HC Deb 24 April 1895 vol 32 cc1557-64

*MR. C. E. SCHWANN (Manchester, N.) Moved the Second Reading of this Bill, which he said was to a large extent non-contentious in its character. He reminded the House that the Act of 1870, in the most trenchant terms, prohibited municipalities and local authorities from working tramways. That prohibition having been found to be too cramping, too much against the public opinion of the day, the House of Commons in March 1892 passed Standing Order 171, which, while re-affirming the full meaning and tenour of the Act of 1870 made certain exceptions, by which if a local authority which had constructed or acquired a tramway were unable to demise the tramway, a license might be granted to the local authority to work such tramway; provided, however, that if at any time during such working by the local authority any company offered to take the tramway off the hands of the local authority, on terms approved by the Board of Trade, then the company should be entitled to buy the tramway and work it Independently of the corporation. This Bill sought to turn the Standing Order into an Act. When the House considered that corporations like Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham were entrusted with powers to make gas for their communities, and had laid a perfect network of pipes over those great cities, and were authorised to spend millions in bringing water, sometimes across a couple of counties, for the consumption of the inhabitants, the House would not need to be persuaded that the working of a tramway was a mere trifle in comparison with such large undertakings. There were many advantages in tramways being under the control of local authorities. He believed that the very fact of tramways being in public hands tended to equalise rates throughout the area over which they had control, and by averaging the rates many parts of the town became inhabited by reason of the facilities afforded to the inhabitants He did not think the House would hesitate to give the Bill a Second Reading, seeing that its provisions were exceedingly small and limited, and that they were largely similar to Standing Order 171, relating to tramways. He had reason to believe that the Government would have supported a much stronger Bill, and he hoped its provisions would be enlarged in the Committee.

*MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)

did not intend to oppose the Second Reading, though he hardly thought the Bill was satisfactory in many of its provisions. The working of tramways by local authorities was a large question which ought to be settled on broad grounds of public policy. Any difficulty that might arise through a tramway being thrown upon the hands of a local authority was met by the existing law, and he did not see the necessity for further legislation to deal with that particular case. The Bill proposed that the Board of Trade should have a general power to grant a licence to a local authority to work any tramway, if, in the opinion of the Board, the local authority was unable to demise or lease the tramway on such terms as would yield them an adequate rent. That provision invested the Board of Trade with a very novel and difficult duty. What were the circumstances the Board of Trade would have to take into account in arriving at a decision as to whether the local authority were unable to dispose of the tramway on such terms as would yield them an adequate rent? And what was the percentage the Board of Trade was to take as an adequate rent? There was nothing in the Bill to guide the Board of Trade in exercising this responsible jurisdiction; and he did not think the Board of Trade would be anxious to have this duty cast upon them without at least some indication of the lines on which they should proceed in discharging it. There was another extraordinary provision in the Bill which he saw the greatest possible difficulty in carrying out. It was proposed that if at any time during the working of the tramway by the local authority any company tendered to take a lease of the tramway and to work the tramway for a period of not less than seven years, the tramway should be given over to them at such rent, and upon such terms and conditions as should be, in the opinion of the Board of Trade, adequate and proper. Here again the discretionary power of the Board of Trade was invoked, without any instructions being given as to the basis upon which the rental should be fixed, or the conditions be imposed. Were fair wages and hours of labour of the men employed to enter into the conditions of the matter? But what, perhaps, was most objectionable in the clause was that "any company" was to have this power of taking over the tramway from the local authority. It was not to be a company established for the purpose. Therefore, it might be an Omnibus Company or a Cab Company in the district who would take up the tramway, not for the purpose of bonâ fide working it for the benefit of the community, but for the purpose of crippling it or killing it in order that their own or some other means of transit might be encouraged and fostered. Again, what was to happen in cases where there were two or three tramways of a town in the hands of separate companies? Was the Bill to apply to London and to the other great towns? These were all difficult questions which would have to be more carefully considered in Committee than they appeared to have been in the drafting of the Bill. He was not prepared to say that the law in regard to the powers of local authorities to acquire and lease or work tramways was in a satisfactory state. Indeed, he could not help thinking that some larger legislation on the question was desirable. There were many other important considerations involved in the matter such as the use to which tramways in the hands of local authorities might be put towards relieving the congested condition of large towns like London by enabling the working classes to get from their work in the centre of the towns to houses in the suburbs. He, therefore, sympathised with the object of the Bill. He looked upon the Bill as well-intentioned, but a little crude in its character, but was disposed to give it a Second Reading in order that the House might have an opportunity in Committee of making it a practical measure.

