Standing Order No. 22, relating to Private Business, read, as followeth:—
In cases of Bills to authorise the laying down of a tramway, the promoters shall obtain the consent of the local authority of the district or districts through which it is proposed to construct such tramway, and where in any district there is a road authority distinct from the local authority, the consent of such road authority shall also he necessary in any case where power is sought to break up any road, subject to the jurisdiction of such road authority. For the purposes of this Order, in England and Scotland the local and road authorities shall be the local and road authorities for the purposes of The Tramways Act, 1870, except that in the case of a rural district in England the rural District Council shall be deemed to be the local authority, and in Ireland the local and road authorities shall be the District Councils and the County Councils respectively: provided that where it is proposed to lay down a continuous line of tramway in two or more districts, and any local or road authority having jurisdiction in any such districts does not consent thereto, the consents of the local and road authority, or the local and road authorities having jurisdiction over two-thirds of the length of such proposed line of tramway, shall be deemed to be sufficient.
§ (9.5.) MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
In moving the Amendments which stand in my name, the House will allow me to explain, in the first place, my reasons for moving them, and the object I have in view. To do this, I must ask hon. Gentlemen to go back to the year 1900, when they will remember that towards the close of the last session of the last Parliament, an Act was passed to amend the law relating to the housing of the working classes. The Bill, it will be recollected, was the subject of much hostile criticism at the time, both in Parliament (not limited to one side) and by certain sections of the Press, on the ground that it was too small, and not comprehensive enough to deal with so large and important a subject. But the critics, it was evident, were quite unaware of the extent and the width of the existing powers already possessed by local authorities, or how little there was that was left to be done by legislation for the better housing of the poor. There were, however, two points, both of vital importance, which had still to be dealt with. One was to give to the local authority power to acquire land 439 beyond its own borders, which they could not legally do at that time. The other was to provide greater facilities for locomotion for the workmen between their work and their new homes, which would be beyond the boundaries of the Metropolis. Accordingly, as the House will remember, the main feature of the Act of 1900 was to give powers for the first time, to local authorities to purchase land for the purpose of housing the poor outside their own area, which at that time it was not legal to do. That was a very important advance on existing legislation, which, I am happy to say, was promptly availed of by the local authorities. In the Metropolis, for instance, the new powers were at once put in force; land was purchased, in considerable quantities, and large and improved schemes were prepared for housing the poor, and are being prosecuted now. I should doubt if any Act of Parliament in recent years was so quickly followed by practical results. But in order to give effect to this Act and the intentions of its authors, the means of improved locomotion are absolutely essential, and it is in order to give increased facilities for this purpose that these Amendments to Standing Order 22—which I shall ask the House to approve to-night—have been designed.
Now, one way of providing these facilities—and I intend to confine myself strictly to that branch of the subject tonight—and probably the best way, is by the tramway system, and there is no doubt in the world that the extension of that system is a matter of the first importance in connection with the great problem of housing the poor. At the same time, this extension, as matters stand now, is hindered, hampered, and checked by the existing provisions of the Standing Order, or by the action taken by certain local authorities under it, to a degree which few people are aware of, and which I will proceed to explain as briefly as I can. Now, the introduction, and still more, therefore, the passing of Bills relating to tramways, is strictly governed by the Order I refer to, namely, Standing Order 22, which was passed shortly after the year 1870. That Order requires that where it is proposed to make a tramway through 440 the area of another local authority, the consent of that local authority must be obtained before the Bill can be introduced. And where there is a road authority distinct from the local authority, which is sometimes the case, the consent of both of them must be obtained. There is, however, one modification of this requirement, namely, that where the proposed new tramway traverses more than one district, the consent of the authorities having two-thirds of the tramway within their jurisdiction is sufficient. I cannot say that that modification has any great effect, because new tramways are generally extensions of old ones. The House will therefore perceive that this power to withhold consent is an absolute veto to the making of any tramway without it. No tramway, however desirable, or even necessary it may be, can ever come before a Committee, or before Parliament itself, if that consent is withheld.
The local authorities after the passing of this Order were quick to perceive this, and some of them very soon found that their consent was a very valuable marketable commodity. Very soon they began to impose conditions, often of a most onerous character, and never intended by Parliament, as the price of their consent. The insertion of clauses in the Bills imposing every sort of obligation upon the promoters, have been and are often required, and, in fact, what the local authorities would describe as conditions, are regarded by the promoters, and very often, no doubt, with good reason, as neither more nor less than blackmail. I could give many instances to show to what extent that has been carried on. This has been the subject of great complaint for years, to which I may say that no one is more alive than the Chairman of Committees, both in this and the other House of Parliament, and I do not think I should be going too far if I said that on several occasions it has led to considerable scandals. In any case it has added, and it does add constantly, to the difficulty of extending the tramway system, and consequently, of giving those increased facilities of locomotion which are essential and necessary for the working classes if they are to be housed in the new homes and under the system 441 that is contemplated by the Act to which I have referred, and which the House unanimously passed in the year 1900. I should add that London, with its gigantic population, is specially affected by the present state of things, because in London the local authority, that is, the County Council, unlike nearly all the local authorities in the country, is not the road authority, whose consent must always be obtained.
