§ Order for Consideration read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Bill be now considered."
§ Sir JOHN BETHELL
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words "the Bill be recommitted to the former Committee in respect of the provisions relating to the constitution of the Borough of East Ham as a County Borough, which appeared in the Bill as originally deposited."
The Bill was before the Local Legislation Committee for six days, when evidence was given for the Bill on behalf of the borough of East Ham and against on behalf of the county of Essex. In addition to this evidence the Committee had before them a Report on the Bill by the' Local Government Board, in which the-Board expressed the view that "nothing should be done that might in any way prejudice the unhampered consideration of the future government of the Metropolis as a whole." And I think the Committee were influenced against the Preamble of the Bill by the Report of the Local Government Board. The Chairman (the hon. Member for South Leeds), however, in giving the decision of the Committee against the Preamble of the Bill, used-these words:—I am desired by the Committee to add this remark—which is entirely outside their judgment-that t hey feel that the questions raised tire, in regard to consideration by a Committee, so novel, so important and so wide-reaching, that they would thoroughly welcome, if it were possible, the reconsideration of their decision by the House as a whole and if t he promoters of the Rill should, in the exercise of their own judgment, see their way and consider it in their interests to appeal from this Committee to the House as a. whole to decide the broader question, we should rejoice, soil that, for our guidance in cases of a similar nature in future, we might know the view of the House of Commons.We have here a definite suggestion from the Chairman of the Committee, which the corporation of East. Ham have accepted, and they have asked me to state 2133 the case from their point of view. East Ham is a municipal borough of about five square miles, situated in the extreme south-west corner of the county of Essex, and separated from London by the county borough of West Ham. Its progress and development have been most remarkable, and I venture to say without parallel in the United Kingdom. In 1881, the population was 10,700; in 1891, it was 32,700; in 1901, it was 96,000; in 1911, it was 133,400; and at the present time it is estimated at 143,000, the rate of increase today being about 5,000 per annum. The rateable value is £550,000. Of course, the population and rateable value of the borough will further increase when the dock extensions of the Port of London are completed.The borough is well equipped. It possesses electricity and tramway undertakings, which are serving the needs of the people, and have produced a profit in reduction of the local rates. It has twenty elementary schools, in which there are 25,000 children being educated. It has an efficient fire brigade, public baths, four libraries, town hall, municipal buildings, a technical institute, parks, and pleasure grounds. That index to good administration is to be found in die fact that the death rate is only 10.6 per 1,000 per annum. Of course the expense of administering the affairs of the borough is heavy, but that must always be the case in a rapidly developing district, inhabited almost entirely by the working classes. Hon. Members therefore will not be surprised to learn that the local rates amount to 10s.in the £. Now Sir, it is evident that a heavily burdened authority like this is not in a position to contribute to the revenues of an outside authority with which it has nothing in common.
East Ham is now paying to the county of Essex a sum of at least £10,000 a year over and above the cost of any services rendered to it by the county; in other words, the borough pays 5d. in the £ on its rateable value to the county without getting anything in return. Although 5d. in the £ is a considerable item to the oppressed ratepayer of East Ham, the only benefit derived from this contribution by the county ratepayer is a ½d. in the £. I admit therefore that severance would add in the £ to the county rate, increasing it from 11d. to 11½d. in the £. Against that, however, the borough will pay the county compensation on the basis of the Report of the Joint Committee of 1911. The financial question is an important one, 2134 but there are other questions of equal importance. Under the present conditions, the secondary education of children in East Ham is under the control of the Essex County Council, but the money for that purpose is raised by the levy of a. special rate on the burgesses of East Ham. You have, therefore, one authority providing the money for another authority to spend. What East Ham wants is full control of the secondary education of the Children, and to be free to develop and extend the present system of secondary education in the borough. We have a large number of bright and intelligent boys and girls who have passed with distinction through the elementary schools of the borough, and we are anxious that they shall have the same opportunity to complete their education, as is now enjoyed by children in more favoured parts of the country.
With regard to the maintenance of the main roads, there has always been contention between the borough and the county, and the ratepayers of East Ham' have been very unfairly treated by the county of Essex. They have to maintain roads which ought to be paid for out of the county rate. The administration of the National Insurance Act is under the control of the Essex County Council, although we have 40,000 members of approved societies resident in the borough. The licensing and control of music-halls is under the control of the Essex County Council. The administration of the laws for the sale of foods and drugs, a most important work in industrial districts, is under the control of the Essex County Council. The Motor Car Acts and Acts relating to weights and measures, etc., are controlled by the Essex County Council, which meets at Chelmsford, twenty-five miles away, and moreover, meets at eleven o'clock in the day, when it is impossible for the working men representatives of East Ham to attend. The area of the county of Essex is nearly 1,000,000 acres, roughly 300 times that of the borough of East Ham. The population is 1,061,000, seven and a half times that of East. Ham, and the rateable value £5,231,000, ten times that of the borough of East Ham. It is admitted by the Essex County Council that the Clauses of the Bill carry out the recommendations of the Joint Committee of the two Houses which reported last year. They admit that the compensation and adjustment recommended by the Joint Committee is reasonable. I cannot under- 2135 stand the action of the Essex County Council in opposing this Bill. The Southend Corporation have a Bill before the House this Session; it was introduced in the House of Lords and passed through all its stages in that House, and received the Second Reading here, and is now before one of our legislative Committees. The Essex County Council have agreed not to oppose it. The Preamble was approved yesterday, and the Bill is likely to pass all its stages in this House. I say that if this House grants county borough powers to a town like Southend with a population of 75,000, it cannot deny these powers to East Ham with a population of 143,000. I have dealt with the question between the county and the borough. It now only remains to me to deal with the Report of the Local Government Board. The Report assumes that the granting of county borough powers to East Ham would prejudice the future government of the Metropolis. As to that, county borough powers were granted to West Ham and Croydon in the extra Metropolitan areas, and why should the granting of such powers to East Ham prejudice the future government of London? If you annex East Ham you must annex Croydon and West Ham. County borough powers have already been granted to fifty-eight boroughs with smaller populations, but East Ham, the twentieth great town in England and Wales is denied these powers. Fncler the Local Government Act of 1888 no distinction is made between boroughs in the neighbourhood of London and boroughs which are not in that neighbourhood in connection with the granting of county borough powers. The Corporation in East Ham will be subject to the same terms and conditions as West Ham and Croydon in the event of absorption by the county of London. They are prepared to agree to anything within reason, but they are not disposed to agree to the postponement of county borough powers for the sake of a scheme that may never see the light of day. What evidence is there that the London 'County Council wish to add to its present tremendous responsibilities? What evidence is there that 2,500,000 or 3,000,000 persons over the border desire their areas to be annexed to the county of London? What prospect is here of such a demand arising in the near future, and a Session of Parliament being devoted, as it would have to be devoted, to a measure 2136=of this magnitude? I say there is practically none. I appeal to the House to pass this Amendment and to say chat we shall be no longer denied in East Ham the fullest opportunity to develop our corporate life and to have the seat of municipal administration in the midst of our people, and to encourage that civic patriotism which is the essence of self-government. I beg to move.
§ Mr. PERCY ALDEN
I beg to second the Amendment, and I wish to say that all the other larger extra Metropolitan areas may possibly be in the same position in the future that East Ham finds itself in to-day. If this Motion for recommittal is refused we shall also be in the same difficulty as Walthamstow. We shall never be able to claim larger powers, and never be able to control the services to which the hon. Member has referred. I should like to mention the difficulties in Walthamstow to reinforce the argument of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. Walthamstow's total contribution to the county rate of Essex in 1900 was £7,770. In the year ending March, 1913, it was £26,441, and of that amount Walthamstow received back in 1913 only £6,500. I think these figures alone are very conclusive, and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education yesterday shows that this is only the beginning, and that very much larger contributions will be required from Walthamstow and from those other extra Metropolitan districts for secondary educational purposes, and they will rot get back from the county anything like t he amount that they subscribed.
There is one other point, and with that I shall leave the county of London so far as I am concerned. I do not see that the conferring of county borough powers on East Ham would in any sense or degree prejudice the question of Greater London. Indeed, the moment you begin to consider the question of Greater London you have to deal with the two counties, Essex and Middlesex, and when you clear the county difficulties out of the way, you would make it much easier for any statesman who desires to deal with the immense problem of Greater London. I trust the county borough powers will not be denied to East Ham and that they will not be denied to any of those large county boroughs or urban districts. We know nothing about the plans for a Greater London. So far as I know, no scheme has 2137 been put forward that has ever been seriously considered by the extra-Metropolitan boroughs. When such a scheme is put forward whichever Government is in power, such a scheme will find the extra-Metropolitan boroughs perfectly willing to listen to any scheme. They do not want to divorce themselves from London or the interests of London. For the present they must consider their own interests and they ask for these larger powers because they have shown in the past they can when given these greater powers administer their own civil affairs economically.
