§ Order for Second Reading read.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That the Bill be now read a second time.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words ' no Bill dealing with the local government of the metropolis will be satisfactory which, while disturbing the existing system, fails to simplify and complete it, and which at the same time renders more difficult the attainment of the unity of London.'"—(Mr. H. Gladstone.)
§ MR. H. GLADSTONE (Leeds, W.)
I rise to move the Amendment which stands in my name. The Amendment embodies a principle which is inconsistent, in my judgment, with the Bill. That principle is the unity of London. We who oppose the Bill hold that, excepting in size, London is in no way distinct from other great cities. While it is necessary to adapt the organisation of its government to the vastness of its population, the structure of that organisation should consist of one central authority for the whole metropolis, and subordinate councils amply equipped for the management of local concerns. We stand by the principle of the unity of London, which we hold to be directly challenged by the Bill. The whole scheme and tendency of the Bill is to weaken the central authority, and to set up under the name and guise of municipal boroughs a number of parishes named in the Bill, and arbitrarily selected on no settled plan, and several others which are to be subsequently fashioned by an authority practically independent of Parliament. I am afraid I must trouble the House, although I will do so as briefly as possible, with a little of the history of this movement. The weight of authority, as shown by the history 1576 of the past 60 years, is against the policy set forth in the Bill. The Commission of 1834 found that the paramount defect of the corporations of England and Wales was that corporate bodies existed independently of the communities among which they were found, and they did not except the City. Three years later, when dealing with the City itself, the Commissioners were unable to discover any circumstances justifying the distinction of the small area within the municipal boundary from the rest, except that it was and had been so distinguished. The Commission thought that the City should be transformed into a great municipality of all London. That was the opinion of Lord John Russell, but the opinion of the City was so strong that nothing was done. Then we come to the Commission of 1854. That Commission made two recommendations. In the first place they said—If an attempt were made to give a municipal organisation to the entire metropolis by a wider extension of the boundaries of the City, the utility of the present corporation, as an institution suited to its limited area, would be destroyed.So it seemed to that Commission that the virtues of the City were such that they could not be extended beyond the limited area of its own authority. In the second place they found that it would be desirable to set up seven independent municipal authorities. Now, Sir, it is significant that these recommendations were ignored by the Government in 1855. They were made practically at the instance of the City, and were founded principally upon the evidence of the Lord Mayor himself. The Government, ignoring the Commission, passed the Metropolis Management Act of 1855, and for the first time we find the germ of the unity of London in the setting up of the Metropolitan Board of Works and the Commissioners of Sewers. In the second place, the Government, rejecting the seven independent municipalities, set up the 37 vestries and district boards which have existed down to the present time as the subordinate local authorities. Now, Sir, what has been the tendency since 1855? For 40 years the tendency has been to add powers to the central authority. The need for a strong central authority was evidently apparent to the Committee of 1861, which sat to consider metropolitan local taxation. 1577 They advised that members of this central body should be directly elected by the ratepayers of the whole metropolis. Then, Sir, we come to the Bill for the better government of London in 1884, and it is interesting to remember that two distinguished members of the present Cabinet were members of the Cabinet which produced that Bill, a Bill which indicates the high-water mark of unification. In 1885 we find the City approaching the present Lord Cross, who was then Home Secretary, and pressing its views upon him. Those views apparently were not accepted, because in 1888 we had the Bill of the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. Now, Sir, I must quote his words when introducing that Bill. He said—We do not put this Bill forward as a complete settlement of the great problem of London government. We have our own proposals to make. They are on the lines, not of creating separate municipalities throughout London, but of amalgamating within certain defined areas in London existing vestries and district boards, and constructing in London district councils, having, in the various areas in the county, district councils with large and improved administrative functions.Now, Sir, it is interesting also to notice that the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, speaking in a Debate on the Bill, said—If I were able to place my own draft side by side with the present Bill, I think it would be found that in the main principles there was an entire agreement. No doubt there are notable differences on some rather important points of detail, but I am not perfectly certain that the advantage is always on the side of my draft.Very well, Sir, it is quite clear that right honourable and honourable Gentlemen opposite were in absolute agreement that the local government of London should be settled on the basis, first, of a strong central authority directly elected by the ratepayers, and, secondly, of district councils and municipalities. The right honourable Gentleman expressly declared then that they were not to be municipalities, but that they were to be strictly subordinate local authorities. Now, Sir, the Opposition at that time, as is admitted by the right honourable Gentleman opposite, gave a frank support on the whole to that Bill. It was not all that they wished for. The City 1578 was absolutely excluded. No Bill which excludes the City from it3 operations can be satisfactory to most of my honourable Friends on this side of the House; but apart from that, we recognised that the Bill of the right honourable Gentleman worked in the direction of the unity of London, and, as such, we gave it our hearty support. Now, Sir, since 1888 there has been one Inquiry, namely, the Royal Commission of 1894. That Commission issued a Report, which was brief, lucid, and incontrovertible. It represents the basis on which the ultimate settlement of London government must be made, which has been absolutely ignored by the Government in drafting this Bill. Well, Sir, that, in brief, is the history which is necessary for my purpose, but the whole of it points to the necessity of having one paramount authority over the whole of London, and of the delegation of a mass of important work—all that can properly be separated from the central government—to local authorities, with ample powers for dealing with their own affairs, subordinate to the central authority in all matters touching the higher interests of the metropolis. Now, Sir, I want to deal with this change of view on the part of right honourable and honourable Gentlemen opposite. Since 1888 efforts have been made to revert to the policy recommended by the Commission of 1854, but ignored by the Government of the day. What is the reason of this change of policy? I suspect that the reason is to be found in the City. What is known as "tenification" sprang from the City, and it became after 1888 a commonplace on the political platforms of honourable Gentlemen opposite. Well, this Bill is the outcome of it. Now, what is the explanation of the change? The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House did not utter a word in explanation of the change. Why has he gone back from the teaching of experience and from the Debates of 1888, and why has he wholly and entirely ignored the Report of the Commission of 1894? Has he all of a sudden so fallen in love with the municipal system that he must have 25 corporations in London instead of one, or does this change spring from antipathy to the London County Council? I ask the Government for their authority for this proposal. On what Report of Commission or Committee do they base 1579 it? Where is their mandate? Sir, I think, in the light of previous utterances, we are entitled to know. Now, Sir, in 1888 the Government gave us a distinct pledge that when the nest Bill dealing with London government, designed to complete the Bill of 1888, was brought in, they would consult the London County Council. For this is what happened. Mr. Firth put down a new clause giving power to the London County Council to submit a scheme to rearrange municipal government, after it-was created by the Act of 1888, and the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, replying to Mr. Stansfeld, said—He did not think that the right honourable Gentleman would wish him to go further than to say when once this body was set up it would be impossible not to give full consideration to the representations which they might make.Why have they not asked the County Council to make representations? If you said so in 1888, why don't you say so this year? The Government does not seem to have approached the County Council in any way to learn its views, so far as I know, and it has hurried forward the Second Reading of this Bill before it has been physically possible—[Ministerial cries of "Oh, oh!"]—I repeat, physically possible for the London County Council to follow all the ramifications of this most complicated Measure, and to report fully and clearly upon it. Now, Sir, I suppose that this change of policy, which I hope will be explained in the course of the Debate, is due to two considerations. It is due to the fact that the Government have felt that the constitution of the present central authority for London represented the principle of the unity of London government, and in the second place it is due to the fact that the City desire to run on lines against any change in the realisation of -that principle. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for Bodmin, referring to the City of London, said—Some day the City of London would have to be touched, and when it was touched the Conservative Members of the future would wonder at the reasons which had led to the maintenance of this anomalous institution.I am glad to see that "The Times" itself seemed to approve of the right hon- 1580 ourable Gentleman's language, because, commenting on his speech, it said—Upon the whole, Mr. Courtney, in the light of his experience on the Royal Commission, has probably summed up the matter with considerable accuracy.Now, Sir, for my part, I should like to know how long this stolid in difference on the part of the City is to last? How long will it be content to remain a mere speck in the administrative county of London, luxuriating in its enormous wealth, unburdened, unbalanced, uninspired by any responsible discharge of duties in the least degree adequate to its position? How long will it be content to occupy that position, which every day becomes more of a reproach and an anomaly, neglecting each successive opportunity of once more becoming the great and vitalising centre of the greatest metropolis of the world? I desire to emphasise that change of policy, although that change of policy is not so great as at one time appeared. This Bill is not "tenification," because it proposes to set up, I suppose, at least 20 boroughs instead of 10, but it does make the attainment of the unity of London more difficult. The County Council elections of 1898 imposed a somewhat awkward difficulty on Her Majesty's Government. There was a remarkable change in their attitude after those elections, which resulted in a decisive expression of opinion by London on the question of London government, and practically on no other. That led you to mask your batteries. You have abandoned warfare in the open, but I think it can be shown that your opinions are unchanged. Now, Sir, this Bill depends, to a very considerable extent, on the standpoint from which it is regarded, and, so far as I am concerned, if there were any reason to believe that we had a chance of securing necessary and adequate Amendments, I, for one, and I think I express the views of my right honourable Friends also, would not be responsible for moving an Amendment hostile to the Second Reading of the Bill. But we know that the Government are welded to several of its most objectionable provisions. We are numerically weak, we know we will be out-voted, we know we may be closured as we were on the Education Bill in 1581 1897, and we prefer, under those circumstances, to have no Bill at all. The Government cannot complain of that. The Bill scarcely settles anything. It leaves to other authorities in the future the carrying out of a large part of its proposals. It puts immense responsibility on the Local Government Board and the Privy Council, and the subsequent arrangements to be made by these authorities are practically removed from the authority of Parliament. There are no instructions even set out in the Bill to the Boundary Commissioners: still less do we know who they are to be. What did the House of Lords and the Conservative Party do in 1885? They hung up the Franchise Bill, and refused to allow the Government of the day to pass it. They did that because they said, without a Redistribution Bill they could not deal with the principle of the Franchise Bill, and they said we were taking a leap in the dark. On that ground they absolutely refused, through their majority in the House of Lords, to let the Franchise Bill pass. Honourable Members cannot complain if we turn this argument against them now. This Bill is a leap in the dark, and we have nothing to expect from the House of Lords. Therefore, that is a reason for moving this Amendment-There is another point to which I will refer before I deal with the Bill itself. I remember the argument honourable Members opposite used with regard to the Home Rule Bills of 1886 and 1893. They told us repeatedly they must examine into the motives of the promoters of those Bills, and by that analysis of motives they would form an idea of how the Bills would be used if passed into law. They made their analysis, and we all know how they gave effect to it. We claim that right now. We claim the right to examine into the motives of honourable Members opposite. We believe the main object of this Bill is to weaken and discredit the central authority of London. What is the evidence? I am only going to briefly refer to it. We all remember Lord Salisbury's speech at the Albert Hall, when he gave advice to the Moderates. What was that advice? He said—I earnestly hope that it will be entertained by the County Council—though perhaps it may have a suicidal course to recommend it—in a wise, patriotic, and enlightened spirit, and I 1582 earnestly hope that our friends will do their best, even at some inconvenience, to furnish, at this or the next election, a sufficient number of candidates to enable this matter to be impartially considered.Lord Salisbury advised a policy of enlightened suicide to the County Council. We all know that the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Birmingham went down to Limehouse and Camberwell, and made very long and excellent speeches from the opposite point of view on the question of London government, and put forward, with all the force at his disposal, the advisability of building up independent municipalities in London. He pointed out particularly to Camberwell the advantages of these municipalities, but I think Limehouse and Camberwell rejected the right honourable Gentleman's advice, and showed how absolutely they disregarded it by returning Progressives at the head of the poll. We have it from the speeches of the Prime Minister and the right honourable Gentleman what their views are on this Bill. We have also the evidence of the attack on the London County Council in the County Council elections of March in last year. The whole official force of the Conservative Party was turned on during those elections. I believe every Cabinet Minister made speeches in various parts of London. Well, Sir, the County Council won all along the line.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
Did we make speeches against the London County Council?
§ MR. H. GLADSTONE
My opinion is that you did. It is a fair construction to put on those speeches that they involved a most emphatic attack on the County Council. After the defeat, of the Moderates and the policy of setting up independent municipal boroughs in London, there was a discreet silence among honourable Gentlemen opposite for a considerable period, but that silence was broken by the Prime Minister, who reaffirmed at Westminster his Albert Hall speech, and said he had nothing to change in it, as it expressed his views very clearly, and he proposed to facilitate the granting of municipalities to communities which obviously in size and importance were 1583 designed for them. That is the proposal of this Bill. What is really intended with regard to the future of these bodies? Are they to be set up under the provisions of this Bill, and then left as they are, with the powers to be given to them by the Bill? Now, we have plenty of evidence to show that the design of the Government and of honourable Gentlemen opposite [is to arm these bodies with much fuller powers in future. Let me quote Lord Onslow's letter to the Westminster Vestry. He stated, and he spoke with knowledge, and he says—It certainly was not that the Government intended by future legislation to transfer further powers from the London County Council to the new municipal boroughs, but that Parliament, when satisfied that they are competent, would no doubt from time to time entrust other and further powers to those municipal boroughs, and that in time the metropolitan boroughs would take rank with their great sister municipalities already existing in the provinces.[Ministerial cheers.] I am obliged to honourable Gentlemen for cheering that, because it is perfectly clear, if the words of Lord Onslow are true, that if these municipal bodies are to be brought up to the level of Birmingham, Leeds, and Manchester, that the London County Council will be stripped of all the powers it has got. If you do not take powers from the London County Council, where are you to get them from? You may get them from gas and water companies, but if you take them from gas and water companies, you are giving to these local bodies powers which ought certainly to belong to the central authority, and, in any case, you are defrauding the central authority of powers it ought to have. The intentions of the Government are clear. If these municipalities are to be set up and developed, as the cheer3 of honourable Gentlemen opposite show clearly is their intention, it is perfectly obvious it means the destruction of the central authority. We, therefore, suspect the drift of this Bill, and we are forced, by the evidence before us, taken in conjunction with the character and provisions of the Bill, to oppose its Second Beading. Now, I will proceed to state my main objections to the Bill, and I will summarise them under four heads—(1) The Bill sets up in an imperfect manner independent 1584 bodies—municipalities only in name—with a ruthless disregard to local feeling, historic boundaries, and the general well-being of the metropolis; (2) it seriously impairs the central governing authority of London, and endangers its future powers for practical good; (3) it proceeds on. the faulty and mischievous principle of throwing all responsibility for numberless difficulties on the Local Government Board and Privy Council, and leaving every kind of important question to be settled by Provisional Order, or by scheme; and (4) in defiance of the Royal Commission of 1894, and of the decisive opinion expressed by London in March 1898, the Bill reverses the policy of the Conservative Government in 1888, thus inevitably compromising the whole municipal life of the metropolis by forcing into the political arena large questions relating to the whole form and constitution of London government. I will take those points seriatim. We agree that London should be divided into local administrative areas, and that the power of the central authority should be limited to those objects common to the whole of the metropolis. We desire to effect this as recommended by the Royal Commission of 1894. It said—London, we repeat, is one large town, which, for convenience of administration as well as from local diversities, comprises within itself several smaller towns, and the application of the principles, and still more of the machinery, of municipal government to these several areas must be limited by conditions arising from this fact—that is to say, the fact that London is one large town.We wish to see the efficiency of the present local bodies extended, and to increase as far as possible, both in form and substance, the dignity of their administration? We have no objection to that, and I speak, at any rate, for some of my honourable Friends. We support the intention of the Royal Commission, that these authorities should consist of mayors and district councillors. But this Bill sets up in the fullest panoply in a certain area a form of municipal government. It provides for a full accompaniment of aldermen. Even in the draft Westminster Bill it was not proposed to have aldermen. Aldermen certainly are not wanted on these councils, and I speak with some impartiality, because I am an alderman myself, 1585 though perhaps not a very useful one. While I agree that aldermen perform a very useful function on the County Council, I cannot see why London is to have 500 aldermen set up and clothed by this Bill. I suppose they will wear the usual robes, as in provincial boroughs. You cannot invest with the full authority attaching to the great provincial centres districts of London which are merely, and must in the nature of the case be, parts of the whole. They are in their composition divisions of London, and are in every way analogous to the wards of a great provincial town. You propose to set up these municipal authorities with the full dignity of municipal corporations, while they will only possess, and must only possess, the most partial powers. They will not have the police, main drains, gas, water, or tramways. An honourable Member says they will have the tramways. I was under the impression that the tramways were under the authority of the County Council, but, perhaps, the honourable Gentleman knows better. They will not have the parks, or the fire brigade, and they will be debarred from considering all the higher matters which belong to the metropolis as a whole. They will not, in fact, exercise 50 per cent. of the power and authority now exercised by the great municipalities in the provinces. The best illustration I have seen of the Bill was contained in a sentence in a speech of a gentleman who said that the Government were cutting off the legs and arms of a man in order to make a man of each part. Now, I come to the powers to be given to these councils. First of all, I wish to deal with the question of audit. Why have the Government determined to continue the system of elected auditors—a system which has been found to be full of danger and mischief. Other municipalities, I am aware, have that system, but I do not think the right honourable Gentleman will say that it is a system which has worked well in London. If the right honourable Gentleman would say that I would pay great attention to the opinion of such an authority, but he does not make that assertion. It would be far better to have a Local Government Board audit than the proposal in the Bill. The right honourable Gentleman says there is no proposal in the Bill, 1586 but am I not right in assuming that under the Bill the audit authority will be elective. Why is it not possible to follow the precedent of Imperial finance? The change brought about in the auditing of Imperial finance has, as every one knows, worked exceedingly well. What is it? We have an Auditor-General, who is absolutely independent of Government authority. He reports direct to Parliament, and Parliament appoints its Public Accounts Committee. That Committee considers the report of the Auditor-General, and it has the power to call before it any official in the Government whose evidence it thinks necessary to explain any doubtful transaction. That system has undoubtedly worked with most excellent results in the public departments of the Government. Why cannot it be applied to London finance? The right honourable Gentleman says that the system of elected auditors is in force in all our provincial municipalities. But what do we find in London? The County Council, the School Board, boards of guardians, and the Metropolitan Asylums Board have all a Local Government Board audit. I would sooner have that than the audit proposed by the Bill. But why is it necessary to be always throwing important matters relating to the administration of localities on to the shoulders of the Local Government Board? It is a wrong system. Why should it not be possible to set up a central audit board for London, presided over by an official appointed by the Government, who should consider the accounts of all the London authorities, and embody those accounts in a report to be presented to Parliament? I consider if that were done you would have a most perfect public audit for London, and it would give a great stimulus to local administration and would lead to greater efficiency and economy in the conduct of business on the part of the local authorities. Clause 2 of the Bill provides that overseers shall be appointed by the boroughs. That is a good provision as Tar as it goes. But why does not the Government transfer the whole of the duties of the overseers to the borough councils? The Bill, as it stands, involves a great injustice to some of the existing authorities. For example, there is Shoreditch, which has the power of managing the business 1587 usually transacted by overseers. But under the Bill that power will be removed, and handed over to the overseers, who will, I suppose, be a body of officials with separate