Commission that, so far from having incurred serious losses in the public interest, the losses of the Commission were absolutely insignificant, and not more than one banking concern might have made. The Chancellor of the Exchequer ought, therefore, to put in a different shape 634 his demand for an increased rate of interest. He thought that to offer a stimulus to local extravagance, even when it was for good purposes, was highly to be deprecated. Every inducement to economy should be held out to local authorities. The Commission had conducted their affairs with independence and intelligence, and if any change were made it must be made on other grounds than the unproductiveness of the investments which they had hitherto made. The real point before the House was how the accounts of the Public Works Loans Commissioners ought to be kept; and, in his opinion, they ought to be taken altogether out of the Imperial accounts, and the Savings Banks funds of the country might be made use of for the purpose of these loans. He suggested that, as the Bill must be passed, and would probably be passed in any shape the Government might desire, it did not seem hardly right to pass at such a late period of the Session this Bill, which clashed so immediately with the latest information they had on the state of the law. In the last Report of the Public Works Loans Board, they gave the terms upon which loans were sanctioned. They were well known—3½ per cent for loans not exceeding 30 years, 3¼ per cent not exceeding 40 years, and 4 per cent exceeding 40 years. The Bill simply took this scale and raised it a peg, adding a ¼ per cent, lie did not say this would be absolutely injurious, but it was certainly a decided change; and he suggested that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had agreed to omit the 4th clause, should go a step further and accept the proposition, and postpone the other two clauses which so materially changed the position of borrowers. It would be more satisfactory to the country, and command more confidence than the passing through the Bill with a Government majority.
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, he regretted extremely that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not present to hear the conclusion of the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. G. Hubbard), for he thought that he would then have seen that all those who sympathized most strongly with the object he had in view thought that that object would be met by dealing with these questions more fully with a Select Committee next year; and it was not be- 635 cause he did not agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the objects of the Bill, but because he thought that those objects required more consideration than could be bestowed at this period of the Session that he urged this. He thought, as it had been dwelt upon by almost everyone who had spoken on the question of local liabilities, that it might be seen how very valuable it would be if they could have a system by which the localities could borrow their own money. But if they proposed a clause like this now, they all knew what the result would be. The thing would be dropped, and it could not be taken up again until the weight of increasing liabilities again alarmed the public mind. He confessed he could not quite share the views of his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) about increased local liability. He thought he judged of it by large centres of population, whose affairs were on so large a scale that they were sure to be pretty well watched; but if they would look at the small local authorities, he was not sure that there were not many of them practically in insolvency—and not only in insolvency, but spending very foolishly money so easily procured. He thought it would be well if they could borrow on the cooperative system without having recourse to the assistance of the central authority. He would, therefore, urge, and add his voice to the recommendations of others, that a special Committee would deal with this subject more thoroughly and more deliberately than the House of Commons could at the fag-end of the Session.
§ MR. GRAY
said, that the objections which had been urged so ably by the hon. Member for Birmingham all applied to Ireland, together with some special objections which he would mention. He did not think that there was any disposition in that House to treat this question as a Party one, and he certainly had no wish himself to discuss it from a political standpoint. It was, however, the fact that the loans already granted in England considerably exceeded the proportion which had already been granted for Ireland. It was well known that the legislation of the character affected by the Bill for England had preceded similar legislation for Ireland. In illustration of this, he would take the case of the Sanitary and 636 Public Health Acts. The Public Health Act for England was passed in the year 1872. Whether that Act had proved a good measure for England or not he really did not know; but, in all probability, a good deal of money had been borrowed under it. But the Public Health Act (Ireland) was not passed until the year 1874, and very little money had been raised in Ireland under that Act. Then, again, the re-modelled Public Health Act for England was passed in 1875, and under that Act the local authorities in England had raised very largo sums of money. But Parliament had only passed the corresponding Act for Ireland last year, and amended it this year, and under that Act in Ireland no sums of money had been raised. This was really an injustice to Ireland, because in England they had already granted very large loans to local authorities at low rates of interest, and now it was proposed to reduce the amount and increase the rate of interest on loans before Ireland had received any benefit at all