HC Deb 03 May 1901 vol 93 cc572-80


Order for consideration, as amended, read.

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


said he had to call the attention of the House to a matter of some importance. The Report of the Committee on this Bill presented by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Taunton contained the following paragraph— That the Bill does not assign a period for the repayment of any loan exceeding the term of sixty years, or any period disproportionate to the objects of the loan. The House was probably aware that Standing Order 173a, sub-section C, was very direct and particular in the matter of the period of repayment. It said that in the case of any Bill promoted by or conferring powers on any municipal corporation, the Committee on the Bill should consider the clauses with reference to borrowing, and, where the Bill assigned a period for the repayment of any loan or for the redemption of any charge or debt under it exceeding a term of sixty years, that term the Committee should not in any case allow to be exceeded. Apparently the Committee presided over by the hon. and gallant Member for Taunton had fixed the period for repayment at sixty years, to begin with the 25th March, 1909, thereby making the real period of repayment sixty-eight years. They had called attention to the matter in the paragraph he had read, and they gave as a reason for setting aside the provisions of the Standing Order that the original scheme dealt with in the Bill allowed sixty-eight years for repayment. The original scheme was a very large one—he might say a gigantic one—involving an expenditure of five and a half millions, and having for its object the supply of water to the towns of Derby, Leicester, Sheffield and Nottingham, as well as to the county of Derbyshire and possibly part of Nottinghamshire. The Bill this year proposed to substitute for part of the works authorised two years ago a new reservoir, and to give further capital powers, amounting to about a quarter of a million and, inasmuch as two years ago the period of repayment was fixed at sixty-eight years, this year's Committee thought it not unreasonable that the extra quarter of a million to be added to the original capital should also be made repayable during that period. It was not for him to ask the House to overrule the Committee's action, even if he wished to do so. He felt that he had sufficiently performed his duty by calling attention to the fact that on this occasion the Standing Order had been violated. The Committee had the matter before them, they fully considered it, and they came to the conclusion that it was just and proper that the period of repayment should be extended to sixty-eight years. But he did not desire that this extension of period should become common or ordinary. It must, on the contrary, be thoroughly understood that it was only in exceptional cases of very large undertakings that such long periods of repayment could be allowed. He might add that there was a precedent—curiously enough in a former Sheffield Bill—set by his predecessor (Mr. Courtney) for the action he was now taking, and following that precedent he had drafted an Amendment on exactly the same lines, which he now begged to move—

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'this House is of opinion that the allowance of a term of sixty years from the 25th March, 1909 for the repayment of the said loans is contrary to the spirit of Standing Order 173A of this House, hut, having regard to the special circumstances mentioned in the Report of the Committee, orders the Bill to be now considered.'"—(The Chairman of Ways and Means).

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

MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)

said the statement of the right hon. Gentleman left nothing to be desired in point of clearness. The question was an extremely important one, because it was a case of the setting aside by a Committee upstairs of a mandatory Standing Order of the House. As to the particular instance before them, he would say nothing. They had heard a good deal lately about the personal interest of Members in matters coming before the House, and if he had a personal interest in this matter it was that the period of repayment should be extended. But he held very strongly indeed that the period fixed by the Standing Order should not be set aside unless under proved necessity. The House now had very much before it, and would have for years to come, the policy of burdening posterity. Parliament had laid it down in a most stringent manner, in carefully phrased language, that no Committee should be empowered or allowed to extend the period in the way in which it had been done in this case. The right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means had brought the matter before them in his capacity of guardian of the Standing Orders in matters of finance, and not a word he had uttered was a whit too strong. Of course a borrower, be it a local authority or a private individual, naturally wanted to extend the period of repayment, but, looking at the appalling rate at which the indebtedness of local authorities was increasing, they ought to be very careful before making any new departure, He was glad the right hon. Gentleman had placed on record, by his words, the fact that this was a most exceptional case and must be treated as such, and not be adopted as a precedent. He was glad, too, that the right hon. Gentleman had had to go so far back to look for a precedent for his present action, and trusted it would be an equally long time before another such case occurred.