establishments. I do not understand the reason for this proposal, which, it seems to me, will not simplify the present system, and will, by the duplication of offices, increase the cost of administration. Then I come to the question of assessment. The assessment committees, under clause 13, instead of being appointed by the guardians will be appointed partly by the guardians and partly by the borough councils. I believe everyone will admit that one uniform system of assessment is a great necessity in London, and there appears to be no attempt to achieve this in the Bill. There is no machinery, as a matter of fact, for ensuring uniform action in the assessment of the various burghs, although 10 per cent. of the aggregate rates of London find their way to a common account. The Bill is wholly unsatisfactory in the matter of assessment. Then, why does not the Bill deal with the Poor Law administration of London. This is a very large question, which, no doubt, will be amply enlarged upon in the course of the Debate. The Government are evidently desirous of giving large powers to these local authorities, and as they are limited in the powers they can give, why have they not turned their attention to the question of Poor Law administration, and brought in a Bill giving poor law powers to the local authorities. Then there is the question of annual elections. London is to be disturbed every year by elections to these municipal bodies. Everyone knows that it is a very difficult thing to interest any city in continual local elections, and perhaps it is more difficult to interest London than any other city in the country. Why are Londoners to be harassed by having these local elections every year? The Local Government Act gave the option to boards of guardians to choose between annual and triennial elections, and it gave power to the county councils to meet their wishes in that respect. Every board of guardians has exercised its option in favour of triennial elections. Experience is all in favour of triennial elections, and I cannot see why London is to be burdened by this annual disturb- 1588 ance. I have spoken about a considerable number of important details, and I will not say any more about them, because many of my honourable Friends can speak on them with infinitely more knowledge and authority than I can. But I must call attention to one more point. That is that the Government, in carrying out the policy of ignoring the Report of the Commission of 1894, have not adopted a most admirable suggestion of the Commission, namely, that the members of the central authority should be ex-officio members of the particular council which represents the constituency for which they sit. That proposal would bring the central authority and the municipal councils into touch with each other, and I fail to see any objection to it. Now, Sir, several of the points which. I have indicated can undoubtedly be remedied in Committee, but the chief defect cannot be made good. You can never invest these municipalities with the full powers and dignity of the great provincial boroughs. The deficiency in that respect comes out in sharpest relief in the case of the Greater Westminster which the Bill proposes to constitute. Because the more important your municipal body the more incongruous appears the emasculated powers which you propose to give to it. Now, Greater Westminster has a population of 200,000, with a rateable value of five millions. It is to be composed of four vestries and one district board, rolled into one. It is to have the whole pageantry of a corporation, with its officials, but with only a part of the powers usually attached to municipal boroughs. Now, what is the reason for Greater Westminster? What has it done to be thus set up as a great municipal borough? The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House said that Westminster has played a great part in English history. But what part of Westminster? The House of Commons or the House of Lords? I can understand their playing a great part in English history. But does my right honourable Friend mean to say that the Westminster Vestry has played a great part in English history? Now, I was interested to get a Report of the petition which shows the grounds on which the Westminster Vestry base themselves in asking Parliament to confer upon them this enormous power and prestige. What does the Vestry say? 1589 I will quote a paragraph from the petition—Your petitioners humbly submit that such an area, comprising within its ample circuit the Royal and national sanctuary which has for centuries enshrined the various memories of your Majesty's august ancestors and the other manifold glories of Her free and famous Kingdom, the Royal Palaces, the Houses of Parliament, the offices of the several Departments of Her Majesty's Government, the (Supreme Courts of Law, the Royal Parks, the Albert Memorial, the Imperial Institute, many of the museums and other centres of science and art, and the abodes of many of the great men who have helped to make the name of England famous; an area which has enjoyed the distinction of having been represented in Parliament by some of England's greatest statesmen—you observe that that is in the past, not in the present—an area instinct with imperishable memories of more than eight centuries; an area the influence of which is acknowledged throughout the civilised world—is entitled to the recognition proposed by the said Bill to be accorded to it.I say a more grotesque claim for a charter of incorporation I never read in my life. Sir, I do not deny—I am the last man to deny—the great associations which centre in and around Westminster. But these associations are the property of the nation, and they do not constitute any valid reason for bestowing upon Lord Onslow and his vestry she dignity of a great municipal corporation. Sir, it is the pride of Liverpool, of Birmingham, of Leeds, and of Manchester that these great towns have been built up by the energy, the enterprise, and the self sacrifices of the inhabitants. Each town has its own history—a history which belongs to the inhabitants; and the inhabitants know that the greatness of this city is due to the energy of themselves and their forefathers. Each of these great provincial municipalities contains within its boundaries all classes and all sorts and conditions of men. It has the rich and the poor. It has the employed and the employer. It has its own manufacturing, its industrial, and its residential quarters. It has its own municipal buildings, which it has created. It has its own municipal institutions, of which it is proud. Everything which it has got it owes to the energy and enterprise of its own inhabitants. Each city is a 1590 perfect and complete structure of social life and municipal enterprise. And all these conditions, I say, are wanting in this Westminster. Why, Sir, a great city like Birmingham or Leeds keeps its workmen within its boundaries; Westminster gets rid of them. Westminster gets rid of them it is true, but the poorer districts of London have to provide for then. Sir, the chief glories of Westminster belong either to the nation or they are common to all the Empire. All the authority of the Empire centres in this proposed area. The places of amusement, recreation, and the picture galleries, and everything which people swarm to see from all parts of the world —all these must be brought, forsooth, into the area destined to the honour and glory of Lord Onslow and his Westminster Vestry. I am glad the honourable Member for Westminster laughs, and I have no doubt that he will have full opportunity of explaining the paragraph which I have had the honour to submit to this House. The right honourable Gentleman says he is going to reconstitute the City of Westminster. Reconstitute it to what? I do not know what the right honourable Gentleman had in his mind. I do not know to what he refers. The City of Westminster is merely a name. It has never had any corporate municipal existence. It has not a shred of municipal tradition. I quite agree that the Westminster Vestry is a most excellent body; I do not wish to say one word against it. I believe it has very high merit as an administrative body. But to set it up and extend it in the manner proposed by the Bill is another thing. I say that Westminster owes little or nothing of its enormous advantages to its own inhabitants. Sir, there is a great improvement going on in its area. The Government is spending millions of money in the improvement of Parliament Street and neighbourhood, and intends to adorn it with magnificent buildings. Westminster Vestry had no hand in that. Why, I had the honour of initiating that scheme, but they have not asked me to support their petition. The improvement of the thoroughfares of Westminster and its grand public buildings are due partly to the work of the central authority, and carried out by a general rate, and therefore belong to the whole of London. Take, for instance, the Embank- 1591 ment—a large section of which will come into the Greater Westminster area. Or the improvements which have been set up by the Government and paid for by the Government. But all these things will add to the honour and glory of Westminster Vestry. I should like to know why the Westminster Vestry should have a practical monopoly of these things. I sincerely hope that this preposterous municipality will not be set up by this Bill. I pass to the question of areas. There are fifteen areas in the Bill; the remainder are left to a somewhat dark and uncertain future. Our only guidance is in the sub-section of clause 1, which states that the qualification for a borough is a rateable value of not less than £500,000, or a population of between 100,000 and 400,000. Now, I fail to understand on what principle the Government has proceeded in this matter. It has not adopted the Report of the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission specified the number of areas which are perfectly fit at once to be created into district councils. They mentioned St. George's, Westminster, and St. Margaret's coupled together, but these are found in the Bill as a part only of the Greater Westminster. They mentioned Shoreditch and Whitechapel, but these do not appear in the Bill at all. But you do find in the Bill areas not recommended by the Royal Commission, such as Battersea, Camberwell, Lewisham, and Wandsworth. Now, why does not the Government include parishes like Greenwich, Deptford, Woolwich, Whitechapel, Newington, Shoreditch, which are here omitted and left to the tender mercies of the Boundary Committee? There is no principle in the Measure. There seems to be no principle either in regard to the areas which are put in the Bill or in regard to those that are left out. Why should you force St. George's, St. James's, St. Martin's and the Strand into a union with Westminster, which they detest?
§ MR. H. GLADSTONE
They seem to detest it, and they say so. I saw a communication from one of these aggrieved vestries bitterly complaining of the proposal to include them in Westminster. Why should these parishes be combined? 1592 There is no unity of administration between these different areas which this Bill proposes to merge in Greater Westminster. I am aware they are combined for school board purposes, but I also know that they conduct the school board elections with different bodies of electors, with different officials, and with different organisations. In these respects they are all separate one from the other. There is nothing in common between these areas which you propose to join in one. Let us come to Wandsworth. I should like to know from the Government why they set up this huge and unwieldy Wandsworth as a municipal borough. It is not in the centre of London, but in the suburbs. It includes Streatham, Clapham, Tooting, Putney, and Wimbledon, with a total area of 10,000 acres—a most unmanageable size for administrative purposes. Chelsea has only 794 acres. In fact, this proposed district of Wandsworth will be in extent 3,000 acres larger than any other area proposed in the Bill, and double the size of most of them. I really cannot see why the Government propose to set up this great Wandsworth, which is not only unmanageable for municipal purposes, but is a district which is rapidly filling up, and the population is rapidly expanding. In a very short time it will be found that the population is out of all proportion—if we except Westminster—to that of the other bodies to be set up in other parts of London. I am wrong. Westminster is to have a population of only 200,000, while that of Wandsworth is likely to exceed that number before many years are over. Why do you keep wholesome local administration alive in one place and abolish it in another? Why are the rich districts joined together in the Schedule of the Bill, and why are the poor districts almost wholly ignored? I am aware that one of the poorest districts appears in the schedule—namely, Poplar; but the great majority of the poor districts are left to shift for themselves. I do not know why it is so, and I say that the provisions of the Bill in regard to these areas are most unsatisfactory. I come now to the proposal in regard to the Boundary Commission that is to be appointed. I agree that it will be necessary to have a Boundary Commission. That is clear. But the Commission ought to be ap- 1593 pointed upon distinct principles and conditions. The names of the Commissioners ought to be in the Bill, and they should be instructed, in considering the question of areas, to bear in mind local traditions, local feeling, administrative efficiency, and the present boundaries of existing areas. But, above all this, provision ought to be made in the Bill that any result arrived at by the Boundary Commissioners should be submitted to Parliament before it passes into law. And now I pass to my second point, the interference by the Bill with the efficiency of this Central Authority. I say that the Central Authority ought to have power over the general finance of London, to watch it, and to keep it within bounds, in the interest of London as a whole. Under the Bill it is proposed to transfer the power for sanctioning loans required by the subordinate councils from the London County Council to the Local Government Board. What is the authority for that proposal? I cannot arrive at it myself. I have never heard that the London County Council had erred on this question of finance. They have had the most eminent men to watch over it—the honourable Member for West London, Lord Farrer, Lord Welby, Lord Lincoln—the greatest financial experts in the country. I fail to know why this attack has been made on their use of the power of sanctioning loans to the local authorities. I believe that that power has worked with great, success and advantage to the local authorities. The local authorities have been able to borrow cheaply and quickly, and I think I am right in saying that they have never asked that this power should be transferred from the London County Council to the Local Government Board. I want to know on what ground this transfer is to be made. One objection, amongst others, to the present proposal is, that it will give the local authorities power to mortgage their rates, and to impair the borrowing powers of the London County Council itself. Why should not the London County Council remain as it is, with power to appropriate and consent to these loans? I think the proposed transfer involves distinctly the impairment of the powers of the Central Authority. I come to the question of the equalisation of rates. You are setting up by this Bill a Greater 1594 Westminster, with its enormous rateable value of l–7th of the rateable value of the whole metropolis, and are going to give it a preponderating power. There are great inequalities at the present time in regard to the rates of different governing areas in London. For instance, in St. James's parish you have a rate of 8s. 7d. in the pound. I should like the House to remember the past, and that equalisation of rates is not a modern cry of fanatical County Councillors, but is suggested by every consideration of justice. The Committee of 1866 appointed to consider Metropolitan local government reported that so heavy had the charges for local taxation become that in the less wealthy districts of the metropolis it had become an intolerable burden, and that the direct taxation of property there had reached its utmost limits. What was the state of things at the date of the sitting of the Committee? Improvements had been carried out in the western part of the metropolis by means of general rates, at a cost of £4,371,000. And further improvements were to be at once taken in hand at a. cost of £663,000. Against that sum of five millions spent in the improvement of the Metropolitan district. on the Eastern part of London the humble sum of £329,000 was spent. That shows that there is a great inequality to be redressed. You have had the Act of 1894, and undoubtedly there will be further schemes brought forward in the municipal future. I ask the House, 1s it wise, therefore, to set up a body like the Greater Westminster, with its enormous rateable value, which is l–7th of the rateable value of the metropolis? Such a body will be tempted to throw every difficulty in the way of proposals which are intended for the just benefit of the poorer parts of London. That is one of the greatest and most imminent dangers attaching to this Greater Westminster. At any rate, this subject does involve some distinct modification of the present central authority. I come to clause 6, which proposes to give power to the Committee of the Privy Council to transfer the provisions of the Buildings Act from the London County Council to the local authorities. The local authorities have not asked for that power. The Act of 1894, with its 218 clauses, was long and carefully considered 1595 by a Hybrid Committee, and after the fullest consideration its powers were given to the London County Council. Why does the Government override the Committee of this House? Why does it override the action of the Government of that time? It does seem to me that what is required is uniformity in this matter, uniformity to be provided for by one central authority. There is the question of street frontages and of the height and structure of buildings in different localities. These are matters of vital importance, and you will throw them into the greatest confusion if you transfer these powers from the central authority to the subordinate authorities. A builder might come to erect a block of houses on an area controlled by two different authorities, one half of the block being in one subordinate municipality, and the other half in another; and the builder would have to evoke the sanction of both for his operations. This clause is a most mischievous clause; it takes away from the central authority power which it is absolutely necessary for it to have. Then there are the Parliamentary powers, which are to be given by clause 7 to the local authorities. I have been told that the Moderate members of the London County Council have protested against these powers being given even to the London County Council itself. Why then, does the Government propose to entrust such powers, which ought not to have been entrusted to the central authority, to no less than 20 or 25 other bodies in London? It seems to mo a thoroughly bad proposal which, if carried out, will produce chaotic confusion and heavy and unnecessary expense. At the present moment when local bodies want something they go to the London County Council, and that council includes what they want, if it be necessary, in a General Powers Bill, and the matter is put through Parliament at a minimum of expense. Under this clause of the Bill each locality will have the power of promoting a Bill on its own account, and there will be no limit to the number of separate and conflicting Bills. There again, you are seriously impairing the duties and responsibilities of the Central authority. Then there is the transfer of powers from the London County Council to the subordinate councils. There is no reason why powers should not be transferred from the County 1596 Council when it is deemed necessary and right; but the proper method of doing that is through Parliament. Let the London County Council bring in a Bill for the purpose, and Parliament, if it sees wise, will transfer the powers. This Bill sets up an automatic process by which once the London Comity Council part with power to one body, every borough in the metropolis can take it, whether or not the London County Council consents, subject to the consent of the Local Government Board. That will introduce confusion. What is wanted in these matters is uniformity of administration, and that is what you will not get under this Bill. There is not even the power to retransfer such powers from the boroughs to the London County Council. I maintain that if a transfer of power is necessary it ought to be done by a Private Bill in Parliament. It is the obvious intention of the Government to keep on adding to the powers of these municipal boroughs set up by the Bill, and that process must inevitably result in the further curtailment of the power and authority of the Central Authority of London. For these reasons, therefore, I strongly object to the retrograde proposals of the Bill. I pass to the third head of my objection. There is no finality in the Bill. The City is untouched; it is left in its spendid isolation, dead to the higher impulses on behalf of the metropolis as a whole. The administration of the Poor Law is not touched. The Metropolitan Asylums Board is left untouched. The Bill sets up a condition of things in these localities which cannot be permanent, if we are to judge by the language of Lord Salisbury and the Leader of the House. Then, Sir, the principles of the Bill are to be given effect to in various ways. They are to be given effect to through the Local Government Board, through the Privy Council, and partly by Provisional Orders—a most unsatisfactory method of procedure, which may or may not have the attention of the House. Even more unsatisfactory still is the clause which enables the Government to proceed by schemes under the Bill, which will practically be withdrawn from the purview of Parliament. I find that out of 28 clauses no less than 21, either in part or in whole, are to operate 1597 in this most unsatisfactory manner. As far as possible, Parliament is not to have have a controlling voice, and, therefore, I say the Bill proceeds on faulty and mischievous principles. I now come to my last head, and I apologise to the House for speaking at such length, and thank honourable Members for the patient hearing they have given me. I agree, to a certain extent, with the Prime Minister when he deplores the harm that follows upon deciding local questions on political principles. I think we all admit that such matters should be dealt with upon their merits apart from general political controversy. Lord Salisbury has himself attacked the London County Council and London government, and has forced my right honourable Friends on this side of the House to enter the political arena. I do not say the fault is more on one side than on the other, but I do say that this Bill is, and must be, an aggravation of the evil. It ignores the Commission of 1894; it ignores the policy to which, at any rate, honourable Members on this side of the House are attached, and for which they have worked and mean to work; it reverses their own policy of 1888, embodying as it did the principle of the unity of London—a policy which obtained from this side of the House very cordial support. Suddenly we find that the Government have gone back in the direction of the old Commission of 1854, and have produced a Bill which must be most distasteful in many of its provisions to all those on this side of the House who have taken great interest in the question of London government The whole design of it is really to save the City from attack, and to impede the realisation of the idea of the unity of London. These corporations which the Bill proposes to set up are intended to be so many bulwarks between the City and those whom the City look upon as its enemies. None the less, however shall we stand by what we believe to be best for London, and what London wants. It is the Government who will be responsible if in the future embittered controversies arise over questions concerning the government of London. They have chosen to depart from their own policy, they have chosen to go in the opposite direction to ours. The question of London government 1598 goes far beyond ordinary political lines, and enthusiasts in favour of London unity are to be found in the ranks of the supporters of Her Majesty's Government. The Government have no mandate for this Bill. Let them show their mandate if it exists at all. I assert that they are intending to pass this Bill in the face of opposition deliberately expressed by London last year—expressed with the clearness of a plebiscite. This Bill is to be forced, I suppose, down our throats. I am afraid it will intensify feeling, and make the attainment of the unity of London more difficult. That is your object, and you may achieve it with your big battalions here and with the assistance of your friends in the House of Lords. This Bill spells disintegration in every clause, and, above all, London requires municipal unity. It is a city so vast, so unwieldy, with so little cohesion in its huge districts, that its people have little or no sense of corporate existence, and for that reason London requires the fullest possible development of municipal life with devolution of powers to local councils stronger and more dignified than those that now exist. We consider it of vital importance to the whole that these local councils should work harmoniously together for the good, not only of themselves, but for the whole of London, and to effect this the system of government must centre in one high authority, and that authority must be representative of all London, possessed with a living sense of responsibility for the whole welfare of London, and provided with the power and the influence necessary to bring home to every man of understanding that he owes a duty not only to himself and to his locality, but to the inhabitants in general of that great metropolis of which he is a citizen. Sir, this Bill conflicts with the attainment of this great result, and for that reason I have the honour to move the Amendment which stands in my name.
