HC Deb 15 July 1914 vol 64 cc2061-74

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be now considered."


I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."

In making this Motion I wish it to be understood that it is not done out of my desire to prevent the ancient City of Wakefield realising its wishes, but because this is an absolute matter of life and death to the West Riding of Yorkshire and other industrial communities, which may be seriously affected by this if carried. If I do not argue the case on its merits, or go fully into the details, it is not because I have not full faith in these merits, but because I know that they have been already put before the House and considered in Committee, and because also I recognise that on the Third Reading one should deal rather with great principles. There are matters which a Committee is not so competent to deal with, and which the House may more effectually decide at this stage, and it is a matter of principle of this sort that I am asking this House to decide to-night. The House will remember that on a previous occasion a Bill was brought before us containing three Orders, one for Cambridge, one for Luton, and one for Wakefield, all more or less of the same character. That Bill, after it had been passed by the Committee, was thrown out on Third Reading. The Government, by a method which has never been attempted before, have introduced this Bill, basing it on an old Provisional Order of over a year ago. It is not fair, and it is not true to say that this has been done because the case against Wakefield was not as strong as that against Cambridge or Luton. In the last Debate the Chairman of the Committee which sat upon the previous Bill spoke very strongly of the strength of the case against Wakefield. He said:— The County Council of the West Riding have more serious grounds for complaint than the County Council either of Cambridgeshire or Bedfordshire. They are faced with a continuous increase in the number of county boroughs which will try to be created within their area. Therefore the position of the County Council of the West Riding would be more serious than that of the other two county councils which have been referred to. It is not fair in view of a statement of that sort, made by an hon. Gentleman most qualified to make it, to say that there is a less strong case against Wakefield than against the other two boroughs. If this Bill passes it will form a precedent which will be absolutely disastrous to county council government, not only in the West Riding, but in similar industrial areas which are also great communities and are faced with the problems of county government, although they are in actual rural areas. It will be a precedent for the formation of a string of other county boroughs which will absolutely dislocate county government in the West Riding and make it impossible for us to carry on the great schemes which have hitherto been successfully carried out. We shall be left a county of mere patches between a series of county boroughs, placed in various districts in the West Riding. Already Doncaster is waiting, and there are communities such as Harrogate, Keighley, and others who will all have this precedent in mind. The hon. Baronet, the Member for the Mansfield Division (Sir A. B. Markham), in the previous Debate, alluded to the county councils as being Tory in character. At any rate he will absolve the West Riding County Council of being that.


It is rather worse than the others


That shows that the hon. Baronet does not know them, because for many years I have been a solitary Tory struggling in an atmosphere of a different kind. We shall be left a series of patches with no possibility of a regular system of government. You may say the West Hiding is an unwieldy body. If you hold that view you could justify halving it or dividing it up, but the very worst thing you can do is to divide it up into a series of patches on no system, without any cohesion, and to ask us to govern an area in that way must lead to disaster. I quite understand that the Committee felt that they could not take the responsibility of breaking the long series of precedents which exists in these matters. Until the Cambridge case there was practically no precedent for throwing out a Bill based on a Provisional Order granted by the Local Government Board. Now, in the case of a rural area of that sort, a precedent has been established which has saved, I hope for all time, rural areas from not having their case properly considered, but as regards industrial or semi-industrial areas, such as this, a precedent has yet to be created, and that is the precedent I ask the House to create to-night, to secure that there shall be full consideration, and that any government shall not be dislocated and entirely destroyed until a proper inquiry has been held—I would suggest that the best inquiry possible would be one before a Joint Committee of the two Houses—or until the whole matter has been gone into to see what is to happen to our county government in future if this system of taking away large rateable areas and dislocating the government is to be persisted in. I realise that a Committee would not feel equal to breaking a precedent in this way, but that is a function which the House can carry out, and it is a function I ask it to carry out to-night. I have not gone into all the merits of the question as I think the House is familiar with them, but I hope the House will decide on the greater matter of principle because this is a matter of the most vital importance deeply affecting our local government from one end of the country to the other, and it is a matter which will have to be decided sooner or later, and I hope before it leads to more serious trouble than it has done hitherto, and that the House will come to a final decision upon it.


I beg to second the Amendment.


