HC Deb 04 May 1896 vol 40 cc420-7

, in rising to move—"That Standing Order 171, relating to Tramway Bills, be suspended for the remainder of the Session," was received with cheers on his re-appearance after recent illness. He said that the reason why this matter was pressing was because one of the Bills to which the Standing Order related—the Sheffield Corporation Bill—stood for Committee next day; and, therefore, it became necessary that the House should take some step with regard to this matter before the Bill was dealt with in Committee. The Standing Order absolutely forbade any corporation working their own tramways. He believed that the Standing Order came into force in 1872, two years after the Tramways Act was passed. The Tramways Act of 1870 distinctly laid down that no power was to be given by that Act for any corporation to work its own tramways. During the interval which occurred between 1870 and 1872 one corporation, if not more, obtained powers to work its own tramways—the Corporation of Glasgow. But the Standing Order of 1872 laid down distinctly that no corporation was for the future to obtain any such powers. This rule continued in force for about 20 years, and in 1892 it was found to be impossible to maintain that Standing Order in its entirety, and an Amendment was then made which was added to the Standing Orders enabling a corporation to work their own tramways in certain circumstances. There was now a Sheffield Bill before the House calling for powers to work tramways, and also a Bill from Leeds asking for similar powers. Both these were suspended Bills from last Session, and it behoved them not to delay any longer with the subject. The Standing Order was suspended last year in the case of one of these Bills, and it passed through the House, but when it reached another place, it was met with a Standing Order similar to that of which he was now asking the suspension. There were other Bills before the House, the Blackpool Improvement Bill and the London County Council (Vauxhall Bridge) Tramway Bill, which contained clauses respecting tramways, and if the Standing Orders were to be rigorously enforced these clauses must be struck out. He did not think they could shut their eyes to the fact that the Grand Committee on Trade, which had dealt with the Light Railways Bill, had passed practically unanimously the clause which gave not corporations only, not County Councils only, but even District Councils, the power to construct and work light railways. It might be said that the conclusion of the Grand Committee had not yet been confirmed by the House. There was something in that argument, and, therefore, he did not propose to abolish the Standing Order, but only to suspend it to the end of the Session. That would give them time to see whether the House agreed with this decision of the Grand Committee respecting the Light Railways Bill. If the House should agree with the decision then no case could be made out for refusing to permit a corporation to work its own tramways. If the Standing Order was suspended the position would be this; every corporation coming to Parliament for powers to work their own tramways would have to make their case good before a Committee. If they failed in doing that the powers would not be granted. He concluded by moving the Resolution standing in his name.

* MR. J. W. MELLOR (York, W. R., Sowerby)

hoped the House would agree to the Motion. The object of it was only to give the Private Bill Committee to which a Bill was referred power to entertain the matter. When he was Chairman of Committees he came to the conclusion that the Standing Order in its present form was of very little practical use, and that it occasionally worked a good deal of mischief. Even if the Motion were one for rescinding the Standing Order he should support it, because he had never been satisfied that there was any really substantial objection against the proposal that local authorities should work their own tramways. The effect of the Standing Order had been to prevent local authorities from making as good bargains with intending tenants as they might otherwise have made, and the Order had thus been prejudicial to the ratepayers' interests. Some corporations have been driven to work their own tramways without Parliamentary powers. The Standing Order, taking it altogether, was an encumbrance of no value.