MR. VICARY GIBBS (Hertfordshire, St. Albans)

expressed a hope that some member of the Committee which dealt with the Bill would give the House some information as to the special circumstances which they considered justified them in breaking the Standing Orders. Such an explanation ought to be forthcoming before the House sanctioned the proceeding. He fully agreed with the last speaker as to the way in which the indebtedness of the country was increasing, not merely by internal loans, but in other ways, which led to extravagant and even unnecessary expenditure. The House ought, therefore, to be very careful before it gave its sanction to such a proceeding as this.

LORD EDMOND FLTZMAURICE (Wiltshire, Cricklade)

said this' matter came very frequently before the Police and Sanitary Regulations Committee, which the House, no doubt quite properly, especially after what happened last year, had decided not to reappoint. But many hon. Members would agree that that Committee during the period of its existence laid down certain general rules of practice which ought not to be departed from in a hurry. Some of them still thought it desirable to continue the practice of remitting Bills raising points of this kind connected with certain classes of improvements to one Committee rather than that they should go to Committees likely to set up varying practices. But he would not enter on that matter now. What he did wish to do was to support most strongly what had just fallen from the hon. Member for St. Albans. He would even go a step further, and ask the House to decline to advance the Bill until it had heard from members of the Committee the reasons which had moved them to make this recommendation. When he was chairman of the Police and Sanitary Regulations Committee they had to report to the House cases in which exceptional circumstances prevailed. It was the duty of the House to watch most closely the whole question of municipal indebtedness. A most lamentable practice had grown up of late years, which he did his best to check last year. Municipal corporations had the advantage, as they thought, but disadvantage as he held, of appointing their own auditors, and they had no longer to submit their accounts to the close and impartial scrutiny of the Local Government Board auditor. One result of that was that they were falling into the lamentable practice of having overdrafts with their bankers. It would be far better not to allow municipal indebtedness thus to be increased sub rosa and in a disguised manner, and therefore he favoured the enforcement of the very strict rules which the Police and Sanitary Regulations Committee drew up last year. If borrowing powers were checked in one direction there was always a tendency on the part of municipal corporations to try and extend them in another, and this proposal to extend the period of repayment beyond the time fixed by Standing Orders was only one of many efforts to do that. In regard to water schemes, it was well known that certain risks existed, and if the repayment of the debt were extended over too long a period it was quite possible that posterity might find itself burdened with a debt which should have been paid oft' during a limited period. There was always, for instance, the chance of the sudden and unexpected failure of the water supply. The house ought to be very careful therefore before it took any steps to render borrowing more easy. He would be glad to see a public audit by the Local Government Board of the accounts of all municipalities, and until that was done they should do nothing to make it too easy to set up dangerous precedents. At any rate, with regard to the present case, they ought, before departing from the ordinary practice of the House, to be told the special reasons which had induced the Committee to make this particular recommendation.


regretted that the fact that he was acting as chairman of another Committee upstairs had prevented him intervening earlier in the debate. Indeed, he was not aware that it was likely that the motion of the Chairman of Ways and Means would be discussed this afternoon. He would, however, now explain the circumstances under which it was thought advisable to recommend these exceptional borrowing powers. The House would remember that in 1899 there was a very important Water Trust created by Act of Parliament which was to serve large cities and towns like Nottingham, Leicester, Derby, and Sheffield. In that Act exceptional powers were given by the authority of Parliament. It was not in any way a new scheme set up by the side of the old one, or one which was in any way separate from the old one. The Committee therefore thought it would be the simplest way to adapt the borrowing powers to those already granted in the Act of 1899, in order to facilitate the two measures being worked under one united scheme. Those were the reasons which convinced the Committee that exceptional powers should be recommended under the circumstances. This Bill being simply an enlargement of the old Act, already agreed to by Parliament, the House would see that there were exceptional circumstances to be considered.

