§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Captain BOWYER
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
This Bill seeks to empower the County Council of the administrative county of Durham to construct and work tramways, to provide and work trolley vehicles and motor omnibuses, to construct street improvements, and to acquire lands for the improvement of highways, and other purposes. The main objects of the Bill are three. In the first place, to construct 15 tramways and tram roads of a total length of about 27 miles; in the second place, to provide and work trolley motor vehicles on nine specified routes of a total length of some 60 miles; and, thirdly, to run omnibuses along any road within the county.
1395 It was on 10th November, 1920, that the Durham County Council decided to promote this Bill. I am going to submit to the House that they came to that conclusion without having first of all properly considered the cost of the undertaking; and, secondly, without having given due consideration to the question as to whether or not this undertaking was likely to prove a financial success. The expense as shown in the estimate referred to in the Bill is £1,641,393, about which I shall have something to say in a minute or two. Lastly, before I begin my objections to the Bill let me say that there have been, I believe, overy forty objections lodged against it. Of these four come from municipal corporations, eight from urban district councils, and four from rural district councils in the neighbourhood. I want to bring forward in the short time that I propose to speak the following objections, which I think are serious objections to this Bill. I will briefly name them and then say a few words about each.
In the first place there is no precedent for placing road passenger transport in the hands of a county council; secondly, very heavy capital commitments are being undertaken at a time when, above all others, the greatest economy in public expenditure is necessary; thirdly the scheme is bound to mean financial loss; fourthly, that loss will be borne, not only by the ratepayers who may expect to enjoy some of the amenities of the scheme, but by the ratepayers throughout the administrative County of Durham; fifthly, the Bill is superfluous because already private enterprise provides motor omnibuses which are running over the whole length and breadth of this scheme with the exception of a four miles' length; sixthly, there is the ground of public opposition; seventhly, the scheme is so speculative in its character that it lies outside the legitimate functions of a county council; eighthly, the Bill involves no obligation upon the county council to carry out the scheme contained in the Bill within any near approximate date; they may, if they like, take up to seven years about it; and, lastly, there is a technical objection that a certain paragraph in the Local Government Act of 1888 has been rudely brushed aside and made null and of no effect by Section 87 of the Bill.
1396 Take the first objection, that there is no precedent for placing road transport in the hands of a county council. The London County Council alone, I believe, amongst such authorities, owns and operates tramways. But I submit to the House that the conditions under which the London County Council runs its trams are totally different from those of the scattered area in the County of Durham through which the scheme proposed in the Bill acts. The London County Council tramways are now a source of heavy loss, and, therefore, in an area much more sparsely populated, as is Durham, surely the scheme under the Bill is liable to financial loss? No county council has, I believe, at present the power to run omnibuses. The Bill seeks enormous powers, unlimited powers, to run omnibuses at, so far as I can make out, unlimited expense. The second objection is that this Bill involves very heavy capital commitments at a time when the greatest public economy is vitally necessary. The Estimate in the Bill is £1,641,393, but in a document which, I suppose, all Members of Parliament received this morning, that seems to be going to be reduced to a sum of £1,027,751, a reduction of some £600,000. I would point out to hon. Members that in the Estimate contained in the Bill there is not one item or penny put down as against the expenditure on omnibuses. Yet the preamble of the Bill clearly says the Bill is to empower the County Council to provide and work trolley vehicles and motor omnibuses, so that we may take it that this reduced sum of just over £1,000,000 is likely to be an under-estimate of the sum which it will be necessary to raise from the rates in order to put the scheme into effect. Another point: The only limit to the borrowing powers of the County Council under the Bill is the consent of the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Health. Provided the Council gets their consent the power to borrow is unlimited.
On what is this huge sum to be spent? It is to be spent in duplicating services which already exist, thus rendering the capital which has been expended on private enterprise and on vast schemes of motor-bus services utterly futile. I said duplication, but surely the obvious sequence of events in this, that in order that this Bill should succeed, first of all there has to be a fight, and if the Bill goes through private enterprise has got 1397 to be threatened and defeated; for only so can the grandiloquent scheme under the Bill become a successful undertaking. Thirdly, the transport system in this scheme is absolutely certain to be an unmitigated financial failure. There are 27 miles of tramways to be constructed in comparatively thinly-populated districts. What is the experience of tramways throughout the rest of the country? The municipal tramway system of Great Britain, although serving some of the most densely-populated districts, are incurring an annual loss of three and one-third million pounds. What then is the prospect of this scheme when it has first of all to defeat the private enterprise companies already operating there.
As regards the 57 miles of trackless trolly, I believe that in no cases are such lines working at a profit in Great Britain. At a recent inquiry into the wages of tramway employés, evidence was given by Mr. Hamilton, the General Manager of the Leeds Tramway undertaking, in which he said that the actual revenue at the present time falls short of the expenditure by just over 3½d. for every car mile run, and there is a deficiency of 3s. 2½d. for every £1 of traffic receipts. Therefore, I do not think that I exaggerate when I claim that the transport scheme of this Bill is doomed to failure. If it does fail, on whom is the loss going to fall. The financial loss will be borne not only by those who hope to share in the amenities of the better tramways and motor buses, but upon the whole of the ratepayers of the administrative County of Durham. Again, may I take the figures of the promoters of the Bill. They say, that, approximately, 294,000 people will be served by the tramways, but they go on to say that the population of the administrative county is 1,031,000, so that only one-third of the population will enjoy the benefits, whereas the whole of them will be mulcted in their rates for the enjoyment of that one-third, and the loss will fall upon the whole of the ratepayers. What chance has private enterprise against competition backed by the rates of the county?
My fifth point is that the Bill is superfluous. Already along every route upon which the Bill contemplates action omnibuses run by private enterprise companies are running with the exception of a length of about four miles. The Northern 1398 General Transport Company, the United Automobile Company, the Invincible Motor Bus Service and the North Eastern Railway Company have got now a service which they claim is adequate and is improving every day. I may add that on many of the principal routes a 15-minute service is now being provided, but the improvement which is taking place in these private enterprise Companies must be crippled if they are to have this competition with a rate-aided organisation like the county council.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us where they are running the service every 15 minutes?
§ Captain BOWYER
I cannot say for the moment, but that is my information and I am certain it is accurate. I will satisfy myself again on that point and communicate with my hon. Friend. This Durham County Transport Bill cannot succeed until it has smashed these private enterprise companies. It cannot continue in competition with them. There is the very strongest public opposition to this Bill. No less than 40 petitions are already lodged against it, and of these four come from municipal corporations, eight from urban district councils, and four from rural district councils. What the promoters mean by telling hon. Members that this Bill is backed by practically all the local authorities in the County of Durham I do not know, because it is not true.
On the 13th December, 1920, there was a crowded meeting of ratepayers in Durham City, at which this Bill was discussed, and a resolution was carried, I am told, by a large majority condemning the proposed expenditure as unnecessary and extravagant; and Mr. Peter Lee, the chairman of the Durham County Council, stated that the Labour party—which has a majority on the Council of something like two-thirds—are not afraid of high rates. Is that the secret of the activity and enterprise foreshadowed in this Bill? Is it true that the Labour party are not afraid of high rates, and is it not on that score that they are now seeking power to levy something over £1,600,000 upon the wretched ratepayers of this county of Durham at a time when, above all others, economy in public expenditure is absolutely necessary? I will put a specific question and challenge to the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Richardson): Is it or is it 1399 not true, as stated in a cutting of the "Times" dated 19th February, 1921, that 55 of the Labour Councillors on the County Council of Durham do not pay rates, as they live in colliery houses?