§ Mr. MIDDLEBROOK
As Chairman of the Committee that had to consider this Bill, I feel it is due to the House that I should make some explanation, and I may say that the attitude of the Committee was not one in any sense hostile to the claims made by East Ham. They started on the assumption that they have a right to look for guidance from this House in this respect. The history of East Ham in regard to these matters is somewhat unusual. In 1888, Parliament passed an Act giving powers to any borough which might have a population of not less than 50,000 to apply to one particular Department—a Department supposed by its knowledge and experience, to be the best suited for coming to a conclusion upon questions of this nature. That Department must hold an inquiry arid if it finds on inquiry into all the circumstances that in the words of the Act, it was desirable that the borough in question should become a county borough, then the powers might be granted subject to the confirmation of the Order issued by the Local Government Board. The Act seems to fail upon one point, and that is in giving any indication of how far the word "desirable" is applied. We want to know whether it is to be solely from the point of view of the borough that is making the application and the possessors—the only qualification referred to in the Act of Parliament—of numbers, or were they to be desirable, not only from the point of view of that borough, but also of the county which necessarily must he affected by having the borough taken cut of its area; or whether there may not be a still wider view, and the word "desirable" should apply to all the circumstances affecting the particular case and the whole of the area, not only of the borough itself and of the county, but of all the surrounding area, whether in the county or not.
2138 Under those circumstances the borough of East Ham, having a population of upwards of 100,000, now estimated at about 140,000, made the application in the usual course to the Local Government Board. After some correspondence that Board, took the usual course and held an inquiry. The borough and the county were represented and, so far as I know, every other interest affected was represented. That inquiry went into the details of the case in every respect, and the result was the refusal of the request for the county borough powers. The borough not being satisfied with that decision, adopted the course of promoting a Bill in Parliament asking that those powers might be granted to them. That Bill is the first occasion upon which a Committee of this House has had to consider a question of this nature, except in regard to Eastbourne, which raised a question of a very different nature, in which there were other items involved. I believe I am correct in saying that a Committee of this House has never before had to consider an application for county borough powers opposed by the county from which it proposes to divide itself, and certainly has never had to consider such a question in the nature of a Bill brought before Parliament. The Committee had to consider the course taken by that Department and the report made to them advising that they should reject the application, and they came to the conclusion that whilst that action and that report formed one element to which they should give such weight as they considered necessary, it did not compel the Committee in any way to arrive at the same decision as the Local Government Board. They felt that the Committee, as representing for the time being this House, was not only entitled, but was bound to consider the whole of the circumstances of the case, and giving some weight to that report, and to the fact of that inquiry having taken place, they treated it as one element in the matter, but their decision was not based on that alone.
They arrived practically at the conclusion that to grant these powers in regard to East Ham meant that no application of that nature where a borough population exceeded 50,000 inhabitants could ever be refused in the future, and the reasons for the suggestion, made when giving the decision of the Committee, state that if they apply to this House the Committee would rather welcome the application, because it would give them guidance in cases of a similar nature in the future 2139 to know what view the House might take. I am not going to attempt to deal with this question from the point of view of the merits or demerits of the borough of East Ham. The Mover of this Amendment has put this case in a perfectly fair way before the House, and I have not a word of complaint to make as to his statement, or a word of criticism to make in regard to the borough itself. The points he has put before us, however, do not cover the wider ground which the Committee desire the House to consider, and they felt that they were entitled, in view of the facts urged upon them, to ask for the assistance of this House. I would just like to say that in June last the House really considered this very question in the case of Provisional Orders relating to Cambridge, Wakefield, and Bedford, and the House gave directions to the Committee considering those Provisional Orders to take into consideration, not only the circumstances of the borough, but also how the decision of the question will affect the county. In this case we require the assistance of the House, not only as to how it will affect the borough and the county, but also how it will affect the other districts. The circumstances being different from any other case which has come before us.
The Committee gave six days to the hearing of this particular aspect to the Bill, and every opportunity and assistance was afforded, both the promoters and the opponents, to place before the Committee in the fullest way the whole of the facts bearing upon this question. I think I am justified in stating to this House, that if I have any predilection at all it is in favour of the borough from the fact that the whole of my life I have been engaged in municipal work in a borough. I cannot agree to the full with the Mover that because a borough pays to a county a larger sum of money per annum than is actually spent within its own boundaries that that county makes a profit from the borough. It is true upon the face of it, but it is not true when you consider the whole facts, and East Ham is rather a valuable illustration of this case. As has already been stated, East Ham contributes about £10,000 per annum more than they actually receive in expenditure within their own area, but the evidence showed that 90 per cent. of, that payment was in respect of main roads. It so happens that the main roads within the area of East Ham borough bear a very small proportion to the main 2140 roads in the total area of the county, but the supporters of this Motion would never say, nor would any other hon. Member of this House say, that a borough derives benefits solely from that portion of the main roads within its own boundary, and no benefit from the main roads outside its own area, although it contributes to those roads. That would lead us to a very difficult conclusion, and almost a ridiculous one, because if accepted it would mean that a small hamlet with a large length of main road running into it, and having little or no need for its own purposes of that main road, should simply pay such an amount as would maintain a road sufficient for its own local purposes. That would be a ridiculous contention, because we know the condition of the main road must be maintained throughout the whole length equal to the traffic that has to use it.
That question really leads you to the much larger one whether the maintenance of the main roads should be neither a county nor a borough but a National matter. That question, however, is outside the limits of our discussion, and I simply want to use it to this extent. It so happens that the borough in question has a very small length of main road within its boundaries in proportion to the total main roads of the county, and yet it derives a very much larger advantage than accrues to it by the use of the short length within its own area. The reasons which led the Committee to this decision were really cumulative. There were reasons as regards the detrimental effect of the withdrawal of this area with its large population and its large contribution to the county rates, a contribution arising to a very great extent from works that are strictly no part of the borough—the portion of the London Docks and the large gasworks that serve the area of greater London that are included in the borough. It came to the conclusion partly because of the very great injury that the county would suffer by cutting out this particular area from it. It came to the conclusion, further, because it felt that the time is ripe, and it hoped that its action might be one of inducement to the Government, to deal with the question of greater London. And it came to the conclusion, in addition, because there are four, five, or six other places with similar conditions to those at East Ham which are watching the action now being taken, and which will almost certainly follow this application if 2141 it be successful. The Committee felt that their action in the refusal of East Ham would probably lead to the acceleration of those applications, and that, whilst it is a matter of serious injury to the county that you should take one area after another of this nature out of the county over a succession of years, it was better they should know at one time one definite scheme affecting the whole.
The conditions existing are probably peculiar to this county. It is not the common case we have constantly before us of a self-contained borough standing alone in the county surrounded by a large rural area. East Ham is one borough at one corner of the county with four or five or six urban authorities in the same corner of the county, each one in a condition to apply for its own county borough powers, and it would he better that these applications should come altogether rather than be spread over a series of years. The reason for that is that the county has to make its plans for its own management. It is now considering questions such as the provision of a lunatic asylum and of sanatoria, and questions of that nature, and, until it knows the area and population for which it is responsible, it is difficult for it to formulate definite plans for the management of its affairs. I come back to the one main point the Committee had in view and which they desired that the House should recognise. The refusal of this power to East 11am would probably, for a time, cause not only serious disappointment, but, in view of the course that has been adopted in the past, some injustice to that borough; but that is smaller in its effect, if this application be granted, than the settlement of the great principle that neither this House nor any Committee nor the Local Government Board can, in the future, consistently refuse any application that conies from a borough with a population of the number required by the Act of 1888. If the House in its wisdom thinks fit to say that is to be the attitude with regard to the formation of county boroughs, this Committee will appreciate the guidance given to it, will loyally abide by the decision to which the House will come, but will feel that in so doing the House is settling a great principle that will seriously affect the future government of our country.
§ Captain WEIGALL
As a Member of the Committee, I should like to associate myself with every word that has fallen from the last speaker. I feel that this 2142 question raises far wider issues than the ordinary issue which is raised in questions of this sort. Usually, it merely revolves itself into a financial wrangle between the urban interest on the one hand and the rural interest on the other. I cannot help feeling that here on the floor of the House we are concerned with rather wider issues than that. It is perfectly easy for either the urban interests to make out a good case that benefits are not received for the expenditure that is insisted on, and in the same way it is perfectly easy for the rural interests to make out a good case, but here I do venture to suggest we are concerned with the national interests in this problem. We know perfectly well that both the urban and the rural interests are mutually interdependent one upon the other: the urban interests are dependent upon the rural interests for what I may call a living stream of humanity to maintain their virility and vitality, and the rural interests are dependent upon the urban interests, because they supply a common commercial centre for every form of production; but in this case we have the widest interests involved.
