HC Deb 02 May 1900 vol 82 cc533-49


Order for Second Reading read.


This Bill comes from the Association of Municipal Corporations, which takes a very great interest in the question, but the promoters also include representatives of other districts. I appeal to all those who take an interest in the improvement of local government to sanction what I venture to say will be an effective and really useful administrative reform. This Bill has already passed in exactly the same form in another place, * and inasmuch as the Amendments proposed on behalf of the Government by Lord Harris in the Upper House have been accepted and embodied in the Bill, it may be said to have the sanction of the Government itself. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board—who, I know, has knowledge and sympathy, for he showed the one and expressed the other to a deputation which waited upon him—will support the measure. The Home Office has expressed its approval of the Bill; and the Leader of the House himself, in a discussion on the question as it arose in relation to both the London Government Bill and the Irish Local Government Bill, not only said that a reform was required in the machinery of the Borough Funds Act, but he himself distinctly suggested that a general Bill should be introduced applicable to local government generally both in England and Ireland. The need for this reform is almost beyond question. The machinery of the Borough Funds Act is cumbersome, costly, and injurious to the best interests of the ratepayers, and to the cause of public improvements. The proposals which are made by the Bill, so far from removing any protection to the ratepayers, on the contrary make their control even more effective, because more considerable and real. It is not intended to withdraw from the ratepayers any checks which are useful which have existed before, and which in some * The Borough Funds Bill (1898) passed through all stages in the House of Lords. Refer to The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth] Series], Vol. lx. (Second Reading); Vol. lxi. (Committee); Vol. lxxii. (Report and Third Reading). form or another ought to remain. It removes the possibility of the constant occurrence of intolerable abuses in connection with municipal administration, especially one which enables a single person to impede a useful improvement by demanding a poll and putting the borough to a great expense, and frequently causing great delay in municipal administration. I will state to the House what checks the Borough Funds Act provides in the interests of the ratepayers which will remain when this Bill is passed, and it will be seen that they are sufficiently numerous. In the first place, ten days notice has to be given of any special meeting of the council to consider any proposed action. A resolution in favour of either promoting or opposing a Bill in Parliament must be passed by an absolute majority of the whole council. Then it must be three times advertised; and in the case of promoting a Bill the resolution must be confirmed at another meeting of the council, after which seven days notice has to be given, and in the meantime representations may be made to the Secretary of State or to the Local Government Board, and the proposal must have the approval of one or other of these authorities, who may direct a local inquiry before that approval is given. That shows that there are a multitude of checks which still remain. The only thing on this part of the subject we propose to alter is the proviso in Clause 4 of the Borough Funds Act, which states— Provided further that no expense in promoting or opposing any Bill in Parliament shall be charged as aforesaid, unless such promotion or opposition shall have had the consent of the owners and ratepayers of that district, to he expressed by resolution in the manner provided in the Local Government Act (1838) for the adoption of that Act. Now, that is the only part of the Act which is proposed to be repealed. All the other checks of which I have spoken will remain. I emphasise that fact, because our position has been misunderstood in some quarters. I may say that the legal validity of that proviso is open to doubt, because it is held to have been repealed by subsequent enactments. But what is the resolution to which that proviso refers? It is a resolution to be passed at a meeting of the ratepayers, which may or may not be effective. It may be a quiet meeting, or, as my experience tells me, a very disorderly meeting, preventing any real discussion. It may be crowded, or attended by only a few persons. It is really a survival of the hustings so far as actual discussion is concerned, and is an antiquated method of doing that business which requires, and ought to have, the gravest consideration. It is a matter, in fact, of chance whether the resolution is carried or not: and one object of this Bill is to remove that element of chance and secure the certainty of effective control. Again, at present any one ratepayer may demand a poll. Boroughs have been put to the expense of from £600 up to £1,000 by the demand of one single individual. I do not say that in many cases that individual may not have been perfectly well advised; but in numerous instances a cantankerous person has, from a mere whim, put the borough to an expense which is out of all proportion to his individual requirements. Let me ask next, what is the machinery for obtaining the sanction of the ratepayers? It is, again, as antiquated as the hustings. Toting papers have to be distributed through the town, and have to be collected after a certain period. That system has been altered in regard to other branches of local government, and I do not see why it should not be altered in connection with municipal government. Moreover, the papers may be tampered with between collection and scrutiny. There was a time when the ballot was not approved of, but that time has gone by. The Ballot Act is now applied to Parliamentary, municipal, parochial, and school board elections. The system is uniform by making a cross. But the Borough Funds Act requires that the initials of the persons objecting should be applied to the voting paper. It so happens that in the voting under the Borough Funds Act people constantly put a cross instead of their initials, and thus their votes are rendered nugatory. Again, in other elections people put initials instead of a cross, and they lose the benefit of the franchise. This initial system creates great confusion where it is desirable that uniformity should exist in casting votes. I would next mention the recognition which has been given to the evil of the present system, and the protests that have been made against it would like to read what was said by a great municipal authority, the present Secretary of State for the Colonies. It will be recollected that me right hon. Gentleman was three times mayor of Birmingham, and addressing the House on the 15th July, 1882,* he said— I will not detain the House by going into history of that Act[the Borough Funds Act], the but I