HC Deb 22 April 1891 vol 352 cc1073-90

, in rising to move certain proposed New Standing Orders relating to Bills introduced by the London County Council, said: I do not think it necessary to enter at any length into the circumstances which have led to the introduction of an annual Money Bill dealing with the finance of London. It is sufficient for me to say that for many years past it has been a duty which has been undertaken by the Government; but there has been a growing dissatisfaction in all quarters of the House with the existing practice, and one which has found expression on more than one occasion. The objection may be stated in a very few words. Hitherto it has been impossible to introduce a Bill at a period of the Session when a proper discussion could take place on the Second Reading, and there is this additional objection, that, so far as the details are concerned, no one in the House could give a satisfactory explanation in Committee, with the result that there has been no real examination at all. It is an entire misapprehension to suppose that the Government have any wish to take upon themselves a controlling influence. Undoubtedly there is a certain amount of responsibility, but the Government do not think that they are under any obligation or duty to assume that responsibility. As a matter of fact, there has never been any real examination as to the amounts inserted in the annual Money Bill, and the present proposal is that the disability which prevents the London County Council from introducing this Bill should be removed. The effect of the proposal is to require that the Bill, so far as the principles involved in it and the general system of finance of the London County Council are concerned, shall be introduced at a time of the day and at a period of the Session when Members, who are desirous of expressing their views, shall have an opportunity of doing so. Like every other Local Body in the country, the London County Council, when promoting a Bill in Parliament, will have power to insert in the Bill the finance that will be necessary for carrying out the purposes of the Bill, and they will go before a Select Committee in the same way as other Municipal Bodies promoting special Bills for special works. With regard to the general Money Bill, the Council will, so far as they are able, produce before a Committee the estimates and such plans and details as are desirable, and in every case the power to raise the money will be conferred by a Committee. So far as that point is concerned, there will be no further supervision on the part of a Government Department. It is possible that in some instances the powers conferred may not be exercised at once, and that it may be desirable to hold them over until a later period, and in that case the Council will be in the same position as the promoters of any other Private Bill. In the event of the money asked for being insufficient the Local Government Board will, as in the case of other Local Authorities, decide by a Provisional Order whether extended, powers shall be conferred. The London County Council are under some apprehension that they may be placed in a difficulty in regard to the money they may require to raise under the sanction of the Local Government Board. I think they very much exaggerate the difficulty, and that it is not likely to arise. So far as the expenditure is paid out of the rates of London, the Local Government Board will have no power whatever; they will only come in when it is proposed to raise money by borrowing. The Council say that it will be inconvenient to come to the Local Government Board constantly in regard to small sums of money which they may desire to spend. Now, I do not think that such a course would be convenient either to them or to the Local Government Board; and, therefore, it is proposed that the Council may put in an estimate three months ahead of the amount they are likely to require; and when the necessity arises, I do not think the slightest impediment will be placed in their way if they desire to borrow money. The finance of a great city such as London is a most important matter. It is more the finance of a province than of a town, and I do not think the House of Commons would willingly part with the power of reviewing the finance of London once, at any rate, in the year. It is further proposed that when the County Council obtain power to raise money for the prosecution of a great work they shall specify in their annual financial statement the amount they propose to raise within the year, although that is not an obligation imposed upon other Local Authorities. But having regard to the obligations and liabilities of a great city such as London, and the amount of money which the Council are required to raise annually, it is quite clear that their annual statement would not be complete unless all the amounts proposed to be raised in the course of the year are fully set out. We do not propose that the Committee to which their Bill shall be referred shall have power to deal with those sums, which may have been already sanctioned by the House of Commons, unless there is a special Instruction from the House itself, and the Council will, therefore, be sufficiently safeguarded in that respect. I may add ' that this alteration of the Standing Orders is a matter which has been fully discussed by the Chairmen of Committees of both Houses, and that it meets with their entire approval.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That all Bills promoted by the London County Council, containing power to raise money, shall be introduced as Public Bills; but after being read a second time by the House shall he referred to a Select Committee to be nominated by the Committee of Selection in like manner as Private Bills; But this Order shall not apply to a Bill promoted by the London County Council for the borrowing of money, which complies with the following conditions:

