HC Deb 29 March 1900 vol 81 cc757-76

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a Select Committee of five members of this House be appointed to join with a Committee of the Lords to consider and report as to the principles which should govern powers given by Bills and Provisional Orders to municipal and other local authorities for industrial enterprise within or without the area of their jurisdiction; that a message be sent to the Lords to acquaint their Lordships that this House hath appointed a Committee of five members to consider and report as to the principles which should govern powers given by Bills and Provisional Orders to municipal and other local authorities for industrial enterprise within or without the area of their jurisdiction; and to request that their Lordships will be pleased to appoint an equal number of Lords to be joined with the Members of this House."—(Mr. Anstruther.)

MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)

I am rather surprised that an important Committee of this kind should be moved with out an explanation as to what its object is and at whose instance it was suggested. I am not aware that any of the municipal bodies of the country have petitioned in favour of this Committee, and I am not aware of any other public representative institution that has asked for its appointment. It certainly would have been more respectful to the House had some statement been made by some Member of the Government as to why it is to be appointed and by whom it was suggested. It appears to me that there may be at the bottom of this people, whoever they may be, who instigated the Government into this action, and who are opposed to the works carried on by the various municipal authorities of the country. If the syndicated interests of the country, the promoters of private companies, who have so much interest in the Government, are the people at the bottom of it, we ought to know. When a mysterious motion affecting an important subject of this kind is moved we should get some information, but in this instance one of the whips, making a profound bow to the Speaker, tries to set in motion a piece of machinery which undoubtedly may be fraught with the greatest interest to the country. I am not in a position to say that the municipal authorities object to it. My opinion is that the municipal authorities have very little to fear at the hands of this or any other Committee. I have no authority to speak for the corporations, but I am able to state with respect to the great industrial concerns which are carried on by the corporation of the town for which I sit in this House, that they are the source of enormous profit to the ratepayers, and that the profits go to the relief of rates instead of in dividends to persons who do nothing to earn them. If it is to strike a blow at that class of trading by municipal corporations I think the Government have been ill-advised indeed, and will get themselves into considerable trouble and discredit by having anything to do with the stirring up of a matter of this sort. This proposed inquiry has been promoted by those who are jealous of the trading capacity of our municipal authorities. On these grounds I protest against the appointment of the Committee. I cannot imagine why it is suggested. We are asked to appoint a Committee of five to meet a similar number of Members of the Upper House. Who invited the Members of the other House to join in the inquiry into corporation work? The Members of that House know nothing whatever of municipal life. There are very few of them who know anything of the local government of the country either in corporate bodies or in country districts. Why we should be linked together with members of that branch of the legislature I am at a loss to understand. Why are corporations, so to speak, to be carpeted before a Committee which they have no part or parcel in selecting? What is the charge against them? What is, so to speak, the genesis of this Committee? Surely we ought to know if the Corporations of the country have misconducted themselves, betrayed the interests of the ratepayers, or committed some illegal act. There is nothing of the kind stated. If there is to be a Committee appointed I presume the trial will not be held in their absence. Surely they will be invited to be present and to offer evidence. It is time the corporations should be told what it is about, that they may be in a position to prepare themselves with their defence, if they are to be called up on their defence. I believe all prisoners are supplied with some statement of the nature of the charge brought against them. I have not heard a word of what the charge is against the corporations. Before we proceed further I hope we will be favoured with a statement by some member of the Government. Much will depend on that statement whether a division will be taken against the appointment of a Committee. If the Government are determined to have a Committee, let us have a little more time for the consideration of it, and let notice be sent round to the local authorities so that they may not be taken by surprise, and, as it were, attacked from behind by some influence which we cannot trace and of which we know nothing.

MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S.W.)