We had the whole of this rural and urban question argued before the House admirably only a few days ago, and we are not concerned to-night with rearguing that question. I would ask the House, so far as the history of East Ham is concerned, to remember that if they reverse the decision of the Committee, which spent six days in sifting the evidence, they will take on themselves a very grave responsibility. I would ask them also to remember flat the whole of this evidence was heard previously by an inspector of the Local Government Board. I think that it would have saved a great deal of time and a considerable amount of expense if we, on that Committee, had been allowed to see the evidence and also the report of that inspector. I asked for it, but was told that it was a confidential document and that we could not see it. It only makes the case all the stronger. The whole of this question has been threshed out before two separate tribunals. They have both arrived at the same decision, and I venture to submit that our Committee, in addition to hearing the whole of the evidence, availed themselves of the legal advice and the Parliamentary procedure advice which this House places at the disposal of Committees upstairs, and, as a result of that advice, we came to the conclusion that the word "desirable," in the Act of 1888, allowed us to take into 2143 consideration the national effect—the effect, on the one hand, on the county of Essex, and, on the other hand, the effect on the extra-Metropolitan area.
Let me take the effect on the county of Essex first. We felt strongly, from the point, of view of Essex, that if East Ham was to be granted these county borough powers it would probably be followed by the successive separation, I might almost say by the successive divorces, of Ilford, Walthamstow, and Leyton, every one of which, if East Ham were given county borough powers, would claim the same powers, and the Local Legislation Committee could not refuse them. Just think, from the point of view of Essex, what the result would be on the whole of their finances and on their administration. I will only mention one effect. They are negotiating with the Road Board for the improvement of the whole of their main roads, at a cost of something like a quarter of a million sterling, and the negotiation is based on the assumption that they are going to retain, at any rate for some considerable period of time, the same rateable value that they now possess. I feel strongly, from the point of view of the county of Essex, that it is reasonable for them to ask, if there is to be a divorce, it should be comprehensive, so that they may know where they are in the matters both of finance and of administration. I feel, from the point of view of the extra-Metropolitan area, that this is a very large question and that we cannot deal with it piecemeal. We are not concerned to-night whether the extra Metropolitan area should be included in the Metropolitan area, or whether it should be dealt with in some other way. I know there is a large body of opinion which feels that the extra Metropolitan area should be included, but there is also a large body of opinion which feels that the area now controlled by the London County Council is almost unwieldly as it is, and that no addition should be made to it. I am not concerned with those two questions, but what I am concerned with is this: that it is so large a question that it ought to be dealt with by some higher tribunal than the Local Legislation Committee, and that it ought to be dealt with in a comprehensive way. You may say, "You arrived at a decision, and, through the mouth of your Chairman, asked the advice of the House not on the East Ham ques- 2144 tion." I will give the Mover of the Instruction every one of his arguments. I will admit that East Ham has proved its case up to the hilt, that it is worthy of county borough powers. But by an accident of geography it happens to form a portion of a larger area, the future of which we cannot divorce from our minds. It is really on this ground that we come to the House for a guiding principle that we may act on in future on the Local Legislation Committee, when this self-same question, as affecting other areas, comes before us. The words of the Chairman were these:—
And if the promoters of the Bill should, in the exercise of their own judgment, see their way to consider it in their interests to appeal from this Committee to the House, as a whole, to decide the broader question.That is the whole point. This broader question, I feel, is a question of imminent importance that can only be decided by a higher tribunal than a small Committee representing this House. I am going to make a very strong appeal to the President of the Local Government Board to agree to have the whole of this question referred either to a Royal Commission or to a Joint Committee of the two Houses. If the right hon. Gentleman will accept that position, if a Royal Commission can be set up and can report either before or very soon after the House meets after our recess, I feel that no harm can come to the borough of East Ham. I do not want to close the door to East Ham. My position is this: If East Ham had been where Southend is, I should have been perfectly prepared to give my vote in favour of granting these county borough powers. Southend is on an entirely different plane. It is 40 miles away. It is a self-contained area which has apparently complied with all the conditions that were contemplated when the Act of 1888 was put by this House on the Statute Book. But these other boroughs that are within the extra Metropolitan area are on an entirely different plane, and the matter is of sufficient importance to send either to a Royal Commission or to a Joint Committee of both Houses. In the reference to that body I would appeal to the President of the Local Government Board to include the whole question as between urban and rural areas. It was dealt with by the Prime Minister in answer to certain deputations, and I submit that the right hon. Gentleman gave the only advice that a man of his capacity and ability could give, namely, that these cases must be dealt with on their merits. Here is a case outside the category of the urban and rural 2145 question, and I say that it should be settled once and for all. It affects every single Member of this House. We are all either rural or urban partisans. I am free to confess that if it comes to open partisanship the whole of my sympathies would go with the rural community. These, however, are not the grounds on which I oppose this Instruction. I go still further and I say that all these questions would be very much better judged in this House if it were a condition of candidature for Parliament that a man should sit at least three years on some local authority. I make a most earnest appeal to the President of the Local Government Board to hang up this matter of East Ham until the whole question of the extra Metropolitan area has been decided by a Royal Commission, and also the whole urban and rural question, so that at any rate we on the Local Legislation Committee may have sonic sound basis on which to decide the question.
§ Mr. BECK
After the speeches of the hon. and gallant Member opposite and of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds (Mr. Middlebrook), it is hardly necessary for a Member representing an Essex constituency to say anything further.But what I do wish to associate myself with is this: I do not in the least desire to stand in the way of any aspiration on the part of East Ham. I do not in the least quarrel with the very able way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir J. Bethell) put forward his case, but what I do say is this, that these so-called rural areas are not being fairly treated if the House to-day retreats from the position it took up only three weeks ago. We then, on the Bill in which Cambridge and other towns sought county borough powers, appealed to the Local Government Board that those counties in which the particular towns were should not be cut about and made almost unworkable as a local governing community. The President of the Local Government Board then agreed to a recommendation being made to the Committee which was to consider the question, and that recommendation was:—That it be an Instruction to the Committee particularly to consider the probable effect that the continuation of each Provisional Order included in the Rill 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.Hon. Members below the Gangway and elsewhere accuse those of us who represent rural areas of being reactionaries. 2146 We are always told that we are selfish. I have never seen where we are selfish. My own opinion is that we carry a great deal more than our fair share of the burdens of this country. What I want to say, and I say it with all respect to hon. Members who differ from me, is that we agreed to that Instruction without a protest, and we did not divide the House upon it. Yet to-night borough Members ask this House to turn its back entirely upon what it resolved three weeks ago. They told us then that it was really absurd for Members representing rural constituencies to object to the Bill being considered by a Committee of this House. The Bill before us to-night has been considered by a Committee of the House, and we have heard two most able speeches from two of the most able Members of that Committee. No impartially minded man, with any sense of fairness to our rural districts, could listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Leeds without being convinced of the weighty reasons which induced that Committee to refuse borough powers to East Ham. That is really the substance of our argument. To further show our good faith, we actually welcome the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Captain Weigall) that we should submit our case to any fair and impartial tribunal this House likes to set up. Whether it is a Royal Commission or any other tribunal, we are quite willing to submit the whole of our case to that tribunal. What we do say—and I should have thought that every London Member would have been with us in this contention—is do not let us proceed blindfold in these matters.
We have had two inquiries into the question of East Ham. Both inquiries, the Local Government Board inquiry and the Committee appointed by this House, say that this Bill should not proceed without the question being considered as to its effect on the whole of this part of the country generally. Yet we are told tonight that we should dragoon this Committee—for it means that if you pass this Instruction. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Certainly it does. Hon. Members do not know the procedure of this House. If we pass this Instruction the Committee is bound to give these powers to East Ham. [An HON. MEMBER: "They ask for our guidance."] They do not want the guidance we can give them in a few minutes of time now, but they ask, and we county Members are perfectly prepared to abide 2147 by it, for the guidance of this House upon the whole question. We cannot do more than that. You may outvote us if you desire to do so, but we cannot do more than frankly say to you "We will submit our case to any tribunal you like, and so long as you consider the whole future of the county councils, you can divide the country into fresh county council areas if you wish, but do not let the county councils go on spending money on roads, education, asylums, and all those objects which every Member with experience of local government knows so well, and then suddenly, without notice, cut a great area out of a county council and leave it stranded and unable to fulfil the functions which this House in past years has given to it." I do not think anybody can give greater proof of sincerity than by saying, appoint any impartial tribunal you like, and let it consider the question, but do not, in a partial, parochial, and narrow spirit, cut out a portion of a local rating area, and turn your back on the Committee you yourselves have appointed, and, above all, do not stultify the House by reversing the decision which it gave a few weeks ago.