  1. (1.) If it authorises the borrowing and expenditure for the purposes mentioned in the Bill of the sum shown by the estimates recited in the preamble to be required for each such purpose, that purpose being the execution of a power conferred or extended either by the Bill, or by some public, local, or personal Act;
    • Provided that the Bill may authorise the borrowing and expenditure for any purpose not mentioned in the Bill or for any purpose for which estimates are not recited in the preamble, if it fixes a maximum aggregate sum to be so borrowed, and requires every such borrowing to be sanctioned by the Local Government Board;
  2. 1076
  3. (2.) If it is so framed as not to authorise the borrowing and expenditure of any money after the financial period, that is to say, the period ending on the 30th day of September next after the expiration of the then current financial year of the Council;
  4. (3.) If it is so framed as to provide for the money borrowed being repaid, whether by the creation of a sinking fund, or the redemption of stock, or otherwise, within such period not exceeding sixty years, as the Committee on the Bill, or if the borrowing is sanctioned by the Local Government Board, that Board may consider proper, having regard to the objects for which the money is to be borrowed;
  5. (4.) If in the case of any Bill conferring or extending any power involving the expenditure of money after the financial period, the recited estimates show the total amount of money required for the execution of the power as well as the particular amount to be borrowed and expended during the financial period."—(Mr. Ritchie.)

(12.35.) SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)

