§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ SIR LEWIS M'IVER (Edinburgh, W.)
said he was loth at any time to inflict his voice upon the House, chiefly because on any given subject there were always several members on either side of the House more competent, and certainly more willing, to talk than he was. And he was especially reluctant at that point, in a not too fruitful session, to divert precious public time to the consideration of a relatively minor matter. More than that, he was that day departing from a practically invariable rule which he had imposed upon himself—namely, never to oppose the Second Reading of a private Bill. He held, 398 in common with most members of the House, that unless the central principle of a private Bill was something flagrant or monstrous, that Bill should be sent upstairs for examination by a competent tribunal and for investigation by competent methods. But, despite his general unwillingness and despite the usual practice, he had found the course that he was taking on the present occasion absolutely irresistible, because the Bill which he was opposing afforded so striking an illustration of a growing national danger, to which he had long desired to draw attention, that he was impressed with the feeling that such an opportunity might not soon recur; and, furthermore, he was opposing the Second Reading because in all parliamentary probability there would be no Committee stage to this Bill. He was opposing this Bill, not by reason of any special interest in Lowestoft, any personal connection with it, or any previous knowledge of Lowestoft or its neighbourhood, but because he thought it was a Bill proposing a reckless and excessive municipal expenditure, out of all reasonable proportion to the resources of the borough, and without reasonable prospect of either profit or return; because it was proposed that that expenditure should be made under grossly improvident conditions; thirdly, because it had been attempted to secure parliamentary sanction for these proposals by the invasion of those safeguards which Parliament had provided, and in defiance of the recorded wisdom of Parliament. And lastly, because such proposals as these were calculated to bring wise and legitimate municipal enterprise into dis- 399 credit and disrepute, and to confirm and strengthen existing prejudice against legitimate municipal expansion. Before briefly placing before the House the facts upon which he based these contentions, he would like to submit at once one of the strongest arguments in favour of the rejection of the Bill at that stage—and that was, that it would not have the advantage of investigation by a Committee upstairs. He understood that all proposed opposition to this Bill in the Upper House was ruled out on the question of locus. As that was a technical matter, he had no reason to doubt that any similar opposition in that House would share the same fate. And so there was no tribunal that would be in a position thoroughly to examine the facts and test the relative value of contending statements of fact. It was wide of the point to suggest, as might be done, that the promoters would not oppose locus in this House. They did so in the other House, anyway; and the suggestion, if it be made, came a little too late, when their tactics in the Upper House had compelled an opposition on Second Reading there. And, besides, the matter was not wholly in their hands, for although the question of locus was dealt with by differently constituted bodies in the two Houses, there was no reason to believe that those bodies were guided by different principles. He proposed to state the local facts as he had acquired them. He had done his best to satisfy himself that they were correct. Hon. Members in the House who represented the promoters' case might question one or more of his facts. They might be right, or he might be; but was the House a competent tribunal to decide between them? There was no evidence on oath, there was no cross-examination by competent counsel, there was no production of official statistics. These and similar reasons formed the stock argument for sending the Bill upstairs; but in this case there was no upstairs, and there would be no investigation. They could not say whether the finance of the proposal was sound or unsound. They could not form an opinion whether the scheme could possibly ever pay. They could not test the solvency of the contracting companies. They could not test the 400 solvency of the guarantors. And consequently, since the House could have no authoritative information, and no tested evidence on either the details or the essential points involved, the House must come to a decision upon general principles and upon the undisputed facts.
