§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. J. STUART
(continuing) said, the Standing Order to which his Amendment referred was introduced after considerable correspondence between the parties concerned respecting the Bills for the borrowing of money of the London County Council. It was understood by the London County Council, and intended by the then President of the Local Government Board, that the Standing Order should only apply to such Bills. On the 29th May, 1891, the date of the Standing Order—or before the introduction of the Standing Order —a draft of it was conveyed to the London County Council by Mr. Ritchie, who wrote to say that it would be understood that the proposed Standing Order would not affect in any way whatever the authority which the County Council possessed to execute any works within their statutory powers, the cost of which would be defrayed out of the rates. It was only in respect of works constructed out of borrowed money, the cost of which would fall upon future ratepayers that it would apply. Though that might have been the understanding, the effect was different. The first words of the Standing Order was—All Bills promoted by the London County Council containing power to raise money shall be introduced as Public Bills.And then followed certain exceptions with respect to these Bills which affected the borrowing of money. It had been understood, until quite recently, on account of the letter of the President of the Local Government Board, that the raising of money there was intended to 939 refer to the raising of it by means of borrowing; but, as Mr. Speaker, in the earlier part of the Session, in a remarkably lucid ruling, ruled, and as the plain sense of the words indicated, the Standing Order was a prohibition, and prevented the London County Council from introducing a Bill of any kind for the raising of money as a Private Bill. That being so, what he begged to contend was this—that in the change then introduced by the Standing Order the County Council was deprived of a power which its predecessor, the Metropolitan Board of Works, had possessed for 35 years; and, in the second place, that the County Council was placed in a different position by the Standing Order from that in which other Municipal Bodies were placed, because, as ho had submitted to the House at the time the Standing Order was passed, there were many instances in which Bills affecting the distribution of rating and the raising of money had been brought in by Municipal Bodies and actually passed into law which the London County Council was prohibited by the Standing Order from bringing in. If the Standing Order were altered as he proposed, it would read thus—All Bills promoted by the London County Council containing powers to raise money by the creation of stock or on loan shall be introduced as Private Bills.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 2, after the words "raise money," to insert the words "by the creation of stock or on loan."—(Mr. J. Stuart.)
§ *MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)
said, his Friend, in moving his Amendment, said he did so on behalf of the London County Council, whom he described as being dissatisfied with the existing order of things. No doubt the County Council had expressed itself in favour of altering the Standing Order; but his hon. Friend would recollect that their decision was by no means unanimous. It was strongly opposed, and the result at which it arrived was only arrived at after a Division. But however that might be, he (Mr. Cohen) had risen to oppose the present proposal in no spirit of hostility to the County Council. He had had the honour to be a member of the Council since the first days of its institution—longer, he thought, than his hon. Friend—and he should be the last per- 940 son to do anything which he thought prejudicial to its interests or reputation. He recollected in the Debate in that House on the Thames Conservancy the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local. Government Board cast some reproaches not very relevant, as it seemed to him at the time, and certainly unjust as regarded himself, against those who he said were hostile to, and were constantly attacking, the Council. In his (Mr. Cohen's) belief, such a Motion as that of his hon. Friend was calculated to give ground for—perhaps to produce—these attacks from those who might be unfriendly to the Council; and he thought, in opposing the alteration, ho was doing what he could to disarm such attacks, and to sustain, and even to enhance, the reputation of the London County Council. Let the House consider only for one moment the effect of his hon. Friend's Motion. The Standing Order, as it now stood, prohibited the Council from raising money by Private Bill, except by borrowing, through the creation of stock or otherwise. His hon. Friend's Motion would forbid what was now permitted, and would permit what was now forbidden. He did not want to prevent the Council from doing what it could now do, and he did not want it to be able to do what was now forbidden. Ho thought the House would see that the Standing Order as it now stood was justified by equity as well as by practice. It was right in practice that the Council should be empowered by Private Bill to create stock subject to present conditions as to Government sanction, and in conformity with the existing provisions as to Schedule, because the means were simple, and the method certainly, as far as regarded the Council with its £30,000,000 of debt, could not be said to be novel. But to enable the Council to raise money by Private Bill, through any moans other than by borrowing, by means of the creation of stock or otherwise, appeared to him wrong in equity and not justifiable by practice. The hon. Member had said this power was vested in other Municipalities. But surely he must recognise the difference between London and other Municipalities. They scarcely resembled each other in any respect at all, while in all matters that governed the subject now before the 941 House they were diametrically