§ *MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)
Mr. Speaker, I hope the House will not think me presumptuous in rising to speak upon this Bill. I venture to do so because I happen to be a London Member, and also a member of the London County Council, who has for many years taken a great interest in this question. I should like to utter 1599 one word of protest against the suspicion which the right honourable Gentleman who has just sat down seems to entertain as to the object of the Government in bringing in this Bill. If I for one moment thought that the Government, by the introduction of this Bill, had in some sinister and ulterior way a design to attack the London County Council, I should not be inclined to support this Measure. The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition smiles at that remark. I hope he is not smiling incredulously at what I am saying. The question of London government was fought at the last County Council election, but the question before the electors then was not of the unity of London as understood by the right honourable gentleman the Member for Leeds. The question, no doubt, was whether the Council should remain in its integrity with all its essential powers; but there was no question of amalgamation with the Corporation. The question was also before the electors whether there should not be set up by the side of the County Council authoritative and dignified local authorities, and no man spoke out with greater distinctness in favour of that proposition than the right honourable Gentleman the late Home Secretary. I do not know whether he wishes to be reminded of what he said in 1894, at a meeting held in the Queen's Hall, but he certainly used language which justifies the Government in introducing this Bill. He said the then Government proposed to give the local bodies the stimulus of more attractive titles and of conspicuous positions which would create a more fruitful field for the best energy and the best efforts of the best men of the localities. His phrase was rather rotund, but if it meant anything it meant that these bodies should have the dignity of possessing mayors and councillors.
§ MR. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)
I was speaking at the time in support of the Courtney Commission, and against a scheme for creating municipalities.
§ *MR. WHITMORE
Then I am afraid the language which the right honourable Gentleman used did not convey that impression. Let me now refer to the speech of the right honourable Gentleman, the Member for Leeds. It is vain 1600 for honourable Members on the other side of the House to expect from this Government the amalgamation of the County Council with the City. We hold the view that it is not expedient to make one municipality in London. I think it would be unwise to make the head of the County Council the Lord Mayor of London, and to give to the County Council all the attributes and dignities of the old Corporation. In my opinion London does not want this. No doubt at one time there was a great feeling in favour of unification, because it was supposed that the City was possessed of great wealth, and that if merged into Greater London the ratepayers of London generally would be relieved in consequence. It is now known that if amalgamation took place no relief would accrue to the rates of London. After all, the County Council must always have most important, varied, and difficult duties to perform. The strain on the ordinary county councillor now is great. Why should you add to that the wholly unnecessary ceremonial attributes which attach to the City? As regards the administrative work of London in general, what real practical good would result from the amalgamation of the City with the area of the County Council? I frankly admit that if I were a citizen of London I should like to see the City Corporation reformed, but it has reformed itself in many ways since 1834, notably in the abolition of the old Commissioners of Sewers. That was a real administrative reform. But whether the Corporation requires reforming or not, there is no doubt that it governs admirably the part of London over which it has jurisdiction. So I fail to see that the unification of London in that sense is of any great practical importance to Londoners in general. As the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury pointed out when he introduced this Bill, there have always been two sets of institutions in London for local government purposes. Unlike the great-provincial towns, we have always had some kind of institution for central purposes and some kind of institution for local purposes. That principle was acted upon by the legislation of the Metropolis Management Act; it was acted upon by the last Unionist Government in 1888, when that Government 1601 deliberately set up the London County Council. When the County Council was established it was the admitted intention of the Government to set up by its side administrative local bodies. I think the real problem with all reformers of London government has been, first of all, to ascertain what are the proper functions of a central authority and local authorities; then to decide what are the proper areas for the local authorities; and, thirdly, to provide and maintain a proper equipoise and relation between the central and local authorities. In London, so far as I can understand, there must always be a central authority—the County Council —exercising far and away the most important and interesting functions of all. and by its side independent and dignified local authorities. I do not see why there should be any subordination of the local authorities to the central authority or superiority of the central authority over the local authorities. In London there should be no inconsistency in theory or practice between patriotism to one's parish and to one's city at large. The necessity for dignifying the local bodies is generally agreed upon, and the method adopted in this Bill does not meet with much real or serious objection. In giving the local authorities mayors and aldermen, the Government have followed the precedent of the Municipal Corporations Act. With regard to the transfer of powers from the County Council to local authorities, the Government have been tender to the feelings of county councillors. The powers to be transferred are "agreed" powers, and no Moderate councillor wishes, or would ever wish, to transfer powers unnecessarily from the Council to local authorities. The members of any municipal body are anxious to make that body powerful, they are slow to get rid of any of their powers and to hand them over to any other body. I am perfectly certain that no Councillor would unnecessarily relieve the London County Council of duties which it is obviously right that that body should retain. With regard to the clause which proposes to give local authorities power to promote and oppose Bills, I am sure it will not be used against the County Council, or in favour of private monopolies. You have only to look at the way in which the Conservative City of London has always co-operated in 1602 such matters with the London County Council, to convince you that that will be so. The City has been as warm as the County Council in opposition to private monopolies, to the Water Companies and to the Telephone Company. I must say I was astonished at the way in which the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Leeds has dealt with the manner in which the Government propose to deal with the question of areas. Everybody knows that this question is the crux of any Bill re-constituting local authorities in London. There are two extreme schools of thought which have made themselves apparent on this question. On the one hand, you have those who wish arbitrarily and capriciously to carve London into something like 10 districts; and, on the other extreme, you have those who would preserve the existing areas; and the Bill which was promoted by the honourable Members for Islington and Battersea showed what I call an excessively conservative tendency in that direction. As a matter of fact, they proposed to give municipal dignity to all the existing vestries and district boards. That was the low-water mark of reform in that direction. The report of the Commission presided over by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Bodmin took a middle course, and on the whole the Government are acting upon the lines of that report as to areas. That report, it will be remembered, selected 19 areas. I do not say that they were all wisely selected, but still the Commission did select certain districts, and declared that the rest of London must be delimited by a Boundary Commission. That is essentially what the Government have done in this Bill. They have selected 15 areas, and have left the rest to be delimited by a Boundary Commission. I cannot pass by in silence the grossly unfair and misleading statement, that in the selection of the 15 areas the Government have chosen out the rich districts as opposed to the poor. Has the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Leeds looked at Schedule A of the Bill? It is really worth examining for one moment. The accusation he has made is a grave one; if it be true he should substantiate it, and if false it should 1603 be withdrawn. There are 15 areas in Schedule A. I am afraid that at the present time there is not a much better test of the character of the population of any particular district than the politics of those who are returned to the London County Council. At any rate, I am afraid that that is so. I find, when I look at the way in which the County Council election went at the last contest, in 13 of these areas, which returned in all 54 members, exactly 27 were Progressive councillors, and 27 were Moderates. That is a most significant fact, and it absolutely shows that these districts are not in any way exclusively the districts of the rich. I would like to ask anybody who knows anything about London if they think that Battersea is a city of the rich?
§ *MR. WHITMORE
I should also like to ask whether Camberwell, Fulham, Hammersmith, Islington, Lambeth, and St. Pancras, are cities of the rich? With regard to the delimitation of the rest of London, I cannot help hoping that the Boundary Commission will think not only of the express directions given them in the Bill, but also somewhat of the kind of districts which have been put in the first schedule. I must thank the Government for having selected Chelsea as one of the areas. I am aware that its population is somewhat smaller than that of the other areas, but no doubt it has been selected, because it has had a vigorous local life and possesses those local traditions, which go to make the success of the municipal boroughs of this country. Surely, the Boundary Commission will take note of that, and in delimiting the rest of London will not think simply of putting together great aggregations of population, but will have due regard to local circumstances, to ancient history, and to present local feeling. And I am bound to say I shall be glad, while this Bill is in Committee, to see two other areas included in the first schedule. Both Shoreditch and Bethnal Green, have all the attributes which the Boundary Commissioners would say would make then worthy of receiving a charter of incur- 1604 poration. Therefore, I think it would be wise if this House itself included them in the first schedule, for it would make it still more difficult for imaginative gentlemen who know nothing about London, to rake up the absurd charge that the districts are arranged in favour of the rich, at the expense of the poor. I think it is as well that the Conservatives of London should freely express their minds on some of these points. I pass from the matter of areas to what, perhaps, is, after all, in most men's minds, when they are thinking about this Bill. I have heard cynical friends say—"What, after all, will be the outcome of it? It may be a good enough Bill, but will you get a better class of men to serve on your local authorities?" I do not know. I do not wish to indulge in any prophecy but, at all events, it seems to me that by this Bill, the Government are doing what they can, by legislation, to attract the best kind of men to the service of local government. You are going to invest the local authorities with those titles and dignities which have proved attractive in other parts of the country. Most wisely, you are going to limit the number of your councillors, so that in future each individual councillor shall have a distinct sense of responsibility, and shall feel that he is able to perform some useful work for the body of which he is a member. As regards areas, I hope that on the one hand, they will not be too big, and that, on the other hand, they will be large enough to prevent any little clique or body of tradesmen from bossing their affairs. If the Government do that by this Bill, we must leave the rest to the good feeling and growing sense of responsibility of the citizens of London. It is a curious thing, but I suppose there is no city in the world where so many men and women of leisure and means are giving up their time, their thoughts, their energies, and their money to the service of their fellow-citizens in every other department of life, except that of local government, as in London. I do not suppose that in any other country you can find so glorious a record of self-sacrificing lives. That is the proud boast of London. Its disgrace has been, unfortunately, that the local bodies have not been able to attract to 1605 their service the same class of men as are to be found on local bodies in provincial towns. I do think, from the bottom of my heart, that if this Bill does a little something by way of legislation to encourage that which we want to see, and to get rid of that stain on the reputation of Londoners, and to make them as zealous in this branch of public service as they are showing themselves in every other department of public life, it will be a great achievement. And, if that be so, we have a right to be grateful to the Government for introducing this Measure. I believe that it proceeds on the right lines. If we can only purge these local bodies of the curse of excessive Party spirit, it will be a great means by which we can elevate the local life of London. Unlike the right honourable Gentleman who has just spoken, I can assure him that, in my judgment, and in the judgment of many others who are not extreme partisans, this Measure is a sound and sensible instalment of practical administrative reform. We thank the Government for having introduced it, and we will do our best, with, I hope the co-operation of the right honourable and honourable Gentlemen opposite, to make it a really useful Measure, which will add to the prosperity and happiness of this great town, of which we are all so proud.
§ MR. STEADMAN (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)
The honourable Member, in a very able speech, has done his best to convince the House and London that this Bill is to the interest of the people of London. He also pointed out that at the present time the London County Council is so overworked that the natural consequence is that some of its powers should be transferred to the local authorities. I do not happen to know how long the honourable Member for Chelsea has been a member of the London County Council, but I do know that I have been a member myself for seven years, not like the honourable Member, an alderman, responsible to no constituents for my work or my faults, but elected by the people of the East End of London to represent them upon the Council. I have also been for some years a member of the Mile End Vestry, and, there- 1606 fore, I have some practical knowledge of the matter now before the House. I am one of those who entirely object to Party politics being introduced into municipal affairs. I maintain that we on this side of the House, and the Progressive Party in the London County Council are not responsible for the elections being fought on Party political lines. As a matter of fact, the First Lord of the Treasury himself during one election came down to my constituency to speak in support of the Moderate candidates, and I am pleased to inform the House that, in spite of the right honourable Gentleman's high position and oratory, and the great influence he was able to bring to bear upon a mass meeting, the answer given him was the return of Progressive members in that and in the adjoining constituencies. On a previous occasion, the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Birmingham came down into the constituency to advocate a system of tenification. But the people of East London, having more knowledge of their local affairs than even the right honourable Gentleman, gave him his answer by saying that they wanted unification and not tenification. So far as the remarks of the honourable Member for Chelsea, with regard to the County Council being overworked are concerned, all I have to say is that if he and his friends in the Moderate Party were to do their share equally with the Progressive Party we could do more work than we are undertaking to do even at the present moment. What does this Bill propose to do? In the first place, it proposes to set up a semi-House of Lords in our local bodies by the election of aldermen. What and who is an alderman? He is a gentleman selected by the party who for the time being may be in power. It was the ease that in 1895 the Moderates and Progressives returned to the Council were equal in number, and for this fact the honourable Member for Chelsea must thank his lucky stars, because owing to it he was elected an alderman of the Council. I am a democrat myself, and I am opposed to the House of Lords interfering with the legislative machinery of this country. As such, I am opposed to the election of aldermen either on the London County 1607 Council, or on the local bodies. They go there not with any mandate from the constituencies, they are responsible to no one, they do absolutely as they like, and no one can call them to account for their votes. We all know that reform is very much needed in the vestries and district boards of London. Take the case of the overseers. They are elected, it is true, by the vestries; but their election has to be confirmed by a stipendiary magistrate, and when he has done that they have the power of raising the necessary money for local purposes. They also are able to spend what money they choose, they may go down to the seaside at the expense of the ratepayers, and neither the vestry nor anybody else can call them to account. They are responsible to no one for their actions. Yet this Bill will retain them in exactly the same position.