MR. EDMUND BOULNOIS (Marylebone, E.)

protested against the Motion. It was not a convenient mode of dealing with a great question like this, to come to that House and to ask for the suspension of the Standing Order in individual and isolated cases. Whether the Order was a good or bad one, it had existed far too short a time for the pronouncement of a definite opinion upon it. It was passed, it was true, in 1872, but it was amended in 1894, and it was with the amended Order that they were now dealing. With regard to the Vauxhall Tramway Scheme which had been alluded to, there was no urgency whatever. The Bill proposed to sanction construction of a tramway over a bridge which did not exist. He supposed that one or two years would elapse before the London County Council could pull down the old bridge, and three or four years more must elapse before they could build another. It would be time enough for the Council to ask for powers to make the tramway when the new bridge should be near its completion. The London County Council hitherto had always disclaimed any intention to work tramways. When the question first came up in 1891 a resolution to that effect was passed, and it had since been repealed on three occasions. It was on that assurance on the part of the majority of the Council that it was induced to pass the Motion for the acquiring of certain tramways. He feared that if this Standing Order were suspended the Council might take advantage of the circumstance, and begin to work the tramways in London. The Council had not been slow to acquire as many of the London industrial concerns as it could. Now the Council wanted to take over the water companies at its own price.


Order, order! The hon. Member must confine himself more closely to the question before the House.


said, that it would be greatly to the disadvantage of the ratepayers if the County Council should obtain the power to work the tramways. Ultimately there would be a deficiency which would have to be made good out the rates. The Council would raise wages and reduce the hours of labour. There was a tendency on the part of public bodies not to deal with accounts as individuals did. They would not write off enough for depreciation, and they generally placed to capital what ought to go to maintenance. They had a striking illustration of all this last week in the County Council.


Order, order! The only question before the House is whether the Standing Order should be suspended, in order that leave may be obtained to work certain tramways, and the hon. Member is not entitled to take this opportunity to make a general attack upon the London County Council.


said, that he was anxious that no fresh burden should be imposed upon the ratepayers. In Glasgow, which had been referred to, the Corporation had worked the tramways at considerable loss. The Resolution of the Grand Committee on Trade in favour of allowing district councils to work their own light railways, hardly supplied a precedent for the action which was now proposed. The light railways, it must be borne in mind, were to be constructed for the special purpose of improving the condition of a depressed industry. He was greatly surprised that the Chairman of Ways and Means should have proposed the suspension of this Standing Order. On past occasions both the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, had spoken against the proposal to permit the London County Council to work the tramways. The practice might be all very well in the case of small corporations that could not induce persons to come forward to to take a lease of the tramways. But in London and in large corporations there was no difficulty whatever about that, and at this present moment there were two competing schemes before the County Council. He hoped the House would not sanction the Motion.

MR. A. J. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)

trusted the House would agree with the Motion. The Sheffield Corporation did not come to the House asking for power to construct the tramways. They constructed the tramways a quarter of a century ago. They were merely asking the House to allow them to go to the Committee and make out a good case, and after the recent work of the Grand Committee on Trade with respect to a much more important question—namely, the Light Railways Bill, it was a little late for the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Boulnois) to oppose the request of the great county boroughs to be allowed to work their own tramways. The Light Railways Bill gave power to Councils of any county, borough, or district to construct and work light railways, not only for agricultural purposes, but for the purpose of any industry. Why did Sheffield ask for these powers? In the first place, there had been during the last few years numerous complaints of the way in which the Sheffield Tramways had been worked. Indignation meetings of the ratepayers had been held on several occasions, condemning the working, both on the ground that the convenience of the public had not been duly consulted, and that no cheap fares giving facilities for the workmen had been established. There had been complaints about the infrequent and uncertain working of the cars, their uncleanness and the excessive hours of the men engaged in their working. No less than 55 hours a week were required of the men. The Corporation had no power to make any change except by coming to that House and asking for powers. Sheffield had to pay a two-pence fare, whereas the Corporation of the city of Glasgow charged only a halfpenny for the same distance, and Glasgow was not working at a loss, but was making a profit of £12,000 a year. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that in Committee on the Light Railways Bill there was a difference of opinion as to whether the tramways of the Glasgow Corporation were paying or not. Since then he had gone through the accounts and had found that the financial position of the tramways was not only good but constantly improving. There had been an improvement of 50 per cent, in the receipts this year, as against those of last year. Then there was also the experience of Blackburn, showing 7½ per cent., and Blackpool, showing 6 per cent., and other places, and he wished to give expression to the universal feelings of the municipalities that they knew their interests sufficiently well to conduct their own affairs, and that this privilege ought to be granted to them.