different. For his hon. Friend's illustration to be in point ho should have cited counties, and not Municipalities which consisted of small wards or parishes all homogeneous, and whose various interests were not only similar, but probably also identical. Could this be said of London? It was quite conceivable—it was even probable—that the interests of Kilburn might conflict, say, with those of the Borough, and that Hackney might know nothing and care nothing about the wants of Battersea; and if, as was doubtless intended, and as they knew was attempted, it was sought to alter the incidence of taxation and to change the system of levying the rates, those were great questions of public policy which did not arise in small Provincial towns, which affected the interests in different ways of the various divisions of the County of Loudon, containing a population of 5,000,000 people, and which ought to be debated and decided in public Debate on the floor of the House. The hon. Gentleman had referred to what he considered was the intention of Mr. Ritchie at the time the Standing Order was framed. Ho regretted his right hon. Friend was not here to explain for himself his intention, but he hoped they would hear on this subject his hon. Friend the late Secretary to the Local Government Board. He submitted the interpretation put on the Standing Order by Mr. Speaker was the only one that the words of that Order admitted of; and he submitted, further, that the intention of its framers must be taken to be that which was the natural, and, indeed, the only meaning which attached to their words. The Loudon County Council did not in 1891 make any attempt to introduce by Private Bill an Improvement Rate. If they had done so he ventured to say neither his hon. Friend nor anyone else would have been left in doubt as to what would have been ou such procedure the opinion of the late President of the Local Government Board, who, he was convinced, never contemplated for one moment the introduction by Private Bill of such legislation as would be possible were the House to accept the Motion now before it. He apologised to the House for having detained it. He would conclude by saying that he wished in no sense to be understood as arguing against an Improve- 942 ment Rate or a Betterment Rate in principle. Those important questions were not now before them. His object only was to guard the Council from acquiring a reputation of trying by clandestine and side methods to pass legislation which involved great questions of more than municipal, even of national, policy. He believed that such a procedure as his hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch contemplated was not likely to enhance the reputation of the Loudon County Council, which was as precious to him (Mr. Cohen) as it was to his hon. Friend. Under these circumstances, he thought it would be in the interest of the Loudon County Council and of the authority of the House that the Motion should be rejected by an emphatic and decided majority.
MR. PICKERS GILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
observed, that the opposition of the London County Council to the Standing Order did not originate when the Owners' Improvement Rate Bill was thrown out this year. On the contrary, the Council was opposed to the Standing Order in 1891, and he had a most distinct recollection of a very strong speech made in opposition to it by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Loudon University (Sir J. Lubbock). The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cohen) said it was right and equitable to impose restrictions on the Loudon County Council in this matter. But why should a restriction he imposed on the London County Council from which other Local Bodies were free? It seemed to him that the argument which the hon. Member had founded upon equity must go by the board when it was remembered that this was a special restriction imposed upon the London County Council. No doubt London was technically a county; but it had far more in common with the great cities of the country than with the counties. The hon. Member (Mr. Cohen) insinuated that the former power of the Loudon County Council on this subject was withdrawn because it had been abused. That was a most unjust insinuation to make against the London County Council. In the discussions that took place in reference to the change in the Standing Order in 1891, the point now raised was never debated at all, the discussion being limited to the right to raise money by 943 loan. The Loudon County Council was really placed in a great difficulty by the provisions of the Standing Order. If the Council introduced a Private Bill authorising them to levy a rate, they were told that they could only proceed by means of a Public Bill. If they introduced the Bill as a public measure they were referred to Standing Order No. 1. The hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. Cohen) seemed to think that if the Standing Order were amended in the way suggested, the House would be depriving itself of all control over the Bills of the London County Council, and of all opportunity of discussing their projects. That was not the case. All the Council desired the House to do now was to settle the question of order, and to enable them to introduce Bills of the kind referred to—the question of merits would be reserved for the decision of the House. If the Council ever introduced a Private Bill of too large a character, the House could, of course, throw it out. He did not think there was any machinery in the world that was more adapted for threshing out a difficult question than a Committee of the House of Commons, to which, in the ordinary course, a Private Bill would be referred. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cohen) said the Council was proposing to introduce a Bill by clandestine moans. It would be for the House to judge whether a description of that kind could be properly applied to such an Amendment of the Standing Order as was now proposed. He trusted that the Motion would be carried.