The following were the facts, none of which could, he thought, be substantially questioned. The Corporation of Lowestoft had brought in a Bill, which in its essence and central purpose was a Tramway Construction Bill. For this purpose it sought power to borrow £185,000. The population of Lowestoft was 29,000—let him say, 30,000—and its rateable value £121,000. The existing; debt of the borough was £106,000. For shore defences against the inroads of the sea an expenditure was contemplated of at least £37,000. £23,000 was to be spent immediately upon electric lighting, and for further electric power an expenditure was contemplated of from £20,000 to £30,000. When to that was added the sum asked for in this Bill, the indebtedness of Lowestoft a year hence would amount roughly to about £375,000—with a rateable value of £121,000. That was to say, some £12 10s. per head of the entire population and over three years of the gross rateable value of the borough. It was estimated that this debt would bring up the rates—exclusive of water rate—to 11s. in the pound. And for what direct purpose was this huge sum to be raised? For an experiment in municipal trading? Nothing of the sort. It was in order to allow some unknown and irresponsible persons to play with municipal money; and he thought when the House heard the terms of the agreement which was scheduled' in this Bill, hon. Members would admit that that was not an unfair description of the contemplated proceeding. With this £185,000 the Corporation was to construct the tramways, and to lease them to a company called the National Electric Traction Company, whose capital was not stated, and which at present had not got beyond registration, and consisted of the seven original signatories with a capital holding of £1 per head. The agreement further arranged that this company, which practically did not 401 yet exist, was to hand over the business to another company which was not yet registered, and whose proposed capital was not even suggested, but which was described as "expressed to be incorporated." When that process was completed, it proposed to take the name of the East Anglian Light Railways Company; and the whole transaction was to be guaranteed by a third company, which had the splendid title of the Drake and Gorham Electric Power and Traction Pioneer Syndicate, Limited. And this loud-sounding syndicate had a nominal capital of £25,000. £17,500 paid up. £17,500 to guarantee £185,000 of the ratepayers' money!
He might safely stop there and leave it to the House to say whether it was going to give its sanction to a proposal of this sort, which savoured more of comic opera than of practical business. The central proposition was so astounding that it seemed hardly worth while to go into minor criticism, and to discuss in this chamber those details proper to a committee room, as to the chances of the traffic in Lowestoft ever possibly paying interest and sinking fund on so huge a capital expenditure. But at that point he would draw the attention of the House to the fact that there was absolutely no evidence as to whether the estimate for the construction of the proposed tramways was a reasonable estimate, and whether it was in accordance with recent prices, with experience elsewhere. The House would be told, he understood, that it was now proposed at the eleventh hour, and only after notice of opposition on the Second Reading had been published, to reduce that estimate by a very large amount; and, in order thereto, to limit and curtail the length of the tramways. He had nothing to do with that, and he submitted that the House had nothing to do with that. He was opposing the Bill, and the House was considering the Bill, and not the deathbed repentance of its promoters; and, if those who supported the Bill ventured to adumbrate the suggestion, would not that very fact be a confession of the original iniquity? They might possibly be told that this tramway proposal was only part of a larger scheme, affecting the surrounding neighbourhood, and linking up existing and contemplated 402 systems. If they were so told, would not that be a further confession of the inherent weakness of these proposals? The proposal was a Lowestoft proposal; the risks were the risks of the ratepayers of Lowestoft; there was not a word about contributions from the surrounding neighbourhood which was to be benefited. The adjoining local bodies took no part in it, but the Lowestoft ratepayer was to pull the chestnuts out of the fire to accommodate existing and proposed systems. The Bill which was proposed, the Bill which had passed through all its stages, sub silentio, in the Upper House, and the Bill which it was sought to rush in the same way through its stages in this House, was the matter they were dealing with; and it must be obvious to hon. Members that this Bill ought never to have been a Bill at all. Parliament in its wisdom had provided for municipal proposals of that sort the relatively cheap and expeditious process of the Provisional Order. If this had been a sane and reasonable scheme, one characterised by legitimate finance, one calculated to redound to the profit of the ratepayers, who doubted but that that method would have been adopted? But the promoters knew very well that the proposals would not stand the test of a local inquiry and departmental criticism. And so they adopted the more expensive method of proceeding by Bill; and in order to give some colour to their unusual course, they wrapped up their central scheme in a collection of minor proposals, and tried to run it as an "Omnibus Bill." The great majority of these minor proposals could have been dealt with by Provisional Orders. But, apart from that fact, could any reasonable man question that the essence of this Bill was this extravagant and untested tramway proposal with its topsy-turvy finance? He could not withhold a recognition of the cleverness with which the promoters of the scheme had evaded the Committees upstairs and had dodged the supervision of the Local Government Board. It rested with the House to say whether that cleverness was to succeed. He put it to the House that the old theory, confirmed by more than one statute, that the ordinary indebtedness of any local body should never exceed twice the amount of its rateable value, was in danger in this case, because the 403 proposals of this Bill and the other contemplated expenditure would at one leap raise the indebtedness of Lowestoft to between three and four times its rate able value. He held that the intention of Parliament that such a scheme should have the benefit of local and departmental inquiry had in this case been evaded, and he submitted that the ratepayers had been deprived of the safeguards which Parliament had deliberately provided for them. On the matter of ratepayers, he would ask the House what sort of a man was the ratepayer, especially in small English provincial communities? His experience of him was that he was a very indifferent, happy-go-lucky person, who accepted the formula, "pay, pay, pay" as expressing one of the immutable laws of Nature. He was a ratepayer himself, and a very bad and careless one at that. But, in the larger communities there was always, happily, a number of public-spirited men who devoted themselves to the interests of their brother ratepayers. There was around them a larger democratic atmosphere; there were upon them the pressure and the expression of a larger public opinion. Few would claim that that was always so in the smaller provincial communities. He doubted not that they would be told that Lowestoft was unanimously in favour of the scheme.
