§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [8th August], "That in the case of the Bury Corporation Bill [Lords], Standing Order 243 be suspended, and that the Bill be now read a third time."—(Sir Henry James.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ * MR. COURTNEY
I beg to move—That the Bill be re-committed to the former Committee in respect of Sections 28 and 29.That it be an Instruction to the Committee that it is against the spirit and intent o Standing Order 173a to extend beyond sixty years the term of repayment of an existing debt, 881 contracted by a municipal corporation or local authority under a previous Act or Acts.This Bill is promoted by the Corporation of Bury to authorise them to make certain waterworks. If it had been confined to that, there would be no occasion for me to trouble the House with any remarks; but there are two clauses in the Bill which are totally apart from all the rest of its structure and constituting, in fact, a separate Bill. It is to these clauses that I desire to direct the attention of the House. The Bury Corporation acquired the waterworks under an Act passsed in 1872, and upon the works so acquired, there is a considerable debt. The Act of 1872 prescribed the conditions under which that debt should be repaid—conditions which, apparently, were not well understood by the Corporation of Bury at the time the Act was passed. The Corporation came again to Parliament in 1885, and the conditions of the repayment of debt contracted under the Act of 1872 came under the consideration of the Committee to whom the Bill of 1885 was referred. The Committee laid down very strict provisions as to the repayment of the debt, and, in fact, limited the repayment of the amount owing at that period to a period of 43 years. The Bury Corporation now come before Parliament with what is practically an Omnibus Bill, into which they introduce two clauses dealing with the existing debt and the conditions of repayment which were prescribed by the Acts of 1872 and 1885. In these two clauses the Corporation desire to extend the period of repayment of the still existing debt from a period of 43 years to 80 years. But Parliament has passed a Standing Order restricting the period for the redemption of debt under such circumstances to a period of 60 years. That is the Standing Order of Parliament in regard to applications for power to construct works and to contract loans in connection with them. Now, it is obvious that the clauses to which I have called attention, inasmuch as they do not refer to any works which are authorised by the Bill, but which were authorised by a previous Bill, do not in so many words come within the scope of this Standing Order No. 173a, but it must be apparent to the House that they come within the meaning and 882 intent of the Standing Order, because otherwise the Standing Order would be reduced to a nullity. Or this process would be possible: a Bill might be introduced this Session authorising works to be made in conformity with the Standing Order which prescribes 60 years as the term within which the money borrowed for the construction of the works must be repaid, and next Session another Bill might be introduced extending the term from 60 to 80 years. It might then be said that the second Bill did not come within the Standing Order because it did not authorise money to be raised for the construction of the works. Therefore, the Standing Order is capable of being reduced to a nullity. You conform to it one year by bringing in a Bill for works, and prescribing a period of 60 years for the repayment of borrowed money, and then you apply for an extension of time, and the Committee are able to say that, inasmuch as the Bill does not authorise a loan to be granted in order to meet the cost of the works, it does not come within the scope of the Standing Order. It is quite clear that that is a contention which must be at once met and reprobated. The Standing Order would, in the event of such a construction being put upon it by the Committee, at once disappear. I have, therefore, felt it necessary to put upon the Paper this Motion for the recommittal of the Bill to the former Committee, with an Instruction in reference to the two clauses to which I have referred. If the House agree to that Instruction and re-commit the Bill, I presume that the Committee will be obliged to carry out the intention of the Standing Order by reducing the term so that it shall not exceed a period of 60 years. I think that the Committee have gone grievously wrong in supposing that the question of extending the period for the repayment of the existing debt does not come within the Standing Order. I am bound to pay some respect to the circumstances which they report in respect of this particular Corporation—circumstances which rather amount to an ad misericordiam appeal rather than to anything substantial. They say that when the Corporation of Bury got their Act in 1872 they thought they were allowed 100 years for the repayment of the debt; that they were 883 obliged to put by a Sinking Fund for the payment of the debt, and to allow it to accumulate every year, which is a very different thing from the repayment of debt. They pray for leniency, and they point out that they are burdened with costly works and with a Sinking Fund, which tells very heavily upon them. The Committee say that the terms are onerous and ought to be relaxed, but in that case the Corporation ought to come to Parliament and ask for its sanction, notwithstanding the Standing Order. They have, however, assumed that they have a right to do what they have done, and that assumption ought not to be allowed to pass without notice. Under these circumstances, I think the House might so far assent to the view taken by the Committee as not to insist on the term of 60 years in this ease, but might make a compromise fixing it at 70 years, a sort of half-way house between what the Corporation ask for and the Committee good-naturedly assented to, and that which the House has laid down as the proper period of repayment. If that suggestion recommends itself to the House, it will be easy to add words to the Instruction to the Committee to amend the Bill by inserting 70 instead of 80. I throw out that suggestion with some reluctance, because I recollect that only two years ago another Committee—upon a Sheffield Bill—went wrong in a similar way, they then condoned the error, and we are now asked to condone the same error a second time. My view is that, as the error has been pointed out once, it ought not to have been repeated. At present I will content myself by moving the Instruction which appears on the Paper, but I shall not be averse to consider the compromise which I have suggested.
Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "[Lords]," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words
the Bill be re-committed to the former Committee in respect of sections 28 and 29:—'that it be an Instruction to the Committee, that it is against the spirit and intent of Standing Order 173A to extend beyond sixty years the term of repayment of an existing debt contracted by a Municipal Corporation or Local Authority under a previous Act or Acts.'"—(The Chairman of Ways and Means.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."884
§ * SIR H. JAMES (Bury)
I am well aware of the value of the public time at this period of the Session, and therefore I will not occupy the attention of the House at the time of private business at an unnecessary length; the question, however, is of such vast importance to my constituents, that I make no apology to the House for asking to occupy its attention while I state the peculiar circumstances under which my constituents seek relief. I am not going to follow the right hon. Gentleman in the construction he has put upon the Standing Order; but I think that when I have related the whole of the circumstances to the House, it will be considered that the ratepayers of Bury are entitled to the relief they seek. I am not going to ask for the repeal or alteration of the Standing Order, nor have the promoters of the Bill asked for any relief from it. In the year 1872 the Corporation of Bury found it necessary to become the owners of the water works so that they might supply the town of Bury with water. They took upon themselves a burden of £590,000, and they found themselves required not only to find water for the town of Bury, but for the outlying districts, which are greater than Bury itself. The whole burden of the expenditure fell upon Bury ratepayers alone. They were under the impression that the debt they contracted was to be paid off in 100 years; they would not, and could not, have under taken to pay it off in less. The Standing Order did not come into existence until 1882, and it must be borne in mind that before 1882 100 years was not an unusual period to fix for the payment of money borrowed for water purposes. My constituents accepted the burden, and went on performing what they believed to be their duty. In 1885 they came to Parliament for another Bill, and the penalty was imposed upon them that within 44 years of that time they should pay off the debt. What has been the result? The inhabitants of Bury are now paying the enormous sum of 11d. in the £1 for this sinking fund alone, and, with one exception, I believe there is no town in the kingdom which pays more than 2¾d. In Birmingham, the figure is only ¼d., but the average is, I believe, 1½d. Yet Bury is paying 11d., and is paying it for a supply of water, four-sevenths of which 885 is supplied outside the borough to non-ratepayers. The outlying districts pay nothing towards the sinking fund, but the people of Bury are compelled to pay the whole. The Chairman of Ways and Means says that the Bill contains two clauses, which have nothing to do with the rest of the Bill. He is entirely in error. Bury is compelled to provide an additional supply of water for manufacturing as well as household purposes, and it was only when they found themselves compelled to borrow a sum of £130,000 that they came to this House to ask for relief. When they borrowed in 1872 they did not know that they would be compelled to pay the money in less than 100 years, and if the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees succeeds in carrying his proposition, the result will be that either the manufacturers or the poor people will be deprived of the supply of water which they absolutely require. No other town in England approaches Bury in the heavy burden it has to bear for its water supply. Two years ago the town of Sheffield came to this House and obtained the concession for which Bury now asks, yet the case of Sheffield was not one half as strong; the concession was granted because Sheffield was maintaining works greater than the requirements of the town demanded. Sheffield asked for 90 years. We are only asking for 80–62 years from the present time. The Chairman of Ways and Means made a protest in the case of Sheffield; but he did not ask the Committee to reject the conclusion the Committee had arrived at. Yet he asks the House to reject the conclusion which the Committee have come to in the case of Bury. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to take the same course as that which he took in 1887, and to support the Report of the Committee, in consequence of the special circumstances of the case. I presume, that the Standing Order represents a principle, but there are exceptional circumstances in this case to which the Standing Order ought not to apply. If this Bill is not passed, it will be impossible to continue the sanitary arrangements which are essential for the well-being of the town. I therefore earnestly entreat the House to allow this concession to be made to the town of Bury.
