HC Deb 08 May 1900 vol 82 cc1041-55

Order for Consideration, as amended, read.

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


In submitting to the House the motion which stands in my name, I am conscious that it is one of a not very usual character, but still, if the necessity arose, I should be able to show that there are abundant precedents for the House under the special circumstances referring the Bill back to the Committee which considered it. Notwithstanding the decision of the Committee, I feel to-day that I shall be able to satisfy the House that there are special and exceptional cases which justify us in asking the Committee which has considered this Bill to further consider its provisions. I am not going to ask the House to reverse the determination of the Committee upon the merits or demerits of a particular scheme that has been placed before it, but I am going to invite the House to express its judgment upon a special Report which has been made to the House by this particular Committee under special and exceptional circumstances, and I am going to ask the House to say that that Report is, under the circumstances, not one which the House is prepared to adopt, but that the Committee ought to take back this Bill and reconsider the provisions which it has deleted from it. The Committee, with regard to this Bill, has made a special Report to the House that the Bill sought power to make tramways within and also without the borough with the consent of the local authorities in whose districts they would be constructed, and who supported the scheme. But the Committee are of opinion that, having regard to the intended appointment of a Joint Committee to consider the question of municipal trading, they would not be justified in sanctioning the proposed tramway outside the borough except in the case of a short length of three yards in the urban district of Linthwaite, which will be in connection with the tramway of that district, leased with the sanction of the Board of Trade to and to be worked by the corporation. The short point which I wish to bring under the consideration of the House with regard to the special Report of the Committee is this. It is contended that the question of municipal trading is, because of the appointment of a Committee, sub judice and therefore this Private Bill Committee refused to Huddersfield and outside districts, which unanimously requested them, powers to have tramway traction between the borough and these districts, until the Municipal Trading Committee reported. I should like to ask the indulgence of the House whilst I very briefly explain the proposals of the Bill. The Bill is one which sought to empower the corporation to construct tramways in six different sections in various urban districts outside the borough of Huddersfield. Huddersfield cannot alter its physical configuration. It is the centre of a large manufacturing district, and radiating from the centre there are a number of tramways constructed by and in the possession of the corporation, and the whole of the surrounding urban districts, six in number, come to the Huddersfield Corporation and say, "We wish to have tramways connected upon your tramways, and we ask you to go to Parliament and get powers to have this done." At the unanimous request of each of these authorities, and at the unanimous request of each parish council in each of these authorities, with the cordial endorsement of the South West Riding County Council, Huddersfield comes before the Private Bill Committee to present this case, and being willing to construct and work tramways to these populous districts, surrounding its connection with their own tramway system. The position is especially peculiar in this way. It is not a question of municipal trading at all. Huddersfield, in the first place, sought to become possessed of municipal tramways net for any special desire to do so, but because it was helpless. Twenty years ago it desired tramway traction. It could not have it at the instance of any company. It came to Parliament to get powers to acquire tramways and lease them to any company that would take them. One company tried and failed. The tram- ways lay idle. They came to Parliament and said, "We cannot get any company to lease these tramways; will you empower us to work them"? Parliament was extremely jealous in those days of entrusting rights of this kind to corporations, and said, "We will only allow you to work them under the licence of the Board of Trade, and upon the Board of Trade being satisfied that no lessee will take and work them themselves." They tried to get a lessee to work them, but no lessee was forthcoming. The Board of Trade held an inquiry, but obtained no lessee, and being satisfied that no lessee could be obtained, they empowered