I have seen a statement that this Standing Order has been brought forward to-day at the request of the County Council of London. No doubt it was postponed until to-day at the request of the Council, not because they were anxious that it should be brought forward to-day, but simply because it had been fixed for a day on which the Council themselves met. At the present moment they would much prefer that it should be dropped altogether. In rising to move my Amendment I am placed at a considerable disadvantage. If this were an Act of Parliament I could move that the consideration of the matter should be postponed. Again, if this had been the clause of a Bill, it would have been open for me to move Amendments; and if I had been unable to carry such Amendments I should have been able, at the close of the discussion, to move the omission of the clause altogether. So far as the present Motion is concerned, I imagine that I should be out of order in moving that the consideration of these Standing Orders be postponed for this Session, and, therefore, the Council are at this disadvantage: that they are unable to place on the Paper an Amendment which will really carry out the object they have in view. I propose, therefore, to move the omission of the first four lines of Standing Order CXCIV., not that I have any objection to those four lines, but simply as a mode of taking the sense of the House on the subject as a whole. Her Majesty's Government and the House have always objected, and I think reasonably, to any alteration of a Public Act by a Private Act, and still more ought this to be the case when it is a question of alteration by a Standing Order. In the first place, the London County Council will be placed in this difficulty: we are to remain under the Public Act, by which our proceedings are still to be regulated, as far as the other House of Parliament is concerned, but we shall be under the Standing Order as far as the proceedings in this House are concerned. In addition to this, our objections to the Standing Order are two-fold. In the first place, if the obligation to introduce an annual Bill is to be imposed on London, we think it only reasonable to ask the Government to continue to introduce the London County Council Money Hill in the future as they have done in the past. Secondly, we desire to continue our present relations with the Treasury. My right hon. Friend says it is desirable that there should be more control over the finances of the Council than there has been in the past; but I submit that if it is to rest with us "to introduce a Money Bill instead of the Treasury, there will, in point of fact, be less control over Metropolitan finance than it has now. It must not be forgotten that at this moment there is this safeguard: that the Money Bill is fully examined by the officials of the Treasury. My right hon. Friend intimated that the examination by the Treasury is very perfunctory and unsatisfactory. We do not think so. I regret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury are not present; but I do not think if they were that they would refuse to fulfil the duties imposed on them. But, at any rate, it will be certainly done away with by this proposal. Therefore, as far as the London County Council finance is concerned, the introduction of a Money Bill by the Government is a security which these Standing Orders will take away. Of course the question may be asked, Why should the Government introduce a Money Bill for the London County Council when they do not undertake the same duty for other Municipalities? My. right hon. Friend gave the answer himself, because he said that the financial dealings of London are on a much greater scale. That has always been the feeling of the House. Both the Metropolitan Board of Works and the London County Council have been told, "Your financial transactions are on so large a scale that we impose on you obligations which are not imposed on any other Municipality, so that Parliament may have an opportunity of examining your finances annually." Surely, then, that is a reason why the Government themselves should undertake the bringing in of a Bill, because a Private Member, introducing such a Bill, would be under a very great disadvantage. I have the advantage of being assisted by colleagues in the Council who are seated on both sides of the House. But it is possible that hereafter the Chairman and Members of the Council may find their duties of so onerous a nature as to be incompatible with the retention of a seat in this House. I need scarcely say that the Council would be placed at a great disadvantage if they were without representation in this House, and yet were required to bring forward annually a Money Bill. Then, again, there is the question of expense. If the House imposes on us the duty of bringing in a Bill every year, it is obvious' that it must be brought in as a Private Bill. If that is so, I think we ought to be relieved of the payment of fees. The Bill would not be introduced of our own motion, but as a duty imposed on us by Parliament, and we may, therefore, fairly ask to be relieved from the payment of fees. That, however, is a small part of the additional expense which may be thrown on us. Under this Standing Order we shall have imposed on us not only the fees, but the duty of producing witnesses and employing counsel. I know that my right hon. Friend does not wish to impose on us expenditure of that kind, but it certainly will happen that there will occasionally be an Instruction from the House, which will necessitate our doing so. Let me take the case of the Black-wall Tunnel. Liverpool or Manchester when they had once obtained power to make a tunnel would be under no obligation to come to Parliament again. But the London County Council have to come to Parliament every year, and what the result may be it is impossible to foretell. We may have incurred heavy expense, and then Parliament may change its mind. This is no imaginary case. Last year we introduced a Bill dealing with over-head wires; and because we adopted a clause which had been recommended by two Committees of the House the measure was thrown out. Again, with all respect to the Local Government Board, we propose, so far as our finances are concerned, to remain in relation with the Treasury. We believe that it has a favourable influence on the price of our Stock. I do not mean to say that this alteration in the policy of the Government will materially affect the value of Metropolitan Stock; but, at the same time, I think there is some advantage in the knowledge the public possess, that our Money Bills are examined and introduced by the Treasury. That is an advantage which will be taken away from us by the acceptance of this Standing Order. We think that if time were given we should be able to come to satisfactory terms with Her Majesty's Government. The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman deals with a number of very intricate questions, and surely it is not unreasonable that we should ask for a little more time for consideration. The Standing Order says— " Provided that the Bill may authorise the borrowing and expenditure for any purpose not mentioned in the Bill or for any purpose for which estimates are not recited in the preamble, if it fixes a maximum aggregate sum to be so borrowed, and requires every such borrowing to be sanctioned by the Local Government Board. I have no doubt that this is capable of explanation; but, at the first blush, it is not easy to understand. Standing Order CXCIV. (b) says— A Bill complying with the conditions specified in Standing Order CXCIV., if it contains no powers or provisions except in relation to the borrowing and expenditure of money for specific and general purposes and consequential thereupon, or in relation to the Consolidated Loans Fund or to borrowing by the council, shall be subject to the following requirement, that is to say:—