§ SIR J. PULESTON (Devonport)
As Chairman of the Committee by whom this Bill was considered, I wish to say that the peculiar circumstances of the measure have been succinctly stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir H. James). The Chairman of Ways and Means has to some extent disavowed his action in connection with the Corporation of Sheffield.
§ SIR J. PULESTON
At any rate he has asserted that it ought not to be a precedent; but the Committee could not ignore what had taken place in reference to Sheffield. We discussed the question of Bury strictly on its own merits, and if the Chairman of Ways and Means had sat upon the Committee and heard the whole of the evidence, I am sure he would have concurred in what was, in fact, the unanimous view of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman has repudiated the idea of interpreting the Standing Order as applying to existing debts, but the President of the Local Government Board distinctly stated that the Standing Order of 1882 did not apply to pre-existing debts. We also took into consideration the very important fact that the Bury Corporation came to Parliament for other powers quite distinct from the original powers of the Bury Improvement Act, which have resulted in the onerous charge of an elevenpenny rate. Such a water rate as that is unknown, I believe, in any other community. If this Bill passes, the inhabitants of Bury will have to pay a rate of 2½d., which was, I believe, the sum against which the people of Sheffield protested. The Committee passed the Bill without the least hesitation, and they carefully considered the exact meaning of the Standing Order. I do not agree with the Chairman of Ways and Means in the interpretation he has placed upon the Standing Order, but I agree in the view of the President of the Local Government Board, that loans contracted before the Standing Order came into existence in 1882 do not come within the Standing Order. The Standing Order refers to loans under the Bill, but this is not in any sense a loan under the Bill. The Chairman of Ways and Means says that we ought to have come to the House and asked for permission to disobey the Standing Order, but we did not consider 887 that that was necessary, as we were not infringing the Standing Order. In view of the lateness of the period of the Session and the urgency of the question, we did not think that that was at all practicable. I trust that the House will not refuse to adopt the Report of the Committee. The Chairman of Ways and Means has admitted that the case of Bury is exceptional, seeing that he himself has proposed to set aside the Standing Order by giving 70 years instead of 60. The Committee had evidence that it is impossible to carry on the much needed sanitary reforms in Bury, owing to this grievous burden of 11d. in the £1.
* MR. BEADLAUGH (Northampton)
The question before the House is one of the very highest importance. When the Sheffield Water Bill was under consideration two years ago, I entered my protest against it because I am of opinion that the question of the increase of local debt is one of the most serious which this country has to consider. The wisdom of this House has settled the period for the repayment of debt at 60 years, and it is a decision which ought not lightly to be departed from. There are two points which arise in this Debate. First, does this case come within the operation of the Standing Order? I understand both the right hon. and learned Member for Bury and the Chairman of Ways and Means to allege that it does not come within the prohibitory words of the Standing Order. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir J. Puleston) says that the Standing Order does not provide for a pre-existing debt, but surely every debt is preexisting, and the word "debt" has no meaning at all if it is to be read in the sense in which the hon. Gentleman puts it. The right hon. and learned Member for Bury contends that the Standing Order does not apply because the Bill does not provide the works, but the debt was incurred in 1872 when the Corporation took over the works. The House is now asked to repeal an Act which was accepted by the Corporation of Bury in 1885.
§ * MR. BRADLAUGH
I presume that all these Bills are introduced for the sake of performing a higher duty, and if it be possible to create a debt which is to be spread over an enormous period, there will be no indisposition to create it, because the burden will fall lightly on the generation which creates it. The Corporation of Bury saw fit in 1885 for benefits received to agree to a term of 55 years for the repayment of the debt—12 years having lapsed and 43 years to come. Under these circumstances I ask the House not to create another bad precedent but to insist upon the observance of the Standing Order. We are told that the outlying people take the water. I presume they pay for it.
§ * MR. BRADLAUGH
Then all I can say is that Bury for some purposes of its own must have seen fit to supply these outlying districts with water.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVEENMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE, Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
I listened with great attention to the speech of the Chairman of Ways and Means, and I think the House is under great obligations to the right hon. Gentleman for bringing under its notice such cases as the one now before us. In my opinion the Committee to whom the Bill was referred undoubtedly departed from the spirit if not the letter of the Standing Order. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury did not deal with the case fully. He simply contended that there are peculiar circumstances in the case of Bury. That may be good ground why the House should show some regard for the circumstances of Bury, but I do not think it was sufficient to justify the Committee to whom the Bill was referred, in going, as I think they did, outside their powers and entirely disregarding a Standing Order of the House, which says that no longer period than 60 years shall be allowed for the 889 repayment of a loan. My hon. Friend behind me (Sir J. Puleston) spoke of the case of Sheffield, and seemed to think that because the Standing Order was broken in that particular case, it might properly be broken in this case also. He even went further, and justified the breaking of the Standing Order.
§ MR. RITCHIE
My hon. Friend contended that in a certain sense the breaking of the Standing Order might tend to strengthen it. Now, I attach very much value to this Standing Order, and I think it would be a misfortune if the House were to regard with equanimity the setting aside the regulations which the House itself has made for safeguarding the interests of future ratepayers. The Local Government Board are constantly met by pleas such as that which has been put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury. I have had again and again to consider applications from Local Bodies for an extension of time, but it is our duty to protect the ratepayers of the future against the ratepayers of the present. There is hardly a case where a plea is made where special circumstances are not brought before the Local Government Board, which, in the opinion of the persons who press them, would not justify the Board in departing from the healthy principle of not allowing too long a time for repayment. In this case it is for the House to consider whether the circumstances are such as to call upon us to adopt the suggestion of the Chairman of Ways and Means, or, in distinct terms, to express our concurrence in the view of the Committee. If the Chairman of Ways and Means considers it his duty to persevere with the Motion he has placed on the Paper, I for one shall not complain of his action. But I think he has shown that in his opinion there is something to be said for the case of Bury, which, if the Committee are properly instructed, may entitle it to consideration, and that 70 years may be given. There is one ground to which some weight may be attached, and it is that these works were undoubtedly authorised before the passing of the Standing Order. I certainly think that that is a ground for an appeal to the House in this case. The hon. Mem- 890 ber for Devonport (Sir J. Puleston) has implied that I laid it down as a principle in the Sheffield case that the Standing Order ought not to apply to works which had been previously authorised. I did nothing of the kind. What I did say was that no such case had been presented since the Standing Order had been passed, and that it was to prevent such things being done in the future that the Standing Order was passed. That language hardly bears the interpretation put upon it by my hon. Friend considering the fact that these works were undoubtedly authorised prior to the passing of the Standing Order, and that the Corporation were under the belief that they had been allowed 100 years for repayment of the debt—that not being an unusual period at that particular time—it is a matter for consideration whether the House will not be willing to allow the Bill to go on. If it does, I think it ought to record in the strongest manner its opinion that this is contrary to the spirit of the Standing Order, and it should do so in such terms as would distinctly prevent a precedent from being established. I would therefore suggest the adoption of a Resolution to this effect—That this House is of opinion that the term proposed for the repayment of money borrowed by the Corporation of Bury is contrary to the spirit of the Standing Order 173a, but haying regard to the fact that the works were authorised before the passing of the Standing Order this House orders that the Bill be taken into consideration to-morrow.