§ Captain BOWYER
Then how many do live in colliery houses and do not pay rates? Here is a Bill which seeks to put into force a grandiloquent scheme all founded on the rates, and on the other hand there is the assertion that 55 of the Labour Councillors do not themselves pay rates. The Bill contains a scheme of a highly speculative character. That being so, it lies absolutely outside the legitimate functions of a county council at all. Is it the case of the promoters of this Bill that private enterprise has failed, and, if so, why do they not say so? In the preamble it merely states that "whereas the provision of further grants for facilities in the County of Durham is urgently necessary" and then their scheme is set forth. They do no say, "Whereas private enterprise has failed, now let us try nationalisation." That is the true interpretation of the activity which they are seeking leave from Parliament to put into effect. The rapid improvement in transport which is taking place, and which private enterprise is far more likely to utilise to the full, will 'be absolutely killed if this competition is allowed to continue by the rate-aided county council. The Bill involves no obligation upon the County Council to carry out the work at an early date. Clause 10 gives no less than seven years as the period for the compulsory purchase of land, and Clause 16 gives seven years for the completion of the tramways. Therefore for.seven years the ratepayers of the country would have this enormous expenditure hanging over their heads. As regards the motor omnibuses, there is no time limit imposed at all. My last point is a rather technical one, but one which I think is very important in these days of overburdened rates. Section 69, Sub-section (2), of the Local Government Act, 1888, dealing with the borrowing powers of county councils, states:Provided that where the total debt of the County Council, after deducting the amount of any sinking fund, exceeds, or if the proposed loan is borrowed, will exceed, the amount of one-tenth of the annual rateable value of the rateable property in the 1400 county ascertained according to the standard or basis for the county rate, the amount shall not be borrowed, except in pursuance of a Provisional Order made by the Local Government Board and confirmed by Parliament.In the Bill we are now considering Clause 87 states:The powers of borrowing money given by this Act shall not be restricted by any of the Regulations contained in Section 69 (Borrowing by County Councils) of the Local Government Act, 1888.That is the section which I have just read. The Clause goes on:In calculating the amount which the County Council may borrow under that Act or under other enactments any sums which they may borrow under this Act shall not be reckoned.Thus the one safeguard given by the Local Government Act of 1888 is rendered absolutely null and void. Hon. Members opposite may tell me that this is a common form in private Bills. If that is so, it is high time this House took notice of it and stopped a procedure which, I maintain, is absolutely criminal in its failure to safeguard the ratepayers of the country. I appeal to my hon. Friend who represents the Government in this matter whether this is not a question of principle. Is private enterprise going to live, or is it going to be superseded by nationalisation? I hope my hon. Friend will address himself to that point, and say if the Government is going to sanction this grandiloquent scheme of transport when private enterprise is serving practically the whole of the contemplated area. I feel certain he will hesitate before he commends this Bill to the House.
§ Brigadier-General SURTEES
I rise to second the Amendment. My primary objection to the Bill is that it is an ill-conceived measure in every respect, as it will involve the County of Durham in heavy capital expenditure at a moment when all available money is required for reconstruction and the re-establishment of industry. The County Council of Durham is asking for powers to run omnibuses on every road in the county. The expenditure is estimated, I understand, at something like a million and a half, and we have already two large companies at least providing excellent services on the principal roads. In the opinion of those qualified to judge there is no need to supersede these, and it is fairly certain that under county council management the services would be run at 1401 a considerable loss, besides imposing a further burden upon the already overtaxed ratepayers. The main power which seems to be sought, is to establish a tramway from Gateshead, passing through Grantham to Spennymoor. This connection alone, I understand, would cost about £1,000,000. It traverses a route in which the population is highly concentrated into one or two small areas which already possess excellent train services. I may here mention that the North Eastern Railway Company is already preparing to electrify that section of its system which serves this district, and this will admit of a still further improved train service with which the tramways would have to compete. It is reasonable to assume that the result of running to tramways would be disastrous.
In support of this view I would quote the case of the Sunderland District Tramways Company, which although its system covers a far better district and taps a number of largely populated villages remote from train services, nevertheless could not pay a dividend on its ordinary shares and has reduced its capital to about one-third of the original figure. I would also call attention generally to the effect which the passing of the Bill would have upon the North Eastern Railway Company. That company would have to encounter new and serious competition, all the more serious from the fact that the Bill proposes that the trams may be used for the carriage of goods, minerals, animals and heavy traffic. The North Eastern Railway has been put to huge expense providing for heavy traffic which is well accommodated by the existing lines, and it would be a monstrous thing if the county council were allowed to compete with the railway as proposed in the Bill. I have already referred to the improbability of the powers sought ever resulting in financial success. If they result in disastrous failure, as I imagine would be the case, the loss would have to be made good out of the county rate, to which the North Eastern Railway Company contributes 12 or 12½ per cent. of the whole.
In conclusion, I should like to draw attention to the fact—I am informed it is a fact—that at the special meeting of the county council on the 10th November, 1920, when it was decided to promote this Bill, proper estimates of the cost of proposed works were not submitted. So the 1402 county council actually decided to promote the Bill without considering the cost of the several undertakings or the probability of their becoming profitable. It was also found necessary to hold two meetings of the county council to obtain consent to the Bill as required by the Borough Funds Act, and on this account alone I submit that the proposals are not adequately supported by the members of the county council and still less by the ratepayers of this already overburdened county. To summarise, I protest against the Second Reading of this Bill, first, because it involves enormous outlay at a time when strict economy is necessary in the national interest, and, second, because the scheme is unnecessary and affords merely a duplication of a well-established and adequate system of transport already worked by private companies. It would seem that this is an opportunity to prove to the nation that the House of Commons is sincere in its promise that it will effect economies whenever possible and safeguard the ratepayers and taxpayers.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
I should like to remind the House of what the Chairman of Ways and Means said on a recent occasion in connection with some other Bills. The right hon. Gentleman said:May I once again say that in regard to a private Bill that the Second Reading is not the same as in respect to a public Bill In the case of a private Bill it means sending it to a Committee, and the duty of that Committee is to find the preamble proved, or not proved. That is really the effective Second Reading stage, which can only be taken after the parties have been heard."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th April, 1921, cols. 602 and 603.]The Durham County Council ask for nothing more than that at this stage. We have a large volume of evidence to submit in proof of our case to the hon. Members who may constitute the Committee dealing with this Bill. A good deal has been said about what has led up to the Bill. Let me say that I am a member of the Durham County Council, and have been for twenty years. I know its work, and I know that behind its energies is a keen desire for the well being of the people of the County of Durham. In framing this Bill the Council knows that it is absolutely essential that some method of transport should be provided for people resident in the county. Up to now it has been denied to them. We have heard of agricultural labourers in villages being cut off from 1403 civilisation, and even the Government itself, in order to prevent depletion of the rural areas, has had to give assistance in providing transport for these people. It seems to be forgotten that there are many mining villages in the county of Durham which are in the same position as regards means of transport as are the agricultural labourers in some of the most rural parts of the country. I probably know the county of Durham better than anyone else who has spoken on this matter. I was born and reared in it, have lived in it all my life, and have constantly been going to and fro through the county.
§ Captain BOWYER
May I interrupt the hon. Member for one moment? He asked me a definite question. I made inquiry, and I now have the answer, which I think will show him that on one point I was better informed than he was. He denied that there was a 15-minute service.
§ Captain BOWYER
I will tell the hon. Member. It is on the road from Chester-le-Street to Gateshead; and that becomes a 10-minute service on Saturday.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
My hon Friend below me lives nearer to Chester-le-Street than I do. I will deal with the part of the county with which I am best acquainted. With regard to the meetings of the Durham County Council, the meeting of the 11th November, to which allusion was made by hon. Members who are opposing the Bill, was held on account of the breakdown of the transport, which resulted in people not being able to get there on the first occasion. That is the difficulty; we are not even given facilities to get to a county council meeting. I admit that since this Bill was promoted there has been some speeding up of private enterprise, but we know that if this Bill goes down we shall simply get the same sort of treatment that we have always had. Have hon. Members been in Durham and seen the transport that is provided? We know it. We have, as a rule, motor omnibuses on some parts of the county roads, and it is a 30-minute service. That is in the best area, from 1404 Durham to Houghton-le-Spring and from there on to Sunderland, running in competition with the service already mentioned, which has never paid—the Sunderland District Tramways Company. If, therefore, private enterprise is competing against itself, there can be no fault found if we come in and do the same thing.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
Some of the charges that are made are exorbitant, and after getting off the motor omnibus I have felt a good deal worse in health than after a trip across the North Sea to Hamburg or Rotterdam, or some such place. That is the sort of thing that is being given. Anything that is on four wheels and can be propelled is being put into operation to try to meet the difficulty and give us some sort of help in getting from one place to another in the county. May I draw attention to the fact that Durham is the third largest administrative county outside the Metropolis, with a population of 1,032,000? We have within the county area but one tramway company running into the rural area, and that is the one to which the hon. and gallant Member for Gateshead (Brigadier-General Surtees) referred, and which, he said, has never paid a dividend to its shareholders. I was informed, on what I thought was good authority, that last year it did pay, but if it never had paid a dividend, I should not be at all surprised. Let me give the facts of its commencement, and show what private enterprise does to help people. It was, I believe, commenced by the British Electrical Traction Company, who sought powers from the various authorities; and they, having no idea of methods of transportation, granted their sanction to these people. It cost them, say, £10,000. It was then sold again to another company—these people never have any intention, after getting powers, of putting down a rail—and the company that actually commenced running was the fourth or fifth company that had it before any tramways were run at all. Of course, it was sold at an increased price on every occasion, and now we wonder why that company does not pay a dividend. The facts are there, and can be proved, and to expect companies like that to pay is to 1405 expect the public to pay through the nose. That is the position with regard to that company. But we in our Bill have not in any way infringed their rights. We do not touch them at all. Indeed, we propose to bring people to their doorsteps so that they may get a chance of making their tramways pay. Mention has been made of the North-Eastern Railway Company serving us very well. Let us see how the North-Eastern Railway Company serves us. Take my own case. I live practically in the heart of the county. If I want to go to Newcastle-on-Tyne, the largest city in the North of England, I must leave Newcastle at 8.5 to reach my home. People may have very important business and yet the railway company refuses to give us a later train than 8.5. I have appealed to them again and again for some, extended service. Again take the case of Durham City. Unless I am coming from south of York the North-Eastern Railway Company refuses to carry me home from Durham after 8.20. They refuse to bring me home from Sunderland after 9 p.m. That is the sort of service that private enterprise is building up a case to defeat our object.