I am not very much acquainted with the West Riding, but I was one of the Members who sat on this Committee for about a week, and we came to the unanimous conclusion that the powers should be granted to the City of Wakefield. It is a very simple matter, whether Wakefield shall govern itself or not. This has the unopposed support of the members of the town council, the chamber of commerce, and sixty-two of the principal members of the tradesmen's association of Wakefield. The city has a population of 60,000. The present state of things makes much overlapping in the work in connection with the city. Every detail of every kind of work that has to be carried on must be submitted to the county council—every improvement and piece of work however trivial. This applies alike to roads, bridges, street widenings and repairs of every kind. This state of things duplicates offices and officers. The city council has a fully qualified staff fully equipped to carry out every improvement efficiently and expeditiously if left to itself. I will give one or two illustrations of the absurdity of the present state of things. The city surveyor has to prepare all plans, estimates and quantities of work required. Everything must be submitted to the county council, even to road metalling and tar spraying, yet the city does the work. This applies even to opening a road for a sewer, for water, or for electrical works. Even in a case of flooding it took three weeks to get repairs executed, and the cost was only £40, because it had to be submitted to the county council. There was another similar case of three months' delay for a trifling repair at a cost of a few shillings. The council is impotent because it has to apply to the county council. I know nothing about the county council, no doubt it does quite good work, but is it to stand in the way of a city carrying out its own work, especially in little trifling matters of this kind?

The surveyor's sanction must be obtained for everything, and all this, of course, causes inconvenience, irritation, delay, and extra cost to the ratepayers, and duplication of authorities, officials and administration. Why is all this opposition? Chiefly because the county council is afraid of losing power and prestige. That is the real cause. Where does the opposition come from? Only three came forward to oppose. There were two representatives of the county council. One was the respected chairman, another was the clerk of the council, and the third opponent was a distinguished Member of this House, who, I believe, is chairman of the County Councils Association, and, of course, he is very jealous of the powers of all county councils. They said it was an attack upon county council government. I say it is nothing of the kind. It is a case of Wakefield standing up to have power to manage its affairs in its own way. The opponents endeavoured to show that education would suffer. I questioned them about that.—[Laughter]—I hope the House will pardon me if I refer to myself personally. We questioned them, and not a tittle of evidence was forthcoming to show that education would suffer. The opponents were asked to name other towns in the neighbourhood which had suffered after receiving powers similar to those which are asked in this case, and they could not bring any evidence whatever to show that any town had suffered. The county council will perhaps sustain a money loss, but the West Riding is a rich district. It has a growing population. It has new industries continually springing up, and the county council will soon be able to recoup itself for any little loss caused by giving these powers to Wakefield. The question is—shall this city govern itself? The time has come when it should be allowed to do so. Not one inhabitant of Wakefield could be found to come forward to oppose this proposal. I think that is one of the strongest arguments that could be urged in favour of giving Wakefield power to govern its own affairs.


The hon. Member (Sir S. Collins) submitted an argument in support of the Bill purely in respect of the particular town concerned in this case. So far as the argument goes I have no doubt he is perfectly right, but the supporters of this proposal are asking the House to set up a precedent on the larger question until the question has been considered, as I think it must be some day, by a Royal Commission or some such body. It is absolutely necessary for the future of county government in this country that county councils should know what is likely to happen to them in future. A great many years ago a population limit of 50,000 was fixed as the number required by a borough which applied to be created a county borough. Since then the boroughs have grown, and they have tried to take the best of the rateable areas from the counties, and to set up as county boroughs. The people of Wakefield hope to get their rates down The hon. Member said that the county area in this case had plenty of other places. That might matter much to a poor county. Wakefield tried to get this power last Session, and the House rejected the Bill on the ground that it would rob the county council. We then asked, and we ask now, that the Government shall inquire into the whole question, and that the House of Commons shall not merely on the recommendation of four hon. Members agree to the proposal in the Bill. I hope the House will not consider that that is a sufficient tribunal to decide questions of such great principle. The majority of county Members have no objection to Wakefield being made a county borough. All they ask is that it should be postponed until we have had a Commission to inquire into the whole subject and settle what should be the areas and the principles, adopted.


As representing the borough of Wakefield, I wish to say a few words in support of the Provisional Order. This matter has been considered by the House on a previous occasion and it was committed twice to a Select Committee, of the House. The result of prolonged inquiry by two Committees, one last year and one this year, is that in each case the Committee found unanimously in favour of the claims of Wakefield. That is a very important factor, especially as the Wakefield case presented in this House when it was linked with Cambridge and Luton has since been reconsidered, and in spite of all the opposition skilfully and carefully worked out with all the ability of the West Riding County Council the Select Committee decided unanimously in favour of the claims of Wakefield being met by this Order being passed. I submit that in these circumstances there is very strong reason why this House should not interfere with the findings of its own Committee, after a six days' hearing on this occasion, and a three days' hearing on the previous, occasion.

