§ (1) A county council may, with the consent of the Local Government Board, purchase or accept the transfer of, and the owner of any existing ferry may sell or transfer to a county council, upon such terms as may be agreed on between the owner and the council, any existing ferry which is within the area of that council or which serves the inhabitants of that area.
§ (2) Subject to the provisions of any Act of Parliament under which the ferry was established and to the rights of any other persons, the county council may work, maintain, and improve the ferry and charge such tolls as were legally chargeable in respect of the ferry before the sale or transfer thereof to the council, or such other tolls as the council, with the approval of the Local Government Board, may determine; or, with the approval of the Local Government Board, The council may, if they think fit, free the ferries from tolls, and shall have the rights and powers which the owner of the ferry possessed and shall be subject to the obligations and liabilities to which he was subject.
§ (3) A county council may join with any other county council for the purchase or acceptance, working, maintenance, or improvement of a ferry under this Act, or may contribute towards the expenses of the purchase or acceptance, working, maintenance, or improvement of a ferry by another county council.
§ (4) In this Act. the expression "existing ferry" means any ferry legally established by Act of Parliament or otherwise at the date of the purchase or transfer, and includes all boats and other vessels, landing stages, approaches, apparatus, plant, and other property used in convection with the ferry.
§ (6) A county council may, if they consider that any expenses incurred by them under this Act in respect of any ferry not being not the purpose of a main road should, instead of being charged upon the whole county, be to an amount not exceeding one half specially charged on any parish or parishes in their county specially benefited by that ferry, charge those expenses upon that parish or those parishes as special expenses.
§ (7) Section eighty-seven of the Local Government Act, 1888, which provides for local inquiries, shall apply to any cases where the Local Government Board are authorised to give any consent or approval under this Act as it applies to cases where the Local Government Board are authorised to give any consent or approval under the Local Government Act, 1888.
§ (8) In this Act, the expression "county council" includes the council of a county borough, and the council of a county borough shall have the same power of borrowing for the purposes of this Act as they have under the Public Health 1972 Acts, 1875 to 1908, for the purpose of defraying any expenses incurred by them in the execution of those Acts.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The new Clause must come at the end. Perhaps the better course would be to put the Question, That Clause I stand part of the Bill. It seems hardly worth while going through the series of Amendments on the Paper. If hon. Members insist they will be entitled to move those Amendments. But it would seem to be a waste of time to do that.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
This is really the enabling Clause giving county councils power to do certain things, whilst the new Clause which they propose would do something totally different.
§ Sir E. HUME-WILLIAMS
I desire to support the existing Clause, and for these reasons: I do not think it ought to be entirely forgotten that this Bill has been passed by the House of Lords and sent down here, and it is to enable the county councils to do certain things. That is the sole purpose of this Bill, as it has been of two or three Bills which have preceded it, and all of which have come down to this House. I submit that the existing Clause is the best one in order to make the Bill operative and to carry out that which its framers really desired. The object of the Bill is to take over existing ferries and also, by Sub-section (6) of this Clause.A county council may, if they consider that any expenses incurred by them under this Act in respect of any ferry not being for the purpose of a main road should, instead of being charged upon the whole county, be to an amount not exceeding one half specially charged on any parish or parishes in their county specially benefited by that ferry, charge those expenses upon that parish or those parishes as special expenses.In the case of some ferries in small places it is assumed that at least half the traffic carried would be purely local, and under the Sub-section I have quoted the county council would have power to charge one-half the expense on the locality and the other half on the county. I think that is much the better plan than giving power to acquire ferries to any local authority 1973 I very much fear if that is done the district council or other council will say that the expense of acquiring an existing local ferry would be too heavy, and they would have no power to impose half the burden on the county, while the county council would have no power to charge half the expense to the locality. Apart from the question as to whether the House of Lords will accept the Bill in a totally emasculated form, and an almost unrecognisable Bill, I think that on the pure facts of the case the Clause as it now stands is much more practical than that which the Minister of Transport desires to introduce. I oppose the Motion.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