That was the position in which this question was left after the passing of the Act of 1900, and accordingly, upon the Third Reading of that measure, I made this statement on behalf of the Government on the 12th of July in that year, because we regarded it as a necessary complement to the effective working of the Act of 1900, that these means and facilities should be provided. After referring to the subject of cheap trains, on which I said that my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade, now the Home Secretary, had recently explained, with reference to cheap trains, to a deputation of the County Council which waited on him and myself, that all that was wanted could be done without legislation, I went on to say this—The Member for Battersea, however, has raised another question more important than cheap trains. He has pointed out what is the fact, that under Standing Order 22, very great difficulties may be placed in the way of the County Council in London, in case they wish to make a tramway beyond their area. The effect of that Order is that the consent of any outside authority is an absolute condition before any Bill can even be introduced. My right hon. friend and myself have considered this question most carefully, and after a conference with the Chairman of Committees in both Houses, I am in a position to say that the Government are willing to make such alterations in that Standing Order and propose them in due course, as will modify those restrictions, and allow the question to be brought before Parliament, and leave to the Committee the decision as to whether the matter should go forward or not.That was a very distinct pledge, and that statement was made with the full sanction of my then colleague in the Cabinet at the time, and when nothing was done in this matter last Session, I reminded the Government, first in private and then in public, of the obligations we had come under, and which I regarded as still binding on myself as well as on them. 442 I apprehend, however, and I can perfectly well understand it, that the very great press of other business has prevented their dealing with this question up till now, and I have therefore proposed the Amendments to the Standing Order now on the Paper in fulfilment of the pledge which was given at the time of the passing of the Act, and I think I can explain almost in a sentence, what the effect of those changes will be.
At present, as I have already shown, if the consent of the local authority, through whose area the tramway passes, is withheld, however unreasonably, it is an absolute veto, even to the introduction of a Bill. What I propose by my Amendment is this, that, instead of an absolute veto, proof shall be given before the Committee on the Bill that the promoters have either obtained the consent of the local authority, or that it has been withheld, and that if in the opinion of the Committee such consent has been unreasonably withheld, and ought to be dispensed with, they shall report accordingly. The Standing Order will then read as follows—22. In cases of Bills to authorise the laying down of a tramway 'proof shall be given before the Committee on the Bill that' the promoters 'have either obtained' the consent of the local authority of the district, or districts, through which it is proposed to construct such tramway, and where in any district there is a road authority distinct from the local authority, the consent 'also' of such road authority in any case where power is sought to break up any road subject to the jurisdiction of such road authority, or that the consent of such local or road authority has been withheld, and if in the opinion of the Committee such consent has been unreasonably withheld, and ought to be dispensed with, the Committee shall report accordingly. Any such local or road authority shall be entitled to petition, and be heard against the Bill.'Now I hope I have been able to make clear to the House both the object I have in view and the effect of the Amendments which I move. It will be for the House, and the House alone, to decide whether I have made out a case for the reform which I propose or not.
I should add that these proposals are the outcome of conferences between the two Chairmen of Committees and myself on more than one occasion, and for my part, I am unable to see what valid objection can be urged against them. It may be urged that they may possibly lead 443 to attempts to make tramways in districts and localities where they are both objectionable and unneeded, but surely a Committee, after hearing all the evidence, should be the best judge of that, and may be relied on to deal with proposals of that nature. In any case it seems to me that that would be an evil infinitely less grave than the objections to the present system which I have endeavoured to put before the House. I believe the House will view with entire favour the object which I have in view, and I earnestly hope they will support me in the proposals which I now submit in order to give effect to it. I beg to move.
In lines 1 and 2, to leave out the words, 'the promoters shall obtain,' and insert the words, 'proof shall be given before the Committee on the Bill that the promoters have either obtained.'"—(Mr. Chaplin.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Standing Order."
§ *(9.30.) SIR ALBEET ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
No one acquainted with my right hon. friend will be surprised that he has brought this matter before the House, because, at the time he was in office, he gave something in the nature of a pledge to take this course at the earliest opportunity. If the House is not seized of the whole subject, this is not attributable in any degree to any want of perspicuity with which the right hon. Gentleman has placed the matter before us. But there is one point to which I wish to take exception. The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that the local authorities have been guilty of blackmail. That is a charge easy to make, but difficult to prove or disprove, and I very much doubt if the right hon. Gentleman could prove it.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I did not make the charge myself. I said that these conditions as laid down were regarded by the promoters as blackmail.
