§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Mr. Speaker, the Bill which I rise to introduce is intended to complete, as far as may be, the edifice of Local Government for the metropolitan area, which was commenced and carried very far in the Bill of my right honourable Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Ritchie). The whole history of municipal government in London is, I think, one of the most interesting and curious studies in the development of political institutions with which I am acquainted. It seems hardly credible, but it is nevertheless the fact, that prior to 1855—that is to say, prior to a period well within the recollections of many honourable Gentlemen to whom I am 353 now speaking—there really was no organised attempt made by Parliament to confer urban organisation upon the great metropolitan area. At that time, when that Bill was passed, London already had a population of 2,500,000, and for more than two centuries had been the largest city in Europe. And yet before the date of which I speak, before 1855, the organisation of London—if it can be called organisation—was in the main left to a series of local Bills, passed very much at haphazard, and, apart from those local Bills, depended upon the local organisation of the vestry, which was the same for the most thinly-populated parish in the moors of Yorkshire as it was for the crowded streets of the metropolis of the Empire. Sir, though it is true that there was no organised attempt to provide municipal government for London, nevertheless, in the inchoate condition of things which existed before 1855, the very necessities of the case had brought into being the germs of two institutions, two sets of institutions, two kinds of institutions, which are, I think, necessary to the government of London, and certainly find their place in every organised attempt to govern London, and which, I think, must always be an essential part of the government of London. There was some kind of central authority dealing with matters common to the whole of the metropolis, and some kind of local authority dealing with matters which could not with advantage or with propriety' be confided to the care of any central body which had so vast an area under its control. Well, Sir, the central authority before 1855 was the Commissioners of Sewers. The local authorities were the products of those various local Acts of which I have been speaking. But in 1855 a considerable development upon those lines took place. The heir-at-law of the Commissioners of Sewers was the Metropolitan Board of Works, and in place of those areas constituted by the various local Acts of which I have spoken—in place of those were established administrative vestries, or groups of parishes forming district boards, which had conferred upon them the same powers which the administrative vestries were endowed with. So that after 1855 the constitution of London was of this kind: There were administrative vestries, of which the governing body was directly elected; 354 there were groups of parishes, of which the governing body was indirectly elected; and there was the Metropolitan Board of Works, itself the product of a double election, in so far as it was elected by representatives of the administrative vestries, and there was a treble election in so far as it was elected by the groups of parishes or district boards. And, Sir, that reform was a very great reform, and is practically the germ of everything which has been done since. But that must not blind our eyes to the greatness of the change introduced by my right honourable Friend in the Bill of 1888. The Bill of my right honourable Friend in 1888 may be said to have done two things. It handed over to the London County Council the administrative work done by the three Quarter Sessions of Middlesex, Surrey, and Kent, and it made the central authority no longer the product of double or treble election, but directly representative of the metropolitan ratepayers. And, Sir, I confess that that change was so much in consonance with the traditions of English municipal government that it is likely to be permanent, and, whether it works ill or whether it works well, is likely for all time to represent the central body, dealing with those matters in which all the parts of the metropolis are alike interested, and which cannot possibly be dealt with piecemeal by the various subordinate and local authorities which rule over the subordinate and smaller areas. Now, Sir, while my right honourable Friend may be said to have settled on a broad and solid basis the constitution of this central authority, he left practically untouched the vestries and district boards which have subsisted since the Bill of 1855 called them into being. Nor have those boards, nor have those authorities, practically changed since the Bill of 1855. I think the Bill of the right honourable Gentleman opposite slightly altered the franchise.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Yes, and the qualification, and 355 certain additional powers have from time to time been given. Broadly speaking, the administrative vestry and the district board exist now as they were framed in 1855, and slightly modified, I think, in 1856, by a second Bill. It is with these administrative vestries and district boards that the present Bill proposes to deal. It is with the subordinate areas, not with the central area, that we are now concerned. I may say at once, in order to save further explanation at a later stage of my exposition, that we do not propose to touch the organisation of the City of London. The City of London is already a highly organised local authority. It already possesses the dignity which we desire to increase in the case of the vestries, and to give to the new authorities we propose to create, and, therefore, it naturally falls outside the scope of this Measure, and, except in one single minor particular, which I shall not trouble the House with at this stage of our proceedings, it may be said to' be altogether outside the scope of the Measure. Well, Sir, we are, therefore, engaged with that part of the administrative County of London which lies outside the City, and the first question is, Are we to deal with this vast area at once, and by one Measure, or piecemeal? Are we, in other words, to divide it by an Act of Parliament or by the immediate consequences of an Act of Parliament, into a series of areas each endowed with the same powers, constitution, and government; or are we to proceed more gradually and more tentatively, as we do proceed usually in the case of boroughs called into existence outside London—to wait, that is to say, for the application of the locality itself, to have an examination into its needs and into its proposals by the Privy Council, and give each locality in turn as it applies, by charter, the powers which it desires, or which it is thought right it should possess? There is a good deal to be said for that proposal, Sir, and at one time, I confess, I rather inclined towards adopting it; but, on the whole, we have determined that, by the appointed day, it would be desirable that all London should be divided into areas for Local Government, and that every area should be simultaneously provided with all the necessary machinery for government of its local affairs. If there was no other ground for that decision than the fact 356 that it is almost impossible to settle the areas piecemeal, because you would not know what other areas, are going to be called into existence—if there was no other reason but that, that reason is, perhaps, by itself sufficient. I ought to add that almost every authority I have consulted who is practically acquainted with the administrative work of London government has taken the view which is now embodied in the Bill which I propose to introduce. Well, Sir, that being decided, then, that the whole area of London outside the City shall be divided into areas to be called into existence, to be supplied by the appointed day with their proper organisation, the question which next arises is, how these areas are to be determined upon. Now, there are three possible courses open. We might fix all the areas in the Bill; we might leave all the areas to be determined by a Commission; or we might adopt a Commission, with power to hear what the various persons interested have to say; or we might adopt a combination of those two courses, schedule some areas as obviously fitted, as they now stand, for the additional powers which we propose to give them, leaving the more doubtful districts—the districts where it is not obvious what the area should be— to be determined, after a careful hearing, by Commissioners to be appointed. Well, Sir, we have determined to adopt the last of these three courses. We propose to schedule a certain number of areas in the Bill. We propose to leave the other areas for subsequent determination—a determination which must, of course, take place before the appointed day. I am well aware that there is probably no more ticklish question to be dealt with in this Bill than this question of areas. It invariably arouses jealousies, feelings, local passions, and local rivalries in a way which has proved very embarrassing to every Government which has endeavoured to deal with the complexity of our existing local areas, and which has, I am afraid, stood in the way of many important and useful reforms. But I hops, by adopting the plan which I have sketched to the House, we shall at all events avoid a great deal of that feeling and friction which it has been so difficult to deal with in the past. I do not know whether the House will desire me at this stage to read out the list of areas which, as the Bill 357 is drafted, will appear in the schedule, and will therefore, with no more than comparatively small modification of boundaries, be regarded as areas under this Bill of future municipal government. The following areas are at present under the administration of vestries known as Schedule A vestries, and these will be scheduled in our Bill as areas for municipal government. All that I am going to read now are separate areas. All in the first list are taken from existing areas, but they do not cover the ground of existing areas. I will read them in alphabetical order: Battersea, Camberwell, Chelsea, Fulham, Hammersmith, Hampstead, Islington, Kensington, Lambeth, Lewisham, Paddington, St. Marylebone, and St. Pancras. The areas now under district boards which, I think, are ripe to be introduced at once unmodified into this Bill are only two Poplar and Wandsworth. Then there is one other area which is neither one of the administrative vestries nor one of the existing district boards which I have introduced into the schedule, and it is what I may describe as the Larger Westminister. The existing vestry of Westminster is, as the House knows, but a small fragment of the ancient city of Westminster, and the ancient city of Westminster, though it never had municipal organisation, has played a great part in English history, and is, I think, worthy of being reconstructed and given a great municipal constitution. Though I am well aware it is quite impossible to make a change of such magnitude without offending some susceptibilities and injuring some interests, I am still of opinion that the reconstitution of a great area like the Greater Westminster and the conferring on that area a municipal organisation will be of incalculable benefit, not merely to the area of Westminster so dealt with, but to the whole dignity and authority of the new municipal institutions themselves. I hope, therefore, the House will consent to support me in adding this new area, without detailed local examination, to the other areas which already exist, and of which, I think, we may safely say they are now fit, without important change, to be added to the list of our great municipalities. The Larger Westminster embraces the vestries of St. Margaret's, St. John, St. George's, Han- 358 over Square, St. James's, St. Martin's and the Strand District Board.