The county councils arc very grateful to my hon. and learned Friend who has just spoken for the great time and trouble he has taken in the House and in Committee in piloting this Bill through. It is quite true that this Bill has been supported by the Association of County Councils for some years past, because they thought that it was in the public interest that county councils, should have power to acquire ferries. It is quite obvious that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred ferries come within The purview and duties of one or more of the county councils. The Bill went through Committee, and was brought here substantially in the form in which it came from the other place. An attempt in Committee to get concurrent power for the district councils was defeated. The county councils attach the greatest importance to getting this Bill, and I understand the Government were approached by the County Councils Association and asked to give facilities for its passage. I can quite understand that the Minister of Transport found that the condition of being able to give facilities for the Bill was to give to the district councils and boroughs the powers which they have asked for. Therefore, I understand that is the reason why the new Clause appears in the name of the right hon. Gentleman. We thank him, too. The difficulty we are in is this: We prefer, of course, the Clause in its original form, because that is what we think is best in the public interest; but we would very much rather get the Bill in the form in which the right hon. Gentleman's new Clause puts it than not get the Bill at all. In a nutshell, the position is, we require this power as to ferries, and we require it urgently. If Parliament says we can only have it if 1974 other people—who may or may not require it so urgently—are given it as well, then we would rather have it on those terms than not at all. We know how much is attempted and occasionally effected in this House by that kind of pressure. I ask right hon. and hon. Gentlemen not to vote in such a way as to prevent what is the kernel of the Bill becoming law. It is a necessary power required by the county councils, and without it they cannot do public work which requires to be done. We hope, therefore, that the Bill will pass, and that the time devoted to it will not be wasted.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Sir Eric Geddes)
I would like to join with the hon. Member who has just sat down in expressing the appreciation we all feel for the very large amount of time and ability which my hon. and learned friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Sir E. Hume-Williams) put into this Bill in Committee. He has suggested that the Government has treated the Committee with, perhaps, scant courtesy in coming in at this stage, when the Government did not come in upstairs; but the reason that I have come in at this Stage is because I did not exist at the earlier stage. The Ministry of Transport became a Ministry after this Bill left Committee, and I was asked if I could do anything to help this through. I believed it was uncontroversial, but I was told there was a very strong feeling—and the representations made to me showed it was very strong—that this permissive power to the minor local authorities should be given. I hope my hon. and learned Friend will believe that there was no intended discourtesy to the Committee, at all. As to what we have done in altering what is rightly called the kernel of the Bill, we have made two alterations, which have real significance, the remainder seeming to me to be mainly consequential. One is that the operation of the Bill, so far as any Ministry of State is concerned, is transferred from the Local Government Board to the new Ministry of Transport, which did not exist when this Bill loft Committee, and I think that requires no explanation, as Parliament decided that the Ministry should have control of roads, and, not unnaturally, the ferries come in with them. The other thing we have done is that. whereas the county councils had the power. if they wished, by agreement and with certain consents from the Local Government Board, to take over the ferries and to 1975 charge not exceeding half the cost of acquiring the ferries to the parish, the change has now been made that the power to take over by agreement has been extended to the rural district councils, the urban district councils, and the county boroughs There is no question of compulsion. In fact, there was compulsion on the parish to pay up to one half in the Bill as it left Committee, but now there is no compulsion to pay; but either the county council itself or one of the minor authorities, or any two or more of them jointly, can, if they so wish, take over these ferries, levy charges, and assume the responsibilities I of the ferry owners. That explains the principles of the new Clause which the Government have put down, and therefore I hope the Committee will support the Motion to leave out the existing Clause 1, in order that we may substitute at a later i stage the proposed Clause 1 which the Government have put on the Paper.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not think any Member of the House under the circumstances would object to that part of the new Clause which gives power to the Ministry of Transport to say whether or not these ferries should be run. We have, rightly or wrongly, given that Department very great powers, and probably it is almost necessary that they should have the further power over the ferries. But there is a very different question, and that is the empowering of all these other bodies to take over and work ferries. The Minister says there is no compulsion, but there is no need for compulsion, because if any of the local authorities offer a sufficiently large sum belonging to the ratepayers in order that they may do more municipal trading—because that is what it amounts to—the owners of the ferries will be only too glad to sell, and you do not want any compulsion. If there wore any compulsion at all, it should be on the local authorities not to spend too much of the ratepayers' money, which is being done in a very free manner at present. The rise in the rates is very burdensome, and no sane man of business would suppose that a local authority is going to run a ferry at a profit, especially these smaller authorities. What they want them for I do not know, because in the majority of cases, unless we have ferries across the Thames, for instance, there are not many rivers in county boroughs. The fact remains that if the Government Amendment is car- 1976 ried in its entirety, we are going to add very greatly to the burden of the ratepayer. For what reason? Surely it will be quite sufficient if we allow the county councils to run ferries where necessary, and I see no reason for allowing the borough councils to have the same privilege