§ MR. R. G. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
said that, although he was not a member of the London County Council, he had some personal knowledge of the system of Local Government in London in the past, and especially in regard to the finances of the Metropolis. He wished to know why the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. J. Stuart) should, at the end of a somewhat weary Session, bring forward a Motion of this kind, and in consequence keep the House from the discussion of the important Bill that was now before it?
§ Mr. J. STUART
The hon. Gentleman asks me a question, and I will answer it. It is because before the beginning of November we have to introduce our Bills, and it is desirable 944 that we should know the circumstances under which we are to introduce them.
§ MR. R. G. WEBSTER
went on to say that it was not the case that under the old system the Metropolitan Board of Works had the powers now asked for by the London County Council. Not only on all questions of loans, but in respect of all additional expenditure, the Metropolitan Board of Works had to come to the House of Commons; and it was his duty, he believed, on three occasions, to defend Money Bills introduced into the House by a Member of the Government on behalf of the Board. The London County Council at the present time had an increasing expenditure. That expenditure now amounted to £2,000,000, which was a very heavy burden on the ratepayers of the Metropolis; and if, by means of the procedure of the House, some slight check could be placed on the expenditure, ho should not regret it. At present the whole Budget of the London County Council was brought before the House every year, but under the proposed system the money proposals of the Council would be sent up to a Committee, and the House would have no knowledge of the facts. He thought it was necessary for those Conservative Members who wished to do their best to guard the interests of overburdened middle-class ratepayers from the effects of the fads of the London County Council to vote against the Motion.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. Fowler,) Wolverhampton, E.
The speech delivered by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down discloses, to my mind, a grave misapprehension of all the facts of the case, with regard both to the position of the London County Council and the position of Parliament. I must, therefore, recall the attention of the House to what is the position of the Council and of the House, and to show what would be the extent of the operation now proposed by my hon. Friend. Two or three years after the constitution of the Metropolitan Board of Works, it became the practice of the Treasury to bring in what was called the "Money Bill" of that Body. This was practically a Government Bill, and had all the facilities of a Government Bill in passing through the House. By means 945 of that Bill, no doubt, the House controlled the borrowing powers of the Metropolitan Board. A now state of things supervened when the London County Council was established; and several Members—I myself among the number—strongly protested against the Loudon County Council being placed in a different position from all the different Municipalities of the Kingdom, by having its Money Bills brought in on the responsibility and under the care of the Government of the day, without being subjected to the checks which were applied to the Bills of other Local Authorities. Mr. Ritchie gave the matter consideration; and in 1890, and I think again in 1891, he gave a pledge to the House that this most unsatisfactory state of things should be terminated; that the Government should be relieved of the responsibility of dealing with London finance; and that the Council should introduce their own proposals into Parliament as other Municipalities did. The Standing Order was arranged, I think, in the Session of 1891, under the supervision of Mr. Ritchie and the representatives of the London County Council, and with the assistance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney), then the Chairman of Committees. It was intended to meet—and it really seems to me it did meet—all the facts of the case. It provides that all Bills introduced by the London County Council for money purposes should be introduced as Public Bills, unless they complied with certain conditions, but that Bills authorising the borrowing of money and complying with those conditions should be introduced as Private Bills. This year the Loudon County Council introduced a Bill for the purpose of authorising the raising of a new rate. You, Mr. Speaker, held that the words "containing power to raise money" were not confined to raising money by borrowing, but extended to raising money by levying