must altogether deny the statement of the hon. Member, that it ha* worked well in the opinion of those who, I think, are best qualified to judge. On the contrary, there is no provision in the Municipal Acts which is more resented, and in my opinion properly resented, by corporations than this. It the corporations are really representative of the interests of the ratepayers—as in my contention, and as I think the experience of the past thirty years is sufficient to show—then I say you are bound to trust them wholly, and it is an unconstitutional proceeding to submit all their opinions and decisions to a meeting of ratepayers. Well now, this Bill does not go so far as the right hon. Gentleman. The ratepayers having had the privilege of deciding in open meeting, it is not pro-posed to take away all control from them, but it is proposed to give control in a more effective form. In fact,, it is on constitutional grounds that it has been determined to retain the control of the ratepayers. I should like to read what the First Lord of the Treasury said on this matter. In the course of a discussion in Committee on the London Government Bill, on the 9th May of last year, he said— I think, probably at no distant date, Parliament will take in hand the system which the right hon. Gentleman very justly describes as cumbersome, and will effectively simplify it. That reform would, of course, apply to the London boroughs, as it would to the country boroughs. I do not think we can in this Bill attempt to begin this system of reform; I should prefer a general Act to be passed, applicable to all boroughs."† The Solicitor General on the same occasion said— Surely the proper way of dealing with it [the Borough Funds Act] was by a general! reform of the law. The hon. Member for Stockton took part in the discussion, and made some observations as to the necessity of some provision of the nature of those contained in this Bill; and I may venture to say that the opinion of the House generally is strongly in favour of this Bill. I see my hon. friend the Under Secretary for * Of this speech (on The Electric Lighting Bill) a condensed report is given in The Parliamentary Debates [Third Series], Vol. celxxii., page 572. † For this and subsequent extracts, see The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. Ixxi., pages 184–189. the Home Office in his place, and I should like to say that on behalf of his Department he has expressed himself very sympathetically, and declared that his Department will give its approval to this Bill. I will cite one other authority -the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean. Although he had some doubts as to the success of the new London boroughs, he thought that the cumbersome machinery of the Borough Funds Act was extraordinarily costly, was out of date, and ought to be improved. Let me ask the House for a moment longer to consider what is the substitute which is proposed by the Bill. I repeat most emphatically, because there has been some misapprehension, that it is not proposed in any way to lessen, but rather to strengthen the control of the ratepayers. The House has heard the checks upon premature or ill-considered action. First there must be an advertisement for two successive weeks in a local paper stating the nature and object of the Bill which it is proposed to promote or to oppose. The title of the Bill has to be given, and the date of its deposit must be stated, and for twenty-one days any ratepayer is to have access to it at the town hall or other central place, and is to be at liberty to take extracts from it freely for his information, without any fee. I come to the point which I think is the chief reform in this matter. Instead of one there must be 100 ratepayers entitled to demand a poll, or one-twentieth of the whole constituency, whichever of the two may be the larger. I admit that that is a most drastic proposal. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies thought that the council ought to do it without reference to the ratepayers. We, however, take the proposals of the Government made through Lord Harris, and are quite content that 100 ratepayers or one-twentieth part of the constituency should be entitled to demand a poll. I venture to say, however, that in Committee this is to be regarded as a detail, and we shall leave it in the hands of the House. All we desire is that in principle there shall be a real demand by a substantial body of the constituency before a poll is granted. A form is given with full details and explanations as to the mode in which the poll is to be taken, so as to facilitate everything. I now pass to another reform proposed by the Bill, to which no exception, I am sure, can possibly be taken. Under the existing system the ratepayers have to say yea or nay to the Bill. It is a matter of the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill, or no Bill at all. That seems to me to be an extraordinary mode of putting the matter before the constituency. There is a tendency in the present day to divide Bills into parts. That, I think, is desirable. There may be one part for housing, another part for baths and wash houses, and another part for parks, etc. Now one part may be open to objection but all the other parts acceptable but the constituency has to reject the whole, and the result is that instead of one poll, it may be three will! require to be taken. The next and last reform which is proposed to be made is that the poll is to be assimilated to those of all other elections, and instead of having to put initials which puzzle a great many people, the ordinary form of indicating the vote by a cross is to be adopted, and it is to be applied to one clause or part of the Bill in favour or against. Then if the result of the poll is against the measure, or any clause or part of the Bill, the council or governing body of the urban sanitary authority is under compulsion to withdraw that particular part or clause. The only additional provision I desire to mention is that a proper provision is made that if a measure is rejected the costs up to the date of the rejection are to be paid out of the borough fund. I say up to that time, because we all know that there are certain costs to be paid in the early stages of these measures. I repeat this is an administrative measure seeking reform. It is no revolution whatever, and so far from taking the control from the ratepayers, it gives them a real and effective control instead of giving it to one ratepayer to effect that which they do not desire, and to throw ridicule on the whole proposals; the voting of the past is to be substituted by a modern and effective method. If the House approves this principle, the details can be discussed on the Committee stage, because I should propose that this Bill should be sent to the Standing Committee on Law. I therefore trust the House will allow the Second Heading to take place to-day, and that the Bill may eventually find its place in the Statute-book.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Albert Rollit.)