Huddersfield, under licence of the Board of Trade, to work its own tramways. It continued to do so until 1897, in which year Huddersfield got from Parliament absolutely unrestricted power to work its own tramways on its own undertakings, and has done so successfully and to the profit and advantage of the ratepayers ever since. Another circumstance happened in 1898. One urban authority in a district lying on the circumference of the outside circle of which Huddersfield is the centre, obtained a Provisional Order to construct its own tramways. It tried, but found it could not do so advantageously, but could do it better by associating itself with the generating station in Huddersfield, and it came to Huddersfield and said, "Will you take a lease of the tramways if we construct them?" Huddersfield replied, "We will if we can have a forty-five years lease. We will not do so upon a twenty-one years lease limited by the Tramway Act of 1870." The Board of Trade said, "We will give this power, but subject to the condition under the Tramway Act of 1870, under a twenty-one years lease." That was not satisfactory, and the Board of Trade hold an inquiry, and wore satisfied that such were the local difficulties and the special circumstances that a special power ought to be conferred upon this contiguous suburb to have its powers for forty-five instead of twenty-one years. They were granted the powers, and the tramways are now being worked. That is a special local circumstance to which I wish to draw the attention of the House, because it has a most important effect upon the Standing Order which this House has laid down, and which was under the consideration of the Committee. Linthwaite, one of the suburbs having tramway connection with Huddersfield and other surrounding suburbs, come to Huddersfield and say unanimously, "We wish Huddersfield to connect us with their tramways." The situation is a difficult one. There are valleys running at the bottom of great hills, and the gradients are extremely steep. The population is very widely scattered, and the area is so extensive—I believe it is 12,000 acres—as to make it, with the exception of the last expansion in Liverpool, larger than the area of the whole of that city. In those circumstances these communities, employers and employees, manufacturers and workmen, the whole of the residents, with a large batch of evidence, came before this Committee and said: "It is essential to the development of our district that we should have this tramway connection with Huddersfield, which is our centre." Who were the opponents before the Committee? One only—the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company. Why did they oppose? Upon the ground that it might compete with their traffic, which only touches the fringe of one place. Anyone who knows anything about tramway traction knows that whilst a railway is to serve from one point to another distant point, tramways which radiate from a centre can pick up and set down passengers along the route, and railways do not meet the question at all. So far as railway competition is concerned, one of the railways—the London and North Western —who are even more affected, who run parallel with the proposed tramway to Marsden, although they petitioned, did not appear before the Committee at all. They have acquiesced in the proposal, and one of my hon. friends on the other side of the House, who sits for a Division of Manchester, and is a director of the London and North-Western Railway, is supporting us in this proposal. Under these circumstances, I want to point out what the position was, and I want now to come to the point upon which the Committee has specially reported to the House. They reported that they had not entertained this proposal with regard to these outside tramways, because the Government were intending to propose the appointment of a Committee on Municipal Trading. But this is not a case of municipal trading at all. It is a question solely of the good government of the district; and who can be so well able to determine that good government as the whole community who live in the district? It is not a question of our aggressively going into these districts against their wish. It is a question of our going at their special request and invitation, and giving them what they will not otherwise be able to obtain. It is not a question of our wanting to compete with or keep out a private company. No private enterprise could ever have given the people of Huddersfield the tramways which they possess. Neither can any private enterprise give the people, in consequence of the difficulties of the district, those services of locomotion outside, and, therefore, it is a question of their either getting it in this way or going without it altogether. Why should