from the Act which was passed last year. He saw the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer smiling, and he had no doubt the right hon. Gentleman thought he (Mr. Gray) had just found another Irish grievance; and he dared to say that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer alluded to the subject at all, he would tell them, when he rose to reply, that there was no such idea as that in the minds of those who promoted the Bill. He had no doubt that if the right hon. Gentleman did say so, he would be speaking truly; but, still, he must point out that that was the result, and so the intention was not very important. They found that Ireland would receive no advantage, while England had already received the advantage. The hon. Member for Birmingham had calculated that 49 Irish Acts of Parliament would be affected by this Bill; but, owing to the way in which they had been administered, they had been practically inoperative. He would take, as an example, the Acts administered by the Board of Works, Ireland. A Select Committee had been appointed to inquire into the subject of the system carried on by the Board of Works, Ireland; and the result of the inquiry had been to prove that, as facilities had not been given for borrowing the money in the way contemplated by the Act of Parliament, the local authori- 637 ties in Ireland had not been in a' position to avail themselves of the advantages of which, under this Bill, it was now proposed to deprive them. It was the old story; they always met the fate of the step-child.—England took the cream, and left Ireland the skim-milk. It was the same kind of thing as happened with the spirit duties. It was not intended, it was said, to inflict a special burden upon Ireland by putting a uniform duty upon spirits; but still, a special burden was so inflicted, and the intention of the framers of the measure was little consolation to those who had to pay the unfair charge. But to come to the question of the Bill before them. If they were to take as authoritative the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Thomson Hankey)—who was himself one of the Public Works Loans Commissioners, and should, therefore, be supposed to speak with great authority upon the subject—it would remove many of his (Mr. Gray's) objections with reference to the rate of interest at which loans ought to be granted. That hon. Gentleman had said that compulsory Acts should not be affected by the Bill. But the Bill said nothing of the kind. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said nothing of the kind. Therefore, he could not assume that the hon. Member for Peterborough did speak with authority. The Public Health Act was, in many respects, a compulsory Act, yet loans under it and the Artizans' Dwellings Act were included. It was said that the Artizans' Dwellings Act was a permissive Act; but it was, he thought, a mistake to suppose any such thing. The Act, viewed in one way, was a compulsory Act, for a very few ratepayers could compel it to be acted on. With regard to the general question, the real difficulty which had arisen, and which he thoroughly recognized, was the question of arranging how the amount of burden on local loans could be met. One hon. Member had said that this Bill was a very small measure—the smallest measure which the Government had yet introduced. Now, his strongest objection to the Bill was that it was such a very small measure. The present Bill, in fact, only dealt with the fringe of the question. The Government had not considered the various interests which would be affected by the introduction of this Bill, and merely proposed to relieve themselves. 638 It was because it was such a small measure that he objected to it. It was not that he objected to a good proposal for dealing with the difficulty of the amount of these growing loans. It was the larger towns which had really been the cause of the difficulty, because they were the parties who borrowed very largo sums. What he thought was, that most of the large towns should be still able to borrow money at a reasonable rate of interest upon their own security; and if the Government initiated such a policy, then they would only have to deal with the small towns. He believed that really was the way in which the Government ought to deal with the question. But, instead of doing that, so many difficulties had been thrown in the way of local authorities borrowing money upon their own security from the public, that it was almost impossible for them to get money in the open market, and they were, therefore, obliged to come to the Public Works Loans Commissioners. He would take, in illustration of this, the case of the City of Dublin. If they in Dublin could issue a consolidated loan on all their debts, secured on their own property, they would never dream of coming to the Public Works Loans Commissioners for money. He thought the security of the City of Dublin was as good as any security. In a Return which had been printed, he found that there had been granted to the Water Works, Ireland, the sum of £479,000. That was principally, or entirely, for the Dublin Water Works, and he would take it as a sample of what he meant. The Water Works Act, which enabled the loan to be granted and a rate to be levied, restricted the rate to a certain amount; but, in order to protect the Treasury against loss, the usual Mandamus Clause was put in the Act. The Mandamus Clause was, that if the rates were found not to be adequate to protect the Treasury from loss, the Public Works Loans Commissioners of Ireland could bring them before the Court of Queen's Bench in Ireland, and ask to increase the rates. But they had landed property in Dublin, of great and increasing value. Let them assume for illustration, say, what would really be the fact in a few years, that the property yielded a considerable surplus over the demands