The corporations look upon themselves as persons accused, and they do not think it would be right to adopt the position of seeking in any way to burke full investigation. They accept with reluctance the Committee the right hon. Gentleman is going to appoint, though they think it unnecessary. They say, "We are arraigned before this Committee, and it would be an improper position to object in any way to a thorough and full investigation." There was a case last week at Huddersfield where a great injury was done to the corporation by this motion being put on the Table. That injustice will, I hope, be removed by this motion being put down and discussed. The hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees upstairs told me that they had very great difficulty because the decisions of the House are not uniform in regard to this matter. I know one case where an Electric Lighting Bill was accepted by the House, and a similar one from another part of the country was thrown out. I do not think anyone, whether representing the views of a corporation or those of private promoters, could defend such a position of affairs, and it is because this position is going to be removed that we accept the motion before us.


I apprehend that the object of this is to secure, through this Committee, the framing of a series of common clauses which should be inserted in Bills brought before the House. I see no objection to that. I should like to ask the Government if they will kindly say what they propose to do as to the calling of evidence before this Committee.


The hon. Member for Dundee has accurately described the position taken up by the Government, and so has the hon. Member for South-west Manchester. It is quite a mistake to suppose that this motion has been put down with the smallest intention of making any attack whatever on corporations. Nothing was further from the thoughts of the Government. It is extremely desirable that inquiry should be made with the view of seeing whether some conclusions cannot be arrived at as to the general lines which should be followed not only with regard to Bills of this kind before the House, but also with regard to Provisional Orders. I may say that we at the Board of Trade require to have some kind of direction, such as that suggested, in order to enable us to deal properly with the constant applications that are being made to us by corporations. The hon. Gentleman opposite has asked why we have asked a Committee of the other House to join. Whether the powers asked by corporations are asked by Bill or by Provisional Order, they have to pass through the Houses of Parliament, and therefore in connection with matters where both Houses have to take action it has always been the custom that the two bodies should sit together and arrive at a common conclusion. With regard to the question of the hon. Member for Dundee, I have to say that it is very desirable and necessary that this Committee, when formed, should have the power of calling witnesses. When the Joint Committee is nominated I understand a motion of that kind will be made. With regard to this matter, the Committee should be empowered to get such evidence as will enable them to come to a proper conclusion in the matter.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