the community be deprived of these conveniences, which have of late years been given to other large towns in numerous instances? Since this Committee reported, the House, by another Committee, has actually granted these very powers to Bradford, and never said a word about the Municipal Trading Committee; and the House of Lords, which is not supposed to be very democratic in its consideration of these matters, has also granted similar power to work tramways outside its district to the borough of Burnley. If the House of Lords thinks it right to grant them to Burnley, and the House of Commons thinks it right to grant them to Bradford, why should they be refused to Huddersfield and the surrounding districts? It may be said the scheme is extensive. I wish to deal with that point, It is extensive only in the fact that the suburbs around are extensive, and that Huddersfield is the centre of the circle. It is not one great continuous length of tramway, but the suburbs extend from the centre in different directions. Another circumstance has arisen since the Committee reported. It is an important declaration by the Minister responsible in this House for the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking on the night after the debate in this House upon the question of municipal trading at a great public dinner, and in the presence of the representatives of the local authorities throughout this country, said he felt it necessary to deal with the proposition which has been submitted to this House. In the course of his speech he said one of the main duties of a municipality was to serve the interest of their own people in their own area, and even then there ought to be considerable latitude. The right hon. Gentleman continued— Now I take for a moment the case of tramways. The tramways were always useful, most useful, and, as far as I can form an opinion, they are likely to be much more so in the future, and I am greatly interested in the subject, which very closely at the present moment concerns myself. One of the greatest problems of the present day is how we are to improve the housing of the poorer classes of this country. Without detaining the House with a long extract from this speech I may remark that the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to say that the way to deal with the question was to provide cheap facilities for getting from the towns into the suburbs, and to do that not only by means of cheap trains, but also by means of cheap trams. Then he added these significant words— There must be some means of cheap and effective communication for the many thousands in this country to bring the people practically close to their work. Some people recommend the cheap trains, and undoubtedly the cheap trains might do a great deal; but, in my own humble judgment, they must in any case be supplemented by the provision of cheap tramways, and, with the cheap tramways, subject to this condition, which I feel should be entirely in the hands of the local authorities. There, I think, is an instance in which the rights of local authorities ought not to be strictly limited to dealing within their own area. That is precisely my point. This Committee wants to hang up the question of granting these powers to local authorities surrounding them, whereas the President of the Local Government Board says that they ought not to be restricted to dealing in their own area if they are going to give effect to the important principle which he wishes to have imposed on the country—namely, that of solving the question of the housing of the working classes by giving them cheap travelling facilities. That declaration of the President of the Local Government Board has been made since the debate on municipal trading and since the Report of this Committee. I humbly and respectfully submit to the House that it never was within the purview of the Government or of the House that, it should refuse to municipalities that which has been granted year by year for a large number of years past—the power of constructing and working their trams outside their own district. If I could bring to the knowledge of the House the special and particular configuration of this district by inviting the House to walk over it, I am quite sure the House would not hesitate for a moment to realise these special and local circumstances. I ask that the Committee should consider this Bill on its merits, and I am satisfied that if these powers are granted by the Committee it will be the means of conferring upon that district, at their own request, by their governing authorities, who have the best means of understanding the wishes of the people, the means of developing their district and promoting its welfare. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name on the Paper.

