§ Order for consideration of Bill, as amended, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be now considered."
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Shackleton (Preston)
I beg to move, to leave out "now considered." and to add:recommitted to a Committee of the whole House in respect of the Amendment to Clause 2; the proposed new Clause (Power to provide residential hotel); and the Amendment to the Preamble standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. John Lewis.This Amendment proposes the recommittal of this Bill to a Committee of the whole House in respect of the Amendments standing on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the junior Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) and other of my hon. Friends. The question of how far we can raise certain matters on Report when examining Private Bill legislation is very important. It is our contention that in the matter which will be discussed as, we hope, in Committee of the whole House, certain action was taken in Bolton which, while it complied with the technical provisions of the Local Government Act, 1933, which regulates the ways in which local authorities should consult the public before introducing legislation, contravened the spirit of that Act.
It is obviously impossible to discuss the merits of the Amendments on the Order Paper on the recommittal proposal which I have just moved, but I think I should be in Order in referring to them briefly, so that the House may know what the complaint is and what lies behind our attempt to make out a prima facie case for recommittal. Those Amendments propose to reinsert a Clause in the Bill to give power 1102 to the Bolton Corporation to provide a residential hotel in the borough. It is our contention that objectionable procedure was followed in the removal of this Clause from the Bill, and that it came about in a secretive way following on some understanding—not fully explained to the public—with the brewing interests. Further, this action was taken not in open council but in the general purposes committee of the Corporation. I do not question in any way the right of the general purposes committee to act for the Corporation under special procedure, but we feel that it was very unfortunate that a matter of such importance should have been decided virtually in private, and that there was no discussion in open council so that the public could judge the issue.
At a town meeting which followed the meeting of the General Purposes Committee, again, no discussion was permitted on the Clause even though it was still in the Bill as advertised. Attempts to raise the question at the town meeting were ruled out of order. This business has aroused considerable comment in Bolton. Many people there feel that there should have been an opportunity for open discussion of a matter of such importance, a matter which had previously been agreed to by the Corporation and thought worthy of insertion in the Bill. No opportunity has been given to the people of Bolton to express their views on this Clause. If the question had been put to the town meeting a discussion could have taken place and a poll could have been held. I will refer to a comment in the local Press. I do not know the political views of the "Bolton Guardian"—I believe it to be an independent or Liberal newspaper—but a writer in that newspaper without committing himself in any way whether the Clause was desirable did, none the less, make it clear that he, like many others, felt that the question was dealt with in an objectionable way. The writer said:Those who, like myself, attended the meeting found that the Bill was not presented to them for their approval in the form in which it had been advertised. However truly this may he in accord with the letter of the law one must feel that it is not altogether in keeping with the spirit of democratic government.I further comment on the view which has been put forward by those who are opposing recommital. It has been suggested that following the town meeting 1103 the Corporation subsequently uanimously approved the Bill. But they had no opportunity to discuss this Clause. They were told that unless the Bill was unanimously approved the whole of it would be lost. On the strength of that advice they decided to vote for the Bill, rather than lose it because of its many valuable provisions.
My hon. Friends and I take the view that the action which was taken in Bolton was a violation of the spirit of the Ninth Schedule of the Local Government Act, 1933. We feel that it is the duty of this House to consider this matter; indeed, Erskine May lays it down that a Private Bill should be treated by the House in all respects as if it were a Public Bill. We feel that the best way in which this question can be ventilated is to recommit the Bill to a Committee of the whole House. We have taken the best advice available to us and, for reasons which. I understand, are connected with the possibility of financial charges arising out of the Bill, we suggest that this matter should be dealt with in Committee. We cast no slur on the Private Bills Committee, which approved the Bill in its present form. They had no opportunity of considering the Clause and, therefore, no option but to deal with the Bill as it stands. There is a precedent for our suggestion that the Bill should be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House in the action taken in the case of the Sheffield Corporation Bill, in 1900. The procedure we are suggesting may be exceptional, but this is an exceptional case and it is our duty, in this House, to ensure that the spirit as well as the law of democratic procedure should be observed. Once the Bill has been recommitted we shall have an opportunity to discuss the actual matter with which the Amendments deal without the restrictions which are now imposed upon us.
