§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Mr. BECK
I beg to move, as an Amendment, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
Those of us who are intimate with the rural districts are aware that in this matter we are fighting a case which will be a difficult one, and which perhaps on the surface does not appear to be a very serious one. But we believe, and very strongly believe, that in resisting this Bill we are making a stand for the very existence of county council government. We believe that it is impossible, especially in small counties, that these areas can be cut out of the county council area and that the county councils can continue to perform their duties adequately and well. We fight this Provisional Order Bill because of Cambridge, Luton, and Wakefield, but, above all, we fight for the principle of the whole thing. We fight against this policy of enabling any town which contains a population of 50,000 being cut out of the rateable area of the county council in whose district it is situated. In the county in which I happen to live, Bedfordshire, from which it is proposed to cut out Luton, we have some striking examples of what effect these sort of Orders have on small counties. Not only has our rating gone up enormously within the last six or seven years, as between 1907–8 and 1912–13 our county rates have gone up from £32,219 to £57,578, but what I want to point out particularly is that if you are going to allow a town like Luton, which is only just over the 50,000 margin, to declare itself a county borough, then you cannot resist the claim of a town like Bedford to do the same thing, since it is just below the 50,000 margin. In a county 2287 like Bedfordshire you have this extraordinary position, that if you let those two towns become county boroughs you reduce your rateable population in the rural districts from 194,000 to 105,000, so that you practically halve your rateable population. In these days, when every party in the State vies with one another in declaring that they have the interests of the rural workers at heart, and desire to see the rejuvenation and rebirth of the rural districts, and when, as a rule, every member preaches that sort of doctrine, for I think we all do, it is incumbent upon us to protect these rural areas fom this kind of emasculation.
Look at what is happening in county councils at present and to local authorities generally. This House, especially during recent years, is continually putting fresh duties upon these local bodies. We find that in education and in main roads and in many other things, fresh standards of excellence are set up, and these local authorities are asked to conform to them. In the little county in which I live this increase of standard has very nearly doubled the expenditure in the county area. The question of roads is a particularly burning one. Here you have a town like Luton, or a town like Cambridge, which wishes to be taken out of the county area, and the amount that has been spent on the roads of those localities is quite prodigious, an amount very largely, if not almost entirely, for the benefit of people who run motors and live in those particular towns. What we plead for to-night is that my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board shall call a halt in this policy which is being pursued. We say that it is not fair, especially after what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said repeatedly in Budget statements that this whole question of local rates is under consideration, and as to the right portion which should be borne by the locality and by the State, to pursue a policy like this of emasculating county council areas. You cannot do it.
I know that the hon. Members who represent these county boroughs will get up and say, "It is very hard on us that we, with our own burdens and our own desires and hopes, should be asked to carry the county council partly on our backs." There may be some truth in that, though I do not think there is a great deal, but what I say is, that Parliament has set up this machinery of the county councils. Those 2288 county councils have gone to great expenditure. They have gathered together skilled men of every kind in order to carry on the business of local government, and we do say that you ought not to hamper and to hinder those bodies until you have got some great scheme to lay before the House. If you are going to bring in some great scheme of local government or of rating, then we can discuss the matter at length. We complain that this has been a regular thing, so that any borough containing 50,000 people feels that it has the right under the Act of 1888 to come forward and claim to be made a county borough. I do not think the Act ever intended that to be so. The original intention of the Bill was, I believe, 100,000. An hon. Friend says that it was 200,000, but whether it was 100,000 or 200,000 which should have this privilege, everyone knows that the tendency since then has been to mass people more in the towns and draw them from the country. I do maintain that the Local Government. Board and my right hon. Friend should take a review of the particular circumstances of the case, and should put a stop to this automatic creation of county boroughs. I appeal not only to county Members. We are a rustic people and are quite accustomed to being neglected and cold-shouldered by our more civilised confreres in the towns. But I do say this is not a mere matter for rustic people; it is a national matter, and you cannot get any prosperity into your county areas if you are going to strike a blow in this way at the county councils. I do not want to weary the House with figures, and I shall not do so. But all parties are talking now about small holdings. Some say that people should be tenants, others that they should be owners. In the Cambridge County Council you have one of the most enlightened county councils in England as regards small holdings. They have worked the Act to the utmost of their ability, and I gay that it is nothing less than cruel to take away from such a county council a great rating area. I have the greatest respect and affection for Cambridge, but I maintain that you ought not to allow this system to work automatically. You ought to consider the whole question on its merits. We, who represent county areas, with badly paid and very poor people, will consider that your protestations of affection for our Deeds and wants are little less than hypocritical, if you cut into our rateable area in this way. I beg to move.
§ Sir RAN DOLF BAKER
I rise to second the Amendment. I have no direct interest in the matter personally, because I live neither in Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, nor in the West Riding of Yorkshire. To me it is a matter of principle. This gradual encroachment on the county council areas, this setting up of independent county boroughs, this establishment of imperium in imperio in county after county, will inevitably result in the decay of county council overnment. It is chiefly on that ground that I second this Amendment. It will probably be somewhat difficulty to induce hon. Members to support our proposal on this particular measure, because with his usual astuteness the President of the Local Government Board, instead of dealing with these three boroughs separately, has included them in the one Bill, although they are not really on the same footing. There is, first of all, Cambridge. I have very little doubt that if we could get the Members of the House present to listen to the arguments, and to vote on the question of Cambridge alone, we could succeed in defeating the proposal. Cambridge is the strongest possible illustration of the effect of this policy. Cambridge is the centre of the county. Now that its population has reached 50,000, it is endeavouring to get itself formed into a county borough, leaving the rest of the county, composed, with very few exceptions, of small or medium-sized villages, to finance the administration of the roads, education, and the police throughout the county. The modern tendency is for young men educated at the expense of the county to migrate into the towns and earn their living there. As to roads, an enormous amount of the traffic on the main roads is to and from Cambridge. It is a growing practice for big tradesmen in the towns to have large motor delivery vans, which they send to the surrounding villages, and thus take the trade away from the small village tradesmen. These big tradesmen wish to live in a county borough, and to be exempt to a large extent from the rating for the main roads outside, of which they have the greatest benefit. That is a clear instance of how very unfair and hard this practice is. As regards the police, the county police, paid for out of the county rate, form a kind of reserve to be drafted into the centres of population whenever they are needed. The case of Luton is somewhat similar to that of Cambridge. It is not exactly on 2290 the same footing, because you have in Bedfordshire the town of Bedford, which is nearly as large as Luton, but is not at present desiring to become a county borough. If, however, you make Luton a county borough, you are directly inviting Bedford to do the same. Bedfordshire County Council might survive the loss of Luton, but if Bedford went as well, it would be impossible for the county council to go on. I do not know the case of Wakefield so well. It is probably not on the same footing as Cambridge and Luton, and it is much more difficult to oppose it on the same grounds, but I have no doubt that the general principle is the same. The right hon. Gentleman will probably say that these towns have gone to a considerable expense in having local inquiries and so forth, and that therefore the Bill ought to go to a Committee upstairs. The danger of that is that Committees are rather apt to think that Provisional Orders have to go through, that they are really Orders of the President, who intends to have his will carried out. The line of argument is that the Local Government Board have held inquiries, gone into the whole question, and agreed to the proposal; that the right hon. Gentleman has brought the Bill forward, and therefore the proposal must have a very strong feeling in its favour. It is because this is a matter of principle that we are asking the House not to accept that particular form of pleading which the right hon. Gentleman, I know, is going to give us an instance of directly he arises, wherever that may be, and not to say that because these various boroughs have gone to the trouble and expense of getting up their case that therefore they must necessarily be allowed to get their Bill. Those of us who are interested in county administration all desire most earnestly to protest against the doctrine with which this House is asked to agree, that wherever a county borough gets up to the number of 50,000, that therefore it shall have the right to come to this House and to be made into a county borough. We believe that is absolutely contrary to the interests of local government in this country. No doubt the borough concerned scores as against the larger place, or it would not go to the trouble and expense that it does. No doubt the hon. Member for Cambridge—who, I believe, is going to support this very earnestly—will be ardently in favour of the Bill. And why? Because he thinks that his constituents and the people of this 2291 borough are going to score very heavily. No doubt. That is why they have gone to all the trouble and expense of bringing this forward. But they are going to score at somebody else's expense, and that person will he the unfortunate county ratepayer, who has already to bear far too heavy a burden, as I believe it is generally admitted, on his shoulders at the present time. It is for that reason that we are asking the House not to pass this Bill.