The case put forward by the opponents of this Order is reduced to this, that there should be no more creations of county boroughs in any circumstances, because they lay down the principle once for all that there must be an inquiry into the whole system of county government before any other county borough can be created. That means at any rate in the case of the West Riding County Council that a progressive self-contained able local authority shall be denied the right which ever since the passing of the Act of 1888 they have had granted to them, a right, when they have become sufficient in population and on the merits to make a claim to the House of Commons, to obtain the status of a county borough. That right has existed now for nearly thirty years, and we are asked to go back on the general principle that has existed so long and has been laid down in a special Act of Parliament. And if there is a case of any sort in regard to loss of rating the Devonshire Committee that was set up by general agreement provided for an equitable assessment of the loss to the county, and that loss is now made good by the Wakefield Corporation. They satisfied the West Riding County Council most clearly that they would honourably fulfil their undertaking to provide compensation for the financial loss to the West Riding. The county council had not opposed previously in anything like a serious way the creation of county boroughs, and certainly had not opposed it on the grounds alleged by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash. It did not oppose Dewsbury, Barnsley, and Rotherham when taken out of the county council area. It did not come to say that it would be impossible to carry on county government because the county would be a thing of shreds and patches. It acquiesced and agreed happily and amicably that those authorities should apply for these powers.


The hon. Member must know quite well that at that time there was absolutely no precedent for any such Order being refused, and that opposition was hopeless.


I do not understand what that has to do with the case. If the case was one of hardship, I am perfectly certain that the hard-headed members of the county council of the West Riding, of whom the hon. Member was one at that time, would very quickly have raised a grievance and challenged the proposal quickly enough. But they knew perfectly well that they were not injured for the very reasons that they are not injured in this case, but adequate compensation was to be given to them. They were perfectly acquiescent in the case of those other boroughs. Why? For this reason that the West Riding County Council has over and over again complained of the burdens that have been put upon it as being almost too great for them to bear. In a very recent speech the chairman of the county council admitted that the burdens had been piled upon the county council, and that it would not at all injure them to get rid of some of them. The fact of the matter is that the county council would be strengthened in its administration by the exclusion of some other boroughs as well as the borough of Wakefield on the same terms, and for the same reasons as Wakefield has asked it. It is not known, of course, universally in this House that the West Riding County Council is concerned with the government of a borough sixty miles away on the north-west border, and as far as the borders of Sheffield, thirty miles away, and another town thirty miles to the east—an area large enough for a Parliament.

I am not quite sure whether the First Lord of the Admiralty did not put it forward a little while ago as being a fit subject for an experiment in the policy of Home Rule. The reason why the West Riding County Council ought not to oppose this application of Wakefield is this: My hon. Friend the Member for Kennington pointed out that they are duplicating services, are adding to the expense of administration, and creating difficulties in the way of delay. I do not for a moment urge that there is any great friction between those two bodies, but when we come to discuss this case, it is not the West Riding that is fighting Wakefield, it is the County Councils Association that is fighting the whole question of autonomy in the boroughs. I hope, however that the House will not depart from the practice so long established. I am not going into the merits of the case, but the county council upstairs abandoned point after point on their own initiative. This matter is of importance to Wakefield, which should have the right to govern her own affairs. I may state that when the Borough of Wakefield gave notice of this application there was no opposition raised in the county council, and no opposition at the inquiry, and it was with the full approval of the West Riding County Council that we came to this House. I hope that the House will not go back upon the precedents, and that they will support this Bill.


I desire to give one or two reasons for supporting the grant of these powers to Wakefield. In the first place, I have the honour of representing a county borough, and know of some of the advantages which are obtained from the fact of it being a county borough. I also wish to associate myself with the hon. Member for Kennington (Sir S. Collins), when he told the House we sat for about a week and gave very careful attention to the matter, and were unanimous in our opinion that Wakefield had made out a good case. We also felt that the County Council of the West Riding were not likely to suffer by losing the rateable value of Wakefield. It has been stated that the case of Luton and Cambridge was rejected, and was similar. We did not think so, but that they were altogether different. In Luton and Cambridge you were taking away a big rateable value from a rural district while this is an industrial district. It was shown that in the course of two years or a little more the County Council of the West Riding would be in quite as good a position in rateable value to-day. The Committee therefore thought that the county council were not going to suffer in that way. We also felt that the Borough would not gain much in the way of rates, but would gain something in prestige. We had it shown that it was not likely that the rates would be reduced, and in fact I have not the least doubt, from the improvements contemplated, that the rates may possibly increase. One of the great things that weighed with us was that there was not a single councillor in Wakefield who had not brought this question before electors and they were in favour of it becoming a county borough. At the same time the county council could not find a single elector or county councillor to come from there to support their case. We thought therefore that Wakefield had made out a very good case, and recommended the House to support it.


