HC Deb 01 November 1909 vol 12 cc1475-83

Sub-section (4).—Any order made by the Local Government Board under this Section may be enforced by mandamus.

Lords Amendment: After "mandamus" insert (6) For the purposes of this Section, so far as it relates to Part III. of the principal Act, the expression "local authority" shall not include the London County Council, or the council of any county borough.

Mr. BURNS moved, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The reasons for this disagreement can be put very briefly. If this Amendment were carried, and if the proposal which my hon. Friend for one of the Divisions of Lancashire hopes to persuade me to adopt, but which I cannot accept, were agreed to, two-thirds of the urban population of this country would be ruled out from the operations and provisions of this Bill. We cannot, therefore, accept the Amendment. I see no reason why 74 county boroughs, 252 non-county boroughs, and the London County Council, which has nearly 5,000,000 people within its jurisdiction, should be exempted from the operations and provisions of this Bill. I can give even a shorter reason than that. Seventy-five per cent. of the population of England and Wales live in urban communities, and if this Subsection were carried and amended as my hon. Friend wishes, more than half of that 75 per cent. would be exempted from the Bill. There is no reason why London should be exempted. There are certain portions of London where greater activity is wanted with regard to housing, particularly in the Southwark area. The details have been admirably set forth by the medical officer for Southwark himself in his report for 1908, and if the condition of things which he describes is allowed to go on there is reason for either the borough council or the county council, or probably both, being defaulted. For these reasons we ask that no invidious distinction shall be made between the bodies—whether rural or urban, large or small—and that all should come under the jurisdiction of this Bill.


I do not understand the reference of the right hon. Gentleman to the Southwark area. This Clause only affects Part II. and Part III. There is plenty of power to coerce the local authority under Part I. If the right hon. Gentleman relies on the Southwark case——


Not wholly.


I venture to assert that the Southwark case will not arise under this Clause. Where you get this large population of 50,000, which is the limit for county boroughs, it is quite reasonable to allow the ratepayers to decide what they can do without putting an undue financial burden on the rates. I think it is most undesirable in a matter of this kind—where obviously the Local Government Board cannot know all the circumstances of the neighbourhood and the possibilities of good housing being provided by the public authority—to take away the control from the representatives of the ratepayers. It will be quite sufficient if this provision is limited to the smaller areas. I think the large towns will do the work quite satisfactorily without any of this coercion.


I am very sorry the President of the Local Government Board declines to make this concession to the county boroughs. In the observations that he made he rather led this House to believe that the municipalities are not interested in this Bill. That is quite an erroneous opinion. The municipalities are very anxious to get this Bill passed into law. Although, as has been already stated, it originally sprang from the rural districts, it is the desire of the municipalities to acquire power to deal with their housing problems—that is, responsible for its being extended to the municipalities. But in carrying out the Housing Bill there is all the difference in the world between a great municipality being permitted to do what it thinks possible in developing its own area and its being compelled to act on lines laid down by the permanent officials of the Local Government Board. The municipalities of this country do not trust the Local Government Board. I do not say that with any disrespect to the presiding officer of that Board. But the Local Government Board exists for all time, while its representatives in this House are not a permanent fixture. There are many municipalities that have had reason to doubt very greatly the wisdom and judgment of the Local Government Board. Take the case of the City of Manchester and its experience in connection with a housing scheme in a district which by the extension of tramways has entirely altered in its residential character. The local authorities of our municipalities best know the requirements of their district, and it is absurd to think that anybody sitting in London can be acquainted with the conditions of municipal life in most of these great towns. If they are to be deprived of all authority to initiate schemes, there will be an increasing difficulty in getting citizens to carry on municipal affairs. They do not care to have an autocratic power in London dictating to them in every single instance the way in which they shall manage the interests of their own district. The object of this Clause is to give the Local Government Board power to dictate to every local authority what their schemes should be, and how they should carry them out, and to compel the local authority to pay every penny of expenditure that may be incurred. When it is remembered that the local authority—leaving out the aldermen—are the direct representatives of the municipality and of the ratepayers, I think it must be admitted that they are the truest judges and the best people to carry out these great works.

