HC Deb 21 March 1900 vol 80 cc1428-32

On the motion for the adjournment of the House—

*SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

said he wished to ask a question with reference to the appointment of the Committee on Municipal Trading. The notice for the appointment of that Committee appeared on the Paper almost every day during the last session of Parliament, and at the close of the session the First Lord of the Treasury pledged himself that he would move the appointment of that Committee early this session. It was a most important question affecting many municipalities, and also affecting legislation now before the House. A motion for the appointment of the Committee had been put on the Paper by the Senior Whip of the Conservative party, and it had never come on. He therefore appealed to the First Lord to say whether the Government intended to persevere with that appointment, and if he would put the motion down, when the sense of the House could be taken upon it.

MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)

said he had already given notice of a question on the subject for to-morrow. It was most important to get this belated Committee appointed before Easter, otherwise it might be delayed for an indefinite time.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

sincerely hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would not make too much of the application now made to him. The demand for a Municipal Trading Committee proceeded from a very limited number of Members inside the House, or of people outside. [HON MEMBERS: "No, no."] That was his view. Beyond a few company promoters who met at the Society of Arts, he did not know of anybody who was interested. And what was more, if the right hon. Gentleman acceded to the request he would have to look forward to considerable discussion as to what the terms of the reference should be. Already the mere fact of the notice appearing on the Paper had been unjustly and unfairly used by counsel before a Committee upstairs, who actually argued as if the Committee on Municipal Trading had been already appointed, with the result that the Bill before that Committee had not passed as put before it. He would be the last man in the world to attribute either partiality or unfairness to that most admirable tribunal, a Parliamentary Committee. The unfairness came from the representations made to the Committee by the counsel improperly using his position to make an unauthorised statement. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman not to listen to the appeal made by the Members for Wolverhampton and East Islington, but to let the proposal for the Committee take its chance. However, if he did accede to the request, he might rely upon it there would be a thorough discussion of this important subject.


thought it was essential in the interests of municipalities that this question should be settled, for he knew of a case where a very important corporation promoted a Bill this session to which, when it came on last week, there was no opposition either from district councils or county councils outside the municipality, but on account of this pending motion for inquiry into municipal trading it was decided by the Committee to split up the Bill, and they struck out a very large portion of it. He thought therefore the House ought to decide the question whether the Committee was to sit and take into consideration to what limits municipalities ought to go in trading concerns. It was a very important matter, because municipalities should not be put to the expense of promoting Bills, which the House of Commons had allowed to pass in years gone by, if the fact that this inquiry was pending was to be used to defeat such Bills.

MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

said this was a most important subject, and he did not think any speech which had been made was a stronger argument for this inquiry being held at once than that of the hon. Member for Battersea.

MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S.W.)

said that the Government would not get this Committee without considerable discussion. He hoped the First Lord would state about what time the motion would come on. It had been on the Paper for the last five nights.

THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. Balfour, Manchester, E.)

said that in regard to the appeal made to him by his right hon. friend, he might remind him that the course pursued on this particular matter was that always taken. He did not want any inconvenience to be caused to hon. Gentlemen. In the short discussion that had taken place there seemed to be a feeling not to go on with the Committee, and he was appealed to to drop it, or at all events not to give facilities for its appointment. He confessed that the worst and most impractical course of all would be to leave the matter indefinite, and hanging over not only the House in its general capacity, but over the Committees of the House, and therefore interfere with the policy which they might otherwise be disposed to pursue in regard to Bills before them. He thought than they ought either to drop all idea of a Committee, or put the House in a position to settle the question of its appointment. He thought it would cause disappointment in the House if the proposals were now abandoned. He, however, unfortunately could not say when he would be able to find an opportunity of moving the motion. The Government had only Mondays and Thursdays available. On Tuesdays the House had given the Government special privileges, but only for financial business. In the meantime finance was pressing, and they must deal with the Budget and other matters before they turned their attention to other subjects. He felt the force of the arguments that had been used, and he would endeavour at the earliest convenient opportunity to find some occasion on which the motion could be discussed, supposing they were not sufficiently fortu- nate to get it on in the interstices between; other business before many weeks were over.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)

said that the First Lord of the Treasury had given the Irish Members the next day for the debate on the financial arrangements of Ireland. He understood that a private Bill of enormous magnitude had been put down on the Paper in front of the Irish debate, and that the discussion on the Bill might last for three or four hours. He asked the First Lord whether he could not prevent that Bill being put down in such a manner as would practically render nugatory his grant of the whole of Thursday for the Irish debate.


said the hon. Gentleman was perfectly correct in saying that a Bill had been put down before the Financial Arrangements of Ireland motion. He was sorry for it; but he had no control over it, as the order of the Paper in respect to these Bills was settled by the Committee of Selection, and such Bills had the disagreeable trick of appearing on the Paper when most inconvenient. There was no desire on that side of the House to make long speeches on the subject of the Bill, and he trusted that there would be no undue delay in getting to the motion of the hon. Member for East Donegal.

Adjourned at ten minutes before Six of the clock.