Mr. Speaker—[Interruption]—there is one custom of this House which I hope will be continued, and that is that when a Member has been attacked he should be allowed to reply, whatever the feeling of the House may be. It has been said by two hon. Members that the opposition to this Bill is entirely due to the County Councils Association. [Interruption.] I hope the courtesy of listening to Members who are attacked may be extended to me for two or three minutes. I desire to show why the Bill is now opposed. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "Divide, divide!"] There are real argu- ments, as I should be the first to allow, for the creation of county boroughs in various parts of England. But the creation of county boroughs if continued—[Several HON. MEMBERS: "Divide, divide!" and "What about Wakefield?"]—If you create Wakefield a county borough it would be very difficult, if you followed precedent, not to create in the West Riding alone, a considerable number of other county boroughs. If you go on making an indefinite number of county boroughs out of the administrative county you have the result that you have entirely altered the whole character of county government in that area. That may be a good or it may be a bad thing. What we say is, that where that result is certain to follow in one county, and in a similar way in other counties, the time has come for the House or for the Government to inquire into the general principle of local government in the counties. If this House or the Government come to the conclusion that county areas ought to be cut into indefinitely, then we know where we are. If they come to the conclusion that that is not intended that is another matter. All we ask is that the general principle should not be decided by constant individual precedents without regard to the general effect upon the country as a whole. Therefore whatever the pointed criticism that is addressed to us we shall go on pressing for a general inquiry into the matter. I can assure the House that until that inquiry is given there is bound to be constant controversy over particular cases, and the giving of that inquiry is the only way to the final solution of this problem in a way that is fair to every type of local government in every part of England and Wales.


I desire to ask one question and one question only of the President of the Local Government Board. At the time when the three Provisional Orders were considered by the House the President informed the House that there was a very strong case for Wakefield, although he did not consider that there was quite so strong a case for Luton and Cambridge. Hon. Members who think with me will certainly consider that the President of the Local Government Board is in honour bound to give a lead to the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no"]—in regard to the case of Wakefield which has been reintroduced to the House as the direct consequence of what the right hon. Gentleman said on that occasion.


Seeing the House is anxious to come to a decision I shall say no more except that for my part I shall certainly support the Motion.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 142; Noes, 82.