§ MR. BUXTON (Poplar)
Will the right honourable Gentleman state what is the population of Greater Westminster?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
It is, I think, about 200,000 with a rateable value of £5,000,000. The question of areas being dealt with as I have described, the next problem which meets us is the constitution that is to be given to the governing bodies in these areas. We propose that that constitution shall be practically identical with the constitution which our great municipal boroughs already possess. It is true that the Bill does not proceed by adopting the Municipal Corporations Act. We do not work on the Municipal Corporations Act. It is not convenient so to do; it would make the Bill longer and more complicated, and it would have this particular and special defect. The franchise of the existing London local authorities is not the same as the franchise of our existing boroughs. In addition to the ratepayer and to the rate-paying man and the rate-paying woman, there is in our vestries a franchise for the occupier and a franchise for the lodger. If, therefore, we were to adopt the Municipal Corporations Act as the Act governing our procedure in regard to these new institutions, we should have to begin either by a disfranchising proceeding or make very complicated exceptions, which in themselves are quite unnecessary if we adopt the alternative method of using as our basis the Metropolis Management Act. I am quite sure the House would be reluctant now, as it always has been, to adopt any measure of disfranchisement. Without the least discussing whether the borough or the parochial franchise would be the best franchise—I, personally, prefer the parochial—we find one in existence and not the other, and we cannot change it in this Bill. At all events, we cannot change the wide and substitute the narrow franchise. We are, therefore, practically bound by convenience not to take the Municipal Corporations Act as our basis, but to proceed on the basis of the Metropolis Management Act. But, although we proceed on that basis, there is really no difficulty in basing upon that Act 359 a constitution practically identical with that which now exists in the boroughs, and that is what we propose to do. We propose that there should be mayor, councillors, and aldermen, and we propose that the aldermen should bean the same proportion to the councillors as they do in municipal boroughs, and should be elected in the same manner and hold office for the same term of years. We even propose that the elections should not be as they are now, in May, but that they should be, like other municipal elections, on November 9. I am perfectly well aware that there is an objection felt in some quarters to instituting aldermen in these new municipalities. But on the whole, though with some exceptions, I am inclined to think that the institution of aldermen has worked well in other boroughs. It certainly adds dignity to the councils; it certainly constitutes an office of honourable ambition, though honourable Gentlemen opposite seem not to think so. It constitutes an office of honourable ambition which may be well sought for by persons interested in local affairs, and it enables those who have, as councillors, shown their competence to deal with and their interest in local affairs to retain practically for life, without the constant labour of triennial elections, the important offices which their colleagues have bestowed upon them. On the whole, therefore, we have come to the conclusion that the new municipal institutions we mean to found shall not merely consist of mayor and councillors, but also of aldermen. I now come to a proposal which I think at first sight has a great deal to recommend it; the proposal, I mean, that these new municipalities should, in some wav or other, by their constitution, be linked with the central authority, the London County Council.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
No, no. The aldermen will be appointed on exactly the same 360 system as in boroughs, but practically I am informed that an alderman who shows his thorough competence goes on from term to term so long as he wishes to serve his borough. The next point to take up for consideration is whether these new municipalities should be linked by any machinery to the central authority, namely, the County Council; whether by the fact that the mayor should be an ex officio alderman of the County Council, or by some other similar machinery. At first sight I confess I think the suggestion is tempting. The London County Council and these great municipalities—for great municipalities they will be—have to deal with the interests of the same population, and it seemed natural and plausible that there should be an official bond between them. On the whole, after giving the matter our most careful consideration, the Government have determined to reject this plan; and they have really determined to reject it, not in the interest of the London County Council, but in the interest of the new municipalities. I may say that, apart from the point of view which I shall come to directly, it would be a revival to a certain extent of the principle adopted, tried, and finally rejected, in the case of the Metropolitan Board of Works. It would introduce into the London County Council an element of secondary election, and although I think that there are many cases in which secondary election works extremely well, still it has not a very good record behind it in the case of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and on that account alone it would excite, not unnaturally, prejudice in the minds of the London ratepayers. But that is comparatively unimportant. The, reason why I am unwilling to adopt this plan is that, in the first place, it would inevitably drag those councils into the political vortex in which the London County Council appears to flourish.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
The fact that, owing to the manner in which the London County Council is elected, political interests intervene, after all, only brings it into line with the great mass of the municipal boroughs in the country. 361 I do not know whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, but I confess my own inclination is that it is a bad thing. Personally, I prefer the non-political atmosphere which the county councils of most of our counties have succeeded hitherto in maintaining. But whether that be so or not, at present I think it would be a great pity to dedicate these new boroughs from their very birth to their political future, so that their election would have a direct effect on the constitution of the London County Council. It is evident that, from the politics which animate the electors of the London County Council, they would feel bound to intervene in the same way and from the same motives in the election of the members of the new municipal councils. There is another reason, and a still stronger reason, which guides me in this matter. I look forward to these municipal boroughs having a great and most legitimate influence with the London County Council. I cannot think it would be otherwise, and I believe everyone will agree with me in hoping that it will not be otherwise. But if you give to each of these councils a single representative on the London County Council the inevitable consequence will be that he would be regarded as representing his council, that the new municipality and the London County Council will not meet, as it were, to discuss matters more or less on equal terms, but the London County Council will listen to the speech or representation of the official representative of the new municipality, and he will have the weight, and no move than the weight, of a single speaker find a single voter out of the 138 members of which the London County Council is composed. I therefore think that the new municipalities would lose rather than gain in authority with the London County Council by confining their relations to that council to the single thread of one member officially sitting on the London County Council without even having behind him the authority of direct election by the ratepayers. It must be remembered that if the analogy of the existing vestries gives us any lesson for the future, there will be no lack of persons who will serve both on the vestry and the London County Council, and, therefore, really, though not formally, there will be persons as much interested 362 in their own special municipal affairs as they are in the affairs of the London County Council. For these reasons we have not thought it desirable to introduce into this Bill any formal machinery for officially linking together the new municipalities and the London County Council. Well, Sir, so much for the areas and the constitution of the new municipalities. As regards their powers, I have not much of importance to say to the House. The vestries already possess, excepting so far as police matters are concerned, the great urban powers possessed by other municipalities, and probably any other powers that will be added to them by this Bill, or will be added to them in the future, must be in the nature of the case of less importance than the great administrative powers of which they are already the possessors. But we do under this Bill propose to give to these new authorities all the powers which have been agreed upon between the vestries and the London County Council at certain recent conferences held between these bodies. I do not know* whether, at this stage of the I Bill, it is worth while to give a general account of these agreed powers. I rather think not, for honourable Members who take an interest in the subject must be sufficiently acquainted with them already. Well, then, of course, in addition to the agreed powers, the new authorities, like other municipalities, will have the power of promoting or opposing Bills in Parliament, subject to the Borough Funds Act, and we propose to transfer to them the powers existing under the adopted Acts—baths and wash-houses, libraries, and burial boards. I suppose that this brief account of what we intend to give the new authorities will be thought sufficient by the House. While these are all the powers we actually transfer in the Bill, we do in the Bill provide further machinery by which new powers may be granted by the London County Council to these municipalities. We propose that if any muncipalities agree with the London County Council for the transfer of a power, that power shall be transferred subject to the revision of the Local Government Board. But we think that this privilege should be safeguarded, for the following reasons. It might be that the London County Council were asked by a particular municipality—any one 363 you like—to hand over certain powers to it, and that the terms agreed upon were financially too favourable to the council to whom the new powers were granted. In other words, the rest of London would have to pay to enable this particular locality to exercise the powers which the London County Council are prepared to hand over to it. We, there fore, give a locus standi to the other municipalities to object to the terms on which the powers are to be transferred by the central authority to the new municipalities. We further provide that, when a power has been granted by the London County Council to a new municipality, any other municipality may acquire the same power on the same terms, and in order to prevent the London County Council being left with the administration of certain powers over a comparatively small area, we give the London County Council the right to require that, when a new power has, under the provisions I have just described, been transferred to more than half the existing municipalities or boroughs—it shall have the right to require the minority to take over that power also. That, I think, provides machinery sufficiently elastic, and in its main outlines sufficiently just, to enable any future transfer of the powers from the central to the local authority as the circumstances of the case justify. There is only one other point that I will at this untimely hour bring before the House, and that is the simplification of rating.
§ MR. STUART (Shoreditch)
Will the right honourable Gentleman state the machinery by which the areas are to be fixed?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I think I did indicate the machinery, but I will describe it a little more fully. I have told the House that a certain number of areas are fixed by the Bill. The remaining areas will have to be examined by a Commission, and the Privy Council will issue an order confirming or modifying the recommendations of the Commission.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Yes, of course, it will settle the number, because it will 364 settle the boundaries The one follows the other. I ought to say that I have introduced into the Bill, as a guide to the Commissioners, a superior and an inferior limit of population and rateable value. The limit is that no place is to be constituted a municipality which has not a population above 100,000 or below 400,000, or a rateable value above £500,000. It is an alternative.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I have formed my own idea as to the number that will probably make up the area of London; but it would be rather inexpedient for me to give an indication of that, because I have not made the local inquiries, without which I do not think it would be possible in justice to suggest anything. May I add on this question of machinery that the Commissioners will have the duty thrown upon them of making schemes under the Act, which schemes will be laid on the Table of the House, for adjusting such local questions as rating and other matters of that kind, where different interests are affected. Now, beyond this question of rating, I think I have really gone into all the machinery of the Bill. I have mentioned the question of rating, for I think it of great importance, and the proposal in the Bill a great reform. We propose henceforth that no ratepayer shall be asked for his rates except on a single demand note, and on that demand note all the objects for which he is asked for the rate shall be clearly set forth. We further propose that for each municipality there should be but one single rating authority, and that that single rating authority shall be appointed by the municipality. In other words, the municipality shall appoint the overseers who are responsible for the making of the rates. And we further propose that, through its rating authority, every local body which has the right to spend the rates shall send its precept direct. In other words, we sweep away the system by which the County Council sends its precepts to the overseers through the medium of the guardians, while the School Board sends its precepts to the overseers by means of the vestries. We 365 sweep all that away, and enact that wherever the local authority has the power of spending the rates it shall send the precept direct to the overseers. Further, we abolish the lighting and sewer rate, which is now in many districts obliged to be a separate rate, and the making out of which in the rate books of the vestries is, I am informed, not only a very costly and laborious process, but so complicated that it sometimes leads to clerical and other mistakes. That, Sir, very briefly, but, I hope, sufficiently clearly, explains the outlines of our Bill.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Yes, we leave the system of audit the same as it is in the municipal boroughs of the country, and in the vestries at present.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I am glad my honourable Friend reminded me. The number of aldermen and councillors will be fixed by an Order in Council, but will not exceed 72.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Yes, the City area remains as it is, and for this reason —namely, the extreme difficulty there would be in altering the City area without making many other great changes which we should be reluctant to make. The first difficulty is that the City has a lower or more restricted franchise than the outside areas, and, therefore, we could not extend its areas without doing one of two things: either altering the existing franchise or restricting the franchise of the new areas; and, in the second place, there is the consideration of the administration of justice in the City, with which we do not intend to interfere, but there seems no reason for extending it beyond the existing boundaries. My right honourable 366 Friend thinks it may be desirable—I hope it is unnecessary—but, in order to avoid misconception, to say that this Bill affects in no respect the equalisation of rates which has been established by previous Acts.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Yes, the municipalities will be divided into wards by a Commission, and the result given in the Order in Council, which fixes the number of aldermen and councillors.
§ *SIR J. BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camberwell, Dulwich)
What date will be fixed for the coming into existence of the new municipalities?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
My hope is by next November year; that by that time all the local inquiries will be brought to a close, and that by November year these new municipalities will be launched on their career. I think it will be admitted that by this Bill we have established bodies of adequate dignity, and of sufficient size and with sufficient powers. We cannot, of course—no legislation can—provide that public spirit which alone can make the most perfect system of Local Government a success, but I have every reason to hope that, though London, from its constitutional peculiarities, which differentiate it from every other urban district in the world, has special difficulties to contend with, nevertheless, it has within its borders a sufficiency of worthy and able men to carry on the laborious work of local administration. At all events, I feel confident of this, that we are proceeding on safe and permanent lines, because we are taking full advantage of the experience of the past. We recognise to the full that there must be a great central authority in London. We recognise to the full that there must be these great municipalities, subordinate in point of area, but not subordinate in point of dignity. We think the whole lesson of the past points to this as the true method of dealing with this enormous aggregate of human beings, unequalled in the whole history of the world, and we believe that 367 no other constitution, whether more centralised or less centralised, could so adequately meet the grave problems with which we have to deal—problems increasing in gravity as time goes on, and which make the government of our great city almost the most perplexing theme for the reflection or parties and of statesmen.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
The subject dealt with in this Bill is of such obvious complexity that it is undesirable that a definite opinion should be expressed upon it too freely at this stage. I have the more reason to say but very few words on this occasion because I am one of those who are very little conversant with the details of either the present position or the past history of the component parts of London. But there are one or two considerations which stand out in the forefront of the right honourable Gentleman's statement on which I would like to touch. The right honourable Gentleman has made his exposition with all the clearness we expect from him, and he has left us in no doubt on most points; but, of course, it is impossible to judge of the effect of the provisions of the Bill until we see them in print. The first thing that occurs to me to notice is, in fact, that which he himself took first, namely, the circumstance of the City of London being entirely left alone in this reform.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
The honourable Gentleman opposite is delighted to find that it is so. But I do not think that even he can doubt that sooner or later the City of London, like all the other parts of the metropolis, must fall into line with the neighbouring districts. There can be little doubt that it cannot be regarded as a permanent arrangement that there should be this great dignity and importance centred in one part of the metropolis—a dignity and importance almost overshadowing the dignity and importance of the London County Council itself. But we on this side of the House are pleased to find that there is nothing in the proposals of the Government which can preclude, on some future occasion, a better arrangement being made 368 in that respect. As to areas, the right honourable Gentleman has wisely enough referred the whole question of areas to a Commission, but he still leaves rather large and delicate powers to any Commission that can be appointed. A Boundary Commission we know; it has only to do with small things, simply to adjust the rival claims of different districts with regard to the boundaries. But where a Commission has the power—as this Commission seems to have—of determining the number of the new areas and their size, there is an element of difficulty, and also, I am afraid, of controversy, which the Commission, without the assistance of Parliament, will hardly be able to determine. Well, another point is that the right honourable Gentleman appears to intend, as I understand his speech, that the new City of Westminster should have an importance beyond that of the other areas into which the metropolitan area is to be divided.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I do not know whether I am right or not. The right honourable Gentleman spoke of the Larger Westminster—of the new Westminster which is to be created, including some of the smaller parishes; but from the way he spoke I gathered it was intended to invest this new Westminster with a higher prerogative and dignity than we shall Chelsea or its neighbours.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I must have expressed myself badly. There is no such intention; they are all on an absolute equality.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
With regard to the question of the new municipalities, the right honourable Gentleman expressed something like a horror of the political vortex into which the new bodies might be drawn, and his idea apparently is that they are to be purely non-political bodies, serving in their proper capacity, either side by side, with or under the great London County Council, which is, in the view of the right honourable Gentleman, a political body, or acts according to political ideas and prejudices. I am one who rather shares the right honourable Gentleman's view that the less politics have to do 369 with Local Government the better. But we must take human nature as we find it, and I am afraid that it will be discovered that politics will concern themselves with the elections in these new municipalities just as we find that political considerations cannot be excluded from the London County Council itself. Then with regard to the powers to be given to the new municipalities; that is another point on which it will be found that a good many honourable Members will have suspicions—suspicions regarding the transfer of powers, the stripping of the London County Council of powers in order to give them to these smaller areas. It is true that this is to be under the supervision of the Local Government Board, and with the consent of the London County Council. Still it is a matter in regard to which there will be doubt expressed. Then as to the power also given to the smaller areas of promoting and opposing Bills in Parliament, although I admit that on the face of it there may be a plausible case for giving these powers, it may yet give rise to conflicts between two authorities which may be very undesirable. On the whole, I confess that we have heard the statement—I am speaking for myself— of the right honourable Gentleman with considerable relief. Looking back not many months we can remember particularly one speech which was made by the most important person in Her Majesty's Government, and I think we may "look on this picture and on that." We find what an empty onslaught that speech turns out to have been. To all those of us who have looked upon the London County Council as a body to be supported and encouraged in the discharge of its duty, and not to be laughed at and opposed, it is with great pleasure that we discover that those dreadful thing's that were threatened against it last year have after all come to naught. The London County Council is a body which can defend itself and speak for itself. I believe there is no desire among the members of the County Council at large, whether they call themselves by one name or another, whether they be more advanced in their views or more quiet and deliberate in their views —there is, I believe, no desire in any quarter to do anything to disparage the efficiency of the London County Council. It is only at certain political meetings 370 and sometimes in the House of Commons that we see shafts levelled against that body. The public of London are much indebted to the members of the London County Council for the labour they have bestowed on their duties, and I hope we shall be able—I hope with confidence after the statement of the right honourable Gentleman that we shall be able to pass this Bill in a manner. which will not deprive the London County Council of any power and authority which they at present possess.