I want to call attention to one or two other matters. I suppose we are a spendthrift county council. A circular issued by the Middle Class Union has fallen into my hands—
§ "Dear Sir,
§ Six hundred and eighty-two so-called ratepayers and taxpayers! I say "so-called" advisedly. Six hundred and eighty-two out of a population of 1,032,000!
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
I am afraid you do not know. Its county rate last year was 5s. 9d. Its total outstanding debt was £776,000, nearly all schools and places of education. I wonder how many authorities, county or otherwise, there are in this country which can show such a Bill. Do you know of one which can compare with the Durham County Council in this matter? I challenge you to find another county council with that population with a less outstanding debt.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
No, not so high as that by any means. The hon. Member is probably adding the rates of the small local authorities to this 5s. 9d., but the 5s. 9d. is included in all the local authorities. We get our local rates through the other local authorities. We do not get it direct from the county council. You must not add 5s. 9d. to 12s. and something, if it is 17s.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
Private enterprise, in our opinion, has had a tremendous revenue from county council work. We know what omnibuses are doing for the roads on which they are running. In my own area, and because of this very Bill, probably both the Northern Company and the Automobile Company commenced to run omnibuses, and the road for some mile and a half had been relaid from one end to the other, not to take this traffic, but to take ordinary traffic, and in two months the whole thing had of necessity to be relaid. Go where you will these omnibuses are ploughing up the roads, and the amount paid to the county authorities is not by any means commensurate with the amount of damage they are doing and their rateable value, except the tramway the hon. Member has referred to, is probably nil. That is about the measure in which we are dealt with by private enterprise in Durham. We do not propose to spend the whole £1,000,000. Our proposal is for the moment to spend £637,727, holding over the sum of £390,000. We will not spend that £390,000 in any case at the moment and we will give a pledge to the House that we will not spend it until we have the sanction of the Ministry of Transport. We want to do what we are asking permission to do. It has been said that it is a poor route on which we propose to construct our tramways. That will not bear the light of day. Its population is vastly larger than many other paying concerns run through in other parts of the country. We are only asking 1407 what other people have always had given to them, that our case should go before a Committee which shall deal with it and hear the evidence. Durham County Council is quite content either to win or lose this Bill on the evidence it can submit to any Committee this House may set up. So that we are asking for no favour. My hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Bowyer) referred to the opposition. May I tell him that we have, and we will prove it if you allow this Bill to go upstairs, the sanction of practically every local authority in the county through whose area the trams are proposed to be run? We do not say that we have the sanction of the authorities that are not to be touched. We do not claim that, but we claim that we have the sanction of the other authorities; I do not know that there is one exception. Even Durham City, in which the meeting was held, is not opposing the Bill.
§ Captain BOWYER
It may be that the 16 local authorities which I have mentioned as opposing this Bill, and as having filed objections against it, may be outside the area, but my point is that although they are outside the area they have to contribute to the rates.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
On the other hand, if we make this a paying concern, they will reap their share of the benefit, so that they will have compensation on the other side. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will keep that in mind. The population of the area through which the trams are to run is 294,000, equal to 12,700 per route mile. Many private people would be only too willing to risk their all on such a tramway. I feel sure that the experiences of municipal authorities who own trams in the north of England have not been so disastrous as my hon. Friend would have us believe. The Newcastle authority run trams outside their own boundaries, and every year money has been provided from that undertaking in relief of the rates. Sunder-land borough, which runs in two or three directions in the county, have also paid large sums of money to the relief of the rates from their tramway undertaking.
§ Mr. RICHARDS0N
Yes. After setting aside all that is required for redemption, etc., they are still giving money in relief of the rates. Therefore, on the whole, we need have no fear as to the success of our undertaking. It is true that the London County Council have lost money on their tramways, but I want to remind the House that what they have lost on the swings the people of London have gained on the roundabouts. Because of the large amount of rates that the London County Council have to pay, there has. been no loss so far as the ratepayers are concerned. What they have lost on the trams they have been paid back in rates, so that the ratepapers have been nothing out of pocket in consequence of the trams being run in London. After all, there is something more than the making of money; there is the public utility always to be considered. There are isolated colliery villages where there is little chance of education, no amenities, where the community simply exist amongst themselves, without a chance of intercourse with people who live outside their parish boundaries. Does it not appeal to hon. Members that at least something should be done to give these people a chance of seeing things as they are, even in parts of their own county? All that I plead for is that this Bill should be allowed to go upstairs, and that you should hear our evidence. If our evidence is not conclusive, turn it down, but if it is conclusive, and we can prove that our scheme will be a paying concern, we ask that it should be allowed to go through. I hope my hon. Friends will reconsider their Motion to negative this Bill, that they will hear what we have to say in Committee, and that we shall act as Britons towards one another, giving everybody a chance and holding them guiltless until they are proved guilty.
§ Mr. GRANT
No one will doubt the sincerity of the hon. Member who has just spoken or his knowledge of the county which he so admirably represents. In his opening remarks he referred to the statement which was recently made by the Chairman of Ways and Means as to the desirability of private Bills going upstairs, and the House of Commons not interfering on Second Reading with such measures. I am sure that that statement is largely correct, but there may be 1409 occasions when it is the duty of this Chamber to express its opinion on Second Reading when questions of principle are involved, and also questions of vast expense. Undoubtedly there could be no private Bill more directly affecting questions of principle and, especially at this time, the question of extravagance and expense than the Bill which we are now considering. I should like to refer to a statement which we received this morning from the Durham County Council, accompanied by a diagram of the routes where these operations are proposed to be introduced. With great respect to the Member of the Durham County Council who has just spoken I may say that, so far as I can gather from any knowledge that I have been able to gain, this statement of the Durham County Council is very misleading, and especially the diagram. I do not think that anyone with the smallest knowledge of the situation would say that it is a true picture of what actually exists. It does not show in this diagram the large amount of transport work which is being done at the present time by public utility companies. It would lead one to believe that this is a derelict district so far as transport is concerned. The facts of the case are that the whole district is supplied at the present time with transport facilities. The routes where these new tramways are to be established are now served by motor omnibus companies. There are only four miles in the whole district in respect to which the new proposals are put forward which are not supplied with transport facilities at the present time. Side by side with the proposed tramway routes are railway facilities of which the diagram shows nothing. I protest against the House of Commons being given a document of this sort, which is calculated to mislead it unless hon. Members took the trouble to find out the facts for themselves. My hon. Friend (Mr. Richardson) complained that the district was not properly served. He is probably not aware that these public utility companies, who have lent vast sums and done all they can to serve the public in these districts so far as economic conditions allow, have tried to do more, and have not been allowed to do more because the Durham County Council will not give permission.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
There were more buses running during the five years of the War than in any other five years of the history of the country.
§ Mr. GRANT
There have been many applications made by these public utility companies which have done good work in these districts which the county council of Durham have refused. I believe that this Bill is brought forward not so much in the interests of the travelling public as to foist socialistic schemes on the public— [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—and to defeat if possible private enterprise by public companies. A greater interference with the liberty of the individual I cannot conceive. If these trackless trolly routes are necessary, why would these public utility companies who have undertaken transport service not undertake them themselves? They are business men who are out for money, and if there is anything in this, why would they not undertake it? The fact is that such schemes have always been a disastrous failure. There is no money in them. They are uneconomic. In paragraph 4 of the statement of the Durham County Council we are told that their proposal is supported practically by all public authorities Already that has been contradicted. No public authority should make a statement of this sort, which is an endeavour to mislead us. There are 16 public authorities who have petitioned against this, and I believe that the number would be substantially increased if it were not for the expense involved. Hon. Members know the enormous expense entailed on local authorities in coming up to this House and bringing up evidence against a proposal.