Division No. 174.] AYES. [11.45 p.m.
Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour) Hall, Frederick (Normanton) Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)
Agg-Gardner, James Tynte Hancock, John George Pollard, Sir George H.
Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire) Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale) Pratt, J. W.
Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles P. (Stroud) Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West) Pringle, William M. R.
Armitage, Robert Hayden, John Patrick Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.
Banner, Sir John S. Harmood- Healy, Timothy Michael (Cork, N.E.) Radford, George Heynes
Baring, Major Hon. Guy V. (Winchester) Higham, John Sharp Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)
Barlow, Montague (Salford, South) Hogge, James Myles Reddy, Michael
Barran, Rowland Hurst (Leeds, N.) Hope, John Deans (Haddington) Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Bigland, Alfred Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Redmond, William Archer (Tyrone, E.)
Boland John Pius Hudson, Walter Robertson, John M. (Tyneside)
Bowerman, Charles W. Hughes, Spencer Leigh Robinson, Sidney
Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North) Hunter, Sir Charles Rodk. Rowlands, James
Brady, Patrick Joseph Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth) Rowntree, Arnold
Brunner, John F. L. Jones, J. (Carmarthen, East) Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)
Bull, Sir William James Jones, Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe) Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Burns, Rt. Hon. John Jones, William (Carnarvonshire) Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)
Butcher, John George Joyce, Michael Seely, Colonel Rt. Hon. J. E. B.
Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Kelly, Edward Sheehy, Davia
Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W. Kenyon, Barnet Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)
Chapple, Dr. William Allen Kilbride, Denis Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)
Clancy, John Joseph Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade) Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)
Collins, Sir Stephen (Lambeth) Levy, Sir Maurice Sutherland, John E.
Cooper, Sir Richard Ashmole Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert Sutton, John E.
Craig, Norman (Kent, Thanet) Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury) Taylor, Thomas (Bolton)
Crean, Eugene Low, Sir Frederick (Norwich) Thomas-Stanford, Charles
Crichton-Stuart, Lord Ninian Lundon, Thomas Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Crumley, Patrick McGhee, Richard Thynne, Lord Alexander
Cullinan, John Maclean, Donald Tickler, T. G.
Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.) MacVeagh, Jeremiah Toulmin, Sir George
Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardiganshire) Markham, Sir Arthur Basil Tryon, Captain George Clement
Dillon, John Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.) Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)
Doris, William Meehan, Patrick J. (Queen's Co., Leix.) Watt, Henry A.
Duffy, William J. Millar, James Duncan White, Major G. D. (Lancs., Southport)
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) Molloy, Michael White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)
Esslemont, George Birnie Muldoon, John White, Patrick (Meath, North)
Falconer, J. Neville, Reginald J. N. Whyte, Alexander F. (Perth)
Ffrench, Peter Nolan, Joseph Wilkie, Alexander
Fitzgibbon, John Nuttall, Harry Williams, Penry (Middlesbrough)
Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Wilson, Hon. G. G. (Hull, W.)
Gibbs, G. A. O'Donnell, Thomas Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Gladstone, W. G. C. O'Dowd, John Winfrey, Sir Richard
Granville, Harold James O'Kelly, Edward P. (Wicklow, W.) Wing, Thomas Edward
Glazebrook, Captain Philip K. O'Neill. Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.) Wood, John (Stalybridge)
Goldstone, Frank Outhwaite, R. L. Yeo, Alfred William
Greenwood, Hamar (Sunderland) Paget, Almeric Hugh
Griffith, Rt. Hon. Ellis Jones Parker, James (Halifax) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Gulland, John William Parry, Thomas H. Mr. Sherwell and Mr. Marshall.
Hackett, John
Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D. Clive, Captain Percy Archer Henderson, Major H. (Berks, Abingdon)
Baird, John Lawrence Clough, William Hills, John Waller
Baker, Sir Randolf L. (Dorset, N.) Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham Hill-Wood, Samuel
Baldwin, Stanley Cory, Sir Clifford John Hope, Major J. A. (Midlothian)
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth) Horne, Edgar (Surrey, Guildford)
Bathurst, Hon. Allen B. (Glouc. E.) Dalrymple, Viscount Hunt, Rowland
Bathurst, Charles (Wilts, Wilton) Davies, David (Montgomery Co.) Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)
Beach, Hon, Michael Hugh Hicks Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth) King, Joseph
Bennett-Goldney, Francis Edwards, John Hugh (Glamorgan, Mid) Lyttelton, Hon. J. C.
Black, Arthur W. Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M. Morrison-Bell, Capt. E. F. (Ashburton)
Booth, Frederick Handel Fitzroy, Hon. Edward A Morrison-Bell, Major A. C. (Honiton)
Brace, William Gilmour, Captain John Mount, William Arthur
Bridgeman, William Clive Goldsmith, Frank Murray, Captain Hon. Arthur C.
Brocklehurst, William B. Grant. James Augustus Newton, Harry Kottingham
Bryce, John Annan Gretton, John Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)
Campion, W. R. Guinness, Hon. W. E. (Bury S. Edmunds) Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.
Cautley, Henry Strother Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham) Pollock, Ernest Murray
Cave, George Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence Pretyman, Ernest George
Cecil, Lord R. (Herts, Hitchln) Helme, Sir Norval Watson Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)
Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Helmsley, Viscount Ronaldshay, Earl of
Royds, Edmund Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay T. Willoughby, Major Hon. Claud
Salter, Arthur Clavell Webb, H. Wilson, A. Stanley (Yorks, E.R.)
Sanders, Robert Arthur Weigall, Captain A. G. Wood, Hon. E. F. L. (Yorks, Ripon)
Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, West) Weston, Colonel J. W. Yate, Colonel Charles Edward
Stanier, Beville Wheler, Granville C. H. Younger, Sir George
Starkey, John Ralph White, Sir Luke (Yorks, E.R.)
Talbot, Lord Edmund Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P. TELLERS FOR THE NOES,—
Walker, Colonel William Hall Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.) Mr. Lone-Fox and Sir J. Hastings Duncan.
Waring, Walter

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered, read the third time, and passed.

The remaining Orders were read and postponed.

It being after half-past Eleven of the clock on Wednesday evening, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twelve o'clock midnight.