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,
§ *MR. W. F. D. SMITH (Strand, Westminster)
Mr. Speaker, I rise with the object of expressing the view which seems to be held on both sides of the House that the Bill 'which has been explained to-night by the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury is likely to be of considerable use in the metropolis at large. The Bill is not in any sense one which may be called a strong party Measure, but it is one which both sides of the House will, I hope, help to make as useful as possible. Some time will elapse before the local bodies will get into working order, and the results of the Bill may not be felt at once. The effect which the work of the local bodies, will have will depend not a little on the action which the County Council may take with regard to it. This Bill, as explained by the right honourable Gentleman, appears to me to follow very largely the Report of the Royal Commission of 1894, which, the House will remember, recommended, very largely at any rate, that greater powers and greater importance should be given to the various local bodies of the metropolis. That Commission pointed out very strongly, giving New York as an example, the danger of over-centralisation, and in London there appears to me to be an extra reason for guarding against the dangers of over-centralisation. The Report of the Royal Commission also pointed out that the work of the County Council is almost too great for their powers, and is likely to increase. The danger connected with that possible increase appears to me to be that in the end you would be very likely to get a class of county councillors of whom we, at any 371 rate on this side of the House, should not be desirous to see the County Council composed—at any rate, not wholly so. I think it is important that the members of the County Council should be men who by business training and habits are able to properly administer the affairs of a great centre like London. My right honourable Friend, in the course of his speech, touched upon the question as to whether the municipalities should be created simultaneously or at their own option. I am very glad the Government have taken the course they have. I do not think that provincial towns provide a parallel case, for London is a collection of towns, and the areas which it is proposed to create into municipalities are not entirely independent areas, but they are areas which for many purposes must continue to exist under the London County Council. Although London is a collection of towns, it is also one big town, and I think the remark which Sir B. Hall made in introducing the Metropolis Management Act in 1855 applies almost as much to this Bill as it did to the Bill he was then introducing. He said—It is necessary to take a connected view of London's different parts, and arrange the boundaries and size of each district with reference to the other districts concerned, and in the interests of the whole scheme.That, I think, is the course which the Government have rightly taken. They have endeavoured, so far as they can, to arrange the boundaries of the municipalities which they have fixed upon in the interest not only of particular areas, but of the whole of London. I do not wish for a moment to minimise the difficulties which the Government will have to encounter in finally distributing the areas, but the difficulties are by no means so great as they were in 1855, when, for instance, there were no less than seven Paving Boards between the east and the west ends of the Strand. I am particularly interested, of course, in the City of Westminster, and I am glad that Westminster has been included in the Bill. There are some of my constituents who do not agree in this view, but I think the reasons for including Westminster, historic and others, are so strong that I shall endeavour to get my constituents to take the same view as 372 I do in favour of the Government proposal. After all, Westminster has not long been divided, for up to 1883 or 1884 my father represented the old Parliamentary Division, and it does appear to me that the fact that the name of Westminster has been associated up to a comparatively short time ago with all those divisions which it is proposed in the Government Bill to unite in the new municipal area of Westminster, provides a very strong argument in favour of the proposal of the Government. There is one more detail to which, perhaps, I might refer, and that is the question of local bodies sending up a representative to the County Council. I agree with my right honourable Friend that, at first sight, there is no doubt something to be said for the idea that these Councils should send up representatives, or a representative, to take the place of the present aldermen on the County Council. There is something also in the idea that by so doing you would provide for the increased representation of the various districts in the metropolis. But at the same time, I do not see how it is possible for the local bodies to send up their mayors. In the first place, the mayor would be elected only for a year, and it would be very unfortunate if the municipalities had to change their representative on the County Council every year. In the second place, as I have already said, the present members of the County Council say that their work is so extremely hard that it takes up nearly all their time, and it does seem rather absurd to send up a man to do that work in addition to the work of his own municipality. Of course, if anybody else other than the Mayor was sent up some of these difficulties would be done away with; but, at the same time, you would be destroying the element of continuity which the present Aldermen give to the County Council, and although the system has so far worked to the disadvantage of those who agree with me, as far as municipal politics are concerned, after all, it may in time to come work as much in our favour as it has worked against us in the past. There is one body of men which my right honourable Friend did not mention in his speech, and it is a body to which some reference should, I think, be made, because I have no doubt they will be heard of to a considerable extent 373 in the future—I mean those local officers of the present existing vestries and district boards, who will certainly be disturbed by the operation of the Bill when it becomes law. Everybody, I think, must be ready to recognise the manner in which these officers have so far carried out their work. There is no doubt whatever of that, and, of course, it is natural that, to a certain extent, they should feel sore that after having done so much good work their position should be assailed, and in some cases their situations destroyed. But I hope, and we have every reason to believe, that the compensation given under the Bill will be fair and lucrative, and if that turns out to be so, I am sure that these officers, far from endeavouring to do all they can to oppose the Measure, will give us that assistance, without which even the Government may find some difficulty, at any rate so far as minor details are concerned, in carrying this Bill into law. I think now I have said enough upon this occasion. The Bill is not a sensational one, possibly not quite so sensational as honourable Members on the other side might wish. But, at any rate, I think it is likely to be satisfactory and useful, and I am sure that I am expressing the opinion of all on this side of the House when I say that we are grateful to the Government for having introduced it, and I believe those feelings of gratitude will be enhanced if the right honourable Gentleman can tell us that he intends taking the Second Reading before Easter.
§ MR. STUART
It is always a difficult matter, Mr. Speaker, to criticise a Bill which we have not seen in print, and there are so many complicated points in the Measure that a complete opinion cannot be pronounced upon it on the present occasion. Everything connected with the Government of London, as the right honourable Gentleman, I feel sure, has by this time found out, excites the greatest possible interest. Of course this fact creates a great difficulty in all our dealings with such a Bill as this. But having said that, let me now most frankly say that it will be my object in dealing with this Bill in the future, when we come really to deal with it, to do so in no Party spirit whatever, but 374 to deal with it from the point of view of securing, or endeavouring to secure, the best scheme for the Government of London that can be secured in connection with this Bill, and I am sure that the Friends of mine, if they will allow me to call them so, on the other side will give me credit for absolute sincerity in this matter. Now, there are various good points and bad points in this Bill. It is a Bill which has to be dealt with in detail, and it is not a Bill about which a sweeping assertion can be made. But there are, in many respects, many reasonable points in this Bill, such, for instance, as the devolution of those powers to the local bodies which the County Council and those local bodies have agreed upon together, and other matters of that kind. I do not want to touch, for the moment, the question of the number of councils, or anything of that kind, because there is a very wise provision that they should be reduced in number, and the method of election follows really upon the foundation of the Bill more or less. The question of the connection with the central body I should never contemplate for a moment from the point of view of placing on the central body delegated persons from the local bodies; but I think it is quite right, while contemplating the other method, to consider the view that was taken by the Royal Commission, of which the Member for Liskeard was chairman, where it was suggested that those who were County Councillors might very well sit upon the local bodies. But there again, perhaps, it is a matter more of a minor kind. Let me also mention the question referred to before, which is that of the rating authority. I am not sure whether the right honourable Gentleman said that assessments as well as rating were to be included. I wish it had been, and I wish greatly it had been, because they both go together a good deal, but so far as the rating is concerned I rather presume that what is meant is practically the levying of the rate. They are admirable improvements, and they are improvements which everyone connected with London Government must appreciate. The only difficulty that we have been under for many years has been that of getting an opportunity for debating these matters, and this is an opportunity which I am 375 glad has been taken. I do not blame the right honourable Gentleman for not introducing the complicated question of assessments into the Bill, but I should like to remind him that the same general consensus of opinion as to what are the main lines about assessments does exist, and I think he will find if lie will inquire further into the matter in London, that the Report of the Royal Commission, of which I have the honour to be a member, is connected with the question of assessments, and it has been really founded upon suggestions that have come from London, and from a source which the House will see is not influenced by Party considerations when I say that it was introduced by the honourable Member for Islington, who sits on the other side of the House, and myself. That is good so far as it goes, and it will tend to a clear understanding of what the rates go to and what is spent upon them. Now, passing from that for a moment, let me criticise one or two points in the Bill—I think I shall only criticise three which have occurred to me on the first blush of the matter. The right honourable Gentleman can see from the attitude I am taking that I am not criticising from any Party spirit, but from a point of view of the best Local Government which I am sure many Members in this House are no less deeply interested in than myself. Now, the first point that I do not like in the Bill is the reference to a Royal Commission. Now, I wish the right honourable Gentleman had been able to see his way to deal with this matter in the House. I know it is a very complicated and thorny question, and I know it is a very difficult question, and I am not inviting the right honourable Gentleman to adopt this course from the point of view of the spider inviting the fly to walk into its parlour. It is not on account of its complicated difficulties, but it is because I do not believe there will be general satisfaction with anything short of the decision of this House upon the matter, and I would very much desire that whatever Commission or inquiry, or anything outside this House is adopted, that its decision ought to come back to the House to be embodied by Parliament in the Bill itself. That is why I feel very strongly on this matter. I do not like to see that one part of London has 376 been provided for in the Bill and another part has been left out to be carved up outside of this House. I speak for my own constituency in this matter. Many honourable Members of this House know that the parish of Shore-ditch has been extremely forward in all matters connected with the Poor Law, and in all matters connected with general municipal work, and I say this quite apart from any politics in connection with the matter. There it stands with a rateable value of about £650,000 and 120,000 inhabitants, and it seems to me to have everything connected with it which ought to make it a separate entity. It is one of those districts in London in which the Poor Law and the Vestry area are co-terminous, and there is one community all throughout 'he whole. There are other districts in the same quarter of London which are just as harmonious and just as singularly situated as the parish of Shoreditch which certainly I do not like to see left in the position in which they are left in this Bill. Well, I think that is an unfortunate thing in the Bill, and a matter which will have to be dealt with by the House, and no amount of opposition will make me alter the line that I am now laying down before the House in this matter. There is another point in the Bill about which I have very great doubts indeed, and that is the clause that was referred to where there is to be a certain devolution and demutation of power to the local bodies from the London County Council. That will cause and bring about, so far as it is carried out, irreglarities before the larger method of correcting these irregularities can be availed of, and it will create an irregularity as between one district and another in London. You will observe also that it will act always in one direction, for there is only one direction in which it must act. Now, I am not at all certain that that is the necessary line in the future in which we should go. I think it is just likely that there may be, and ought to be, a contrary influence. Then, there is the third point, which is a very grave and practical difficulty, and that is the placing in the hands of this new body the power to promote and oppose Bills in Parliament. I know this is regulated under the Bill, and it will be mitigated by the application of the Borough Funds 377 Act, but you may have, indeed I fear you will have, on many occasions a great expenditure of public money in this House—in the Committees of this House—owing to the varying views of these local bodies in connection with Parliamentary business, and I think if there is anything that should be very carefully considered in the Bill, und which requires the most serious consideration from the point of view of the future of London government, it is that point to which I have just referred. If I am right in doing so, I should very much like to form a conception of what was to be the number of these authorities in the Bill. I think, as far as I can gather, that there are 16 created in the Bill, with a population of about 2,750,000, and as the total population is 4,400,000, that would leave 1,750,000 to be provided for by the Commission. Now, calculated at the same proportion as the others, that would give something like 25 or 26 municipal bodies in London. I do not know whether that accords with the calculation which the right honourable Gentleman may have made, or the view ho may hold about it, and I merely throw that out to get a definite statement upon it. I must say that I do not think that number should be left in any way under the control of a Commission external to this House, and without revision before the Bill is passed into law by the House itself. I am sure the remarks I have made will show that I do not want to approach the Measure in any hostile spirit. On the contrary, I want to join hands in improving the Government of London, and being determined for my part to maintain that the London County Council shall not be interfered injuriously with, regarding the transaction of its important business. I am sure in speaking from my place, and saying that I desire to treat this question not from a Party spirit, but with a view to securing the best interests of the Government of London, that I am expressing the views which are generally held by the members of the London County Council itself.
§ *SIR J. BLUNDELL MAPLE
We on this side of the House welcome heartily the words of the last speaker. Sir, this question is one of vital importance to this great metropolis. The right hon- 378 ourable Gentleman who introduced the Bill to-day has held forth to us that it is a Measure which looks like putting the various districts of London into order. But there are a great many rocks ahead. I do not myself believe that when we come to deal with the question of these boroughs which are to be created we shall find that they are so complete as we are led to believe. There are in the midst of these boroughs many different parts running into the other. For instance, my own constituency, which belongs to Camberwell, has a most extraordinary area, for it includes a district called Penge. That district occupies a very peculiar position. It is in the Parliamentary division of Dulwich; for School Board purposes it is in Greenwich, for Poor Law purposes it is ill Croydon, and it is connected with the Lewisham Board of Works. Then, again, Wandsworth has a division right in the middle of Norwood. Now, these are difficulties which we shall have to attend to when we come to deal with the Bill. I did hope that the Government would have treated this question of areas, and would have dealt with the subject as a whole. I am afraid that there will also be a difficulty in mapping out the remainder of the metropolis. Questions have been asked as to the number of the new municipalities, but it would be advisable to know whether these municipalities are to overlap the present divisions for Parliament. Are those divisions for the municipalities to be the same as the Parliamentary areas, or will they overlap the different Parliamentary areas? I have studied this question of areas, and I feel convinced myself that we shall have something like 40 municipalities in London if we are not very careful. I think, therefore, that it would have been much better to have left the whole question to the Royal Commission, to be inquired into by them. But, Sir, I come to the very much more important question which has not been dealt with by any previous speaker in this House tonight, and that is the question of giving over and taking from powers now carried out by the London County Council and giving them over to the new municipalities. I have attended the different conferences upon this Bill, and one of the great difficulties we have 379 had always to deal with has been what powers could be given over to these new municipalities from the London County Council. We all know that the supplies of the London County Council for their expenses come from the Common County Fund, and therefore when any question of giving over work to be done by the new municipality arises it must be also settled how much money is going to be given. We heard the right honourable Gentleman just now state that there are certain questions which have been settled between the London County Council and the different vestries. Now, I happen to be on the London County Council, and I have made inquiries, and I believe I am right in saying that even these subjects are not agreed upon as to what should be taken over. Now, although it may be agreed upon that these powers may be given over, we ought to know what money these new municipalities are to have for the duties they are going to be called upon to perform. That is a most difficult subject. I have contended before, and I contend again, that the London County Council, before it gives over to the new municipalities any power to do work which is now carried on by them, must agree with the new municipal boroughs as to what money is going to be allowed from the Common County Fund to the new borough for doing that work. The right honourable Gentleman said that when power is given over to one district on certain conditions, those powers should be given over to another on the same conditions. That is all very well in theory, but when you come to examine it there are very great difficulties in the way. One difficulty is that the different municipalities are of a different size. For instance, in some places you can do with perhaps three or four inspectors, but in another district where the taxation is just the same amount you want 12 inspectors. Take, for instance, my own division of Camberwell; there we have a park, and it would be very nice indeed if the new municipality of Camberwell could be allowed to manage that park. Well, under certain conditions, the County Council might arrange to allow that park to be managed by the new municipality of Camberwell. But, still, it would be right and proper to first agree as to how much money from the Com- 380 mon County Fund is going to be given over for carrying on the park. But there are other municipalities which have no parks at all. Then, take those parishes in the North of London where they are much larger and much more expensive. It is always a question when you hand over powers from the London County Council to be carried out by the new municipality that it should be a matter of agreement between them as to the amount that is to be paid. If you do not do so, the new municipality may find itself burdened with a very heavy expense. There is no doubt that this question is a very wide one. We know that all the powers that are now carried on by the different bodies outside the Loudon County Council are very easy of adjustment, but the whole cost of carrying on the work of the London County Council comes entirely out of the Common County Fund, and we must maintain the equalisation of the rates. It is very important that that should never be done away with. The London County Council must be the custodians of this common fund, and any expenditure the burden of which is now borne by the London County Council, when it comes to hand over that power to the new municipalities, particular arrangements should be made with the London County Council. Then, there is another point on which I agree with the previous speakers, and the right honourable Gentleman who introduced this Bill. I do not like the idea of aldermen. I say I do not like the idea, because we have aldermen on the London County Council, and, therefore, I do not understand why we require aldermen in these new boroughs. They are not at all under the Municipal Corporations Act, and I don't think aldermen are necessary. I disagree on another point, for I think it would be most advisable that the different new municipalities should each return a representative to the London County Council, and I will explain why. There would then be sitting on the London County Council somebody who would be able to answer any question relating to his particular district. I am sure that London, as a whole, will welcome the Bill, and I trust that it will stimulate more local interest in the Government of London. The members 381 of the London County Council will welcome the Measure, because it will relieve them, of a great deal of committee work which it is impossible for them to do satisfactorily at the present time. The delegation of work to the new municipalities will certainly be to the advantage of the ratepayers and to the satisfaction of the inhabitants of London.
§ *MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green)
I fear I shall only be able to give my first impressions of this somewhat intricate Bill, but in listening to the very lucid exposition of the First Lord of the Treasury there were one or two features which must provoke immediate criticism. The right honourable Gentleman described the Bill as completing as far as could be the edifice of Local Government in London. Well, Sir, if that represents the opinion of the Government, I think it is all the more to be regretted that this Bill does not, as I understand, except in one important particular, touch the City of London at all. Of course, no one expected the Government to introduce into this Bill any scheme of amalgamation, but apart from that there are existing anomalies arising from the exceptional position of the City, which I think we had a fair right to expect would be removed by a Bill of this description. For instance, the London County Council exercises certain powers in the area outside the City which are arrested as soon as you reach the threshold of the City, and with regard to bye-laws and so on, considerable inconvenience results from this exceptional position of the square mile area. I think, even making full consideration for the character of this Bill, that an anomaly of that kind might have been removed. Then, Sir, there are certain matters, for instance, the housing of the working classes, to which the area of the City does not now make any contribution, and it is felt in the poorer districts of London that that is an unfair exemption. I think you have it within the scope of this Bill to remedy this grievance. The fact is, however, that the Bill will make existing anomalies all the more particularly striking. May I give one single illustration of that? This Bill proposes, and I think very rightly proposes, to reduce the number of local representatives. It is felt that in London at large the number 382 of representatives of the local bodies is far larger than necessary, and, indeed, stands in the way of prompt and effective despatch of public business. But, Sir, the most flagrant example of over-representation upon these bodies is the Corporation of the City of London itself. It is proposed by this Bill that you shall have no local authority with a number of members exceeding 72. But the Corporation of the City of London consists of 232 members! Two hundred and thirty-two members to administer the affairs of a single square mile, whereas the London County Council has only 137 to administer an area which is over 119 square miles. Then, Sir, the next point which attracted my attention, and which I think must also come with some surprise to many honourable Gentlemen in this House, is the small dimensions of the First Schedule of this Bill. I do not stand alone in my opinion in thinking that the number of areas to be fixed by Parliament and included in the Bill will be considerably larger than has been indicated to-night. Now, there is one feature, and a very peculiar feature, about that schedule. I understand that there is only one newly-constituted area, and that is what the right honourable Gentleman calls the "Greater Westminster." Sir, he said, in answer to some observations which were made by the Leader of the Opposition, that there was no intention to give to the Greater Westminster an exceptional position. But I say that Greater Westminster is treated in a manner which is exceptionally favourable, because it is the only new area which is to be carved out by the House itself; all the other areas are to be left to the tender mercies of a Commission. Then, Sir, I think it will be felt—it will be felt in my quarter of London—a little invidious that the only new area for which this House itself provides is the City of Westminster, an area of enormous rateable value and of low rates. The right honourable Gentleman said that there was no intention to interfere with the Equalisation of Rates Act. Of course, there is no intention to interfere with the Equalisation of Rates Act, but I do submit that you are now constituting a very strong bulwark, by carving out this new Greater Westminster, against the extension of the principle of the Equalisation of Rates. Then, Sir, I feel some misgiving with 383 regard to the enormous powers—I don't think I use an extravagant word—with which the Commissioners are to be trusted. So far as I gathered, they are to be left absolutely without guidance except the guidance of the inferior and superior limits to which the right honourable Gentleman has referred. As I have said, I anticipated that a far larger number of areas would be included in the Schedule of the Bill. When you have an area already existing which is the area of local government, and which is also either a Parliamentary division or a combination of Parliamentary divisions, and where, furthermore, you have had for some years people working together in such area, both in Imperial and in local affairs, it does seem to me a pity to throw those areas into the melting pot, and to give to the Commissioners absolute power — because within the limits to which I have referred they are absolute—of carving out new areas. Then, Sir, there is one feature of this Bill to which I very strongly object, and which I venture to think London at large will regard with grave misgiving, and that is the inclusion of aldermen in the local bodies. Sir, it is true we have an infusion of aldermen in the London County Council, but when you created your aldermen in the London County Council you did not provide that one-third of the Council should be aldermen. You were timid, and you proposed that one-sixth only should be aldermen.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. C. T. RITCHIE,) Croydon
The honourable Gentleman is quite wrong. The original Bill proposed one-third, and it was only by the introduction of an Amendment that that was altered.