Viscount MORPETH

The hon. Gentleman opposite has at least made a speech in favour of local self-government, but it is local self-government for London and the county boroughs only. All the other local authorities he cheerfully leaves in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman. He thinks there is all the difference in the world between the county boroughs and the other local authorities. What difference is there? He tells us that in Manchester they know their own affairs, and they do not want anybody in London to come down and dictate to them! Does not the inhabitant of the rural district know his own affairs? Why, then, should he be put under the authority of the Local Government Board in London while the Manchester inhabitant is to go free? The arguments which the hon. Gentleman has advanced that the municipalities best know their own requirements are arguments in favour of leaving these matters subject to the supervision of the Local Government, but leaving the decision to the local authority. The hon. Gentleman in every Division that has taken place has not voted with us on this side of the House when we have tried to insert these safeguards. He has, on the contrary, supported the Government. Now he asks that the county boroughs and the larger borough of the County of London only shall be exempt, and that all the other authorities shall be left under the control of the right hon. Gentleman. He gives us as one reason for that that this Bill had its initiation in the needs for housing in the rural districts. But taking the rural districts all round, I venture to assert that the need for housing in the great centres of population is ten and even one hundredfold greater than it is in the rural districts. Where the need in rural districts exists it is not universal; it is only in certain districts. It is mainly for the towns that this Bill is passed. I am unable to support the Amendment which places London and the county boroughs in a privileged position. If London and the county boroughs are to be in such a privi- leged position they will immediately cease to take any interest in the smaller and more helpless local authorities. They will become selfish, privileged persons, and it is because I desire to see them kept in the same category as other local authorities, and to use their great influence on behalf of self-government instead of being allowed to escape the conditions enforced on everybody else, I shall vote without any hesitation with the Government for keeping the county boroughs in line with the other local authorities.


I am very sorry my Noble Friend has informed the House that he is going to take a certain course. I hope before the Division is taken I shall be able to persuade him that his better course would be to oppose the Motion of the President of the Local Government Board. My Noble Friend seemed surprised at the excellent speech made by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Scott). I was not in the least surprised. It was exactly what I expected. For years hon. Gentlemen opposite have been trying to apply compulsion to other people, but the moment it is applied to themselves they come down, and advance strong reasons why they should be exempt. My Noble Friend is perfectly correct when he says there is no earthly reason why the London County Council and the county boroughs with over 50,000 inhabitants should be exempt. On the other hand, I believe everybody should be exempted, and I shall, therefore, vote for the exemption of the smaller numbers. I take exactly the opposite line of the hon. Member opposite. If we are not to exempt the borough and rural district councils why should we exempt the large ones? But I voted against compulsion being put on the other bodies, and I shall, therefore, vote against its being applied to the larger ones. I must say the argument of the President of the Local Government Board rather took my breath away. I am sorry he is for the moment absent from the House. I have had the pleasure of sitting in the House of Commons for nearly 18 years opposite to the right hon. Gentleman. Up to a short time ago there was nobody here who reverenced so much or looked with a higher regard upon the London County Council. Over and over again he has said in this House that the London County Council was superior to every existing institution and yet such is the irony of fate the right hon. Gentleman, now that he is no longer a member of that body, is trying to put his own Department above his once cherished ideal. Really it beats everything that the President of the Local Government Board—I prefer to call him the Member for Battersea—should come down and propose to put above the London County Council the Local Government Board. Words fail me to describe such a derogation from principles which for so many years the right hon. Gentleman has held. I hope that the country at large will take notice of this. I have no desire to use unparliamentary language, but I do trust that the public will note the way in which hon. Members opposite regard the grant of power over another man's property to the bureaucracy presided over by the right hon. Gentleman, and the horror with which they regard it when it touches themselves. I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman has now returned to the House, and I will simply call his attention to the fact that he, formerly a great champion of the London County Council, is now proposing to subordinate the body which he once adorned to the Local Government Board.


Only when they are ire default.


Does the right hon. Gentleman think the London County Council can ever be in default?


There are many recent symptoms.


They can only have arisen since the right hon. Gentleman left it. He may, perhaps, go back to it, and then he will regret his present action.