* SIR ALBEBT EOLLIT
understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he would be able to prove it if he had the time of the House. Such charges are 444 difficult to prove whatever the source they originate from, and it is to be regretted that they have been made in this case. Whatever may be the force of opinion behind the right hon. Gentleman, I think the House should know that there is a very strong feeling on the part of the local authorities against it. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken in a very light way of the local authorities, but I have been requested to represent my own constituency of Islington in this matter, a borough with a rateable value of £2,000,000 sterling, and a population of 400,000, probably as much as that of the largest county boroughs in the country, and I need not assure the House that it has the deepest interest in the matter of tramways which might be proposed to be made within its area, which extends many miles. These local authorities have taken exception to this proposed change, and there we have a weight of authority and opinion which is certainly not a negligable quantity. The Municipal Corporations Association has also resolved, against the proposed change, and has asked me to represent its views. I would remind the House that the Standing Order has now existed for a long time, and that the onus is on those who propose that it should he altered or modified. The effect of the Standing Order, as it exists at present, is, I admit, to give these large boroughs in the Metropolis, and throughout the country, what they esteem in the highest degree—control over their own roads and streets. They at least act as the statutory road authority, and when it is suggested that they levy blackmail, or take an undue view of their own rights, I would answer that they are deeply interested in these tramways, and that they are as anxious for proper locomotion as anyone can possibly be, and most anxious to promote better housing of the poor. Any proposal which has grounds to recommend it carries with it the approval of the local authority, and it is only when serious objection is taken to a proposal on the ground of convenience, or improper lines in narrow thoroughfares, and the like, that the local authorities have been brought into conflict with promoters and others. The very essence of local government 445 is that it should be local. Persons in the locality have a knowledge of local affairs, and have the experience and the opportunity for forming the best judgment; and, to my mind, it is a contradiction in terms to come to a Committee of this House, and ask it to act at variance with local feeling upon such a local matter as the construction of a tramway. The local authorities are the persons who have the best means and the best right to express an opinion. It is said that there have been attempts to blackmail and the like. On the other hand, efforts have been constantly made to promote lines of tramways which did not meet with local or general recommendation. While such works are constantly and rightly proposed for private profit, and while every disposition should be shown to encourage private enterprise, it is very well for the community that there are local bodies with local knowledge which are able to consider whether these enterprises are for the public interest or not. Surely the road authority is the one which has the best means of forming a judgment. I think we in London have had sufficient experience of the need of power to local authorities to prevent interference with their public streets, and if this system, under which numberless bodies, some of them representing the State, some of them representing local authorities, and some of them representing private enterprise, are to ply without any real control at all, there will be not only inconvenience but great loss and danger. A Member of our own House only last year fell a victim to such a system as that.
I would ask whether my light hon. friend's Amendment to the Standing Order is based on sound principles. He asks—Why should any one fear going to a Committee of this House? There is no reason to fear a desire to do aught else than justice on the part of this House. I know of nothing better than the administration of the private business of this House in the past, so far as doing justice to conflicting interests is concerned. But what would be the effect of taking away the veto of the local authority, and sending the question to the Committee of this House? Why, the officials and witnesses of corporations would be 446 constantly brought up to this House in crowds, and, granting time and a determination on the part of the Committee to do justice, how is the Committee to get the necessary local knowledge? Under the Light Railways Act, a local inquiry is held. There is reason in that, because the Commissioners are able to ascertain all the facts; but with every desire, how can a Committee of this House arrive at a similar result? Then there is the question of expense. I ask the House to seriously consider the burden which would be placed on local authorities, which would have the effect of over-capitalising undertakings and making them profitless. If that principle had been borne in mind when our railways were being constructed, there would now be a better return from them than there is. I would ask the House to consider the amount of money now spent by local authorities on private Bill legislation. It amounts to no less than £750,000 even-year. That is a burden on the community, and is a danger to public enterprise. Is it seriously proposed that officials and witnesses are to be brought up from all parts of the country to a Committee of this House in order to discuss, not at a purely local inquiry, questions which involve delay, trouble, and cost, and a burden on the very enterprises which my right hon. friend is anxious to promote. What has happened? Take one case, in which the London County Council in one session promoted some fifteen Bills, ten of which were taken exception to by the local authorities. If in all these cases, the local authority had been called upon to come before a Committee of this House, and to give evidence, the delay would be very great, and the cost would be enormously increased. I ask the House to say that these are local matters. I ask the House, as is proposed under the Education Bill, to trust the local authorities; and although there may have been charges of blackmail—I know of none, though there may have been a few instances—I believe the local authorities, as a whole, are animated by a spirit of fairness, and a full regard for what they believe to be the public interests. I shall be glad, if any question on this point is raised, if the President of the Local Government Board will state whether he thinks there is or is not any foundation for such a suggestion. I 447 believe this proposal is at variance with municipal principle. I believe that the municipal authorities have a right to the management of their own streets. They are admitted to be the road authorities, and I believe it is in the public interest, and for the public benefit and convenience, that such should be the case. I am convinced on commercial grounds that if this cost is added to the cost which at present has to be incurred for the construction of works of this character, it will be a very serious incubus on enterprises of the kind, and the change a most unwise one on both public and private grounds.