The right hon. Gentleman has forgotten in making his appeal to the House for the appointment of this Committee that this proposal does not emanate from a Government Department like the Board of Trade, neither did it spring from the Local Government Board, which is the proper Department to have municipal enterprise within its purview. The suggestion for this Committee sprang from a private Member last year. It was down for three months, and I, with a number of other Members, had the pleasure of sitting up until twelve o'clock, and we were successful in preventing the motion coming on. What we ought to know is why it is that the Government have suddenly undertaken the responsibility of backing a Committee which last year they would have nothing at all to do with, and which they left to the irresponsible care of a private Member who had very little support even on his own side. Why was it put down last year? I think I can throw a little light upon that point. The Government brought in a Bill, and a very good Bill, for nationalising the telephones in a large direction. The hon. Member who put the motion down put it down with a view to hanging up the Government Bill. It was supposed to have served its purpose for that session. But it did not succeed, and all at once we found it removed from the Paper. But this year this skeleton Committee is introduced in order to be used against corporation Bills and municipal enterprise with precisely the same object as it was intended to have with regard to the Government Bill for dealing with the telephone service. We have heard not a single word in explanation of why the Government have accepted the parentage of this bastard Committee. The President of the Board of Trade says the Board of Trade want guidance. If that is so let the President of the Board of Trade and the President of the Local Government Board and the Selection Committee, with representatives of the House of Lords, meet together and give us some responsible reasons for the appointment of a Joint Committee. If it is for uniform treatment of similar Bills on similar subjects in different Houses in order to secure consistency in regard to municipal enterprise, that is a reason one can respect, and such a reason may contain arguments that we can understand. But when we find that a Committee which was put down last year to block a Government Bill, and which was ineffectual for its purpose, is now turned on to the general field of municipal enterprise, I am indeed surprised that the Government should have shown such poverty of reasons and such paucity of argument in favour of the appointment of a Committee which the state of municipal enterprise does not at this moment warrant. What is the reason for this Committee? Not a word has been given to tell us. What is the argument in favour of it? We have heard of none. What is the necessity for it from the point of view of municipal enterprise? Is municipal enterprise in this country incompatible with the ratepayers' interests or with public policy? We have had neither speech nor argument to contend that it is. Where is the evidence that municipal bodies ought to be put upon their trial? In the absence of evidence is there to be a rambling inquiry, a fishing expedition, to last four or five years, as did the Labour Commission, so that in the meantime municipalities like Leicester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, Dublin, and other places should be prevented from promoting Bills which have for their object the benefit of the ratepayers, and the promotion of which has the full approval of the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants?—because the House must remember that no Bill can be introduced under the Borough Funds Act unless it has three-fourths of the ratepayers in favour of it. The delay caused by this Committee will impose upon the public great inconvenience. The gentlemen who met at the Society of Arts will then be able to say, "Oh, the municipalities are doing nothing for electric traction; they are doing nothing to link up the urban districts with the outside local areas; they are supine and indifferent. Let private enterprise come in." Through this Committee sitting for three or four years private enterprise will get an unfair advantage over municipal enterprise. In a word, this Committee is to be a hanging Committee—the kind of Committee the Royal Academy appoint a week before the Academy opens. This Committee is to be for hanging up the projects of municipal enterprise with their faces to the wall, so that the company promoter and a number of gentlemen of Oriental mind and Eastern expression and Babylonish tastes can do with electric lighting as they have been doing with certain portions of the English Constitution and the British Empire, converting legislative spheres of influence into spheres of private interest. When I heard this Committee first spoken about I thought we were going to have an indictment of the big corporations. Are our municipal corporations corrupt? No. Then why an inquiry? Are they inefficient? The test of efficiency is the profit that municipal enterprise makes for the reduction of the general rates. It is because they are efficient, and conduct their concerns with economy and large profit, they are to be assailed. Is the inquiry necessary? Absolutely no. Why do I say that? Because every municipal enterprise undertaken by a local authority is subject to the best of all inquiries—the criticism of the ratepayers who pay the rates. Then there is the Provisional Order, which has to run the gauntlet of both Houses, at First, Second, and Third Reading, and also go through the ordeal of the Committee upstairs. Then there is the audit of the Local Government Board—not a single shilling can be spent on electric lighting, water, tramways, or markets unless it is passed by the auditor appointed by either the Local Government Board or the municipality; whilst, finally, the test of election every year is the best safeguard. In the absence of inefficiency, extravagance, and corruption in our municipal life, I strongly protest against the appointment of this Committee as a slur upon our municipal life—a municipal life which deservedly occupies the highest position of any municipal life in the whole civilised world. Now I come to the Committee itself. This Committee ought to be appointed not by the Selection Committee, but by this House itself. I have a great respect for the House of Lords when it confines itself to its proper work. ["Oh, oh!"] Yes, I have; I believe that if private enterprise tries to bull-dose and chloroform the House of Commons, of which this motion is an evidence, we may have to look for the purity of our public life and the preservation of our municipal rights to the House of Lords as a second line of defence against monopoly that abuses its power and subordinates Governments to its ends. But I am quite prepared to wait until the necessity for that condition of things arises. In the meantime, the House of Lords is not the body which knows most about municipal government and municipal enterprise. I venture to say that this is a revolution in private Bill procedure which ought to be demanded from the House only by strong facts and irresistible argument. I could quite understand the appointment of this Committee if Glasgow were riddled with corruption as Tammany Hall is in New York. ["Oh, oh!"] That is my view, and I express that view having examined that institution at close quarters, and so far as I am concerned, speaking generally of municipal life, I know nothing outside this country to equal the municipal life of Great Britain and Ireland. I am surprised that the First Lord of the Treasury, whose knowledge of nearly every phase of national life does him credit, and has, perhaps, placed him where he is, should lend himself to a suggestion of this kind. His own city of Manchester is opposed to this Committee, and many of the Manchester councillors regard it as a slight upon the local life of their district. Many of the municipalities, the bulk of the members from which support the right hon. Gentleman, say that this is a superfluous inquiry and that it can reveal nothing which the Government cannot know more clearly without its aid. Except for deferring to that body of company promoters in excelsis, the Liberty and Property Defence League, and except for pandering to the ignorant prejudices of the Lord Wemysses and the gang of company promoters who met at the Society of Arts three months ago, I can see no reason for this Committee. I do appeal to the First Lord to recognise that if this Committee is appointed and sits for a long time great harm will be done to the ratepayers' interests of this country. The municipalities of the country object to this Committee, not because they are afraid of inquiry, but because they object to having their town clerks and mayors and committees being summoned to the House of Commons or the House of Lords to be interrogated unnecessarily by a Committee that cannot know as much about the matter as the auditor of the Local Government Board. It is because the appointment of this Committee is dangerous, unnecessary, and is merely demanded by a small clique who have made too much fuss in the country about municipal enterprise, that I appeal to the House of Commons not to support the creation of this Committee.