§ MR. STEADMAN
. Can the right honourable Gentleman show me anything in the Bill making the overseers responsible to any local authority for their action in the same way as committees elected by that body are? I can assure him I am prepared to support any reform in that direction. I admit that, so far as the churchwardens are concerned, the Bill abolishes their election by the municipality, and rightly so. I am a Churchman myself and have been so from my infancy, but I have seen cases where men have been elected as churchwardens who have no religious belief at all. Plenty of them go to the church on the Sabbath morning, and when they come out enter a public-house, and stick there until closing time. Such men, in my humble opinion, are not fit to be churchwardens. I have known cases in which a Nonconformist has been elected to the office. That man, too, has no right to be a churchwarden, because he shows by the very fact of his being a Nonconformist that he disbelieves in the principle of an established church. But he has accepted the office, because prior to the Bill brought forward by the Liberal Party in 1894 it carried with it the chairmanship of the vestry, and in order to secure that official po- 1608 sition he took that inconsistent action. Then there is the question of the transfer of powers. That is a very important matter, for I maintain that every power transferred from the London County Council to these new municipalities will weaken the influence of that council in spite of the eloquence of the honourable Member for Chelsea. What has been our past experience upon our vestries? They have had to carry out the Public Health Act, a most important duty for any administrative body. But, as a rule, our vestries to-day are manipulated by men who are property owners in the district, whose interest it is that the sanitary laws should not be carried out. However much a Sanitary Inspector may desire to carry those laws out, it is very often the case that, owing to the intimidation of Members of the vestry who own property in the district, he is unable to put them in force. Then there is the question of loans. To-day, the London County Council lends money to our local boards at 3⅛ per cent. interest. It is true that the Local Government Board will lend money at a cheaper rate, but only for short terms; for longer terms they charge a higher rate of interest. You say under this Bill that in the future the Municipalities shall apply to the Local Government Board and not to the London County Council for loans. Yet the great outcry to-day is that municipal enterprise, more especially in the East End of London, is retarded by the fact that they are not able to borrow money re-payable not in 10, 50, or 60 years, but in 100 years. Then there is the question of cow-houses and slaughter-houses. To-day, the London County Council looks after the administration of those places. You propose to transfer these powers to the local authority, and what is happening to-day on our vestries with reference to our Sanitary Laws will happen on these new authorities in regard to cow-houses and slaughter-houses, because the owners of them will aspire to become members of these bodies in order to prevent their interests being interfered with, whereas, at the present moment, the London County Council sees that the regulations on this matter are properly carried out. Next, I come to the question of the main roads. In 1609 this subject, I am specially interested, as the representative of the East End of London. The honourable Member for Chelsea stated that the County Council itself was in favour of the transfer, among other things, of the maintenance of our main roads to the new municipalities. There is one main road in the East End of London, the Commercial Road, which runs through four parishes, Poplar, Limehouse, Mile End Old Town, and St. George's in the East. The County Council have to pay part of the cost of maintenance of that road to-day. Now, it must be borne in mind that we have in this district the Albert Docks, the Victoria Docks, the East and West India Docks, and the Mill wall Docks, and this road is the thoroughfare along which are carted all the bonded goods conveyed from the Docks to the City and West End of London. Why should the poor people in the East End of London, who are already over-rated, be still more heavily taxed for the maintenance of this road, which is used in the interests of the City and West End merchants? In the time of Charles II. the hackney carriage licence of £5 per annum was applied towards the cost of sewering and paving our roads, yet at the end of this enlightened nineteenth century we are going back from what was done in those days. The chief item of interest to myself, however, as the representative of the East End of London is the incidence of rates. I find, after carefully going through the last returns, the following facts in regard to the rates. Those of Bow which in 1892 were 7s. 3d. in the £1 are today 8s. 1d. In Bromley they have risen from 7s. 5d. to 7s. 8d.; in Limehouse, from 6s. 2d. to 6s. 8d.; in Poplar, from 6s. 3d. to 7s. 4½d.; in Ratcliffe, from 5s. 8d. to 6s. 5d.; in St. George's in the East, from 5s. 5d. to 5s. l1d.; in Shadwell, from 6s 3d. to 6s. 9d.; in Wapping, from 5s. 7½d. to 6s. 5d.; in Whitechapel, from 6s. 1d. to 6s. 6d.: and in Mile End, from 6s. 6d. to 6s. 9d. The reason I give these figures is this: in 1894 the Equalisation of Rates Act came into operation, and, strange to say, every parish I have mentioned, although it has benefited by that Act, has since had its rates increased in spite of the sum it has received under it. Take the hamlet of Mile End Old 1610 Town. We receive £12,288, which is equal to a rate of 8d. in the £1. Yet in spite of that our rates have gone up year by year, and I will attempt to show the House the reason for it. The Poor Rate in Mile End, which includes the School Board, the Police, the County Council, and the Asylums Board Rate, is 4s. 4d. in the £1. In Bow it is 5s. 5d., in Bromley 4s. 10d., in Limehouse 4s. 2d., in Poplar 4s. 6d., in Ratcliff 3s. l1d., in St. George's in the East, 3s. 3d., in Shadwell, 4s. 4d., in Wapping 3s. 8½d., and in Whitechapel 3s. 9d. in the £1. Our Poor Rate in Mile End in 1894, previously to our receiving over £12,000 under the Equalisation of Rates Act, was 3s. 7d. in the £. In 1895 it was 3s. 9d., in 1896 it was 4s., and now it stands at 4s. 4d. in the £. These figures prove conclusively the poverty that exists to-day in the East End of London, and, instead of limiting the evil by means of this Bill, you are going to intensify it by shutting us off from the West End of London. The result is that the Bill will keep us poor. You cannot wonder at the fact that the East End of London, in consequence of this poverty, has always been the happy hunting-ground for philanthropists and political pensioners. Under this Bill the people of the East End are still to stew in their poverty, while the rich are to be eased from their present responsibilities of paying an equal share of the public burdens. It is not because we spend money in waste. We have not even adopted the Free Libraries Act in Mile End, or the Public Baths and Washhouses Act. Our roads to-day, too, are not in that state of repair which they should be; our streets are badly lighted; and yet our rates are 6s. 9d. in the £. The reason is, that our people are getting poorer every day; our poor rate is 4s. 4d. in the £; and in that fact you have proof of the poverty which exists. The result is that we are not able to put into force Acts which were passed for the benefit of the people; we dare not increase our rates even ½d. more in the £, because the working classes are not able to bear any additional burden. Take the parish of the honourable Member for Chelsea. He was very keen in trying to demonstrate to the House that some of the parishes which are scheduled under this Bill are as poor as some of 1611 those that are left out. I do not sec that, Mr. Speaker. I find that in Kensington the Poor Rate is only 3s. 5½d. in the £, while the total rate is only 5s. 8½d. In Westminster (St. James's) the rates are 5s. 1d., in St. Martin's-in-the-Fields 5s. 6d., and in Chelsea 5s. 6d. only. And what is the ease in the City? The City for years past has been driving the poorer population out of its area to swell the already over-congested districts that surround it, and the result is that the City, instead of bearing its own responsibilities in looking after the working classes that at one time used to reside there, has driven them away to places like Battersea and Mile End, to the great relief of their own rates. Their minimum rate is 2s. 11½d. in the £, and their maximum only 3s. 0½d. in the £, or more than 40 per cent. less than we in the East End of London are paying. Yet these people in the City, whom this Bill does not touch, are better able to bear their burdens and pay their way than those who live in the East End. They, however, are to be let off scot-free by this Bill, and the poor are to go on struggling in the best way they can. I myself am in favour of some reform in our vestries and district boards. Personally I should be satisfied with a simple alteration of the title from the vestry or district board to district council, and instead of the members of our vestries being called vestrymen—they are commonly known as "Bumbles"—I would give them the title of councillors. But you do not propose to do that in this Bill. It is true you do not advocate a system of tenification, but by reducing the number of areas you are going in the right direction to bring that about on some future occasion. Plus the tinsel pomp of Lord Mayors' Shows, you are going to construct certain municipalities, with mayors as chairmen, and with aldermen in their dignified robes and chains of office, which will be the means of swelling their heads to such an extent that the time will not be far distant when the London County Council will be got rid of altogether. Now, I must point out that the secret of the success and popularity of the London County Council is its simplicity. Its chairman, while he is not Lord Mayor, is the real Mayor of London. He does not repre- 1612 sent a city within a city, but he represents the whole of the County of London. Ho does not preside over the meetings of the Council robed in ermine and wearing a chain of office, and neither do our aldermen attend in their garb of office. On the contrary, they come in all their simplicity, the same as myself and my colleague the Member for Battersea, who are looked upon as belonging to the working classes. I repeat, it is because of that simplicity that the London County Council is so popular today with the people of London. Another cause of its popularity is that it attacks interests and privileged monopolies. It is distasteful to the present Government for the very same reasons, and, therefore, they are going to do their level best, not to put it out of existence perhaps, but to deprive it of the more important of its powers. I have called attention to several parishes which are going to be put in what I may term "the melting-pot." If the Government had been wise—or if the honourable Member for Chelsea, who I believe has had a very important finger in advising the Government as to the details of the Measure, had been wise—they would have selected for municipalities all the vestries and district boards, and then there would have been no occasion to have appointed boundary commissioners. But instead of that they have selected only a few, although in order if possible to get the united support of this House they have included even the constituency of my honourable Friend the Member for Battersea. They have included, too, one of the constituencies in the East End of London—Poplar. But Poplar does not. want the Bill; it disagrees with it; and others of the large municipalities which are to be created under it—Westminster, for instance, in connection with which several parishes are to be joined together in order to form one municipality—are dissenting from the Bill. My own constituency, which, it is true, comprises only 677 acres, has a population of 111,200 persons, and its rateable value is £401,677. Now, the new municipalities are based upon rateable value, and, as usual, we have a Conservative Government bringing in class legislation, because, while Chelsea has a population of only 97,676, which is less than Mile 1613 End, yet. because its rateable value is £787,430, which is more than that of Mile End, it is to be created into a municipality. I maintain that these new authorities should have been based, not upon the rateable value, but on the population of the area. Our population in Mile End is greater than that of Chelsea, but because our rateable value is less—and that is our misfortune, it is not our fault—we are not to be converted into a municipality. I have shown how poor some of these East End parishes are, and what heavy rates they are called upon to pay. Some of them, perhaps—Limehouse, St. George's, and Whitechapcl—may be amalgamated into one municipality, but the fact remains that under this Bill you are going to centralise the poor to the poor, and that is the great object of the Hill. I have heard a remark outside that Mile End is to be tacked on to Bethnal Green, but that will not place us in any better position; and in any case, whatever parish you tack us on to in the East End, you join us to poverty instead of relieving our burdens. Now, all these parishes have boards of guardians, and while the members of some of these East End boards believe in the principle of outdoor relief—and when I was a guardian I did my best to administer the law in that direction—others are opposed to the principle. Therefore, in any East End municipality which you may create under this I5ill to administer the laws relating to the lighting, maintenance of roads, and other local purposes, you may have three, four, or five boards of guardians varying in their methods of administering the Poor Law, and the result will be a confusion worse than that which prevails even at the present moment. I see no earthly reason why the Bill should not entrust to these new authorities the administration of the Poor Law. My own experience both as a guardian and as a vestryman is that a municipality could well undertake all these powers instead of having two separate boards to deal with them. Now, in the Report of Mr. Courtney's Commission in 1894 it was stated that Mile End had a larger population than Birkenhead, Derby, Halifax, Norwich, or Swansea, while it was more fully assessed than Burnley, Birkenhead, Halifax, or Plymouth, yet because we are poor, and have not got the rateable qualification, 1614 we are not to have the same privileges and powers as those smaller towns possess. As a matter of fact, there are only three cities in England—Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham—that are larger than any municipality we have in London at the present time. I commenced by saying that, personally, I deprecated politics being introduced into these discussions. At the same time, I maintain that the Party to which I belong are not responsible for Party politics having been introduced. On 16th November 1897 Lord Salisbury, at a public meeting in London, stated that as London was 10 or 12 times as great as any other municipality it ought to be regarded, not as one municipality, but as an aggregation of municipalities, and he appealed to the electors of London to return the Moderates to power. I think that the electors of London, in March 1898, gave Lord Salisbury an answer to that speech, and I would remind the House that at every election I have fought—and I have been returned at the top of the poll in each case—the principle of unification has been in the forefront of our programme, and not tenification. Decentralisation always means weakness, while centralisation always means strength. [Dissent.] Well, honourable Members may not agree with me, but they must admit that I have had some experience. I have not been engaged in the Labour movement for 25 years without realising that fact. I know that the present Bill proceeds upon the line of making impossible any further equalisation of rates, and this is being done in spite of the fact that, under the present system, the East End of London is getting every year poorer, and now you are going to make it impossible for the incidence of taxation to fall upon the shoulders of those best able to bear it; you are, in fact, placing it upon the shoulders of the people who are least able to bear it. In setting up a powerful municipality, as you are doing at Westminster, not on the basis of population, but upon that of rateable value, you are practically creating a second City of London. Not only does the Government Bill proceed upon wrong principles, but it embodies no real local reform. It purports to establish new bodies, but it retains an antiquated system: and instead of working on self-contained areas, it marks out for the 1615 boroughs of Westminster and Wandsworth areas that are universally acknowledged to be too large to ensure that minute personal attention which is the very essence of local administration. It erects the paraphernalia of municipalities with their mayors and aldermen, without adding the distinctive duties ordinarily attaching to municipalities, and I am afraid that instead of vivifying it will stifle local life and activity; it will undoubtedly add to the cost of administration. For these reasons I strongly support the Amendment moved by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Leeds.
Upon the return of Mr. SPEAKER after the usual interval—
§ *MR. ALBAN GIBBS (London)
It is not my intention to trespass for any length of time on the patience of the House, but as Member for the City of London, against which this Amendment, or at any rate the larger half of it, appears to be directed, I feel it to be my duty to say a few words, and I will ask the House to bear with me for a few moments while I do so. I have not myself the honour to be a member of the Corporation, but I think that, as representing the individuals who form the Corporation as their Member in Parliament, and many other constituents in the City who are not members in the Corporation, I may say they thoroughly approve of this Bill. The Corporation in London have long desired to see municipalities about them such as these are, and I was sorry to hear the right honourable Gentleman who moved this Amendment say that it would rob the County Council of its vitality and utility. I am sorry that the right honourable Gentleman has such a low opinion of the vitality of the County Council as to think it would be weakened by having municipalities gathered round it, even if they remove from it some of its less important work. As one who believes it is desirable that London should live an entity, but not be interfered with as honourable Members want it to be. I think I may say that my right honourable Friend the First Lord of the Treasury has made good his claim that this Bill would complete the edifice of London government in the metropolitan area. I know that honourable and right honourable Gentlemen 1616 opposite have made use of expressions which show that they have a very different opinion, but we all know that on the transpontine stage, when one player gets the better of another, that one always has the opportunity of taking his place upon the stage and saying, "No matter; the time will come." I do not think the time will ever come when the County Council will be able to despoil the City of its ancient privileges, and what I hope is, that when the Debate is over and the Bill is passed, the County Council will recognise that fact. I desire to speak of the County Council with the utmost respect; they have some very important duties and some very high duties to perform, and I hope they will now settle down quietly to attend to those duties. If that is the case, I think this Bill will have done a very great and good work for London. Now, the only clause of this Bill that directly affects the City is clause 12. I think—I do not speak with that authority for the Corporation that my honourable colleague would do, but I believe that the City has always been ready to make the arrangements that has been put forward in this Bill; but I think that the County Council has preferred to keep their grievance. Very little money is involved, and I really think myself, if you have a nice grievance, it is foolish to give it up for so small an amount of money. I think I may say, with due deference, that this clause is perhaps rather loosely drawn—I am sure it is not the intention of the clause; but if it by chance does permit the County Council to come into the City and interfere with the county fund and the way it is now being administered by the City, it will have my strong opposition and it will be my duty to put down Amendments and to make that matter perfectly clear. I do not wish to go through a detailed defence of the City at this time; there has not been very many detailed accusations brought against it, but if when the Bill comes to another stage Amendments are put down which challenge the administration of the City in any way I shall be quite prepared to meet them then. One thing that has been said about the City is that there are too many aldermen. I have heard it said a great many times that the number of the common councillors and aldermen was excessive, and I was very much sur- 1617 prised. I would like to point out that the 26 alderman discharge many great and important duties besides that of sitting in the debates of Common Council. They do all the magisterial work, and certainly they are a very hard-worked body of men. Moreover, I do not suppose that anybody making a new municipality would make it so large as this. In a municipality which has lived for more than a thousand years, and people have been trained to municipal work, there is not the slightest difficulty in finding good men to do that work, and when it is found that there are too many at one time, that the number of them has become inconvenient, the number can be lowered by the City itself. The right honourable Gentleman who moved the Amendment referred to a speech which was made by my right honourable Friend the Member for Bodmin, who I am sorry to see is not here at present. He referred to the great pleasure with which he expressed himself as favourable to the unification of the City. He certainly did say he was favourable, but I do not complain of the rest of his speech. He said the City administered its funds as if they were in trust to the whole of the metropolis, and he instanced several things which the City had done for the benefit of the metropolis, such as the building of the Tower Bridge, and he said they administered their funds and administered them well: but, Sir, to say that they administer their funds and administer them for the benefit of the whole of the metropolis is not sufficient reason for taking away the administration of those funds from them. I had hoped that the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Leeds would have been here to hear my speech, because there is one thing which he said caused me a great deal of surprise. He alluded to the Municipalities Corporation Commission of 1835, and he said it made no exception in the case of the City. I should like to read, if the House will bear with me, just a few lines of that Report, It is on page 36 of the Report, paragraph 78—The Common Council of the City of London presents a striking exception to the system of self-election for life, and it affords a remarkable instance of the absence of those evils which we refer to it. The Common Councilmen of the City arc annually elected by a numerous constituency, yet changes seldom 1618 happen among them. The important requisites in the experience of the functionary and the power of control in the electors are there effectually united, and produce that efficiency and confidence which are wanting in most other corporate towns. The history of the Common Council of London is that of a body which has watched vigilantly over the interests of its constituents, and for a long series of years has studied to improve the corporate institutions with great earnestness, unremitting caution, and scrupulous justice.Well, Sir, that is as much as to say that the City is a reformed corporation; therefore I do not think any honourable Members opposite are entitled to say as they invariably say, whenever they do want to say anything at all against the City of London, that it is unreformed. As my honourable Friend the Member for Chelsea said, ever since that date the City of London has gone on reforming itself, and whenever it has had to come to Parliament for reforms, those reforms have been resisted to the best of their ability by honourable Members opposite. The right honourable Gentleman did not make any very specific charges against the City. He did not put forward anything that seems to require any particular answer. He said the City was a reproach and an anomaly. He meant, I suppose, that they were a reproach to other bodies who did not do so well as they. Then, as for their being an anomaly, I do not think that a borough situated in a county can be considered an anomaly. He said they were dead to all the higher influences, over all the City. I suppose he means by that that they did all the business that they had to do, and having administered their own business did not concern themselves officially with the business of other people. I do not suppose that the right honourable Gentleman is ignorant of the amount of charity that is done by the City or individual members of the City; I do not think that he meant to disparage that in any way, so I will leave that question alone. The honourable Member for Stepney also did not make any specific charges against the City, though I cannot say he seemed to have any friendly feelings towards it. The one thing he did say, I have heard said very often, both in the City and the more central parishes of London, and that is that we drove the poor out of the City. It is natural that the poor should go outwards from the centre where they 1619 can get cheaper houses and purer air, and the facilities for getting into the City have so increased of late years that it is true that the poor have gone out to places where the value of land and houses is much cheaper than in the City, or at Kensington, or places of that description. But the City poor rate is lower, because each penny in the pound produces so much more. Now, I think that is all the attack that has been brought against the City. I do not wish to follow the right honourable Gentleman through all his attacks upon the Bill, because they were so ably answered by my honourable Friend the Member for Chelsea. I merely say now that I think this Bill merits the hearty support of all people who care for the good government of London, and I do think it will have the hearty support of the Metropolitan Members on this side of the House, and I thank the Government very much for having introduced it.
§ MR. HOLLAND (Tower Hamlets, Bow)
The one thing I think which strikes one in this Debate is the difference between the tone of the honourable Members opposite to-night and that of their speeches which they made upon the First Reading of the Bill. The Debate has been raised from a mere philanthropic opposition to the dignity of a Party attack. It is true that this Bill detracts nothing from the powers of the County Council except those powers which were agreed upon at the conference at the County Hall, and the powers with regard to the Building Act. I entirely agree that that is a matter to be discussed in Committee, and I certainly do think that that provision with regard to the Building Act and the power it is proposed to transfer to the local municipalities is unfortunate. So far as the other powers are concerned it detracts nothing from the powers of the County Council except the powers that were, as I have said before, agreed to at the conference at the County Hall. But honourable Members opposite had their prophecies to maintain. They prophesied that evil consequences would come of this Bill, and indeed after their victory at the last County Council election they actually said that no Bill 1620 would be introduced at all, but that if a Bill was introduced it would be a retrograde Measure and an attempt to wreck the County Council, so that they are obliged to attempt to justify their prophecy. They fixed chiefly on the provisions of this Bill in regard to Westminster, and they say that this creation of a municipality of Westminster with a rateable value larger, I believe, than any other rateable value in this kingdom, including Liverpool, is a menace to the County Council and an insidious attempt to weaken its prestige and influence, and it is a symptom of the disease of meglomania against which the Prime Minister uttered a well-considered warning in the remarks he made in his speech at the Albert Hall. I confess that I never hoped that this Bill would err from any excess of ambition, and if the present Government have any failing at all—and I am sure that they can be conscious of none—it is not a tendency to meglomania. I think it is a great satisfaction that the Government in this case have resisted any idea to make this Measure an optional Measure, but have resolved that the system established by this Measure shall run throughout London, so that the process of transition from one system to another will be as brief as possible. I say with regard to the question of Westminster that I hope the Government will not endeavour to stay the hostility of any honourable Members opposite by making any concession on any of the material points of this Bill, because that hostility is certain to be accentuated in the exact proportion in which the Bill is thought to require it. The true principle of this Bill is approved by the Party on this side of the House, and I hope that the Government will not minimise the provisions of this Bill so as to escape any local dissatisfaction which may be expressed with regard to it; for this dissatisfaction which is certain to be given expression to is merely temporary, and will all disappear when this Bill, which is a good one, has been in operation for some time. I cannot help thinking it is from some desire to escape from this dissatisfaction to a certain extent that we must attribute the basis of the areas which are scheduled in this Bill. 1621 But whatever criticism may be passed on this side of the House, I think we are unanimous in the view that this Measure is a great advance in the simplification and improvement of London Government, and I think it would have been more valuable if the provisions with regard to Westminster which are so objectionable to honourable Members opposite had struck the keynote of the whole matter. I take it that the restoration of the old borough of Westminster, which is homogeneous and self-contained, and an integral unit for all municipal purposes—an area large enough and important enough to give some dignity and responsibility to the members who serve on the council, to render the position of the mayor a position of some dignity, importance, and standing, and some historical association. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for Leeds suggests that these historical associations were somewhat fabulous, but after all the fables of history are not the least authoritative part of it—I say an area of this character will tend to develop and encourage a spirit of civic patriotism within the boundaries of that area, and tend also to encourage men of leisure and capacity to take part in the municipal work of the borough. I take it that one of the objects of the Bill is to improve the personnel of the local governing body. Well, that is an excellent provision in that direction. A provision which would be accepted on both sides of this House is the provision which cuts down the number of members who serve on the local boards. I hope that provision will not be altered by the Government from the minimum of 72, because of any deputation which may wait upon it and which expresses the sad dying notes of dispossessed vestrymen. For instance, the district which I represent at the present moment is governed by a district board in two schedules, by two vestries, one with 102 members and one with 80 or 82. Now, I must say that in this division the operation of this Act with regard to cutting down the number will not, in itself, be sufficient; it may be sufficient in districts which are better to do, but in the poor dis- 1622 tricts of London it is only by merging several into one administrative area, perhaps of the size of Westminster, that you will be able to obtain actual and real authority. There will be no difficulty, of course, in the district of Westminster, which is a wide and wealthy area, in obtaining 72 councillors of capacity and leisure to attend to the municipal business; but it is more difficult to man the local Board in districts in poor industrial neighbourhoods, and I myself hope that the Government will consider the advisability and possibility of applying the principle that Westminster has accepted, that the administrative area should be the old boundaries of the ancient borough, to the Tower Hamlets. In this case the Government propose to create 32 municipalities under the Bill. Will that very much increase the dignity of the councillors?—he is going to have 3,000 councillors for London, as many councillors as there are' bus drivers. He is going to have 30 mayors in London, and the dignity of the position must be, to an extent, determined by the duties and responsibilities which devolve upon them, and the duties which devolve on any of the municipal councils must be determined ultimately by the area of population which those councils control. The powers which are transferred, therefore, to the largest and most important municipality in London will be determined in the end by the powers they consent to transfer to the smallest and poorest municipality of London. It will, therefore, be agreed that there is a want of uniformity and similarity in the powers, whether transferred now or later to these bodies, which will be detrimental to the good government of London. I venture to suggest to the Government that some of the areas proposed by this Bill are altogether too small, and may be detrimental to the whole object of this Measure, and will mar and handicap its development, and will prevent the chance of further powers being extended to them in the future. Generally speaking, I think the proposal should be, in these cases, to select as large an area as can be conveniently governed from one centre. Of course, that does not represent the views of the honourable Members opposite: but Members on that side of the House are hostile to the whole principle 1623 of the Bill. It is conceded on both sides that there must be a central council, but the honourable Members opposite wish to approximate as nearly as possible to the principal of a central Government for London, and they insist upon the paramount superiority of the County Council. The view of this side is municipal diversity in London, and if that view is to prevail it is better that it should be carried out in an effective manner, and should not be handicapped by halfhearted opinion. It must also be considered that, as every council exercises similar functions and similar powers, there should be as much uniformity as possible in rateable value, population and acreage, without disturbing excessively the local feeling. But the want of uniformity in this Bill is almost astonishing. We find Hampstead with a population of 75,000, Lambeth with a population of 295,000, Islington with a population of 336,000, and then comes Chelsea, which, even with its outer district, Kensal Town, only has a population of 100,000, and without Kensal Town it only has a population of 70,000; yet it is proposed that this district of Kensal Town shall be detached from Chelsea for the purposes of municipal government, but shall be one with Chelsea for the purposes of electing representatives to the County Council. Surely this is a very undesirable arrangement; the whole spirit of municipal government, the whole chance of securing better municipal treatment is imperilled if every area selected is not an integral area for all government purposes. So far as possible, for its Parliamentary and electoral and all other purposes, it should be an integral unit. One of the great merits of this Bill is that it gets rid of the over-lapping of districts to a great extent, but its chief defect is, that it does not get rid of the overlapping altogether. We have, as I have said, the district of Chelsea, where the people of Chelsea and Kensal Town will vote for the same Parliamentary representatives, and for different municipal representatives; and if, as I suppose, part of Kensal Town is taken into Chelsea and part is absorbed by Bayswater, we shall have part of these districts voting as an integral unit for municipal purposes, while for Parliamentary and County Council purposes they will be voting as another 1624 borough. I think the condition should be insisted on that each area should be an integral area, not only for municipal purposes, but for County Council, poor law, and all electoral purposes as well. We have another instance in Hammersmith and Fulham; they are now one for poor-law and rating purposes, but they will be two for municipal purposes. I think the Government would have done better with this question of municipalities if they had reverted to the old Parliamentary boroughs; and what I personally desire to know is, whether it would not be expedient in may cases to follow this precedent of the Municipal Government Act. The provisions of the Municipal Government Act show that areas of the population and size of the municipal boroughs of London can be governed with efficiency and success, and it would be difficult to follow a better precedent than that. Now, in London, parishes have seen such changes that their boundaries have been altered beyond recognition, but the old Parliamentary boroughs offer the most ancient and historical areas that can be selected. Of course, it is impossible to suggest that the boundaries of those historical areas can be followed rigidly in every instance, but there are many districts which are properly so scheduled in this Bill, and which are already forward enough to have municipal councils of their own. It is a matter for consideration whether the areas of these Parliamentary boroughs cannot be followed in more than a single instance, which is the case in this Bill. The Committee of 1884, which was referred to by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Leeds, laid stress upon the two first conditions for good municipal local government—minute local knowledge and common interest; and, so to carry out these two conditions, suggested that municipalities should be created in certain Parliamentary boroughs of London existing now. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for Leeds, in giving us a brief history of this subject, no doubt for the sake of brevity—after he had suggested that this Committee was influenced by the City, and that its recommendations were influenced by a desire to strengthen that ancient Corporation—omitted to mention the all-important fact that in 1868 one of the 1625 most distinguished Members whom Loudon has ever had, Mr. John Stuart Mill, himself strongly recommended the establishment of separate municipalities in the ten municipal boroughs of London. That also is the opinion of another eminent Radical, Mr. Samuel Morley; and, as a matter of fact, at that time that was universally the opinion of honourable Gentlemen opposite, and the Bill which was introduced for the establishment of these ten municipalities in the ten Parliamentary boroughs of London, by Mr. Mill and by Mr. Buxton, and other Members, received the support of the majority in this House, and it was only Lord Elcho, the present Lord Wemyss, who was the advocate of a single municipality for London. Is there any reason why the principle applied to Westminster should not also be applied to the Tower Hamlets? Surely this arrangement in reference to the Tower Hamlets is a most unfortunate one, for one part of the Tower Hamlets has been left to the tender mercies of the Commission which is going to be appointed. Then they have cut out from the Tower Hamlets, to create separate municipalities, the two poorest parts of the district in the whole of the Tower Hamlets, which have the highest rate and the smallest rateable value in proportion to the population—namely, Bromley and Poplar. Now. what chance of prosperity is there for a. municipality of this character? It is perfectly true what the honourable Member for Stepney said, that the separation of the poorer from the richer districts of London is one which may be inevitable, but at any rate it is one of the least desirable outcomes of the development of this great city. And, surely, it is the opposite of true statesmanship to do anything which is likely to increase, instead of diminish, this tendency: and it should be the object of statesmanship to try and remedy this. Bui what does this Bill do in regard to the Tower Hamlets? The average rate in London is about 5s. 9d. in the pound. Now, the average in the Tower Hamlets is 6s. 8d., and this Bill proposes to take the two poorest districts of the Tower Hamlets with a rate of 8s. in the pound, and, because of their poverty, make them into one municipality, while this district is wholly unsuitable for the purposes of a separate 1626 municipal area. It is a long strip of land, with houses, four miles long and only one mile in width at its broadest part, and the inhabitants of Bow and North Bromley abut on the main thoroughfare of the Tower Hamlets, and are as intimately and closely connected with Stepney and Mile End as they are with Poplar, and it takes them as much time to get to the City as to Poplar Town Hall. I do not suggest that the areas should be altered merely because they meet with disfavour in one or another district, but what I do suggest is, that to create a small municipality of this kind in one of the poorest districts of London must be detrimental to the future operation of this Bill, for it must diminish the powers, or the measure of the powers, which can be given in the future to the largest and most important municipality of London, which is the measure of the powers which you can give in this municipality of Poplar. And we must remember that to create such a limited area in a poor district such as that does not form a proper recruiting ground from which to obtain a strong and authoritative council. And, besides this, in regard to the powers, there are many powers, at any rate, which we on this side of the House believe might be very properly transferred in the future to these municipal councils. But, while it may be said that municipalities controlling a, large corporation of an important character may be safely and economically able to exercise these powers, they cannot with safety nor with economy be transferred to a small municipality in a small area any more than they can be transferred to the existing vestries or district boards, and what this Bill does in regard to Poplar is, that it takes the present district board, calls it a council, and calls its chairman a mayor. It is quite clear that one of the objects of this Bill should be to give a better chance of practising economy in London Government by creating municipalities in areas large enough to allow of economy by the combination of any powers that may be transferred to them under this Bill. Under any powers which may be transferred, they will require officers and inspectors to carry them out. Now, either a small municipality of this kind will have to be content with officers of an inferior character and too small a staff, or they will have 1627 to incur an expenditure for officials and inspectors altogether out of proportion to their means or to their population. The Commission which the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Bodmin presided over laid special stress upon the advisability of dissociating local influence from the officers entrusted with the enforcement of penal statutes. Now, the areas settled by this Bill should be wide enough to satisfy that requirement, and they should be wide enough and large enough to avoid any chance of undesirable local influences or jobbery, or of what has been termed "ward politics," or the accentuation of small local interests. While I believe and I hope that the District Board of Poplar is above suspicion in these matters, I think anyone who reads the local papers and the reports of the proceedings of vestries and district boards will get a very unfavourable impression on this subject, and it is clear that these local influences and this accentuation of small interests can only be avoided by forming bodies representing large areas where these local influences and in terests cannot obtain. I have no desire to detain the House further, or to enter into any points which can be properly discussed in Committee. There are such points as the burden of finance, and I think in this matter it is a fair claim that any expenditure thrown upon the local bodies in reference to the transfer of powers, that costs should be revised at fixed periods, for which there is no provision at present made in the Bill, and I agree with honourable Members opposite—and I do not know whether any honourable Member on this side has expressed the same opinion—that one of the reasons which deter people in the metropolis from taking active interest in the government of the various parts of London is the fact that they are bothered by too many elections, and instead of one-third of the Members retiring every year the whole body should retire every three years. I confess that I think it is desirable that some better method of auditing should be adopted than that which is contained in this Bill, but I do not want to enter now into any detailed criticism. Although the dominant note of my remarks may be criticism, yet I do not criticise because I am in any way hostile to the principle of the Bill, but because 1628 I wish to see this Measure have the fullest possible operation. I hope that the development of this Bill will provide that any municipal council created in any part of London will not have too small an area or too small a. population. Finally, I congratulate the Government upon their courage for having taken up this question, which has engaged the attention of endless Commissions and Committees, and which hitherto successive Governments have been somewhat afraid to deal with. I think, therefore, that it is a matter of general satisfaction in London that the Measure has at last been taken in hand by the First Lord of the Treasury himself.