Paragraph 5 deals with the money part of the question. Originally we were told that £1,600,000 was involved in the undertaking. In the statement received this morning the amount is cut down to a little over £1,000,000 and we are told, as the reason, that the engineers have been able to reduce the estimate because the cost of materials has decreased and will further decrease. I question that reason. 1411 I am informed on authority which I cannot doubt that the decrease in the amount of the estimates is largely due to the number of local authorities who will not give the county council the wayleaves which they desire, so that the amount has been compulsorily cut down. I believe further that it has been cut down to a large extent in order to endeavour to get this House to accept this measure. Experts cannot believe for one moment that even the undertakings which are proposed can be carried out for the figure which is put down. They believe that they will cost a great deal more and that these figures are entirely illusory. In these estimates there is no mention of the cost of motor omnibuses and there is no estimate for garages and much other detail which add enormously to the expense of motor omnibuses. A very small estimate would be another £1,000,000 to undertake any sort of motor omnibus service over these roads.
My hon. Friend opposite believes that the undertaking will be self-supporting, and his county council believes so. I would like to know on what authority they are induced to hold this view. If I had any money to invest in an undertaking, I would, if I could, find out what similar undertakings paid in other places. These undertakings have all been a disastrous failure. Municipal trading of this sort at present is costing the ratepayers £3,300,000, and that is dealing with money borrowed at the low rates which prevailed before the War, but the present cost of any such undertaking would be infinitely more. From all the knowledge which we have it will be futile to suggest that such an undertaking would be self-supporting, as the interest on the borrowed money will be so much higher. I think, in spite of what has been said by my hon. Friend, the county councils really anticipate that any such undertaking will be only run at a failure. The chairman of the county council has been quoted to-night as saying: "We are not afraid of high rates." They are very lucky not to be afraid of high rates, but I think that sounds likes an expression of opinion which comes from a man who does not pay rates himself. My hon. Friend opposite questioned the statement that a great many members of the county council are not ratepayers. I can tell 1412 him that some 55 members are not ratepayers at all.
§ Mr. GRANT
My hon. Friend shakes his head, but I put forward that statement again, because I have had it on very good authority. It is really monstrous, if there is any approximation of truth in it, that men who have no obligation whatever in spending money should involve other ratepayers in the county who do not in any way benefit by such a service.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
May I assure my hon. Friend that most of the mining members—and that is the body he is hitting—either live in their own houses or own property in the county.
§ Mr. GRANT
Of course, I accept his statement at once, but it does not make any difference to that part of my argument, namely, that in certain districts you will go in for a speculation, and a very gambling speculation, which will involve ratepayers in other parts of the county who will gain no benefit whatsoever from such an undertaking. As I say, it is a gamble, and I submit that the case in detail is overwhelming against the Bill. I do not think hon. Members have any mandate whatsoever to support a measure frankly socialistic in its ideas, which, in its action, will be a drag upon private enterprise, and which will allow public authorities to interfere with the free play and liberty of the private individual. I hope hon. Members will prevent this measure from going upstairs where enormous expenses will be put on the county of Durham.
The issue before the House is whether this Bill is to be allowed to go upstairs or not. I quite agree with the hon. Member who has just resumed his seat that there may be occasions on which this House may very properly refuse to allow a Bill to go to a Committee. I can quite understand, if a Bill did involve a real matter of principle on which there was a very great difference of opinion, that such a course might be taken, but to suggest that there is anything in this Bill which at the present time raises a matter which is novel is out of all keeping with the facts of the case. An attempt has been made to appeal to all kinds of prejudices, fears and passions by representing the Bill as 1413 introducing something of a revolutionary and socialistic character. It is very late in the day to suggest that the owning and running of tramways by a public authority is a thing of so novel a character that when a Bill is presented to this House that is good ground for the House refusing permission for it to go to a Committee. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken knows perfectly well that, so far from any novel proposition being embodied in the Bill, all that is asked is that the county council of Durham may be allowed to do what almost every local authority of importance in this country is at present doing.
What more important one could be mentioned? Here we are dealing with a body which is third or fourth in the country after the London County Council. No ground of principle at all is involved. All that is present on this occasion is a conflict of evidence. On the other side of the House it is suggested that all the needs of Durham County are at present well served by private enterprise; on this side that view is not held. That is a conflict of evidence, and is just the matter to come before a Committee. I am quite sure that this House, taking an impartial and an unbiased view of this question, as it ought to do, would never feel competent to consider a question on which detailed evidence should be given. That is the very purpose for which Committees are set up and Bills sent to them. I submit, therefore, that the ground of principle raised by the hon. Member is one which has no substance at all I suggest further that it would really be a very serious matter to refuse to allow this Bill to go before a Committee in view of its origin. It does not come from some responsible body, but from a county council, and in the government of this country, after Parliament, the county councils are the most important bodies. The position is that a county council, elected upon a popular franchise, after the most careful consideration, has come to the conclusion that in the interests and for the welfare of those persons with whose welfare they are concerned this Bill 1414 should be promoted, and it comes to this House for permission. Unless there is some very grave and substantial reason for refusing that permission we should consent to allow the Bill to go before the Committee in order that all the evidence may be heard and the facts thrashed out. If there is really anything of substance in the points raised, the Committee will appreciate and deal with them, and will prevent any hardship being done. It is suggested that there is very real opposition in the County of Durham against the Bill. If that is so, it is an extraordinary thing that not a single name of a county Member for Durham is put to this Motion for rejection. Here is a Bill, we are told, which is arousing intense opposition in Durham, yet the opponents of the Bill have to come down to Buckingham to get an hon. Member to speak against it. Up to the present time, with the exception of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gateshead (Brigadier-General Surtees)—and he is not a Member for the County of Durham, but for a county borough—not a single Member for the administrative county who is acquainted with the local situation has spoken. Instead of that we have opposition from Gentlemen like the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Grant) and the hon. and gallant Member for Finchley (Colonel Newman). From the County of Durham, from the people who know the conditions there, who know what is wanted, who live in the county, who traverse its roads, and who are hampered by lack of transport, no voice is raised.
I do not wish to deal with this in great detail, because this is not the proper place for detail to be brought forward. It is quite a simple matter for hon. Members opposite to get up with a great mass of figures and give them to the House, as it is equally possible for us to do so. This is not the place. What we ask the House to consider is that the County Council of Durham, one of the most important county councils in the country, has come to the conclusion, after the most careful consideration, that this is the proper course to pursue. We ask the House to give them an opportunity of proving before a Committee of the House that they were right in their conclusion. There is no ground of principle at all on which their request can be refused. The House will be only following out its traditions of impartiality and fair- 1415 ness by giving the Bill a Second Reading and allowing it to go before a Committee, on which all the opponents can be heard, their case against the Bill considered, and every opportunity given for arriving at a proper conclusion.
§ Mr. GRITTEN
The hon. Member who has just spoken has gone to much trouble in labouring an interpretation of one of your rulings or perhaps it was an obiter dictum. I was somewhat puzzled by that ruling, but my confusion may be due to the newness of my membership to this House. When I read your words that the Private Bill Committee provides the really effective Second Reading stage, it occurs to me to inquire what is the precise object of the Debate in which we are now engaged and what is the utility of the procedure at all? The hon. Gentleman has been at some pains to show that no question of principle is involved, but side by side and following on that argument he directly contradicted himself by another because he twitted the opponents of this Bill by saying that no Member from the county of Durham, with the exception of my hon. and gallant Friend (Brigadier-General Surtees) had spoken in support of those who oppose the Bill. Surely one statement is a direct negation of the other in the matter of logic and argument. First he says that this is not a question of principle and then he switches off from the particular to the general and says that no member from the county of Durham supports this opposition. I take that to be the greatest proof of the generality of principle involved in this Bill—that Members from other parts of England have spoken against it. If the hon. Member for Finchley (Colonel Newman) or the hon. Member for the White-haven Division of Cumberland (Mr Grant) or the Member for Buckingham (Captain Bowyer) have found it necessary to come to the House and speak against the principle, surely that is proof in itself of the general principle involved in this Bill. I at any rate happen to be a Member for a constituency in the county of Durham.
§ Mr. GRITTEN
For the purposes of this Bill, taking up this objection made from the other side, which I will meet at once, my constituency is divided into two 1416 parts. An hon. Member has just informed me that I am not in the administrative area. It so happens that West Hartlepool is not a contributing authority, and is not in the administrative area, but the borough of Hartlepool is. When it is said that the bodies which are petitioning against this Bill are only insignificant, I should like to mention the fact that I represent a constituency which embraces every known industry except the textile industry and pottery. Therefore, if you get a petition from a neighbourhood of that importance, you may be sure that it is well grounded.