§ *(9.40.) MR. JOHN BURNS
The right hon. Gentleman the ex-President of the Local Government Board considered it his duty, both on account of his official promise, and his expressed sympathy with the housing and rapid transit problem, to move the Amendment of the Standing Order that relates to the promotion of tramway projects, and he also considered it his duty, no doubt out of sincere regard for the housing of the people, to revive the promise he made in this House about eighteen months ago. On the face of it, the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman appears to be a move in the right direction; but I appeal to the House not to be carried away by the very plausible speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman, but to look at it once, twice, and thrice. If this Amendment be carried, what will be the permanent disability that it will inflict on every local authority in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales? I venture to think that if the House seriously reflects, as I believe it will, on the effect of this suggested Amendment, it will retain the existing Standing Order rather than enter on the dangerous course which the right hon. Gentleman asks us to embark tonight. It is not claimed for any political party in this House—it would be an unfair claim to advance—that it has a monopoly of sympathy either with the housing of the poor or rapid transit. We are all agreed, I am glad to say, that if the housing difficulty is to be dealt with effectively in large cities and towns, and particularly in London, there must be greater facilities 448 for bonâ fide promoters of railways, "tubes," and tramways. But I do not believe that bonâ fide promoters, be they engaged in private enterprise or on behalf of local authorities, want this Amendment; and, what is more, if they did ask for it, at the cost of over-riding local sentiment, local control, local veto, and local supervision, then they would be asking for that which the circumstances did not demand, which would operate to the public detriment, and which the House of Commons ought not to grant.
What is the difficulty? I can best illustrate the way in which the present Standing Order does not operate justly and fairly in some respects, and I can best show the injustice which will be inflicted on the local authority under the proposed Amendment, by giving the facts; and I would ask Metropolitan Members to follow me. In three sessions thirty-eight proposals for tramway extensions and improvements have been vetoed by the Borough Councils in London. In nearly all these cases the veto, in my opinion, was unreasonably exercised. Some of the vetoes by Borough Councils of County Council projects have been unreasonable; some have been factious and some have been almost on the verge of blackmailing the tramway authorities for local street improvements to an extent that the Borough Councils ought not to have been guilty of. In consequence of the unreasonable veto of some of the Borough Councils, thirty-eight proposals for tramway extensions have been vetoed, thirty-five double miles of tramway traction have been refused, and consequently denied to London during the last three years. That is a very serious condition of things, and it can only be got over by tolerant and more harmonious relations between the County Councils and the Borough Councils; and I should infinitely prefer that, with its temporary shortcomings, to the course of the right hon. Gentleman. Certain it is that the present obstruction by Borough Councils cannot continue. The condition of things has been a scandal in the past, is a disgrace to the present, and ought to be avoided in the future. The effect of these vetoes has been that 449 tramway extensions had been delayed, that tramway improvements had been deferred, and that useful street improvements had been a bandoned; and the result is that we have in London a great deal of friction, enhanced cost to ratepayers, and delay in tramway and street improvements to an extent not creditable either to the central authority or the local authorities, who have been the chief offenders. I would wish to see the local authorities abandoning their unreasonable attitude, when it is unreasonable; but the right hon. Gentleman seeks to coerce them and intimidate them, not in the interests of the County Council, which is their own interest as well, but, I believe, as experience will prove absolutely, in the interest of the private promoter. If this veto were removed in the way suggested, you would have solicitors walking about London with prospectuses in their pockets and saying to promoters and the public, "Oh, the veto is removed, you do not want the consent of the local authority, you can promote your Bill." Then a certain number of names are put upon the prospectus, and it is not difficult to get names, especially highly decorated names, for the prospectuses of tramway enterprises. Given a more or less bogus tramway scheme—and there have been several rejected this year—not requiring the consent of the local authority, it would come before a Parliamentary Committee without the stamp of approval of the district through which it run upon it. I speak with all respect of Parliamentary Committees, but they cannot be expected to have that minute local knowledge that is necessary in such cases, and which only the local authority ought to be called upon to exercise.
