§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Jackson.)
§ MR. BAUMANN (Camberwell, Peckham)
said, that as this was a measure empowering the Metropolitan Board of Works to spend £3,000,000, it was his duty to make some comment upon its contents. The debt of the Board in December, 1887, was £17,000,000, and the debt-charge upon the Metropolitan rates for the year 1888 was £1,369,128. Towards this charge the Coal and Wine Dues, the interest from Local Authorities who borrowed, and rents from lands and premises contributed £618,000, leaving a debt-charge on the Metropolitan rates for 1888 of £750,000, or 5.86 pence in the pound. But until the expiration of six months of 1889 the Coal and Wine Dues were hypothecated for the bridges. All this pointed to a considerable increase in the rates, which was now upwards of 8d., and would probably soon be 10d. It was the duty of the House to scrutinize the rates very carefully. This Bill proposed to give the power to the Board of spending £75,000 on the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. The raising of that money had not only not been sanctioned by Parliament, but had been refused by the failure to pass two Bills which were introduced for a similar purpose. He admitted that the protection from fire afforded by the Brigade was grossly inadequate, and he would not oppose the clause, though he must protest against this attempt to get Money for the Fire Brigade by means of a money Bill, when a similar attempt by other Bills for the special purpose had failed to receive the sanction of Parliament. He was not, however, satisfied that the Board of Works was the best authority for controlling the Fire Brigade. It would be far better to adopt the recommendation of the Committee of 1876 47 to incorporate the Brigade with the police, and to make every police-station also a fire-station. Such an arrangement would be at once economical and efficient. The two recent fires in Edge-ware Road and Wigmore Street would have been far loss disastrous than they were if the police-stations which were close at hand had also been fire-stations. Then there was the question of local indebtedness with which the Bill was concerned, and of which the House ought to know something. The Board had lent upwards of £10,000,000 to the School Boards, Vestries, Boards of Guardians, and other Local Boards, and the Bill proposed immensely to increase this indebtedness. The School Board alone had borrowed about £3,500,000, and the Asylums Board £1,200,000. He found that many of the Vestries had borrowed money, in some cases in excess of and in others nearly equal to their total rateable value. The Boards of Guardians had also borrowed very largely. The School Board for London now asked for £300,000. It had already a debt of nearly £7,000,000, and it had pledged the rates of the Metropolitan ratepayers for the next 50 years, so that in 1937 it would have spent over £12,000,000 out of the rates of the Metropolis. The amount of school places was largely in excess of the number of children. In these circumstances he thought that they were justified in asking for what the School Board was borrowing this money. The School Board had been considered above suspicion, but lately it had appointed a Commission of its own, which had naturally acquitted itself.
§ COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)
said, that the £75,000 for the Metropolitan Fire Brigade was not wanted for the maintenance of the Brigade, but on the capital account for buildings and stations; the sum had nothing to do with any increase in the income for maintenance, which remained as it was. With regard to the 10d. rate, that rate had been estimated for next year before the passing of the Local Government Bill, under which there would be a considerable contribution which, it was hoped, would more than make up for the loss caused by the lapse of the Coal Dues. The loan powers were given to the Board by existing Acts of Parliament, and loans had to be sanctioned by the Treasury or 48 the Local Government Board, as the case might be, and in the case of loans to the School Board, by the Education Department. The reason why the money was borrowed from the Metropolitan Board was that it could in that way be got at a less rate than was otherwise possible. Last year the School Board had put down the sum of £300,000; but they had only borrowed £200,000, and, therefore, £100,000 was unexpended balance. He admitted that Metropolitan finance did not receive the attention it deserved; but this Bill was formal, and he hoped it would pass.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
regretted that the Bill had been brought forward at such a time, when it could not be adequately discussed. This was not an appropriate time to give increased borrowing and spending powers to the Metropolitan Asylums Board, which rested under as dark a cloud of suspicion as that which hung over the Board of Works.
§ SIR RICHARD TEMPLE (Worcester, Evesham)
said, that if the ratepayers did not know what the School Board had done with the £6,000,000 it had borrowed in the past 17 years they ought to know; for in the last three years, at any rate, everything had been done to place the finances of the Board before the public in a popular and intelligible manner. The Board had built 400 school-houses—scattered all over London—many of them being among the finest elementary schools in Europe, for the accommodation of about 400,000 children. As to financial management, the Board paid not only interest, but also a sinking fund every year. With respect to all their transactions with the Metropolitan Board of Works, he was bound to say that they had found that Board most business-like and satisfactory, and he was glad to be able to take the opportunity of paying it this public tribute. With regard to the £300,000, he had merely to remark that, in his opinion, it was about the smallest annual sum ever asked for on this account.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. JACKSON) (Leeds, N.)
said, it must be obvious that if the Coal and Wine Dues were not renewed, it would largely add to the rates levied within the Metropolitan area. The only sound reason which could be advanced for not 49 renewing these dues was that it was better not to renew them, and that the money could be raised quite as easily, perhaps with less hardship in some cases, by putting it on the rates. Some of the money taken under the Bill would go to supplement what had been described by an hon. Gentleman as the grossly inadequate provision for dealing with fires in the Metropolis. As to the powers to lend to Local Authorities, it was evident that to give a power of this kind to a Body like the Metropolitan Board of Works, which had to set aside and accumulate every year a large sum for a Sinking Fund, was advantageous both to the Board to lend on adequate security and to the School Board, the Metropolitan Police Fund, and other Public Bodies to borrow at a lower rate of interest than could be done in the open market. As to the question raised by the hon. Member opposite, none of the money could be borrowed by the Metropolitan Asylums Board without the express sanction of the Local Government Board.
§ Question put, and agreed to.