Probably the House would be told that the regulation statutory meeting was held, and that the scheme was warmly and cordially approved. He would give the facts as they had been given to him by an eye-witness, premising that in Lowestoft there were some 4,000 ratepayers. At the statutory meeting 108 persons were present. No steps were taken to see that they were all ratepayers. Fifty-one voted for the resolution, ten voted against it, forty-seven took no part, and that represented the enthusiastic local unanimity in favour of the Bill. And he might mention, with regard to that meeting, that the agreement, which was of the essence of the Bill, was not then in existence, its actual date being nearly two months later; so that the enthusiastic meeting, where 1.2 per cent. of the ratepayers cordially supported the Bill, had not the most important and essential point before it. In that relation 404 there was a point which was not in itself of very great importance, and which he felt bound to make. He had a petition against the Bill, given to him for presentation to the House, signed by householders of Lowestoft. It was not a great matter—in the House they knew how petitions were got up. But they also had some knowledge of how such statutory meetings as the one he described were got up; and whether it was a packed meeting or an engineered petition, to neither of which did he personally attach the least importance, but he might reasonably trump fifty-one votes at the meeting with the 458 signatures of the petition. With regard to the local facts and the Bill itself, there was only one other point he would make, and that was that, so far as the Local Government Board—whose hands were very closely tied in such matters—could interfere, its report on the Bill objected to several of its important provisions. As he submitted to the House, the Bill, if passed, would impose an intolerable and irretrievable burden upon the ratepayers of Lowestoft—the ratepayers of to-day and the ratepayers of to-morrow, and it would do so, not by expenditure upon schemes of assured or even probable profits, but on schemes without any guarantee that any rational man of business would accept, and it would do so not even professedly in the interests of the ratepayer, but in the possible interests of a private company, which did not even yet exist, and which was pledged to part with its rights to a second company, which was not even yet registered, and one or both of which was guaranteed by a third company with a paid-up capital of less than 10 per cent. of the municipal expenditure proposed. No business man would contemplate such an arrangement, and he might safely add that, were it submitted to the officials of any department concerned, or to a Committee of either of the Houses, it would be rejected with contumely.
The main object he had in view, however, in bringing this matter before the House was to draw attention once again to the appalling rapidity with which the indebtedness of our local and provincial bodies was growing, and to ask the House, by its action that day, to mark the distinction which should exist 405 between the treatment of proposals for municipal expenditure which could be shown to be profitable and those proposals which could not be so shown. He hoped that some hon. Members, more versed than he was in that question, would contribute to the debate that afternoon. For himself, he would be content with reminding the House that the local debt of this country was to-day £270,000,000 of money, and that every penny of that sum which was wasted was a dead loss of national wealth. Here was a proposal to waste a very considerable sum. The national total from year to year was going up by leaps and bounds, largely, he was glad to think, on account of expenditure on remunerative undertakings. But expenditure which was remunerative in one place was not always remunerative in another. Schemes which were propounded upon a sound financial basis were too frequently initiated elsewhere on wild cat principles, like those he had just described. Conceive an analogous scheme like this proposed for London. In the first place, it would be examined by competent engineers, actuaries, and lawyers; it would be ground in the mill of a works committee; it would be passed through the fine mash of a finance committee; it would probably come under the consideration of a general purposes committee; it would be debated in the full County Council. The experts of the Local Government Board would have something to say; or, possibly, Committees upstairs would have a voice. Ventilation in the press, discussion in the electorate, would contribute, and the ratepayers might sleep well o' nights. And he asked those who took a sympathetic interest in sound municipal expansion, was there any conceivable analogy between the two cases? Or rather was it not the fact that proposals such as those before them that day did more to retard that expansion than any avowed and direct opposition? He hoped that those who favoured municipal trading would not make the mistake of identifying the two things.