What does the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment mean? It does not mean, as he assumes falsely, that in the interests of tramway extension, the consent of the local authorities should be altogether abolished. That is a serious thing; and irritating though the Borough Councils have been to the County Council, I am not disposed to go so far with him. If the veto were abolished grave injustice would be done to local communities. They would be put to 450 the needless expense of employing solicitors and counsel, and sending town clerks, surveyors and engineers to watch the scheme, which, with the right they now enjoy, would not be necessary, because, by Resolution, they would say, "We know best about this, we will not incur the expense of £3,000 or £4,000; we will veto it under the existing Standing Order." If the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment is carried, this will be done away with, and the local authorities will be placed absolutely at the mercy of the company promoter, who will schedule each town and area as the happy hunting ground for speculative enterprise against the wishes of the local authorities. The way out of this difficulty, if there is a difficulty, is not by removing the veto of the Borough Councils, although it has been abused. There is a more excellent way than this in London, and that is to prevent a local road authority vetoing an elected central tram way authority. Failing that, I trust that Metropolitan Members, whatever their politics may be, will bring pressure to bear on their respective Borough Councils, to look upon tramway traction, not as a local, but as a Metropolitan affair. Battersea should not be factiously allowed to prevent the people of Lambeth from having access to Wandsworth Common, simply because the Wandsworth Borough Council, for political reasons, dislikes the London County Council. I believe the London County Council will do its best to reciprocate such action from the Metropolitan point of view, as it has invariably tried to do. Wherever the County Council has tried to extend a tramway it has generously contributed to local street improvements, an action which has not been reciprocated by the Borough Councils as it should have been. But I believe that a better spirit is growing up in London. Much of the political and fractious opposition which was generated in the Borough Councils against the County Council is dying out. It is useless, dangerous, and ought to be abolished, and I am glad to say it is rapidly diminishing.
Does the right hon. Gentleman see where his Amendment would lead us to? Let me give my view. London, I am sorry to say, 451 is shamefully behind in all forms of communication. Its bus services, relatively superior though they are to the services in other towns and cities, have not been as good as they might be, the tramway system has been very bad indeed, while the underground railway system has been simply disgraceful and intolerable. But if we do not watch it instead of suffering from the defects of under-competition and bad services, as in the past, we are on the eve of suffering from too much competition, and unreasonable schemes by unscrupulous promoters upon whose head the hand of Parliament should rest pretty heavily, or the veto of the local authorities should be increased. If any hon. Member visits the special Committee room where "tube" and tramway schemes are being dealt with at present, he will find that London has been scheduled by alien capitalists with foreign desires and external interests as a happy hunting ground—a sort of Tom Tiddler's ground in which Jews only may pick up gold and silver. I am glad to say that a Committee of both Houses has been engaged during the last few weeks in rejecting some of these "tube" and tramway schemes on the broad ground that they are promoted, not for genuine investment, against which I have no complaint, but by promoters who wish to make profit out of their promotion, construction, and equipment, and then unload on the simple British public schemes that ought never to have been sanctioned. These schemes of tubes and tramways are now being projected everywhere without any regard to local or general convenience of London at all, with the result that we are getting tubes tramways unco-ordinated one with the other, and there is needless competition and needless expenditure. If this state of things is allowed to go on, necessary tramways and tubes will not only be over capitalised, but existing locomotion will be labouring under a heavy and unnecessary burden. I shudder to think what London will become if this Amendment of the Standing Order is agreed to, with Mr. Pierpont Morgan in the saddle anxious to buy up all the tubes and tramways which he desires to put his hands on at the present moment, and with the Local 452 Authority deprived of its local control. If the London County Council has to choose between overcoming the Borough Councils' objections and letting in the company promoters, their choice is already made. They would rather have the devil they knew than the devil they wot not of in the shape of the company promoter. The right hon. Gentleman ought to be more far-seeing in this matter. If the Borough Councils' veto is removed the matter will not stop as tramways. The same principle will be applied to electric light, water, light railways, and what harm may not then be done by over competition in the public streets without a corresponding public benefit? At present the Borough Council can buy out tramways, electric light, and other private companies, because there is regulation and control in defined areas, but if this veto is removed it will result in the endless tearing up of the streets, to the detriment of London, without the veto of the Borough Council. Last year there were 250 private Bills passed, involving an expenditure of £96,000,000. It is impossible that Members of Parliament should be posted in all the details of those Bills, but at the present time there is some guarantee that those Bills have been properly and adequately discussed by the local authority, as without their consent the scheme cannot preceed, and that is a guarantee of local requirements having been met. If this Amendment be carried there will be no veto and no control by the local authority, and no guarantee that a Bill has been adequately discussed, with the result that there will be interminable discussions in the House on Second and Third Readings, because no one will know what the real views of the local authority are. Another objection to the Amendment is that it would place the local authorities more than ever at the mercy of private companies in regard to the opening up of the streets, the evil results of which we have seen in Piccadilly Circus and the Strand.
