HC Deb 04 May 1900 vol 82 cc736-42

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

MR. URE (Linlithgowshire)

I rise to move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months. The motion is, I am aware, an unprecedented one, but in fairness to myself, I think I may point out that the Bill too is unprecedented, The promoters are the Edinburgh Lunacy Board, and in Scotland, as in other countries, it is the duty of a lunacy board to take care of pauper lunatics. It has no other duty, and it has no right to convert itself into a railway company, a water company, or a sewerage company. Now I understand that the Edinburgh Lunacy Board have under their care some 600 people deprived permanently or temporarily of their reason. In seeking to provide accommodation for those lunatics, they have obtained statutory power to erect an asylum, and, in casting about for a site, they chanced upon a spot fourteen miles from Edinburgh, and in the county which I have the honour to represent. They purchased an estate of 861 acres at a cost of £13,000, and they propose to expend a quarter of a million sterling in erecting the asylum. Anyone who is acquainted with these matters must be well aware that the estimate will probably be exceeded by many thousands of pounds. As to whether it is necessary that they should proceed on this heroic scale I have nothing to say, because I have no information in my possession to enable me to judge whether this accommodation is absolutely required for these 600 lunatics. Besides that, the board have already obtained power to erect the asylum, But they are seeking other powers to which think I am justified in objecting, and hence my reason for challenging this Bill at the present stage. They propose not only to erect an asylum, but also to become proprietors of a railway on which it is intended to carry goods and passengers. The railway, no doubt, is a short one, about one and a half miles in length, but it is proposed to take statutory powers to charge three penceper mile for first-class passengers and one penny per mile for third class. The usual limitations as to the free carriage of luggage of passengers are also embodied in the Bill. It seems to me somewhat strange for a lunacy board to take such powers. Certainly they do not propose to work the line themselves, for they have entered into an agreement with one of the big railway companies to do it for them, and in consideration thereof the company is to take 50 per cent. of the receipts, it being understood that the minimum payment shall be £1,500 per year. That works out at something like £25 per week per mile, and inasmuch as even the most prosperous lines earn only £18 per week per mile, it is a little extravagant to suppose that this small line will earn so much more. This does not exhaust my objection to the Bill. The lunacy board are not content with becoming a railway company. They aspire also to become a water company. They have purchased an estate of 861 acres, while they propose to secure an additional catchment area of 700 odd acres for the purpose of supplying water to these 600 lunatics. It seems to me that this is rather an extravagant arrangement, for it is quite obvious that such a catchment area would give far more water than is required for 600 people. But it is admitted by the promoters, with frankness, that they propose to supply water to outsiders; indeed, they ask for power to do so, and the Edinburgh ratepayers, if it is granted, will be in this position. If the lunacy board's railway and water speculations turn out successful undertakings they will have to pay nothing for their lunatics; but if, on the other hand, they turn out commercial failures, then the cost of the lunatics to the public will be enhanced to the extent of the loss on the railway and water scheme. The promoters of this measure are a statutory body. They have no duty but the care and benefit of lunatics. As to their qualification for that I have studiously refrained from inquiring, but seeing that they are now proposing to become railway directors and water commissioners, I think we are entitled to ask what special qualifications they possess for such positions. They propose, further, to take certain powers for dealing with sewerage. All these proposals are, I submit, outside the proper powers and duties of the lunacy board, and I may add that I am supported in.my opposition by the inhabitants of Bathgate, one of the largest towns in my constituency—a town which, with its small rateable area and limited water supply, has a claim on this catchment area. On these grounds I beg to move the resolution of which I have given notice.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the word? 'upon this day six months.'"—(Mr. Ure.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

* SIR LEWIS McIVER (Edinburgh, W.)