§ Mr. Delargy (Manchester, Platting)
I beg to second the Amendment.
As I am not a lawyer I cannot express any opinion whatever about the strict legality of these proceedings, but I have some personal knowledge of local government. For nine years I had the honour to serve on the Manchester City Council where I was on several committees, including the General Purposes 1104 Committee for all that time. In the light of that experience, therefore, I believe that the procedure adopted by the Bolton Corporation has been rather bewildering and has about it some suspicion, at least, of irregularity. Never in my experience have I seen anything quite like it. I have gone to some considerable trouble to discover by what procedure the final decision to exclude the Clause from the Bill was reached. It would be out of Order if I detailed my findings to the House, or made any detailed criticism of that procedure, but, as a former city councillor, I am convinced that an overwhelming prima facie case has been made out for reconsidering this whole matter.
I am not satisfied that the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1933, have been fulfilled in this case. In the interests of the Corporation, and more especially so that the House can adequately fulfil its own responsibility. I urge that the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House for the purposes stated in the Motion.
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means (Major Milner)
I should be grateful if I might be permitted to intervene for a few moments at this stage. I do so not to express any opinion whatever on the merits of the Clause that it is proposed to recommit, but because the holder of my office has for some 100 years past been entrusted with the responsibility for the supervision of private Bills, and there are certain public considerations which I think it my duty to bring to the attention of the House. As the House will appreciate, if this were a question of inserting in a general public health or local government Bill some extension of power for local authorities, I should not be concerned, but the House is here dealing with a Private Bill brought forward, by particular promoters on the promoters' petition.
In this case the promoters are the Bolton Corporation, and as originally introduced this Private Bill included a Clause authorising the Corporation to provide a residential hotel. Various local chambers of commerce and associations objected to the proposal and had, of course, the constitutional right to petition this House against the Clause and to be heard by counsel before the Committee on the Bill. Before doing so they took the usual and prudent course of approaching the promoters, a course 1105 which very often saves a great deal of time and public money. They made their representations and it appears that the promoters thereupon agreed to withdraw the Clause in committee. Relying upon this understanding, the various associations did not exercise their undoubted right to petition against the Bill. The Corporation kept their bargain and duly withdrew the Clause.
The course proposed by the present Motion is designed for the purpose of reinserting that Clause in the Bill. I am not, of course, in any way suggesting that the Motion on the Paper is out of Order, but I should inform the House that there would not appear to be any precedent for Amendments proposed by an hon. Member of this House which would force powers upon an unwilling promoter in breach of an understanding given in good faith. The House has always attached importance to the processes of negotiation and compromise by which the earlier, and sometimes, indeed, the later, stages of Private Bill legislation are carried forward, and the time of the House and the pockets of the ratepayers are frequently relieved in consequence.
As I have said, I am not concerned with the merits of this particular proposal, but I would invite the sponsors of this Amendment and the House to take into consideration the very serious effect which might ensue in this type of legislative procedure, where promoters withdraw Clauses of Bills and objectors waive their rights to come before this House, if promoters were thereafter compelled to insert a Clause which they had previously agreed to withdraw.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
I am sure the House will be indebted to the Chairman of Ways and Means for the most lucid exposition which he has just given of the matter which comes before the House this evening. He has, of course, surveyed the matter not only with lucidity and authority, but in an objective and detached manner, as becomes the high office which he holds. Having listened to him the House will feel no surprise when I say that I rise to oppose the Amendment which has been proposed. It is abundantly clear, as the Chairman of Ways and Means has said. that the Mover of this Amendment is trying to persuade the House to do a most unusual thing. He is seeking to recommit 1106 the Clause of a Private Bill to a Committee of the whole House in order to incorporate a Clause against the will of the promoters of the Bill.