§ Mr. ALMERIC PAGET
I should like to say a few words against the Amendment which has been presented. I wondered why the hon. Member for Saffron Walden came forward in this matter until I realised that the hon. Member at one time sat for the Wisbech Division of Cambridgeshire, and, therefore, he might be considered. to have some strong feeling on this matter. I have listened with great interest to a few of the arguments which have been presented in favour of this Amendment. I was very glad indeed to hear from the hon. Member who has just sat down that, at any rate, Cambridge, he thought, had really a clear case. I am going to confine my remarks to the borough of Cambridge. That borough is fully entitled to the carrying out of the Provisional Order Bill that it has asked for, from whatever point of view the question is considered; from the point of view of history, population. rateable value, and of the distinction of the place. I may remind the House that the first charter of Cambridge goes as far back as 1120; that ever since the thirteenth century Cambridge has been a centre of learning; was indeed one of the mediaeval centres of learning in Europe. The permanent population at the present time is somewhere about 58,000. This is larger than that of sixteen of the seventy-five county boroughs. In term time the population rises as high as 61,000, which is greater than that of nineteen of the county boroughs. The rateable value of Cambridge is £380,000, which is larger than that of twenty-two of the existing county boroughs. I think you may count upon the fingers of your hand the great towns of this country where the rates are any lower. I should say that all the conditions laid down by the Local Government Act of 1888 in relation to this matter have been carried out. The county council has been at the two inquiries most ably represented. Therefore I think Cambridge is fully entitled to what it asks for by the Bill.
2292 Two inquiries have been held. The first was an inquiry into the extension of the borough boundary. This was confirmed. The second inquiry had relation to this Local Government Bill. Every argument. possible on behalf of the county council was ably brought forward, and every consideration was given at both of the inquiries to the arguments used. The chief objections have been directed against the Local Government Act itself, and not against the borough or its Bill. There have been no suggestions from anyone of any maladministration by the borough, and it does seem very hard indeed that at this late date, after all the trouble and expense which the borough has been put to, that the borough should lose its case. One of the arguments brought forward by Sir George Fordham, the able chairman of the Cambridgeshire county council, was that conditions are very much changed; that though in 1888, 50,000 was a large population, now it is no longer so considered. The Prime Minister himself, at one of these recent inquiries, said he remembered very well that when the Act was being first considered in the House, the minimum population was put. at 150,000. Shortly afterwards by agreement it was reduced to 100,000, and before the Bill became an Act, the figure had been reduced to what it now stands at—that is, 50,000. There has never been a single refusal to any of the other county boroughs outside the Metropolitan area. I might cite one instance, that of Oxford, where the population is 53,000, which has been given the status of a county borough. Another objection is that by this measure you take out of the county one half of the population and one half of the rateable value, and that the county, minus the borough, would not have anything left but a fringe of villages, with no class of people in them to administer the county satisfactorily.
One other argument advanced against our proposition was that there is no great distinctive industry in Cambridge. In, reply to that I might very respectfully suggest to this House that we manufacture brains, which are, perhaps, of equal value to the country as the manufacture of cotton, steel, or anything else. If the arguments of our opponents be well founded, then the greater the population and rateable value of the borough, the less it will be entitled to be made into a county borough. Another argument as to administration has been put forward. I would only suggest that there have been four or 2293 five different places. I will mention a few. Ely, Hunts, Soke of Peterborough, and Rutland, where the administration has been very successfully carried out, and where the population and the rateable value are considerably smaller. Of course, as hon. Members know very well, there are a good many borough grievances, but they seem chiefly to be on account of county road administration. I would point out that there are only fifteen miles out of sixty miles, or 25 per cent., of main roads in the borough itself, whereas in the county there are 257 miles out of 744 miles of main roads, or 33 per cent. A borough in that position is very much starved on account of the lack of sufficient grants from the county council for its own roads. Cambridge is an ancient city, with narrow and tortuous streets, and not enough money in the borough has been found for making the improvements desirable. Then there are a lot of the old bridges not up to modern requirements for the burdens they have to bear, and again there is not a sufficient amount of money forthcoming with which to make the desired alteration. The borough considers that a great deal of money has been spent unwisely on district county roads, and that these roads have not come properly within the Highways Act of 1878.
There has been considerable friction in one particular case where the borough has claimed against the county in which they asked for a considerable amount of money, and for which the county council offered £800 less than the amount asked for, and they had to go before an inspector, and the inspector gave them another £400. Then Alderman Howard, tile chairman of the Road Committee of the county council, admitted that the preservation of the roads had been more or less a failure; that the cost had increased as much as 44 per cent., whereas at the time the position of the district councils undertaking these roads had reduced the cost to as much as 8 per cent. We naturally say that if Sir George Fordham, who has most ably represented the county council all the way through, has got such an unanswerable case, we cannot see how it is he is so very anxious that this Bill shall not pass its Second Reading and be referred to a Committee upstairs. The strongest argument I know of in connection with Cambridge is put forward in the statement on behalf of the corporation when they state that the proposed change is desirable in the interests of good local government, that it 2294 will do away with dual control, much overlapping, and divided responsibility and discord between two classes of representative bodies. I do not propose to go into greater detail. I only say these few words on behalf of the borough of Cambridge, as I have reason to suppose there will be others who will speak in connection with Luton and Wakefield. I protest against this Amendment, and I hope, before the discussion is ended, it will be withdrawn and that the Bill will be given a Second Reading, so that any financial adjustments necessary may be fully considered by a Select Committee upstairs.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY for INDIA (Mr. Montagu)
I need hardly explain that I do not rise to take part in this discussion in any sense on behalf of the Government, for of course I gladly acknowledge that this has nothing to do or has only a very remote connection with the great Empire of India which I have the honour to represent. I am enabled to speak to-night owing, if I may say so with due respect, to the generous way in which the President of the Local Government Board has met those who differ from him on this particular question. Young men who have had the' advantage of his invariable and generous assistance and kindness, both educationally, politically and socially, have learned to respect him. I take part in this Debate because the Bill under discussion concerns, and concerns directly, the county which I have the honour to represent, and of which I and the hon. Member for Newmarket, who has just spoken, are the only representatives in this House. The hon. Member for Newmarket is a newcomer to this House, and I would instance the unanimity of opinion which exists in the county of Cambridge in regard to this Bill by the fact that although no one worked harder than I did to prevent the hon. Member's return to Parliament, although no one is more sorry than I am that he is here instead of another, yet at the same time I gladly welcome the fact that he and I are in common accord in this matter that affects the interests of our respective constituents. I do not forget that I also have the honour to represent nearly 1,000 voters in the borough of Cambridge, but I am bound to say that when there comes a conflict of interests between those who live in the county, I unhesitatingly intend to voice the opinions of my Constituents on the subject.
I suggest that there has never been: before the House since the passage of the 2295 Local Government Act of 1888 a case of this particular kind. I should like, if the House will bear with me, to read a few figures, for by these figures I can represent the pith of our case. The area of the county of Cambridge is only 315,168 acres, the population is 128,322 persons—I am quoting from the Census of 1911—and the assessable value of the county rate is £717,383. That is the area and population with which we are dealing. Now I would invite the House to consider from these figures the result of the proposal now before us. It is proposed to withdraw from this area of 315,168 acres an area of only 5,457 acres, but it is proposed to withdraw from this population of 128,322 persons a population of not less than 55,812 persons. It is proposed to withdraw from this assessable value of £717,383 an assessable value of no less than £352,444, so that I am right in saying that whatever you may think of the merits of this particular Bill, in the case of Cambridge, you are taking nearly half the population of the county and more than half the rateable value. I do not think it can be done. The county which I have the honour to represent has shown remarkable and acknowledged efficiency in carrying out the administrative burdens laid upon it from time to time by this House. Further, its administration of secondary education, of small holdings, and of the Insurance Act has been conspicuous by its excellence.