§ (10.2.) MR. HALSEY (Hertfordshire, Watford)
as a member of the Standing Orders Committee, before which a good many of these tramway questions had 453 come, and also as representing a county council whose interests would have been affected if the proposal of his right hon. friend had been in operation, opposed the Amendment. He yielded to no one in admitting the importance of this question in connection with the problem of the housing of the working classes, but at the same time he thought it was only fair and reasonable that the local authorities should have some power of control over tramways. If his right hon. friend's Amendment were carried, the effect on rural districts would be serious. Whenever a tramway was proposed in a country district, though the scheme might be a bogus one, the unfortunate rural authority would be obliged to come up before a Committee of the House to oppose the tramway. The proposal would almost double the work of the Private Bill Committees. He believed that in cases in which consent was withheld the allegation would uniformly be made that it was unreasonably withheld. Moreover, he thought that in an epoch of local self-government we ought to trust the authorities even if they occasionally made mistakes. In the event of the House considering that some appeal was necessary, he would like to see some such system resorted to as that which was adopted in reference to Provisional Order Bills, involving the holding of a local inquiry. A local inquiry was far less inconvenient and expensive, and much more likely to arrive at the real truth of the case, than an inquiry before a Committee of the House in London. As a final reason against making any alteration at this moment, he pointed out that great changes had just been made in the Rules of Procedure, the effect of which could not yet be judged, and that a promise had been given that a Committee should inquire into the whole subject of private Bill procedure.
MR. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith)
I think the House has some what lost touch with the reasons which induced my right hon. friend the Member for Sleaford to bring forward this Amendment. The case he made was that, in the interest of the tramway 454 schemes for bringing working people from their places of residence to the centre of a big city like London, the veto which now rests with the local authorities of intervening districts should no longer be allowed to prevail. We have heard something tonight of blackmail by certain local authorities. I do not think it is necessary to go into that, although I daresay that if we were to examine very closely some of the Bills which have been before Parliament during the last few years we might find cases to which that term would not be wholly inapplicable. Whether that is likely or not, what we want to do is to see that justice is done as between the parties. The hon. Member for Battersea seemed to think that all tramway promoters were bad and all local authorities good. I do not quite share that view. There are good and bad promoters of tramway schemes, and good and bad local authorities. Our object is that justice should be done between these parties, and I do not think that justice is done when one of the parties is judge in its own case. Where a local authority is enabled to put its foot down on a scheme and veto it, the promoters of that scheme never get a chance of bringing their scheme before the public, or of obtaining the assent of this House to it, or of getting conditions inserted such as Parliament would approve. I was certainly somewhat astonished at the conclusion to which the hon. Member for Battersea came. As I listened to the facts he narrated to the House, I expected at the close he would pronounce himself in favour of the Amendment of the Standing Order. No doubt he is divided in his allegiance. As a London County Councillor he favours, or feels he ought to favour, this Amendment, but, as representing the interests of the borough in which Battersea finds a place, he feels it to be his duty to support their interests in this House. But what did he tell the House? That since the Metropolitan Boroughs were established two or three years ago, there had been no less than thirty-eight cases in which the Borough Councils had exercised their power of veto, and that in all those cases the consent of the local authorities was unreasonably withheld.
MR. J. W. LOWTHER
I understood the hon. Member to say that in all those thirty-eight cases the consent was unreasonably withheld.
MR. J. W. LOWTHER
The hon. Member assents to that. That seems to me rather a strong order. He went on to speak of the terribly backward state in which London finds itself in the matter of communication. There I thoroughly agree with him. But how is that backward state to be remedied by allowing interposing local authorities to exercise this power of veto? It seems to me that the only way to advance the welfare of the public in that regard is to allow the matter to come before Parliament, and there let the matter be decided in the interests of the public, regardless of the interests of the individual parties. The hon. Member used the word "co-ordination." How in the name of goodness are you to get co-ordination when you allow one local authority to interpose its veto upon, and there by stop, a wholly beneficent scheme in that respect? I admit there are great difficulties in the way of cost; I admit there will be greater expense. I admit that evil, but I think it is a still greater evil to leave things in their present state. Under the Light Railways Act no power of veto is permitted to the local authorities through whose district the proposed light railway is to run. It is true there is a local inquiry, but I am not certain that a local inquiry is more likely to arrive at a proper decision than an inquiry held here. I have more faith in the Committees of the House of Commons than in the inspectors of various Government Departments. I will not put the case higher than that. I have the most absolute faith in the decisions given by Committees here. I believe it is their intention—an intention almost always carried out—to do absolute justice, and I do not see how that end is to be arrived at if you allow one of the parties to the dispute to interpose a veto and prevent a scheme being 456 even considered by Parliament. For these reasons, although I object on the score of expense, I think the balance lies in favour of the change proposed by my right hon. friend, and if he goes to a division I shall support him in the lobby.