MR. JEFFREYS (Hampshire, N.)

I cannot see that the Committee proposed by this motion is in the slightest degree hostile to the interests of the municipalities; in my opinion it is very greatly in their favour, and I am sure the decision of the Committee will be for the guidance of the Committees upstairs. I have been Chairman of one of those Committees, and have had the greatest trouble in discriminating where municipal trading should cease. In former days, municipalities no doubt undertook great enterprises which were very useful for their ratepayers, but those undertakings were always confined within the boundaries of the corporation. Now schemes have been started for constructing electric tram ways outside the borough boundaries altogether, and how can a Committee upstairs tell where this should end? We want the guidance of the House upon this subject, and if the House is pleased to appoint this Committee, I think some conclusion will be come to in the matter which will be in the interests of the corporations themselves, because they will be saved a great deal of money in promoting schemes which they will know, from the decision of this Committee, could not get through the House. In reply to one remark of the hon. Member opposite, let me instance the case of a corporation which brought forward a scheme for a large system of electric tramways within a six mile radius of the corporation. The scheme may be good, or it may be bad, but why should it stop at the six mile radius? Why not have a twelve mile radius? Why not work a system of electric tramways or a railway to connect the corporation with some other town? On all these matters Committees upstairs require direction. They cannot get that direction from the Orders of the House. It is most important in defence of the ratepayers that the House should lay down definite rules as to whether the corporations are to bring forward these schemes, and therefore I hope the House will pass this motion.

MR. HALDANE (Haddingtonshire)