I would seriously represent to the House that by crippling the county in this way you are presenting serious obstacles in dealing with such matters as secondary education, the new scheme of agricultural education, the sanatorium treatment of tuberculosis under the Insurance Act, and all the other matters which this House of Parliament s so constantly asking the counties to do, and trusting the counties will find energy and money 10 carry out. The fact is we had in Cambridgeshire a very small and compact county. The hon. Member who so ably seconded the Motion for the rejection of this Bill talked about Newmarket. Newmarket is in Suffolk, and the only urban area in the county of Cambridge is the borough of Cambridge with which we are now dealing, a borough centrally situated, a county town, the seat of the Government of the county from which radiate all the railways and all the main roads which connect all the parts of the area known by the name of the county of ambridge. Cambridge is the heart of 2296 the county, and if you take out that town you are left with a ring of small villages surrounding the town. I think I am right in saying that there is not a single village in Cambridge, or a collection of human beings outside the borough of Cambridge, which has a population of 5,000 inhabitants.
9.00 P. M.
I submit that the association of the town with the surrounding rural districts which make up the administrative county is naturally complete and for the common benefit. The county town is the commercial centre of an important agricultural district, and this district has been famous during a long historic period and is still famous for its agriculture. In this town the rural population finds a market for its corn and cattle and banking facilities, and all the trade of the town of Cambridge, with the exception of the trade brought by the universities, comes from the county of Cambridge. It is to that county that the townspeople owe their trade, their profit, the growth of their population, and to the town is entirely due the prosperity of the agricultural community by which it is surrounded. The trade of the borough is carried on through the county along these county roads which radiate from the town, and the heavy motor traffic which has Care-bridge for its destination proceeds along the county roads. I am quoting for a different purpose the figures which the hon. Member for Cambridge quoted. If this Bill is carried, of 272 miles of main roads now maintained by the whole area for its common benefit, 257½ miles would remain in the new administrative county to be chargeable upon that area with nearly half the population and more than half the rateable value. The hon. Member opposite has suggested financial compensation, but no financial compensation could possibly make up for the loss which is sustained by cutting out the heart of the county, removing the hub from the wheel on which it has revolved so long, and leaving the hub spinning by itself and the rim to roll away as best it may. That would, in my opinion, and in the opinion of my Constituents, be an outrage against the principles of local government. Cambridge—and I say it with no disrespect to the borough in which I happen to live—lives on the one hand as a commercial centre upon the university population, and on the other hand upon the surrounding agricultural industry. I do claim support, support, 2297 and the unanimous support, irrespective of party, of one of those factors in the prosperity of the town of Cambridge, namely, the agricultural community. The university of which I am also proud has declared, so far as I can understand, that its official attitude on this question is neutral. I am, therefore, bound to form my own opinion of the effects of this proposal on the university. Financially it seems to me clear that my university will be a loser, but I presume if this Bill becomes law some sort of financial compensation inadequate though it must be, will have to be offered. This proposal will impose a burden upon the rates of the borough of Cambridge for fourteen or fifteen years, and that will put a burden upon the University of Cambridge, although only a temporary one. More than that, the colleges and the University of Cambridge own 30,000 acres of land in the county with rent charges, tithes, and other increments from real property, and all this will be charged permanently with the increased county rates which will result from the alteration made by this Bill, so that the university stands to lose substantially, and, in part, permanently, and I know too well that its financial resources are not so large and adequate to its great and growing duties that it can afford to stand any further financial burden. Honestly, I cannot for the life of me see the advantages of the proposal. Cambridge borough, if it had a financial grievance, can secure redress of that financial burden far better than Cambridge county can. The university is to suffer, the county is to lose nearly half its population and more than half of its assessable value.
This proposal is not based upon any geographical consideration at all, because the county of Cambridge will then consist of a large, thinly-populated country district in which the largest village has a population of 4,082 souls, the next largest only a population of 2,393, and very few other villages with a population of over 1,000; and so I suggest, in all seriousness, to all those who, whether they represent boroughs or towns, are interested in the development and prosperity of rural England, that neither the geographical character or the quantity or quality of the population of the area which would result from the passage of this Bill gives any ground for hope that this area will be an efficient unit of local government. As we go on year after year, the legislation of this Chamber results in putting greater and greater administrative burdens upon the men who 2298 live in our country districts. We pass this legislation partly for considerations of public health and social benefits, and partly because we desire to pursue the policy of decentralisation. We have no. right to do this unless we are careful too avoid injuring the machinery of local government and so hampering it as to make it incompetent to do its duty. I am not so sure, having regard to the enormous responsibilities, both financial and personal, which the districts of this country have to-day, that you will not eventually find it necessary to amalgamate areas rather than to sub-divide them. Therefore I really and seriously think that this proposal is to be accurately described as a retrograde proposal, and I would urge the House not to set high-spirited public men and willing taxpayers and ratepayers an impossible task by means of the passage of a Bill which, while it will affect, I am convinced, serious local interests, will also set the worse kind of example for future local government. legislation.
§ Mr. DENMAN
If any hon. Member of the House could convince those of us who are interested in boroughs of the inadvisability of the Bill which we hope to. read a second time shortly, it is the hon. Member who has spoken, and spoken with so great enthusiasm, for the cause which he obviously feels deeply. There are others who feel differently towards that cause. Cambridgeshire has been occupying the time of a great many of us for several months in various ways. It began by moving an association to send a deputation to the Prime Minister in order to show that they ought to have some special treatment, and not come under the ordinary procedure of the Local Government Act of 1888. They then come here and utilise the great gifts of their representatives to again invite us to go outside of, or rather to neglect the Local Government Act of 1888. Those of us who support this Bill can, I think, afford to deal with the question very tersely. We ask for one thing only, and that is that the Act of 1888 should be allowed to run its ordinary course. Consider what has to happen under that Act. The borough has, in the first place, to represent that it, is desirable it should become a county borough. After that has been done, there has to be a local inquiry conducted by the Local Government Board, and, after that is satisfied, there has to be a Provisional Order Bill, such as we are now discussing. 2299 surely, it is clear that all the details that affect the question of desirability and determine whether the Bill should succeed or not are details which we cannot possibly discuss in a full House. We, who support the borough case, have claimed throughout that the ordinary practice which has hitherto prevailed should prevail on this occasion, that the Bill should go to a Committee, that there all the numerous details as to the relative advantages should be heard, and that skilled counsel should put them before one of the Select Committees, in which we all have so much trust. We could go on debating the details of each town—I am glad to say that I am not interested in any of them—until eight o'clock in the morning with great happiness and vigour, but what should we gain by it? We cannot decide this question here, and I do ask that the practice which has previously prevailed whereby these Bills go to a Select Committee upstairs and are fully examined should be adopted on this occasion as on all others.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
I hope that this Debate, which really does concern matters of as great importance for the good government of this country as many public measures which come before us, will neither develop nor degenerate into a conflict between the boroughs as such and the counties as such. We are here to promote good administration in all parts of the country, and the most sparsely populated rural area has just the same demand on the sympathy and judgment of this House as the most densely populated part of our great cities. To-night, it is perfectly true, we are discussing a Motion which is not often made, but we are discussing it on a Bill which does, of necessity, bring about results which have never previously occurred. I agree with my hon. Friend who has just spoken that we ought to be careful and jealous of the procedure of this House in sending upstairs Bills, the details of which can there be better considered, but this House is surely the master and not the slave of its own procedure, and this House, surely, is not only entitled but is bound to consider, and I am confident is willing to consider, any case which is exceptional in an exceptional way. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, has already pointed out to the House the special characteristics of the first of these Provisional Orders.