MR. EDWARDS (Radnorshire)

said he did not see why a fresh period of sixty-eight years should be granted under this Bill, and it might very well date from the period when the Act was first passed. Surely if any extension of time was to be granted it ought to have been granted in cases like the Llandrindod Wells Bill, where it was highly desirable that the terms should be made as easy as possible; and yet they were not granted anything like the time given under this great scheme.


said that the case was gravely prejudiced by what was done in the last Parliament under the Bill of 1899, and in that case a Report was made by the Committee which was not accurate, for the Committee of the House reported that no period longer than sixty years should be allowed. This Bill had been before the Committee presided over by the hon. and gallant Member for Taunton, and when it came before the Local Government Board the question they had to consider was whether they ought to propose that the clause of the Bill which made the period of repayment practically sixty-eight years for the loan of £250,000, should be made to coincide with the period of repayment for the loan of £5,000,000. By agreeing to the Bill before the House they would make the two periods of repayment coincide. It appeared to him that it was not desirable to cause chaos by making the two parts of the loan finish at different periods. They wished, however, that it should be made clear that this was a wholly exceptional ease, which must not be drawn into a precedent.

MR. BLAKE (Longford, S.)

said it seemed to him from the statement which had just been made that the assent of Parliament was given to the Bill under a misapprehension. Parliament did not agree to more than a real, genuine sixty years in this case. No real reason had been given for any extension beyond sixty years, and no such reason was presented to Parliament the last time when the Act was passed. The difficulty they were in was that unless a very clear statement of the unfortunate combination of conditions under which Parliament had granted an extension beyond sixty years was given, this might be cited as a precedent for such an extension. He did not think anyone who had watched the growing indebtedness of public bodies could be other than anxious that such extensions should not be made too lightly. He could not conceive of conditions tinder which Parliament ought to consent to an extension beyond sixty years. He hoped it would be made abundantly clear that their procedure, if they assented to the motion of the right hon. Gentleman, was not based upon a deliberate agreement by Parliament at any time that the circumstances themselves justified any infringement of the Standing Orders.


One of the objects I had in my mind in putting this motion down was to draw the attention of the House to it, and to make it perfectly clear by the records that this case was wholly exceptional. That was the sole reason why I put it down, for I was anxious that a record of it should appear upon the journals of the House.

MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

thought that the words of the motion moved by the Chairman of Ways and Means rather meant that this was being made into a precedent. The words were—"is contrary to the spirit of Standing Order 173A of this House." He contended that it was not contrary to the spirit but contrary to the letter of the Standing Order, which provided that the term stated should not be exceeded. The motion says—" having regard to the special circumstances mentioned in the Report of the Committee." He agreed that there were no special circumstances, except that they appeared to have made a mistake upon the last occasion. There was great force in what the right hon. Gentleman had stated, that the two loans should be placed on all fours. He was afraid, however, that the case might be considered apart from this debate and used as a precedent. He would like to move some Amendment if the right hon. Gentleman would agree to it. Possibly the wisest plan would be to adjourn the motion in order to bring it forward again with better words—to make it more precise. He moved that the debate be adjourned.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Hartley.)


I venture to say that there is not sufficient disagreement amongst us to justify an adjournment. Perhaps my hon. friend would be satisfied if I agreed to leave out the words. "the spirit of." I do not know whether my hon. friend has had the Report in his hands or not, but I think that it shows pretty clearly how it comes about that we are asking Parliament to-day to extend the period of repayment to sixty-eight years in order to bring this loan into unison with the other.


Then I beg to withdraw my motion, and I will move as an Amendment to leave out the words "the spirit of."

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."

Amendment amended, by leaving out the words "the spirit of."

Words, as amended, added.

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

Resolved, That this House is of opinion that the allowance of a term of sixty years from the 25th March, 1909, for the repayment of the said loans is contrary to Standing Order 173A of this House, but having regard to the special circumstances mentioned in the Report of the Committee, orders the Bill to be now considered.

Bill considered accordingly; to be read the third time.