§ Mr. GEORGE THORNE
I venture to take part in this Debate with some diffidence, because I recognise to the full the varying views entertained in the House on this very intricate and important question. If I thought that in what we are doing to-night we were doing what my hon. Friend who has just sat down suggested, namely, putting ourselves in antagonism to a Committee which has given this matter full and detailed consideration, I should have very great hesitancy in supporting it. I do not understand that that is our position for a single moment. I am responding to an appeal which has been made to us from that Committee, itself recognising that it was placed in a very difficult position and asking the House for guidance. Instead, therefore, of our acting in the matter in a spirit of hostility to the Committee, it is rather in accordance with the request of the Committee to make some attempt to give the guidance for which they ask. I recognise, too, that we are in a position of difficulty by reason of the course taken by the Local Government Board. There is no man who devotes himself more faithfully to the government of our country in its local aspects than the President of the Local Government Board. I am perfectly satisfied that in the course he has taken he has only been impelled by 2148 the highest motives and the desire to do what is best for local government. I desire, as one more or less identified with municipal government, to try to approach the question in the same broad-minded spirit.
I recognise that it is of vital importance to our country that we should approach the further development of local government—and we certainly have not said the last word in regard to it—from the broadest possible standpoint and with the one supreme desire, whether it be county or municipality, to do what is best for local government in this country. Approaching it in that broad way, I am trying to face the issue placed before us, which I admit is a very difficult one. In doing so, I want to try to differentiate our present position to-night from that which was presented to us when the Cambridge and other proposals were before us a short time back. The hon. Member who has just sat down says that if we accept the proposal of my hon. Friend we shall be going back on all that we did the other night.I venture, very respectfully but entirely, to disagree with him. I say there is a complete distinction between the present proposal and the proposal which was then under consideration. I wish to explain that position. In the first place, the great matter which was-before us on that occasion was the effect of the appointment of a county borough upon the county itself. We referred that to the Committee, I think rightly, to take all the surrounding facts into consideration and in view of them to see whether or not it was "desirable." I have looked into the evidence of the Committee, and I find that the circumstances of this case are entirely different from the circumstances presented in the case, for-instancee, of Cambridge. This question was put to the clerk to the Essex County Council:—May I take it that you agree with the answer which was given to the question put by one of the hon. Members, that if this were not a part of a large area formed by London you would not think it was at all inequitable that East Ham should desire this emancipation?The clerk's answer was this:—I think that if East Ham were an ordinary county provincial borough, and were not part of greater London, it would have a very good case.That differentiates the case altogether from the position presented by my hon. Friend. It is the statement of a man who knows best what the county of Essex is, the clerk of the council, and therefore eliminates the whole question, in my view, 2149 as between the county on the one hand and the borough on the other, and raises therefore the larger question, to which I desire to come back, which was more especially brought to our attention by the Chairman of the Committee. We have to face this question from the standpoint of the Act of 1888. That provides a definite method of procedure, and the point I put before the House, which, to my mind, it is capable of deciding, and which it ought to decide, is this: Procedure having been provided under an Act of Parliament which hitherto has been followed, in my view very wisely, if it is not to be followed, the onus must rest upon those who desire to prevent it being followed, and not upon those of us who desire in a particular case that the procedure shall go on. That onus has not been fulfilled by those who take the responsibility of opposing the Borough of East Ham being made into a county borough. I recognise that all the facts have to be taken into consideration, but I submit that for that purpose they must be facts. You must take the existing condition of things, and not some mere problematical position in the far future which none of us can gauge. Cambridge came to us under certain circumstances. The county of Cambridge said there were certain existing difficulties in which they would be seriously affected if that borough were taken out of it and formed into a county borough. Our answer was, "Let the Committee take all these facts into consideration and finally decide whether it is desirable or not, and by their decision we should be bound." If that had been the decision come to by the Committee in this case I should have accepted it. But it is rather an admission that it goes entirely beyond that and raises a bigger problem. If it does raise a bigger problem I want to understand what that problem is, and I submit with confidence that until that is submitted to us in a practical form the only possible course is to follow the procedure given us by the Act of Parliament. Therefore it is not from us who are standing in favour of East Ham having this right, that any proposal should come, but from those who oppose them and who are putting an obstacle in the way. We have had no suggestion made to us. The Government have not intimated that they are going to make any proposal and the county of Essex have not, indicated that they are going to make any proposal.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
A Committee of Inquiry is not a proposal. I feel under those circumstances it is not fair to the individual borough of East Ham. I have not the slightest objection to East Ham being made an object lesson in forcing matters forward, but I object to East Ham being made a victim to mere suggestions of the future. When those suggestions are before us in practical form it is time to consider whether boroughs coming up under those conditions should be refused or should not be refused. East Ham comes under existing conditions. Her case should be decided under existing conditions and it does not seem to me fair to suggest something in the future or something vaguely left to the imagination. Essex has not produced any proposal, the county council of London has not indicated that it has any definite plan. No other body has indicated it either, and why is East Ham to be held back from what is desired because some day, no one knows when, someone, no one knows who, may propose something, no one knows what? I do not think it fair in a position so utterly vague as that that East Ham, asking to be made a county borough, following the line of county boroughs all over the country, should be deprived of her rights by a vague position of that kind. If any body is formed whereby and through which later on definite proposals are made, then it will be a different matter altogether, but under existing conditions it seems to me that the procedure of the Act of 1888 holds the field, and that East Ham has a right to make a claim and receive its due reward.
I am told that if this be granted to East Ham it will still further hinder this larger scheme which is proposed. I should be very sorry for anything of the kind. I believe in larger schemes, because I believe they have to come, not only in London but throughout the country. The development of local government is one of the most important directions in which we have to turn our attention. But until these proposals are before us I object to an individual borough being prevented from having the right it ought to have under the existing procedure. What is proposed in opposition to the Motion of my hon. Friend is just a wrong course. It is not only putting the onus in the wrong direction, but it is really preventing the impetus which is necessary to produce this larger result. If East Ham be refused, what happens? The county is perfectly satisfied. It has just what it has been 2151 wanting. It will sit absolutely quiet and rest, and no difficulty will happen so far as they are concerned until some other borough comes under similar conditions to East Ham and makes a proposal again, and it will then receive, I presume, the same treatment. But if my hon Friend's proposal is granted, and we refer it back to the Committee, it does not refer it back, to my mind, in the particular way suggested by the hon. Member for Leeds—that every Committee is bound to give every-applicant its county borough, because it has still to take into consideration all the surrounding existing circumstances to see whether it would be fair or not. But if the suggestion of my hon. Friend is granted and it is made a county borough, I can understand that the county of Essex and all the other counties which are similarly involved will realise that their interests are concerned in facing this problem. Then they will undertake the facing of the problem. Then it will be to their interest to propose some solution of the problem, and something will be done to face what is asked for hereto-night so strongly. The onus lies not on East Ham. East Ham comes within its existing right. The onus lies upon the county and those who are associated with the county, and until some definite proposal is made which shall take it out of the range of the Act of 1888, which still holds the field, it will be unfair and unjust, and compared with other boroughs, cruel to East Ham, to refuse it that which it now so earnestly desires.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
I am glad to have the opportunity of commenting on the speech, so courteous in tone, so forceful in phrasing, yet at the same time so absolutely giving the go-by to the real crux of this case, as the speech of my hon. Friend. This matter will sink, as one feared in the previous Debate, into the slough of low-class competition between borough and county, unless we are free to take it upon a line, which is entirely free from that. My hon. Friend's argument, if one can divest it of the personal charm which so naturally attended it in every phrase, comes to this, that because you had in the Act of 1888 certain procedure laid down under conditions which then subsisted you are never to vary that procedure, although every sane man knows perfectly well that the conditions have altered, and that you are bound in matters of local govern- 2152 ment, as in matters of daily life, to exercise elementary foresight as to the future.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
What authority has the hon. Baronet for interposing that remark? He will have an opportunity -of making his observations in a moment or two. The point is surely this: My hon. Friend's argument is that the Committee upstairs and this House are not to consider what will be the effect upon the future development, either of London, or of the English counties, or of the English boroughs, when they decide a particular case. I desire, as definitely as man can do, to repudiate that doctrine. Every Committee upstairs to which matters ofthis sort arereferred,and this House, when the matters come before it, are bound to consider, not far off, possible, and remote contingencies. That is my hon. Friend's dexterous rhetorical method of disguising the facts. This House is bound to consider the facts which are now before it. If my hon. Friend is under the impression that London, for instance, is not going to increase in population, and that the granting of county borough powers to East Ham can have no effect for many years on the problem of Greater London, then his argument is sound, but I doubt if he believes that, and, if he does, he is in a small minority. I approach this question from an entirely different point of view. I am not speaking here, I have no authority to speak here, nor do I wish to speak here, on behalf of the County Councils Association. I had the honour of speaking a few weeks ago in regard to the problem of Cambridge borough. The County Councils Association, rightly or wrongly, have made no official pronouncement which they ask to be brought forward in this House, except in cases where they think that county councils are to be injured by the proposals made.
