§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. SHAW-LEFEVRE,) Bradford, Central
I have to ask leave to bring in a Bill to make better provision for the equalisation of rates as between different parts of London. This measure, I may explain, is the same measure which was introduced last Session by my right hon. Friend now Secretary of State for India. The Bill of last Session was introduced with a short statement on the understanding that anything like a general discussion should be deferred till the Second Reading, a stage which was not reached not because of any opposition on the part of hon. Members, but simply for want of time. On this occasion I propose to defer any general statement to the Second Reading, and the Government will endeavour to put down the Second Reading for as' early a day as possible. We have every desire for the fullest discussion, for we regard the measure as one of great importance, and will endeavour at the earliest possible moment to carry it into law.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That Leave be given to bring in a Bill to make better provision for the Equalisation of Rates as between different parts of London."— (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre.)
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, he thought the House was entitled to hear something more concerning this measure. The right hon. Gentleman told them it was exactly the same Bill as was introduced last year, but that Bill was not discussed, and it would only have been 908 courteous to the House to at least have stated the general line on which it was framed. They were certainly all agreed that there should be some re-arrangement of the system of local taxation in Loudon; but it was a peculiar thing to bring in a measure of this great importance, which affected a larger population than did the Home Rule Bill, without a single word of explanation. The Bill raised many questions which no doubt were more or less matters of detail and would be better discussed when the Bill had been printed, but the general question involved that of the rearrangement of the whole system of Metropolitan taxation, and was so important that he thought London had not been treated with due respect by the introduction of the Bill without a word of explanation from the Minister in charge. They ought to have some general idea of the Bill before they read it a first time. Although they desired that the burdens of local taxation should fall more lightly upon the poorer districts, they realised that a re-arrangement would have to be made with great care or else the general burden might be made more heavy in the future than it had been in the past. What had to be guarded against was the danger that drawing from a common fund would lead to extravagance, which would ultimately increase the burden of the rates even in the poorer districts. He had the honour to represent in that House a district in which there had been extremely careful administration of local funds and in which the average expenditure was lower than in other poor districts. Probably this Bill would at first have the effect of reducing the rates even in that district, but he feared that ultimately the system of drawing upon a general fund would produce higher expenditure and greater extravagance with consequently increased burdens on the unfortunate ratepayers that he therefore held that they ought to be informed what safeguards were provided in the Bill against these evils.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
No doubt there are a great many questions in this Bill which constitute proper matter for discussion. But the other day, when the question of First Reading was mentioned, I ventured to make an appeal to the House, which I understood to be 909 favourably responded to from both sides of the House, and it was that there should be no discussion on the First Readings of Bills. It is almost unknown to have anything in the nature of a First Reading discussion on the introduction of private Members' Bills, and until very recent times it was extremely unusual to raise discussion on the First Reading of Government Bills that were not in the proper sense of the term highly controversial, like the Home Rule Bill and the Bill for the repeal of the Corn Laws. Bills of the character now proposed it has not been the custom to discuss on the First Reading. The House has suffered greatly from want of time to transact its business, and to make a practice of discussing Bills on their introduction will have a prejudicial effect. I am not speaking merely in the interests of this Government, for it is equally in the interests of both sides of the House and of any Government that Bills of this character should be laid on the Table without discussion and that debate should he deferred to the Second Reading. In the interests of the business of the House and of all parties who might be responsible for legislation, I venture to appeal to the House not to discuss at this stage a Bill on which they are not fundamentally divided.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
I will so far respond to the appeal which the right hon. Gentleman has just made as to refrain myself from discussing the Bill at this stage. It is true the Bill was introduced last year and that there was some little discussion upon it, hut I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that we have practically abolished discussion on two stages of Bills—on going into Committee and on the Report stage. Therefore, we can scarcely be hound by the procedure in the past when discussion on these stages was allowed, I agree generally with what the right hon. Gentleman has stated, but I make this reservation. There were good reasons last year for discussing Bills on the Motion for first Reading, because it was evident that those Bills were introduced mainly to show the intentions and indicate the programme of the Government, and because there was no prospect of the Bills reaching the Second Reading stage. Therefore, the First Reading was the only 910 opportunity the Opposition had of showing what was their attitude towards the measures of the Government. This is a new Session, and, without being authorised to say so, I venture to think that, if more Bills are introduced without a prospect of their being brought to the Second Reading, it will be the duty of the Opposition to discuss them on the First Reading. In this case I do not wish to prolong the discussion upon the Bill itself. I only desire to enter this caveat as regards the general principle laid down by the right hon. Gentleman. I have no wish to assume an unfriendly attitude on the present occasion.
§ MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)
said, he wished earnestly to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill to allow some considerable and sufficient interval between the First and Second Reading to enable the Local Authorities of London to consider and express their opinions on the Government proposal. Although there was some little discussion on the measure last: year, it was understood that, in consequence of the pressure of highly controversial business, there was a great likelihood that the Bill would be dropped after the Second Reading, and therefore it did not receive the consideration it required. The right hon. Gentleman might rely on the cooperation of hon. Members in passing the Bill into law, but he must bear in mind that the practical merit of the measure depended on its details, which were necessarily of a complex nature, and it was therefore desirable that the Local Authorities which had practical knowledge of the subject should have ample opportunity of considering the details before their Representatives were asked to give an opinion on the Second Betiding.
§ * SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)
said, he wished to support the appeal of the hon. Member for Chelsea, for he very much doubted whether the Local Authorities were so well acquainted with the provisions of the Bill as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think. The hon. Member for Islington had asked some very pertinent questions, and he regretted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not thought fit to give any answer, which he might have done in less time than he had occupied in stating his reasons for giving none. He 911 would like to remind the Lender of the House, too, that there was a great deal of difference between Government Bills and private Members' Bills. Progress with the latter could practically be stopped by any Member or section of Members. Opportunities for rejecting private Members' Bills were, in his opinion, ample; but Government Bills stood in a more favourable position, and he therefore thought it was desirable to have a discussion on the First Reading. It was impossible for Members to be always present in their seats, and, therefore, if there was a discussion and a vote taken immediately, a great many Members would have to give their votes without having heard that discussion. They were told that most of the districts in the Metropolis were favourable to the Bill, which was not surprising considering that its effect would be to reduce the rates in most parishes and to increase them in a few. But then they had to consider the question whether it was fair to a district which, by economy and prudent management, had kept down its rates that it should not be allowed to continue to derive the advantages following from that management. if they had two districts, one of which had managed its affairs with economy and care, and another district which had not been so fortunate before they made a prudent district contribute to the other, they ought to have clear and conclusive reasons. In the present case no such reasons had been given. There might be considerable safeguards in the Bill, but they had not been indicated; and it was quite clear that unless there were some safeguards the result might be that, although there might be at first a diminution in the rates throughout the greater part of the Metropolis, the sense of responsibility and the feeling for the necessity of economy would be weakened and the rates eventually be generally increased. He did not see why they should stop at the Metropolis in this matter. Why not allow the proposal to be carried out, in other districts? In too many cases they legislated for the Metropolis in a hurry and on the spur of the moment. Last Session, with no notice to London, with no opportunity for the Local Authorities to consider what was being done, this House introduced clauses into a Bill 912 which not only entirely altered the management of the Metropolis generally, but placed it upon a different footing from that which prevailed in other large cities. he joined in expressing regret that Her Majesty's Government had not thought fit, on the introduction of the Bill, to give them some statement as to the character of the measure.
§ * SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, he would express a hope that this period of consideration would not be too long. This was the same Bill as the Bill of last Session, and he remembered that there was a large amount of literature which reached him from the Local Authorities bearing upon it in the shape both of Petitions against it and of recommendations in its favour. As far as Islington was concerned—[Mr. BARTLEY: South Islington.] No;— Islington; he spoke for the whole parish, for the Vestry had itself passed a resolution and sent him a Petition in favour of the Bill—he believed they were generally in favour of the Bill, and that it would help them to do what they had been doing steadily ever since the London Health Act was passed for the benefit of its own district and the general health of the community, and it was desired that the measure should receive early consideration. Having regard to the fact that the Session was of doubtful duration and that the Bill was introduced last Session and was lost, and inasmuch as he was prepared to support it on behalf of his constituency, he hoped the interval would not be too long.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said, he did not want to go into the particular merits of this Bill, which, apparently, there was no very great desire to subject to exhaustive discussion at this stage; but he must make a few remarks with reference to what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the general principle of the House reserving to itself the right to discuss measures on the motion for their introduction. He must remind the House that formerly there were five stages in which a Public Bill was subjected to discussion in the House as to its principles—the introduction, Second Reading, the Motion for the Speaker to leave the Chair, the Motion that the Bill, as amended, be 913 considered, and that the Bill be read a third time. While those five opportunities remained it was usual to waive the first of them, and, generally speaking, in dealing with Bills of a not very contentious character, it was usual to leave the remaining four stages for the discussion of their principles. But now that the opportunity had been removed from Members of discussing the principle of a Bill except upon the Second and Third Reading, he thought the House had been very wise in reserving to itself the right which, he hoped, it was distinctly understood they did reserve—ro discuss Bills upon the Motion for their introduction.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Shaw-Lefevre, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Walter Foster, and Mr. Sydney Buxton,
§ Bill presented, and read first time. [Bill 124.]