Reference has been made to a statement sent to hon. Members by those who are promoting this measure. In direct connection with what I am now saying, I should like to point out one instance of the fallacies and misrepresentations of this particular document. With regard to that very subject of whether my constituency is in the administrative county or not, I should like hon. Members who have this document in their possession to refer to the map, which is geographically inaccurate, and they will observe that Hartlepool is not mentioned. But the county borough of West Hartlepool is mentioned, and it does not come within the scope of this Bill at all. There you see the mala fides of the promoters of this Bill. It is said that I am not in the administrative area. I am, with regard to the borough of Hartlepool, but the compilers of this map have purposely omitted Hartlepool. The hon. Member perhaps may be misled by this map when he says that I am not in the administrative area. In order to emphasise the misrepresentation it takes care to put the population as 65,247. The population of my constituency is over 90,000. So much for such a document. I am not quite sure how much detail or particularity is allowed at the present stage of discussion, but I would take my constituency as an example to prove the main thesis put forward by the opponents of this Bill. Hartlepool, which does come under the scope of the Bill, is a very ancient borough. It received its charter from King John, and it is proud of its antiquity and traditions. Therefore, it is rightly jealous of any infringement of its rights and privileges. If this Bill is passed Hartlepool maintains that its rights and its jurisdiction will be seriously invaded. I have here a petition from the 1417 borough of Hartlepool, and in that petition the petitioners allege that the borough and the inhabitants will be injuriously affected by the Bill, and they strongly object to it. They maintain that there are transport facilities already provided between Hartlepool and West Hartlepool, and through West Hartlepool to the neighbouring industrial area, that they are provided by trams, belonging to the Hartlepool Tramways Company, and the municipal trams of West Hartlepool.
§ Mr. GRITTEN
It is the humble petition of the mayor, alderman and burgesses of the Borough of Hartlepool. With regard to Hartlepool, there is no road traffic between the borough and the remainder of the administrative county sufficient to justify the county council running 'buses into the borough. If one looks at the route delineated in this document, those of us who know the county of Durham—I have known it for 40 years intimately and I can controvert some of the assertions made from the other side — know that that route goes through sparsely populated districts, but that at any point along that proposed route the North-Eastern Railway is easily accessible, as it runs parallel to it. The proposed routes run nowhere near Hartlepool, the main approach to which is through West Hartlepool; so the county council would have no right to go through West Hartlepool. There are no main roads to Hartlepool itself. Hence, for the purposes of this Bill, no approach either way is practicable. The next stage of my argument should be sufficiently obvious. It is that, although Hartlepool is to receive no benefit, yet by Clause 86 of this Bill it is proposed to authorise the county council to charge the county fund and county rate with security for this great sum, to which reference has been made, to make good any deficiency in the running of this tram undertaking, let alone the deficiency that would probably arise on the 'bus undertaking. There is another point which has not been mentioned. It is stated in the petition which has been referred to that the petitioners are liable, under the Bill, for many of the roads which might be damaged by the running of omnibuses by the county council, or which might otherwise be 1418 obstructed or interfered with by the exercise of the powers obtained under this Bill, and yet no provision is inserted in the Bill requiring the county council to contribute towards the cost of adapting the roads on which the omnibuses are to run, or for safeguarding the rights and jurisdiction of the inhabitants.
Reference has been made, and there has been no contradiction, to the losses on tramway undertakings in other parts of the country. I am not going into details on that matter, as full figures have been given, but there was a point which might have been made in that connection. It is this, that undoubtedly losses on tramway undertakings have been made by municipal authorities although the capital for them was obtained at pre-War low rates of interest, and the tramways were constructed at pre-War cost in densely populated districts. Yet in spite of these facts the tramways are run at a loss. I maintain that it is the barest equity that the decrease in the revenue of such undertakings should be made good out of the rates levied in the districts which have the advantages of the facilities that are afforded, and it surely would be most unjust that inhabitants of a borough should be subjected to increased rates for any deficiency on a transport service, the advantage of which they are neither to obtain nor to share. No advocate of this Bill surely will contradict that proposition. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring said that private enterprise, which he seemed to deprecate—and I am not surprised that he does, as sitting on those Benches—had been speeded up since the agitation on behalf of this Bill. Although he protests that he has considerable acquaintance with the County of Durham, he appears strangely ignorant of certain concrete facts. In my constituency we have a service of motor buses lately instituted between ourselves and Middlesbrough, and that was suggested and supported long before this Bill was brought in. Therefore it cannot be urged that that enterprise was speeded up in anticipation of this Bill. I should like to say a few words with regard to the figure of £1,640,000. There is no estimate given in the preamble of the Bill, or in the Bill itself, for the cost of providing vehicles, and guaranteeing a bus service. We must remember that, because it leaves a large margin for un-estimated expenditure. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring says the estimates 1419 will be reduced, but that contention is negatived when we come to a later Clause which enables the county council to borrow to an unlimited extent with the consent and sanction of the Ministry of Transport. From what we know of that Ministry, it is not likely it will act as a check on expenditure, because it is the most prodigal spending Department in the State, and its own expenditure has become a by-word throughout the country. With regard to the question of principle which has been raised, I may refer my hon. Friend to another vicious principle involved in this Bill. It is no part of the duty of a county council to provide transport facilities. No local authority can do that without a special statutory enactment, and no county council has hitherto been authorised to run an omnibus service. Therefore this proposal would constitute a dangerous precedent. It involves a menace to national economy and no more objectionable measure could be advocated by a public body at the present time. We hear on all hands protests from our constituents and from all sections of the community against what is called waste and squandermania, yet here it is sought to introduce a Bill which represents waste to a most profligate extent. At no time is it wise to confer such wide financial freedom on any public authority. But in this case it is particularly to be deprecated, inasmuch as the majority of the Durham County Council is composed of the Labour party, and the chairman has openly boasted: "We are not afraid of high rates." Why are they not afraid? It is because they are spending other people's money. That is the case in all councils where there is a Labour majority. This is only another attempt to get nationalisation in by the thin edge of the wedge and by devious methods, and when at this crisis, as we know, the forces of disruption and disorder are using the weapon of nationalisation in their war against the community, I am strongly of opinion that the House should refuse a Second Reading to this Bill
§ Mr. LAWSON
I have been wondering how it was possible for municipalities or county administrative authorities to nationalise anything. As far as I can gather, the statement has been repeatedly made that we are seeking to promote some nationalisation stunt in this matter, and 1420 the hon. Gentleman would give the House of Commons the impression that, because this county council happens to have a Labour majority, therefore it is composed of the type of wild man extremist out for some particular fad or idea, regardless of those who have to pay.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I am very pleased the hon. Gentleman is so proud of his county as to say that, but as a member of that Council I should be prepared to set that Council as a businesslike body and as a body expressing a civic spirit and anxiety for the welfare of the county beside almost any similar authority in this country, I care not how many business men it may have upon it. The point has been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Captain Bowyer) that there are 55 members of the County Council who are not ratepayers and that therefore we were going to play ducks and drakes with other people's money. I should like the hon. Gentleman to note this, that the strongest, outstanding opponent in the Council to this measure did not take that line at all. He took the line that it was a poor measure because everybody were ratepayers, all the workers themselves, and that therefore all persons in the county would have to bear the loss if it were a financial failure. I think the day has long gone by when we can segregate people who pay rates and people who do not pay rates, because everyone, directly or indirectly feels the weight of these matters, and therefore is alive to his own particular welfare in the long run.
§ Mr. LAWSON
That was the line that was taken by the representative of the employers in the county council, that the weight of this matter, if it was a financial failure, was going to be borne by the bulk of the people, who are all ratepayers. The hon. Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. Gritten) took exception to the Bill because they were going to be left out of it in the Hartlepool area. That was the impression conveyed to me, at any rate. I wonder how he can complain on those lines when he says that his Council is protesting against the Bill itself, but I would suggest to the hon. Member that at least the Durham County Council does 1421 not leave even them out of consideration. We are at the present time making a road into Hartlepool, and a very expensive road at that, right along the coast, for at the present time it is an utterly detached part of the county and is a very difficult area to deal with from a geographical point of view, as the Hartlepool people themselves will admit. One of the points that was raised was that Mr. Hamilton, giving evidence before a Select Committee, had stated that, on the whole, at the present time tramways did not pay, and his authority has been fortified by the hon. Member for Hartlepool. That is a very serious statement, and I know Mr. Hamilton is a very great authority upon these matters. I am prepared to take his authority, because he happens to be the expert that we engaged to investigate this matter, and he told us that these tramways particularly, and this venture, will easily be a paying venture. Therefore, if his authority is worth acknowledging in these matters on that side of the House, it is also worth acknowledging when it is given on our side.