MR. JOSEPH A. PEASE (Northumberland, Tyneside)

, as one who had sat on the Private Bill Committee on the Vauxhall Bridge Tramways Bill, wished to say that the Committee was absolutely unanimous as to the desirability of suspending this particular Standing Order.

MR. C. B. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

said, that in the interest of the city he represented, he rose to express a hope that his hon. Friend the Member for Marylebone, if he took any effective action on this Motion, would distinguish between London and the provincial boroughs. All the provincial boroughs asked was that the precedent adopted in the case of the Light Railways Bill should be respected in this matter.

MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

expressed the hope that the House would not make any invidious exceptions. He was surprised that the hon. Member for Marylebone had entered into a general attack on the policy of the London County Council; but they were accustomed to that. He thought the hon. Gentleman would have beer more careful in getting up his facts. The London County Council was very much less interested in this matter than hon. Members had led the House to under stand; because the main Measure which would permit them, if they thought fit to work their own tramways, had already passed the House of Commons, and was now before another place, where the action the House was now asked to take had already been taken. It had been laid down on both sides of the House that it was a most reasonable thing for a Corporation to wish to work its own tramways; but there was a strong ulterior reason why the course proposed should be taken, and that was, that inasmuch as the hands of the corporations were now tied, they were prevented from making good bargains for the rate-payers. He trusted that no attempt would be made to treat this question as a political or Party matter, but as a matter of common business interest.


said, that at a meeting of the Non-County Boroughs Association, held in London on March 13 last, at which 127 of the smaller corporations were represented, a resolution expressing a desire to see this Standing Order suspended, and the power to work their own tramways granted to non-county boroughs, was passed unanimously; and therefore he trusted the House would agree to the Motion.

MR. W. L. JACKSON (Leeds, N.)

hoped his hon. Friend would not press his opposition to the Motion. He was in a position to make an appeal to the hon. Gentleman, as he was in sympathy with his views. The hon. Gentleman would understand that when he told him that he had himself put down an Amendment to the Light Railways Bill, with a view to striking out the power the Bill proposed to give to the various councils to work light railways. In spite of the assistance which they had received from the Government in the matter they had been hopelessly beaten on the point. Although he was opposed to Corporations working the tramways, now that the Standing Committee had given them power to work the light railways he did not think that they could contest the point further. On the whole, therefore, he thought that the most reasonable course they could adopt was that suggested by the Motion of the Chairman of Committees in order that the system adopted should be a uniform one. In these circumstances, he hoped that the hon. Member would not press his objection further, but would be content with having made his protest. While sympathising with the views of the hon. Member he recognised the hopelessness of further opposing the granting of this power to the Corporation.

MR. H. C. RICHARDS (Finsbury, E.)

thought the views of 54 of the metropolitan representatives with regard to this subject onght to receive some consideration before the Standing Order was suspended, and power was given to the London County Council to carry out their scheme for the working of the London Tramways. The London representatives ought to raise their voices against additional powers being put into the hands of the London County Council which would enable them still further to increase the burdens of the metropolitan ratepayers. He was prepared, as a London representative, to go to a Division against this Motion.

MR. J. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

said that the House was asked, in passing this Resolution, not to support any particular proposal, but only to give the Committee power to proceed with the Inquiry. He should like to remind the House that the Light Railways Committee had passed a Resolution enabling corporations to work light railways which went much further than the present Motion, which merely proposed to enable them to work tramways. He thought that the Chairman of Ways and Means was well advised in endeavouring to secure uniformity by the Motion which he proposed, and he thought that after the decision which had been come to in regard to light railways, the Motion ought to be agreed to.

Ordered, That Standing Order 171, relating to Tramway Bills, be suspended for the remainder of the Session.