HC Deb 05 July 1900 vol 85 cc603-11

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be now considered."

*MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)

I rise to move the re-committal of this Bill, and I will state, as shortly as I can, the reasons why I am asking the House to revise the decision of the Committee. The point I have to raise is one in regard to which I submit a decision should not have been come to by a Committee, but which should have been determined by the House itself on the motion for the Second Reading. It is one of essential importance and great public interest, and it affects the pockets of Her Majesty's subjects to a very considerable extent. I am sure, therefore, that, in taking this step, I shall have with me the sympathy of Members of this House. The London County Council have brought two Bills before this House. One of them has already been sent to another place and is under consideration by a Lords Committee, The other—the one with which we are now dealing—has been passed by a Committee of this House, and I am not going to impugn any conclusion at which the Committee arrived on the merits of the Bill. The parties for whom I am concerned—the local authority for the borough of Wandsworth—have a locus standi by law, and have a right under an Act of Parliament to put a veto upon the measure which the County Council have brought before the House. Without saying whether it is reasonable or not that that veto should be continued I have a right to say, and I think it will be admitted, that they have a locus standi to be heard whether or not, and on what terms, that veto should be taken away or modified. I consider that is a fair question for discussion. The London County Council are now recognised as the proper authority for working tramways in London. Their trams necessarily run through the districts of many authorities. But they have not yet been made, nor are they likely to be made by statute, the road authority. The District Board of Works in Wandsworth is the road authority for that part of London, and the question is whether that Board of Works shall continue to have its veto with regard to interference with the roads for the maintenance of which it is responsible. What I have now to submit is that these authorities ought not to be put to the expense thrown directly upon them of appearing twice over, both in this House and the other, upon two Bills introduced for the same purpose. They have already had to contest one of the Bills in this House, and they are now contesting in the other House No. 2 Bill, and if the House does not listen to my appeal they will also have to enter an appearance in the House of Lords on No. 1 Bill, on precisely the same grounds as they had to in the case of No. 2 Bill. I need not trouble the House with the literatim et verbatim of the Bill, but I will just refer very shortly to the evidence given by three witnesses of the most undoubted authority as to whether these two Bills do not cover the same matter. Mr. Benn, formerly a Member of this House, and Chairman of the Tramway Committee of the London County Council, said that there was no doubt that if No. 2 Bill was carried, the powers sought for under No. 1 Bill would be unnecessary, so far as the case of construction was concerned. Mr. Kennedy was asked whether there was anything in connection with the Westminster and Tooting line—which is the line to which this Bill refers—which could not be done under the other Bill which could be done under this, and he said no. Mr. Cripps also gave similar evidence. Those admissions are sufficient for my present purpose, and I submit to the House that if the local authorities are subjected to the ordeal of appearing upon their locus standi twice in both Houses, it will be a most scandalous waste of public money. The London County Council are also using the ratepayers' money, and for the ratepayers to have to bear the expense of both sides, the promoters and the opponents, is an injustice against which, I think, this House will extend its protection. Then it is said, "Why do you not put down Amendments to this Bill which cover those powers which are contained in the other Bill?" The answer is, because the matter is highly technical. One Bill is to give authority to the London County Council to apply electric traction to all the tramways that it now possesses or may hereafter acquire, and the other is for powers to construct and reconstruct and open roads, and other matters, all of which could be done under the other Bill. We have a right to be hoard, and the local authorities have been advised that upon this point they have a good case both in this House and the other, if not to throw out the Bill in accordance with their desire, at least that proper and reasonable conditions should be made, upon which they ought to have the right of veto, if necessary. That is the point which I have to put before the House. I should, perhaps, say one more word upon the subject of amending this Bill in this House. Although there are only two clauses which mention specifically, by name, this particular line, if those clauses were amended as general clauses you could not very well tamper with them without considering whether the other clauses of the Bill would not also have to be amended by Consequential Amendments; and to have to go all through this Bill and study it, and bring in a lot of mere verbal, technical Amendments, would not only weary the House, but, in my opinion, it would be a manifest and unnecessary waste of the time of the House. If the House assents to the suggestion that the money of the ratepayers should not be wasted in opposing two Bills when one is sufficient, and where the people are prepared to accept the decision of any Committee—on that question the Parliamentary agents of the local authorities and the London County Council would simply have to meet and settle the principle, and they would not be in the Committee Room twenty minutes, whereas if the details are discussed in this House it might take several hours. It may be thought that I should have approached the parties and tried to arrange this matter without troubling the House at all, but I have sought the intervention of the House, which, I believe, sympathises with us in our difficulty. It has been suggested by the local authorities that the two Bills might be submitted to one Committee of the House of Lords, and I undertake, on behalf of those whom I represent, to be satisfied with one decision, and why the London County Council should want to go before two Committees I do not know, unless it be that if they happen to be beaten on the one Bill they think they may succeed on the other. But I think under the circumstances the House will stand between them and the ratepayers' money being squandered in this way, and in that belief I beg to move that the Bill be recommitted to the former Committee on the Bill, and if this motion is carried, I shall move an Instruction to the Committee to leave out such provisions of the Bill as are included in the London Tramways (No. 2) Bill, passed on 30th April.