upon it. Suppose they had, at the same time, a small deficiency in the Water Works account, they could not devote the sur- 639 plus of the one to make good the deficiency of the other; but the Courts would be appealed to, a Mandamus issued, the credit of the City injured, and the ratepayers unnecessarily burdened. Suppose they wanted money which they were authorized to borrow, they could not pledge their land as additional security. By all means, let them have the most rigorous restrictions against local authorities borrowing too much—let them have every safeguard by means of Government audit that the money was properly applied; but once a loan was authorized, let the fullest facilities for raising it be given, and, as between the lender and the borrower, let the security be shown to be, what it was in reality, the entire property of the City. Permit the debts to be consolidated and simplified, so that they could be dealt with in the Money Market. Permit trustees to invest in such stock, which, in the case of the great towns, would be as good security as Consols. Let them do as the Metropolitan Board of Works did, and their own people would invest in their own stock. They could raise their money at home, the Treasury would not be burdened, and could easily assist the smaller bodies, which could not borrow at fair rates on their own security. It was the great towns like Birmingham, which took £1,500,000 for artizans' dwellings and so on, which created the difficulty. If they were given proper facilities, they would be able to borrow anything they wanted themselves. If they permitted such Corporations as Birmingham, Manchester, Dublin, and Belfast, to borrow money upon giving security on their consolidated property, that would be taking a step in the right direction. But the Government were commencing at the wrong end. This Bill would not give facilities to local authorities to borrow themselves, and it also threw difficulties in the way of their borrowing from the Imperial Exchequer. If hon. Members permitted this Bill to pass in its present shape, he was sure that they would have no more legislation on the subject for many years to come, and that was the reason why he was opposed to it. He objected, as strongly as possible, to many portions of the measure; and he also objected to passing such a Bill without its receiving the most careful consideration at the hands of the House. 640 He was sure that the House would agree with him that, at this period of the Session, it was impossible to give the measure the consideration which it deserved. He concurred in the suggestion which had been made that the new clauses dealing with the rate of interest should be postponed until next year, when they could be considered by a Select Committee, and must express his objection to the Bill because it only dealt with the fringe of the question, instead of trying to settle the whole. He would oppose these objectionable provisions in Committee as far as possible.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
was glad the Chancellor of the Exchequer had agreed to exclude the "Bright Clauses" of the Irish Land Act from the operation of the Bill. The Bill would have been fatal to those "Bright Clauses." However, the Government had admitted this exception; but, having done so, they could not refuse to consider exceptions that might be claimed by Acts having the same policy. Another Act which would be materially affected by the Bill was the Artizans' Dwellings Act; and he had a strong impression that if the Bill passed into law in its present shape, the effect, if not fatal to the Artizans' Dwellings Act, would be very detrimental to its operation. The effect would be to add a fourth to the charges upon local authorities in carrying out that Act; and he calculated that if a local body wished to borrow £100,000 under that Act, there would be an advance of £750 a-year in the repayments under the Bill to what it would be at present—a great increase to the burden upon taxpayers, and an obstacle to the Act being put in force. Upon careful consideration of the Bill before them, he was perfectly convinced that it would lead to very much fewer schemes of improvement being embarked in by local authorities under that Act. It came, practically, to this—that the local authority should not borrow for a longer period than 30 years. The authorities of Pending, his own constituents, had borrowed a sum of £240,000—one-half of that sum from an Insurance Company, and the other half from the Public Works Loans Commissioners; but for the one-half which was re-payable in 30 years they had to pay £7,300 a-year, and for the other only £5,400, which was a very great boon indeed. If at the time this transaction 641 was carried out the Chancellor of the Exchequer's scheme had been in force, the effect would have been a charge to the community of Reading of £1,200 a-year. In his opinion, it would be wise for the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to press the contentious clauses this Session, but to proceed only with that portion of the Bill to which there was no objection.