HC Deb 27 May 1903 vol 123 cc32-7

Lords Message (5th May), relating to the appointment of a Joint Committee on Municipal Trading, considered.

SIR A. ACLAND-HOOD (Somersetshire, Wellington)

moved on the consideration of the Lords' Message of 5th May, relating to the appointment of a Joint Committee on Municipal Trading, that a Select Committee of seven Members be appointed 33 to join with a Committee to be appointed by the Lords to consider and report as to the principles which should govern powers given by Bills and Provisional Orders to municipal and other local authorities for industrial enterprise within or without the area of their jurisdiction.

MR. WHITLEY (Halifax)

inquired whether the selection had been made by the Committee of Selection or by some other means?


I think that question would properly arise on the names. It would then be competent to move to strike out the name of any hon. Member, and on that to give reasons.


said he was not prepared to attack any names, but he wished to know what method had been adopted in the choosing of the Committee.


I cannot understand what the hon. Member's point is. If the hon. Member considers that some other method should have been followed, he would be in order in objecting to the first name, making objections to the general method of choosing the Committee.


said that his objection was to the general complexion of the Committee. He wished to ask the Government to explain the method followed in the formation of the Committee. There were only two opponents of the Government upon it out of a total of seven Members; and, as hon. Gentlemen from Ireland had now to be considered as supporters of the Government, this fact affected the complexion of the Committee.


wished to say a word or two on the general aspect of this matter. He had not opposed, and did not propose to oppose, the appointment of the Committee, but he was bound to say that he distrusted the necessity for this Committee or the advantage likely to arise from its work; and he did not accept the specious arguments advanced in favour of its appointment. The object of the Motion was that the Committee should consider and report as to the principles which should govern the powers given by Bills and Provisional Orders to municipalities and other local authorities. The prospect, probably the intentional prospect, and the ultimate result would be the placing of some restriction on that municipal action which had taken place with such great advantage to the country. The word "govern" in the Motion almost implied restriction. That was not the way in which local government had grown up in this country. In the past communities had suggested a course of action, which had generally been embodied in Private Bills, and after it had been tested by experience it found its way into general Acts. Local government, dependent on local experience and knowledge, would become gradually better if it was placed under no restrictions whatever, because the very essence of local government was variety of experience. The question whether there should be any other limitations on local industrial enterprise or not obviously depended on the circumstances of the particular locality and upon the judgment of the local Council and ratepayers; also on whether private enterprise supplied the necessity or not. With regard to the constitution of this Committee, he must say he thought it most undesirable and inexpedient to submit to any tribunal which had no considerable experience or knowledge of local government a question of this kind, affecting the local government of the whole country. So far as he could see, not more than two of the members had any practical knowledge of municipal government.


Who are they?


It would be more convenient to discuss this on the names of members.


said he intended to refrain from discussing names in any way. He only wished to point out that a Committee dealing with the important questions of local government should be in some of its elements specially qualified by knowledge and experience of local government. He did not think that the Report of a body constituted as this was would have the authority and respect paid to it which it ought to receive. He hoped, indeed, that his fears as to the effect of this inquiry would not be realised, for he would be very sorry that anything should be done to interfere with the development of local government. But they were entitled at that stage to guard themselves against any presumption that the Report when presented would be accepted. He thought the indications were rather to the contrary.

MR. HENRY HOBHOUSE (Somersetshire, E.)

thought the advocates of municipal enterprise were somewhat over-nervous, and that these protests had been overdone. The Committee would not have to deal with the principle which should govern the powers, but with the principle which should govern the granting of powers—a very different thing indeed. Surely it was desirable to adopt some principle in that respect. Was it wise to give powers for municipal trading equally to all corporations, small or large? Large corporations, no doubt, could command a considerable amount of business talent, but small bodies naturally could not. The members of the Committee might be trusted to exercise common sense in the method of their inquiry. His experience on a similar Committee three years ago convinced him of the impartiality with which the Members of both Houses approached these great questions; and he was sure that if that Committee could have reported at the time, its report would have commanded the respect even of those who now sought, before the Committee was properly appointed, to detract from its influence and importance in a most unjustifiable manner.


said that for the first time Parliament was being asked to appoint a Committee to ascertain "principles." That was the duty of Parliament itself, and it could not be delegated to another body. In these circumstances the deliberations of the Committee must be useless, for it would be dictating to Parliament or to some other body whom it was powerless to coerce. The function of a Committee was to ascertain facts and to make practical recommendations. Parliament would certainly say—"We do not want your advice as to principles; that is our business. You look after the facts and practical recommendations; that is all we want you for." He agreed with his hon. friend behind him as to the want of grammar in the Resolution.


said he felt sorry that the grammar of the Resolution should be inaccurate, but he was not responsible, for he had adopted the words from a Resolution passed in 1890. The hon. Member for Halifax asked him as to the manner in which the Committee had been appointed. He consulted with the hon. Member for Leeds, and his suggestion was that the number should be five; and then the hon. Member for East Cork asked that a representative from Ireland should be on it. In 1900 the Committee consisted of three Members from the Government side and two Members of the Opposition—Ireland not being represented at all. Since that time municipal trading had very much increased in Ireland, and therefore Ireland should be represented on the Committee. The hon. Member for Leeds thought it would be very hard for the Liberal Party to be represented only by one Member, therefore the number of the Committee was fixed at seven—four from the Government Benches, two from the Liberal Party and one from the Irish Party. He thought that two out of seven was as fair a proportion as one out of five; or to put it the other way three out of seven was as fair a proportion as two out of five. He had done the best he could to please all parties in the House, and it was not his business to say whether the different representatives were good or bad.

MR. COGHILL (Stoke-upon-Trent)

said they all thought it fair that a Member from Ireland should be on the Committee, but under the circumstances that Member should come from that side of the House.


Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is really discussing the next question to be put. The only way of dealing with that point is to move to strike out a name in order to put in another name.

Ordered, That a Select Committee of seven Members be appointed to join with a Committee to be appointed by the Lords to consider and report as to the principles which should govern powers given by Bills and Provisional Orders to municipal and other local authorities for industrial enterprise within or without the area of their jurisdiction.

Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.

Sir George Bartley, Mr. Fenwick, Mr. Joyce, Mr. Platt-Higgins, Mr. Powell-Williams, Sir John Stirling-Maxwell, and Sir James Woodhouse, nominated members of the Committee.

Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.

Ordered, That three be the quorum.—(Sir A. Acland-Hood.)