2300 Will the House forgive me if I venture to point out the difference between this and other counties, and the difference between 1913 and 1888? In 1888 county government was confined to a very small number of subjects of administration. County government, alike on its representative side, and on its side of constructive development, was only just born, and it was natural and inevitable that Parliament then should look upon the great municipalities, whose history and traditions are the pride of us all, as being the one and only complete force of local government then known and exhibited in the country. But since 1888 you have had growing up in the English counties a somewhat different type of local government, as far-reaching as the local government in any great city, dealing with an ever-increasing variety of subjects, and face to face with the same problems of human health and happiness—under conditions no less difficult, though they be different in many particulars; and I am sure that no Member of this House, whether he sits for a borough or a county, can doubt for a moment that the difficulties of local self-government in counties are quite as great as they are in boroughs, or that they need the same care, the same skill, and the same support from this House as do the great problems of municipal government. Therefore, to-day, in 1913, you are in an entirely different position as regards the local government of this country from that in which you were in 1888. Here you have two types of local government, each fully developed, one the municipal or county borough type, and the other the county council type. Surely, it is the duty of this House to see that neither of these types, which are the best known to civilisation at the present moment, should be sacrificed to the other. You should not destroy a county to make a county borough or abolish a county borough in order to equip and strengthen a county.
Here, for the first time in our history, is a Bill brought before this House which does in effect destroy an existing county council. I do not wish to omit any facts whichever way they point. I know in regard to the Liberty of Peterborough and the Isle of Ely, that their raison d'être is largely historical. I remember reading the Debates of 1888, I do not know whether the Liberty of Peterborough was part of the administrative county or not, but anyone who happens to have looked at those Debates will agree that these places were made separate counties largely 2301 because of their historical independence and separateness, because of the very strong local feeling, and because they were already equipped with the necessary machinery of county government. None of these have ever been created by special Act of Parliament, in the same way as the county of Cambridge would be reduced to a group of disconnected villages if this Bill became law. I hope it will not be considered by hon. Members of this House, however they may vote, and whatever places they may represent, that there is any feeling of antagonism towards borough government on the part of those who implore the House to consider very carefully before it takes so new a departure on the narrow foundation of a private Bill. I have lived in a county borough nearly all my life. My Constituents are all members of borough or urban districts, and I have the same affection, partly geographical and partly personal as other Members have for the localities which send us here.
I am here to-night to speak, if I may, for the moment, on behalf of the County Councils' Association. The whole of the governing bodies of the counties in England and Wales, with two exceptions, which do not belong to the association, have considered this matter with the greatest care. They feel all due respect for the procedure of this House in sending private Bills to Committees upstairs. They also feel they have a duty not only to the councils of which they are members, but to local government as they understand it, and they believe it to be for the good of the country that no county council should be destroyed merely to make a distinction between a non-county and a county borough. I have ventured to put down on the Paper an Instruction. I am most anxious to avoid a Division in this House, if one can be avoided, and a growing embitterment of the feeling between counties and boroughs, an unhappy and disastrous feeling between two great classes of persons, who alike have onerous duties put on them by this House, none of them made easy of performance by piping rates and inadequate contributions. I wonder whether it would be possible for the President of the Local Government Board to embody in some statement a reiteration of the assurance which the Prime Minister gave to our deputation, that no Provisional Order should be prejudged by the fact that it went there as a Provisional Order of the Local Government Board. One or two 2302 Members have spoken to-night about the "ordinary course." If that were the view of the House it would put many of us necessarily into a position of undeviating and unhesitating opposition, if it is to be taken, as a matter of course, that every borough which counts over 50,000 is thereby to become a county borough, no matter what happens to the country around. That would be intolerable. On the other hand, it may be equally intolerable to say that, because a borough has over 50,000 population, it must not become a county borough. I am only anxious for fair play between the two, and if my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board can, and I am sure he will if he can, give an assurance that if this Bill does go upstairs the Committee will be absolutely free to realise that, though the Local Government Board, in one sense, sends the Order there, it merely means that it is sent there because it is a matter worthy of impartial and wide-spirited discussion and settlement—if my right hon. Friend can accept the Instruction which I have ventured to put on the Paper to the effect—That it be an Instruction to the Committee particularly to consider the probable effect that the confirmation of each Provisional Order included in the Bill would have on the capacity, whether financial or otherwise, of each county council affected to continue efficiently county council administration in the residue of the county area.If my right hon. Friend can accept that, I, for one, will make an appeal to both sides in this controversy. I would make an appeal to my hon. Friend who represents the county of Cambridge to allow the Bill to go upstairs, and I will also appeal to my hon. Friends who represent Cambridge and Luton to agree to this special Instruction. Since 1888, in every single case in Which a county borough has been created it has left to the county affected a far greater rateable value, a far more numerous population, a far less effective organisation for county government than would be the case either in Cambridge or Luton; therefore if Members of the House who are most familiar with the municipal point of view will agree to this Instruction, which merely asks the Committee, in a case which is unique and exceptional, to pay particular attention to those features which are unique and exceptional, surely that is fair. In that case if this Instruction can be accepted, I would make my 2303 appeal to both sides, because I am quite certain we shall never have peace in these controversies if we neglect the particular features of exceptional cases. On the other hand I feel the weight of argument which would seek to bring this under the ordinary Parliamentary procedure if it can be so brought without prejudice and injury to an area put in deadly peril.
§ Mr. GEORGE THORNE
I fully recognise the spirit and tone of the speech to which we have just listened with so much pleasure. I and my hon. Friend who has just spoken have a profound belief in the development of local government. I have sometimes thought that possibly there is more in front of local government than there is in front of Imperial Government, and that a large part of our work in the future will be to extend the scope and opportunities of local government. Therefore I should hail, as my hon. Friend does, with sorrow and regret any indication of bitter antagonism between county government on the one hand and borough government on the other. It is because I desire to have that procedure provided under the Local Government Act of 1888, because I look on that procedure as the best means whereby this difficulty can be fairly met, that now I am opposing the Amendment which is before the House. That Amendment desires to do away with these Bills altogether, and I would ask the House to consider what the effect would be. We had, a moment or two ago, an admirable and eloquent speech from the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench who represents the Chesterton Division of Cambridgeshire, and whose speeches we always listen to with great pleasure. He stated that he spoke as a representative of a Division of the county of Cambridgeshire. Immediately before him an hon. Gentleman spoke as a representative of Cambridge town. As I listened to the two speeches I thought that, supposing the representative character of those two Gentlemen had been transposed, we should have had exactly the opposite speeches from the two hon. Gentlemen in question. I submit that it is not by speeches of that description that a question of this importance has to be dealt with. This House itself is not the tribunal to consider matters of fact. Here we discuss principles, while the facts are matters which have to go to a Committee. Instead of the Committee provided for this Bill being a 2304 Grand Committee it is a Select Committee, which hears evidence on oath, takes all the facts into consideration, and afterwards comes to a definite conclusion.