*MR. W. E. M. TOMLINSON (Preston)

said, that in many respects the Bill was a very peculiar Bill. One peculiarity was that it had a very long preamble. He did not know why it had been thought necessary to put such a long preamble in the Bill. It might have some connection with the fact that the body of the Bill was in great part a reflection of the Standing Orders relating to tramways, but though those provisions might work well in Standing Orders, he did not see how they were to work in the Bill. He would like to know what proof there was of the recital in the preamble that it had been found that local authorities were unable to demise or lease at an adequate rent tramways constructed or acquired by them. If local authorities were unable to lease tramways there was nothing to hinder them from applying to the Board of Trade under the Standing Orders; and if they had not done so he did not see how the process of obtaining leases would be facilitated by the Bill. Clause 5 was a curious provision, for it contained a general repeal of parts of previous Acts without specifying the particular provisions which were thus repealed. Suppose that a local authority desired to put the Bill into operation, and that certain persons desired to oppose the idea of any extension of power being given to the local authority in this direction, it would be quite impossible for such persons to know exactly where they stood. How could they ascertain, for instance, what parts of the existing law were repealed, and what, on account of such repeal, would be the effect of the enactment of this Bill? His next criticism was that the Bill was an enactment in substance and form of what were the provisions in the present Standing Orders. These Standing Orders had been carefully framed with due regard to the putting in motion of the proper department that had to deal with them. What was the objection to proceeding, under the present Standing Order, for the purpose of obtaining a Provisional Order which had to come before Parliament? If extensive powers were given to a local authority, by which they would acquire, and possibly mismanage, the working of the tramways, where was the right of the ratepayer to come in and prevent the carrying out of a disadvantageous scheme? Had the Board of Trade the power to give an opportunity to ratepayers to be heard before any such scheme was carried out, for he saw nothing to this effect in the Bill? Under the present system of procedure in such matters, measures of this kind were required by the Standing Order to be brought on by means of Provisional Orders, the Board of Trade being the department that had to deal with the matter, and interpose where interposition was necessary. By means of the present machinery, the ratepayers had ample opportunity for a proper representation of their views, and for having the question dealt with in the manner they considered best. But it seemed to him that in his opinion, the sole result of the proposed measure would be to substitute irregular, unexplained, and uncertain action on the part of the Board of Trade in future for action that was now properly [...] regularly enforced by Acts of Parliament, and Provisional Orders passed by the House. They had been told it was intended that local authorities, like the London County Council, should have power to Act under this Bill. He saw by Clause 7, that the expenses of the local authority exercising such power were to be paid out of the local rates. Supposing that the County Council of London would be the authority to put the Bill, when it became an Act, into operation, then he should feel it his duty outside that House to consider how it would affect the subordinate authorities. He happened to be a vestryman in one of the London parishes, and he could say that they, in that particular parish, were by no means satisfied with the administration of the London County Council. He greatly desired that they should do nothing to promote legislation which would weaken the hold a department like the Board of Trade had, upon matters of tramways and similar undertakings. One argument which had been used in support of the Bill was that it would give facilities to artisans who lived a distance from their work to make use of the trams. But suppose the local authorities were to work the tramways on such a footing as to entail a loss, then that loss would fall upon the general body of ratepayers, and they would thus be benefiting one section of the community at the expense of the whole. Those who lived near their work would have to pay a share of the cost which was entailed in enabling those who lived at a distance to take advantage of the tramway service. There was another respect in which the Bill, he felt sure, would fail to satisfy the anticipations of its supporters. The local authorities would only be able to work those tramways which were strictly within the limits of their jurisdiction, and would have no authority over those outside their own boundaries. It might happen that the places to and from which persons desired to travel, were outside the jurisdiction of the local body, and the difficulties which now arose in working a connected system between tramways outside and inside the districts of a local authority were not in any way met by the Bill.