I must congratulate the hon. Member for North Hampshire on having given the first approach to an intelligent reason for the appointment of this Committee. I quite admit that in the specific case which he has given it is quite proper that there should be certain well-defined considerations which should be taken into account by each Committee, and that the practice upon that point should be uniform. But the motion before the House goes miles beyond anything of that kind. We are asked to appoint a Select Committee "to consider and report as to the principles which should govern powers given by Bills and Provisional Orders to municipal and other local authorities for industrial enterprise within or without the area of their jurisdiction." I agree with my hon. friend the Member for Battersea in the suggestion he has made as to the origin and genesis of this motion. I cannot bring myself to believe that it is the spontaneous idea of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Like the hon. Member for Battersea, I have lively recollections of the origin of this motion. The right hon. Gentleman, as he was then, but who is now a distinguished ornament in another place, and takes a strong interest in this question, because he holds very strong views on the subject of municipal trading, was the real author of this motion. He had a very definite idea in his mind: he knew what he meant by asking for a Committee to inquire into the principles which should regulate embarking on industrial enterprise by corporations. He held that all embarking on industrial enterprise should be discouraged and prohibited by the legislature and that it should be confined within the very narrowest possible limits. That is an intelligent position. But that is not a question for any Committee, still less a Joint Committee of the two Houses, to inquire into. That is a question for this House to determine after debate, and it may turn out to be a very large question, in regard to which the House will not come to its full conclusion at once. For my part, I object very much, on a subject in regard to which there may be the greatest conflict of policy between this House and the other, to our finding ourselves hereafter, whenever a question arises on a Private Bill as to the course to be taken, bound by a decision of a Joint Committee over which we have no control—a decision which would be thrown in our teeth upon all such occasions. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Board of Trade thought guidance was wanted, not only for Select Committees but also for the Board itself. What guidance are they likely to get? This Committee will sit and take evidence, and hear objections by counsel if necessary. I quite see that it might get a large amount of useful information. But what is the sort of question we have to consider? This is not a Committee whose function it will be to frame clauses or to draw up some code of restrictions on legislation such as those embodied in the model clauses dealing with Provisional Orders, etc. The province of this Committee is something very much wider; it is to consider general principles—general principles which will apply to the very class of Bills out of which these general clauses and sections have arisen. Take a single illustration which is in the minds of hon. Members who have been present through this sitting. We have had a debate upon the question of whether the London County Council should have the control of its water supply. That debate would have assumed an entirely different form had we been discussing the question of whether Glasgow should have the control of its water supply. In the case of Glasgow, just as in the case of Birmingham and many other places, the question of the control of matters, which is refused for special reasons to the London County Council, assumes an entirely different form. It is not a question which can be settled by any decision of a Committee—whether these corporations should be allowed to indulge in industrial enterprises, such as that of running tramways. It is a question to be decided with reference to the circumstances of each municipality, and that can only be determined by the House after debate on the Second Reading of the Bills, with such assistance as may be obtained from a Select Committee. Take another illustration. We have had a great deal of difficulty in settling the question of whether the power of supplying electricity in bulk should be given to private companies or reserved for municipal corporations. Why was that? Because it was considered by the House of Commons that supplying electrical power in bulk was a very different thing from supplying electric light. One was something in the interests of the public generally, while the other would be supplied to a comparatively few firms, and, therefore, in the view of many members, a proper thing for private persons to undertake rather than a municipality. That, again, is not a question of principle which can be settled by a Committee. You have to consider the enterprise, the state of development in which the enterprise is—matters which may be entirely different in five years time—and it is impossible for us to bind ourselves by any hard-and-fast rules, whether they are laid down by ourselves or by a Committee, no matter how eminent, sitting upstairs. The whole history of the practice of this House with regard to these matters seem to show that this is a matter which cannot be considered as one of abstract principle, but which must be considered upon its merits. I have heard nothing intelligible from the right hon. Gentleman as a justification of the appointment of this Committee. There have been two intelligible reasons put forward in the debate. One is the question of whether there should be an extension of tramways beyond the municipal limits. That is a very narrow point, and much too small to justify this motion. The other is the question of referring the whole subject of municipal trading to this Committee. Against that suggestion I certainly protest on behalf of the proper functions of this House. I cannot help thinking that this motion is one which, if carried into effect, will lead to the sort of thing with which we have become far too familiar within the last five years—namely, the practice of the Government saying "There is the Report of a Royal Commission, or of a Select Committee, or of a Joint Committee which lays down the principles on which this case must be decided"—by which means we are prevented from giving full consideration to the principle of Bills which come before us. I dislike this practice which is growing up of the Government sheltering itself behind Reports of Commissions and Committees. That practice has been carried too far, and this is an instance in which the House should say that the matter proposed to be referred to this Committee is a matter which it is for the House itself to determine, and with the jurisdiction over which the House will not part.