* MR. TREVELYAN (Yorkshire, W.R., Elland)

I wish to second the proposal of my hon. friend in order to illustrate the unanimity of feeling which exists throughout this whole district. I am the representative of the country lying on one side of Huddersfield. I can speak to the absolute unanimity of the people in that district. The people of Yorkshire are not a hasty people in coming to their decisions. They do not start half-baked schemes of legislation when they come to this House, and the people of Huddersfield have proved themselves so thoroughly capable of managing their tramways that exist at present, that with one voice the surrounding districts have asked them to come out and give them the advantages of this municipal undertaking. I think there is only one serious argument which we need anticipate on the part of those who may possibly oppose the recommittal, and that is that our course is unusual. It is so, and we have only taken it as a retort to the unusual course of the Committee itself. If it had been a case of the Committee having decided this question upon its merits we should never have come down with such a curious proposition as to ask to refer the question again to the Committee. We have come here to ask the House to recommit the Bill because the Committee practically by their report have asked the House to give them advice as to the line they shall take. The Committee refused to pass these clauses, but simply because there was a Committee to be appointed to inquire into the whole matter of municipal trading, and the Committee chose to interpret the object of the House in appointing that Committee as being to decide whether tramways were to go outside the boundaries of municipalities. What we say is that the Committee have interpreted the prevailing feeling in the House wrongly, and that the object of appointing the Municipal Trading Committee was not to put a stop for the next eighteen months to municipal progress, and to the passing of municipal schemes by Private Bill. The object has been declared by the President of the Local Government Board, on behalf of the Government, not to be in any sense to put a stop to municipal enterprise. In the speech from which quotations have already been made he assured the Association of Municipal Corporations that he is certain there is no desire or intention in the smallest degree on the part of this Government to do anything whatever that could in the slightest degree be antagonistic to the privileges and rights of municipalities. I think we are entitled to ask at any rate that the Government should not oppose the recommittal of this Bill, for after all one ounce of action on the part of the Government is of great deal more worth to us than a ton of protest on their part that they are not anxious to attack the development of corporations. I think we may at least hope the Government will leave it to the House to decide without throwing their power in the balance as to whether this Bill should be recommitted or not. After all it is a very serious thing if the corporations are to know that for the next eighteen months they cannot promote municipal undertakings, because it will depend upon the whim of the Committee whether they adopt the excuse of the Municipal Trading Committee or not. We ask that the Bill should be recommitted, and that the chance should be given to Huddersfield to have their Bill decided on its merits. There are, no doubt, some hon. Members opposite who expect that this Committee on Municipal Trading may lay down certain rules to prevent municipal enterprise from spreading outside the limits of boroughs under certain circumstances. Such a Committee would possibly find that there were cases where the agency of private companies was desirable instead of municipalities, but the case in question could not come under any rule except such an absolute hard and fast and mandatory rule as would prevent any extension outside municipalities. The larger part of this district is a small area, full of industrial communities, enclosed in a triangle with sides, perhaps, seven miles long, at each angle of which is a great city—Bradford, Huddersfield, and Halifax. It has never been suggested that that district could possibly be served "with tramways by one private company. All the local bodies in that district are intensely anxious to have Bradford and Huddersfield and Halifax sending out their tramways, and there is this additional reason for allowing these great communities to have the management of the tramways in that district, that a great part of the district will probably be gradually absorbed by these corporations before many years are passed. It is therefore almost absolutely certain that no rules will be laid down which would prevent the tramways spreading into these districts. I hope the House will act on the recommendation of my hon. friend, and be content to send back the Bill to be considered on its merits by the Committee, which has not yet decided upon them.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the words from the word 'Bill' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'be re-committed to the former Committee.'"—(Sir James Woodhouse.)

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

MR. JEFFREYS (Hampshire, Basingstoke)

In discussing this Amendment I ought first to thank the hon. Gentlemen who so courteously agreed to postpone it last week because I was unable to be present. I will also say that this is not a party or a political question, although I happen to sit on one side of the House and the hon. Member for Huddersfield on the other. It is entirely a question for the House, and in coming to a decision the Committee, of which I was Chairman, was guided by the rules of the Mouse. I propose only to say a few words in support of its decision. In the first place we heard the speeches of learned counsel, we listened to the witnesses with much patience, and, after a hearing which lasted two or three days, we gave our decision in the terms to which my hon. friend has alluded. But with regard to the wishes of the local authorities outside the borough of Huddersfield, I think the hon. Gentleman has made some mistake, for, although we found in the course of the evidence that they were willing to acquiesce in the scheme, we also discovered that none of them supported it in any way by giving a single penny to the scheme or taking any part in the proceedings. They only said they would be glad to have this system of tramways, but they took no action to secure it. Now, we in the Committee were guided in our decision by the Standing Order 170A, which provides that— No powers shall be given to any local authority to construct, acquire, take on lease or work any tramway, or portion of tramway, beyond the limits of their district, unless such tramway or portion of tramway is in connection with the tramway belonging to or authorised to be constructed, acquired, or worked by the local authority, and unless the Committee on the Bill shall determine that, having regard to the special local circumstances, such construction, acquisition, taking on lease, or working ought to be sanctioned. That was the chief ground on which we decided. The Bill sought very extensive powers. It was not a short tramway which was proposed to be made, for on the map which was placed before us in the committee room the trams were drawn out exactly like the spokes of a cart wheel in all directions, and I believe the aggregate length was something like fifty-two miles. It was, therefore, a large and extensive scheme which the Huddersfield Corporation asked us to approve. There was another clause brought under our notice by learned counsel of which we were bound to take notice. Clause 3 of the Railways Act, 1896, says— A council shall not construct or work any light railway wholly or partly outside their district except jointly with the council of the outside area.