§ *MR. PICKERSGILL
Exactly; the House was not willing to have the name infusion of aldermen in the London County Council which exists in the municipalities throughout the country. And yet you are going to introduce aldermen in the proportion of one-third in these smaller bodies. Sir, I see opposite my right honourable Friend the Member for Bodmin, who was responsible for the report of the Commission which I hold in my hand. The honourable Member for the Strand a 384 few moments ago claimed that this Bill followed the lines recommended by the Royal Commissioners. But in this matter of the aldermen you are acting directly contrary to the recommendation of that Commission over which the right honourable Gentleman opposite presided. May I just read two or three lines on this subject?—We have not suggested that aldermen should form permanently a part even of the new governing body of the Old City. We have had in view the other parts of London, and while it would be easy and for many reasons desirable to confer on these governing bodies the name of Council, and to enable them to elect Mayors of their respective districts, no element analogous to that of Aldermen is found in their present composition, nor have we met with any desire to adopt such an addition.Sir, that is a very strong expression of opinion, and although I do not want to assume the rôle of a prophet, yet I do feel that there will be a very strong feeling against, these aldermen, and I am almost disposed to say that your provision with regard to aldermen will not receive the approval of the House. Then, Sir, there is another feature of the Bill to which I desire to allude, and which I confess, like my honourable Friend the Member for Shoreditch, I regard with considerable doubt and misgiving, and that is the machinery by which the London County Council is to be enabled to transfer its powers to the local authorities. If, for instance, owing to casual circumstances, there happens to be a particular majority at one time on the London County Council, and a particular majority of the same complexion on the local bodies, it will be possible under this Bill for the London County Council to part with all its patrimony just as a circus performer throws off his outer garments. I don't think that that is a proposal which we can regard as safe. And then, Sir, I noticed that the machinery is to be used all in one direction—the machinery is to be used all in the direction of transferring powers from the London County Council to the local authorities. Surely the machinery ought to be equally applicable to the transfer in the other direction from the local bodies to the central authority. May I give just one illustration of what I mean? At present the Adulteration Acts are administered by the local authorities, 385 very unsatisfactorily for the public, and one can see that it is very desirable that those officers who have to administer a penal statute should be disassociated from local influence; and I think, therefore, that it would be very salutary that the administration of the Food and Drugs Act should be transferred from the local authority to the central authority. I give that as an illustration for my view that machinery which is applicable to transfer powers in one direction should be available to transfer them in the other. Then with regard to rating. The references of the right honourable Gentleman to the question of rating were, I am sure, received with great satisfaction, with almost universal satisfaction. We are glad—at least, I am heartily glad—to hear that there is to be one demand note, and I agree also that it is well that the precept should be sent direct by the spending authority to the authority which is to levy the rate; and you are to have one rating authority for each municipality. Well, all this is to the good, and of this I am sure that we on his side most heartily approve. But, after all, you may have the best system of rating in the world, you may have for London the best possible system of rating, but the effect which you desire, which, of course, is uniformity, fairness between man and man, and between one area and another—the effect which you desire will be nugatory unless you have also a uniform system of assessment; and I hope—I am afraid it is not in the Bill, but I do hope—that in the discussions in Committee we shall be able to induce the Government to act upon a suggestion which is contained in this Report of the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission says, and rightly says, that local knowledge and experience are necessary in making your assessments, but they add that the local body should be associated with some representation of the central authority. It is only by some representation of the central authority that you can possibly secure that uniformity which we desire. Mr. Speaker, this Bill has some good features. It has also, I venture to think, some features which are very bad. I hope we shall be able to keep the one and eliminate the other.
§ MR. BARTLEY
Of course, one can only look at this Measure from a general view. Certainly those of us who have not had any previous knowledge of it listened with great attention to the very lucid statement we have heard. Now, Sir, of course the details are matters which we shall have to go into, and which will require very great and very careful attention at later stages of the Bill. But, looking at it from a general standpoint, what seems to strike me is, that the great feature of the Bill is really what we desire—a glorification—an increased honour and dignity—of the vestries that now exist. Now, Sir, that is an idea that many of us have always had, that these bodies, which are of very great importance—which, if they existed anywhere but in London, would be considered as some of the largest Local Government bodies in the world—should have greater power and greater dignity and greater position. But, Sir, looking at the details, it seems to me that we give them another name, but I cannot quite see that we give them any very much greater power or position.A roseBy any other name would smell as sweet"—And I suppose the vestry, when it is dignified with the name of Corporation, if it has only the same powers, will really be very much what it was before. I myself was rather disappointed to think that this Bill was not going to take the opportunity of rearranging more precisely than it does the different functions of the London County Council and these various bodies. Of course, the fact remains that we did in the year 1888 create the cart rather before the horse, because we ought to have created these smaller bodies before we made the central body, which we made in the first instance. It seems to me it would have been very much easier if we had started our Local Government system by forming these corporations, and then, when we had seen how they worked and developed, making a sort of connecting body to bind them all together, for those overlapping purposes which, after all, are very important, but which, it seems to me, will not be arranged very satisfactorily by the present system. Sir, of course, in this glorification of the 387 vestry, and the making of the vestry a municipality, there is one feature that we must consider very carefully, and that is its effect upon the local burdens in each district. Of course, you cannot have dignity and power without increased expense, and we must remember—certainly those of us who represent not the richer districts—that the rates are at present extremely high, that many persons are only able to get on with considerable difficulty, and although we may be very glad to see these local bodies have the glitter and position which we wish to give them, yet it must be very carefully seen into that we do not add so materially to the rates as to inflict a very great, hardship upon the many hundreds of thousands of ratepayers who are making a living, a hard living, in these various districts of London. Sir, as regards these areas: I agree with the honourable Member who has just spoken. I am sorry to think that we are going to put London into the furnace and rearrange the areas. Of course, Westminster I take to be in an exceptional position altogether. The ancient City of Westminster, I agree should be restored, if possible, to somewhat its old position; but in other districts it seems to me a pity if we do not abide by the areas which now return Members to this House. Of course, this does not affect me individually, because my own district is left in the Bill: it would hardly do to separate Islington, which is a very largo and populous place. But we are getting these fresh divisions of London to work more and more as units for the various places, we are getting individual Members to take more and more interest in them, and it seems to me that if we are now to make another section and cut up these divisions to a certain extent in an arbitrary manner, which any Commission must do, we shall be making a mistake, and adding further complications to the already complicated condition of the divisions of London. I myself should prefer—this, of course, is all within the scope of the Bill—that the divisions which now exist should be in some way worked into the various corporations that are to be made. Well, then, Sir, concerning the number. My honourable Friend behind me said he considered that 40 municipalities would be created 388 under this Bill. I cannot think that is really the number, because that, I think, would be a great many too many to have. I was given to understand while the Bill was being discussed that the number would be something like 30. I myself think that even 30 is almost too many. London, it is true, is a very large place, but I think we must not go to the other extreme—creating these municipalities beyond reasonable bounds. I think they ought to be sufficiently large to be important, and that we must not, even under the pressure of individuals, go so far as to make them small and retain the local vestry idea. Sir, as regards the system of rating, no doubt everybody will agree that the present mode of collecting the rates has been most unsatisfactory, and I certainly do agree also with the honourable Member who has just spoken that there must be at the same time some revision of the system of assessment, which, unless it is uniform, really does lead to very serious and very great hardships. The only point which seems to me to require considerable attention is the connection between these municipalities and the London County Council. So far as I can see from the statement we have heard, there is now no connection whatever. They are all separate bodies, and there is no representation from one to the other, and I can quite understand the reasons which have induced the Government to object to that. There is to be some connection between the two bodies, and I think we shall have to consider with very great care and attention the details of the Bill which indicate how those two bodies are to work together. There has been friction between the County Council and some vestries, and if you make these bodies more important there is a possibility that, unless it is very carefully attended to in the Bill, you might increase that friction, and I think great evil might ensue to London if these bodies do not work quite smoothly together. A great question, of course, which comes between them is the matter of finance. I do not gather from the right honourable Gentleman's speech that these local authorities are to have any financial powers, in the way of raising money for their own purposes. I do not know whether that is in the Bill or not, but I do not gather 389 that the corporations are to have the right to raise money themselves. I sup pose they will have, but that, again, requires to be very carefully looked at, because if we are going to have 25 or 30 municipalities raising money, it be comes a very serious question for the ratepayers and also for the stability of finance of this great metropolis. I was a little disappointed that we did not hear more of the financial aspect, because, after all, that is a very vital matter in connection with such a Bill as this. And, of course, there is the question referred to by the honourable Member for the Strand Division concerning those officers that, will be got rid of; their rights must be very carefully preserved. I do not understand from what he said that many officers will be dispensed with. It seems to me that one function of the Bill ought to be not only to safe guard the interests of the existing officers, but to see that care should be taken that these officers should continue in the new machinery. It is quite obvious that the municipalities will require practically the same sort of officers, and I think we should take care not to en courage the idea of getting rid of existing officers, of course, giving them liberal compensation, because that, after all, means further cost to the unfortunate ratepayers, but that we should take every possible precaution to safeguard the interests of the individual officers and also to secure the interests of the rate payers, by carrying on the officers from the vestry or the existing machinery to the new machinery. I sincerely hope, Mr. Speaker, that this Measure will tend in improve the local government of London. I have always taken very great interest in that subject, and I trust that we shall adopt the view of the honourable Member for Shoreditch, and consider these matters as they concern the welfare of London rather than as they serve Party purposes. And if we do that, although I am not sure that this Bill will satisfy everybody, still I think it will do away with some of the anomalies of the present government of London, and it will bring forward the interest of different individuals of all ranks in the community, so that we make this great metropolis, without enormously increasing the expense to the unfortunate ratepayer, a far better 390 governed city than it is at the present time.
§ MR. BUXTON
I do not propose to detain the House more than a very short time, because although we have listened to the speech of the right honourable Gentleman, and recognise the admirable lucidity with which he dealt with a most complicated subject, after all the matter itself depends very much on the terms and the details of the Bill that is to be produced. Perhaps he will allow me to recognise the very conciliatory tone with which he dealt with the whole subject. I entirely endorse what was said by the honourable Member for Shoreditch, as far as I am concerned as a London Member, that we desire that this question of completing the edifice of self-government for London should not be turned into a Party question, but should be dealt with on broad and general lines, with an endeavour to work out and complete the very great question of London government, in which two steps have already been taken in advance. I am quite sure that the right honourable Gentleman will recognise that this is the spirit in which we shall endeavour to deal with the Bill, and I hope that he will be prepared not to deal with us as he dealt with us, some of us thought not quite justly, on the Education question, but that when we propose Amendments he will receive them in the spirit in which certainly we desire to tender them. My honourable Friend the Member for the Strand Division said that this Bill was not so sensational as the Opposition would wish. What I think I may say to him with much greater truth is, that we are glad to find that it is not so sensational as some of us had feared it might be, because we have had intimations last year and the year before, and even this year, that the question might be dealt with in a totally different manner to that with which we recognise that the right honourable Gentleman intends to deal with it. I am not now going into the past history of the question, or to detail again the speech of the Prime Minister, or the proposals which we certainly thought might possibly be made with the fantastical idea of cutting London up into half a dozen or a dozen municipalities, or even the proposal that appeals to the 391 honourable Member for Camberwell, to reduce the London County Council again to the position of a Board of Works. Well, we had our London County Council election, we had the matter placed before the ratepayers of London, and they gave such a decisive verdict, that I am glad to think the Government have thought better of the matter, if they did really intend to deal with it in a different spirit, and are now dealing with it in a spirit in which we are able to meet them half-way. I notice some very good points, as it seemed to me, in the Bill, and in the speech of the right honourable Gentleman. In the first place, I am glad to recognise the fact that he proposes to deal with the matter, not by giving grants and charters here and there, but simultaneously and compulsorily to deal with the whole area of the metropolis as one; and instead of, as he would otherwise have done, making confusion worse confounded, really doing something to simplify our local government throughout the metropolis. I am quite sure that the House generally, with the exception, perhaps, of the honourable Gentleman the Member for Camberwell, also recognises that it is a good feature of this Bill that there are to be no secondary elections, and that the County Council is to be complete in itself as representing the ratepayers, and the local bodies are to be complete in themselves as representing their local affairs, and that, such connection as there must be between the two bodies will be the indirect connection of members sitting upon both the County Council and the local bodies, and also the fact, which, of course, cannot but be recognised, that there are a very large number of duties in which the powers of the two bodies must necessarily intermingle and overlap, and which must bring them into direct connection one with another. Another point upon which I may say that we on this side rejoice to find ourselves in accord with the right honourable Gentleman was that the powers and duties and responsibilities of the London County Council were in no sense of the term to be diminished or interfered with, and that so far as there would be a connection between the central body and the new municipalities, the local bodies, it would be one in which their authorities might, to a certain extent, overlap, and in that case the County Council would 392 be the supreme authority for all matters pertaining to the metropolis as a whole. But I am sorry to say that even by the speech of the right honourable Gentleman—without waiting for the Bill in detail—there are one or two points raised respecting which it will be necessary for us to endeavour, either on Second Reading or in Committee, to give the House of Commons an opportunity of discussing their merits. In the first place, there was the question—the very enormous question, the enormous blot on the Bill—of the total omisson to deal with the City, either wholly or in the partial way such as my honourable Friend behind me proposed. Well, the honourable Member for the Strand, in his speech, said that this Bill was practically founded—so I understood him to say—as regards these local bodies, on the report of the Royal Commission of a year or two ago, over which the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Bodmin presided. Well, but the whole gist and the whole spirit of the report of the Royal Commission was that the time had come—they said so emphatically—when London ought to 02 treated as one unit, as one whole, and that not only ought the local bodies to be brought into connection with the London County Council as the central body, but that the County Council and the City ought to be amalgamated under certain conditions, so that the metropolis might in the future be treated, not as two bodies, but as one whole.