Now that the hon. and learned Member has perpetrated his joke with all the honours, he will perhaps see the propriety of allowing the House to proceed to the important public business which is set down for discussion to-night. I say "joke" advisedly, since no one, least of all the hon. and learned Member himself, can take this motion seriously, and now that he has amused at least himself for fifteen minutes I think he might gracefully allow his motion to be negatived without a division. The hon. and learned Member apparently does not assent, and I must therefore follow him over some of the wide ground he has covered. The impression that he has conveyed to those who do not know the facts is that we, the promoters of the Bill, are fired by most lawless ambitions. That we are, in fact, a private party, seeking in the name of the lunatic asylum, and in the face of much just op- position from public bodies, to become at once a railway company, a water company, and a sewage farm. Well, as a matter of fact, all that part of the speech was mere rhetorical flourish. We are not a private party, we are a public body, a statutory body, endeavouring to fulfil statutory and compulsory obligations, and we are doing this with the approval or assent of all the public bodies interested, at all events with no opposition from any public body. We have the support of the Scottish Office, of the General Lunacy Board, of the county council. We do not want to become a railway company or a water company. It is true that, on the face of it, our Bill would suggest some justification for these charges, but then the hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well that this is not the case in fact; and although our Bill is nominally a railway Bill, three-fourths of our clauses are purely formal and inoperative, and are inserted merely to satisfy the established procedure of Parliament. A few words will make this clear to the House. In discharge of our statutory obligations we are about to build a lunatic asylum. For purposes of convenience and economy in construction we have built ourselves a little railway, one and three-quarter miles long, on our own property. This we are perfectly entitled to do without coming to Parliament, just as the hon. and learned Member may build himself a toy railway in his back garden. Our railway has cost us £20,000, and saves us £20,000 in the cartage of building material, and remains a valuable and permanent asset. In order to extract this value in the future by carrying passengers and goods to the asylum, we are obliged to invoke the assistance of one of the great railway companies to work our little line on the usual terms; but before this can be done the one and three-quarter miles on our ground must be clothed with Parliamentary power, that is to say, with statutory protection and statutory obligations. That is the whole story about the railway. With regard to the charge that we seek to be made a water company, the sole foundation is that at the request of the county council we are asking for powers to part with our surplus water to some of the neighbouring districts which the county council could not itself supply except at a very great expense. That I think disposes of the hon. and learned Member's larger and vaguer charges. But, when we come to the real ground of his attack, it is clear that the hon. and learned Member's forensic enthusiasm has been largely reinforced by a perfervid imagination. He imagines that he has got a client, and he imagines that that client has got a case; whereas the facts are that he has not got a client, and the client that he has not got has not got a case. Bath-gate is the supposed client, a charming picturesque town, with an intelligent and humorous, if slightly fickle, population. I know they are intelligent, because they greatly approved of the only speech I ever delivered to them. And when I say "fickle" I only mean that the second thoughts of Bathgate are generally bettor than their first. To illustrate that, I may say that the speech I have just referred to was devoted to persuading the intelligent people of beautiful Bathgate not to elect the hon. and learned Member as their representative in Parliament. On that occasion they accepted my advice. Later Bathgate changed its mind, and in consequence of that second thought this House is now adorned by the presence and eloquence of the hon. and learned Member. Well, Sir, in the present case also Bathgate's second thoughts, have been wiser and better than her first. In another place Bathgate opposed our Bill, and asserted a claim to the silver mine burn. That claim was rejected by the Lords Committee. Since then Bathgate has discovered that even if the claim were allowed she could not afford to pay for its exercise. Consequently intelligent Bathgate has discreetly dropped her opposition to the Bill. And so, although my hon. and learned friend has got a most intelligent constituency, he has got no client in this case, and it is therefore somewhat difficult to realise the ground or motive of his opposition. But, Mr. Speaker, I have to appeal to the House to disregard this opposition, upon the broader ground of Parliamentary practice. No doubt the custom of opposing Private Bills on Second Reading is alarmingly on the increase, and it is one greatly to be deprecated. But the present case, happily, is one almost without precedent. This Bill in substance, whatever may be its external appearance, is a most simple and ordinary one. It has passed through all its stages in the other house, including a most searching investigation in Committee. In this House it is practically unopposed for its Committee stage. And to refuse it a Second Reading here seems to me to amount to almost a discourtesy to the Committee which has already examined it, and I would appeal to the House to stand by the traditions of Parliament, and I following the usual procedure, to send this Bill upstairs.


The hon. Member who has just addressed the House has, if I may be permitted to say so, put his case a little too high. I do not take the same stand, for I think the House is indebted to the hon. Member for Linlithgow for having called attention to the peculiar character of the Bill before it. It is a Bill to enable a lunacy board to convert itself into a railway company, and a water company, and to establish a sewage farm. Certainly these are not proposals of an ordinary character. I do not say that it may not be very desirable in this particular case to confer those powers. It may be of advantage to the asylum to have its own railway instead of being required to convey its patients and its stores to the building over rough roads. But still I do think the House is indebted to the hon. Member for having called attention to the peculiar features of this Bill. We have heard a good deal lately on the subject of municipal trading, but this Bill seems to be municipal trading gone mad. I rise, not for the purpose of objecting to the Bill, but to say that, in my opinion, it is a matter which deserves consideration. I therefore hope it will be sent to a Committee.


I do not propose to take any part in the contention which has arisen between the hon. Members for Linlithgowshire and West Edinburgh. Both gentlemen are well able to take care of themselves. It would have been within the power of the Scotch Office to have stopped the whole proceeding, and I will tell the House why it was that without deciding on the merits of the Bill we agreed that a proper Bill had been presented for the consideration of Parliament. This lunatic asylum scheme is one of unparalleled magnitude, and in view of the situation selected for it we thought it was obvious the construction of a railway would be of great public advantage, not merely for the conveyance of patients and stores, but also to friends of the poorer inmates of the institution by giving them greater facilities for visiting. I think it will be obvious, too, that the proposals as to water and sewage may be desirable, although as to them I am not personally prepared to express any definite opinion. That being so I hope the House will allow the Bill to go upstairs, where the various difficulties which have been suggested can be dealt with by a Committee in the ordinary way.


I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed.