§ As amended, Considered.1649
|Act for the purposes of which money maybe expended.||Purposes of Expenditure.||Total Parliamentary Estimate(gross cost).||Estimated requirement for year ending 31st March, 1915.||Estimated requirement for six months ending 30th September, 1915.|
|33. Under the London County Council(Tramways and Improvements) Bill, 1914 (if it becomes law)||Construction and equipment of tramways, purchase of lands, and other purposes of the tramway undertaking||113,190||50,000||20,000|
|Street Improvements and works in connection with tramways||89,500||35,000||15,000|
§ In moving, as I have done for many years, certain omissions in regard to this Bill, I desire to explain my reasons for doing so. In the case of every other local authority, with the exception of the London County Council, before they get power to borrow money for any purpose they have to obtain the sanction of the Local Government Board. For that purpose an inspector of the Board has to hold an inquiry, and a case has to be made out for the necessity of borrowing the money on any particular occasion. In the case of the London County Council no such inquiry is necessary, but they have to come before the House of Commons, which has the duty cast upon it of inquiring whether or not the money they desire to borrow is necessary for the proper carrying out of the duties entrusted to the London County Council by Statute. On these occasions one watches from year to year to see whether there is any large increase in the amount of the borrowing powers sought by the London County Council.
§ In this particular year, the increase is not a very large one, but it is a distinct increase, and, therefore, it is necessary to look at some of the items before we pass the Bill. The first item is No. 22, in connection with the building of the London County Council Hall. A considerable amount has already been borrowed from year to year for the purpose of buying the land and erecting the building. This year power is asked to borrow a further sum, some £460,000, and a further £200,000 during the succeeding six months. At present we have not any estimate as to what the total expense of the building is to be, and were it any other body than the County Council one would insist, before borrowing in a piecemeal way, on knowing what the estimate is of the total cost of the building and the value of the 1650 land. I will ask my right hon. Friend to let us know what the last estimate is, because these estimates have varied ever since the building began to be erected, and they invariably increase. As far as Parliament is concerned no limit has been put on the total expenditure which is contemplated.
§ The second item to which I propose to call attention is a new and large item—No. 33 for new tramway enterprises this year. At present the tramway enterprises of the County Council are, I believe, being conducted at a loss. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I believe the profit is not very large if it is not an actual loss, and it certainly is not an opportune time for us to be asked to sanction a loan, in addition to the very large number of lines which are being asked for in this Bill, for lines which have already been passed by Parliament and are in course of construction. Many thousands of pounds are to be borrowed for such lines as those. In addition to Acts which have already been sanctioned there is here a fresh departure and a request to borrow £113,000 odd for construction and equipment of tramways and purchase of land, and for the purpose of tramway undertakings which are about to be sanctioned this year. In addition to that there is a sum of some £80,000 for street improvements in connection with these tramway extensions. I shall learn with interest whether that is really a commercial enterprise or is likely to be. There is another item—No. 26—for power to borrow a further sum of £915,000 odd for the purpose of purchasing, constructing and equipment of tramways and provision of buildings, and so forth, for existing tramways. So that you have now an item of £915,000 odd for existing tramways, larger numbers of extra borrowing powers for tramways which have been? sanctioned and have not yet been built 1651 and in addition a new sum of £113,000 for the present year.
§ Some case ought to be made by my right hon. Friend before we pass these sums of money en bloc. If he can show that these are not improper enterprises, I should be the last to hinder the County Council from having the money they wish to borrow. I venture to think that the probabilities may be the other way. The next item to which I wish to call attention is our old friend the steamboat service. There was a sum borrowed last year, and we were told that it was the last one, as the whole matter was being put an end to. This year it has cropped up again quite cheerily. I have always said that I have an interest in steamboats, and that I am to a certain extent prejudiced. The vessels in which I was interested were run off by the County Council. There is a fresh estimate for an additional £4,000, of which £1,000 is required this year There is an item of £540,000 for certain local improvements. The House is naturally in the dark as to what that item includes, and I wish my right hon. Friend to explain the purposes for which the money is required. The same remark applies to the item with respect to the new street from Holborn to the Strand. Again the County Council ask further power to borrow. The new street was formed many years ago, and I should have thought that by this time some profit would be coming to the ratepayers on the money spent in laying out the street. I beg to move to omit the items I have indicated to the House. I do think when we are dealing with large figures like these the House should have some explanation of the purposes for which the money is required.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Take one Amendment. What is the item which the hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to omit?
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I regard it as a great compliment to the London County Council that the House should after half-past Eleven at night discuss the affairs of the Council. There is really no cause for alarm in the amount of money which the County Council are seeking power to 1652 borrow on this occasion. It is quite true that it is a little more than last year, but the County Council may be proud of the fact that last year they actually paid off more money than they borrowed. This year they have paid off almost as much as they have borrowed, and I think that their good management of their finances is a matter on which they should be congratulated. My hon. and learned Friend has complained on more than one occasion that he has not had a full estimate given him of the probable cost of the site and buildings of the new county hall.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I am very much relieved that I am not allowed to discuss that. Item 33 authorises the borrowing of £113,190 for the construction and equipment of tramways, the purchase of land, and other purposes of the tramway undertaking. There again I can comfort my hon. and learned Friend by telling him that in consequence of the action of a certain committee not long ago we shall only require half that sum. I do not think that that is a great deal to spend on new tramways for the great metropolis. The hon. and learned Gentleman says that he understands that the tramways have been run at a loss. I should demur to that statement. It is quite true that this year the revenue of the tramways does not enable us to pay the working expenses and the great debt charges, but the County Council are paying back no less than £400,000 debt charges in one year, and the deficit, which is £86,000, is about equal to what the Council have to pay this year for rates for the occupation of the roads, while their great rival, the General Omnibus Company, pay nothing in rates. The County Council are very much hampered in this way in the management of their trams.
After all it may be wise for the County Council not to embark upon any very extensive scheme of construction until something can be done to place them on a more equitable footing as regards the General Omnibus Company. But it is a wise policy to consolidate what they have got and to link up and establish a busines-like undertaking. We are endeavouring to provide tramway facilities in connection with the omnibus company and the railways, and all that is being done in no party spirit. There is the same 1653 control over the London County Council as there is over other bodies. Remember that the London County Council is subjected to a very rigorous form of election, and also to very severe criticism every three years. Therefore, there is a good deal of control, after all, by those concerned in the expenditure of the money. Let us remember, also, that the tramways in London carry 500,000,000 passengers every year, and they have, what the omnibus company have not, a system of workmen's fares by which 52,000,000 working men are carried over the London County Council tramways. The County Council in regard to their tramways, have constantly to keep in mind the question of a general housing policy. Moreover, the County Council have to pay very large sums to make street improvements so that the tramcars may run with greater ease; whereas the omnibus company contribute nothing. Both the County Council tramways, and the omnibus company, carry each 500,000,000 passengers; both are friendly rivals, and both should run their concerns in the interests of the public as well as in other interests.
§ Sir EDWIN CORNWALL
The hon. and learned Member who raised the question of item 33, which refers to the money required by the London County Council's tramway service, in which I understand there is a sum of £80,000 for street improvements—
§ Sir E. CORNWALL
It raises the same point. The London County Council, since it has been running tramways, has had to pay for street improvements, which have been charged to the tramway service. That has always seemed to me a great injustice, and it was the right hon. Gentleman, who spoke for the County Council to-night and his party, that saddled the London County Council with all that charge. We had not only to carry the travelling public, we had not only to maintain the roadway and make street improvements, but we had to pay rates to the local authorities for using the roads.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I may state that it was never our policy to charge all the cost, but only a fixed proportion of the cost. The hon. Gentleman has no right to say that it was the policy of my party that the tramways should bear all the cost.