§ *MR. HALDANE (Haddington)
The House has listened with interest to the speech of the honourable Member who has just sat down, which was nothing if not moderate. It breathed a spirit of democratic conservatism, and its tone was similar to the sentiments which have come from this side of the House. But the speech of the honourable Member who represents the City, on the other hand, had, if he will allow me to say so, a fine old flavour of crusted Toryism which docs credit to his constituents. The honourable Member began his speech by expressing the gratitude of the electors of the City for this Bill. The City, he said, had desired these municipalities; and then he went on to say that when the Bill was passed the County Council would certainly see that they never could any more try to despoil the City of its ancient privileges. This is the inference which the honourable Member has drawn from the provisions of this Bill. To my mind the chief objection to this Bill, as regards that part of it which concerns the City, is not what it does not do—not that it leaves the City, in a sense, intact—but that it makes the work of the reformer almost an impossibility in the future. Therefore, from that point of view, Her Majesty's Ministers may be congratulated, from the point of view of the City, on the creation of these new municipalities, for they will surround the City with a sort of Praetorian guard which cannot easily be broken through by those who wish hereafter to tread the path way of reform. And when Her Majesty's Ministers next go to the Mansion House —although I am not in the confidence of the City—I think I can promise them 1629 a right Royal welcome from the City, not as far as the affairs of the Empire are concerned—nor as reformers of the great municipality of London—but as men who have rescued the City from all danger of attack upon its ancient privileges as an old and unreformed Corporation. The honourable Member for Bow and Bromley, however, took a different line. He represents a poor and needy part of London, and. if he will allow me to say so, I think he has done very good work in this House. But I noticed that the speech of the honourable Member was conspicuous by its silence upon those very topics which seem to trouble the honourable Member who preceded him in the Debate. There was not one word about privileges there, but, on the contrary, the whole speech of the honourable Member for Bow and Bromley was rather a criticism of the Government for leaving such small areas as the City, with its COO or 700 acres, instead of creating large areas which would do justice to what he conceived to be the democratic tendencies of this Bill. The honourable Member began his speech by saying that the Bill detracted nothing from the power of the County Council except in such matters as had been agreed upon at conferences, and he went on to say that there was one exception—a very notable exception—that of the Building Acts, of which a great deal will be heard in this Debate. I cannot think that the honourable Member has paid much attention to the deliberations of the County Council. because, as the result of the Conference of 1896, the County Council emphatically protested against the transfer, either exclusively or concurrently, of many of the powers which this Bill proposes to transfer, more particularly the power which municipal corporations now possess, the important power of making by-laws. That power will be exercised for the future concurrently by these new municipalities against the recommendation of the London County Council. Take, again, the power of enforcing the Shops Hours Act. which is an Act in which the honourable Member takes a great interest. That is transferred to these municipal bodies against the wishes of the London County Council. Then, again, there is the regulating and the keeping up to the standard of 1630 common lodging-houses throughout the metropolis, which has hitherto been exercised with great success by the County Council, and which power will be exercised in the different parts of the metropolis by these different boroughs. Passing from these two speeches to the general current of the Debate, the questions which were put by my right honourable Friend who moved this Amendment appeared to have been fairly and clearly answered. My right honourable Friend began by asking by what mandate has this Bill been brought in, and for what motive; and he was followed in the Debate by the honourable Member for Chelsea, who made a. speech which was marked not only by ability, but by candour. The honourable Member went on to say that it was perfectly true that at the last election for the London County Council there were issues raised which were germane to the issues raised by this Bill. He said quite truly that the question of the City was, on that occasion, not so prominent as it had been on former occasions. But he admitted that the question of the integrity of the powers of the London County Council and the question of the creation of the new municipalities were clearly before the electors. It was impossible for the honourable Member to have said otherwise in face of the memorable speech made by Lord Salisbury in the Albert Hall in November 1897, and the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury at Stepney, and the speech of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham at Camberwell, for all these speeches dealt with these issues. Of course, they dealt with the subject in different tones. The Prime Minister, who is nothing if not candid, told us that the County Council were affected with a megalomania which they ought to try to check: and then he went on to say that he was bound to admit that the process of checking might involve some kind of suicidal action on the part of the London County Council. The First Lord of the Treasury made a much more moderate speech, and I read that he clearly foreshadowed and gave an outline of the provisions of the Measure now brought forward. But the right honourable Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham took a different tone. He knew more about municipalities and the 1631 importance of their unity than did his colleagues, and he took refuge in a different sort of appeal to the electors to return the Moderate candidates at the coming election. He based his case for claiming votes for the Moderates not on the provision of the Bill which he foreshadowed, but rather on the fact that if London supported Her Majesty's Government by returning the Moderates it would be taken by the Government as a testimony of the desire of London to see that those in whose hands the integrity of the Empire was safe should be returned. Then came the elections, and instead of Moderates and Progressives being evenly balanced, there followed a large majority given to the Progressives on the County Council, and the emphatic verdict of the electors was against this system. Then the honourable Member for Chelsea went on to say that after all you make a great deal too much of the changes which this Bill makes, and he says, "Did you not propose something of the kind yourselves?" And he quoted the speech of the Member for East Fife in 1898, in which my right honourable Friend proposed the creation of local bodies in London. But we have always been in favour of creating local bodies, because we have always been in favour of carrying out the recommendations of the Courtney Commission appointed by the late Government, and which resulted in the Report which was framed by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Bodmin. But the Report of that Commission and the speech of my right honourable Friend the Member for East Fife went upon very different lines from those adopted in this Bill. What is that unity in London which we desire to preserve, and which honourable Members on the other side desire to destroy? (Ministerial cries of "No, no!") Well, I am going to make that point good, and I am coming to close quarters in a moment. What is the difference between the proposition in this Bill and the propositions advocated in the Courtney Report and the policy put forward from this side of the House? The difference is this: That while you propose to take the administrative county of London and chop it into blocks, and make each block independent, as far as possible, of the other, and are weakening instead of strengthening the powers of the central 1632 control and co-ordination which exist in an imperfect form under the present system, which we propose to develop, we on the other side recognise what London is in fact, an organic whole which can be no more broken up than any other great city in the world, and which is as much deserving of being treated as one undivided area as either Paris, Vienna, or St. Petersburg. It has its distinct characteristics just as much as Liverpool, Birmingham, and Glasgow, which cannot be broken and parcelled out in the way you suggest without danger to the organic welfare of London. What will be the position of the residents in the different parts of London if this Bill is passed? Why there will be no longer the opportunity for a London resident to say, "I am a citizen of the great municipality of London." He will be a citizen of Fulham, of Hammersmith, of Battersea. or wherever else he may be, and he will be a citizen of a municipality which will have wholly different laws, different traditions, and different local customs and municipal spirit to that which prevails in other parts of the metropolis. When you work out what the propositions of this Bill really are you will see that it does nothing to enable or to encourage the different districts to act together. It proposes as its leading principle the division of the metropolis into so-called boroughs, which will diminish the central control, and that is the general proposition of the Bill. It does nothing to enable the richer parts to come to the assistance of the poorer districts, but it rather tends to separate them, and magnifying the differences and independence of the local bodies, brings in as the controlling influence a Government Department, the Local Government Board, instead of the County Council, which is the unifying influence at the present time. I ask the House not to separate London in this unjust fashion. What is the position of the tradesman in the West End? He-serves the necessities of the community by keeping a shop where he sells clothes or other goods, but where do the people who really make those clothes live? It is not only one or two people who keep that shop in the West End, but the workmen who live in the East End, and who are absolutely essential to the organic life of 1633 the metropolis. That tradesman who discharges these functions in the West End will probably go and live in other parts of London because it is cheaper, although he draws his sustenance from the richer parts of the metropolis which he serves by doing this work. The whole tendency of your modern legislation has been in the direction of recognising the different parts of London for many purposes as an integral whole. This Bill contains a clause which declares that the principle of the Equalisation of Rates Act will not be injured, and when you follow out the meaning of that expression "equalisation of rates," what, does it mean? It means that the richer parts of London should contribute to the necessities of the poorer parts; that is to say, that the burden should be distributed according to the necessities of the population. Now, you are introducing a new system, the whole tendency of which is not to combine, not to keep as a whole,. but to sever into parts, and to make it more difficult than ever to give to London the character of unity which will enable the poorer parts, not to feel that they have interests diverse from the richer parts, but to feel that they are bound up in one common welfare. Well, Sir, the Bill proposes to do this because of the way in which it treats the area upon which London is situated. In order to realise how' really extraordinary the character of this Bill is, one has to glance at the circumstances under which London is at present constituted. In 1835, one of the first acts of the Reformed Parliament was to pass the great Municipal Corporations Bill. From that Act the City of London was excluded; the metropolis, in fact, was not touched by it. The scheme of that Act was to deal with municipal corporations throughout the rest of the country. It took every district that was an urban district, an aggregate of houses, and it reformed the old-fashioned unreformed municipal corporations. These corporations had the most varying constitutions. Some were constituted by charter, some apparently without charter, or the charters were in many cases lost: they were subject to local laws and customs, and their franchises and arrangements were most diverse. The Act of 1835 did not touch their powers. It dealt with their constitutions and franchises, and 1634 extended their areas, so that they could take in houses round about where they were situated, and that Act laid the foundations of the modern municipal corporations. The provisions of that Act were altered, improved, and consolidated in the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882. The whole powers of the municipal corporations outside London were conferred by Acts like the Public Health Act, which added the powers which were so necessary for the development of the modern municipality, in the proper sense of the word. London was outside all this, and until 1855 nothing was done which in the least affected the character of London. In 1854 the Commission sat which has been alluded to in the course of these Debates—a Commission of a not very revolutionary character, which was presided over by Mr. Harry Labouchere, a distinguished Statesman, but by no means a man of such advanced principles as the honourable Member for Northampton. There were serving upon it Mr. Cornwall Lewis, afterwards Sir George Cornwall Lewis, and the third Commissioner was a distinguished judge, Mr. Justice Patterson. That Commission, though a very Conservative Commission, and though it reported in a very retrograde sense compared with the Commission which reported in 1837 specially upon London, still insisted that something extensive must be done, and what it did was to make recommendations, which did not receive effect, but which were followed next year by the Act of 1855, which embodied the policy of the Government of that day. Now, it is most instructive to read that Report, and to read the speech of Sir Benjamin Hall, who introduced the Bill of 1855. He pointed out what the government of London was. The City was unreformed and unextended in its area. Outside that, nothing existed except a series of confused local areas, created by a profusion of special Statutes, and ruled over by Commissioners. Between Charing Cross and Temple Bar, along the Strand, there were no fewer than seven bodies of Commissioners controlling the highway. Regent Street was under the control of two separate sets of Commissioners. One watered one side of the street, and the other watered the other side. Well, one did it in the morning, and the other 1635 in the evening, and eventually they quarrelled, and the result of the quarrel was that Regent Street was not watered properly at all. Sir Benjamin Hall recommended that a central board should be created, which should impart to London the character which he claimed for it—that of being a whole. He did not touch the reform of the City, for the sons of Zeruiah, even in those days, were too strong for him, but for the rest of London he recommended the creation of a central board, which should control and regulate the proceedings of the various district boards. That central board was not directly elected—that was its misfortune, and that, I believe, led to the ultimate failure of the Metropolitan Board of Works. I am not here to disturb what I fear must be called a dishonoured grave.
§ *MR. HALDANE
I am here to go back upon the history of the Metropolitan Board of Works. Honourable Members opposite seem to have forgotten what it was that brought that piece of machinery for the organisation of the metropolis to an end. They have forgotten the attacks made upon it—the just attacks —by Lord Randolph Churchill in this House, which led to the appointment of the Herschell Commission, and the recommendation of the absolute necessity of the Government taking up the problem of London government as a whole. What followed? What followed was, that the Government of the day recognised that they must proceed to the solution of this problem: and they proceeded to its solution upon a basis which certainly was not satisfactory. Instead of following out what had been the recommendation of the previous Commission, and the policy of previous Governments, instead of taking the City and reforming it on the lines of the Municipal Corporations Act, and extending its areas so as to embrace the whole of London, and creating local bodies—because right through we have been in favour of the creation of these local bodies, to whom local powers should be delegated—in its area, and reforming its constitution so as to make it really representative of London, the Government of 1888 proceeded to treat London as though it was a rural, instead of being, as it certainly is, an urban, district, and did so by taking a piece of 1636 Surrey, a piece of Middlesex, and a piece of Kent, and so they created the modern county of London. That was a rural county. It was a rural county with peculiar features, but still it was constituted on the model of the county councils, and partook strictly of the nature of a county council. But although the Government of that day had not the time—or it may be that they thought the task too great for them—to constitute the district councils which were necessary to carry out what they intended, they announced most distinctly in the course of the Debate that such was their intention. They recognised what we say ought to be the true policy of this Bill, what we have insisted upon, and what we say was your policy until you departed from it upon this occasion—that London is a whole, and cannot be broken up into separate organisations, and the proper way is to treat it as a whole, with a central government of the same pattern and nature as the various local bodies into which you separate it for local purposes. If the Government had followed out the principle which underlay their legislation, then they would have done one of two things. They would have adhered to one notion consistently; they would have made London either what it was constituted by the Act of 1888, either a rural district with a county council—of a peculiar nature, no doubt, but still having all the powers of a county council, and with district councils —or they would have made it a great municipality with sub-municipalities, with local bodies to whom would be delegated those municipal powers which were properly exercised locally, and in that way they would have proceeded on the footing of consistency. They have done neither the one nor the other. They keep the principle of the county councils, they keep the rural principle, and at the same time they go and dot down on the administrative county so constituted a. number of municipalities of a town pattern, belonging more nearly to an urban character, which will exhaust and sub-divide its areas. They seem to desire to ride two horses, and two horses which go in different directions, and apparently they are of opinion that in the Act of 1888 they had been upon the wrong horse, upon this as upon other occasions.