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the debate, to which he had listened with much interest, reminded him of a quotation which an old friend of his was very fond of using. It ran thus—It's a very good world we live in,To lend or to spend or to give in;But to beg or to borrow or come by one's own,It's the very worst world that ever was known.Unquestionably, the Bill contained provisions which were very unpalatable, no doubt, to those who wished to borrow; and he admitted that those who represented constituencies such as Reading, who found that they could get money from the Treasury at five-sevenths the price they could obtain it in the open market, were naturally not willing to have the question of terms re-opened. But he only wished to say this—he was quite ready, in any way that hon. Members desired, to consider whether any alterations could be made which would facilitate the obtaining of money under proper arrangements by the local authorities; but with regard to the particular method which was now adopted with regard to the loans from the Treasury, he felt it necessary to call the attention, not of particular Members, but of the whole House of Commons, to the fact that they were by the present system placing the Exchequer at a great disadvantage, and that it was necessary to take some steps to regulate a system which was growing to enormous dimensions. Several fallacies had been advanced in the course of the discussion—among them, that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), who, with others, seemed to think the measure was going to affect an enormous number of Acts of Parliament, and have the effect of reducing the operation and advantages offered to the public under those 40 or 50 Acts. But this was an entire delusion. There might be as many Acts which affected 642 the lending of money to local bodies from the Public "Works Loans Commissioners; but in four cases only among those was the rate of interest described, and would be in any way enhanced, by the provisions of the Bill. If hon. Gentlemen would look at the clauses of the Act of 1875—the Public Works Loans Act—they would see that every loan granted under that Act should bear interest not less than the rate authorized under the special Act, or if no rate was specially authorized, then not less than 5 per cent. Of those granted at a lower rate than 5 per cent, there were very few for the purposes of the Education Act, the Sanitary Act, and the Artizans' Dwellings Act. With the exception of those, the ordinary rate was 5 per cent. Therefore, they need not trouble themselves with the effect on this great number of Acts. In the majority of these Acts there undoubtedly was a provision that the rate of interest should be 3½ per cent, or such other rate as might be determined by the Treasury, to protect the Exchequer from loss. In the Education Act, no doubt, the qualification did not occur, and 3½ per cent was prescribed; but the term of years was not prescribed, and, consequently, it was within the letter, if not the spirit, of that Act that the term of years for which these loans should be made should be limited to 20 years, and so this Act would not be affected by the Bill. Another governing provision was that the rate was to be 3½ per cent, or such as would secure the Exchequer from losses. That was obviously the intention of the whole Act. It was not intended to make a gift at the expense of the Exchequer, but it was intended to enable advances to be made on terms sufficient to save the Exchequer Department of the State. But it had been found that, instead of leaving this matter to be dealt with arbitrarily by the Treasury, it would be better to introduce a scale regulated by Act of Parliament, so that there should be no misunderstanding, and that the Treasury should not be charged with an arbitrary proceeding when they introduced a condition to the loan which placed the rate of interest beyond 3½ per cent. When the Bill got into Committee he would be ready to discuss these clauses; but he could not carry his concession so far as to the omission of these clauses. It was necessary to 643 lay down the principle contained in the clauses referred to, to prevent the mischiefs he apprehended, and also necessary as bearing upon that principle, that advances made in one year should not go beyond a certain amount. The right hon. Member for Pontefract made a much more drastic suggestion. He said, why not lay down the absolute sum to be advanced, and stick to that amount? But suppose they fixed the sum at £3,000,000, at£5,000,000,or£6,000,000, what would be the position of the Treasury and the Public Works Loans Commissioners in the scramble which would immediately take place for this amount? There must follow a great deal of discontent and heart-burning. It was better to try the effect of limiting the amount of a single loan. This would reduce the pressure upon the Exchequer for a very large sum. With regard to the Local Authorities Loans Act, no doubt there had been points worthy of consideration in giving effect to its intention. He should be glad to consider all these cognate questions, and if it was desirable to have a Select Committee on the subject, he saw no reason why such a Committee should not sit; but this was apart from the main object of the Bill, which, primarily, was to ask Parliament for authority to raise a sum of £6,000,000 to lend to local authorities, and then to introduce safeguards to prevent these loans growing to such an extent that the liberal intentions of Parliament were abused by being carried beyond what was the intention of Parliament. Parliament did not intend to expose the Exchequer to the risk of loss; but the intention was that these loans should be guarded on fair—on liberal—terms, but not on terms which might be extravagant. It was not the intention of Parliament to subsidize the borough of Reading. If the borough of Reading had made £1,800 out of the Imperial Exchequer——
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
was glad there was a limit. He did not know that he had much to say beyond what he had said in the first in- 644 stance. He disputed the fact that he was asking the House to deal with all the Acts mentioned. All the Bill did was strictly in conformity with the principles of the old Act; and while expressing his willingness to discuss any particular proposal in Committee, he asked the House now to pass the second reading, or there would be considerable difficulty in regard to advances.
§ MR. HUTCHINSON
said, he would not vote against the second reading of the Bill; but there were provisions contained in it which he would oppose in Committee.