My hon. and learned Friend (Sir R. Adkins) put what has taken place, and said that pressure was put on the supporters of the Bill to require them to include the borough councils and these other bodies, and he said he was afraid that unless this was done be might loose the Bill. In other words, ho has been blackmailed. There is no other word for it. These other local authorities, who would not have had a ghost of a chance to get a Bill of this sort, have come down and said, "Unless you are prepared to include us, we will oppose you and prevent you getting your Bill." I think everybody will agree that you could not have a worse thing than that. Under these circumstances, and at this very late hour, I think it is essential for us to support my hon. and learned Friend, who apparently has taken very great trouble in Committee, in order to get The measure passed in the form in which it passed Second Reading in. this House, and I hope the House will oppose any attempt to override all these decisions in Standing Committee. I do not say we are never to be allowed to make alterations in the House through matters which have arisen in Committee, but I do say that we are not entitled, after a Bill has been before a Standing Committee, to make a vital alteration on the Report stage merely because certain hon. Gentlemen see an opportunity of getting some of their own particular interests by a sidewind into the Bill, because that is what it comes to. The Standing Committees, we were told by the Government, were to be the panacea for all evils. I have had experience of Standing Committees, and I know you can very rarely get a quorum except with great pressure; but the Government urged all sorts of arguments in their favour, and therefore they ought to support their own arguments and not allow a vital alteration to be made in this Bill. I hope my hon. and learned Friend will go to a Division, in order that the Government may see that if they are going to send all these Bills upstairs to Standing Committees, they must pay some regard to what has taken place upon them.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I have listened to the whole of the Debate, and I think the most interesting speech of all, which showed the thoughts at the back of some of those who are supporting the Clause being retained, was that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). He had not gone on long before we got his old theories out, and it appeared that underneath all this was his fear of municipal trading, but he did not attempt to demonstrate how. I confess that in this matter I am one of the "blackmailers," because I have dared, in trying to get a measure through this House promoted for a good object, to extend it to other local authorities, which, I venture to say, are quite as honest and quite as good as the county councils but; according to the speech of the right hon. Baronet, the only thing that exists that is honest and pure is the county council. If you go beneath the county council to the district council, no matter what its size, they simply want to get in to create a job.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I never used the word "honest," and I never used the word "pure," and I did not apply either epithet to the county council or any other municipal body, or the reverse.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I accept the right hon. Baronet's correction. So long as he is prepared to put us all in the same category I do not mind. But what is the real issue? This Bill went to Committee upstairs, and by a small majority the Amendment in favour of extending it to other authorities was lost.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I am told that upstairs an assertion was made by someone that the county councils were against the extension of these powers to any other local authority. I only give this from what I am told, but surely neither of the hon. and learned Members who represent the County Councils' Association will say that that is a fact. I have in my hand the correspondence between the Secretary of the County Councils' Association and the Secretary of the District Councils' Association, and here is a letter going back to March:I read your letter of the 25th instant in regard to the above Bill before a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Wednesday, and am instructed by them to inform you that they have no objection to the Bill being amended so as to extend the power of acquiring ferries to 1978 rural district councils and to make provision for joint action between the county and rural district councils, but they cannot agree to the deletion of Clause 6.It may be said they changed their views after that, but I have another letter of the 15th August, which is much later:In reply to your letter of the 12th, Sir Ellis Hume Williams and the members of the Committee were informed some time ago that the County Councils' Association had no objection whatever to the inclusion of district councils, whether urban or rural, and therefore I do not know why suggestions to the contrary have been made.