I do not wish to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, but I should like to suggest one or two improvements upon it. I do not think any serious complaint can be made by any municipality in the country in respect to the checks that are placed upon them in the promotion or opposition of Bills in Parliament under the Borough Funds Act, when we take into consideration the fact that out of £253,000,000, the indebtedness of our local authorities at the present time, no less than £120,000,000 or £13(), 000,000 is for remunerative purposes under powers obtained through the promotion of Bills through this House. I have no desire to oppose the municipalisation of some of our industries, such as water, gas, tramways, and electric lighting, and such like schemes; but I think, in the interest of the ratepayers, whenever a Bill is proposed to be promoted the utmost publicity should be given to the Bill so that the ratepayers might have some knowledge of the intention of the council. A Bill may involve expenditure of from £100,000 up to £1,000,000. Some corporations have expended more than the latter in the execution of gigantic waterworks; and when a municipality proposes to mortgage the interest of the ratepayers for a measure of that character, I contend that the rate payers ought to have some knowledge of i what is contained in the Bill. The point in dispute between me and the mover is in the use of this publicity. I am under the impression that the proposals of the { fourth clause in this Bill will not cure the evil of which he complains. There is a great improvement in that clause, because in former Bills it was proposed to take one-twentieth of the electors. Under this Bill there is a provision to give power to 100 electors, and then, after they have signed a request to the mayor, they can demand a poll. Now, here is where the danger lies. You can in any town obtain 100 men who will undertake to sign a requisition to the mayor to demand a poll, because the ratepayers have sometimes the greatest misconception as to what is contained in a Bill. Therefore, I should Like to preserve the right, which now exists, that before the promoters can proceed with a Bill there should be a public meeting of the ratepayers at which the Bill should be discussed. I know of a case of a Bill promoted in the present Parliament where, if this clause had been law, and the public meeting had not taken place, a poll would have been demanded, and the ratepayers would have been put to the enormous expense of a poll, but owing to the meeting being held and the measure being explained in a most explicit manner by the speaker, all opposition was done-away with and the Bill was promoted. That was one case, and would be the casein almost every town in the country. I must say there is a great tendency in all local bodies and municipalities to promote Bills without any legitimate cause. It is well known to everybody who has experience of municipal work that very often municipalities promote Bills at great cost to the ratepayers when they could obtain the same powers by a Provisional Order; and if it were not for the checks which the ratepayers have hitherto had many such Bills would have been promoted. lit this measure there is a great improvement. I believe in Clause 4 so far that I would take away the right for one man to demand a poll, but I would restore the right of public meeting; with this improvement in the clause the 100 ratepayers, after the public meeting, if they still objected, ought to have the right to demand a poll. I quite agree with what is said as to the method of taking, the poll; the present method is an antiquated and obsolete * one, and I also agree with the improvement in Clause 7, which is due to the hen. Member for Huddersfield, which provides that if a section of the ratepayers succeed in opposing successfully a particular part of any Bill, the whole Bill shall not be lost, but that the part which is not opposed may be proceeded with. The Bill, with the exceptions I have pointed out, is a great improvement on the existing law, and I would ask the Secretary to the Local Government Board in his reply to give some guarantee that the right of public meeting should be restored to the ratepayers of the country.