§ MR. STEVENSON
said, that in Committee he would propose that the Bill should not apply to loans under the Harbours Act for the construction and improvement of harbours.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
expressed his regret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had dropped the clause which prevented the present generation from, avoiding their share of the repayment of local debts. Under the annuity provisions of the present Act, the present generation paid very little, and subsequent generations would have to pay a great deal. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had given excellent reasons for this clause. It was an extreme non sequitur to drop it. Whether as regarded States or municipalities, the great danger of the present time was the disposition to heap immense burdens on posterity in order to obtain benefits for the present generation. That was going on now at a greater rate than it ever did before. The fact was, the world was living too fast. We were piling up debt upon debt; and this system of imposing the debt on future generations was, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, a great temptation to extravagance, and he deeply regretted there was not a determination to carry through this check upon that extravagance. Largo municipalities had large facilities for going into the market and borrowing, and for carrying Private Bills through the House, and it was desirable they should have this freedom; but it should not be without some controlling authority in the interest of future generations to check the action of ambitious heads of Corporations. But there was something to be said in the interest of the smaller Scotch municipalities. He accepted the view of the Chancellor of the 645 Exchequer that loans should be made on conditions that would secure that the Treasury should not be losers; but in dealing with this question it was scarcely fair to lump together all the loans made during the past 82 or 92 years, as the right hon. Gentleman had in alluding to Corporations to whom loans had been granted by former Governments. He instanced the Isle of Man; but he might have mentioned a much larger Island, and losses sustained by the Treasury from Irish loans advanced for past Irish objects. But the people of Scotland were in a different position. They were a prudent and thrifty people, and when they got loans from the Treasury they generally made good use of them. The result of their thrift and prudence was that the interest of money was lower in Scotland than anywhere else; and if they said such small burghs as he represented, and which were now engaged in applying for water and other works, should only borrow from the Treasury at a rate that was really higher than the rate in the open market in Scotland they were doing them an injury. These small burghs would be put to great inconvenience if the rate was made too stringent as against them. These small bodies had no opportunity of going into the market to borrow, as large bodies could do. The expenses and uncertainties of Private Bills were too great for them. It was a great advantage to them to be able to borrow from the Treasury on reasonable terms. He ventured to hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would re-consider this clause, and take care that he did not, by lumping together the provident and improvident parts of the Kingdom—parts of the Kingdom where interest was low, and parts whore it was high—do injustice to thrifty places such as the borough he had the honour to represent.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, he wished to be allowed to say a very few words upon the measure which was now under the consideration of the House. He could not altogether agree with the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) in the observations which he had addressed to the House. However, hon. Members from Ireland were so much in the habit of hearing in that House so many extraordinary things said about them, that they were now not very much astonished at anything 646 they might hear. He believed that the indebtedness of Ireland to the Imperial Exchequer was smaller, relatively and actually, than that of any other part of the United Kingdom; and the position which he took up was, that although he admitted the general purposes of this Bill to be good, if they passed it now there would be an injustice done to Ireland. That, however, was an argument which had been very fairly put before the House by his hon. Friend the Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray), and, therefore, there was no necessity for him to repeat it. But what he did wish to say was, that he thought the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. J. G. Hubbard) was one which might very well be accepted by the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was, unfortunately, not present when the suggestion was made; but he had no doubt that it had been repeated to him. It appeared to him that there was very little difference between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London and the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and he thought that the clauses might, as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. G. Hubbard) had suggested, be very well struck out of the Bill. The Treasury could not possibly be injured by assenting to the suggestion, and the question could then be carefully considered by a Select Committee next year, when there would be no difficulty in dealing with it.
§ MR. KNIGHT
said, that he believed the ratepayers in the boroughs would be grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for doing something to check the expenditure, which threatened to involve them in ruin. The boroughs of Birmingham and of Reading had been prominently represented in the debate. They were all aware how the matter stood as regarded Birmingham; but it was not as well known that the rating of Reading amounted to about 10s. in the pound. He hoped a small Schedule would be proposed to exclude those towns from the operations of the Bill.
§ MR. G. PALMER
denied that the rating of Reading amounted to 10s. in the pound. It would not, he believed, amount to more than between 7s. and 8s. in the pound, and had, in fact, been forced upon it by the central authority.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, that being a Money Bill, it must pass this Session. He judged, from opinions expressed, that it was desirable that the contentious clauses should be deferred for the consideration of a Select Committee. This was not raised by his Amendment, and could be raised in a better form on the Motion for going into Committee. His hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) would then raise it; and, in the meantime, he would withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.