§ MR. BUXTON
No doubt, in a sense, that had been decided for them in the terms of the reference, but I think, if my honourable Friend says this proposal is carrying out the Report and the suggestions of the Royal Commission he is not quite accurate. Though the matter was decided for them by that reference, they themselves most emphatically argued, most emphatically decided, in favour of the general amalgamation of the City with the other parts of the metropolis. That is a point with which, no doubt, we shall have to deal in the later stages of this Bill, and, therefore, I will not labour it at the present moment. But I think many of us regret very deeply that the Government did not 393 see their way on the present occasion to deal with the question as a whole, and to get rid of such an anomaly as the un-reformed Corporation of the City of London is, situated in the centre of this great metropolis, and preventing in many ways the real, proper self-government of this great population. Well, there is a second point which, I confess, I thought rather a blot on the Bill: that was the creation of what I can hardly help feeling will be in the future the City of the West, this great new municipality of the old City of Westminster. It is true the right honourable Gentleman interrupted my right honourable Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and said that the City of Westminster would be on the same basis and on the same terms as the other municipalities established in London. That is perfectly true, but it has this great distinction, surely, that, in the first place, it is to be created by the House of Commons, instead of being created by the Royal Commission, because it is an amalgamation of areas; and, in the second place, it is of far greater financial importance than any other municipality created under the Bill as it stands, or which can be created by the Royal Commission when it has to create these new municipalities. In the Tower Hamlets, for which I sit, the only municipality which is to be created is Poplar. To that I do not object, because it is a natural area, and it is one which, in all probability, under any Bill would be created into a municipality. But I find that the large municipality of the City of Westminster represents a population considerably larger than that of Poplar, and a rateable value no less than seven times that of the municipality of Poplar; and if you take any other municipalities created by the Bill as it stands, or those to be created by the Royal Commissioners, you will find that the rateable value of Westminster exceeds that of the most influential of them as much as two and a-half times. And, therefore, I say that, while you are not proposing to give to Westminster additional powers over those given to other municipalities, you are, nevertheless, giving to Westminster very great weight in regard to the municipal government of London, and I am rather afraid that the whole of its influence will go to support the influence of the City, and that, while you leave the City in the centre, you will be creating 394 a new city and a city against progressive feeling and against the proper Govern ment of London—in the West as well. Well, there is, to my mind, a very serious blot on the Bill in the very extraordinary powers which are to be left to this Royal Commission. The Bill creates, as I understand it, something like—
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
There is nothing exceptional in this Bill. Whenever we have had to deal with a question of this sort, precisely the same kind of Commission has been adopted. It is not a Royal Commission—
§ MR. BUXTON
I am not objecting to the machinery. I have no doubt that the Gentlemen who will be placed on this Commission—
§ MR. BUXTON
Well, on this body of Commissioners will be men eminently suited for the purpose which we have in view; but what I am objecting to is not the men themselves, but the very large liberty which will be given to them for cutting and carving up the metropolis in regard to these new areas. I must say I think that, taking into account the fact that in many parts of the metropolis there are natural limitations, natural associations of local feeling and local life already existing, it would have been much better to have taken these 16 areas which could at once be grouped into municipalities, and I am quite sure that almost any member of this House who has given the matter any attention could have added another eight or nine to these municipalities which the Government themselves, on their own initiative and responsibility, might have created in the Bill. This Bill leaves very large powers to these Commissioners—I think I have got that term right now—to cut and carve out the municipalities in a way which, while they themselves may think it is best, the House of Commons and those interested in the metropolis might ultimately not think was the right and proper system. As I understand the right honourable Gentleman, the Commissioners are practically not to be limited at all—they are limited by populations of 100,000, and they can go up to 400,000, but that is practically no limitation at all. And the rateable value 395 must not be less than half a million; but that, of course, is a very small rateable value compared with the other municipalities which are created by the Bill. And looking at it from the point of view of the Tower Hamlets, in which I am especially interested, I find that one portion of that area, namely, Bromley-by-Bow, has already been taken away and created into a municipality by the Bill, but it will be a very serious matter for the proper government of the Tower Hamlets whether the rest of the Tower Hamlets is divided into one, or two, or three other municipalities. I think we are entitled to say that the Government ought by this time to have had such a well-considered scheme, in regard to the vast bulk of these municipalities, that they could have come down to us and said that, at all events in principle, they would define them. Of course, nobody objects for one moment to leaving mere questions of boundaries to these Commissioners, but I think we ought to have had some indication, either in the Bill or from the Leader of the House, as representing the Government, as to the directions or instructions which will be given to these Commissioners. Sir, as I understand from the right honourable Gentleman, practically the only instructions to be given to these Commissioners is that they are to create a certain unknown number, an undefined number, of municipalities, that they are to be within the limit of 100,000 population on the one hand, and 400,000 population on the other, and practically otherwise the whole matter is to be left to them; and, in my opinion, far too great discretion is being left to these Commissioners. Well, then there is the question already alluded to, of the transfer of powers. Not one of us, I am sure, on this side or in any part of the House, can object to the transfer of powers from the London County Council to the municipalities in regard to those powers which were agreed upon, unanimously agreed upon, by the conference a year or two ago between the London County Council and the local vestries and district boards. Of course, there can be no possible objection to that. No doubt there are other matters, other powers, which might be, and properly might be, ultimately transferred to these new municipalities when they are created. I am entirely in accord with the right honourable Gentleman in thinking that 396 where the London County Council and the local bodies come to an agreement with regard to these affairs there should be some power in the Bill to transfer such affairs. But I do not altogether like the idea, the proposal of the right honourable Gentleman. What did he say? He practically said that if the County Council by a majority agreed with some of these new municipalities in regard to their powers, those powers may be transferred, subject to the assent of the Local Government Board. What does that mean? We have—unfortunately, as the right honourable Gentleman says—introduced politics into the London County Council, and although, at the present moment, I am glad to say we have a Progressive majority upon that body, at any moment it may be captured by the Moderate, Party; no doubt, some honourable Members only hope that it may be. But what will be the result, what might be the result I We should have, not a Moderate, but an immoderate Moderate majority, a majority which might want, as Lord Salisbury desired, to smash the County Council, to drive the County Council to commit suicide, as he himself said, and transfer some of their most important powers to the local bodies. Suppose the Moderate majority decided to transfer some of these important powers to the local bodies, and that the powers are transferred, when the Moderate majority disappears and a Progressive majority comes in they will find themselves absolutely hampered with regard to this matter. They have lost these powers for ever, and the London County Council—I will not use the word "smash," because some honourable Members object to it—is for ever impaired and rendered an ineffective body.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
The honourable Gentleman shows the objection to discussing the details before the Bill is printed. I stated that there would be Provisional Orders required in the case of every transfer of powers, and, therefore, the assent of Parliament must be obtained before the transfer takes place.
§ MR. BUXTON
When we have a Moderate majority in the County Council we always have a Conservative majority in the House of Commons; I 397 want to suggest a practical proposal, because I am entirely at one with the right honourable Gentleman in regard to the general principle that where there is an agreement between the London County Council and the municipalities with reference to certain powers, those powers ought to be transferred. I propose, and I will move an Amendment with reference to it, that there should be a check. I do not think that I have stated a very extragavant case, but it seems to me that where we have a proposal to transfer powers, those powers should not be transferred except by a two-thirds majority of the County Council. There will be no possibility of the. County Council obstructively objecting to any transfer which they thought would be to their advantage, while such a check would prevent abuse. There is one other point which must get some attention; that is the question of allowing the municipalities to promote Hills in the House of Commons. I am afraid it may lead to considerable Parliamentary expense and to considerable friction between the central and local bodies. I was very glad to hear what the right honourable Gentleman said with regard to the rating authority, because I think any way in which the rating system of London can be simplified or economised would be a very great advantage. There are one or two other points to which we shall have to give attention in Committee. I do not believe there is any desire throughout the metropolis to have aldermen on these new municipalities. They have never been liked on principle on the County Council. In fact, the name has entirely disappeared off the Council, and I do not think there is any desire to have it on the new bodies. With regard to elections, I hope the right honourable Gentleman will give favourable consideration to the matter when we come to consider it in detail. As I understand, the Bill as it is is practically as regards elections founded on the Municipal Corporations Act, namely, that annual elections must be held, a third of the Members going out every year. I should like to consider, if I may, whether one of the evils of our present day system is not a multiplicity of public elections, and whether it would not be better, as in the case of the School Board and the County Council 398 instead of a third going out every year, which would necessitate an annual election, that there should be an election only once in three years. There would be much more public interest in the matter, and that after all is one of the objects of these municipalities. I believe you would get better men to serve, and save a great deal of trouble and responsibility. That is a point which I think the House of Commons will deal with on entirely non-Party lines. I apologise to the House for detaining it so long, and I can only say that as regards myself, and I am sure also my honourable Friends behind me, we shall give the Bill a most cordial consideration, and meet it in the same spirit in which the right honourable Gentleman was good enough to introduce it, with the desire to make it a really complete Measure, and, except as regards the City, the crowning edifice of the government of the metropolis.
§ *MR. COHEN
Mr. Speaker, I am sure the House has listened with very great pleasure to the words of the honourable Gentleman who has just sat down. The honourable Gentleman the Member for Bethnal Green was the first in this Debate to use the terms Progressive and Moderate, and other Party designations. He did not follow the example of my right honourable Friend, who introduced this Bill without making any references which could wound the susceptibilities of the most extreme Progressive or most reactionary Moderate. The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition began his speech by saying that he heard the speech of my right honourable Friend with great relief. I am glad some relief has been brought to honourable Gentlemen opposite from the anxiety which they felt, but which I believe was never anything more than illusionary. I find it very difficult to suppose that honourable Members opposite really believed there was any ground whatever for the apprehension that this Government or any other Government would ever attempt what I believe to be the impossible task of diminishing the powers or altering the privileges of the London County Council, which is my opinion has always exercised its powers creditably, honourably and effi- 399 ciently. Therefore I do not see for myself what anxiety there could be with regard to the County Council, and I think it is remarkable that the principal criticism urged against the Bill has come from honourable Gentlemen opposite who are not members of the County Council. The honourable Gentleman the Member for Shoreditch, who is not only a member of the County Council, but a very distinguished and influential member of that body, gave an absolutely friendly criticism except as regards the City. Of course he objects to the City part of the Bill. We all expected he would, and in his turn he will not expect I should. On the contrary, I welcome it, and I believe that in saying that I am speaking not only as one of the representatives of the City in the County Council. I believe, on the contrary, I represent the opinion of the majority of London at large, and perhaps of Englishmen at large, when I say that I rejoice that Her Majesty's Government have left the City exactly as it has been for the last eight centuries. The honourable Gentleman the Member for Bethnal Green found fault with this Bill, not, as he said, because it did not touch the City, for he was good enough to say that no one expected this Government would destroy the City, but lie did expect that they would make some provision for the removal of what he calls some small anomalies in the regulation of the City. The honourable Member has forgotten, if he ever knew, that section 47 of the Local Government Act of 1888 specially provides for tire adjustment of various matters by agreement with the Corporation of the City of London, so that the Measure, which expressly leaves the City unaltered, could not touch any matters already provided for by statute. The honourable Gentleman the Member for Poplar says Her Majesty's Government have not touched the City, as was decided by the Commission of my right honourable Friend the Member for Bodmin I must remind him that that question was just the question not decided by the Royal Commission at all. That was decided by Her Majesty's late advisers. They decided that the City should, as they called it, be amalgamated with the County Coun- 400 cil, and they asked my right honourable Friend and his Commission to decide how it could be done. Whether it was to be done or not the Commission never decided, because they never considered, it being specially excluded by the terms of their reference. So much for the "emphatic decision," as the honourable Member called it, of the Royal Commission on a vital point never considered by that Commission. To the details of this Rill it would be premature to refer at any length at present. Personally, I do not see why honourable Gentlemen opposite should have such misgivings regarding the power given to the local bodies to promote Bills in this House. Possibly they may have in their minds the very heavy cost of that sort of proceeding when undertaken by the County Council. I think that cost is extravagant, and I think, therefore, that as these local bodies will have to bear the whole cost of any such action, they will be much less likely to indulge in extravagant expenditure than another body. I myself do not in any way apprehend any danger, because I believe the way to promote economy is to make certain that those who indulge in extravagance will have to bear the cost. The honourable Gentleman the Member for Shoreditch did not object to the non-existence of a bond between the County Council and the local bodies. He rather complained that no member of the London County Council could sit as such upon any of the local bodies. I think, myself, that the arrangement whereby the two bodies are kept distinct is calculated to promote cordiality and good relations between them. I am glad to know that every year greater cordiality is shown between the County Council and the Corporation of the City of London. I thank the House for having listened to me, and I will not retain it longer, but I should like to tender on behalf of my constituency, which will be one of the first to derive benefit from the Bill, my thanks to the right honourable Gentleman for this long-expected Measure, which will be heartily welcome, and will be cordially received by all parts of London.