In opposing the Amendment now before the House, I, for one, am not pledging myself to Cambridge, either for it or against it. I am only asking that Cambridge shall have fair play, and that Cambridge shall have a chance of submitting her case, not to a House of representatives who, county or borough, speak according to their representation, but to a Select Committee, which upon evidence on oath will have listened to all the facts of the case and will then decide in accordance with the provision of the Act of 1888. What is that provision? It provides, in words which seem to me exactly to meet the point raised by my hon. Friend who has just spoken, that while a population of 50,000 gives a primâfacie case, it does not give an absolute case, that everything has to be taken into consideration, and that the basis is "if it be desirable." Those are the very words used in the Section of the Act which governs this procedure. Those are the governing words by which the Select Committee to which the Bill will be referred are bound, therefore it is the only reasonable and proper way by which it can be done. What will be the effect if this Amendment is carried 1 It will be a slap in the face for Cambridge, and as much as to say that Cambridge shall have no look in at all. If the Bill passes its Second Reading, the House decides neither one way nor the other; it provides a means whereby before the Select Committee all aspects of the case can be considered, on the one hand, from the borough standpoint, and on the other hand, from the county standpoint, and the Committee after fairly considering the whore question, will report to this House. Then we shall not merely have had representative speeches from Gentlemen who represent counties on the one hand or boroughs on the other, but we shall have a Report from the Committee which has faced the whole matter from a judicial standpoint, having heard the whole of the evidence and not merely impassioned speeches. With that Report before us, we shall be in a position to come to a definite conclusion upon the Third Reading whether we are in favour of this Bill or opposed to it. That is the natural and proper course to pursue. I will only indicate, what has been indicated by a 2305 very much higher authority than myself, that it is the usual course advised by the Prime Minister himself. We have not come to this question for the first time today. There have been two deputations to the Prime Minister—a deputation led by my hon. Friend who has just spoken, representing county councils, and another deputation which I had the honour to lead, representing municipal associations, and both sides were placed before him. I would point out, so that this case shall not be prejudiced, that the Prime Minister, having heard direct representatives from Cambridge and direct representatives from Luton, used these words:—I do not pronounce any judgment about that, except to say that I think you have made out that these are not unique or isolated or exceptional instances.As the Prime Minister took that view, with these definite statements before him, it seems to me to level the statements in the other direction made here to-night. That is not the point to which I should desire to lead the House at this juncture. I desire to lead it on the lines of the letter written by the Prime Minister's secretary after the second deputation had approached him. He would not come to a final decision when he met us, and when we had the honour of coining before him he reserved himself for consideration with the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. The words used help us in the direction I pointed out and are in the spirit manifested by my hon. Friend, and, so far as I understand it, carry out entirely the spirit and aim of the Local Government Act, 1888. This is what Mr. Bonham Carter wrote on the Prime Minister's behalf:—The Prime Minister does not think that adequate reasons have been shown for referring this question to a Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament, as was suggested by the speakers on behalf of the County Councils' Association, and he is of opinion, therefore, that the Provisional Orders should go in the usual way before a Select Committee, where full opportunity will he given for the consideration of all the relevant circumstances, and the Committee will have full discretion to dell with each case on its merits.So far as I understand the situation, that is what I accept. It seems to be the only way in which fairness can be done to the borough on the one hand, and to the county on the other. It is the only way in which we can avoid this miserable county and borough fighting. I sincerely hope that this Amendment will be withdrawn, so that there may be a clear issue in regard to the Bill itself, and that we may have the guidance of the President of the Local 2306 Government Board later on in regard to any Instruction which may be moved after the Second Reading is carried.
§ Mr. LANE-FOX
The very able speech to which we have just listened puts the case we have to consider in a light which will commend itself to all the interests concerned. What we want to know is whether what he has said, that the effect of the Bill passing is not a deciding one, is the fact or not. The reason for the opposition shown to this Bill is that the constant practice for a considerable number of years has been for Committees to regard the granting of a Provisional Order by the Local Government Board as a practical sanction of the demand of the particular town to be made a county borough. We complain that recent experience has shown that Committees have not considered that they had a free hand to deal with each question entirely on its merits. The fact is that in no case of a town desiring to become a county borough has the Committee refused its sanction. We shall therefore be glad if we can get an official assurance from the President of the Local Government Board on the lines of the letter written by the Prime Minister. Until some such assurance is given we are bound to oppose this Bill, at any rate, those of us who have a strong case to present against the granting of this new status to the various towns mentioned in the Bill. We are bound to oppose the Bill until some definite rule is laid down by authority under which we can be absolutely certain that real fair play will be secured, and that the case will be considered absolutely on its merits. I have been asked on behalf of the West Riding Council to put their case. The case of Wakefield is rather different from the case of the city of Cambridge, but it is a great mistake to think that the West Riding of Yorkshire has not seriously suffered on many occasions by the creation of many county boroughs during recent years. The last creation of two county borough, Barnsley and Dewsbury, which undoubtedly caused a feeling in Wakefield which has now animated them in asking for this new status, has had a very serious effect on the assessable value of the West Riding, and has already caused a considerable increase in their rates. Therefore it is not fair to say that the West Riding of Yorkshire is not affected.
The city of Wakefield is asking for these powers—I say it in no sense of hostility to that interesting city—simply and solely on 2307 the ground of having arrived at a population of 50,000. When the Local Government inquiry was held, the mayor of the city, who was their chief witness, had no reason to give, beyond the existence of the 50,000 population, why this change should he made. There was no advantage that the city would gain, and he had no complaint to make of the county administration. They only arrived at this 50,000 population because the county had added a wing to the county asylum in Wakefield. There is no chance, according to the evidence which they themselves gave before the Local Government inquiry, as far as I can see, of the city of Wakefield suffering, but, on the other hand, there is every chance of the county suffering considerably. When it was a question where the West Riding County Council should have its headquarters, the city of Wakefield brought, a petition, and canvassed vigorously among the members of the county council, and pointed out to them the disadvantage they would be under if they set up their headquarters in any city which was not in their own area. Wakefield is a most inconvenient railway centre, and cannot compare with Leeds or Bradford. It was fully understood by the representatives of the county at the time that if they set up their headquarters at Wakefield, Wakefield would remain part of their integral area, and the great advantake which Wakefield considered they would have by remaining there was that they would be contributing largely the rates of part of their own area, and at present the county pays no less than £7,000 a year in rates to the city of Wakefield. It is a most ancient and interesting city; it is now a cathedral city and naturally has its ambition. It has seen other towns achieve the dignity of county boroughs, and there is a strong sentimental feeling that they ought to have their reward. We do not know that the Committee will have a chance of judging this extremely strong case, and I have had to put the facts before the House. I think there is a very strong case for the West Riding area, and I hope it will have a chance of being fairly considered if the Bill cannot be rejected.
§ Mr. MARSHALL
As representing the borough that the hon. Member has been referring to, I feel that one or two statements have been made with which he will hardly expect me to agree, particularly the statement that our present position in 2308 regard to population is due to the unfortunate extension of the Asylum Buildings. That may be perhaps unfortunate from this point of view that it may have been almost coincident in time with a change in the representation of Wakefield from Conservative to Liberal; but I can assure the hon. Member that is not in any sense the fact in regard to the population question. The population of Wakefield at the last Census was considerably over 2,000 above the 50,000 limit, and it has greatly increased since then, and it would be very easy to show, if I had the latest figures available, that we have several thousand more people than are absolutely necessary to qualify us in regard to the 50,000 limit.
§ Mr. LANE-FOX
Is it not the fact that the population of Wakefield at the last, Census was 51,311, and is now 52,000, and that in the asylum there are 1,892 patients, and in the prison 806–2,698 in these two, institutions—which brings the population below 50,000?
§ Mr. MARSHALL
The hon. Member hag the advantage of me because he has the detailed statement and I have not, but I believe my information is correct that there are several thousand over. But we are not being swayed merely by small considerations of this kind. We have responsibilities to a very large area, which have been properly discharged, and we have now arrived at that position which for a long time past has been deemed to be a position in which a town or borough is capable of taking full advantage of its powers of local self-government. It is on that broader line rather than on any narrow detail that I should urge that the position in regard to Wakefield should not be persisted in. I welcome the statement of the hon. Member (Sir Ryland Adkins) that there was at this moment no real disposition to press the full position which was outlined in the Notice of Motion in regard to the rejection of the Bill. So long as the Instruction is not deemed to carry with it any severe limitation in regard to the Committee, and is merely a general Instruction on the lines that the hon. Member (Mr. G. Thorne) stated when he referred to the letter of the Prime Minister, I should not object to the Instruction being carried if the Bill was read a second time without opposition. It must be understood that this Instruction does not mean simply that the limitation of the financial resources of the county should be regarded as a disqualification of the claim of the borough in 2309 question. I wish to refer to what was said by the hon. Member opposite in reference to the alleged pledge given in regard to the county buildings at Wakefield. These buildings were erected about thirty years ago, and it was not merely a question of the fitness of a petition from Wakefield which swayed the council. You may be sure that there was something more than that. They got hold of the question of the facilities for reaching Wakefield by railway from distant parts of the area, and for this reason, and I believe this reason only, it was thought that the county buildings could be built more efficiently and in a better way in Wakefield than in Leeds. The claims of Leeds were strongly advocated, although a county borough itself, and it was not until it w as shown that it would be vastly more expensive to build in Leeds than in Wakefield that the claims of Wakefield were recognized. The other point I wish to make is that the rating of the buildings in Wakefield is not wholly an advantage to Wakefield at present. We, ourselves, pay large sums to the county authorities, which leave them on the balance very much better off than we are by having them there. We pay for main roads a, three penny rate more than comes to us by their contribution. We pay a considerable sum of money over and above what we receive from the county in regard to rates on these buildings. We pay in respect of money spent all over the county in places with which we have no real relation or responsibility. I could show, if it were in order to go into the matter, that Wakefield is financially a considerable loser by being tied to the county in regard to its financial matters.