§ *(10.25.) MR. BLAKE (Longford, S.)
asked what were the interests really involved? If they were exclusively those of the local authority or of the district under its jurisdiction it was not unreasonable that that body should have an arbitrary veto, but if larger interests were concerned it was neither logical nor reasonable that that should be the case, and there ought to be some means devised whereby those larger interests should be investigated and the local authority prevented from absolutely disposing of the question of whether or not there should be a means of communication between one point and another. That was the whole essence of the matter. There appeared to be some inconsistency in the speech of the hon. Member for Batter-sea. The facts as stated seemed to point to a different conclusion from that at which the hon. Member had arrived. If there had been thirty-eight cases in which large public interests, affecting the centre and the parts far beyond the centre of this great aggregate of population, had been checked and hampered by the absolutely uncontrollable veto of intervening local authorities, that was an argument for a change in, rather than for a continuance of, the existing state of things. It was a somewhat extravagant view to take of the importance of a local authority to say that it should dominate, not merely its own concerns, but also those larger concerns appertaining to the areas on either side of its own district. Let it defend its own interests before some impartial tribunal against unauthorised incursions into, or unreasonable interference with, its own domain without due regard to the interests of the people, but let it not be an absolute and unchecked barrier to the free communication between, and passage of, the population from one side to the other. It appeared to him that, unless some better scheme could be devised, notwithstanding the increased facilities 457 to be given to promoters, and the greater cost which in some cases would be incurred, the suggested Amendment ought to be adopted.
§ (10.32.) CAPTAIN JESSEL (St. Pancras, S.)
thought the feeling of London on this matter ought to be expressed. The hon. Member for Battersea had referred to thirty-eight cases in which the consent of the local authority had been, in his view, unreasonably withheld. Doubtless everyone whose scheme had been refused thought the refusal unreasonable, but surely the best judges in the matter were the local authorities. This Amendment had been brought forward with a view to facilitating the construction of tramways from the suburbs through the centre of a town. How would that affect London? Such tramways would be welcomed, but unfortunately there was the physical difficulty that the streets were too narrow, and that was generally the reason the local authorities had refused their consent to proposed schemes. He was glad to find himself in agreement, though from rather different reasons, with the hon. Member for Battersea on this matter. Last year a deputation of the Mayors of Metropolitan Borough Councils waited on the Chairman of Committees in another place and strongly protested against any alteration in the Standing Order, and he believed that every Borough Council in London joined in that protest. At present if a Borough Council refused its consent that was an end to the matter. But what would happen if this Amendment were carried? Supposing the London County Council and one of the Borough Councils disagreed. Year after year some of the ratepayers of London would be fighting each other with each other's money, with the usual result that the party with the longest purse would win. Was that a desirable state of affairs? Then, if a scheme had been thrown out, what length of time was to elapse before the promoters could bring forward another scheme? Endless expense would be involved. London as a whole did not desire the change, as they believed the local authorities were the best judges of local requirements. He therefore hoped the Amendment would not be carried.
§ SIR JOHN DORINGTON (Gloucestershire, Tewkesbury)
pointed out that there was no necessity for coming to Parliament at all. In order that there might be a cheaper method of procedure Parliament had prescribed a method of making tramways or light railways under provisional order. Under the Tramways Act there was an absolute veto; under the Light Railways Act there was no veto at all. It was perfectly open to a promoter to proceed under the one Act or the other just as he pleased. Some thought the Light Railway Act was too easy, while the Tramways Act was too severe. He took it that the object of the Standing Order was to discourage people from not using the powers which Parliament had given them of having a local inquiry in the particular district concerned and having the thing there decided by a much cheaper tribunal, and, in the sense that it was on the spot and persons belonging to the district could make their views known before it, a better tribunal. In that way local authorities were not put to the immense cost of coming to Parliament. If the Standing Order were altered promoters would be encouraged not to take the course prescribed by Parliament—viz., that of proceeding under provisional orders—with the result that the expense would be greatly increased. He should therefore oppose the Amendment.
§ *(10.39.) SIR J. DICKSON-POYNDER (Wiltshire, Chippenham)
thought that if the suggestion of the hon. Baronet were carried out it would be necessary to change the Gentlemen at present acting as Light Railway Commissioners, because experience had shown that those Gentlemen were very averse to sanctioning any light railways within the Metropolis or its confines. He was thoroughly in agreement with the object of the mover of the amendment, but he believed the results of the alteration would be worse than the existing evils, and he would therefore be compelled reluctantly to vote against the proposal. He did not agree that unnecessary obstacles had not been placed in the way of promoters. Of recent years tramways schemes had been delayed and stopped most unreasonably. 459 In a Bill at present under consideration by a Committee of the House, out of fifteen schemes promoted by the London County Council, no less than ten had had to be abandoned on account of this veto. In fact, it might be said that tramway extension in London had been at a standstill for the past ten years. The hon. Member for Battersea commenced his speech by saying the Borough Councils had been arbitrarily vetoing these schemes, and wound up by declaring that in spite of that, they must leave the power in the hands of these Councils, to go on exercising this veto.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
explained that what he said was that if he had to choose between the indiscriminate action of promoters and educating Borough Councils out of their at present often unreasonable mood, he would prefer the latter. The electors would very quickly bring their own Borough Councils to book.