We as a county council have very great difficulties in a great county like Durham. There have been quite a number of other problems that have been engaging our time and attention, and we did not go out of our way to launch this venture at all, but were faced with a very real need. It is an area in which the population has largely followed the coal measures. As an hon. Member opposite said, very large numbers,of people are concentrated on small spaces, and we have collieries round which are living as many as 20,000 people that are in some cases five miles from the nearest railway station. That cannot be challenged, and if the Bill goes upstairs it can be proved. We have areas large in numbers of people, such as on the north-west side of the county, in which I myself live, for which the last train leaves Newcastle at 25 minutes past 8. We have tried repeatedly with the North-Eastern Railway Company to supply the very large population in that area with a train later than that, but after trying for years we have not been able to get the consent of the company. There you have a population that is largely cut off from the rest of the county, a large mining population in the main, where the buses do run, and it is quite 1422 true that the transport arrangements have been speeded up since this Bill was introduced. If they speed up at the same rate during the consideration of this Bill in Committee as they have done since it was introduced, we are going to get some little improvement in some senses. What is the situation? I will take Chester-le-Street, which is the centre of the omnibus system for the north-west of Durham and for Durham and Chester-le-Street. There are sights at that place—and I am pleased to have the opportunity of stating it publicly in the House of Commons—which are a disgrace to the community. The people are fighting on Friday and Saturday nights like tigers in order to get places. There is no arrangement for regularising these people and putting them into queues, there are no shelters, and there are disgraceful sights in which men women, and children are engaged, and if the result of this Bill being brought before the House was that I should get the opportunity of making that statement publicly and it had some effect, then I say our efforts in that direction are not going to have been wasted.
The same applies to the county as a whole. A I have said, there is a large population on small areas, and from the health point of view we say that it is about time that that matter was faced and dealt with, and that we have to take a wide and a long view of the needs of the county as a whole. We desire to extend the population, and therefore we want to lay down a system which is regular, a good service, at a decent price, upon which the people can rely. At the present time no one can say that the system that operates in Durham is reliable. I know that to my sorrow. I submit there is no reliance on the present system. There has been an attempt to speed up, but that an omnibus arrives in a quarter of an hour's time, or anything of that nature, is untrue. Then, take the tramway system. Most thoughtful men considered long years ago there was great need for a connection between Gateshead and Durham and Spennymoor. It is true there is a railway system which runs between, but even now, in the chaotic system of omnibuses, and so on, that operates, the crowd prefer to use the road, and we prefer, instead of paying endless money for the repairing of the road, to lay down a tramway system 1423 which can provide facilities, particularly from Durham to Spennymoor, which is a widely detached neighbourhood. One hon. Member has referred to Clause 87 as a particularly atrocious Clause. I would draw his attention to the fact that that is a Clause in every private Bill of a similar nature, as he will find if he looks at Bills promoted by the Middlesex County Council and other county councils.
I appeal to this House to give us this Bill, or, at any rate, to let it go to a Committee in order that the statements we make may be examined and also the representations made on the other side. If the County Council could have avoided dealing with this matter in view of education and other great matters with which we have to deal, we certainly would have preferred to have let it alone. But, in the interests of transport in the county and the giving of facilities to people to move from one place to another, children to get to schools under our secondary school system, and a whole mass of causes that could be stated, I ask this House to let this Bill go to a Committee.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) is one whose name is on the back of the Bill, and, therefore, I take it that any statements he makes are statements which have the authority of the promoters. He made an attack on the omnibus company, and a paper has been given to me, on which I can rely, containing the statement that the Northern Transport Company had 54 omnibuses operating in this district prior to the War. The Government impressed 28 of these vehicles during the War. The company has now, within two years from the end of the War, increased that number from 26 to 100, and there are 100 omnibuses operating now by this one company, and they are prepared to put on more as soon as the County Council, which is promoting this Bill, will sanction routes on which they ask to run them. Of course, the County Council will not sanction a company putting omnibuses on roads when they have a rival scheme of their own. My hon. Friend also tells us that he is going to produce, as the technical expert in support of this Bill, the gentleman who has assured the County Council 1424 that this scheme is going to pay. He is Mr. Hamilton, the manager of the Leeds Tramways. Now, the monthly returns of the Leeds Corporation show that Mr. Hamilton's own tramways are losing money every month, and have been doing so for some time. I would like to say that a great deal of the opposition to the Bill comes from the hon. Member's own particular district. Practically the whole of the frontagers on the route the tramway is going to run from Chester-le-Street to Newcastle have signed a petition against this Bill. The Chester-le-Street Rural District Council has also protested against the Bill.
When an hon. Member comes to the House to ask for the Second Reading of a Bill, the House is entitled to know the whole of the facts, and I think there is a responsibility upon hon. Members who put their names on the back of a Bill to tell the House the whole of the facts both for and against. My hon. Friend who has just spoken did not tell us also that the Chamber of Commerce of Chester-le-Street has presented a petition against the Bill. That does not look as if his constituency is quite as unanimous in favour of the Bill as he would have us believe. When statements are put before the House by great authorities like county councils, they ought to be—to put it plainly—perfectly true statements. Now, the Durham County Council has favoured us this morning with a statement containing a plan on which are marked, in red ink, tramways and trollyways proposed by the Bill. I have a plan here on which are marked the tramways and trollyways proposed by the Bill. I have gone through these two plans with the Bill itself, and I say that the plan attached to the statement of the Durham County Council is absolutely and totally untrue. They put a plan before the House asking us to believe that the proposals in this Bill are contained on certain red lines. I have myself gone through the Bill with this plan. I have marked in pencil six tramways or trollyways which are not marked in the plan which has been put before us by the Durham County Council. This was not issued a month or two ago, but it was issued yesterday, or, at all events, it was received by Members of Parliament this morning, and we were asked to assume that these were the only proposals contained in the Bill. Then we have a 1425 further remarkable statement showing that the original estimate for carrying out the works was £1,600,000, and for certain reasons the engineers have been able to reduce it to £1,027,000. Either the engineers must be frightful fools or they are going to drop some of the schemes. Is it that they are going to drop some of these grandiose schemes because the localities do not want them? Either the engineers grossly overestimated by nearly 50 per cent.—
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
So much the worse for the engineers. I say that, either the engineers grossly overestimated, or else certain parts are being dropped. I hope somebody from the County of Durham will answer the questions I have put with regard to keeping this information from the House of Commons, why it is we are only given a plan containing half the scheme, and why these estimates are reduced by this enormous amount. I want to deal really with the point as to whether this House should dismiss the Bill or send it upstairs, and I should imagine that almost certainly it would be kicked downstairs by the Committee. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Barnes) told us that the Durham County Council was so very important a body that the House of Commons ought not to refuse to give a Second Reading to this Bill which has been printed by so important a body. Surely if this body is so important it would be better for the House of Commons itself to consider the Bill than that a Private Bill Committee, consisting of four Members, should turn down the Bill of so important a council. For imagine what would be said at the next meeting of this Durham County Council if the Bill were turned down by Committee upstairs! Imagine the Socialist members making speeches of the most violent character to the effect that five Members of the House of Commons —[An HON. MEMBER: "Four Members!"] —Yes, four Members, have dared to throw out this wonderful scheme over which the whole county council has been pondering for some years past! I wonder what the members of the Durham County Council would say to that? No, this is one of those occasions on which I think the House of Commons should have the courage of its own opinions, and deal with this Bill on matter of 1426 principle rather than send it upstairs to one of its own Committees and put upon that Committee the onus of placing upon the county council and the local authorities who are opposing it the very great expense of appearing by agents, counsel, and witnesses before that particular Committee.
Further, let me look at the matter for a little while from the road point of view. I have the honour to be a member of the Roads Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Transport. I think the Bill should have been sent to that Committee for its opinion. I do not know that I ought to go into details, but an amount has been submitted to the Ministry lately by the Committee for allocation from the proceeds of the motor tax, which, as the House knows, amounts to about £8,500,000 per year. This will be spent on the first and second class roads of the country. A considerable amount of that fund will go to the roads of the county of Durham.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I do not know that I ought to give it, because the figures have not yet been officially passed by the Ministry.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
But I am, I think, entitled to tell the House that the Committee has approved a considerable amount which will be allocated to the county of Durham for its roads. This money is provided by the users of the roads in order that the roads may be brought up to the standard of efficiency for the people who use them. I put it to this House that without the assent of that Committee which has to look after this fund, and, as a matter of principle, it is undesirable that large portions of these newly-constructed roads brought up to the level for the necessary of motor traffic should be monopolised by 27 to 33 miles of new tramways. The tramway system of this county, as has been practically admitted in this House to-night, is not paying its way even on the old prices and the old rates of money.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
My hon. Friend wants to know whether anything is paying its way. That is a very difficult 1427 question to answer. But it is quite clear that if the system of transport could not pay its way when money could be borrowed at 4 per cent., and the cost of construction was half what it is now, is it likely to pay its way when the promoters will have to borrow this enormous sum of £1,500,000 at 7 or 6½ per cent., and when the cost of construction will be twice as much as in the pre-War period?