  • The petition for the Bill, with the declaration and printed copy of the Bill annexed, shall be deposited in the Private Bill Office on or before the 14th day of April, or the first day on which the House shall re-assemble after the Easter Recess, whichever shall be the later, instead of the 21st day of December in the previous year."
That, of course, is impossible this year, seeing that we have already reached the 22nd of April. There is a considerable difference of opinion among my colleagues and those who are best able to judge as to what the Local Government Board would feel to be their duty under this Standing Order. The matter was brought before the Council last week; and a resolution was unanimously passed, not only with the support of Lord Lingen, Sir Thomas Farrar, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras (Mr. H. Lawson), and others of great experience, but also with the support of the Conservative members of the Council, asking the Government to give further time for the consideration of the question, so that a satisfactory solution may, if possible, be arrived at. What, let me ask, would be the practical inconvenience of allowing matters to remain as they are for another year? My right hon. Friend has made no complaint of the finance of the London County Council. It can easily be shown that they are even more strict in regard to borrowing and the payment of loans than their predecessors, and I hope they will continue to be so. No complaint, however, is made, and no inconvenience has been alleged to result from the present system. The right hon. Gentleman says that this change has been pressed on him by hon. Members in this House. Where are they? Where is my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), who is said to be strongly in favour of the change? I cannot think that he would have been absent if he felt so strongly in the matter. For my own part, I think the Government would meet the views of the House generally if they would consent to postpone the matter for another year. I appeal to my right hon. Friend not to resist so unanimous, and I must add so reasonable, a request on behalf of the London County Council. I beg to move the omission of the first four lines of the Standing Order.


The right hon. Gentleman has referred to a representation which he made to me in regard to the Amendment he desired to move. I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that he could not move the postponement of the consideration of the Standing Order because I had ruled that such a course would be out of order. What I pointed out was that an Amendment to omit the first four lines of the Standing Order would be sufficient, and that an issue might be fairly raised upon such an Amendment, whereas a Motion for Adjournment must confine the Debate to the Question of Adjournment. I did not mean to say that the postponement of the consideration of the Standing Order could not be moved, or that at any time the Motion could not be made for the Adjournment of the Debate.


What I understood you to say, Sir, was that if I moved the Adjournment of the Debate, I should only be able to give reasons in support of that Motion, without being able to enter into the merits of the question.


That was so.


Then I will move to omit the first four lines.

(12.57.) MR. H. LAWSON (St. Pancras, W.)

I am sorry to find that the right hon. Gentleman opposite has not been able to come to some arrangement with a man so eminently reasonable as my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of London (Sir J. Lubbock). The Standing Order now before the House is merely a measure for the aggrandisement of the Local Government Board. It gives to the right hon. Gentleman the power of going into an area of Local Government which has hitherto been beyond his control. We all know that he is a man of conspicuous ability, and that he has administered his Department most admirably; but I do not think he can have considered the immense amount of labour which would be forced upon him and the Department by the new arrangement he proposes to make. He says it is not intended that the Local Government Board should go minutely into every item of expenditure; but the Standing Order provides that the Board is to make a Report to a Committee which is to sit upstairs to examine every Bill, and what will that Report be worth if the right hon. Gentleman does not go into these matters one by one? I fancy that the right hon. Gentleman will find that it will be necessary to have a good many interviews with the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the London County Council and the Chairman of the Finance Committee—probably many more than he contemplates. If the supervision of the Local Government Board is to be a reality, it will be as necessary to go into all the items of expenditure as is now the case in regard to the proposals of provincial towns. There is another curious point in connection with this new Standing Order which, I think, shows that sufficient consideration has not been bestowed upon it. The right hon. Gentleman asks the London County Council to do what at present no locality has power to do, namely, to introduce a Bill under a Standing Order. I believe that it is necessary that every Bill introduced by the County Council should show a clause for the improvement of the Metropolis, and therefore this is necessary, under statutory provisions, before it can go to a Committee upstairs. As the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ritchie) very well knows, in the Debate on the Local Government Bill of 1888, he refused to give any general power of promoting or introducing Bills to the London County Council, or to any other County Council. I should like him, therefore, to explain how he proposes that the London County Council shall get out of the difficulty of being forced to introduce a Bill the expenses of which they have no power to defray. He says the question of fees is unimportant. I do not know whether he is aware that one provision in this Standing Order is likely to inflict upon us very large expenses by way of fees in both Houses. The Bills are only to authorise work for 12 months, and the agent says that the Council will be liable for the payment of House fees in both Houses, and that in this respect it will be placed at a disadvantage as compared with Municipal Corporations. It seems to me an unfair thing to force this expenditure on the Council at a time when the ratepayers are labouring under such heavy burdens. It is also rather a strange thing to vary a Public Act, approved by both Houses, by a Standing Order in the way now proposed. The right hon. Gentleman says the Government will be relieved from the responsibility of defending measures in the drafting of which they have had no hand. The right hon. Gentleman knows that every Bill introduced by the London County Council has been the subject of public discussion in this House. I should like to ask whether it will fall on the Financial Secretary to have to defend the Council's Money Bills in the absence of members of the Council, or will the right hon. Gentleman have to do so?