said, the Bill was one of a very simple type. The House was no doubt aware that the General Tramways Act of 1870, while it gave powers to local authorities to construct tramways, refused them the power of working tramways. In 1882 the Huddersfield people came to this House and succeeded in obtaining a clause under which special power was given to them to work their tramways in case they were unable to find any company to whom they could lease them, but with a provision that if at any time a company came forward and offered to take the tramways off their hands on certain terms to be approved by the Board of Trade, then the company should be entitled to take the tramways and work them, and the working of them should pass out of the hands of the Corporation. Encouraged by the success of Huddersfield in getting this clause, and subsequently in working the tramway under it, a number of other local authorities in the year succeeding 1882 came to Parliament and endeavoured to get similar powers. Those powers were, he thought, in every instance refused, either in the House of Lords or here, on the ground that they were inconsistent with the general Act, and the Standing Order did not permit them, and that the case of Huddersfield was the exception. It was felt at the same time that it would be better to deal with such cases by Amendment of the Standing Order, and accordingly, in 1892, a Standing Order was passed, No. 171, which provided that although, as a general rule, a tramway made by the local authority was to be offered to a company to work it, still where a local authority was unable to find a company that would work it, then the local authority was to be permitted to do so. At the present time there were 13 local authorities which possessed powers to work their tramways. Of these 13 only four were at present working their tramways besides Glasgow, which was in this peculiar position, that under the Act of 1871 it possessed general powers for working its tramways, and was now exercising those powers in what he believed, upon the balance of evidence, to be a successful manner. Apart from Glasgow, there were Blackpool, Plymouth, Greenock, and Huddersfield, in which the local authorities, possessing the powers, were actually working the tramways. What the Bill before the House proposed was to generalise the Huddersfield clause—that was to say, it was proposed by the Bill to dispense with the necessity of inserting in a Bill brought into this House such a clause as that under which Huddersfield now works its tramways. It proposed to make it part of the general law that upon conditions similar to those laid down in the Huddersfield clause any local authority should have power to work tramways. That was the substance of the proposal, and it was one which was entitled to the favourable consideration of the House. It would not be right that he should discuss the intention his hon. Friend foreshadowed of strengthening the Bill; he had to do with the Bill before the House, which was a Bill simply for generalising the Huddersfield clause. This was not the first time this Session the matter had come before the House. It came up in the case of the London County Council (General Powers) Bill, when there was a discussion as to giving power to insert a clause to permit the County Council to work tramways within the Metropolis. The Instruction was affirmed by the majority of the House. He would suggest to his hon. Friend that he would be well advised not to endeavour to take this Bill into Committee until the London Bill came back to this House. The hon. Member for St. Pancras appeared entirely to have misunderstood the Bill; he must have read it in a cursory manner. And as to the criticisms of the hon. Member for Preston, they appeared to be directed to matters which would properly arise in Committee. Under the circumstances, looking at this Bill as they found it, and seeing the very limited scope it would have, and seeing also the desirability of incorporating in the general law a provision which this House was now in the habit of adopting on a particular Bill, he hoped the House would at once assent to the Second Reading of the Bill.

Bill read 2o.

MR. C. E. SCHWANN (Manchester, N.)

Moved that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.

Motion agreed to.