* MR. WARR (Liverpool, East Toxteth)

I cordially support the Second Reading of this measure. It proposes to substitute a reasonable method of obtaining the opinion of the ratepayers for the clumsy method now in force. Anyone who has seen the law in operation must admit that anything more unsatisfactory than the present method it is impossible to imagine. The idea that at a meeting of ratepayers for the purpose of con- sidering a measure a single voter can put such a town as Liverpool to the expense of about £1,500 for taking a poll is monstrous. In addition to that there is the absurdity that the opinion of the ratepayers can only be expressed on a Bill as a whole, and not on a particular part. Now I understand if this Bill comes into force, instead of the present clumsy method, it is provided that there shall be a poll only on the application of one hundred ratepayers, or one-twentieth of the whole number, whichever is the least, and this expression of opinion must be obtained not by filling up a house to house paper, but on a vote taken in the ordinary way. There will also be a provision which does not exist by which, if the proposed Bill is defeated, the expenses up to that point shall be borne by the borough funds. I think this Bill is sound in principle and deserves support.

* SIR JAMES WOODHOUSE (Huddersfield)

As one who has long taken an interest in this subject, I should like to say a few words in support of the Bill introduced by my hon. friend the Member for South Islington. It appears to me that the tendency of this House in recent years has been to withdraw the referendum and to rely entirely on the decision of the town council. This has been the case in respect of the establishment of public libraries. Until recently it was the law that public libraries could never be established in any borough throughout the country by the vote of a mere local authority without the opinion of the ratepayers was first taken at a public meeting, and then by the common law poll. This House has, however, recently said that the local councils were competent to deal with matters of that character, and so abolished the referendum, and the Parliament now leaves the local bodies with full responsibility. If that principle is sound, then in a case of this kind where the law has hedged round the interests of the ratepayers with all these safeguards, I do not think it is likely that the local authority will be able to get a Bill promoted in Parliament without it has a great consensus of opinion in its favour. The Bill introduced by my hon. friend is for the purpose of doing away with some absurdities and anomalies. I do not lay much stress on the vote of 100 ratepayers instead of one before the poll can be demanded: in my opinion the great improvement which the Bill introduces is that which prevents any persons, because they do not agree with ore clause of the Bill, throwing the whole Bill out. Any persons who have had as much municipal experience as myself know that in all these omnibus Bills, any cantankerous ratepayer, or any organised body of ratepayers can prevent 19-20ths of a Bill becoming law because they disagree with the l-20th part of it. I think no good really arises from the abolition of the public meeting, which on the one hand is a great safety valve, and on the other clears away much misconception. So far as that detail is concerned it is one which my hon. friend will, I hope, consider when the Bill comes into Committee. I hope the Secretary of the Local Government Board will give a sympathetic reception to this Bill, which will allow the ratepayers to express their assent or dissent with any measure which may be promoted in an effective manner. Let the measure be passed in such a form that where any strong objection is shown to one part of any local measure by the ratepayers the other part of the Bill shall not be sacrificed.

* SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)

The great principle of the Borough Funds Act that there should be some application to the principle of the referendum I believe to be an entirely sound principle, and I should be very sorry to depart from it. Town councils or authorities of that class have an immense amount of administrative authority, but no legislative authority. Legislation is outside the province of town councils, and where they seek new powers from Parliament they ought to seek a mandate from their constituents. The Borough Funds Act, I believe, does not work satisfactorily. Public meetings in many cases degenerate into a mere farce, and the conduct at such meetings has been such as to throw ridicule over the whole of the proceedings. But I certainly object to any law which allows one ratepayer to put the borough to the expense of a poll which, unless it is highly organised, does not ascertain the real opinion of the community. I welcome this Bill because it removes the objections I have often seen in my experience to the working of the Borough Funds Bill, and it preserves a principle which I desire to advocate—that there be a referendum in case of any town council applying for new powers or modification of existing powers After long experience, and what I have seen in the Committee rooms, I have good ground for approving and praising the action of town councils; but I have always found that some town councils do sometimes try to magnify their importance by seeking powers beyond what are necessary. Every new power is a restriction on the freedom of the subject. It may be desirable or otherwise, but in many cases it is a question which will not bear discussion, and the Committee have often acted with great wisdom when they refused to grant the powers which were sought. In my opinion this Bill will be a great improvement on the existing law and will remove many difficulties of administration from which we suffer at present.


My hon. friend who moved the Second Reading of this Bill correctly apprehended the attitude of the Government towards it. It is a wise and necessary amendment of the law, and the only note of discord is that which is struck by the hon. Member for Stockton. The point the hon. Member dealt with, however, was one of considerable importance. He was afraid that under this Bill the publicity which we all admit to be necessary, before any scheme ought to be passed, for ascertaining the minds of the ratepayers would be seriously interfered with. The law at present ensures first of all full discussion by the corporation itself. First of all there is the advertisement—that is not touched by this Bill; then there is the discussion in the corporation—that is not touched. Then follows the public meeting; under the present Bill that meeting would, no doubt, disappear. I am very far from suggesting that at these public meetings the matters brought before them are not properly or adequately discussed. Sometimes that is so, but sometimes it is not; but the idea of allowing a single voter in a public meeting to put the whole community of a town or city to the expense of a poll is and I think I do not go too far in making use of the expression—an absurdity. Under the present Bill one hundred ratepayers can demand a poll, and in that respect the Bill is much more reasonable than the present law. The details of the Bill will all be dealt with by the Committee on Law, to which my hon. friend proposes to send it, and I am certain will be properly dealt with. The Bill provides an improved machinery for taking the opinion of the ratepayers; it protects their interests, and does away with a most antiquated system of government, and I shall certainly support the Second Reading.

* MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)