This is not a light railway.


I know it is not a light railway, but the argument of the learned counsel was that this clause went to show that it was not the intention of Parliament that municipalities should extend these undertakings outside their own area, except under special circumstances. Now, I should like to refer to some of the remarks of the learned counsel, Mr. Littler, Q.C., who has had very great experience in these matters.


What has he to do with it?


He represented a railway company. I think his remarks are well worthy attention at the hands of the House. Reference had been made to the fact that the Corporation worked the Linthwaite tramways, and he pointed out how it was that the Huddersfield Corporation got powers to work that tramway which had already been constructed. It was not, therefore, analagous to a case of starting a new tramway. He said— I do not know of any instance in which so barefacedly have corporations gone in for asking the authority of Parliament for municipal trading powers to such an extent. He also said that— The reason why the Corporation of Huddersfield got power to work their tramways was that they did not pay in other hands. They could not get anyone else to do it, and, as the trams were in existence, they were allowed to work them. Further, he said that the proposed extension was beyond anything he had ever had experience of. Then he reminded us very properly that already the debt of Huddersfield amounted to £2,890,000, and if the powers asked for under the present Bill were granted, another £400,000 would have to be raised, and he suggested that that was a very large amount indeed to add to the debt of Huddersfield, especially if it. were done in contravention of the orders of the House. Now, we fully considered these matters. Counsel made long speeches, to which we listened attentively. It was urged, among other things, that the outside areas themselves could not carry out this scheme. But then we were bound to remember that that was because they were aware the system would have to be worked at a loss; therefore when the hon. Member for Huddersfield tells us that the outside authorities support the Bill I reply that "no doubt they do." They are willing to have the tramways, but they are not willing to pay a farthing in any shape or way in order to get them. The hon. Gentleman has said that a great many other schemes of a similar nature have been passed, but I believe the first was the Glasgow Corporation Act of 1870. He also alluded to other pre- cedents, but those he quoted were Bills which came before the Police and Sanitary Committee. And I fail to see how such precedents are applicable to this case. The Police and Sanitary Committee is not a Railway or Tramway Committee, but it has referred to it omnibus Bills, which include all sorts of matters. In regard to one particular case mentioned by my hon. friend, I find that the noble Lord the Chairman of the Committee, in his Report, says that the Bradford Corporation Bill proposes to make tramways beyond the limits of the borough, to be in connection with tramways authorised to be constructed within the borough limits, and the Committee were of opinion that, having regard to the special circumstances of the case, the Bill should be allowed to proceed. But that was very different to the Bill which we had before us. The tramways were not in existence. There was no communicating line of the kind mentioned by the noble Lord in the Bradford case. Neither was the Bradford scheme so extensive as that from Huddersfield. At at any rate we came to the decision we did because we thought it would be contrary to Standing Order 170A, and because we thought that as a Committee had to be appointed to deal with the question of municipal trading it was well that we should not pass the scheme so far as the outside areas were concerned until that Committee had reported. We thought it was only due to the House that we should take that course. I need hardly say that I have no interest in the matter what ever, I am not connected with any syndicate or company, and that in deciding the matter I desired to be guided by the rules and orders of the House. If the House decides that these tramways outside the borough ought to be made the Committee will, I am sure, willingly fall in with their view. But I repeat that we felt we were only doing our duty in refusing this extensive scheme until we had the direct sanction of the House.