*MR. THORNTON (Clapham) ,

in seconding the motion of the hon. Member for Wandsworth, said that he had no desire in any way to thwart the London County Council in their efforts to acquire tramways, and to show his bona fides he might state that it was his earnest desire to see the tramway system in that part of Clapham and Battersea, which he represented, extended and put forward immediately. The position which he took up was identical with that of the hon. Member for Wandsworth: that two Bills dealing with the same subject, having the same object in view, were unnecessary. One Bill (No. 2) had already passed the House, and they were now confronted with another (No. 1) which proposed to deal with exactly the same subject. The Wandsworth District Board had opposed that Bill, and was now opposing it in the House of Lords. In asking that the Bill be recommitted, he desired it to be distinctly understood that their action was not due to any hostility towards the tramways. He had had, by the merest chance, placed in his hands that day the case for the London County Council, and be saw nothing to object therein until he came to the statement that "if this motion for recommittal be carried the Bill must be lost." He denied that averment, because it was competent for the Parliamentary agents of both sides to put their heads together and arrive at a decision whereby the two Bills might be sent to a Committee of the House of Lords. There was a principle involved in the matter. The House could not desire to set a precedent whereby not two Bills dealing with the same subject could be brought before them but four or five, because if two why not more. He thought that if the London County Council would meet the local authorities half way in the matter they would be doing a just, if not a generous thing.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'Bill,' to the end of the Question, and add the words 'be recommitted to the former Committee on the Bill,' instead thereof."—(Mr. Kimber.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

MR. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

Both the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken in support of this motion have signified their general approval of the measure before the House, and the hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House denied that if it were recommitted it would be lost. But anybody who is acquainted with the forms of this House knows perfectly well that if this Bill were referred back for reconsideration to-day it could not be carried into law this year. There can be no doubt about that, and I leave it to private Members acquainted with the procedure of this House to confirm the truth of what I say. It is extremely difficult to see what the complaint of the two hon. Gentlemen amounts to. They say they are complaining because certain clauses in this Bill exist in the Bill called No. 2 Bill, which has already passed this House, and which is for a totally different purpose. The two Bills are quite distinct, and there is nothing more common than for two different and distinct Bills to be introduced in this House with similar clauses. No. 2 Bill received most careful consideration from the Committee presided over by the hon. Member for Norwich. The Bill referred entirely to the point as to how electric traction shall be fitted to the existing tramways which the London County Council now possesses. It does not sanction the construction of any new lines or propose to sanction them. Now we come to the question of electric traction on these tramways. As regards the first Bill, which affects a large number of local authorities, the County Council consulted no fewer than forty local authorities in London, and a large amount of interchange of opinion has taken place between them with the view of getting some workable scheme of electric traction. It is the case that under the scheme which has passed this House the County Council is to make an application, and the Board of Trade is. to decide, but not until it has heard the local authorities. That has been agreed to by the County Council and the local authorities, with the exception of the local authorities now objecting to this Bill. Exactly the same clauses with regard to the methods of electric traction which have passed the House in the Bill already sent up to the Lords are placed in this Bill. If in this Bill you do not pass these same clauses you will have this peculiar state of things. You will have the existing tramways as far as-electric traction is concerned governed by a certain law, and you will have interposing pieces of new tramways excluded from that law, and therefore you will bar the whole development of the electric system in London. That is simply the position. The hon. Gentleman proposes that something should be done in the House of Lords about our sending this to the same Committee. The hon. Gentleman ought, to be as well acquainted as I am with the fact that this is not the place where the procedure of the House of Lords can be determined. We have made a statement, which is in the hon. Gentleman's hands, which practically covers the ground of the whole opposition. It has been arranged by the County Council and the local authorities that whatever Amendments, if any, in respect of electric traction are made in the House of Lords in No. 2 Bill as regards the existing lines shall also be extended and made applicable to the new works under No. 1 Bill. It is obviously our interest and our desire to have the clauses identical both for the old tramways and the new. There are not two hearings called for in this matter. Two hearings have been asked by the hon. Gentleman and those whom he is representing for the moment in this place. Both Committees have most wisely passed these clauses and sent them to this House. I trust that the House will send the clauses to the House of Lords in both Bills. The House of Lords can reject or pass them as it pleases.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