§ *MR. HALDANE
Well, I presume that this Bill is intended to be final. We know that its motive is finality as regards the City. The City is to be delivered from the reformer, and the reformer is to have his right arm cut off so far as that is concerned. I presume, also, that finality is intended as regards these municipalities. I presume that the Government have not in view any future propositions for the further unification of London, of the creation of any other body from which they are going to carve out districts of administration. If that is so, I think their Bill has some disastrous consequences. Just let us look at it from one or two points of view; and I will try not to repeat what has been said by previous speakers in this Debate. The first point on which I am struck with the difficulties to which this Rill will give rise is on the question of finance. Now. London occupies, to my mind, not only a most remarkable but a most favourable position in respect to borrowing powers, and partly as the result of an accident. Honourable Members know that the County Council of London cannot borrow sixpence except by a Bill which comes before this House after being carefully revised and settled by the Treasury. The result has been that the Treasury has established a system of most complete and minute supervision over the finances of London, very much to the advantage of London. The County Council has as members of its body some of the most distinguished ex-representatives of the Treasury, and it has also the advantage of the control of the present officials of the Treasury. They have been able to give such good advice and to guide the County Council on such good principles that already, by common consent, the County Council is in the most favourable position as to its borrowing powers. The County Council borrows money at present at about 2 per cent. on its short loans, and on its longer loans at 2½ per cent. In other words, the finances of London are almost on as advantageous a footing as the finances of the Government itself. That is a matter which is not only one for sentimental congratulation, but is of the utmost im- 1638 portance to the ratepayers whom we have to consider, because, obviously, if the money which is necessary for improvements can be borrowed at 2½ per cent., and on short loans at 2 per cent., that diminishes the charge upon that already overburdened person who has to contribute to the rates of London. But what does this Bill propose? By, I think, clause 4, the power of consenting to borrowing by the new municipalities, by the vestries as it would be at present, is transferred from the London County Council to the Local Government Board. I ask, Mr. Speaker, why? So far as I know, there is no case in which the London County Council has unreasonably withheld its consent from borrowing by a vestry. There have been one or two small cases where the County Council has interfered to the great advantage of the vestries, but it has never interfered arbitrarily when they have wished to borrow money for public purposes. The result of that working together was this, that instead of the vestries raising their loans themselves, they went to the London County Council and got the advantage of that most solid credit and cheap rate of interest of which I have spoken. Now, what do the Government propose? We are going to have Fulham stock, and Hammersmith stock, and. I suppose. Poplar stock. My honourable Friend who sits below me represents a most admirable constituency, but one not famous for its wealth. I believe that its rates are higher than in any other part of the metropolis, and I should not expect that Poplar was able to borrow money at 2½ per cent. If this is really the new financial arrangement, there are sure to be most disastrous consequences. At all events, in point of finance, what advantage is it to have those matters transferred to the Local Government Board? In the case of municipalities, in the case of various other bodies where the consent of the Local Government Board is necessary to borrowing, the Local Government Board impose terms as to repayment of loans for improvements which are not permanent, which terms are of a very stringent character. Take the Electric Lighting Acts. Under these Acts local authorities have in many cases borrowed, and have borrowed largely in many parts of England, for 1639 the purpose of laying down electric lighting plant. Well, the Local Government Board impose as the term in which loans must be repaid either 25 years or 30 years—I forget which. But the London Count}' Council, knowing the people with whom they were dealing, and knowing the necessity for these things, and recognising their control over the finance, have extended the period of these loans to 42 years, and the result is that the municipal bodies when they come under this Bill and desire money for the purpose of developing electric light enterprise, will find that they are borrowing on much more onerous terms, by reason of the shortness of the period in which their loans must be repaid. I have spoken of finance. Now I turn to another topic, and it seems to me to be a very important thing. There is no more important code of legislation in London than the code which is known as the Consolidated Building Act. That is a Private Act of 1894. It was passed after most careful investigation by two Committees, one of this House, and the other of the House of Lords. The Committee of this House, I think, sat for many weeks before they finished their deliberations; and the result of the Act considered by these two Committees was to make a most careful distribution of powers under the Building Acts between the central and local authorities. It specified what powers the local authority should exercise, and what the County Council should keep in their own hands. Now, this Bill proposes to unrip all that was done then, and to put the distribution of powers under this Act at the mercy of the Privy Council, indicating no principle, no scheme, according to which the London County Council is to proceed, but simply leaving it to the mercy of the administrative body acting upon what principle they choose to lay down. There, again, you have a blow at what I call the real, not merely the sentimental, unity of London. Take another case. I have spoken of equalisation. There is a most glaring case of imperfect safeguard in clause 8. Clause 8 provides that powers may be transferred from the County Council to the local authorities, in the first instance by agreement between the County Council and the particular local authority, followed by a Provisional Order. After 1640 that is done—the Provisional Order to which I have referred is in clause 5—the Local Government Board may, if they think fit, on the application of any borough council, make an order for transfer. Clause 8 says—Where any power or duty is transferred from the London County Council to a borough council by or under this Act, the borough council shall defray as part of their ordinary expenses the expenses of and incidental to the power or duty, but the County Council shall contribute to the borough council in respect of those expenses, such amount, if any (whether capital or annual) as may—(a) If the transfer is made by this Act, be agreed on between the councils within six months after the transfer, or, in default of agreement, be finally determined by the Local Government Board.What does that mean? Does it mean that the county is to contribute in proportion to the work done? Does it mean that you are to have there the principle of equalisation, that the County Council is not to be bound to have regard to how much money is raised by the locality itself, in a case where they consider that the locality would be overburdened by having to contribute in proportion to its rateable value as distinct from the necessities of its population? Does it mean that the Local Government Board are to act on such a principle as that? If so, all would be well; but the clause steadily leaves that at large, and you may have the contribution to be made on no fixed principle at all, but upon a purely arbitrary footing, to have no regard whatever to the principle which underlies the equalisation of rates, and leaves the poorer localities at the disadvantage from which they suffer from being poorer localities, without any contribution at the expense of those which are richer. Take another objection to this clause. Look at the enormous irregularity of it. Power is transferred to one local authority for certain purposes in case they ask for it. Perhaps none of the others intervene. The result is that you will have these powers exercised in some places by the County Council, in others by the local authority, and you will have absence of uniformity everywhere. Then, again, take the question of audit. Now, this Bill does not provide for the audit of the accounts of the new borough councils by any Government auditor. In other words, it departs altogether from the principle which the Government applied when they passed the Act of 1888 1641 to the councils which their legislation then constituted. I ask, why? The London County Council is subject to the strictest audit. Why should not these new borough councils be subject to that audit? I think here again I can throw a little light upon that. These municipalities constitute what I have ventured to describe as a bodyguard to the City. As far as possible, they are likened to the City. If the audit were applied to them, it would be difficult not to apply it to the City. Now, the City is not audited, and would strenuously object to that; and, therefore, I presume the Government have not thought right to subject these new bodies to the audit to which they would naturally be subject but for the fact that the City would inevitably, much against its wishes, have to submit to it. These are small points taken singly, but cumulatively they amount to much. There are many things not only committed in, but omitted from, this Bill. I think that some attempt might have been made to simplify the finances of London in point of rating. True, there is a clause which talks as though there was going to be a single rate, but it only says that one paper is to be issued for sending in a number of different demands. I should have thought it possible to simplify the rating of London, which is already grotesque and complicated enough. London raises some £12,000,000 yearly for its local necessities—School Board Kate, Metropolitan Asylums Kate, and the different rates which are raised by other bodies. Of this the County Council raises about £2,000,000, of which £1,000,000 goes for borrowing purposes, and the other for the expenses of general administration. I should have thought it would have been possible to introduce something like order into that chaos. The citizen should know what he has to contribute in the way of yearly contributions to the necessities of the city in which he lives. That is not the policy of this Bill. It introduces municipalities which are not municipalities, not like anything that we are aware of in any other part of the country, not like municipalities which exist under the Municipal Corporations Act, but which are municipalities more in name than in fact. You weaken and belittle the County Council. It will not be so easy in the future as in the past, it will not be possible to get these distinguished 1642 men to serve upon this somewhat attenuated body in the same spirit that they have served hitherto, and destroys the sentimental unity of London as well as the practical unity. No more will a man have the sense that he is the citizen of a great city, one and undivided, with single attributes and a single spirit of government. But worst of all, to my mind, is as to the future. Somehow or another, the people of London will continue to govern themselves under this Bill. They may be hampered, but they will succeed in carrying on the administration of their affairs. But all prospects for the future are shut out. The Bill will stereotype the existing state of things. It makes reform almost impossible in the City, and extremely difficult in the case of the new corporations which the Bill seeks to set up. If you should find it necessary to attempt to strengthen the central organisation of London, you will be confronted by a new set of vested interests which have grown up. We have watched the history of the London County Council. I have never thought of it as a perfect body, but I have thought of it as a body which has effected great and remarkable changes, and, not the least, the conversion of many of the Moderates into Progressives, and some of the Progressives into Moderates. It has shown a singular capacity for continuity of policy in administration; and whatever we may say about fixity of policy in other things, in this kind of administration it is, up to a certain limit, a necessity. We have watched it; we have seen order come out of chaos, purity out of corruption, energy out of listlessness. We have seen it do its work carefully, in such a fashion that London has begun to have something like a common public spirit, and its citizens have begun to wake up to the fact that they have a common city and common interests to defend. This seems to me now to be in jeopardy. I would hope against hope that this Bill may not be pressed by the Government in its present form. I would trust that they may be willing in the course of the discussions which will ensue, not merely in this House, but outside this House—in that great municipality of London, the real municipality, although not so in law, in which we live—I would trust that the discussions which will ensue will convince the Government that in this 1643 Bill they have gone too far, have acted without any mandate, and on motives which do not commend themselves to the citizens among whom they live. I trust it is not too late. I trust that it will be possible by Amendment in Committee, in the course of the future progress of this Bill, at any rate, to lessen some of the mischiefs which I have endeavoured to indicate to the House, and which, I fear, will constitute a serious barrier to the future welfare of London.
§ *EARL PERCY (Kensington, S.)
A great deal of criticism has been levelled by honourable Members opposite against the provisions of this Bill, to which I wish to add my own quota in a perfectly friendly spirit. I listened very carefully to the very brilliant speech of the honourable and learned Gentleman who last spoke, and I confess that although in regard to many points his arguments were cogent to the details of the Bill, I do not see that there is any single one of those points upon which he laid special stress which might not perfectly well be raised in Committee, or which should in any way be permitted to endanger the principle of the Bill, which is all we are considering on Second Reading. If I may say so without impertinence, I do not think it is possible to imagine an attack upon the principle of a Measure, on the Second Reading of a Bill of this kind, based on grounds more utterly irrelevant than those put forward by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for West Leeds. To give only two instances: he began by stating at the very outset of his speech that he objected to the proposals of the Government on the ground that the transfer which was intended of powers to the local corporations would inflict a serious and almost irreparable blow upon the position of the London County Council. He went on to say that these local corporations, after these powers had been transferred, would never be in possession, in control, of any of the great powers which the great municipalities of Manchester and Liverpool enjoyed. If it be true that the London County Council is such an important body as honourable Members opposite would have us believe—and I think we are quite willing to believe—and if it be true that these powers which are to be transferred to the local corporations are, after all, so very7 re- 1644 stricted, then this Bill cannot reasonably be said to be a very grave attack upon the London County Council. Then he asked us why it was that the Government had not approached the London County Council; but he answered that question himself by telling us that at the last London County Council election the electorate had already decided upon the Government programme, and that the Government had no mandate for the Bill. It is quite clear, therefore, that if the electors had already decided on the Government programme, it was no good to ask the London County Council to express an opinion on the Bill. But even supposing that the majority of the London County Council is opposed to the Bill, why are we to ignore the opinion of all those who are favourable to this Measure, and who are elected on a franchise immeasurably wider than that of the London County Council? What is the Amendment that is before the House? As I understand it, it makes two charges against the proposal of the Government. It asserts, in the first place, that the Bill disturbs without simplifying the present system of London Government; and, in the second place, that it will render more difficult, if not impossible, the attainment of the idea of honourable Gentlemen opposite for the future unification of London. It is hardly necessary that we should be assured by honourable Gentlemen opposite that this Bill disturbs the present system. I cannot understand any reform being accomplished which will not disturb the existing system, and I am rather astonished to hear such a very ultra-Tory sentiment coming from honourable Gentlemen opposite. They might have quieted their fears by the recollection that of all the Bills that have been carried through this House this is the one which disturbs the existing municipal arrangements the least. The Bill of 1856 completely revolutionised the whole of London government. It transferred the whole powers of the Commissioners of Sewers to the Metropolitan Board of Works. The Bill of 1888 carried reform still further by substituting the London County Council for the Metropolitan Board of Works. Both of these Bills were deliberate attempts to smash the existing state of things. A little later in history we come to the recommenda- 1645 tion of the Royal Commission of 1894. If the recommendation of that Commission had been carried into effect the process of attack on the London County Council would have been carried still further, for it would have altered the franchise. What does this Bill do? It leaves the City practically untouched. It does not affect the London County Council except in so far as it proposes to relieve it of a few powers which it is not excessively anxious to retain. And in regard to the vestries, it does not really propose any change which has not been substantially advocated by all reformers. The argument that we are to reject the Bill because it disturbs the present system is ridiculous. I am inclined to wonder if it was not due to a mistake in drafting the Amendment, that the word "not" was left out before the word "disturbed." The real reason of the opposition to this Bill by honourable Gentlemen opposite is that it does not disturb the existing state of things enough. If the Bill had gone a little farther, and had included the City, and absorbed it into the London County Council, it would not only not have had their opposition, but would have secured their enthusiastic welcome. Then we come to the assertion that this Bill does not simplify the present system of London government. That is not a question of opinion, but of fact. In at least four different directions this Bill must simplify local arrangements. In the first place, whereas you now have the powers under the Adoptive Act exercised by a variety of local bodies, you will in future assign all these powers to the corporation. Instead of the present overlapping of civil and ecclesiastical affairs, you will place the control of secular matters in the hands of the councils, and the control of ecclesiastical matters in the hands of the churchwardens and parishioners. Any conflict of jurisdiction which now exists as between the London County Council and the vestries will cease as between the Council and the new corporations, and, lastly, in the place of a number of different rating authorities through which the spending authority has now to issue its precepts, you will, if the Bill passes, have only one. I admit, however, that the process of simplification is not carried far enough, and that it is a pity that it is not 1646 carried even further than the Bill proposes to do. I will illustrate my meaning by referring to sub-sections 3, 4, and 5 of clause 5. I understand that the Government have come to the conclusion on their own responsibility that a transfer of certain powers from the London County Council to the municipal corporations is desirable on its own merits. These powers may be roughly described under three heads. First, the powers contained in the first portion of the schedule which are to be exercised by the corporations alone; second, the powers under the second part of the schedule which are to be exercised by the municipal corporations concurrently with the London County Council; and, lastly, the powers as to the maintenance of main roads, the enforcement of by-laws, and the power to promote and oppose Bills in Parliament. All these powers will be transferred to the corporations. I believe that at the Westminster Conference a common agreement was come to between every one of the vestries, that all these powers, with the possible exception of the administration of the Act of 1890 relating to the Housing of the Working Classes, should be transferred to, and exercised in the future by the boroughs. In regard to the powers that are not mentioned in the schedule or the clauses of the Bill, the transference of these powers is left to the discretion of the Local Government Board. But that discretion is limited in a rather curious way. Not a single one of the powers can be handed over to the municipal corporations by the Local Government Hoard without the consent of the London County Council. On the other hand, the moment the London County Council hands over any power to a corporation any other corporation can apply to the Local Government Board, and also get a transfer of these powers. I can hardly conceive machinery more directly calculated to prevent the transfer of these powers. And for this reason, that not only will the vestries be confronted with the natural reluctance of the London County Council to part with a share of its power, but with all the abstract theories exhibited of late years to concentrate in its own hands the powers of the vestries. I submit to the Government that it is a great pity to give the London County Council an absolute veto- 1647 of that kind. It seems to me that the London County Council is disqualified from exercising that veto on two grounds. In the first instance, it is personally interested in the transfer, and is, therefore, not likely to take an independent and impartial view of the matter any more than the municipal corporations themselves; and, in the second place, the decisions of the London County Council are notoriously influenced by Party considerations. Questions of London local government ought to be kept as far as possible from Party considerations, and should be settled by the House of Commons on broad, impartial lines. I cannot see on what principle we are to say that the Local Government Board is qualified to prevent concessions of this kind, and yet not qualified to confer concessions. What you are practically proposing by the Bill to do is to make the Local Government Board a kind of guardian angel over the London County Council to prevent it from parting with any share of its patrimony in a fit of generosity, while you give the Local Government Board absolutely no power to intervene to further the legitimate aspirations of the smaller municipalities. It does seem to me that, considering one of the main objects of this Bill is to increase interest in local life as far as possible, it is a pity that we cannot call in the Local Government Board to decide on concessions of local autonomy as well as in protecting the London County Council in keeping power in its own hands. I frankly admit that, to a great extent, I share the views of honourable Gentlemen opposite as to the effects of this Bill. I think it would be absurd to represent this Bill, as some honourable Members on our side of the House are inclined to do, as merely a harmless Bill for conferring birthday honours on the general local government staff of the metropolis. On the other hand, it would be equally wrong to represent it as a great and revolutionary change in London municipal life. It will not detract seriously from the powers and authority of the London County Council; and it will not add much to the power and authority of the new corporations. It will create a system under which, in a year's time, after the election of 1900, we shall have in every area of London a body exer- 1648 cising complete authority on eyery matter distinctly within its own province, and enjoying a certain local dignity in proportion to the size and importance of its rateable area. That may have the effect—we all hope it will—of increasing the amount of individual interest and ambition in the administration of local affairs such as we find displayed in the provinces. Whether it will have that effect or not may depend upon the peculiar position of each part of London. This charge of apathy in local affairs, of which we complain in London, is by no means confined to London. It is shared by every centre of municipal Government on the Continent in which a similar condition of things to that which prevails in this metropolis exists. In Berlin, no doubt, the apathy is due to the concentration of the electoral power in the hands of the propertied classes. In Paris, on the other hand, the apathy is said to be largely due to the splitting up of the electoral areas into small parts, and to the practice of requiring candidates to be resident in the electoral districts for which they stand. It is also said to be largely due to the concentration of the executive powers in a small body. That seems to be the condition of things which obtains in London. I know that the noble Marquess at the head of the Government has expressed the opinion that the apathy of London was mainly due to the political atmosphere which surrounded the elections of the London County Council. That may be so, but it does not explain the fact that the same apathy exists in a more marked degree in connection with the elections of the vestries. I think it is partly due to the fact that the electoral areas are too small, and partly to the fact that the powers vested in the local bodies are not sufficient to attract men of ambition. If that be the case, it will be largely remedied by the present Bill. Apart from that, I would vote for the present Bill, if only on the ground that it removes a stigma that the unremunerated services given to the administration of local affairs in London have never been recognised at a properly high value. The Leader of the Opposition, on the First Reading of the Bill, and the honourable Member for West Leeds, both rather scoffed at what they called the empty boast of Lord Salisbury that he 1649 would smash the London County Council; and seemed to think that the mountain had laboured to produce on this occasion a mouse. We all know that those words used by the Prime Minister were not intended in the sense which has been attributed to them. I am inclined to think that what the Prime Minister did intend will be very effectively carried out by the Bill. The Bill will not smash the London County Council. It' I thought that it would do so, I would not vote for it, for I think that, beyond all controversy, the London County Council has conferred immense benefits on London municipal life. But the Bill will prevent any tendency on the part of the London County Council to overstep its legitimate limits, and to starve the interest in local life by concentrating public attention entirely on its own proceedings. I wish to note what, in my opinion, is a grave omission in the Bill—the only important omission, and I regret it. The Bill does not make provision for the representation of the vestries on the London County Council, and in doing so, the Government have rejected the opinion of the westminster Conference in favour of the opinion of the small Conference at Islington. If we are to be guided by the wishes of the majority of the people of London, there can be no question which of these Conferences represents the real sentiment of London. The first Conference at Westminster represented a population of 2½ millions, and a rateable value of over 20 millions. The second Conference at Islington represented a population of only l½ million, and a rateable value of scarcely 9 millions sterling. The. first Conference was attended by all the representatives from the scheduled areas mentioned in the Report of 1894. The second Conference was attended practically by representatives of the minor areas—not one of which would have had its status altered even if the recommendations of that Commission had been carried out. Therefore, there can be no doubt that the Westminster Conference represented the vast majority of the people of London. I would like to point out that while it is true that the Royal Commission of 1894 did not propose to give a representation of the vestries on the London County Council, they did propose that representatives of the London 1650 County Council should sit on the vestries. The important point to notice is, that every authority which has spoken, at all events lately, has been in favour of some such link between the administrative system of London as that which I now propose. The Government, however, have decided against it. The First Lord of the Treasury, in dealing with this question on the First Reading, made use of the somewhat theoretic objection that by introducing this system we should introduce the old anomaly of indirect representation. That is undoubtedly true, but whatever force the argument possesses is derived from the analogy which the First Lord attempted to draw between what he described as the failure of the Metropolitan Board of Works and the future corporations. I see no such analogy at all.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
All I said was that the fact that indirect representation had failed in the case of the Metropolitan Board of Works might create a prejudice in the minds of the ratepayers of London against re-establishing a similar system in the case of the London County Council.