MR. ARNOLD (Halifax)

I have risen to address the House on this point because the matter is one of the most absorbing interest for all the districts around Huddersfield. No doubt locomotion from place to place is very difficult. They are only anxious they should have the same privileges as are already possessed by Halifax. I think the House hardly knows what can be done by means of these electric trams, but I may illustrate what is possible by pointing out what we have already compassed in Halifax by means of these electric trams. With such an enormous advantage to the community, is it possible to imagine that the privileges granted to Halifax are going to be refused to the districts outside Huddersfield? When the Light Railways Act was passed it was understood that its provisions would also apply to trams, and that when a community wanted a tramway system, it should get it with the sanction of the Board of Trade without the enormous expense of applying for an Act of Parliament. Unfortunately, some cloud of apprehension in regard to municipal trading has come over this Committee, and they have refused this Bill. But surely the Committee on Municipal Trading is not going to inquire into that question so far as gas and water works are concerned. That point has been settled already, and you have not very far to travel from Huddersfield to discover that municipal trading in tramways has also been settled. I hope, in view of the fact that this is a matter of absorbing interest to the populaces of these manufacturing villages—we may call them towns, for their inhabitants number from 5,000 to 10,000—this House will order that this Bill be reconsidered by the Committee. Comment has been made on the fact that these interested communities are not willing to put down any money, and that the trams are not to be constructed at their expense; but I can tell the House that they are willing to pledge their credit, and surely that is equivalent to putting the cash down. I trust the House will agree to this motion.

LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE (Wiltshire, Cricklade)

said this question was one of the greatest importance not only to the promoters and to municipalities of rural districts, but to many urban centres surrounding our towns and cities. Whatever might be the opinion with regard to the case before the House, he apprehended the House would be unanimously in favour of uniformity. Two decisions had been given by separate Committees, and if the decision of the Committee of which he had the honour to be a member was right, the decision of the Police and Sanitary Regulations Committee was wrong. The procedure of the Police and Sanitary Regulations Committee in regard to gas, tramways, or waterworks, or anything that might come before them, was identical with that of any ordinary Private Bill Committee, and consequently its work had been enormously increased. It was a great mistake for the House to suppose that proposals with regard to the tramways and traffic which came before the Committee were treated in any different way to that which they would be if sent to any Private Bill Committee. The resolution was of very great importance to all municipalities, corporations, and country districts, because, if it was passed, nothing need be done by a Committee of the House until the Committee on Municipal Trading had sent in their Report, which would be in the following year, in all probability. The Standing Order 170, which contemplated the construction of these tramways outside, laid down certain rules for the purpose, and it was never intended that the Committee on Municipal Trading should stand in the way of municipalities dealing with gas, waterworks, tramways, and things of that description; what it was intended to do was to prevent corporations going beyond the recognised rights of municipal trading and going in other directions. All these particular tramways were constructed with a view of being in the near future connected with the existing system of Huddersfield, and the Report had thrown them all out and made no distinctions. He could not help thinking some misunderstanding had arisen with regard to the matter, and he trusted the Committee would be asked to re-examine the question in the interests of the Committees of the House generally.


said the position taken up by the right hon. Gentleman opposite was fair and reasonable, but he had not said a word against the merits. It might be remembered that although there were precedents with regard to the extension of tramways outside boroughs, the Committee was debarred by the Standing Orders of the House from sanctioning tramways outside the borough of Huddersfield. Their position was that if the House thought they ought to reconsider their decision apart from the Standing Orders, they were willing to reconsider it. That course would be a sensible one for the House to take. He favoured the extension of tramways outside towns because they looked to it largely for a solution of the housing difficulty.


With reference to the Instruction on the Paper, I should like to know whether, if that be carried, it will be an Order of the House to insert all the names of the districts on the Paper.


It will not be an Order for the Committee to insert all or any of those districts, but merely to consider and report.

Question put, and negatived.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Bill be re-committed to the former Committee.

Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to consider and report as to the expediency of re-inserting in the Bill the power to construct additional tramways to and in the borough, districts, and parishes hereinafter mentioned adjacent to the borough, that is to say: The borough of Brighthouse; the urban districts of Mirfield, Marsden, Slaithwaite, Linthwaite, Lepton, Kirkburton, Honley, Thurstonland, New Mill, Netherthong, Holmfirth; and the parishes of Fixby, Clifton, and Hartshead, in the rural district of Halifax.—(Sir James Woodhouse.)