Certainly not.


Then I should like to know who will defend the Bills under such circumstances. The details are likely to be just as much discussed whether the Bills are introduced as private or as public measures. The London County Council are quite willing to be placed on an equality with the Corporations of towns; but the right hon. Gentleman proposes nothing of the kind, as that would involve the abolition of a Money Bill altogether. The right hon. Gentleman says the circumstances are vitally different. I say that, as we are forced to present our Budget to Parliament, it should not be made additionally expensive by forcing us to defend our proposals year by year against, say, the City Corporation or other Local Bodies.

(1.4.) MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

I am very much surprised that no Member representing the Treasury should have been present to take part in this Debate. There can be no doubt that the few words thrown out by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) were in some degree a hint that the Treasury had performed its duties in what must be styled a perfunctory manner. I would very strongly urge upon the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board and the Government the postponement of this question for a little time longer. The County Council has unanimously expressed that view; and when it is remembered that there are in the County Council Members who sit on that side of the House, as well as on this side, I think it is a matter of importance that the Representatives of what the right hon. Gentleman has himself called a province rather than a city should have some attention paid to their views. This question has been a very short time before the London County Council and before the Members of this House. The Amendments proposed by the Local Government Board are of a highly technical character, and it is impossible for anyone who is not versed in the technicalities of Standing Orders relating to Money Bills to understand their meaning. I would most strongly urge the Government to let this matter stand over till next year. No very serious difficulty is likely to arise in the meantime. There is no matter of great conflict respecting the borrowing powers of the London County Council or the-expenditure of borrowed money, and if the question is postponed no one will suffer. If the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman are pushed to a Division today, a number of Members will come in when the Division bells ring and vote as the Whips tell them, without hearing the arguments we bring forward. This is one of the, perhaps, necessary misfortunes of considering a question of this kind at the time of Private Business. The County Council is not unwilling to-have this matter considered, and desires-that its borrowing proposals should be well ventilated in this House and before-any Committee of this House. If there is any alteration of procedure which would secure the more efficient examination of the proposals of the Council, we are perfectly prepared to give our support to the carrying out of such a change. But it will be observed that in the changes proposed by the right hon. Gentleman there are not only alterations with respect to the power of consideration by this House of the borrowing-powers of the London County Council, but there are also very considerable changes in the manner in which those borrowing powers are to be considered departmentally. It is proposed to substitute a minute control of details for a control of general amounts. There will be such an inquiry by the Local Government Board as will amount to the placing of the judgment of the Local. Government Board in respect of the details of the sums borrowed between the County Council and the ratepayers.


I say that that is the case with regard to every Corporation in the Kingdom.