As representative of one of the most enlightened county boroughs I cannot listen unmoved to what has occurred. We are asked to make provision for something which everybody knows will never take place. It is right I should say here that an observation made by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill should be contradicted at once. He said that this Amendment would take out of the provisions of this Bill a very large proportion—which he named—of the urban population of this country. It will do nothing of the kind. If the Amendment is not disagreed with the only effect will be to remove the population from the extreme provisions of these entirely useless minatory proceedings. I say that they are useless because their sanction is only a mandamus. What is the use of a mandamus against a town council? It is the kind of thunder and lightning which we see on the stage: it has practically the same effect. Instances on record show that it is a perfectly useless proceeding, and public opinion will practically prevent in these cases your putting it into operation at all. It will be no use for the right hon. Gentleman or anybody else who answers me to say that the taking of them out of this particular limiting provision of the Bill is really removing from them the foundation of the whole Bill. It is not the foundation of the whole Bill. As everybody knows in the cases of those large enlightened municipalities, what has been wanting in the past is not the will, but the power. It is either owing to financial straits or the want of absolute power under the law which has restrained them in the past. It has not been a want of will, but entirely a want of power. The resisting of this Amendment does nothing to make that state of things better, and though I think it is possible that the hon. Member who supported this Amendment, the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. A. H. Scott) probably is in favour of drawing the line at a place where nobody else would draw it. I do think that by negotiations or otherwise it ought to be possible to draw some line at a point where this provision would be practically of no use at all to you, and where nobody would ever dream of putting it in force.


Many hon. Members who like myself have had the advan-

tage of hearing speeches by the President of the Local Government Board when he represented the London County Council, must be profoundly, I will not say excited, but concerned at the way in which he now looks upon the opinion of the county council. In those days, and I believe even quite recently he always held that the public opinion of London was sufficiently vivacious, and the proceedings of the London County Council were sufficiently public to ensure that no possible case of default would arise in regard to the housing question in the Metropolis. But be that as it may, whether it be in London or Manchester, or Liverpool, or any other big city, there is sufficient public spirit and enthusiasm, there is an abundance of critics and schemes, to make it certain that they will not be supine or slow to move in any branch of housing. Therefore, to have the octopus touch of the right hon. Gentleman over these bodies is not only to give the go-bye to all his previous policy, but is really to insult all those freely-elected bodies, thoroughly versed in the local questions and difficulties of housing. I hope that London as a whole will read with very great interest and mark for future use the votes which London Members will give upon this Amendment.

Question put, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The House divided: Ayes, 177; Noes, 53.