rates; and, if I may venture to say so, you, no doubt, most accurately ruled that under the Standing Order the Bill must be introduced as a Public Bill. It is not too much to say that in the present state of Public Business, or in any conceivable state of Public Business in this century, or in this decade of the century, it is useless to empower the Loudon County Council to introduce 946 Money Bills as Public Bills. They must either be Government Bills or Private Bills to have any chance of passing. All that is now asked is that the Standing Order should not be restricted to Bills authorising the borrowing of money by means of stocks and loans, but that the London County Council should be enabled to introduce a Rating Bill as a Private Bill. The hon. Member opposite says that, in that case, the House will have no control. The House will have a great deal of control. All Private Bills must be read here a second time; and if a novel principle is introduced into such a Bill, its opponents will have a better chance against it, because they will have this early period of the Sitting in which to bring forward their views. Certainly, we have this Session had enough experience of reviewing the action of the London County Council on Private Bills. After a Private Bill has gone before a Committee it is brought before the House on the Report stage, and again on the Third Reading. I can see no possible disadvantage that will accrue to London on the one hand and to the House on the other from the adoption of the course proposed. I absolutely repudiate the doctrine of the hon. Member that we in this House are to review the current expenditure of the London County Council. If so, why should we not do the same with regard to the Birmingham, or the Manchester, or the Liverpool Town Councils? The doctrine I venture to submit to the House is that the London County Council should have the same powers as, and neither more nor less than, other Municipal Councils. It should not be kept in leading strings, but should be put on the same footing and have the same powers as Glasgow, Manchester, and Liverpool. One of those powers is that of coining to the House by means of a Private Bill, in order to obtain powers to deal with the rates. The object of the Standing Order is to put Loudon on the same footing as other Municipalities, and so far as the Government are concerned they have no objection to offer to that. But I should strongly object to any change from the Local Government Board to the Treasury. On the broad principle that I wish London to be exactly where all other Municipalities are; and under the control of the same Government Department as Man- 947 Chester and Liverpool, I am prepared to extend to it the Standing Order which applied to all Provincial towns. I know nothing of the circumstances under which the Standing Order was originally introduced; but I have no doubt that Mr. Ritchie intended to do what was wise and just, and if that intention was not carried out it is only fair that the mistake should be remedied by the House. The question of the application of this special restriction to London is an open one, which the House may well decide, without in any way parting with any of the powers it now possesses of complete control over Private Bill legislation.
§ MR. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
said, he was glad to recognise that there was no sharp disagreement between the two sides of the House upon that question. The President of the Local Government Board had based his support of the Motion of the hon. Member for Hoxton on the ground that he desired to put the London County Council on an equal footing with other Municipalities. But he would not secure that end by merely supporting the Amendment. It might possibly reduce the inequality, but it would by no means place London on all-fours with Provincial Corporations; and if once the House began to discuss that argument he believed they would soon be found to be in sharp disagreement. The description given by the right hon. Gentleman of the proposed change was, no doubt, absolutely correct; but the alteration was a serious one, and he could not help regretting the absence of the Chairman of Committees, whose guidance on these occasions was always received with respect and gratitude. They knew that the progress of a Private Bill through the House was much more simple and easy than that of a Public Bill, and that would account for the desire of the London County Council to effect this change. It was not for him, however, to suggest that it was an undesirable one to make; and, under the circumstances, he thought his hon. Friends might be content with having fairly and clearly stated their case, and not press their opposition to a Division.
§ Question put, and agreed to.