As the House knows, the purpose of a Private Bill is to give powers to the promoters, and the duty of Parliament is to see that the powers given are necessary and proper powers and that they are not excessive or oppressive. It is for that reason that the procedure of the House gives machinery for the detailed consideration of these matters in a Committee of the House upstairs. It is not a question of such consideration which the House is asked to take into account this evening. What is sought to be done is to put into this Bill a Clause against the will of the promoters, and without the benefits of the detailed consideration which such a Clause would have in Committee upstairs.
In my submission there is no difference in principle between saying that the promoters must have a power that they do not want and saying that they must not have a power that they do want. Either course is clearly against the promoters of the Bill and the corporation of the borough of Bolton. The House should not have much difficulty in making up its mind on the issue—between the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Shackleton) and the hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Delargy) who have spoken, and the junior Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) who I understand will speak, on the one hand, and the corporation of the borough of Bolton, on the other.
The House will appreciate that in considering a Private Bill it is right to have regard to the wishes of the promoters of the Bill. What has been said against them? The hon. Member for Preston said as far as he knew there was anxiety in Bolton for this Clause to be inserted. What the evidence of that is I do not know, because he was not good enough to inform the House. The other point he made was the remarkable suggestion that there had been a breach of the spirit of the Ninth Schedule of the Local Government Act, 1933. The hon. Member for Platting, who seconded, said that he was not a lawyer, but I would ask him to consider what is the meaning of this extraordinary phrase, "a breach of the spirit of the Ninth Schedule of the Local Government Act." The provisions of the Ninth Schedule are crystal clear to lawyer 1107 and to layman, and to suggest that there has been a breach of the spirit of them without being able to indicate any breach in the provisions laid down therein, is, in my submission, a fantastic and irresponsible suggestion to make to this House about a great Corporation. If either of the hon. Members cares to substantiate what that breach was by reference to the Schedule, I will give way while he does so. I suggest to the House that this loose and irresponsible suggestion of a breach of the spirit of what is a perfectly clear Schedule only means that the machinery is not working out in the way in which the hon. Members, including the junior Member for Bolton, wished it to work out. Therefore, they say there has been a breach of the spirit of the Ninth Schedule.
That is the case, as I understand it, which is made by those who wish to recommit the Bill to a Committee of the whole House, against the will of the promoters. I do not think that this is the place to canvass, nor is this the Motion on which to canvass, the local merits of this issue. Those local merits are not a matter for the House of Commons but for the citizens of Bolton and for their democratically elected representatives. It is not for this House to try to come to a decision in Committee of the whole House on a matter which obviously requires local knowledge such as this House would not be able to have. I suggest that any recommittal would have very grave effects, not only in regard to the position of the Bill and of the borough of Bolton, which are important matters, but in regard to the general constitutional procedure for dealing with Bills of this kind, which is a still more important matter.
I believe, and there has certainly been no evidence to the contrary, that the procedure laid down by the Local Government Act has been followed to the letter in this matter. I see that the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) shakes his head. I do not want to anticipate his speech. I was rather hoping that I should have the opportunity to follow him. I think he will agree that there has been no evidence so far put before this House of any departure from the procedure laid down by the Local Government Act. I believe that the town's meeting held under the provisions of 1108 the Ninth Schedule was held after the general purposes committee, a committee of the whole council, had agreed that the Clause should be withdrawn. It was in that position that the matter was put to the citizens of Bolton. It was that Bill, that is to say, the Bill without Clause 87 which hon. Members now wish to reinsert, to which the townspeople of Bolton gave their approval at the town's meeting. It was to the Bill without that Clause that the Council of Bolton gave their unanimous approval. That is not a party issue—
§ Mr. Delargy
I think the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) will agree, nevertheless, that the council itself expressed no opinion, or was not given even an opportunity to express an opinion, as to what its general purposes committee had done. In other words, the council could not discuss this excluded Clause, which seems rather irregular.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I do not think that is the position. The general purposes committee comprises the whole of the council in committee.