§ MR. HOYLE (Lancashire, South-East Heywood)
As it is proposed to make the term 70 years instead of 60, I think we may regard the Standing Order as being out of the way, and may consider the question on its merits. The Corporation of Bury are comparatively a new body, and they are engaged in carrying on these works under circumstances of exceptional difficulty. Bury is situated on the Irwell, and there are brick works, dye works, and other works which cast their refuse into the open river with open drains without deoderisers, emptying themselves into the Irwell. I am afraid that the last generation were so intent upon the development of trade that they paid but little attention to the health of the people, and the consequence is that the Corporation of Bury have to do the work which the last generation should 891 have done. The Corporation of Bury have incurred serious financial responsibilities, and when they came to Parliament in 1872 they understood that the capital sum was to be paid back in 100 years. They only ask the House now to confirm the decision of two Committees by making the term 80 instead of 100 years. They are simply endeavouring to secure the health of the people of Bury, many of whom are very poor, and if this rate of 11d. in the £1 is to remain, it will undoubtedly press most heavily on persons of small means whose life is one of continuous toil. The leading inhabitants of Bury have subscribed handsomely to recreation grounds, but if the House refuses the relief now asked for it will be thought that the burden thrown upon the people is too heavy for them to bear, and in future voluntary efforts will be abandoned. I, therefore, ask the House to reject the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
The action of the right hon. and learned Member for Bury is quite natural, but I heard with some surprise the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means, and that of the President of the Local Government Board. Those speeches indicated to me an alacrity in breaking the Standing Order in the case of an English Corporation, represented by an influential Member of this House; and I cannot help contrasting the course now taken with that which was taken in regard to the Corporation of Dublin, whose case presented a remarkable analogy with that of Bury. The works in regard to which the Corporation of Dublin asked for relief were authorised and executed before the Standing Order was passed; a debt considerably larger than that of the Corporation of Bury was entailed. As in the case of Bury, large outlying districts were supplied with water; it is paid for at an unremunerative rate, and the outlying townships contribute nothing to the sinking fund and nothing to the debt. Yet, when the Corporation came to this House this year for the re-arrangement of debt, they found themselves faced by officials who compelled them to cut down the period for the repayment of the debt to 55 years. The Corporation of Bury are to be 892 allowed 70 years. I say frankly that 60 years for waterworks is too short a period, especially when we consider that in the case of many English Corporations from 70 to 100 years have been sanctioned. Therefore, considering the circumstances of Bury, that it does supply the outlying districts, and that those outlying districts contribute nothing towards the rates of Bury, I think that Bury has made out an excellent case for special treatment. Although I complain very much of the treatment of the Corporation of Dublin, I hope that my attitude on this question will secure better treatment for Ireland in the future.
§ MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
I think that the Irish Members are entitled to have some explanation from the Chairman of Ways and Means why Bury is to be treated better than Dublin. The object of my question is to find out why Dublin should be treated badly and Bury generously.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The question of Bury is now before the House, and it has nothing to do with the case of Dublin.
§ MR. CHANCE
Then I return to my original question why Bury should be treated better than Dublin, and unless I obtain some information upon the subject I shall feel it my duty to divide the House.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
I presume that the Standing Order is still in existence, and that the Committee which sat upon this Bill have broken it. Why did they break it, and why should the House, in the face of its having been broken, be called upon to pass this Bill?
§ MR. O'DOHERTY
I believe, and the House believes, that the Standing Order has been broken, as it was in the case of Sheffield. For my own part I see no reason for departing from the Standing Order.
§ MR. COURTNEY
I have no right to address the House again, but I may perhaps be allowed to say a word in explanation. I wish to say that I am 893 entirely in the hands of the House. If it is desired that I should withdraw my Resolution and adopt the suggestion of the President of the Board of Trade I am ready to do so, and will ask leave to withdraw the Motion. [Cries of "No."] I cannot do so without the assent of the House, and if that assent is refused I will certainly divide the House.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 178; Noes 60.—(Div. List, No. 294.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed, without Amendment.