As representing a district through which these two tramways run, I wish to dissociate myself from the motion of the hon. Member for Wandsworth, which was supported by the hon. Member for Clapham. I hope to give the House one or two reasons why they should not deprive London for another year of the electric traction which two Committees of the House have said the London County Council ought to have. In saying this I think it is necessary to give a fact or two. The London County Council have in operation one or two tramways drawn by horses on the south side of London. That is obviously an inadequate system, and not at all up to the requirements of the housing problem, and it is not in keeping with the accommodation which the people require in the way of rapid transit. The County Council introduced two tramway Bills—one to substitute electric traction for horses, and the other to extend the existing tramways and to make new ones. In promoting those Bills the County Council has wisely and considerately approached forty London local authorities, and got their views as to road material, road maintenance, and the minor improvements necessary to carry out a good system of electric traction, and I am sorry to think that of all the forty authorities the only obdurate ones were Wandsworth and Clapham. Encouraged by that obstinacy, my own parish got off the right lines and was for a moment disposed to do the wrong thing, but after being confronted with the fact that its opposition would lead to the whole five millions of London being deprived of electric traction for another year, like the sensible district it is it recovered itself, it pulled itself together, and declined to associate itself with Wandsworth, which has alternately played the role of Dr. Jekyll to-day and Mr. Hyde to-morrow. The request put forward by Battersea was this: that where the London County Council tramways went through the parish the County Council should be called upon to put a good electric current down and also to lay the road between the rails and a verge of eighteen inches on each side. The authorities now opposing the Bill went further than that, and asked that the whole length of the road should be paved with material to be determined not by the traction authority and the Board of Trade, but by the vestry. The result of such an unreasonable demand is that only the vestry is to get the veto, and the County Council is to pay for the whole of the road material along the tramway route. If Wandsworth and Clapham succeed to-day the veto of the vestries of London will be maintained, and the traction authority will be blackmailed into the cost of the road and street improvements and the paving of the tramway routes which ought properly to be borne partly by the local authorities. The local authorities ought to pay for their own roads, and not ask the metropolitan ratepayers to bear the cost of keeping up their main roads and streets. That is a condition of things the House of Commons ought not to tolerate. Two Committees have listened to the complaints of Wandsworth and Clapham, and these Committees have declared that there is not much in them. I trust that we shall give the County Council the powers they ask, and that we shall not allow the respectable vestries of Wandsworth and Clapham to stand in the way. In representing their views they had no need to employ counsel, and in paying for that they are responsible for every penny they had needlessly spent. The Council has given Wandsworth Vestry power to vote whether it should be a conduit or overhead system. The Council is going to have the conduit system. The Council has been so reasonable that thirty-eight out of forty have agreed with the Council view, and it is because the two hon. Gentlemen represent, unfortunately, the two obstinate districts that I have dissolved partnership with them, and that I appeal to the House of Commons not to listen to their appeals to-day, and to give to the County Council the power which they ought to have to introduce a system of cheap and speedy electric traction.

*MR. HOLLAND (Yorkshire, W. R., Rotherham)

I happened to be chairman of the Committee which considered this Bill. I did not understand that the hon. Member for Wandsworth wished to impugn the decision of that Committee.


Not at all.


That being so, I beg to assure the hon. Member that the Committee, after hearing all the arguments pro and con., decided not to exclude these particular clauses from the measure. I have a further objection to the proposal now before the House. It is proposed that the Bill should be recommitted to the same Committee. As chairman of that Committee, and in the name also of my colleagues on that Committee, I may say that we should object to this particular measure being committed to us again, because we have hoard all the arguments already, and we know exactly what the decision would be. Therefore it would be a waste of time to send it back to that Committee. I wish to say, in conclusion, that this Bill, and also Bill No. 2, are the outcome of a Herculean amount of negotiation between the London County Council and the different local authorities; and it would indeed, in my view, be a grievous thing if that enormous amount of effort were to be brought to nought by the passing of this Resolution to-day, because the effect of that would be to destroy the Bill.

*MR. PURVIS (Peterborough)

I wish to say ditto to what has been stated by the hon. Member for Rotherham. There has been nothing new brought before us this afternoon. Everything has been considered most carefully, eminent counsel having brought out every point with equal clearness, and in every possible way. I hope the House will not delay the passing of the measure by recommitting it.


After what has been said by the Chairman of the Committee upon this point I do not think I will press this to a division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered.

Ordered, That Standing Orders 223 and 243 be suspended, and that the Bill be now read the third time.—(Mr. Caldwell.)

Prince of Wales' consent signified.

Bill read the third time, and passed.