§ Mr. Delargy
Even though it comprises every person on the council, it nevertheless remains merely a committee. It is not the council, no matter how large it is or how small; and from the deliberations of that committee the public and the Press are excluded.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
The hon. Member makes his point with more force than logic. I should have thought that hon. Members of this House would be aware that there is a reasonably close resemblance, for example, except for certain technical matters, between a Committee of the whole House and the House of Commons itself, meeting in the same Chamber, discussing the same matters and consisting of the same people, with one very important exception, Mr. Speaker, which does not apply to the difference between the general purposes committee and the Council.
§ Mr. Delargy rose—
§ Mr. Delargy
I interrupt upon a point of correction. I am sure that the hon. Member does not want to mislead the House, but if he is trying to say that a 1109 Committee of this House is in all respects comparable to the general purposes committee of a local council, which includes every member of that council, then he is, deliberately or not, misleading the House. There is one important way in which they differ, which is that from the deliberations of a general purposes committee of a local council the Press and the public are excluded. They are not excluded when this House is in Committee.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
That point might have some force but for the fact that this meeting of the general purposes committee was followed immediately by a town's meeting. There was no question of the public not being informed of the withdrawal of this Clause from the Bill. So far as the attendance of the public is concerned—
§ Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)
It is desirable, if the House is to be put in possession of the facts, to state that at the town's meeting the question was ruled out of Order, and when the report of the general purposes committee came back to the council, a motion to discuss this very matter which had been discussed at the general purposes committee was ruled out of order. The hon. Member ought at least to put the facts before the House or not speak of them if he is not fully aware of them.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I am obliged to the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) for showing so close a knowledge of what went on in the general purposes committee of the Bolton Corporation.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
As I understand the argument it is that if the public had been allowed to attend this meeting of the committee, a different result would have been come to. That is the suggestion made in all seriousness by hon. Members opposite. I cannot take so low a view of the elected representatives of the people, as they apparently do, as to believe that those representatives would come to a different decision from that to which their consciences and reason impelled them by reason of the fact that the public galleries were either full or empty. [Interruption.] It is obvious that one or two hon. Members opposite do approach this matter in a very different spirit and think that there is nothing unusual or improper in expressing differ- 1110 ent views when under observation from those expressed when in private. If that is the point, it is an approach to public life which I do not share, with which I cannot sympathise, and which I do not altogether comprehend.
It is right that the House should also have regard to the position that will be arrived at if the Clause is inserted in the Bill as a result of recommittal to a Committee of the whole House. First of all it will put the Corporation in the invidious position of giving at any rate the, appearance of having breached an agreement which was voluntarily entered into. Secondly, it will undoubtedly deprive those who object to the Clause of the right of petitioning against it. It will deprive them of the right which they could have had at the town's meeting of demanding a poll under the provisions of the Ninth Schedule of the Act of 1933. Furthermore, and quite apart from those very obnoxious consequences, it will, in my respectful submission, put the House of Commons in an invidious position also.
As the House is well aware, there is this procedure upstairs for the consideration of Clauses of Private Bills, and that procedure involves the hearing of evidence, the cross-examining of witnesses and the adducing of arguments by people skilled in doing so. It is by reason of that procedure that the House, through the Members of those Committees, is able to come to a conclusion on matters on which from their own knowledge they could not expect to do. The House is being asked to jettison in respect of this Clause that well-tried and essential procedure.
§ Mr. John Lewis (Bolton) rose—
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
If the hon. Member for Bolton can restrain his impatience at least until I reach a semicolon, I shall be grateful. The House is being asked to recommit this Clause to a Committee of the whole House and to depart from that procedure. If the Clause is inserted it will be inserted not as a result of that careful and patient examination of facts, but as a result of a vote of the House of Commons without the necessary local knowledge to enable a right decision to be reached. That is why I say that this is putting the House of Commons into an invidious if not an improper position.