§ *MR. BURNS (Battersea)
I join with Members on both sides of the House in congratulating the right honourable Gentleman on the tone, character, and, may I add, temper with which he intro- 401 duced this Bill; but, notwithstanding that one must agree even at the first survey of its main provisions, there are points of criticism that may be appropriate even on the First Reading. But I welcome the speech of the right honourable Gentleman in one very important particular, because he gives London a final opportunity of hearing from him on behalf of his Party the last of any desire to smash the County Council or in any way to impair or undermine its efficiency. As a Councillor from the very first, I am pleased to know that London recognises that whatever may have been the defects of the Council, from the point of view of devotion, honesty, capacity, and, may I add, the disinterestedness of its Councillors, very few bodies have exceeded it in the history of England, and I trust the spirit which actuates the right honourable Gentleman will extend to the whole of his supporters during the passage of this Bill. I rise to say a few words of a critical character. The Bill is open to criticism on several points. I would have wished that the right honourable Gentleman had amplified the relation of this Bill to the probable development of the Equalisation of Rates, and the maintenance of that equalisation as we now understand it with the logical and inevitable development of that principle. I do appeal to him not to allow anybody to interfere with the Council, as it now is with the Common Poor Fund, as the collector and distributor of the Equalisation of Rates, and I trust if anything is done it will be rather in the direction of developing the theory of equalisation than of diminishing it. I am very glad that the Bill has simplified rating, and if the right honourable Gentleman can provide a uniform and better system of assessment than now prevails, I would urge him to do it, and if that cannot be done by the local authorities, then the next best thing is to make the Council the central assessment body, which, perhaps, many of the local bodies would agree to. In any event it could be made the court of appeal. The right honourable Gentleman must look forward to some of the smaller vestries very strongly criticising this Bill. I hope this Bill will tend to increase interest in local life in the 16 municipalities that will be created, but I am under the 402 impression that some of the smaller areas will regard this Bill as an instrument for diminishing local life, and for increasing the apathy of their citizens and destroying that incentive to public spirit which now prevails in those small areas. The right honourable Gentleman has made, as I suspected he would, the chairmen of the new local bodies mayors. If this title will attract better men, I would be in favour of it, but I am not particularly enamoured of the gentleman who takes part in the local life of his district because he hopes some day to be a mayor. You will generally find that the men who are dissatisfied with the simple title of Chairman and want to be mayors are very often snobbish and incompetent, and are frequently bores. I hope the title of mayor will not attract those ornamental, but not very useful, persons. If the title will stimulate a dormant sense of duty and attract better men to the Council, then I will be pleased to see it. I am, however, doubtful. Now I come from mayors to aldermen. I am very sorry indeed that it was necessary to create aldermen in the new bodies. Our experience of aldermen in the County Council is not eminently satisfactory. There are a few of them who attend to their duties, but a large number stay away. If these new aldermen are to be created, may I respectfully suggest that they should be elected as aldermen are elected in the County Council, by the councillors of the Council, not by the aldermen. That will be an improvement. The main point that I want to criticise is the power given to the local authorities to promote Bills. In my opinion this is fraught with great danger to the metropolis as a whole, including the districts which will have the superficial advantage of promoting Bills. What will happen? On the face of it it appears good to give the new Councils power to promote and oppose Bills, but really I believe that power will be used against the metropolitan life and power of London by such monopolies as water, gas, electric light, and possibly tramways. We all know what happens now. At the present moment these local authorities have not the power to promote Bills, but the Council on their behalf does undertake that duty. We know what monopolists do towards the Council when it promotes Bills. They attack and confront it at every opportunity, and 403 possibly these monopolists will now use these local bodies as a means of gaining their own ends in certain districts, and in so doing to fight the County Council on great metropolitan questions affecting the vital issues of all bodies local and central. I would prefer that one body had the power of promoting Bills for metropolitan purposes, and if that is not carefully watched, on the principle of divide and conquer, the monopolists will use the local authorities to fight the Council and damage London as a whole, and possibly the local authorities themselves. There is also another point. Provincial Members object to the House of Commons being used for the discussion of minor maters affecting London. But what will the House of Commons say if when the County Council promotes a Bill, 14 or 15 other bodies appear to oppose it, or promote Bills in an opposite direction. It would possibly make the House of Commons sick of London questions altogether. In this respect, the new bodies may play the game of the monopolists, but they will not conduce to the interest of the metropolis as a whole. I also view with suspicion the power of the County Council to remit, but not to acquire, certain powers which the local authorities may want or not. It seems to me it ought to be reciprocal. I can conceive occasions when a local authority would be anxious and willing that the County Council should have certain powers, but under the Bill it will not have the power to acquire them. One other point. The honourable Member who spoke last twitted the County Council with being extravagant, and for its large expenditure in opposing Bills. What will happen if all these local authorities have the power to do the same? It will, of course, add to the expense, needless extravagance overlapping, and might act to the ultimate detriment of the Council and the local authorities. They ought to be at least confined to their own area. With regard to the question of loans, I am not so sure that it would be wise to let the local authorities have power to raise them. The financial system of the County Council is excellent. I believe it stands well on the Stock Exchange—I am rather sorry to hear that for one reason—but, as a matter of fact, its finance is much respected, and its credit is very good. I believe that if the local 404 authorities have the power of raising loans, it may lead to insurance companies and banks coquetting with them for raising loans at a higher rate of interest but at shorter periods than the Council could secure them. I would like the right honourable Gentleman to have dealt with the financial sides of these new Councils, but he has not said a word about audit.
§ *MR. BURNS
I hope, then, the right honourable Gentleman will favourably consider the advisability of subjecting these new Councils to the same audit as the County Council, namely, of the Local Government Board. We do not complain of the audit of the Local Government Board. I hope also that the right honourable Gentleman will give the new Councils the powers of the Boards of Guardians. I would have welcomed that because it would take the administration of the Poor Law out of the hands of Bumble and of clergymen of every denomination, and have invested it with a dignity it does not now possess and brought it under the criticism and administration of more businesslike men than are now returned to the Boards of Guardians. I am exceedingly sorry that so much is left to the Boundary Commission. I think it would have been wiser had we all known our respective areas and what was going to happen to the districts. I trust, at any rate, that the report of the Boundary Commission will be subject to the veto of the House of Commons, and that the Commissioners will not have it all their own way, as Boundary Commissioners too frequently desire. This is not the time or the occasion for going into this Bill in more detail. I trust that the right honourable Gentleman will remove one illusion from his mind which his language seemed to indicate that he held—namely, that this Bill can be regarded as a final settlement of London Government. I regard this Bill, like the Act of 1888, as only an instalment of the claims of London to self-government. Whether honourable Members opposite like it or not the 405 City has got to be dealt with some day.
§ *MR. BURNS
Yes, the City has got to be dealt with some day, and I believe that day is not so far distant as many so-called representatives of the City are apt to think. We hear about the Corporation being the embodiment of the highest civic traditions, of historical continuity and all that sort of thing, but there are some of us who think that where it is not a municipal mausoleum asylum it has a tendency to become a glorified Bucket-shop. There are some of us who believe that it ought to take a keener and closer interest in the life of poor and struggling citizens than it does. And when the City is to be dealt with amalgamation must take place. Nor can the Metropolitan Asylums Board be left in its present anomalous and extraordinary position. We all know that this Bill, good as it may be in a few points, is but an instalment of a far deeper and wider reform, and only as such I welcome it. I trust it will rouse a sense of duty in our young men who do not take a sufficient interest in the affairs of the community. I trust it will stimulate the civic life of London, which at present is too conspicuous by its absence. I trust that it will bring order and good administration where now is extravagance, waste and reactionary ideas, and in so far as it leads in that direction I heartily welcome it. The right honourable Gentleman may rest assured that this Bill is going to be subjected to criticism and serious change that will have a tendency to strengthen and improve it in the directions I have indicated.
