§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."1318
§ Mr. BOOTH
I wish to draw the attention of the House to two clauses of this measure which in my opinion make it the duty of hon. Members to reject it. Clause 22 deals with one of those vicious proposals which are now becoming more and more frequent, whereby a local corporation and their officials encroach upon the liberties of the subject, and particularly upon those of the poorer classes. I would like to ask hon. Members whether it is reasonable or proper that humble working-men, who all their lives have been accustomed to give notices to terminate their tenancies verbally, should be compelled by letter to bring to an end their contract with the corporation for the supply of gas and use of gas, meters. I am not prepared to challenge clauses considered by the Private Bill Committee, particularly those referring to the finances of Warrington, but the clauses to which I object were apparently not considered by the Committee nor referred to by the counsel engaged in the case. Clause 22 provides that at least twenty-four hours' notice in writing shall be given to the corporation by every gas consumer before be quits the premises, and if he does not give that notice he will be mulcted in all kinds of costs. It seems preposterous to me that poor people in humble tenements should be compelled to write letters in order to end their contracts with regard to a gas meter. The custom in this great district of Lancashire to which this Bill applies is that almost all contracts, particularly in the cotton trade, are settled by word of mouth, and vast sums change hands and a very great deal of business is done without any written document at all. In this Bill no verbal notice is provided for, and if a working-man passing the Town Hall were to communicate that he is about to change his address, such action would be of no value. These privileges in the hands of a private firm may be waived, but such is the petty tyranny in regard to these matters of Corporation officials that there is no chance of such consideration as would be shown under those circumstances being displayed by corporations. The object of the Bill professes to be to place a large bridge over the Ship Canal, and the Committee gave careful attention to many parts of the Bill, but the clauses about which I am speaking were pushed into a large measure in order to escape scrutiny. Then I come to Clause 49, which, I think, has become standard or stereotyped amongst local authorities. But with all the 1319 emphasis I can command I wish to press upon the House that it is time that clauses of this character should cease to be incorporated in private Bills.
The clause in question provides that no manufacturer, vendor, merchant, or dealer in ice cream or any similar commodity shall within the borough manufacture or store it in any sleeping room, or in any place which is likely to make it injurious to health, or in which there is an inlet or opening to a drain. No one wants to consume ice cream made under those conditions, but it does seem to me that if they prevail in the borough it is a standing disgrace to the health authorities of Warrington. They have sufficient powers to make their will operative, but I regret to inform the House that there is much insanitary property in many parts of Warrington, and I would like to draw the attention of the municipality to it. It seems to me that their ordinary powers are quite sufficient, and it will not meet the case to prosecute some ignorant Italian under these conditions. If the buildings remain in that state why should children be brought up in such rooms. One difficulty of getting rid of such premises is that in too many cases the men who draw the rents from them sit on the local authorities, and the inspectors of health—the sanitary inspectors—dare not touch certain properties belonging to their employers. In many cases what you would do by this clause is to prevent the poor Italian from manufacturing ice cream, but it seems to me that the larger matter should be dealt with in such a spirit as would reflect credit upon the town of Warrington. I apologise for drawing the attention of the House at this stage; I cannot imagine that the hon. Member who has recently been elected for Warrington, can introduce himself into public life by defending such clauses as these; and I ask to be forgiven for taking advantage of the only opportunity of calling attention to this matter. I cannot conscientiously either in this or any other Bill, pass such a clause as this without protest, but having made it I leave my case in the hands of the House.
§ Mr. HAROLD SMITH
As the representative of the Borough which is to find so much money for promoting this Bill in Parliament perhaps the House will allow me to make a few observations in reply to the hon. Member who has criticised it. I should like at the outset to say that I do 1320 not quarrel with the tone of his criticism, nor do I complain that he levels criticism at the Bill, nor that he chooses this particular stage of the measure in order to level it. I quite admit that the hon. Member is disinterested, and that he has had no opportunity of criticising the measure to which he takes exception save on this occasion, but may I remind the House of the somewhat laborious history of this Bill. Ever since December, 1909, it has been slowly winning its way towards a place on the Statute Book. Since that date it has passed, in July last, all the necessary stages in this House. It has passed the necessary stages in another place, and owing, if I may say so, to a mere technical rule, it is necessary for the Bill to come again before this House owing to the fortunate or unfortunate Dissolution which occurred at the end of last year, according to the view which hon. Members take of the occurrence. I may say, therefore, that it is somewhat of a formality that it has again to pass through this stage. Under these circumstances I feel that the hon. Member will pause and will consider that perhaps he may withdraw the objection which he has made. I do not speak as to the merits of his case. I for one offer him, for what it is worth, my sympathy. If I were at any time sitting on a Committee discussing such a Bill, and the hon. Member raised the points which he has called attention to, I certainly would be glad to support him, and my poor services, such as they are, are entirely at his disposal at any time when he wishes to raise the points which he has brought forward this evening. May I refresh the memory of the House? The hon. Member's point is that it is oppressive of a Corporation to insist on its tenants, who hire its gas-meters, giving notice in writing to the Corporation. With that criticism I am entirely in agreement. It is unjust to ask poor and illiterate tenants to give in writing a notice to the Corporation of their intention to give up the use of the meter. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that, under these circumstances, and considering the fact that the Bill has been through so many laborious stages, and the fact that the Borough of Warrington has spent a very large sum and a considerable amount of time in promoting the Bill, and owing to the fact that the Committee appointed by this House has spent many days—one might say months, in considering the Bill in its every detail, and offering, as I do, the sympathies certainly of myself and, I believe, 1321 of many Members if not all of this Committee in the point to which he objects in this particular Bill, I suggest to the hon. Member that it would be a graceful act if he withdrew his opposition on this occasion, and I pledge myself to support him, whenever I have the opportunity, whenever he chooses to make a similar criticism on a Bill which has not reached what one may describe as such a final stage as this. I make my appeal on behalf of the borough to the hon. Member to withdraw his objection.