I will not stand much longer between the House and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, but I am going to ask him quite frankly to leave the decision on this Bill to the House as a whole. I ask the hon. Gentleman that whatever line he may take on this measure, that he should not put on the Government Whips, but should allow the House of Commons on this occasion, free and unfettered, to give a decision as to whether they consider this scheme, this very grandiose scheme, of State Socialism—I do not hesitate to say it is that—in the County of Durham should have a Second Reading. It is not fair to put a great question of this kind to a Private Bill Committee upstairs. If the Durham County Council is to be allowed to spend these millions on Socialistic road schemes, every county council, which holds the same views will be coming along and imposing enormous charges in the future on the ratepayers. An hon. Member who supports the Bill tells us that the bulk of the people who will use these tramways and so on are already ratepayers. He knows, of course, and we all know, that vast numbers of people who live in the county of Durham to-day are living in colliery cottages and pay no rent at all. That is perfectly true. There is no county in England where there is so large a proportion of non-ratepayers than in the county of Durham. There is no county in England which has so large a proportion of inhabitants who do not pay any rates at all, and it is in respect of those people that we are asked to send this Bill upstairs. That is a matter of principle and it is one in which the House ought to have the courage of its opinion. I ask the representative of the Ministry of Transport to leave the decision of this Bill to the unfettered judgment of the House.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of TRANSPORT (Mr. Neal)
I hope it will be convenient to 1428 the House that I should now state briefly the decision of the Government in regard to this Bill. Speaking generally, I understand that it is the practice of the House to give a Second Heading to Private Bills, and the grounds for so doing were expressed by one of the highest possible authorities the other day—I refer to the Chairman of Ways and Means—who indicated that it is usual to leave the decision as to the proof of the preamble in the hands of the Select Committee to whom the Bill is referred. It seems to me that a Bill which is promoted by a duly elected democratic body, whatever its political complexion may happen to be, is not less entitled to the same consideration as if it was being promoted by some private individual. I do not wish, however, to suggest in any way that this House has not the right and the duty in suitable and proper cases of rejecting upon the Second Reading a Bill to which it thinks it ought not to give even a preliminary sanction.
Here I would mention some reasons which might operate in that direction which occur to me. If the.Bill is a violation in its terms of some public policy or principle, or if a private Bill oversteps the limits appropriate to private Bill legislation, and proposes an alteration in the general laws without adequate special reason; or if, upon the full consideration of a measure, the House should come to the conclusion that it involves some hopeless adventure or some proceeding which is not calculated in its essence to promote public objects and benefits, or involves expenditure which at the time is inappropriate; or if for other reasons the House thinks the moment is not opportune for dealing with that particular topic, then it would seem to me, if I may say PO with very great diffidence, that in cases of that kind, and it may be in many others, the House will consider whether or not it is wise to put the promoters to the expense of proceeding before the Select Committee. In that connection, and in this case, it should be noted that we are told, there are already some 40 petitions against the Bill, so that Committee procedure would involve a substantial amount of cost both to the promoters and the opponents, and the House, no doubt, will desire to consider whether or not the promoters make out a case, strong enough to justify the incurring of that expense. May I say at once that the Minister of 1429 Transport is advised that at the present moment the transport facilities in the County of Durham are insufficient, but that is a state of things which is not uncommon throughout the country, and one has to view it in the light of the circumstance that we are just after emerging from a great war and transport undertaking have not yet had the opportunity of fully adjusting themselves to the new conditions. I wish at once to enter a disclaimer—
§ Earl WINTERTON
Will the hon. Gentleman say what he means by the very wide term he has just used to the effect that transport facilities are insufficient? Does he mean tramway facilities, railway facilities or motor facilities?
§ Mr. NEAL
I mean exactly what I said. Along some of the roads which are indicated in the Bill there are not reasonable facilities for persons and their goods being moved from place to place at a reasonable cost. I do not by that necessarily suggest that the remedy proposed by the Bill is the best or the most proper remedy. I was saying that times are such that it may be argued fairly that the private enterprises which control some of these roads have not yet had a full opportunity of adjusting themselves to present day conditions. The point I am making at the moment is this, that I do not wish to be understood at all on behalf of the Government as suggesting that there may not be many cases in which it is right for local authorities to promote transport schemes. My hon. and gallant Friend who moved the rejection of the Bill asked me to answer a question as to whether the Government stood for the extinction of private enterprise and favoured public enterprise only. My answer is that they stand for neither. The Ministry of Transport stands for the promotion of efficient and economic transport facilities throughout the land, whether they be promoted by public authorities or by private enterprise. What we are anxious for is to secure all the advantages to the country which can be obtained by transport facilities.
§ Captain BOWYER
May I ask does the hon. Gentleman agree with the statement I made that before this Bill can succeed, private enterprise in the county of Durham must fail and be smashed?
§ Mr. NEAL
I do not know that that is precisely a question that I could answer, but I certainly should take it that no Select Committee of this House would give assent to a Bill which they thought had for its object, or, indeed, for its result, the extinction of private enterprise, if private enterprise either was giving or promised within a reasonable time to give the facilities that were required.
§ Mr. NEAL
I have already dealt fairly clearly with that matter. I am sorry if I do not satisfy my hon. and gallant Friend, but I hope that, when he reads what I have said, he will see that it is not obscure, and not opposed to the view which he has put forward. The Bill itself deals with three forms of transport. It deals with tramways—and here I think it right to say that it deals with them on a larger scale than in the case of any county council except that of the Metropolis, indeed I doubt if there is any other precedent for a county council undertaking transport facilities by tramways at all. It deals, secondly, with trolley vehicles, and there is a great deal to be said from the point of view that trolley vehicles have not, up to now, justified themselves financially. It deals, thirdly, with what, so far as I am aware, is a completely new principle in legislation, that is to say, it suggests that the county council should have an unlimited right to run motor omnibuses throughout the area of the administrative county, subject only to getting Departmental sanction from the Ministry of Transport. I believe that that is a totally new suggestion in Private Bill legislation, and I should not be in the least surprised if the promoters found it somewhat difficult to justify a proposal of that description. It seems to me, therefore, that, although this Bill does offer some transport facilities which are desired and needed, although it has the sanction of the county council, which is responsible to the ratepayers of the district, and although that county council may be of a political colour and complexion which may not be fully favoured in this House, yet, on the whole, it seems to me that this Bill raises issues of the highest controversy, and that it does involve 1431 very substantial expenditure at a time when it is desirable to restrict capital expenditure within the limits of our present financial stringency; and it seems to me, therefore, that it is precisely one of those cases in which this House would desire to exercise an absolutely free and unfettered judgment.
§ Mr. NEAL
My hon. Friend invites me into a discussion on economics larger than can be covered by a simple answer to his question. If the work that has to be done is done at extravagant cost and at an inappropriate time, although it may find employment at the moment for numbers of men, it may, in the long run, be one of those factors which tend to keep up costs, and, therefore, to prevent the recovery which the country desires. I was saying that the Government conceives it to be its duty on this occasion to invite the House to express an absolutely free and unfettered judgment on this matter, remembering always the principle with which I started my speech, that it is, primâ facie, right to give a Second Reading to a measure so that it may be investigated by a Select Committee. If other reasons overweigh and outbalance that, if the House should come to the conclusion that the county council in this case has spread its net somewhat too widely, if—to borrow a phrase which is now used, I think, only as a term of affection—the scheme is somewhat grandiose in its scope, and if the House comes to the conclusion that the expenditure involved before the Select Committee would be larger than the circumstances call for at the present time, the Government certainly will not desire to interfere with the free and unfettered expression of those conclusions.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I think on nearly every occasion I have supported private Bills the Second Reading of which has been moved in this House, but there have been occasions when it has been necessary to oppose the Second Reading. Those occasions are when it is perfectly evident that the principle of the Bill is wrong and ought not to be accepted. The principle of this Bill is entirely wrong and ought not to be accepted, and sending it up- 1432 stairs would only involve a higher amount of expenditure and would ultimately lead to its rejection. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Barnes) said other county councils ran tramways, and when that statement was challenged he said the London County Council. Last year or the year before the London County Council asked for the suspension of the Standing Orders of the House in order that they might bring in a Bill to extend their tramway system The Committee that deals with the Standing Orders thought the issue was so important that it ought to be dealt with by the House itself, and consequently the question was raised in the House as to whether the Standing Orders should be suspended. The acceptance or rejection of the suspension of the Standing Orders was equivalent to the rejection or acceptance of the Second Reading of the Bill. It was held by a very large majority that the day of the tramway had gone, and consequently leave was refused for the suspension of the Standing Orders. If this House has recently refused the London County Council, which already has a system of tramways, power to extend it, a fortiori it ought to refuse a county council which has no tramways the power to initiate them. The London County Council is not a county council in the sense that the Durham County Council is. London is a conglomeration of what were originally separate towns which have merged into one. It is a totally different thing from an ordinary county council which is going to run tramways along 27 miles of road, and trollys and motor buses for 57 miles. I believe there is not a single county or borough council in the United Kingdom which has power to run motor omnibuses, and if that is so, with the strong feeling that exists at present, against nationalisation and against the interference of local authorities with private enterprise, a Bill to give power to a county council to run motor omnibuses should be rejected.