§ *EARL PERCY
I accept the right honourable Gentleman's correction; but I do not think it. materially alters my point. The fact that the Metropolitan Board of Works was not directly elected may or may not have been largely responsible for the failure of that Board. There might have been something in that argument if you had proposed under this Bill to adopt the recommendation of the Royal Commission of 1894, and do away with the presence of aldermen in the London County Council. But so far from proposing to carry out that suggestion, you are proposing to re-introduce the aldermanic element into the new municipal corporations—for which, I believe, none of them have asked in an even more extended form than it exists in the present London County Council. I doubt very much whether the failure of the Metropolitan Board of Works was due to the fact of indirect, election. It seems to me to have been far more largely due to the fact that they had only a very narrow area to select from, whereas the new corporations will practically have an unlimited field to select from. Well, I will also pass over the argument that if 1651 we gave a representation to the vestries on the London County Council it would actually diminish the influence the vestries already possessed. That does not seem to me likely, considering that although many vestries already possess indirectly a representative on the London County Council, no one proposes at the present moment to pass a law that no man must at the same time have a seat on the vestries and on the London County Council. And no one suggests that such a. law would increase the influence of the vestries. In my opinion, the usefulness of the London County Council would be increased if its duties and responsibility were shared by representatives of the municipal corporations. I pass on to the argument that by introducing this indirect element we should be involving the municipal corporations in all the worry and turmoil of political elections such as those which surround the London County Council. I admit at once that if that would really be the effect of such a provision, it would be fatal to my proposal. I am utterly unable, however, to see how that would be the effect. That local elections are likely to be more and more dominated in the future by political considerations, I do not doubt; but how that danger can be accentuated by the present Bill I cannot imagine. Let us suppose that in any particular year some 24 Members presented themselves for election to the local corporation, and that at the moment of election there is a burning question at issue between the local corporation and the London County Council, the election would be determined by political considerations, whatever system might be proposed in the Bill. But supposing there was no such burning question, does anyone believe that an election of that kind would be likely to be determined by general considerations affecting the London County Council rather than by those small matters which are perpetually cropping up, and which come directly within the purview of, and are felt by, every resident in the district? Such an idea runs counter to all experience. We know that even in Parliamentary elections there is the greatest difficulty in keeping to Imperial questions. These considerations are nearly always subordinated to that which affects the electors' own 1652 pockets. On every ground, therefore, I really hope that the Government may see their way to consider this question before the Bill reaches the Committee stage. That is the only question of detail which really affects the principle of the Bill. The Prime Minister a. short time ago drew a very poetical analogy between the present vestries and the London County Council. He compared the vestries to the limbs of the human body, and the London County Council to the trunk; and he said that the body was starved when all the life blood was concentrated in the stomach. That is to say, that the London County Council has completely overshadowed local life, and has become the stronger member, and has starved the life of the vestries. From that point of view I hope the Government will reconsider its policy in this matter. I do not regard it as an absolutely vital question; but it is an important one. I think the Bill is an enormously valuable one in itself, and the stimulus which it will give to local life will, as a matter of fact, render it absolutely impossible to prosecute the policy of honourable Gentlemen opposite. It certainly will not, as some of them have said, prevent them, if ever they have the misfortune to sit on the Ministerial side of the House again—as I suppose they will some day—from altering and revising the powers and the areas; and it will not prevent them from absorbing the City in the London County Council in the future. But it will absolutely prevent them proposing, as the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Monmouth did in 1884, to smash the remaining vestries, and to concentrate their powers in the hands of the London County Council. That will be impossible, not because we are now creating the vestrymen councillors, and the chairman of vestries mayors, but because the whole trend of pubic opinion is in favour of the Government policy, and antagonistic to that of honourable and right honourable Gentlemen opposite.
§ MR. BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
There was one part of the very interesting and admirable speech of the noble Lord with which I cordially agreed, and that was when he spoke of the unfortunate apathy which no doubt exists to a. very large extent with regard to local elections in London. If I thought this Bill, bad or good, would 1653 do something to diminish the local apathy of London, I certainly would give it my most hearty support. Now, Mr. Speaker, some of us have been wondering why some responsible Member of the Government has not seen lit to take part in the the bale this evening. We have now had two nights' Debate in regard to this matter—namely, on the first Reading and this evening, and only the First Lord has spoken; and if he will allow me to say so, though his speech was a very interesting one, it did not give that view of the Bill which has come home to many of us since we have had the opportunity of examining its details. I think the speech of my right honourable Friend the Member for Leeds, and the remarks he made in regard to the Bill, are entitled to some reply from some Member of the Government. We have been twitted by one or two honourable Gentlemen with having taken a different attitude than we did on the First Reading of this Bill. The reason is the very simple one, that the more we have looked into the Bill the less we like it. There were points made by my honourable Friend behind me which I do not say cannot be answered, but, until they are answered, give us the impression that the Bill is not exactly what we thought after the speech of the right honourable Gentleman when he first introduced it. Certainly the trend of the speeches this evening, and particularly the speech of the honourable Member for Chelsea, of the noble Lord, and of others, has been in the direction of minimising the importance of this Bill. They have every one of them stated that it is not directed against the London County Council. I am quite willing to admit that there are some very good points in the Bill as it stands. I think every one of us on both sides of the House desires to get rid of the opprobrious name of "vestrymen," and to confer further dignity and power on the local bodies throughout London. I think, at all events, there are two good things in this Bill. In the first place, it reduces the number of those who are managing our local affairs, because I am quite sure if the numbers are reduced we shall get better men; and, in the second place, it concentrates the power and duties which are at present spread over many bodies. My honourable Friend the Member for 1654 Chelsea quoted the speech of my right honourable Friend the late Home Secretary, in which he spoke of preserving the dignity and power of these local bodies. We are all at one with regard to that matter, but the essential difference between us is this—that we desire to confer these powers in connection with a, reform which would have completed the edifice of London government. The right honourable Gentleman the First Lord, in his opening speech, said he thought this was completing the edifice, but he omitted one very important matter—namely, any provision dealing with the City. That, to my mind, makes all the difference in regard to the attitude which we take up in reference to this matter, because if the City had been included, and if there had been no question of creating this larger Westminster, it would have been possible, with one predominant body in the centre, to confer, without any danger, greater powers on local bodies than we can under present circumstances. The City is to remain in existence as an enemy to progress in London, as it always has been. (Ministerial cries of No!) Well, I can only say that it would be difficult, to show that it has not been due to the City of London that we are 50 years behind in regard to our municipal privileges and liberties. The City has always been opposed to municipal reform in London for fear the edifice of the City should be attacked. The result has been that, from year to year. London becomes more and more one large metropolis. Unfortunately, one part of London has been getting richer and another part has been getting poorer. From year to year we find a greater division between wealth and poverty, between capital and labour, between those who are employing and those who are employed, between different trades, classes, and sections, and the result is that you get less and less of real local interest in a district and greater need for a general central body. Now. I do not wish at this late hour of the evening, after what has been already said, to go into the question of whether or no it is the object and desire of the Government to attack the London County Council. My honourable Friend the Member for Chelsea repudiated, on his behalf, as a Moderate 1655 member of the London County Council, any such intention, and I can only say that Lord Salisbury and the Members of the Government, a couple of years ago, were very much misunderstood, and ought to be commiserated on that account; but the electors, whatever might have been the intention of right honourable Gentlemen opposite, certainly took their speeches to represent the view that they wished to disintegrate, to a large extent, the London County Council. The effect of the County Council elections was certainly intended to show that they did not desire that the power of the London County Council should be in any way interfered with. I do not wish to go into that again, but I do want to ask the right honourable Gentleman in charge of this Bill to explain one or two points which have been raised in the course of the Debate in regard to the position of the London County Council and these local bodies—a point which seems to some of us to be of great importance. He repudiates any desire to attack the London County Council, and, to my mind, therefore, this is a matter which requires some very considerable explanation before we can accept the statement that the Bill is not intended in any way to weaken the position of the central Metropolitan body. Now, in the first place, I submit that it is a curious thing that these local bodies are to be called municipalities instead of urban district councils, which the Government themselves, many years ago, intended to call them, because it seems to me that it invites them to think that they are separated and isolated bodies, and that they have their own local life and local feeling, when as a. matter of fact, they can only use it as a whole. There are three points to which attention has been already drawn. One of the most important, to my mind, is the question of transfer of power. Now, the noble Lord, in the course of his speech, seemed to me to hit upon one or two blots with regard to this Bill which certainly require explanation, and which seem to me to show that the clause is absolutely unworkable as it stands. But the line of opposition which I shall take in regard to this matter is this. The right honourable Gentleman said that we had exaggerated its importance. What we on the Opposition side of the House fear is that the 1656 clause may be used by those on the Council desiring to play into the hands of those who intend to weaken the Council, to transfer powers from it to the local bodies which ought not to be transferred. Everyone understands that there ought to be power given to the London County Council to transfer such powers when such a step can be taken to the general advantage. But no such transfer ought to take place without publicity. I would specially call the attention of the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House to this matter, because I understood him to say we had exaggerated its importance. The importance I attached to it was due to the fact that the powers can be transferred without publicity. I cannot help thinking, when the right honourable Gentleman sets up a most elaborate machinery, under which powers can be transferred and cannot be re-transferred to the County Council, it is desirable to consider whether this clause cannot be so reconstructed that there shall be adequate and proper publicity in regard to these matters. It is shown conclusively that the power of borrowing conferred by this Bill will be a great detriment to the ratepayers of the whole of London and of the locality in particular.
§ MR. BUXTON
Yes, but surely the object of this clause is to encourage them to borrow on their own initiative. I think it is important that there should be one central body under proper audit to control the borrowing of money throughout the metropolis. Then, with regard to the question of promoting Bills in Parliament, we have had no explanation as to what is the object of giving the new councils this power. So far as I know, there has never been a complaint on the part of the localities that any proposal they wanted introduced into a London County Council Bill had not been accepted and introduced. We want to protect the ratepayers from the cost which would be incurred by 25 or 30 municipalities promoting their own Bills in Parliament at our expense as ratepayers, and at the expense of our time as Members. When these municipalities are created, the power of pro- 1657 moting and opposing Bills in Parliament may be used in the interest of the great monopolies. The London County Council ought to be the supreme body, and ought not to have their hands tied or forced by the action of the local authorities. There is another matter on which I trust the right honourable Gentleman may be able to see his way to meet us to a certain extent; that is, that all the powers transferred to these bodies should be more specifically scheduled in the Bill. It is very difficult indeed to understand this Bill as it stands. The whole of the Bill is by reference, and how the unfortunate member of the new municipality, when he is elected, is to understand what his duties or his powers are, passes, I think, the wit of man. I think it is unfortunate that three Acts—the Metropolis Management Act, the Municipal Corporations Act, and the Local Government Act of 1888—should have been mixed up for the creation of these new bodies. I should have thought it would have been better to have created them under the Local Government Act of 1888 as district councils. The right honourable Gentleman said, in his speech, that the new councils would be practically identical with the municipalities throughout the country, but I think he can hardly argue that they will have anything like the powers now enjoyed by municipalities outside London. The only three points taken from the Municipal Corporations Act—the audit, the question of aldermen, and annual instead of triennial elections—are all had: and, in fact, that Act has nothing to do with these bodies. As to boundaries, I think it is to be regretted that the Government have not taken a little more trouble to specify in the Bill a larger number of municipalities which are to be created. They have actually omitted some of those which were named, and very properly named, by the Royal Commission of 1894. The objection we find to the present Bill is that too wide a discretion is left to the Commissioners, only 16 districts being specified in the schedule. We do not even know who these gentlemen will be: but we think the Government might very well have scheduled at the 1658 least another six or eight districts, leaving comparatively few unscheduled, and thereby making pretty clear the basis on which the Boundaries Commissioners would have to act. At present the unfortunate districts do not know on what basis they will be formed into municipalities. The directions to the Commissioners are very vague, and the Government are in this respect evading a responsibility which they ought to have taken in their own hands. The transference of power from the central to the local authorities will throw greater cost on the poorer districts, and relieve tike richer districts of part of the cost they now have to bear, and the richer districts will, in consequence, have a great temptation to go to the County Council and ask for the transfer of powers. There is one point which affects my own constituency. Under this Bill the main roads are to be transferred from the central to the local authority, and this without any pecuniary assistance on the part of the central to the local body. In Poplar there are two great main roads, covering some miles, and I believe the charge for maintaining them is something like £8.000 or £9,000 a year. I should like to know whether, as the Bill now stands, that charge will be taken away from the general fund and thrown upon the very poor district which I represent?
THE FIRST LORD OF TUB TREASURY
The cost of maintaining the main roads will not be thrown upon the local authority, but will be borne, as at present, by the central authority.
§ MR. BUXTON
Then I have no objection to the sub-section. Another serious effect of this transfer of powers will be that in many of the poorer districts the powers, though transferred, will not be carried out as efficiently as they are under the present arrangement. As regards a considerable number of these powers, I think that it is of the utmost importance that those who carry them out should be above any suspicion of local influence, that the inspectors should be absolutely free, and should be the servants not of the locality, but of the central authority. I also fear that when this Bill is passed the richer muni- 1659 cipalities will be opposed to any extension of the principle of the equalisation of rates. Therefore, though I admit that this Bill has some good points, I fear that one of its results will be that a greater burden will be thrown on the poorer districts, and the richer districts will be relieved. We all admit that one of the greatest social evils of the metropolis is that the rich live in one part and the poor in another, and I think we also agree that the richer districts, having, to a great extent, got rid of their poor ought to pay for their relief. I do not think the Bill is likely to effect that object. There are a good many other points we shall have to discuss in detail in Committee, but I am afraid I cannot take a very sanguine view of the position of those local bodies in regard to the London County Council. It is said that it is not intended to diminish efficiency or destroy the power of the County Council, but it is curious that any proposal of the County Council for the improvement of the condition of the people is generally opposed by honourable Members opposite. I cannot help thinking that there will be some diminution of the position of the County Council, and therefore I shall vote for the Amendment. We shall, however, endeavour to so improve this Bill in Committee as to make it, if possible, a real step forward in London government.
§ SIR J. BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camber-well, Dulwich)
I have paid a great deal of attention to this particular subject, and I have listened very attentively to the speeches which have been made on the other side of the House, but I have not heard a single speech against the proposal that greater local life and administrative work is required. In fact, I am sure every honourable Member in his heart welcomes some further local government for London. Honourable Members who have spoken have told us that they will accept this Bill, but that it will have to be altered in Committee. I believe a great many alterations will have to be made in the Bill in Committee. I am of the same opinion as the noble Lord below me, the Member for South Ken- 1660 of municipalities coming on to the County Council. As the clause dealing with this matter stands at present, this Bill seems to be rather an impossible Bill. I am one of them who believe in maintaining the strength of the London County Council as the central authority, and should consider it right and proper that that body should be the custodian of the common county fund. I think also that when any work is to be delegated from the County Council to the new municipalities the money they are to spend should be settled at the same time. It would also be an advantage if there were on the County Council a representative of these new bodies. I must say I cannot see the advantage of having aldermen on the municipalities, but it would be a great advantage if one man were chosen as a representative who should go as alderman to the County Council. In dealing with the delegation of powers, it seems to me that the Government have gone wrong in clause 5, because they do not clearly set out that when work is transferred the County Council should agree as to the amount of money that is to go from the common county fund to pay the expenses of carrying out that work. You cannot expect the new councils to execute the work unless this point is settled. If you do not give them the money the new municipalities will be out of pocket. Our friends on the other side seem to contemplate that these new municipalities are to carry out these works without getting the money to pay for them. That was never anticipated, I am certain, in the Government Bill. Under clause 5 of this Hill if the London County Council were unwilling to transfer further powers there would be no means of forcing them, and in the event of the new municipalities not carrying out the powers which had been transferred to them in a proper manner, there would be no way of getting those powers taken back again. In my Bill I proposed that these powers should be transferred for three years only, to see how they were discharged by the new councils. There are common duties which must remain centralised to a 1661 of sewerage, and of tramways—but the councils of the new boroughs could assist a great deal by a system of delegation, the new municipalities undertaking work which would relieve the committees of the London County Council. I am of opinion that clause 6 is not desirable. The duties of the Building Acts Committee are very difficult, and the work of the 65 district surveyors would become very complicated. One of these surveyors is at pre-sent looking after work which would be in four of these municipalities. Consequently, he would not only have to render an account of each of the four municipalities respecting the different houses in those districts, but he would also have to report to the London County Council.
§ And, it being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.