§ Order for Third Reading read.444
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)
said, the only portion of the Bill with which he had reason to find fault was Clause 15. Under that clause the London Vice County Council would have the power to expend £10,000 per year upon any matter which they pleased, without specifying beforehand what it was. From China to Peru, they could select subjects for investigation and inquiry, and spend the money of the ratepayers in pursuing those subjects. As an illustration of the truth of this statement, he would quote an answer he had received from the Vice-Chairman of the London County Council. Asked if under the Bill it would not be possible to organise a special expedition to China or India, Mr. Dickinson replied — "I think we might very reasonably inquire into the Municipal Government of some of their larger cities." Well, if that was to be the ground on which the London County Council were to spend the money of the ratepayers in London, it was time Parliament came to an understanding with the London County Council on the subject. He had always been under the impression that the London County Council was an administrative body created by Parliament for the express purpose of fulfilling certain duties prescribed and limited by Parliament, and spending the money of the public in specific methods and on specific objects; but that did not appear to be the idea of the County Council. He thought it right that the House should now express its opinion as to whether Parliament or the County Council were right in theory. Clause 15 would have the effect of repealing a certain section in the Acts of 1890, 1891, and 1892, under which the County Council possessed the power to spend sums of money amounting to £16,000 on certain specific objects—namely, £15,000 on inquiry into the water supply of London, and £1,000 on inquiry respecting markets. The County Council did not wish to be limited in the subjects to which they could devote this, and they said, practically—"The whole world is a subject for investigation to us; the qualification of Members of Parliament, even, is not beyond our ken, or the relations of different parts of the 445 City one to another, or the relations of one part of the Kingdom to another." Originally the County Council asked for power to spend any sum they chose; but the amount had been limited by the Select Committee. Against that Committee he had nothing to say, except that he did not think it convenient that Members of the London County Council should be upon it. He could not agree to those gentlemen being upon a tribunal sitting to try their own cause. The Committee had had before them a Report from the President of the Local Government Board objecting to the powers asked for by the County Council, and another from the Home Secretary. The Secretary of State, reporting on Clause 15, had said he thought the proposal too wide, and suggested that the inquiries should only extend to subjects coming within the scope of the statutory powers and duties of the London County Council. That was a statesmanlike view of the matter, and that was all that he (Mr. Kimber) asked should be done. The power of spending money ad libitum was one which the House hitherto had not delegated to Public Bodies; and if this Bill were carried in its present form other County Councils throughout the Kingdom would endeavour to obtain similar powers. He thought Clause 15 should be referred back, with instructions that they should either insert words in it suggested by the Secretary of State limiting the subsidy to some of the subjects which were at present under the charge of the County Council by virtue of the Statutes already passed, or specifying other subjects which might be included. He wished to guard himself from imputing unworthy motives to any gentlemen on the London County Council; but he submitted that the powers contained in the Bill were such as had never yet been delegated to any Municipal Body in the country. No doubt £10,000 spread over the ratepayers of the County of London was a small matter; but he held that it would be in the highest degree impolitic to set this example to Provincial Municipalities. He begged to move the Amendment standing in his name.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "now read the third time," in order to add the words "recommitted to the former Committee."—(Mr. Kimber.)446
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'now read the third time' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
was astonished that the hon. Member for Wandsworth had not told the House what was the opinion of the Committee which had sat upon the Bill with regard to Clause 15. Clause 15 was in the Bill, and the County Council had given evidence us to why they wanted power for investigating into matters that they considered of importance. They explained that at the present time the County Council had not power to spend money on small books dealing with public questions in which they were interested. The Committee had gone into the question as to whether the London County Council should be allowed to spend a certain sum of money as they wished, and also as to whether they should require the County Council to draw up a list of subjects of expenditure for them to inquire into. The Committee thought it better to fix upon £10,000 as the sum which the County Council might spend annually, but which they might not exceed. If the House tried to specify the objects on which this money might be spent, it would probably be undertaking a task in which it was doomed to failure. The Chairman of the Committee was the late Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Stuart-Wortley. Eight Members of the Committee were in favour of what the Committee had recommended to the House, and the only objection which was raised was by the hon. Member for Wandsworth; but even he did not challenge a Division. The hon. Member had a right to challenge a Division, but he contented himself with his own protest. The Committee had very carefully considered the matter, and he hoped the House would confirm its decision.
§ *SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)
said, he considered that the power would lead to economy, not extravagance. He should be very much surprised if the London County Council spent the whole of the money which it was now proposed to vote. They did not contemplate doing anything of the kind. It was, of course, impossible to exactly what subject might require 447 investigation, or the expenses of any particular inquiry would amount to. The power was already possessed by other Municipalities, and he was not aware that it had ever been abused. He hoped that the House would support the practically unanimous decision of the Committee.
§ MR. KIMBER
said, that, as the House would have to deal with this question on a future occasion, he did not now propose to take a Division.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.