§ Sir E. HUME-WILLIAMS
No such statement was made to me in Committee. Someone stated at the meeting of the Committee that the county councils approved of the Amendment. He was asked to give some evidence of the statement, but he did not give it there, and the question dropped.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I shall be pleased to show the hon. and learned Gentleman the correspondence I have here. This is a letter signed by Mr. Johnson, the secretary. Why, if that is the case, all this strong opposition to the inclusion of urban, district councils? It is said by some speakers that almost all the ferries are county ferries. I venture to say that is not correct. Whenever there is a desire to give powers to these other authorities, and whenever you speak up for these other authorities, you are charged with having some ulterior motive. Because you try to get the same power for these other local authorities, and put them on the same level with the county councils as regards integrity, ability, or whatever characteristic-you like, you are met in this way. I sincerely trust the Government will persevere in the course it is pursuing, and I shall welcome a Division on the proposal for the deletion of this Clause.
Sir FORTESCUE FLAN NERY
The old argument appears to be used by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), that Standing Committees upstairs are sacrosanct, and that, whatever be their decision, it must not be reviewed, and certainly not reversed, by this House.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
On the contrary, I expressly said that, in my opinion, it would be absurd to say that this House was never 1979 to review or alter a decision arrived at in Grand Committee. But I said this was a totally different thing, and that you must not reverse the whole of the Bill if Grand Committee had considered the matter.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
I do not see much distinction between what I have said and the correction of my right hon. Friend. What he has said really amounts to this, that the House should not reverse the decision of the islanding Committee on large matters, although it may do so on Small matters. As one who has suffered in having been a member of a Standing Committee whose decisions were reversed, I venture to say there is no possible ground for such a contention. The absolute duty—not privilege, merely, but the duty—of this House is to review all the decisions of Committees, whether they be upstairs or downstairs and upon the merits of the question which may be put forward, it is the duty of the House to arrive at a correct conclusion. What is the crux of the matter in this case? It is this, Shall the authorisation be given by Parliament to acquire ferries to county councils alone, or shall that authorisation be given to district councils who, upon the merits of each case, would show, to the satisfaction of the Ministry of Transport, that they should be allowed to acquire ferries. That is the essence of the whole matter. What is the substantial distinction between the county council and district council? If it is right, in the interest of transport as a whole in connecting canals together or districts together, that local authorities should have the power given to them by Parliament to acquire ownership and management of ferries, why should that privilege, why should that right, why should that public service be limited to local authorities who are called county councils, when we know us a fact that there are many district councils whose scope, influence, authority and power are even greater than some of the smaller county councils? There is no case for such a distinction on the mere question as to whether the local body has the status of a county council or the status of a district council.
Let me take the Committee to another point, and it is that whether it be a county council, or whether it be a district council which may be authorised by Parliament, that authorisation must be carried out and exercised under the supervision of a Department of State. There is no 1980 division of opinion, apparently, as to which Department of State should have that administration, but the question I want to emphasise is this, that die Department of State which has to do with transport as a whole from one end of the country to the other is the Department which shall control, which shall letter if necessary, and which shall give permission, if necessary, to these local authorities with regard to the acquisition and the working of ferries. What has that Department to do? Its main duty—and this duty almost every hon. Member here supported at the last General Election—is to connect up and facilitate transport from one part of the country to another. Will you be carrying out that pledge given to the country better by restricting the acquisition and management of ferries to a small number of local bodies, or will you be carrying out that broad pledge, given at the General Election by the Government and its supporters to facilitate transport, if you allow a larger number of district authorities to have the power to acquire and administer these means of transport and communication? For that reason, and upon that very ground, putting aside altogether the distinction between what the House and the Committee upstairs should do, on the merits of the whole case 1. for one, will support the proposition that the whole interest of transport from one end of the country to the other will be facilitated by enlarging the number of authorities who have the power to acquire and administer ferry communication.
§ Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and negatived.