I hope the House will hear me if I speak as one who has devoted a good deal of such life as I have had to the problem of local government. May I point out, with great respect, that what we have to do is to take every step we can in the pursuit of what is really the best form of local government for all parts of the country. See what arises in this case. This is not a case where the granting of county borough "powers to East Ham would 2153 thereby destroy the county council position. It does not affect anyone of those far-off contingencies which my hon. Friend so exquisitely phrases, but in the ordinary plain language of common people is it not a fact that the granting of county borough powers to a great community like East Ham, which is part of Greater London, whether we like it or not, does embarrass any comprehensive treatment of the whole problem of Greater London. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear," and "No."] I am delighted to hear expressions of opinion on different sides, and I hope the House will give its attention to the question whether the granting of these powers would, or would not, affect the problem of Greater London. I am not in any way trying to prejudge how that problem ought to be settled, but, if you take a great community which in ordinary parlance is part of Greater London, and put it in a different position from that of the remaining parts of Greater London which are analogous in character, surely that is dealing with a great problem in detail, and seriatim, and not dealing with it comprehensively.
Similarly we think that the other problem of Cambridge has an effect upon county government entirely different from that of any proposal to create a county borough. What is the result? In this ease a Committee of seven Members of the House—Members of the Local Legislation Committee who have special experience—have heard evidence for six days, and they come here with a report and a decision, which, I quite agree with my hon. Friend, is asking advice, but is, first of all, an expression of opinion on the matter in question. The Committee ask advice on the matters involved. The case here is exceptional. It is a matter of common knowledge that the preamble of the Cambridge Bill has been passed by the casting vote of the Chairman under conditions which bring it back with a minimum of authority to the House, and practically with an invitation to this House to reconsider it. Therefore, whether we are borough men or county men, or whether some of us, thank God, are both, does it not bring us back to this point that where you have a problem, either like that of Cambridge, or of East Ham, in which with the proper machinery a Committee upstairs are confused and embarrassed, and come to no certain voice on the subject, you must ask what is the proper conclusion 1 Is this House, at 9.30 in the evening, with such Members as are 2154 present, the kind of tribunal which any of us would wish to decide the subtle and far-reaching problems of local government in an atmosphere in which urban and rural feeling are not altogether quiescent? Surely the conclusion is that where you have the ordinary and proper methods under the Act of 1888 pursued, as they ought to be pursued, by this House, and leading to the appointment of Committees, and you find alike in Cambridge and East Ham, that these Committees speak with little or no authority, and with obvious embarrassment, because of the peculiarities of the position, it is the duty of the Government and this House to devise some mehod by which these unforeseen and exceptional problems shall be dealt with in another way.
That is why I join my appeal with that of the hon. Member for the Horncastle Division to appoint a Royal Commission or some Joint Committee which shall deal with the conditions that have arisen, and which could not have been foreseen in 1888, which do absolutely alter the ordinary problem dealt with under that Act, arid which, as we have seen, with regard to the Committee, over which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds presides, and as we know, or shall know in a day or two, in regard to the Committee over which the hon. Member for Tyneside presides has the effect that in both cases you do not get that confident pronouncement to a Committee which is necessary and proper in dealing with problems of this kind. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, on reflection, will not really think that it is true to say that the appointment of a Royal Commission or a Joint Committee means the indefinite shelving of this problem or acute unfairness to the great community of East Ham. It is nothing of the kind. What we want is—and I hope that this desire is shared in all quarters of the House—to get some recommendation by an impartial tribunal, empowered to consider the changes which twenty-five eventful growing years have made in the conditions of local government, as to how this House would be well advised to act in problems of this peculiar description. You cannot leave it as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton would represent. You cannot say, "Pass this Bill and do the unusual thing of recommitting it, and then, perhaps, the county of Essex will be content with some Special Committee."
2155 I care not whether the county of Essex is satisfied or dissatisfied. I care not on this point whether the great community of East Ham is satisfied or dissatisfied. Whether it is pleased or displeased at the present moment the general problem remains and ought to be taken up by the Government without any delay whatever. Therefore, I suggest that this proposal, which is a most unusual proposal, in which the Chairman, I will not say is straining, but is exercising the powers of this House in a way that is rarely done, will not be sanctioned by the House, not because I am opposed to East Ham becoming a county borough, when all the circumstances and the inevitable corollaries that follow from it have been considered by an adequate tribunal. My own predispositions are as much in favour of a community of 150,000 being made a county borough as they are against a solitary town of something like 50,000, embedded in a rural area, being made a county borough. I am not in the least opposed to East Ham on its own merits, so far as they are not affected by the peculiarities of the position, but I do respectfully say to Members of the House, whatever kind of constituencies they represent, that they should not add to these controversies and to the growing and deepening gulf between urban and rural ideals and conditions until the two special cases where the creation of a county borough eviscerates the county, and where the creation of a county borough makes impossible a comprehensive dealing with the problem of greater London, until those exceptional types of circumstances are dealt with by exceptional means. The only way in which we can get to that necessary solution is on this occasion to reject the Motion to recommit, and if we ran get from my right hon. Friend who now sees, I am confident, that he has dangers to face on both sides, both from county government and large borough areas, a pledge which we know we can trust if we have it that these two great difficulties shall be referred to an independent tribunal, then I am confident not only that this problem and the Cambridge problem would be solved by common consent within a reasonable time, but that that which is a real danger to local government would be permanently avoided.
§ The CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS (Mr. Whitley)
This Debate is taking such a wide range that I feel bound to rise to make an endeavour to bring hon. 2156 Members back to the point which the House has to decide to-night. I do not propose to offer advice to the House on the merits of the question at issue. That is rather a matter for the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, if he so desires, but I think in view of one or two things that have been said that I ought to make hon. Members Aware of the exact issue on which they are called upon to vote to-night. There is a Motion on the Paper in my name following on two Motions standing in the name of the hon. Member for Rom-ford Division (Sir J. Bethell), which, if I did not explain it, might possibly give rise to some misapprehension. The Motion is, that in the case of the East Ham Bill, Standing Orders be suspended, and that the Committee on the recommitted Bill have leave to sit and proceed tomorrow. What I desire to say on that is simply that in the exercise of my duties I have thought it well to provide for either event. I do not know what the decision of the House is going to be, but I thought that I ought, in order to save time in future proceedings, to recognise the possibility of the House deciding to recommit the Bill, and in that case to see that no further time was lost in carrying out the decision of the House. That was not intended as in any way implying any judgment of mine on the issue which the House has to determine. One further thing I desire to say on the Motions that stand upon the Paper in order that hon. Members, before giving their votes, may know the exact effect of those Motions. The Motion to recommit the Bill, and the Instruction which of course will follow if the first Motion is carried, means a position on the part of the House to override the decision of the Committee. I do not suggest in any way that the House ought not to do that, if it deliberately thinks fit to do so. The Chairman of the Committee has quite clearly indicated that the Committee is of the same opinion still, but that if the House takes a different view from this Committee the Committee will loyally abide by the decision of the House. That, I think, makes the position quite clear as between the Committee and the House.
The Committee, as we all know, is perhaps the strongest and most experienced Committee that we have. They came to a definite decision on this partiticular issue after hearing the whole of the evidence in the case. The Chairman has told the House the range of consideration which was present to the minds of the 2157 members of that Committee. At the same time he has stated that the issue which they had to decide is one both novel and important, and for that reason I think that they have in a very honourable way presented the decision to the House as a considered decision, but yet they say that if the House gives a different verdict they will recognise the decision of the House and will promptly and loyally act upon it. That seems to me to put clearly before hon. Members what is the point at issue. It is not, in my opinion, very much good talking about Royal Commissions and Joint Committees, and so on. To-night this Bill is down for decision, and the House has to decide whether the verdict of the Committee on this particular issue in this particular case is to be maintained or reversed. Let the House give its decision on the merits of these questions, without going too far into much bigger and wider matters.