I will not proceed with that point beyond saying that we wish the county council to realise that it is out of no hostility to them that we take the attitude we have taken. We believe it would be more economical and efficient in every way that we should have the powers which have in similar conditions been conferred on other boroughs. We should realise that the West Riding County Council has since the creation of three county boroughs actually increased its rateable value enormously. When the first borough was constituted some years ago, the assessible value of the West Riding was £7,027,000. Two other boroughs have recently been created, and the assessable value to-day is £7,853,289. It is manifest to all those who know the West Riding 2310 County Council that they will not be injured by losing so small an area financially or in regard to administration. They will rather be bettered, because the borough of Wakefield itself, liberated from the control of the county council, will at the same time take off the county council something of that enormous administrative burden which certainly it is not able to bear with ease and comfort. The case in detail can easily be considered by the Committee upstairs. I hope it will not be thought that because a conciliatory spirit has been shown to-night by hon. Members that Wakefield thinks in this matter it has a weak case, or that it accepts the statement of the hon. Gentleman opposite that the West Riding has a strong case. The case must go to the Committee upstairs absolutely free from all prejudice, and on that understanding if the House will give the Bill a Second Reading, I should be content with the assurances given with regard to the Instruction.
§ Mr. BLACK
I desire to say a few words with reference to the Division of Bedfordshire, which I represent. I have given this matter very careful consideration, and I am satisfied that, so far as Bedfordshire is concerned, the disadvantages of the proposed change by far outweigh the advantages. This proposal will set up in the county several interests with the result of creating divided counsels. At the present time town and village are united by common interests. The town of Luton draws hundreds of its factory workers from the neighbouring villages. They come on foot and bicycle, by road and by train, to work daily in the factories of Luton, and are a source of advantage to the borough. Their interests are one, and their welfare is bound up one with the other. The county council of Bedfordshire and its administration is progressive, and, in my opinion, capable. It will be an evil day for Bedfordshire when the county is split up into separate entities with divided interests. The Instruction suggested by the hon. Member for Middleton will modify my opposition to the proposal, but it will not entirely remove it, and I wait with interest to hear what the President of the Local Government Board has to say about it. I recognise that the whole of the Debate has been carried on in a very conciliatory spirit, but there are vital interests to the places concerned which must be considered, and I beg the most favourable consideration possible for Bedfordshire from the President of the Local Government Board.
§ Mr. CECIL HARMSWORTH
I had not intended to address the House on the question, because it is an extremely delicate one. I have heard county Members speaking most eloquently in favour of the county councils, and I have heard borough Members stating with eloquence the claims of the boroughs. I am in the happy position of representing one of the boroughs now under consideration, and at the same time half of the county of Bedfordshire, and, I submit, the more important half. In these circumstances, I do not propose to offer any comment on the merits of the particular boroughs mentioned in the Bill. I should like to say that I think my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton has opened a way out of what has become a serious difficulty, and I would respectfully suggest that the hon. Members who moved and seconded the rejection of the Bill should withdraw the Amendment and allow the Instruction to take its place. I would venture to impress upon the President of the Local Government Board the advisability of accepting this Instruction. We all desire, whatever our views may be, that this Bill should go to a Committee upstairs, and I submit that that is the best way out of what threatens to be a very serious difficulty.
Mr. J. W. WILSON
I do not rise as representing a borough, a council, or any interest directly affected at the moment by this particular provision law. My experience in this House has been that in most cases the House has been wrong in opposing the Second Reading of private Bills, but I am glad that this Debate has taken place, and for this reason. I do feel that in Committee work upstairs, particularly in the local legislation Committee, due weight is given and rightly given to representations from the Local Government Board. This particular Bill goes upstairs with the direct imprimatur of the Local Government Board as a Provisional Order. It was not even referred to the Committee appointed ad hoc, but rather to a Committee which takes unopposed Bills, and so I think that it is right in a case where there is a very peculiar application of a previous Act of Parliament, in the light of subsequent Acts of Parliament, and a large devolution of work to local authorities, which has, to a large extent, widened the scope of local authorities since the original Act was passed, this House should send this Bill upstairs in its ordinary course with a particular Instruction that the wider and more far-reaching aspect of the 2312 case, as it has been brought forth should be taken into consideration, and that the Committee should feel that they have a wider and more important duty to consider in pronouncing judgment on this Bill, than in the case of the ordinary Provisional Order Bills that go from this House to them.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. NIELD
It is the implication that when the Local Government Board has approved of and sent forward the Provisional Order, it necessarily passes through Committee. It is that danger that causes me to-night to speak of the county Middlesex. If that principle is really to be accepted, it exposes the county to disintegration, which it is impossible to suppose could exist in any other sphere of local government. Since 1888, such an enormous amount of work has been put by this House and the other House on the county councils, that it has been made a matter of the greatest difficulty and cost for a large and populous district like Middlesex, which is relatively small in area, to keep pace with those obligations, except by the expenditure of very large sums of money. I do not want to suggest that we have been led into extravagance by the building, of which Middlesex men are very proud, which is rising on the other side of Parliament Square, and is designed to house the very large staff which it is necessary for us to have, in order to carry on the business of the council. But if it is to be understood that 50,000 inhabitants in an urban district should be regarded as primaâ facie involving the creation of a county borough, we do stand in a very difficult position. Our county contains thirty-one urban districts and two municipal councils. At present there are eight which, if this principle is to be accepted, would be entitled to come forward and ask for separation, and within the next few years, if we are to have regard to the ordinary increase of population which has taken place, there will be an additional six, so that fourteen out of thirty-three populous districts will be swept away, and the remaining ones, which are smaller, mainly in Staines and Uxbridge Unions, will be left with a district wholly unable to bear the cost of administration. Therefore, I ask the House to pause. The matter has come to a head by reason of the opposition which Cambridgeshire in particular has offered to this Provisional Order, and the question of principle should be here and now decided as 2313 to whether or not the Committee upstairs are to be bound, in a sense, to the propriety of creating a county borough and cutting away the district from the county area, according to the decision of the Local Government Board. That does open a vista of a very serious danger from the point of view of the Metropolitan county of Middlesex, which will be injured if that principle is allowed to be carried out. No doubt if the Instruction is carried, the Committee upstairs understands that the Second Reading does not mean that they are necessarily to pass the Preamble, then it presents a totally different aspect and each case can be considered on its merits, and what we are doing will not be regarded as anything in the nature of a conclusion. Otherwise, it opens up a vista of a very great danger to those districts which are struggling, as Middlesex is doing, to discharge the duties which this House has put upon them.
We have heard the very able speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for India. He adduced arguments against this Bill that apply to the county of Cambridge, which, so far, have not been answered. The main argument which we have heard is that an Act was passed in 1881 which permitted boroughs which contain more than a certain number of inhabitants to apply to become county boroughs. I wish to submit respectfully to the House that though that Act gave those boroughs power to apply, it did not withhold from this House the power to refuse, and I most earnestly urge upon this House that they should not, in a haphazard way, pass the Second Reading of this Bill to confer this somewhat empty honour on the town of Cambridge and take away the life-blood of the county.