If he might be an egotist for a moment, he would like to be permitted to say that he was no opponent of what was disparagingly and often unfairly called municipal trading. On the contrary, a quarter of a century ago, as the presi- 406 dent of an important municipal council, he was conducting a series of large and novel ventures in municipal trading. For a dozen years he had been intimate with, and for half that time he had represented in that House, a municipality which conducted several large and very profitable concerns coming under this head. But he had never had occasion to oppose or criticise these, or indeed do anything but assist them to the best of his power. And he would like to hear his colleague the Member for East Edinburgh, whose acknowledged skill in municipal finance was acquired and ripened in dealing with these very concerns, give his frank opinion of this agreement. He ventured to say that, as treasurer of Edinburgh, the hon. Gentleman would not have touched it with the end of a very long pole. Imagine, if they could, the London County Council proposing in one year to nearly treble its debt—and mainly for the purpose of benefiting a company which had no existence. That was the proposition before this House. That was the scheme which, unless this House interfered, would be sanctioned by Parliament practically sub silentio; and that was a scheme which would have been brought to this triumphant conclusion by defying the pronounced wisdom of Parliament; by technically evading safeguards which Parliament has provided for the protection of ratepayers, and it was to prevent this that he appealed to the House. In the first place, to protect the ratepayers of Lowestoft from the bankruptcy into which, all unconsciously, they were being recklessly whirled; in the second place, to assert the authority of Parliament, and to vindicate the soundness of its own recorded judgment; and, in the third place, to stamp its disapproval of, and alarm at, the accelerated growth of municipal indebtedness for the sake of unfructuous schemes. Lastly, he appealed to those Members of the House who took a genuine and far-seeing interest in the due expansion of municipal enterprise, who were justly jealous for municipal fair fame, to oppose the scheme as a typical case of the methods which did so much to bring worthy and wise proposals for municipal undertakings into discredit and disrepute. Those Members that he was appealing to had 407 realised, to their sorrow, that there was enough and to spare of obstinate and even stupid prejudice against legitimate municipal expansion. He asked them, by their vote, not to encourage schemes like that, and so give colour and new strength to those prejudices. He asked them to have some regard to the growing conviction of the more recent converts to the hosts of the "municipallers"—and not, by lumping together the wisdom of the county council with the folly of Lowestoft, to give a fresh leverage to the party of reaction.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at he end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day three months.'"—(Sir Lewis M'Iver.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ COLONEL LUCAS (Suffolk, Lowestoft)
said he desired first of all to call attention to the curious way in which the opposition to the Bill had changed. Originally the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire gave notice that he would oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, and shortly afterwards a similar notice was given by the hon. Member for West Edinburgh, when the opposition on the part of the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire disappeared. This was no doubt due to the fact that the hon. Member was personally interested in the matter; but, however that might be, it was a somewhat unusual course to adopt. He did not intend to occupy the time of the House at any length, because he strongly objected to public business of great importance being delayed by small provincial Bills; therefore he proposed to deal with the matter in the shortest possible way. This Bill was not, as suggested by the hon. Member for West Edinburgh, a mere tramways Bill; it was an omnibus Bill of the usual character, containing clauses giving many important powers to this borough, and if the House rejected this measure simply because they objected to the tramway, the whole of those useful provisions would be lost and the borough put to great expense for no purpose. 408 The tramway was necessary to Lowestoft, which had a coast line of three miles, and was without means of getting from one end to the other, and therefore hon. Gentlemen would see that a tramway would be of the greatest utility to the town. It was of the greatest importance that Lowestoft should be placed in communication with the neighbouring villages, and he thought the evils upon which such stress had been laid by the hon. Member for West Edinburgh would be guarded against by the clause "that unless within six months of the granting of the order all the capital is subscribed, and half paid up, the Corporation will not grant the lease to the company." That seemed to be an absolute safeguard. Skeleton companies were often formed, and only extended when the Bill passed, and the Corporation itself would be to blame if it granted the lease on any other terms. The lease was to be for twenty-eight years, and if the Corporation looked after their affairs in a businesslike manner they would carry out this matter, not at the fearful loss that was