Yes; but the right hon. Gentleman is ignoring the fact that we have to come annually before the House of Commons in this matter, whilst the other Local Authorities have not; and he is also ignoring the fact that he drew this distinction himself between London and the rest of the country, that London is a province and the Representatives of London in the County Council may be safely trusted to look after details in the interests of the ratepayers. If the right hon. Gentleman founds his argument on this, that he wishes to treat the London County Council precisely in the same manner as Municipal Bodies in the country, let him give the London County Council the powers they are entitled to. We have over and over again protested that we have not got the powers which the smallest Urban Sanitary Authority possesses. As to the supervision of the Local Government Board, I want to know what more supervision they want than they have at present. They can have a complete audit of our accounts, and it is in the power of their Auditor to bring under the notice of the Local Government Board that items have been erroneously charged to capital which ought to have been put in the annual accounts. They have, in fact, as complete a supervision as can be required over the dealings of the County Council with its borrowed money. I can see nothing in the right hon. Gentleman's present proposals which is for the advantage of the public, or of the ratepayers, or of the County Council. It seems to me that if these proposals are adopted the hands of the County Council will be fettered, its responsibility will be diminished, and its good action probably interfered with, whilst the Local Government Board will be overloaded with a multitude of details over which it can exercise no supervision. Does the right hon. Gentleman know that last year there were over 200 cases of borrowing in the County Council for different purposes, besides various cases of relending? These are things which the County Council is the fittest body to consider; and if the Local Government Board have to consider them, it will mean getting a new staff of officers, who will be irresponsible to the ratepayers of London. This is a concession to I know not whom. The right hon. Gentleman says it has been represented that more supervision is needed over the borrowing powers of the County Council—


No; what I said was that it was the opinion in many quarters of the House that the mode in which the London Finance Bill was introduced and the general arrangements with regard to London finance did not carry with them a fitting opportunity for review or proper criticism.


If those views have been expressed, all I say is that the London County Council has no objection to the criticism, but that a series of Standing Orders embodying such vital changes as those proffered to-day by the right hon. Gentleman go far beyond the necessities of the case, and introduce entanglements and difficulties which we have endeavoured to some extent to expose, but which it would require a minute examination in Committee to bring out to the full extent. In view of the immense importance of the case, I beg the right hon. Gentleman not to force the House to vote in ignorance on this matter, but to postpone the whole subject until next year.

(1.21.) MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London has approached this question in anything but a combative spirit. He recognised the many difficulties involved in it and the necessity to some extent of taking action, and he gave expression also to the vague feeling of distrust felt, I think, by many of his colleagues on the London County Council with respect to the proposed change. He pleaded for some more time for the consideration of the changes that are about to be made. I think he was ready to submit to the House the question whether any change at all was desirable. The Metropolitan Board of Works and the London County Council had, in his opinion, gone on very satisfactorily with the Treasury in charge of their Money Bills. I do not know what the present Members of the Treasury may say. I was in the Department for some time myself, and I know that then the feeling of the officials and the persons responsible there was one of extreme dislike to the labours thrown upon them in connection with London finance. We were made responsible, after a very unsatisfactory examination, for the conduct of the Bills in this House. It was always felt, therefore, that some change should be made, and 1 certainly approve the proposed transfer of the Bills of the Council, referring to the raising of particular sums of money for particular works, from the Treasury to the Local Government Board. Such questions- come rather within the province of the Local Government Board than within that of the Treasury, and the Local Government Board are better able to deal with them. I do not think there is any force in the objection that the stability of Metropolitan Stock will be affected by the change. The right hon. Gentleman then urged that if these proposals were carried, Bills of the London County Council would cease to be Government Bills, but I think there is not much force in this objection. The fact is that the Government Bill is an anomaly. No other municipality in the country has its Bills brought in by the Government, and it is certainly anomalous that the Government should be in any way responsible for the Bills promoted by the London County Council. It may be said that there may be times when the London County Council may not be represented in this House, and when its chairman may not be a Member. I think it extremely improbable that it will ever be the case that no responsible member of the London County Council will be a Member of this House. But, after all, the same thing would apply to Liverpool and Manchester, the different divisions of which are always represented in this House.


May I point out that no obligation is imposed on Liverpool and Manchester to introduce an annual Bill.