§ * SIR J. DICKSON-POYNDER
did not desire to misrepresent the hon. Member, but he thought the real reason he had taken the line he had was that this power of veto was not limited to the Borough Councils, but extended to the London County Council, so that if the Amendment were carried, it would apply to the latter as well as to the former. He had often been told he was an undue advocate of the London County Council. He probably thought there was more good in that body than did many of his hon. friends, but at the same time he was by no means blind to its defects. That body had laid down a principle—from which under no circumstances would it deviate—that all tramway schemes within the area of the County, should belong solely to the County Council. If Borough Councils had in the past been arbitrary in the exercise of this power of veto on schemes promoted by the London County Council, so also had the latter body been most arbitrary in vetoing schemes, many of them most admirable schemes, promoted by private companies. The law as embodied in Standing Order No. 22 did undoubtedly embarrass tramway extension in London, 460 but the question was what was to be done to remedy the evil? He could not accept the proposed amendment, because it would entirely remove the check imposed by the Standing Order. He took this line in the interests of the House itself. The Standing Order had been a great protection against superfluous measures being introduced into the House, and in these days, when the great cry was for the devolution of local matters, it seemed strange that they should be asked to consent to a proposal by which the private legislation introduced into the House would be increased three-fold. Having said so much he should like to make a suggestion, and it was that they should not consent to the removal of this veto until something better had been substituted in its place. He felt himself that a Borough Council was not the best authority to deal with this matter, for it must take a local view, and all that was necessary to influence the council, as a rule, was that some half dozen frontagers should come forward in opposition to a scheme. It was necessary in order to grapple with this great problem to have a comprehensive system of locomotion between the North, South, East, and West of London. They must not allow any local prejudices to be placed in the way of legitimate schemes being promoted in this House. He should like to see this Standing Order altered, for he did not believe the Borough Council was the proper authority to give a decision upon a matter which really affected the welfare of London as a whole. He should like to see the Minister responsible take this I matter in hand and give it careful consideration and then bring forward a vigorous policy upon this subject next year. The proposal of his right hon. friend was a most incomplete solution of the question. He should like to see this Standing Order amended and some authority constituted which would receive the confidence of London as a whole, and before which all these Bills might go and be sanctioned or vetoed as the case might be. It was not for him to propose what that body should consist of. It might be a body including a certain number nominated by the Board of Trade and one or two nominated by the London County Council, if a 461 body of that character was appointed all those measures might be put before it and a superfluity of Bills would be prevented. It was for those reasons that he felt bound to vote against the proposal of his right hon. friend, although he agreed with the objects he had in view.
§ (10.50.) MR. GODDARD
said the object of this Amendment must be to increase the number of private enterprises in boroughs and towns. Now was that a desirable end to attain? Sooner or later all these great schemes would have to be bought out by the local authority, and any local authority which had had any experience in having to buy out these kind of enterprises would know something of the difficulties and the great expense they were put to in regard to such purchases. He did not think they ought to open the door wider to this kind of private enterprise and for these reasons he should vote against the Amendment.
§ MR. THORNTON (Clapham)
said he hoped the House would not consent to the removal of this power. He spoke as the Member for a kindred borough to that of the hon. Member for Battersea, and he asked the House to consider whether or not it was wise to consent in the interest of the ratepayers to the removal of the power of a local authority to veto these schemes. The boroughs of Battersea and Wandsworth were not antagonistic to the housing of the working classes. The borough of Battersea had been spoken for by its representative, and in Battersea they were doing their best to back up the London County Council. With regard to Wandsworth he had received many letters from that district, asking him to do the best he could for the housing of the poor. He knew that the boroughs of Battersea and Wandsworth were prepared to do their best with regard to the interests of the South of London. He knew that Wandsworth had from time to time objected to some of these schemes, but it was fair to say that two heads were better than one, and if a little more attention was given to these schemes they might have a better result in the 462 future. He thought anyone who had gone through that narrow highway which ran through the centre of the town of Wandsworth would agree that the local authority were not unwise in objecting to the construction of a tramway through that road. The Borough Councils were created and charged with high duties, and yet had only small powers, and he considered that he should not have been doing his duty if he had not taken this opportunity of entering his protest against what he considered to be a dangerous proposal against the interest of local government in London.
§ MR. MACDONA (Southwark, Rotherhithe)
said the principle of non-interference with local authorities in these matters had constantly been endorsed by Parliament, and in several instances during the present session. It was a principle he heartily approved of, and he could not support the proposed Amendment of the Standing Order.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The right hon. Gentleman is not entitled to reply. Is the right hon. Gentleman rising to ask permission to withdraw his Amendment?
§ MR. CHAPLIN
No, I do not withdraw, but I wish to make a suggestion in order to avoid a division. [Cries of "No, no!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the House gives its consent, then the right hon. Gentleman can proceed. [Opposition cries of "No, no!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The House does not give its consent, and as there is a considerable amount of dissension I am obliged to interrupt the right hon. Member.