§ *MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
It is impossible to criticise at length a Bill the details of which we have only heard from the speech of the right honourable the Leader of the House. But perhaps I may be allowed to say a word or two at this stage. The Bill is founded on two principles: it will not touch the London County Council, and it will not touch the City of London. Well, these two negative qualities are perhaps set off, the one against the other. Those who were alarmed lest the Bill would 406 touch the London County Council will think that they have got something, and those who were afraid that the City was to be interfered with are now assured that it is not to be touched. Experience has shown that it is practically impossible to reduce the importance of the London County Council. I am afraid that in its first years it was regarded with suspicion, and apprehension existed as to its being interfered with. At that time there was a, good deal of random talk inside the County Council, and this was followed by equally random denunciation outside the Council. But those who have spoken most strongly about limiting the powers of the London County Council now recognise that that is impracticable. The truth is that from the very nature of things the London County Council cannot be substantially reduced in importance; rather that importance will go on increasing. My right honourable Friend the First Lord of the Treasury proposes to create a certain number of municipalities in London, and everybody is agreed on the expediency of that. Honourable Members may differ as to the value of the suggestions as to what should be altered and what should not be altered. You are going to create these new municipalities, and we are willing to give them the glory of mayors and aldermen, but I confess I have a strong feeling that, do what you will, you cannot make the functions of these bodies very important. Whatever arrangements are made in the future about the police, they will not get anything to do with that subject or with the supply of water or gas, although they may do a little with electric lighting. The trend of opinion and the nature of things is in the direction of uniform action in the matter of administration outside and inside the limits of these subject municipalities. The demand is made, "Why do not the London County Council do this or that?" The answer is, "They have not the power to do it; the power is vested in the vestries and the boards of guardians." The trend of opinion is that these powers should be in the hands of the London County Council. Consider, for example, the condition of the roads. Every now and then you hear it said: "How absurd 407 it is that the management of Piccadilly should be vested in a vestry. How bad it is that when you are driving along your horse suddenly passes from asphalt to wood and from wood to macadam." The uniform administration of the roads is of great advantage when the roads are being repaired, and also in economy of administration. From the nature of things you must have a movement in the direction of placing roads, at least the main roads, under the management of the London County Council rather than of vestries. The Royal Commission which inquired into the subject, and of which I had the honour of being a member, was most desirous of fortifying the subordinate municipalities rather than weakening them, but we could not see much to be done in this direction. It has been agreed that certain functions should be transferred from the County Council to the subordinate councils, but they are of a secondary character. The honourable Members for Battersea and Poplar have great apprehensions lest a Moderate majority in the Council may be induced to consent to the abandonment to the subordinate municipalities of a great many powers now vested in the former body. But they ought to know very well how Members cling to the authority and power they possess, and even Moderate members of the London County Council do not want to give up their work, and they will not find it possible to give up that work in any substantial degree. I have not gathered from the speech of my right honourable Friend whether the Provisional Orders transferring functions to the new bodies are to come before Parliament, but if any guarantee were necessary against the abuse of these provisional orders, the necessity of coming before Parliament, which I now understand to be affirmed by my right honourable Friend, will furnish that guarantee. As to the new municipality of the City of Westminster there is no doubt of the great importance of the proposal to organise the ancient city, and if this proposal is fully adopted a municipality will be created of immense wealth, great power, and preponderating influence. I should have thought, myself, that the area mentioned is too big to be easily managed, and I can warn my friends that they will probably find some objection to the creation of that 408 City from persons who will be affected by its formation. Representatives of the existing vestries will probably protest, as the Vestry of St. James's energetically protested before the Royal Commission, that places full of associations of a historical and literary character ought not to be swamped in any large area. With respect to the new municipalities to be created, my right honourable Friend did not mention who are to be the Commissioners entrusted with that work. Will they be mentioned in the Bill or will it be left to the discretion of the Government to select them after the Bill becomes law? The names of Boundary Commissioners have generally been mentioned in the Bill, but it may be convenient to mention their names at a later stage. One suggestion I think it worth while to mention with reference to their functions. Certain conditions have been laid down as to the population and rating value of the municipalities to be created. I agree with the condition as to valuation, but it ought also to be provided that under no circumstances should existing boundaries be cut. The new municipalities ought to be either an existing unit of administration or a combination of existing units. Such a cutting would only lead to further confusion. I think that is all that I have got to say on that branch of the subject, but there is another point on which I wish to make a few remarks. The Bill does not touch the City of London. I confess that I think it is almost ludicrous to see the respect which is paid to the City of London. The fear and anxiety which this strong Government has about touching the City of London is overstrained. I did not expect my right honourable Friend to touch it. He has the power to do great things, but the time has passed away. But, of course, it will have to be done some day, and when it is done the Conservative Members of the future will wonder at the reasons which led to the maintenance of this anomalous institution. We passed in recent years a Parochial Charities Act, which took away a great part of the charity funds from the administration of the old trustees and gave them, under sanction of Parliament, to Commissioners who dispense the funds all over the metropolis, and even beyond it, for the bene- 409 fit of the people at large. How can it be suggested that the administration of the particular funds, of which this small body are only trustees, and which are now really used by them not for the benefit of the City but for the benefit of the larger area, can be properly limited to that body of trustees. It appears to me absurd. They are the mere trustees, for example, of what is called the Bridge House Estate, and they recognise that this trust runs outside the City. The Corporation has in deed, created the Tower Bridge out of the trust funds, and it is generally recognised that the whole of the funds are practically available for the wants of the whole metropolis. In the same way the markets of the City were left under the control of the City, but they are really markets which belong to the whole of the metropolis. These trusts have far out-grown the particular area within which it is insisted in some quarters that the trustees should be maintained in their administration. You cannot maintain the Corporation of the City of London in the future as in the past. It must be made a body analagous to those which you are going to create outside its area. A Bill which provides for not interfering with the London County Council and for not interfering with the City of London is not likely to produce enormous results. It is, however, a good Bill so far as it goes, and really may be regarded at the same time as a preparation for something of far greater importance.
§ SIR C. DILKE
Those of us who for some years past have taken much interest in this question and have been working at it in a practical way must agree with most of the things which have been said regarding the Bill. In the very few words which I shall address to the House I shall confine myself to matters which have not been dealt with to-night at all. There is one matter of the most far-reaching moment in connection with the Bill which has not been considered at all. The speech of the Leader of the Opposition and those of other honourable Friends who followed him from this side of the House have hit the blot on the Bill as they viewed it, namely, that the Bill somewhat insidiously appears to strike at 410 some of those powers for which London is united at the present time. But my honourable Friends have not pointed out why there is an objection to those powers being divided among the proposed new municipalities. My right honourable Friend who has just spoken has said that the modern tendency in the public mind is in the direction of unity for a great number of services. What does that mean? Shortly, from the point of view of the great majority of the people, there are certain services which the London County Council may desire to get rid of because they are embarrassing, because they give a good deal of trouble, but which, for the sake of the people at large, ought to be kept united and ought not to be separated and given to these municipalities. There are, moreover, public grounds, even if the London County Council were anxious to get rid of these powers, why they should not be cut up among the municipalities. I may mention one instance. There is an Act dealing with the hours of young persons who are shop assistants. Now the enforcement of this legislation is in the hands of the London County Council at the present time, and it may be proposed to hand it over to the new municipalities. The London County Council has recently been pressed from the outside to use the great powers it has under this Act, and it has begun to use these powers in a manner which is an example to other localities. I am very much afraid that this insidious clause in the Bill authorising the future transfer of powers to the municipalities will strike at the root of this class of legislation and will tempt the London County Council to get rid of the administration of a very thorny subject and hand it over to bodies which will not observe uniform administration. Of course, on the surface the Bill appears to be very moderate, and only to carry out the suggestions which, since February, 1886, have been made at a whole series of conferences. But there are great dangers, not only in the obvious proposals of the Bill, but in that which underlies these proposals—dangers which mean the breaking up of the administration of London in much that has been useful and desirable. I wish to associate myself with the honourable Member for Bodmin in regard to what 411 he said as to the boundaries of the new municipalities. There are obviously difficulties, which suggest obvious remedies, but these remedies only involve greater difficulties still. Take, for instance, a detached portion of a parish. If you have already an existing area, which is one for all purposes, and divide it by throwing that detached portion into another municipality, you break up not only the Parliamentary area but the Poor Law area, and you will create greater difficulties than ever. This matter is well worth pressing on the Government at this moment, for probably they have not finally adopted their course of action on this point. The only other remark which I wish to make concerns the proposed resuscitation of the Ecclesiastical Incorporation of Westminster. The City of Westminster is for one purpose only still governed by a body of the most curious description—of which the Mayor is the Dean of Westminster, and the members of which have the right to wear a gown of a particular form. That body exists for one particular purpose only, and their functions are of a very limited kind. The City is not only ancient, but it is a convenient means of avoiding great boundary difficulties. Four or five speakers have attacked the proposal in the Bill on the ground that it will be a city of the rich, and a city of very great area. But if you look at the facts you will find it will not be a city of the rich, for it contains some of the very poorest parts of all London. Indeed, it will be a very representative section of the metropolis, and I doubt whether there is any ground for objecting to it on the ground that it will be a city of the rich. This unique position of Westminster was brought before the House during the Debates on the Redistribution Bill, and had it not been for the decisive action taken by a single Member there was a tendency to make an exceptional case in favour of Westminster simply because the difficulties with it were very great.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
May I now ask the House to bring this discussion to a conclusion. I have no reason, however, to complain of the reception given to the Bill as I introduced it. On the contrary, the tone adopted by the great majority of Members in their comments on the Measure 412 was such as to lead me to feel satisfaction as to its reception. But I feel, as everybody else must feel, that such comments are based on an imperfect knowledge of the facts, and that further discussion undoubtedly would be better taken a little later on. I do not think that any questions put, or arguments used, require an answer from me at present in detail. But I ought to say a word in answer to something that fell from my honourable Friend the Member for the Strand Division. There is a very ample provision in the Bill for compensation to officers of existing bodies who may be disestablished by the creation of the new municipalities. These provisions are based on similar provisions in the Act of 1894, and I do not think they leave anything to be desired. As I have already said in the course of an interruption by some honourable Gentleman, this question of the transfer of powers from the London County Council to the local municipalities has surely excited unnecessary alarm when we remember that before any such transfer takes place it must have first the consent of the London County Council, then of the new municipalities, and then the consent of both Houses of Parliament. I almost forgot—and of the Local Government Board also. When you think of such a conjunction of bodies it is impossible to imagine that there should be in each of those representative institutions a majority anxious to make an improper transfer of power. It is quite true that you cannot go beyond those powers, and all that can be done is to reverse their action at some future time if that action should be regarded as improper. As regards the Commissioners, it is quite true that large powers are left to them, or rather to the Privy Council, to which the Commissioners are to report. That is a procedure for which there are many precedents. I shall certainly be prepared to consider the propriety of making such orders subject to Parliamentary sanction, as other rules will be under the Bill. I do not wish to express myself as hostile to any such arrangement if the House suggests it, but I protest against the idea that the Government has shown any lack of initiative in not mapping out London. That can only be done after adequate 413 inquiry on the spot. The Government cannot do it. The Commissioners will not be named in the Bill, but before it passes I hope to be able to mention their names. The honourable Member for Battersea seems to think that somewhere in the Bill there was a scheme for interfering with the Equalisation of Hates. I confess that these suspicions of the Government with regard to the Equalisation of Rates and the County Council are somewhat out of date, because we were the creators of the County Council, and we were the inventors of the Equalisation of Rates. The whole policy of the Equalisation of Rates dates from the great Act of Mr. Gathorne-Hardy, now Lord Cranbrook, in 1868. My honourable Friend the Member for the Strand Division has asked me whether I hope to take the Second Reading before Easter. Certainly I hope to take it. We have got so much Supply to take that I cannot make an absolute pledge on the subject, but my Parliamentary experience tells me that it is extremely inconvenient not to read the principal Bill of the Session a second time before the Easter holidays. I shall regard it as a great misfortune if we are not able to carry out that intention. I hope the House will now permit us to take the first reading of the Bill.
§ MR. LOUGH
I do not wish to detain the House or to say anything that anybody else has said, but my excuse for speaking now is that I have tried to obtain the opportunity of asking two or three questions upon this Bill since eight o'clock, and I have had no chance of doing so, and, if the House will bear with me for a moment or two, it may help in the progress of the Measure. I do not think that the right honourable Gentleman can complain of the spirit in which the Bill has been received. I only desire to make one criticism upon the speech of the right honourable Gentleman, and that criticism arises from the mention which he made of the Municipal Corporations Act. I gathered from his remark that he has pursued the analogy of the Municipal Corporations Act, instead of doing as I hoped he would do, pursuing the analogy of the general law of the Local Government of London. All the criticisms on the Measure have mentioned that. It is from the great municipalities that he 414 has got the aldermen, which, in, our opinion, is objectionable; it is from them that there is proposed to be a system of audit which, we think, will have to be corrected; it is from them that we get the example of annual, instead of triennial, elections; and it is from them, finally, that there is a franchise, which the right honourable Gentleman himself says will not answer. The right honourable Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, explained that the London franchise is wider than that which the great municipalities enjoy. That is an admission that the analogy which the right honourable Gentleman has pursued so closely breaks down. My reason for making these remarks is in order to show the right honourable Gentleman the sort of Amendments which may be put upon the Paper, and which he will have to consider, and which Amendments will show the general spirit in which we are approaching this Bill. I ask him to recognise the spirit in which the criticisms have been couched, and to consider the definite suggestions which will be made. May I ask the right honourable Gentleman a question? What about the position of women under this Bill? Women have seats on all the Local Boards in London at present. They have not in any of the Municipal Corporations, and I will ask whether women will have seats upon these new local bodies, or whether this false analogy of the Municipal Corporations will be pursued, and women be excluded. This is a point which I am sure will raise a great deal of interest. Again, may I ask whether the 72 Members, which number is to be the limit of the Corporations, include aldermen or not?
§ MR. LOUGH
That leaves, then, 48 elected Members. May I ask the right honourable Gentleman whether these bodies will have power of assessment as well as of rating; and also whether these elections will take place this year, or, I should say, whether some arrangement will be made by the Local Government Board that they may take place this year. Already preparations are being made for them, and if the right honourable Gentleman will make some announcement with regard to these mat- 415 ters, I am sure it will be received with great satisfaction. Will the right honourable Gentleman say something about the question of assessment, and about the position of women?
§ Question put.
§ Leave granted.
§ Bill brought in by the First Lord of the Treasury, and read a first time.