§ Sir NORVAL HELME
As a Member of the Committee to consider this matter I would like to say that in taking the course which the Committee took we felt we were only doing our duty, based on the consideration of all the facts of the case. The outcome of that decision is that we gave the opportunity for Parliament to consider the Act of 1888 having regard to all the interests involved. It has been my lot to spend many years in municipal and county council work. I have the honour of being an alderman of the borough of Lancaster, and also of being an alderman of the county of Lancaster, and therefore I claim to speak in this matter as one without a bias either to one side or the other. There is no question but that during the last twenty-five years there has been a great change in the functions which Parliament has called upon the county councils to carry out. I maintain, and I boldly say, that in the light of present-day work the 1888 Act is unfortunate in that it has hitherto been understood to carry a right for every populous borough of 50,000 population to claim absolute independent government. That is my own opinion, and I think the government would be wise if they looked at this question, because on the one side the smaller boroughs are smarting under a sense of injustice in the fact that the Act of 1888 puts them under disabilities which do not apply to some boroughs that were smaller in size when the Act of 1888 was passed. They were the smaller boroughs specially named at that time. In 2158 the county of Lancaster we are able to see the working of this Act perhaps on a larger scale than is given to most areas. In that county we have now eighteen county boroughs, and I venture to suggest to the Government to-night that there are questions which should be raised in fairness even to the county councils. In the administrative county of Lancaster we spent on the main roads no less a sum than £179,779 for this year. The expenditure has risen from £89,379 since 1890, and now we are only receiving 11 per cent., whereas formerly we had 50 per cent. from the Exchequer contribution in relief of those rates. I hold that, owing to the development of population and the new methods of traction, for the commerce of such great towns as Oldham and Rochdale, and others—
§ Sir N. HELME
I was only giving that as an illustration of the point which I wish to press on the Government, but, of course, I submit to your ruling. As the counties at the present time have to pay the cost of maintaining the roads in the administrative county, some of that cost should be placed upon the county boroughs, which use the roads for their great traction and other engines from place to place. Thus this question that is before us to-night in regard to the appeal that we are making to the Government to consider this question is based upon the interests of the smaller populations as well as the greater ones. I hope the Government will respond to the appeal that has been made to them, and that by the Committee's action we have done service in withholding consent to the making of this county borough, and I hope the opportunity will cause the Government to act in this matter.
§ Mr. JONATHAN SAMUEL
If this had been the decision of a Committee upstairs on the merits of the Bill, and if the Committee had decided against granting the right to East Ham Corporation, of becoming a county borough, I should hesitate very much indeed to speak against the advice of that Committee. I am a member myself of the Local Legislation Committee on the B section, and therefore I claim to have some experience of what Committee work upstairs is. Certainly there have been to-night some very extraordinary assertions made with regard to the duties and the work of those Committees, and as to what they ought to do. 2159 I strongly demur to some of the statements that have been made. The hon. Member for Middleton (Sir R. Adkins) laid down What is in my opinion a most extraordinary doctrine as to what the Committee upstairs should do. He first of all complained or argued that this low-class competition between the county boroughs should be done away with, and that we should reach a higher plane, and he went on to say that it was the duty of the Committees upstairs to consider future developments both in London and in the counties. He further went on to say that the Committees should not altogether decide upon the evidence before them, but that they should take into consideration problematical questions that might arise.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I said nothing of the kind, and I am in the hearing and recollection of the House. I never said a single word that Committees upstairs should decide anything except upon evidence. Evidence of conditions that are certain to develop is just as relevant evidence as evidence of how things worked some years ago.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I understood the hon. Member laid it down that the Committees upstairs should consider future developments both with regard to London and with regard to the English counties.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
Certainly, so far as they are borne out by the evidence before the Committee. Evidence can be given as to conditions which are certain to develop.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I contend it is the duty of the Committees upstairs, and I shall certainly act upon it, while I am a Member, to take evidence and decide upon the evidence that is placed before the Committee. That is really your duty, but that is not what this Committee has done. They have really gone beyond that, because they are asking us to decide a very important point. Let me read what the Chairman has recommended this House to do. He says:—If the promoters of the Bill should in the exercise of their own judgment see their way and consider it in their interests to appeal from this Committee to the House as a whole to decide"—not to decide whether East Ham should become a county borough upon the evidence brought before the Committee, butupon the broader questions, we should rather rejoice, if for our guidance in cases of a similar nature in future that we might know the view of the Howe of Commons.2160 What does that mean? I It means that in all future cases, as far as Committee A are concerned—I do not say as far as Committee B are concerned—they are going to take into consideration the decision of the House upon this particular question. I contend that the Committee have no right to decide in advance future applications of non-county boroughs. The fact is that every non-county borough has the right, under the Act of 1888, to apply to become a county borough.
Captain WEIGA LL
I am sure the hon. Member forgets that the word in the Act is "desirable." The Committee took the highest legal opinion and the highest Parliamentary procedure opinion, and both those opinions were to the effect that the word "desirable" meant desirable, not in the interests of East Ham alone, but in the interests of the county of Essex and generally.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
London, as such, has nothing to do with it. Members of Parliament, representing county Divisions as such, have nothing to do with that contest. That is what I complain of. In former applications by non - county boroughs, until quite recently, this distinctive fight between counties and boroughs never took place.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
Yes. I am speaking from experience when I say that when non-county boroughs hitherto have applied to become county boroughs there has been no difference of opinion between any other county and the borough making the application, except the county from whom they were separating for administrative purposes. Since a very important decision was given some years ago by the House of Lords, the County Councils Association does now demur not upon a particular case, but upon the broad question whether it is right or wrong for boroughs to become county boroughs. I contend that we ought to decide this question upon its merits. I appeal to any hon. Member upon the merits of the case. Here is a large borough of, not 50,000, but 150,000 inhabitants, in close conjunction with West Ham. This borough, according 2161 to the evidence placed before the Committee, is very heavily rated, having rates of 10s. in the £. It is contended by them that they are paying £25,000 a year to the county of Essex. I ask any Member, whether a borough or a county Member, whether he thinks it right that people living as the people of East Ham are living, poor people, should contribute £25,000 a year towards the cost of local government in Essex when they have also to bear a very heavy rate for the maintenance of local government in the borough? Suppose the borough of East Ham were drawing from the county council, not £25,000, but £5,000 a year. Does any Member believe that the county council would tolerate that for a moment? They would allow the borough to become a county borough. The system is unjust. I do not care what the Local Government Board may say upon the matter. I look upon it merely as a matter of right as between the borough and the county. Wherever you have this discrepancy, whether it is in Lancashire or in any other county, where you have large towns contributing large sums to the cost of the upkeep of county government, you will from time to time have these applications. Therefore, I appeal to the House not to decide this question on the broader issue, not to give a direction to Committees upstairs that in future under no circumstances must they make a non-county borough into a county borough. It is the right of every non-county borough under the law of the land to make an application, and if they can make out their case showing that it is desirable as between the county and themselves, and not as between other counties and themselves, I contend that it is our duty to give them the powers for which they ask.
§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Burns)
The House has heard four or five speeches from Members peculiarly qualified to speak upon this important question. First, the Chairman of the Local Legislation Committee said, with perfect truth, that they were in no sense trammelled by the Report of the Local Government Board upon this subject, and that for six days they went with great minuteness into the claim of this particular district to have county borough powers. He was supported in that view by two other members of the Committee, who said that, independently of the Report of the Local Government Board, the Committee—I 2162 believe that six out of the seven members agreed upon their final decision—came to their decision on the merits, on the evidence, and on the whole circumstances and conditions affecting the case. Beyond that we have had from the Chairman of Committees a speech upon the issue involved, to which I do not intend to refer further, because it was so recently delivered, and is in the mind of the House. Beyond those speeches ex parte statements have been made by Members representing the district, which statements, if they are to influence the House, ought to be, and can only be accepted when they have been subjected to that examination and cross-examination upon the facts and the evidence which a Committee alone can secure. It seems to me that the House to-night after one and a half hours is not in a position to traverse adequately the work of a Committee which took six days, and which after giving those six days to the examination of the subject confirmed in almost every particular the Local Government Board's previous decision, which had been arrived at after an exhaustive inquiry occupying three days. I have risen to give the view of the Local Government Board upon this particualr matter. In so doing, may I say at the outset that it is not altogether a fair and serious subject of controversy between rural and urban Members that we should discuss an attempt by a private Bill—not through the agency of a Provisional Order—and to say that this is on "all fours" with another area independent of London forty, fifty, or a hundred miles away. It is not fair to say that the rule that applies to, say, Southend, Luton, or Cambridge, is a rule which is equally applicable to areas seeking county borough powers within five or six miles of Charing Cross. There is a difference in the circumstances, facts, and conditions that entitles the matter to rather different consideration. What those are, I will very briefly mention. I am not sorry to see that some hon. Members think that the time has arrived when certain provisions of the Local Government Act of 1888 must be reviewed, and perhaps revised, in the light of change, and owing to modern traction, and the spreading of large towns and cities, for almost a revolution has occurred which was not foreseen when the Act was passed in 1888.