I venture to hope that this discussion, which has been a very instructive one, will not be unduly prolonged. ["Oh, oh!"] I may express a pious hope, at all events, that it will not be unduly prolonged; because, after all, we are only asking for an investigation by a competent tribunal into a problem the importance of which is denied by nobody. The hon. Member for Battersea stated that the Government had taken up a Committee originally moved for in this House by a private Member. My memory for details is not very good, but I believe in that statement the hon. Gentleman is inaccurate. I have been given a reference in Hansard which shows that on March 2nd last year I was asked by my hon. friend the Member for North Islington whether a Committee could not be appointed to inquire into this question, and my reply was*In answer to the hon. Member I have to say that the important question to which he refers is one which deserves early investigation, and we, the Government, think the proper method of that investigation would be by a Joint Committee of the two Houses. That is the policy which I stated on behalf of my colleagues on the 2nd March last year, and it has been the policy to which we have ever since steadily adhered. The hon. and learned Member who has just sat down objects to this policy, as I think other Members also have objected to it, on the ground that a Committee of this sort appears to mean the passing of a prima facie condemnation upon municipal trading, and that it appears to prejudge the question of whether municipalities are to be allowed to go beyond the bare necessities of life, as it were, which they have to provide for their inhabitants, and to launch out into the illimitable field of commercial enterprise. * See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxvii., page 1053. The Government do not desire to prejudge that question. We do not desire to lay down any principles for the guidance of the Committee. We do not say whether it is right or whether it is wrong, that, in addition to supplying proper highways, proper police protection, gas, water, and so forth, municipalities should go further, and, either within their own area, or still more, without their own area, deal with these larger commercial concerns. I believe myself that in many cases these commercial undertakings may very properly be entered into by municipalities. That is my own personal opinion. But what we ask for is not a judgment upon that abstract, or more or less abstract, question; it is for some general guidance for this and the other House as to the method by which we are to deal from time to time with the innumerable practical problems which come before us in connection with private Bill legislation, and also in connection with matters for which the Government are responsible. As has been pointed out by one of the Chairmen of these Committees, the Committees of this House have no guidance upon the general principles which should regulate their action. Is that a fair position into which to put four gentlemen chosen from among Members of the House by the Committee of Selection, and ask them thus to deal with great complicated questions? They are competent to deal professionally with evidence placed before them, but it is too much to ask them, without any mandate from this House, and without any general principles laid down for them by this House, to deal with what are after all great questions of policy. The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down appears to think that a Joint Committee of the two Houses would have some coercive action in the policy which this House, or the other House should pursue. That is really not the case. This House would have before it the Report of that Committee, and the evidence upon which that Report was founded. It would neither be obliged to accept the Report in general nor in a particular instance give application to it. The House might even reverse it. Our freedom of action will be wholly unimpaired, but some machinery will be provided by which the arguments and the evidence on either side will be put before us in some intelligible and assimilable form. The hon. and learned Member says this is a question upon which the House itself should decide. How is the House to decide and by what machinery can the House decide particular issues now? A particular case comes before us. On that particular case no doubt we can decide now, and on that particular case we should still be able to decide after the Joint Committee has reported. But how can we come to any decision upon the broad question of policy to which the hon. and learned Member has referred? It is something to produce an abstract resolution on a Tuesday afternoon, but is the Government to come forward and lay before the House an abstract resolution in regard to municipal trading? Is that to be debated all night, and finally to be voted upon, and is such a debate and division to be any guidance as to policy? Such a debate and division would not be of any value unless we came to it armed with all the assistance which the Report of a Joint Committee is so well qualified to give. I confess it seems to me that those who wish to refuse this Committee, to closure this investigation, are deliberately giving their verdict for chaos rather than for order. They are asking the House to proceed to deal with enormous questions affecting the corporate rights and interests of immense bodies of ratepayers in a piecemeal fashion and at haphazard. That is not a course which the Government can recommend, and I earnestly ask the House—not to bind themselves to follow the Report which a Joint Committee of both Houses may come to, not to bind themselves blindly to acquiesce in a decision which five representatives of this House and five representatives of the other House may come to, but to give themselves the chance of having the evidence collected and decided upon by a competent tribunal. If after that investigation the House should differ from the Report of the Joint Committee (and the House of Commons very often does differ from its Committees), at all events we shall do it with knowledge and not in ignorance, knowing what is alleged on either side. If we differ, even in that case our action will be incomparably more profitable to the community at large, to the great corporations of this country, and to the work of private enterprise, than the haphazard and random dealing with great interests with which we have got familiar in recent years, and with which, unless this Committee is appointed, we are likely to become more and more familiar as time goes on.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

In supporting this proposal the right hon. Gentleman described it as having for its chief object the protection of the ratepayers.