One hon. Member who is a member of the Durham County Council (Mr. Richardson) has been expatiating on the merits of the Bill, and his chief argument was that this would be a profitable undertaking and would relieve the ratepayers of certain burdens. On the other hand the hon. Member for Chester-le- 1433 Street (Mr. Lawson) spoke of the housing conditions in some parts of Durham as bad. He said that large numbers of people in these areas ought to be spread more over the country. Therefore they are going to run this undertaking, not because it is going to be profitable, but because it is going to spread the inhabitants who are in certain congested areas of Durham over the country districts. It is a semi-philanthropic object, which is going to give better houses or more fresh air for people. That may be a very estimable object, but it is not at all likely to be profitable. The hon. Member also said the trains were late.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I have heard that expert before. I sat in this House and heard Mr. John Burns, speaking at length and with considerable force of language, telling me that I was utterly wrong because the London County Council experts said that steamboats on the Thames would be a paying concern. I said that they would not. Very few people in those days opposed Mr. Burns on that subject—I think I divided the House against it, or I should have done so if I could get a teller against it—and the consequence was that the steamboats were started, but they were withdrawn after a short time. The loss was, I believe, £300,000, if not more. Therefore I do not pay much attention to experts. It is to the interest of the expert to have an undertaking carried out because he gets his commission. If it is successful, he is a great man, and if it is unsuccessful, he says that various things have arisen which have made his estimate wrong, and that he never thought certain things would arise. In this case he might say, if the scheme fails: "The Durham County Council have not taken my advice on a particular point." I remember the old Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway coming to London and asking for £8,000,000 in order to bring their railway to London. In the prospectus it was said that it was going to be a most remunerative undertaking. I am glad to 1434 say that I did not put any of my money into the undertaking, because instead of costing £8,000,000 it cost £14,000,000, and the result was that its Preference stock which had paid ceased to pay any dividend. It says that the figures at the head of the diagram will show how low is the existing indebtedness. Just because the county happens to have been run economically, and they happen not to owe very much money at present, they are prepared to enter into vast expenditure. How such an argument could be used, especially at a time like this, when money is very difficult to obtain, is beyond my comprehension. I earnestly hope that the House will reject the Bill.
One of the strongest points of the Ministry of Transport which has not been answered is that here is the Durham County Council, a democratically-elected body, and by an enormous majority it approved of the principle of spending £1,600,000 of the ratepayers' money on this system of trollys, trams, and omnibuses, and therefore we ought to give this Bill a Second Reading, and send it upstairs. That is a fairly strong argument. I happened to be up in Durham at this famous meeting on 16th December, which was a very snowy, inclement evening. I went up to speak for the Middle Class Union. I should not have been surprised if on that evening I had a sparsely-filled hall. To my surprise, the hall was filled to overflowing. They listened to my speech, but I could see that I was not the big man of the evening, and I found out afterwards why. With the true sporting Northern spirit, the Durham branch of the Middle Class Union had asked the chairman of the Durham County Council to come and state their case at this meeting, representing a majority of the ratepayers of the city of Durham. They also asked Bishop Welldon, Dean of Durham, to state the case against the Bill. These two gentlemen had a mighty set-to. The Chairman of the County Council told us frankly that he was a Socialist, and wanted to see the rates high. He was opposed to private enterprise as such. He made one of the best Socialistic speeches I ever heard. He was answered by Bishop Welldon, and then the meeting, by an overwhelming majority, decided that the County of Durham should do without these trams. That being the case why was not a poll taken of the ratepayers of 1435 the County Durham to ascertain their views two years ago or one year ago? When the ratepayers were asked to elect the county council, and the borough councils, and urban districtt councils, was it put to them that the county council desired to spend £1,600,000 of their money?
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
Fifteen years ago this thing was talked about by the Durham County Council as one of their objects.
Fifteen years ago there was not a 6s. Income Tax, and local rates were much lower. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring does not know what his own rates are. The keenest member of this efficient Durham County Council does not know what his rates are. These are the rates for 1920, mark you, not this year, compared with 1914. In 1914, the rates in Durham were 6s. 6d. in the £ in 1920 they had gone up to 17s. in the £.
I think the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring would like to know something about his own rates. In 1914 his rates were 8s. 2d.; in 1920 they were 16s. 7d., a rise of 104.1 per cent.
That is the old value of money. The rates have risen very substantially. Rates are a serious factor in Durham and in Houghton-le-Spring. Here is a scheme which is going to cost money. The Chairman of the County Council knows it is going to cost money, and he wants it to cost money. It is not fair to put that on these ratepayers without their consent, until they have been specifically asked the question. Therefore, I beg the House to vote against the Second Reading.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 46; Noes, 112.1437
|Division No. 74.]||AYES.||[10.55 p.m.|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Widnes)||Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough)|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Hirst, G. H.||Spencer, George A.|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Irving, Dan||Spoor, B. G.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Sturrock, J. Leng|
|Cape, Thomas||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Lianelly)||Swan, J. E.|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Kenyon, Barnet||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Lunn, William||Tootill, Robert|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Waterson, A. E.|
|Edwards, G. (Norfolk, South)||Matthews, David||Wedgwood, Colonel J. C.|
|Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Mills, John Edmund||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Wilson, W. Tyson (Westhoughton)|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Myers, Thomas||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Grundy, T. W.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Guest, J. (York, W. R., Hemsworth)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Robertson, John||Mr. R. Richardson and Mr.|
|Hayday, Arthur||Rose, Frank H.||Lawson.|
|Hayward, Major Evan||Sexton, James|
|Atkey, A. R.||Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale||Grant, James A.|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Gretton, Colonel John|
|Barnett, Major R. W.||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Gritten, W. G. Howard|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Guest, Major O. (Leic., Loughboro')|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Dean, Lieut.-Commander P. T.||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.|
|Blair, Sir Reginald||Doyle, N. Grattan||Hamilton, Major C. G. C.|
|Boscawen, Rt. Hon. Sir A. Griffith-||Edwards, Hugh (Glam., Neath)||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||Farquharson, Major A. C.||Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Ford, Patrick Johnston||Henderson, Major V. L. (Tradeston)|
|Brassey, Major H. L. C.||Forestier-Walker, L.||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)|
|Bruton, Sir James||Forrest, Walter||Hinds, John|
|Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy|
|Burdon, Colonel Rowland||Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Hood, Joseph|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Devon, Torquay)||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis|
|Carr, W. Theodore||Galbraith, Samuel||Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.|
|Cautley, Henry S.||Ganzoni, Captain Sir F. J. C.||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert|
|Child, Brigadier-General Sir Hill||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Jephcott, A. R.|
|Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H. Spender||Gilbert, James Daniel||Jodrell, Neville Paul|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Gould, James C.||Joynson-Hicks, Sir William|
|King, Captain Henry Douglas||Parkinson, Albert L. (Blackpool)||Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Knights, Capt. H. N. (C'berwell, N.)||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.|
|Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'tingd'n)||Purchase, H. G.||Wheler, Lieut.-Colonel C. H.|
|Lorden, John William||Raw, Lieutenant-Colonel N.||White, Lieut.-Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Lowtner, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, East)||Whitla, Sir William|
|McLaren, Robert (Lanark, Northern)||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)||Wigan, Brig. -Gen. John Tyson|
|M'Lean, Lieut.-Col. Charles W. W.||Robinson, Sir T. (Lanes, Stretford)||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Roundell, Colonel R. F.||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Mason, Robert||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Willoughby, Lieut.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert A.||Wills, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Gilbert|
|Morden, Lieut.-Col. W. Grant||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)||Wilson, Colonel Leslie O. (Reading)|
|Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Smith, Sir Allan M. (Croydon, South)||Wise, Frederick|
|Morison, Rt. Hon. Thomas Brash||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Morrison, Hugh||Stanier, Captain Sir Beville||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Murchison, C. K.||Steel, Major S. Strang|
|Newman, Colonel J. R. P. (Finchley)||Strauss, Edward Anthony||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)||Sugden, W. H.||Captain Bowyer and Brigadier-|
|Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||Sutherland, Sir William||General Surtees.|
|Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W.||Talbot, Rt. Hon. Lord E. (Chich'st'r)|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Words added.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.