Division No. 877.] AYES. [5.35 p.m.
Abraham, W. (Cork, N. E.) Clough, William Glover, Thomas
Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry Cobbold, Felix Thornley Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford
Astbury, John Meir Collins, Stephen (Lambeth) Gooch, George Peabody (Bath)
Baker, Sir John (Portsmouth) Corbett, C. H. (Sussex, E. Grinstead) Greenwood, G. (Peterborough)
Balfour, Robert (Lanark) Cornwall, Sir Edwin A. Gwynn, Stephen Luclus
Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight) Cotton, Sir H. J. S. Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Lewis (Rossendale)
Barlow, Percy (Bedford) Cox, Harold Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)
Barnes, G. N. Crosfield, A. H. Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil)
Beauchamp, E. Cross, Alexander Hardy, George A. (Suffolk)
Beck, A. Cecil Crossley, William J. Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Worcester)
Bell, Richard Dalziel, Sir James Henry Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)
Belloc, Hilaire Joseph Peter R. Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan) Hedges, A. Paget
Benn, W. (Tower Hamlets, St. Geo.) Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.) Henderson, Arthur (Durham)
Bethell, Sir J. H. (Essex, Romford) Dewar, Arthur (Edinburgh, S.) Henry, Charles S.
Bethell, T. R. (Essex, Maldon) Dickinson, W. H. (St. Pancras, N.) Herbert, T. Arnold (Wycombe)
Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles Higham, John Sharp
Black, Arthur W. Dobson, Thomas W. Hobart, Sir Robert
Boulton, A. C. F. Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) Hodge, John
Bowerman, C. W. Essex, R. W. Hooper, A. G.
Branch, James Esslemont, George Birnie Horniman, Emslie John
Brodle, H. C. Evans, Sir S. T. Howard, Hon. Geoffrey
Brooke, Stopford Everett, R. Lacey Hudson, Walter
Brunner, Rt. Hon. Sir J. T. (Cheshire) Ferguson, R. C. Munro Jackson, R. S.
Bryce, J. Annan Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter Jones, Sir D. Brynmor (Swansea)
Burns, Rt. Hon. John Fullerton, Hugh Jones, Leif (Appleby)
Carr-Gomm, H. W. Gibb, James (Harrow) Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)
Channing, Sir Francis Allston Ginnell, L. Jowett, F. W.
Cherry, Rt. Hon. H. R. Gladstone, Rt. Hon. Herbert John Keating, M.
Cleland, J. W. Glendinning, R. G. Kekewich, Sir George
King, Alfred John (Knutsford) O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Sherwell, Arthur James
Laidlaw, Robert O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.) Steadman, W. C.
Lamb, Edmund G. (Leominster) O'Donnell, C. J. (Walworth) Stewart, Halley (Creenock)
Lamb, Ernest H. (Rochester) O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N.) Stewart-Smith, D. (Kendal)
Lamont, Norman O'Malley, William Summerbell, T.
Leese, Sir Joseph F. (Accrington) Parker, James (Halifax) Sutherland, J. E.
Lehmann, R. C. Paulton, James Mellor Taylor, John W. (Durham)
Lever, W. H. (Cheshire, Wirral) Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek) Tennant, Sir Edward (Salisbury)
Lloyd-George, Rt. Hon. David Pearce, William (Limehouse) Tennant, H. J. (Berwickshire)
Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas Philipps, Col. Ivor (Southampton) Thorne, William (West Ham)
Lupton, Arnold Philipps, Owen C. (Pembroke) Tuke, Sir John Batty
Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs) Pirie, Duncan V. Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander
Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J. Pointer, J. Vivian, Henry
MacVeagh, Jeremiah (Down, S.) Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H. Wadsworth, J.
M'Callum, John M. Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central) Walker, H. De R. (Leicester)
M'Micking, Major G. Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.) Wardle, George J.
Mallet, Charles E. Radford, G. H. Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.
Marnham, F. J. Raphael, Herbert H. Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)
Massie, [...] Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (Gloucester) Waterlow, D. S.
Masterman, C. F. G. Rees, J. D. Weir, James Galloway
Menzies, Sir Walter Richards, T. F. (Wolverhampton, W.) White, Sir Luke (York, E. R.)
Micklem, Nathaniel Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln) Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.
Molteno, Percy Alport Roberts, G. H. (Norwich) Wiles, Thomas
Mond, A. Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford) Wilkie, Alexander
Morpeth, Viscount Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke) Wills, Arthur Walters
Morrell, Philip Rogers, F. E. Newman Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R.)
Morton, Alpheus Cleophas Rose, Sir Charles Day Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.)
Murray, Capt. Hon. A. C. (Kincard.) Rowlands, J. Yoxall, Sir James Henry
Myer, Horatio Rutherford, V. H. (Brentford)
Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncaster) Schwann, Sir C. E. (Manchester) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Joseph Pease and Mr. Herbert Lewis.
Nolan, Joseph Sears, J. E.
Acland-Hood, Rt. Hon. Sir Alex. F. Fell, Arthur Morrison-Bell, Captain
Armitage, R. Fletcher, J. S. Newdegate, F. A.
Baldwin, Stanley Forster, Henry William Nicholson, Wm. G. (Petersfield)
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Goulding, Edward Alfred Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)
Bignold, Sir Arthur Harrison-Broadley, H. B. Percy, Earl
Bowles, G. Stewart Hay, Hon. Claude George Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel
Bull, Sir William James Heaton, John Henniker Ronaldshay, Earl of
Butcher, Samuel Henry Hills, J. W. Smith, F. E. (Liverpool, Walton)
Cave, George Hunt, Rowland Stanier, Beville
Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Kerry, Earl of Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)
Cecil, Lord R. (Marylebone, E.) Kimber, Sir Henry Thornton, Percy M.
Clyde, J. Avon King, Sir Henry Seymour (Hull) Valentia, Viscount
Cochrane, Hon. Thomas H. A. E. Lee, Arthur H. (Hants, Fareham) Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm
Corbett, T. L. (Down, North) Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Col. A. R. Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-
Courthope, G. Loyd Lonsdale, John Brownlee Younger, George
Craik, Sir Henry Lowe, Sir Francis William
Dickson, Rt. Hon. C. Scott Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. Alfreu TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. A. H. Scott and Mr. W. Guinness.
Dumphreys, John M'Arthur, Charles
Faber, George Denison (York) Magnus, Sir Philip

Lords Amendment, as amended, agreed to.