§ Sir E. CORNWALL
I was wrong in using the word "all," but the experience of the London County Council was that 1654 the proposition was a very heavy charge, and they never proposed a tramway line but they were face to face with that heavy charge, which the right hon. Gentleman and his friends always insisted that the London County Council tramways should bear. I have seen recently arguments in favour of meeting that difficulty by putting a rate upon the omnibus traffic. That does not seem to me to be fair. I watched the proceedings and it seemed to me we were beginning at the wrong end by trying to rate omnibuses to meet the difficulty. The London County Council should have the power like other traffic running organisations in London of running their traffic and instead of handicapping the London County Council by improvement charges and rates they should be in as free a position as any omnibus company from charges and there should be a fair field and no favour. Here we have a proposal to add £80,000 to the London County Council's charges for street improvement. I am satisfied that one of the greatest difficulties with regard to the County Council has been this permanent charge which has always been put on the Council not for running its tramways but to bear charges which ought to fall in another direction.
It is the duty of the London County Council and the duty of the local authorities to make streets wide enough for all traffic, and it is the duty of the local authorities to make these roadways wide enough for tramways and motor-buses. It is not fair to say to particular sorts of traffic "You must pay a heavy tax towards widening a street" and to another "You can run as freely as you like ". It is not our business here to decide, but if I had to go into the Lobby I should be more inclined to vote against the County Council having this £80,000 for street improvements—not because I do not think the County Council is entitled to spend its money with the electors behind them, but because I am opposed to the County Council spending tramway money for street improvements and then letting motor-buses and other kinds of traffic use those widened streets which the tramways make. I say that although on broad grounds I want to support the County Council Bill, I take this opportunity of telling the right hon. Gentleman that it is he and those who work with him who are largely responsible for the difficulties that the tramways are in, because of taking a particular view as to improvements, and in that way they have saddled the tramway 1655 system with street improvements which had nothing whatever to do with the tramway service.
Mr. F. HALL (Dulwich)
I am perfectly aware of the great assistance which the hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Cornwall) gave to the London County Council, but I think he is really away from the facts, when he says that the party to which I have the pleasure of belonging were only desirous of saddling part of the improvements in connection with the tramways. I am afraid the hon. Gentleman does not know the circumstances. Under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher), a Committee was set up composed of Members from all parts of the House, to decide the one important question as to how much of the cost of the improvements should be allocated to the tramways. That Committee sat whenever there was any question with regard to the cost of street improvements, and decided, after careful consideration of all the facts, and in many cases hearing the representatives of the borough councils, what proportion should be debited to the tramways. As a past Chairman of the Tramways Committee, I personally was surprised at the leniency with which they were dealt by the Committee. I am a very great believer in keeping your accounts. But it is impossible to keep your accounts unless you debit certain items which are specially in accordance with specific works. To enable you to keep your tramways accounts separately and to know what is the debit and credit, it is just as necessary to debit a certain proportion of the street improvements to the tramways accounts as it is to charge them with the cost of the rails, whether they are made in this country or in Belgium. We have had many discussions in the Council on these matters, and since I have been a Member of this House the same questions have come up here again and again. I have always been desirous of doing anything I could to further the interests of the tramway undertaking, and were I on the Council now I should adopt the same course as heretofore. At the same time I was never in favour of the trams being run as a municipal undertaking; but, as they were handed to us as trustees, we, the members of the Municipal Reform Party, have taken them in our hands and worked them for the benefit of the ratepayers and the travelling community at large.
1656 I hope my hon. Friend will not press this matter. The amount referred to is not a large sum; it is only about £58,000. I am sorry it is not possible to go on with the large improvements which I was desirous should be carried out. Anybody who knows anything at all about tramway enterprise knows that if you are desirous of getting the best results it is necessary to link up the various dead-ends that you have. If hon. Members are going to handicap the County Council in the work they are desirous of carrying on I shall be particularly surprised. It would be rather interesting, if this Amendment were pressed to a Division, to see how hon. Members would vote; but I sincerely trust that, after the explanation which has been given, my hon. Friend will withdraw his objection.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
My object was merely to call attention to the large sums that were being borrowed. I am glad to hear that the amount is likely to be only about half the sum mentioned, and, after the explanation that has been given, and having regard to the time, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill to be read the third time.
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.