§ Mr. HAMAR GREENWOOD
The speech of the hon. Member for Ealing was to the effect that an Order of the Local Government Board has always been treated as a final matter in these provisional Orders. May I point out that as a fact the Liverpool Extension Bill, which was supported by the Local Government Board, was rejected by a Committee upstairs, which I think proves that the mere fact that the Local Government Board endorse a Provisional Order in no way implies that a Provisional Order must be accepted by the Committee upstairs? The Local Government Board, which endorses the Provisional Orders, is only carrying out its duty under the Act of 2314 1888. It can do no more and it can do no less. Those hon. Members who are supporting the Amendment before the House are, however sympathetic may be their intention, asking the House of Commons to penalise these three boroughs mentioned in the Provisional Order by forbidding them to enjoy the benefits of the Act of 1888. There have been sixteen Provisional Orders incorporating county boroughs under the Act of 1888. Not one of them has been opposed in this House by the county councils or in Committee upstairs. This is the first time any opposition has been shown. This opposition's shown against these three boroughs, not on any general principle, but because the representative of the counties think that by incorporating these particular boroughs certain counties are going to suffer. The Act of 1888 was passed to permit every borough with a population of 50,000 and upwards to curve to this House to ask for a local inquiry by the Local Government Board and to have the Provisional Order considered here and sent upstairs. In the words of the Prime Minister:—The Provisional Orders should go in the usual way before a Select Committee, where full opportunity will be given for the consideration of all the relevant circumstances.I would like to know what county Member in this august Assembly suggests for a moment that the Prime Minister is doing other than advising the House what ought to be done, and which has always been done in every case of a Provisional Order that has come before the House? As far as the Instruction of the hon. and learned Gentleman is concerned, I would point out that the Act itself provides for every consideration being given to every case that can be made out before the Select Committee upstairs. The Act of 1888 says that it is desirable to constitute any borough having a population of not less than 50,000 into a county borough. Before the Select Committee upstairs every argument can be brought to bear, and I do submit with great respect that the House will be making itself ridiculous if it supports the Amendment, and denies to these three boroughs that position which was given to sixteen other boroughs without opposition under the Act of 1888. I am aware that the Under-Secretary for India, and those who agree with him, oppose the application of these three boroughs, but they should seek to alter the law of 1888, if they think it is unfair to the counties. I think a, good case could be made out for an 2315 alteration of the law of 1888, because the circumstances which existed at that time are not the circumstances of to-day between counties and boroughs. But that is not the case before us tonight. The Under-Secretary for India is in an isolated majority of one—I hope so, at any rate. His case is that Cambridge especially, and I suppose by implication Luton and Wakefield, should suffer because this Act of 1888 is not satisfactory. I think that such a position would be quite unworthy of this House, and would be a discouragement to every county borough, which, under the Act of 1888, has spent large sums of money to qualify to become a county borough.
Mr. MONTAGUE BARLOW
I cannot congratulate those who represent the county areas on the way in which they have presented their case. Generally speaking some have taken a position on one side and some on the other. We have heard some who have been urging that this is a question of principle, while others have dealt with matters of detail in regard to particular cases. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite, or even on this side of the House, have been looking to abandoning the Act of 1888 altogether, and going in for some new procedure; others are willing to accept the Act of 1888 and the ordinary procedure, subject to modification. I do think that those who are connected with boroughs are entitled to know on which side those who have urged the case of the county councils rely. I, personally, am interested mainly in the boroughs, and I rather agree with the appeal made by the vice-chairman of the County Councils Association, that we should accept this Bill, and try and treat this as a matter of broad principle. The Act of 1888 has been referred to, and it is on Section 54 of that Act that the whole thing turns. Under Section 54 sixteen boroughs have been constituted county boroughs. But in 1904 and again in 1907 this particular question of the pressure of modern and altered conditions came before the Courts, and both cases went to the House of Lords. They raised the question that the Clause of the Act which requires the adjustment of compensation would allow of compensation being paid for the rateable area of the county diminished by the incorporation of the county borugh. It was decided that the Clause as to equitable adjustment did not allow compensation to be paid. A Joint Select Committee, was moved for by the County 2316 Councils' Association with the result of which the County Councils' Association have expressed themselves entirely satisfied. They went into every question of compensation where county boroughs were cut out of the county. In their Report they did not recommend that any compensation should be paid in respect of an adjustment of rateable areas, but they said that in view of all the circumstances of modern legislation they thought that compensation should go as far as making provision for the adjustment of burden. Put roughly, it comes to this, that you should not adjust income but adjust outgoings.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
The Joint Committee elected last year restored the practice under which adjustments were made between 1888 and 1903.
The Select Committee carried the view of compensation a great deal further than anybody supposed it went under the Act of 1888, when the county boroughs were created. However that may be, the Joint Select Committee was moved for by the County Council's Association, and their Report has been accepted by the County Councils' Association. Therefore, I do not see how they can very well quarrel with the position taken up in that Report. I am not going into the details of the adjustments suggested, as they can be considered amply by the Committee upstairs. What is important for us to bear in mind is this that the adjustments suggested by the Joint Select Committee, and of which the County Councils' Association have approved, do figure in Part II. of the Schedule of this Bill. Therefore, the arrangement for adequately parcelling the burden as between the county and the county borough, and those adjustments as suggested in the Joint Select Committee's Report, form part of the arrangements for this Provisional Order. I do not think, after that fact, that the House can have any doubt that justice will be done between the parties. I quite accept the appeal that has been made to us to treat this matter in a broad spirit. After all, it has been pointed out the borough occupies land in the county, and you have to recollect that you have common ties of interest. I accept all that, but at the same time it must be borne in mind that the problems of borough administration and of county administration are different problems. I am not going to maintain the case for Cambridge, because I do not think it is a case for the consideration of this House, but the Gentlemen who 2317 put the case for unity of interests and administration before us are apt to put the case too high. Parliament itself has recognised over and over again that there is a difference of administrative problems for the borough and the country.
Were we not told when the Insurance Bill was under discussion that the problem of the agricultural labourer from the point of view of insurance was quite different from that of the man in the town. The agricultural rating was in itself a recognition by Parliament that the problem of rating in the country and the town is different. Take again the question of education, Cambridge town deals with elementary education, but there is a joint authority on secondary education, so that the county comes into Cambridge for secondary but not elementary education. On that problem of education alone the best expert opinion is that the problem in the county and in the town is different. Therefore, while I accept to a certain extent the argument of community of interests. I think there is the countervailing argument that the administrative problem is different. When the boroughs have reached the point when under ordinary Parliamentary practice they are entitled to say, "We have reached a position of wealth and of administrative complications and of population such that under the ordinary procedure we are entitled to be our own county borough." Then if there are special circumstances, let the Committee deal with them. That is not a matter for the House.
§ Mr. JONATHAN SAMUEL
I think this discussion has been very discursive, and really too general. If we were discussing afresh the powers under the Act of 1888 I think the Debate would have been very material to the powers there contained, but what we ought to Debate is this, namely, the right of these three boroughs to apply for powers under the Act of 1888 to become county boroughs. We ought, as far as possible, endeavour to ascertain and to Debate whether they are entitled to apply for those powers or not. The hon. Member for the Middleton Division made a suggestion to which I do not think anyone, whether he represents a county borough or a county, ought to object. Every Committee ought most certainly to consider all Bills upon their merits, and they are not altogether influenced by the recommendations of the Local Government Board. Take the case of Cambridge or any other of these 2318 boroughs that are applying for powers to become county boroughs. They have had a very expensive local inquiry. Is it right, after that inquiry has been held at great cost, that this House should reject the Bill instead of sending it up to a Committee for consideration? We have representatives of the County Councils Association and other bodies here. I am a member of a county council, and I know that statements are made here as representing the county councils which the county councils have never really debated. It is the same with the municipal councils. These associations are more or less governed by officials, and the county councils as such do not debate the points represented here. The strongest argument urged to-night in favour of the application of the borough of Cambridge came from the Under-Secretary for India, who delivered a very eloquent speech. The hon. Gentleman stated that out of a rateable value of £717,000, Cambridge is represented by £364,000. What does that mean to anyone acquainted with local government life in a town? It means that under our system of rating Cambridge not only pays half the cost of her own main roads through the county rate, but by her rateable value she pays half the cost of the whole of the main roads of the county of Cambridge itself. That is the important factor. Any man who is a member of that council or a ratepayer of the town must feel aggrieved at being called upon to pay these large rates, in addition to what the ratepayers are called upon to pay for their local rates. There is no doubt that in the inquiry before the Local Government Board inspector, this fact was taken into consideration, and the inspector reported in favour of the power being given to the borough of Cambridge. We must consider each one of these cases upon its merits. If it had not been for the decision of the House of Lords with regard to the West Hartlepool case, the county council wouldnot have taken the action they are taking to-day. In the West Hartlepool case the county council made a claim for £30,000 for compensation for the loss of revenue in regard to main roads. There is this point to consider, that there was not a single main road 'within the borough of West Hartlepool. Because the county council failed to obtain that compensation the county council's association since then have been active opponents of these powers being granted to boroughs to become county boroughs. Each one of these cases ought to be taken upon its merits—a Bill should 2319 receive a Second Reading, and ought to go upstairs to allow of it being presented impartially to an impartial tribunal. I am quite certain that the Committee, whoever composes that Committee, will give all concerned a fair and attentive hearing.