What are the facts in regard to London and the outside areas since 1888. Only two areas have been created county boroughs. They were created by the Act itself through the House of Commons. They 2163 are Croydon and West Ham. That ought to be borne in mind by the House. Since 1888, twenty-five years ago, no other county borough has been formed in Greater London. Two applications only have been made—by Hornsey and East Ham. In both cases these applications have been refused by the Local Government Board irrespective of the political complexion of the Presidents of that great Department, who have held the view that it would be a mistake until Greater London government was considered to make any more areas adjoining London into county boroughs. There are four only at the present time. There are four municipal boroughs in Greater London qualified by population alone for this honour. There are also nine urban districts in Greater London. This makes thirteen areas in all with a population of over 50,000. If the House of Commons, on insufficient evidence accepted the Resolution to-night to recommit this Bill, if East Ham were made a precedent by this Motion being, carried to-night, these areas could—and undoubtedly would—use that precedent as a reason for an application for county borough powers. We suggest, as at present advised, that it might ultimately be a great mistake even for those areas outside London, to so rapidly follow the East Ham precedent, presuming this was carried, and become county boroughs. For this reason: The rateable value of London, I am glad to say, shows signs of getting over the position in which it was two or three years ago. It is now on an ascending scale. There is the probability that if we had fifteen or sixteen areas in Greater London outside the county, whose rateable value was going down at the same time that the rateable value inside London was rising, they might be damnified and their poor inhabitants be worse off for many years.
Look at it from the point of view of the application. What arc the facts with regard to it? They are simply this: East Ham thinks that the Local Government Board was wrong in refusing to convert their desire to be a county borough into a Provisional Order—to refuse to adopt the course which East Ham asked some three or four years ago. East Ham has a, population of 134,000. That in itself in London, is not argument sufficient to make it a county borough. There are large areas inside London with three times that population, that have only borough council powers. My own parish has 2164 170,000 inhabitants with powers not so advanced as those which East Ham seeks to acquire. We have a right to get to the facts of the enthusiasm in relation to this scheme. That enthusiasm was not, and is not, very great. The meeting that inaugurated the scheme was a very poor one, and by 78 votes to 38 a poll was demanded. No one will contend that that number, in a population of nearly 140,000, shows in "a fine frenzy rolling" for county borough powers.
§ Sir. J. BETHELL
The whole of the members of the East Ham Borough Council are in favour of this Bill.
§ Mr. BURNS
I do not dispute that, but there are other facts which qualify that simple statement. One is that of 25,000 electors qualified to vote on this subject only 2,157 voted, and of that number there were 1,467 for and 690 against, or less than 6 per cent. of the total population. The London County Council, when appealed to, decided to take no action thereon.
It was neutral. It took no action. The Local Government Board went into this matter exhaustively for three days and came to the conclusion that, in the permanent interests of Greater London, it would be inadvisable to confer these powers. Since that was done the House itself has had an opportunity of discussing the principle underlying this in connection with the Cambridge Bill. I am very glad that the hon. Member for Middleton raised this point. We have had the advantage of the consideration which the House gave on the Cambridge Bill. It gave the Committee an absolutely free hand. They were told to work according to the Cambridge Instruction, and the Debate in this House, and they were free and independent of any Report of the Local Government Board. Of their own volition, and on the facts alone, they had to decide whether or not this district should have county borough powers. What did they do The Corninittee heard the evidence, and all the circumstances, not only in respect to East. Ham, but in respect to the county areas surrounding. They arrived at the decision that was adverse to East Ham being made a county borough by a private Bill. In that they confirmed the Local Government Board view, and supported the old 2165 view of all the Presidents of the Local Government Board. It is not altogether relevant to this subject that we should have it stated as an argument seriously, that the case of Southend, which is forty miles from and independent of London, and which probably will have conferred upon it county borough powers, is to be a precedent and a justification for East Ham, the latter being more or less dependent on London, and practically a dormitory of East London. Then the other fact which ought to be borne in mind is this: I am not going to argue for or against Greater London; I am riot going to discuss the point of whether the county council should swallow the City of London or whether the City of London should absorb the county council, or whether both combined should agree upon the extinction of the boundaries of the existing county council and the City Corporation or not. That is a point which I am not going to argue or discuss in any way whatever. But everybody will admit that the outer areas of Greater London cannot be disconnected from the growth and development of trade and commerce, or of the social interests of seven and a quarter millions of people—that community known as Greater London. For instance, if East Ham got county borough powers, nine or ten out of thirteen districts might risk for those powers how are we to differentiate East Ham and London from other districts? For instance, the London Water Board, on the security of London's rates, supplies districts in and outside London; and the London County Council, through its main drainage plans, also serves outside areas. Roads are becoming a matter in which not only the London County Council, but local authorities outside of London, are interdependent; but both now are becoming more or less dependent on the State for Grants and for other considerations in a great part of this very district of East Ham which wants separate county borough powers is a large portion of the dock extensions which have been bought on the security of the London rates; and there are, besides, poor law, public health, housing, and even fire brigade, main drainage, and road problems in which London not only does its own duty inside its own area of the county but 'helps outside in the matter of education, and even of the fire brigade. With the development of traffic, with running powers over tramways, and with main drainage and other things in such 'districts as Ilford, Walthamstow and 2166 others, upon agreed terms, the House of Commons must see thatthere is a great difference between East Ham and such places as Cambridge, Wakefield, or Bedford. What is the argument in support of recommitting this Bill? The Committee had all the facts put before them during an inquiry which lasted six days, yet the House of Commons is asked to come to a conclusion for their guidance in future in an hour and a half. The Chairman did not ask for future guidance simply in relation to East Ham, but in reference to future consideration of county borough powers. What did the Chairman say? I am entitled to read his words:—I am desired by the Committee to add this remark—which is entirely outside their judgment—that they feel that the questions raised are, in regard to consideration by a Committee, so novel, so important, and so wide-reaching, that they would thoroughly welcome, if it were possible, the reconsideration of their decision by the House as a whole, and if the promoters of the Bill should, in the exercise of their own judgment, see their way and consider it in their interests to appeal from this Committee to the House as a whole to decide the broader question, we should rejoice, and that, for our guidance in cases of a similar nature in future, we might know the view of the blouse of Commons.It is one thing to ask the advice of tins House, and it is another thing to take a particular course on a particular Bill.
In conclusion, may I say that if the promoters of this Bill—and I see no indication of it—were willing to defer its consideration until some impartial tribunal considered the particular circumstances of London and Greater London, I am not indisposed to consider such a proposal. A Royal Commission has been mentioned, a Joint Committee has been mentioned, or some other tribunal might be constituted by means of which the peculiar circumstances of London in relation to outside areas seeking county borough powers might be investigated and examined, but I gather from the promoters of the Bill that they are disinclined to accept that. May I say, as one who sympathises with what is known as the dormitory areas outside London in the main composed of very much poorer people than they will be ten or twenty-five years hence, it is a short-sighted policy that they should be so intent on getting county borough powers at this moment and not willing to accept investigation by some competent tribunal such as is suggested. My own view is that the day is not far distant when many of the outside areas will appeal both to the City Corporation and the county council to reconsider the organisation of municipal London in relation to outside areas. I am certain if that subject in relation to this 2167 particular Bill and similar Bills, could be made the object of investigation we would not be disinclined to accept that view; but I gather to-night that East Ham declines to consider that as an alternative. I have the authority of the Prime Minister for saying if some such investigation as that were sought the Government would not be unwilling to consider it in some form or other.
The Chairman of the Committees of the House of Commons has told us to-night that that is rather without our purview. We have to decide whether or not East Ham should have county borough powers. We have to decide that practically, plus something else, which is that the House of Commons should give this Committee guidance for the future. Hon. Members have interpreted that to mean that if this House votes for this Motion the Committee will take the Bill back and give East Ham County borough powers. The point we have to decide on this Amendment is whether East Ham shall have in future county borough powers. On that point, as President of the Local Government Board, as one who has gone into this, and whose office has inquired into it for three days, as one who has read the evidence of the House of Commons Committee which sat for six days upon this particular subject, as one who listened to the speeches of the Chairman and members of that Committee, who confirmed the view of the Local Government Board that East Ham ought not to have county borough powers, I am compelled to advise the House that, whatever the consequences may be, after an hour arid a half or two hours' Debate, without having plans before it, and without having been able to sift the evidence, the House of Commons is not in a position to override the decision of its own properly constituted Committee, that such county borough powers should not be given. I would point out to the House of Commons that if they take the course suggested by this Amendment, then in other cases There a Committee considers whether or not an area should have county borough powers, the decision, if this Amendment is carried, will be an incentive and a temptation to the Member for that particular district to move to have the particular decision reconsidered, and on every private Bill we shall have discussions similar to this. While I sympathise with the outside areas I have come to the 2168 conclusion that there is nothing left to the House of Commons but to support the Local Government Board, and the Committee after its six days' investigation, in the decision arrives at by the Committee, against East Ham being made a county borough.
§ Mr. SANDERSON
I have not had an opportunity of sitting upon many Committees with regard to matters similar to this, but I have taken part in many Local Government inquiries in different parts of the country on matters similar to this. They may not have been applications for leave to become county boroughs, but many of them were for an extension of boundaries where very similar questions arose. From my own experience, I can say that it is absolutely, impossible to lay down any general rule to apply to all cases, and you must take each case upon its merits. In my experience at the Bar and at those inquiries I have never found two cases alike. They are all different, and you cannot come to any proper decision unless you hear the whole of the evidence and weigh it very carefully. Very often it is a very difficult matter to decide. The question in each case is whether it is desirable that the powers asked for should be given to the borough which is making the application. I have to give a vote on this Question, and how can I come to a proper decision without hearing the evidence arid considering it and without forming a well-considered opinion. I have not had that opportunity. The Committee has been appointed for the very purpose of considering that question. They have had the evidence of witnesses before them, and they have had full opportunities, and I understand they have considered it for fully six days. Nobody suggests that they were biassed and they have considered the matter from an impartial point of view. Although that Committee has referred this question to the House, I do not see how it is possible to take the responsibility off their shoulders. How in the world are we going to do that in the space of a couple of hours without hearing one single particle of evidence? It seems to me that there is only one way to decide this question, and it is that having appointed a proper tribunal to hear the evidence and advise us we ought to adopt their decision.
§ Mr. MORRELL rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."2169
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, "That the words proposed be left out stand part of the Question."2170
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Serjeant-at-Arms, will you kindly ask hon. Members outside in the Lobby to maintain silence?
§ The House divided: Ayes, 100; Noes, 146.2171
|Division No.206.]||AYES.||[10.30 p.m.|
|Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D.||Gulland, John William||Parkes, Ebenezer|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham)||Parry, Thomas H.|
|Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire)||Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale)||Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)|
|Arnold, Sydney||Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth)||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)|
|Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.)||Hayward, Evan||Peto, Basil Edward|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Helme, Sir Norval Watson||Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)|
|Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark)||Henderson, Major H. (Berkshire)||Randles, Sir John S.|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Hibbert, Sir Henry F.||Rawson, Colonel Richard H.|
|Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick Burghs)||Holmes, Daniel Turner||Redmond, William (Clare, E.)|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Hope, Harry (Bute)||Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)|
|Bean, W. W. (T. Hamlets, St. George)||Hope, Major J. A. (Midlothian)||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Bennett-Goldney, Francis||Horner, Andrew Long||Roe, Sir Thomas|
|Bridgeman, W. Clive||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Rolleston, Sir John|
|Brocklehurst, W. B.||Hume-Williams, W. E.||Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Hunt, Rowland||Salter Arthur Clavell|
|Burn, Colonel C. R.||Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Sanderson, Lancelot|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Jones, Leif Stratten (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Lane-Fox, G. R.||Stanier, Beville|
|Cecil, Lord R. (Herts, Hitchin)||Lardner, James C. R.||Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Chapple, Dr. William Allen||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Collins, Godfrey P. (Greenock)||Locker-Lampson, O. (Ramsey)||Talbot, Lord Edmund|
|Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)||Lyell, Charles Henry||Taylor, Thomas (Bolton)|
|Dawes, J. A.||M'Callum, Sir John M.||Webb, H.|
|Dickinson, W. H.||M'Micking, Major Gilbert||Weston, Colonel J. W.|
|Duffy, William J.||M'Neill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)||Wheler, Granville C. H.|
|Duncan, J. Hastings (Yorks, Otley)||Marks, Sir George Croydon||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.)||Mason, David M. (Coventry)||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.)||Millar, James Duncan||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Fenwick, Rt. Hon. Charles||Needham, Christopher T.||Williamson, Sir Archibald|
|Field, William||Newton, Harry Kottingham||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Wares., N.)|
|Fletcher, John Samuel||Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)|
|Gilmour, Captain John||Nuttall, Harry||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Middlebrook and Captain Weigell.|
|Gladstone, W. G. C.||Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.|
|Guinness, Hon. W. E. (Bury S. Edmunds)|
|Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour)||Denman, Hon, Richard Douglas||Kellaway, Frederick George|
|Addison, Dr. Christopher||Denniss, E. R. B.||Kelly, Edward|
|Alden, Percy||Devlin, Joseph||Kennedy, Vincent Paul|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Donelan, Captain A.||King, Joseph|
|Barlow, Montague (Salford, South)||Doris, William||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)|
|Barnes, George N.||Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Leach, Charles|
|Barton, William||Elverston, Sir Harold||Levy, Sir Maurice|
|Benn, Ion Hamilton (Greenwich)||Ffrench, Peter||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)|
|Bentham, G. J.||Fiennes, Hon. Eustace Edward||Lundon, Thomas|
|Blair, Reginald||Flavin, Michael Joseph||Lynch, A. A.|
|Boland, John P[...]us||Gibbs, George Abraham||Lyttelton, Hon. J. C. (Droltwich)|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Gill, A. H.||Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur S. T. Griffith-||Glazebrook, Captain Philip K.||McGhee, Richard|
|Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North)||Goldstone, Frank||MacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South)|
|Buyton, James||Gwynne, R. S. (Sussex, Eastbourne)||Macpherson, James Ian|
|Brady, Patrick Joseph||Hackett, John||MacVeagh, Jeremiah|
|Cawley, Harold T. (Lancs., Heywood)||Hardie, J. Keir||Malcolm, Ian|
|Clancy, John Joseph||Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)||Marshall, Arthur Harold|
|Clough, William||Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||Meagher, Michael|
|Clynes, John R.||Hayden, John Patrick||Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Hazleton, Richard||Meehan, Patrick J. (Queen's Co., Leix)|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)||Molloy, Michael|
|Cotton, William Francis||Henderson, J. M. (Aberdeen)||Morgan, George Hay|
|Craig. Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe)||Higham, John Sharp||Morrell, Philip|
|Crumley, Patrick||Hodge, John||Morison, Hector|
|Cullinan, John||Hogge, James Myles||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas|
|Davies, Davison (Brixton)||Jessel, Captain H. M.||Muldoon, John|
|Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)||John, Edward Thomas||Murphy, Martin J.|
|Davies, Ellis William (Eif[...]on)||Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)||Murray, Captain Hon. Arthur C.|
|Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Jowett, Frederick William||Nolan, Joseph|
|De Forest, Baron||Joyce, Michael||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)|
|Delany, William||Keating, Matthew||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)|
|O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||Remnant, James Farquharson||Sutton, John E.|
|O'Doherty, Philip||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)||Thomas, James Henry|
|O'Donnell, Thomas||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)||Thorne, William (West Ham)|
|O'Dowd, John||Roberts, George H. (Norwich)||Touche, George Alexander|
|O'Malley, William||Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)||Tryon, Captain George Clement|
|O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)||Robinson, Sidney||Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)|
|O'Shaughnessy, P. J.||Rowlands, James||Walters, Sir John Tudor|
|O'Shee, James John||Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)||Wardle, George J.|
|O'Sullivan, Timothy||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on Tees)||Wedgwood, Josiah C.|
|Outhwaite, R. L.||Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)||Whyte, A. F. (Perth)|
|Parker, James (Halifax)||Scanlan, Thomas||Wiles, Thomas|
|Pearce, William (Limehouse)||Sheehy, David||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Pointer, Joseph||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook||Worthington-Evans. L.|
|Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)||Young, William (Perthshire, East)|
|Pringle, William M. R.||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim)|
|Radford, G. H.||Snowden, Philip||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Sir J. Bethell and Mr. George Thorne.|
|Reddy, Michael||Spicer, Rt. Hon. Sir Albert|
|Redmond, William Archer (Tyrone, E.)|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Proposed words there added.
§ Ordered, That the Bill be recommitted to the former Committee in respect of the provisions relating to the constitution of the borough of East Ham as a county borough, which appeared in the Bill as originally deposited.—[J. Sir Bethell.]
§ Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the recommitted Bill that they shall, if they deem it expedient so to do, reinsert in the Bill, with or without modifications, the provisions relating to the constitution of the borough of East Ham as a county borough, which appeared in the Bill as originally deposited.—[Sir John Bethell.]
§ Ordered, That, in the case of the East Ham Corporation Bill, Standing Orders 236 and 237 be suspended, and that the Committee on the recommitted Bill have leave to sit and proceed To-morrow.[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]