was of opinion that those who had spoken on the Bill before the House would agree that it was an improvement on the Borough Funds Act. It was not many years since that proposals were made to abolish that Act altogether. Those who represented borough constituencies were sometimes expected to speak as if they represented in this House their municipal councils alone, but it was their duty sometimes to stand between those bodies on the one hand and the electors on the other. It occurred to him, therefore, that it was the duty of Borough Members to watch carefully Bills of the character of that before the House. In a Bill of this kind they ought to be careful to see that the rights of the inhabitants at large should not be lost sight of. He did not intend to suggest that the present law was satisfactory, and he was prepared to assent to modifications, but he thought the Bill gave the town council too much control in putting into force the regulations of the Borough Funds Act. He did not think they could say they were taking steps to get a fair representation of the opinions of the inhabitants of a borough unless they gave the same facilities for going to the poll as in the case of municipal or Parliamentary elections. Certainly that was not efficiently provided for in the Bill. Then the conducting of the elections was left entirely in the hands of the mayor and corporation. The Bill did not state whether the voting was to be by ballot, and it appeared to him to be a case in which it was pre-eminently desirable that the Ballot Act should be put in force. The electors in voting on a question of large additional expenditure might not be quite free to give an unbiassed judgment. In this House Members gave their votes openly, so that those who sent them to Parliament might have the opportunity of challenging their opinions on all subjects, but the electors voted in secret. So far as he knew at present there was no considerable number of Members, if there were any, who would desire to alter that system of voting. In his view the voting under this Bill ought to be by ballot. What might happen? He would state the sort of case that had come under his own observation. Some proposal was brought forward by the Town Council, and it was submitted to an excited public meeting. It might be that a considerable section of the population thought the proposal very good and that it ought to be sup- ported. It might also be that a large body of the more thoughtful and better qualified electors in the constituency took the other view, and that at all events the proposal, whatever it might be, should be postponed for a time for further consideration. While holding that opinion, they might be inclined to avoid, if possible, giving public expression to it. Under the protection of the ballot, which it ought to be made clear that they have under this Bill, they would have the opportunity of exercising their deliberate judgment free from any feeling of apprehension. He hoped also it would be made clear that the method of carrying out the election would not be left to the mayor and corporation to settle, but that it would be embodied in the Bill. These were points which could be discussed if the Bill went to a Committee, though he thought it would be more fair to have the measure considered in the whole House. There were many points of detail which he was rather disposed to think required careful consideration. It would be a misfortune to have the public meeting abolished. The preliminary ventilation of public opinion by a public meeting was frequently of the greatest benefit. There was another portion of the Bill which had been dealt rather lightly with—treated in fact almost as a matter of course. He doubted whether it was so much a matter of course as some were inclined to think. He alluded to the form proposed in Schedule No. 3 for putting the question before the electors. He had a little doubt as to the policy of dealing piecemeal with a Bill under this proposal. On the whole, he was disposed to take a favourable view of the Bill, but he thought it was a doubtful measure in certain respects. He desired to reserve his judgment on the details until they came to be considered. He thought the Bill ought to be considered in Committee of the whole House.

MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

I think the proposal to refer these questions to a public meeting is an extremely valuable portion of the Bill, and I agree with the hon. Member for Stockton when he says he should be sorry to see that principle abandoned. At the same time I agree with my hon. friend the Secretary to the Local Government Board when he says the law as it stands now is capable of improvement. My hon. friend has said that one crank could stifle legislation, or, it might be, cause expense in opposing it. That of course is quite true. There are always some people, whether you call them cranks or faddists, who form some peculiar idea which is singular to themselves, and who are ready to go any length to further a particular idea, and unfortunately this kind of people are just the people who would attend a public meeting, which the ordinary elector, unless extremely interested for or against a particular project, does not take the trouble to attend. The crank or faddist is sure to make a point of attending a public meeting in order to promote his particular fad. I therefore think it would be right to put some restriction on the power of public meeting. If the hon. Member desires to retain the right of public meeting, and at the same time make it a more efficient arrangement, the question is, how can that best be brought about? Though the Bill is a step in the right direction I think it will require some amendment in Committee. I do not think an advertisement in a newspaper for one day in two successive weeks is sufficient. It may be put in a corner of a newspaper, and it may escape notice altogether. If we desire to retain the public meeting we should take some better means than that of informing the; electors of the borough that some project is on foot. Then, with regard to the number of ratepayers necessary to demand a poll, the Bill provides that it shall be 100—rather a large order. It would be very difficult, I think, except in boroughs where the ratepayers are particularly enthusiastic in attending to their duties, to get together 100 ratepayers to consent to any particular reform. These are, perhaps. questions to be dealt with in Committee, but I think that the preservation of public meeting is so valuable that before we proceed to pass the Second Heading of the Bill we should express our opinion on this particular point in it, which really strikes at the root of the whole matter. I hope, therefore, that whether the Bill goes before a Com- mittee of the whole House or the Standing Committee on Law, steps will be taken to ensure that the ratepayers shall know without looking in a local newspaper to find out what is going on, and what is going to take place, and that a more reasonable number shall be required to demand a poll. I think one hundred is too large. Then I observe by Clause 12, Section 4 of the Borough Funds Act of 1882 is to be repealed. I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill whether the Bill proposes to do away with the opposition altogether, and prevent the ratepayers from opposing the Bill.