I never said that.


I want to ask any hon. Member who supports this, what evidence he can lay before this House that the ratepayers have asked for this protection. Before we are asked to consent to this measure, which has been described by an hon. Member opposite as a measure for the protection of the ratepayers, ought we not to have from its supporters some statement that a considerable minority of the ratepayers are anxious for this protection? The very reverse is the fact. It is not a proposal which has emanated from any body of ratepayers outside this House. It had its origin in a band of Gentlemen in this House who are interested in the promotion of great schemes of private enterprise. What are the facts which are known to the citizens of municipalities in great Britain and Ireland. Every year they are beleaguered and beset by syndicates and private companies who are endeavouring to grasp those enterprises which ought to be a legitimate field for municipal trading, such as electric lighting and tramways. I live in a city where the tramways have passed into the hands of a company which is now making excellent profits. I should have preferred to see those profits going to the relief of the rates in the city. Every municipality in the country is besieged by these syndicates and companies who are endeavouring to get hold of the valuable monopolies. What do we hear from the President of the Board of Trade? He declared, in a very extraordinary speech, that the Local Government Board wanted guidance. But this question only turned up last year, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the London University and the Member for North Islington made a proposal in regard to the telephone monopoly. The proposal before the House is manifestly one made in the interests of syndicates, companies, and private enterprise as against municipal enterprise. No attempt has been made to show that the ratepayers of the country are interested in this proposal. Has any attempt been made to show that the ratepayers of the great municipalities of this country have suffered by the municipalities getting hold of and extending their grip over industrial enterprises? It is quite the contrary, and, so far as I am aware, in every instance in which a great municipality has got hold of some great industrial undertaking, the result has been beyond all question a great saving to the ratepayers. There is not a single shred of foundation for this extraordinary new departure in favour of private enterprise. In Dublin we provided ourselves twenty years ago with one of the best water supplies in the country, and there is no doubt that we have saved our ratepayers enormous sums of money by having got this great industrial enterprise in our hands at the very beginning. Our experience goes to show that the growth of these municipal enterprises, and the gradual extinction of monopolies in gas, water, electric lighting, and tramway companies has been a growth of progress marked by immense saving to the ratepayers of the country. And what do the Government say? I never heard a more lame defence. All they say is that we had chaos, and now we want order and guidance. If you had had order and guidance in this matter twenty years ago we should have made no progress at all. Why have these great principles gradually been established? They can only be established piecemeal by applying yourself to the particular circumstances of the case. I say it is because you had chaos that you succeeded, and because you were not bound by the rules of a Committee of the House of Lords. After half a century of free action in dealing with this municipal question, suddenly the Board of Trade and the Local Government Board awake to the fact that we are in the midst of chaos, and that we cannot proceed any further without guidance. And remember, the guidance sought is not to come from a Committee of this House, but the House of Lords is to be asked to teach us how to deal with municipal affairs. I do not think that the record of the House of Lords in connection with municipal development is so brilliant that we ought to seek its assistance. The House of Lords is permeated with company directors and company promoters, and there is no hope in that direction. We are told that we want guidance and enlightenment from a Committee that is to investigate this matter in an abstract sense. In my opinion the proper guidance on municipal development should be sought from the experience of the Board of Trade and the Local Government Board. Even if such a proposal is necessary, I do press upon the Government and the House that the proper way to lay a foundation for such a measure would be to appoint a Committee of this House and not a Joint Committee. Why did hon. Members opposite during the telephone struggle suggest a Joint Committee of the two Houses? They suggested that because they knew that the friends of private enterprise would be found on that Committee in a sweeping majority. Whatever chance there might be for private enterprise in a Committee of this House, a joint Committee would be bound to give the syndicates and the company promoters a majority. It is ridiculous for the Government to tell us that no harm can be done by this innocent investigation, and that we shall be just as free afterwards to reject its decisions if we choose. That statement might do very well for an hon. Member elected yesterday, without experience in this House, but for those who have been here fifteen years it is rather absurd to try and throw dust in our eyes in that fashion. Every hon. Member who knows the practice and customs of this House knows very well that the Report of such a Committee would be thrown in our teeth in every debate upon this subject. Such a Report would inevitably have great weight, and would affect the votes of many hon. Members of this House. Undoubtedly the Committees upstairs would accept the decisions of the Joint Committee as their guiding principles, and it could have no other possible effect than to limit the freedom of the Committees of this House. It is because I believe that such a limiting of the Committees of this House would be a distinct evil and a retrograde stop that I am opposed to the appointment of this Joint Committee altogether. I believe that the true principle to adopt in approaching the consideration of this question of municipal enterprise is to allow the present machinery, which has worked admirably, to work still, and to allow the Committees of this House to apply their intelligence, free of any more fetters than those which already exist in the Standing Orders of the House, to the consideration of the circumstances of each individual case; to allow their decisions to be freely reviewed by Members of this House; and to proceed unchecked and unfettered until the time arrives when it may be desirable to introduce some general measure which ought to orginate in this House and over which this House ought to have full control. I object to this proposal because I think the time has not come by many years for any investigation of the kind. There is no call for this proposal outside this House, and there is not a shred of evidence to show that it is demanded by the public outside this House. But even if it were proved and admitted that such an investigation is required, such investigation ought to be carried out, in the first instance, by a Committee appointed by this House, and it should not be a Joint Committee appointed at the request of Gentlemen who have made no secret of their desire to promote and increase the sphere and the development of companies and syndicates as compared with municipal effort. Hon. Members opposite have made no secret of their hostility to municipal effort, and they desire to refer it to a Joint Committee, because they believe that by so doing they will secure a majority in favour of private enterprise.