Well, it is urged that the annual introduction of their Bill to Parliament will subject the; Council to a responsibility and an inconvenience which are not imposed on other County Councils, and that in other cases the Councils have the control of works undertaken by them, after those works are once authorised, whereas opportunity would be annually given to Members of this House to raise the whole question of such works again and again. But it must be borne in mind on this point that an express Instruction must be obtained from the House before such a course can be taken, and I think it extremely improbable that such an Instruction will be granted. Then we come to the question—no doubt a grave question—that at present the London County Council is almost unanimously against going on with these proposals. I do not think it would be very easy for the Government to make any considerable change against the unanimous wish of the County Council. It must be remembered that the County Council is a new body, taking over the functions of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The London County Council has been regarded in certain quarters with a vague jealousy that has been returned by the County Council, which, because new, is perhaps a little super-sensitive to criticism. With the view to that body giving further consideration to the proposal, I propose a postponement, but I do not regard as reasonable the demand for a postponement of 12 months, and I suggest that a postponement of six weeks or two months may serve to bring both the Government and the County Council to an agreement in an amicable way.

(1.35.) MR. RITCHIE

The views of the Chairman of Ways and Means are always entitled to receive careful consideration. I am sorry that the County Council has taken up such a position with reference to this question, and I do not think that there is any real ground for some of the arguments which have been used by several of the previous speakers. I have taken the greatest trouble to reconcile the conflicting views of certain officials of the London County Council and the views entertained by Her Majesty's Government. When this Standing Order was put on the Paper it was placed there by me in the belief that it had received the sanction and approval of those official members of the London County Council with whom I had been in personal communication. In those circumstances I believed that the proposed Standing Order met the views of those gentlemen. I cannot concur with the Chairman of Ways and Means in what I believe will be the result of postponement, because I think it is evident that the views expressed with reference to this matter are not so much a question of degree as of principle. The views expressed by Members of the London County Council are against any change whatever, and it is not seen why the annual Bill should not be taken charge of by the Government. That is a responsibility, however, which the Government decline to take. We will not undertake to fulfil a duty which it is not possible for us adequately to discharge, and whatever may be the result, supposing a postponement be agreed to, the London County Council must understand that the Government cannot be responsible for bringing forward or for defending proposals of this nature, any more than they can assent to attend to the finances of Birmingham, Liverpool, and other large cities. I can quote from a Treasury Minute to show that their function is not close criticism of financial proposals, but only to secure that the House of Commons has possession of full information about the financial position. Hon. Members appear to think that because the members of the London County Council are elected on a liberal franchise they ought to be placed above criticism in the matter of finance. It is also said that the ratepayers are the persons who have to express their views on the point, and that there is no reason why the Local Government Board should come between them. But the Local Government Board comes between the elective body and their finance in every other town in the Kingdom. It is not the ratepayers of the present time that require to be guarded; it is the ratepayers of the future that require to be protected. The ratepayers of the present day are not perhaps the best tribunal to decide as to how much of the cost of works should be borne by the present body of ratepayers and how much by the future; and this is one of the main reasons why close criticism is insisted upon by the House of Commons. The course which the Government propose to pursue is to postpone the further consideration of this matter. I will not at present pretend to fix a day for the resumption of the discussion, but I propose to put it down for an early day in the hope that we may be able to fix some reasonable date on which the question may be again taken up and a decision come to. I move the adjournment of the Debate.

(1.40.) EARL COMPTON (York, W.R., Barnsley)

On behalf of the London County Council, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for suggesting the postponement of this Debate. I do not agree with the Chairman of Committees that the London County Council is unduly susceptible; on the contrary, they are not averse to any changes, but they have only had a short time to consider the present proposal, and they have good reasons for objecting to the form of that proposal.

(1.43.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH, Strand, Westminster)

The best possible course to take under the circumstances will be that both the Amendment and the Motion itself should be withdrawn; the consideration of the Standing Orders could then be put down for a future day. It will be all the more convenient if the House is able to consider the question in the light of the present Debate, but if it were merely an adjournment of the Debate the right hon. Gentlemen the President of the County Council and the President of the Local Government Board would not be able to speak. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.


I am quite ready to withdraw my Amendment, and accept the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman.


The Amendment has not been put, and therefore the House is in no difficulty about its withdrawal.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.