§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Burns)
The House has, now discussed for over two hours the various aspects of three of the districts that are named in the Local Government Provisional Order (No. 21) Bill. The Debate, if I may be allowed to say so, has been more friendly and harmonious than previous Debates on similar subjects, where disputes have occurred between the urban authorities and the county council. I note, as President of the Local Government Board, with great pleasure, that there is less friction to-day between the county councils and the urban authorities than there was two or three years ago. If both urban authorities and county councils will be well advised by one whose position compels him to be judicial and impartial between both—and there are times when I can say—How happy could I he with either, Were Cother dear charmer away"—I would suggest that they should continue these friendly relationships. If they do not there is a prospect of county councils and urban authorities being alternately damaged in this House on Second Readings of Bills of this sort, for the opportunity will, in all likelihood, be used of giving transient expression to the views of the majority, on either side, that at the moment may have ascendency in the House. If that were to occur it would be very unfortunate, both for the urban authorities and for the county councils. The next point that emerges in the Bill—it was made by the hon. Member for Cambridge County, who represents the India Office in this House—to note is this, there is no suggestion that either in the matter of Cambridge. Carlisle, Luton, or Wakefield, the Local Government Board has shown either prejudice or partiality for or against. On the contrary, the lion. Member for Cambridge County was under the impression that we had not only been fair, but that we had been generous towards Cambridge county in this particular matter. The next point is the one raised by the hon. Gentleman who last spoke. It has been put, from different points of view. That is that the time has arrived when the Local Government Act of 1888 2320 might possibly be amended. If it is amended—and the county councils sometimes press that point—there is a possibility—if it is amended in the direction the county councils may desire—and the amending Bill came before this House, that the county councils would not gain by any Amendment. I would advise them to follow the example of Agag and to walk delicately in the matter of amendment of the Act of 1888, because 80 per cent. of the population of this country live in urban areas, and the reflex of that majority is, generally speaking, recorded in the representation of the House of Commons, and I would advise the county councils to proceed moderately and cautiously in any desire they may express for the amendment of the Act of 1888. The fourth point is one on which I have a right to lay considerable stress. I notice that the hon. Member who spoke last quoted facts and gave figures and details with regard to numbers that have no right, to be accepted by this House, from whatever side they are produced, in this controversy without careful consideration, because necessarily they must be ex parte, and figures and facts or alleged facts given should be tested by a proper tribunal that would be fair to both sides, both to the county council and to the urban authorities. These facts and figures ought to be-tested by searching examination, by cross-examination, by maps, plans, and figures and financial statements upon which justice could be done to one side or the other.
The other point I have to deal with was the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden, and before I come to his question I might repeat with a little more emphasis what lie himself admitted was true. It would be unprecedented if the House of Commons were to throw out this Cambridge, Luton and Wakefield Bill on Second Reading. A Provisional Order Bill which deals with Cambridge, Luton, and Wakefield, has no right to be thrown out upon Second Reading. If it was, a precedent would be instituted that would cause grave dissatisfaction to county councils, and I am sure later on to urban authorities, for whatever their views may be, and they sometimes smart under the decisions of Select Committees, they have great faith in the Select Committees upstairs to do justice to both sides, and elementary justice will only be served if the House passes this Bill and sends it upstairs in 2321 the usual way, so that the facts can be examined. May I say that the facts upon which a decision should be taken are not before the House. They cannot be adequately put, either from want of time, or from prejudice and they cannot be challenged, and it is not the duty of the House to subject any Bill to that disability. It is also not a fact to say that the Local Government Board necessarily accept as an invariable rule that because a local authority assumes a population of 50,000 it is entitled on mere population alone without the facts and circumstances being considered to assume the status of a county borough. There are other facts that the Local Government Board has to consider and they consider them in many ways. A public inquiry has to be held, and it has been held in this case, at which all persons, bodies, and interests affected were heard. The Local Government Board have weighed the evidence and they think that a primaâ facie case has been made out for the constitution of a county borough by this particular Order, and if I may say so to the Under-Secretary for India the most competent tribunal to decide whether or not Cambridge should be made a county borough is, with all respect to the county, the borough of Cambridge itself. That borough has considerably more than the requisite population. It considers itself antiquated. its revenues, its expenditure, its relation to the county, and many other circumstances warrants it in applying to the Local Government Board to be made a county borough. And the Local Government Board, without prejudice or partiality, accepted their view of the case; Provisional Order Bill has been drafted, is before the House, and we ask the House to give it a Second Reading. We do so because the House is an unfit tribunal to decide this point, and a Committee alone can do it. In answer to the hon. Member for Middleton (Sir Ryland Adkins), I may say that I think the situation has changed rather favourably to the county councils during the last few years. I think the Joint Committee of both Houses and the Resolution and Report which they have adopted removes some of the hardships which the county councils said they laboured under before the Joint Committee met. We have introduced a Bill to give legislative effect to the decisions of the Joint Committee, and although that Bill may not be passed this Session, their decisions will be in- 2322 corporated in a Provisional Order before the Committee finally decides the Bill, and before the Third Reading is taken. All the points raised by the opponents of Cambridge being a county borough will be taken into consideration, and I have not the least doubt that justice will be done to all the parties concerned by the Committee upstairs.
My last point is the appeal made by the hon. Member for Middleton. I think the House will be well advised to give a Second Reading to this Bill. I urge the House to pass the Instruction put down in the name of three or four Members on both sides. I believe that whatever exceptional circumstances there may be in the Cambridge county case, they will be met if this Instruction is passed. The hon. Member for Middleton has asked me whether I am prepared at this moment, as. President of the Local Government Board, to reiterate what the Prime Minister said, both in his letter and the communication which embodied the Prime Minister's view. I am quite willing and agreeable to do that and bring the question before the Committee. It seems to me that there is one thing left for the House to do, and that is to give this Bill a Second Reading. If there is one reason why this course should be adopted, it is that put forward by the chairman of the Cambridge County Council himself, who said:—I inn inclined to think that the Local Government Board is right, that the matter being a very large one, put forward by a very responsible and important body, the town council of the borough of Cambridge it ought to go to Parliament.We say "ditto" to the chairman of the County Council of Cambridge, and we think the matter ought to go further. Parliament is not so competent to decide these matters in all the circumstances as a Select Committee, and for these reasons I suggest that the House should give the Bill a Second Reading. I also urge the House to accept the Instruction, and if that is done all the circumstances of the Cambridge claim will be brought before the Committee, and I am satisfied that justice will be done to all parties. I commend this course to the House.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.2323
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That it be an Instruction to the Committee particularly to consider the probable effect that the confirmation of each Provisional Order included in the Bill would have on the capacity, whether financial or otherwise, of each county council affected to continue efficiently county council administration in the residue of the county area."—(Sir Ryland Adkins.]