That is not the proposition. That has been held to be an inherent right on the part of bodies who are affected, and really it is quite a secondary question.


I do not object to that. All I wanted to understand was how the matter stood. I shall vote for the Second Reading if a division is taken, and I hope steps will be taken in Committee with regard to the few points I have referred to.

* MR. HELDER (Whitehaven)

I am strongly of opinion that it is very desirable that a public meeting should be held. It is true that there is to be an advertisement in a newspaper, but it is not everybody who sees these advertisements. The general body of the ratepayers are not members of the corporation, and they have no means of expressing their opinion or criticising the Bill that is proposed to be adopted by the Corporation. Therefore it follows that there ought to be a public meeting as is at present the rule, and then those who choose to attend can express their opinions and very valuable information may be obtained in that way. If that course is taken it does not follow that the Bill submitted for consideration is not good and desirable in many respects, but there may be clauses or propositions in it that are not so valuable and ought to be thoroughly considered before the Bill is brought before Parliament. Under these circumstances I do not see how you are to do away with the public meeting, and I hope that when this Bill comes before the Committee on Law, or whatever Committee it may be referred to, that they will consider that point and leave the inhabitants and ratepayers of the various burghs the right to express their opinions. I shall be very glad if the result of this Bill is to improve the manner in which Bills are brought forward, and I hope that there may be a saving of expense. It is quite possible that when this Bill comes before the Committee Amendments will be introduced, especially with regard to the holding of public meetings, which will make it a very useful measure. I observe in the Bill, and it is rather peculiar —rather putting the cart before the horse—that after advertisements have been issued any person who objects is to send in notice requiring a poll. It is very strange that you are to send in notice of a poll before having an opportunity of discussing the measure, when explanations might render a poll unnecessary. I hope when the Bill comes back from committee it will be considered a good Bill, but there are Amendments which I think might be useful.

COLONEL PILKINGTON (Lancashire, Newton)

I would not have taken part in this debate had it not been for this question of public meeting. I believe there is a certain amount of opposition to the Bill in the constituencies by reason of the right of public meeting being left out. In the course of this debate my hon. friend the Secretary to the Local Government Board has most emphatically and distinctly said that the right of public meeting is to a certain extent unnecessary. He gave that as his opinion. That, no doubt, will now be the opinion of the Government when the Bill goes into. Committee, and that position, unless we try to shake it to-day, will be maintained, and the right of public meeting will not be provided for in the Bill. This is a question which ought to receive very great consideration from the House. If the right of public meeting can do no good it certainly can do no harm. It very often happens that discussion does a great deal of good, that opposition is done away with, and that the position is very much simplified. I hope when the Bill emerges from the Committee on Law that it will contain a provision retaining the right of public meeting.


The abolition of the public meeting would very materially change the procedure under which this House has dealt with Bills coming from public bodies. It has always hitherto been the custom, I believe, in the case of public bodies that a public meeting should be held. My hon. friend, who is so well acquainted with these matters, will be able to inform us whether there are any proposals that may be brought forward without such a public meeting. In case of all the Bills which I have personal knowledge of it is absolutely necessary that there should be a public meeting.


There is the Public Libraries Act.


I thought my hon. friend would be able to inform me. I think he acknowledges that there is an exception. There is another reason which I think makes it all the more important that the right of public meeting should be retained, and that is that in large boroughs a poll must involve considerable trouble and expense, and it is very probable that a public meeting would obviate the necessity for a poll. If the citizens gather together in a common hall and have an opportunity of expressing their views, they might be satisfied that a poll was not necessary, whereas if there was no public meeting there might be some people who would endeavour to get up a poll and thereby involve the ratepayers in considerable cost. For that reason, as well as the fact that we should be breaking through an old Parliamentary custom, I hope we may be assured that, if this Bill is read a second time to-day, the right of public meeting will be retained when we see it again in this House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to the Standing Committee on Law, etc.