After listening to the speech of the hon. Member for North Hampshire, I have my doubts as to the wisdom of this House passing this motion to-night without further discussion. I am certainly alarmed at the prospect, because I know some corporations that have purchased their gas works under Bills as far back as 1858. The hon. Member for North Hampshire pressed for a Committee last week which rejected a Bill because it extended the tramways beyond the borough, although that has been the universal practice. There is hardly a corporation in this country which has been granted private Bills for the supply of water or gas which has not the power to go beyond the borough boundary. What would be the position of many of our rural districts near our large towns if corporations were prevented from supplying them with pure water and with gas? I believe that in every case where the House of Commons has given the power to a corporation to purchase the gas or water supplies, such supplies go beyond the borough boundary. There are many private companies which have tramways in our large towns. These private companies have the right to run through the borough, and are connected with the suburbs of the town. If this Joint Committee were to report to the House that in no Bill in future should a corporation be allowed to go beyond the borough boundary, then the very power which has been given to many corporations to purchase the tramways will be nullified. As the hon. Member for East Mayo has pointed out, you cannot draw a hard-and-fast rule, and you must treat every Bill upon its merits. You must judge every private Bill, whether for the supply of water, gas, electricity, or tramways, upon its merits, because hard-and-fast rules will not apply to different private Bills. I know that there is a feeling on the other side of the House against municipalities, and particularly the London County Council, having the right which has been conferred upon almost every municipality in the country of supplying water to the people within the London area. I do appeal to the First Lord of the Treasury to at least adjourn this debate to-night before coming to any decision, because the Association of Municipal Corporations are holding a meeting on Saturday, and they are very much opposed to this resolution. If they learn on Saturday that it is the intention of the Government to appoint this Committee with a view of restricting——

It being midnight, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.