prophesied by the hon. Baronet, but at a considerable profit. With regard to the financial side of the question, he might say that the debt authorised up to now was £160,000; the amount asked by the Bill was £185,000, of which £45,000 was for street improvements and £140,000 for the tramway. The promoters of the Bill, however, were prepared to drop a certain portion of their outlying tramways, which were of not so much importance, which would make a reduction in the expense of some £50,000, which altered the figures considerably. And later on, if the trunk line shows a profit, if the Bill passed, they would go to the proper authority and ask leave to extend their system. The total amount required was £290,000, of which £145,000 was to be spent upon remunerative works, which left a debt to the borough of £153,000. With regard to the question of locus standi of opposition, he pointed out that although the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire took, according to the newspaper reports, a very active part at the town meeting which was called for the purpose of expressing approval of the Bill, he had never demanded a poll, which he had a perfect right to do. He did not lay any 409 stress upon that fact, because he was not well versed in these matters, but he thought if it had been desirable to demand a poll the hon. Gentleman would have done so, though if he had he did not think it would have gone in the hon. Gentleman's favour. The hon. Baronet had said there was no opposition to this Bill in another place; that was slightly inaccurate, there was opposition.
§ COLONEL LUCAS
said that in the Committee in another place the Chairman did give locus to the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire, and when this Bill was passed, as he hoped it would be very shortly, the promoters were quite prepared to give the hon. Gentleman a locus standi in any Committee formed to consider the matter, though that locus standi had never been asked for. The broad position was this, that the Corporation had approved the Bill unanimously; the ratepayers' meeting had approved it almost unanimously, no poll being demanded; the Bill had passed its stages in another place, the only objection made having been swept away almost contemptuously, and he thought it was an abuse of the forms of the House that precious time should be wasted by continuing now to debate comparatively small details. He asked the House to follow the usual practice, to agree to the Second Reading, so that all the details could be threshed out before a Committee upstairs. If any private or public grievance was proved, it could then be remedied, and, as no adequate reason had been given for departing from the almost invariable practice, he hoped the Second Reading would be carried by a large majority.
§ MR. GODDARD (Ipswich)
contended that many of the objections raised by the hon. Baronet the Member for West Edinburgh were purely speculative. Local authorities should as far as possible be allowed to manage their own affairs. Certain salutary and proper checks were already placed on the action of local authorities. In order to ascertain the public opinion, a statutory meeting had to be held before any Bill could be promoted 410 in Parliament. The hon. Baronet had stated that there was only a very small attendance at the statutory meeting in this case, but as a rule, when a Bill met with public approval, such meetings were very thinly attended. A large meeting could be got only when a Bill was strongly opposed. Moreover, any one person at a statutory meeting could demand a poll, and if there had been any real opposition to the Bill before the House, it was perfectly certain that somebody would have taken that course. It was true that a requisition was said to be signed by 400 persons, but he strongly suspected that the signatories were people interested in property rather than ordinary ratepayers, and such people invariably endeavoured to prevent the progressive acts of progressive towns in the way of providing tramways, and so on. Great stress had been laid on the fact that municipal debt in this country had increased by leaps and bounds, but it was apparently forgotten that that increase had taken place with the consent of the ratepayers and the approval of the Local Government Board. Not only would the Local Government Board very quickly stop any excessive expenditure, but the Chairman of the unopposed Bills Committee also was very strict on that point. The House should bear in mind the fact that Lowestoft was a very progressive town. During the last thirty years the number of houses had increased from 3,000 to 7,000; in the last twenty-five years the rateable value had gone up from £48,000 to £121,000—or £130,000 if the figures of the local Member were correct; and the population, which in 1871 was 15,000, had risen until at the last census it stood at 30,000. A town could not increase in that way without it being necessary to provide greater facilities for the people, and one of the principal facilities required was that afforded by tramways. As to the allegation that a company was to take up the work, he thought a corporation should be allowed a certain amount of liberty as to the manner in which they would work these undertakings. Many people were not willing to take the risk involved in the starting of such schemes, preferring to entrust their powers for a time to a company experienced in such work. He therefore trusted that no obstacle would be 411 placed in the way of Lowestoft achieving its object.
§ MR. MACONOCHIE (Aberdeenshire, E.)
said he understood the neighbourhood concerned in this Bill, and anything which benefited Lowestoft, would be a pleasure and a pecuniary interest to him. He therefore would not oppose anything which would benefit that town, but he happened to know how these things were worked. This Bill had been promoted in the interests, not of the town of Lowestoft, but of people other than the ratepayers. After careful study of the cost involved in similar schemes in towns of equal size, he could not understand how this immense sum of £185,000 could be spent. The tramway, if built, would, he was convinced, be worked at a loss. During a period of seven and a half hours, at the busiest part of the day, only 290 vehicles and 1,072 passengers passed the post office, in the centre of the town, on an occasion when he had them counted, and taking those figures as a basis, he calculated that there would be a loss of thirty-three per cent. on the cost of working, without taking into account the capital outlay. The ratepayers did not really understand the question. At the town meeting only 103 persons were present, of whom no more than fifty voted in favour of the Bill, while the opposition on the council was crushed out by having an afternoon meeting. The petition against the Bill was signed by 450 persons, mostly ratepayers, a number many times greater than the number who voted for the measure. The Bill was not one that should receive the support of the House, and he trusted it would be thrown out.
§ MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)
supposed the hon. Member who had just spoken would not take part in the division, as he had stated that he had great material interest in the success of the Bill.
§ MR. MACONOCHIE
No; I stated that I had great pecuniary interest in the prosperity of the town of Lowestoft.
§ MR. BROADHURST
(continuing) said that if the petition against the Bill had been pushed as persistently as had the canvassing in the lobby against the 412 Bill, he could quite understand the signatures being so numerous. As a protest against the systematic canvassing and lobbying which went on against this Bill, he trusted that the House would pass the Second Reading. He was not interested in some large undeveloped property which was likely to come into the market, like the hon. Member opposite. He had known Lowestoft for forty years, and he knew that the promoters of this Bill were amongst the most capable municipal men in this country. They were men who had served the corporation and the ratepayers all their lives, and it had been owing to their efforts that the success of the town had been built up and developed. Surely that was some guarantee that by this Bill they would be able to develop the town still further in the future. They all knew how desirable it was to have a tramway in the town, from north to south. The Lowestoft Corporation were also asking for power in this Bill to protect the town from the inroads of the sea. Lowestoft was subject to the encroaches of the sea at every high tide, and almost every winter the ratepayers were put to enormous cost baling out the incoming sea. The corporation wanted power to build up walls to fence off the sea and reclaim the land. Those who knew the requirements of the town, and the class of men who were at the head of affairs there, would not allow themselves to be cajoled by those who had organised this opposition to the Bill. The best evidence of the weakness of the opposition to this Bill was to be found in the fact that they had had to go to Scotland to obtain a Member to oppose the Second Reading. The hon. Member for West Edinburgh had been led into a trap, and he was sure he could not have seen where he was going when he consented to oppose a Bill the merits of which he could not have any personal knowledge of. He trusted the House would give this measure a Second Reading, and not refuse an inquiry by the Committee into this question. Parliamentary powers were necessary to prevent the town being annually injured by the high tides. Whatever there was wrong or amiss in the Bill they could rely upon the Committee rectifying it.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. GRANT LAWSON, Yorkshire, N.R.,) Thirsk
I have not risen to continue the discussion upon the merits of the Bill. I think the debate which has already taken place must have proved that this is not the tribunal where these matters ought to be settled. I can assure the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire, and other hon. Members who have opposed this Bill, that they will have a chance of being heard before the Committee. Even if their right to be heard was contested, there was such a thing as a motion in this House to the effect that hon. Members should be heard before the Committee. Therefore hon. Members who are opposing this Bill may rest assured that they will have an opportunity of being heard before the Committee. I do not blame them for bringing this matter forward, because the question of the continually increasing local indebtedness is a very serious matter. I make an appeal to my hon. friend the Member for West Edinburgh not to put the House to the trouble of a division upon this motion. I think we are all agreed that these matters should be inquired into, and the best tribunal to decide them is the Committee upstairs.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.