§ Mr. J. Lewis
I must apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman but I am quite sure he does not want to mislead the House into thinking that consideration was given to this Clause upstairs when the Bill was considered under the Private Bill procedure. No discussion whatsoever took place in regard to this Clause, and that does not mean any indictment of the hon. Members who sat on that Committee.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
When I gave way to the hon. Member I thought his interruption would be pertinent but the comment he has just made has nothing to do with my point. Of course it was not considered by the Committee because it was withdrawn before the Bill went to the Committee. The hon. Member for Bolton must recognise that that is so. My point is that if it is now inserted, it does not get all that detailed examination. The hon. Member's interruption was beside the point.
So far as the local issue goes, I am not competent to enter upon that. I see that the hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones) is in his place and it may be that he will be able to add something about the local issues, but it is not territory on which it would he proper for me to trespass. I have put the position in this matter as what I believe it to be, a constitutional matter of some importance. It is not in any respects a party question and it should not be the subject of a party attitude. I sincerely hope that it will not be. I sincerely hope that the House will treat this Amendment not only as a grave departure from precedent and usage but also as a violation of the proper approach of the House of Commons to Private Bills and the local issues which are involved there-in. I hope that, recognising that, the House will reject the Amendment for the recommittal of the Clause.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I rise as a Member in no way connected with Bolton who takes the view that the Amendment only remotely concerns Bolton. What we are concerned with is the exceedingly weighty statement made by the Chairman of Ways and Means. If his statement is not accepted, it means that the House is going outside the procedure laid down for Private Bills. Hon. Members should bear that point in mind. 1112 The principle behind Private Bills is that their provisions shall be open to be petitioned against and that the promoters and the petitioners can be examined and cross-examined by the members of the Committee. The House will be doing a very dangerous thing and something which has only been done once in the last 100 years, under circumstances with which I am not familiar, if it passes the Motion. I most earnestly beg the House not lightly, wantonly or inadvisedly, to go beyond the procedure for Private Bills which has been laid down and has worked very successfully for a long time. I should like to thank the Chairman of Ways and Means for his admirable statement.
§ Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)
It is a pity that the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) did not consult his colleague the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) before he said that this had not been done for the last 100 years. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield did exactly the same thing in 1936 and brought a great number of hon. Gentlemen—
§ Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)
I did not move to recommit the Bill to a Committee of the whole House. I moved on Report stage to leave out a Clause which was objectionable to my constituents, and my constituents were not the promoters of the Bill.
§ Mr. Nicholson
Does the hon. Gentleman withdraw his statement that I was wrong in saying that this has only been done once in the last 100 years?
§ Mr. Nicholson
It occurred in relation to the Sheffield Corporation Bill, and the previous reference was 1847. I am quite right in saying that it is once in 100 years.
§ Mr. Bing
If the hon. Member wishes to pursue the point and says that an actual recommittal did not take place, that may well be so. There have been a number of recommittals, though not to a Committee of the whole House. We have 1113 to do this for purely technical reasons. In the event of the hotel being run at a loss and that loss somehow falling on the Exchequer, it may be more desirable to recommit the Clause. The real issue is whether this matter can be discussed on Report stage or not. If hon. Members like to ride off by means of a footnote in Erskine May, they may well do so.
It has been said that this was subjected to careful examination, but one reason why this is raised here is that the House can discuss what could not be discussed by the Committee upstairs. The people who object to it have no locus standi. Hon. Members may recall the gerrymander of Londonderry when the inhabitants of Londonderry were held to have no locus standi to raise the alteration of their Bill so as to deprive them of seats. The passage in the minutes of evidence dealing with what has been described as "a thorough consideration" is very short. It is as follows:The Recorder of Bolton, appearing on behalf of the Corporation: Part X of the Bill deals with a rating matter and the abolition of the last of the—'At that point the Chairman, my hon. Friend, interrupted and said:Part X is residential hotel,' is it not?The Recorder replied:Part X, residential hotel, has gone. My copy of the Bill has been re-numbered.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith rose—
§ Mr. Bing
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to reach my semi-colon? If the hon. Gentleman thinks that this matter will not receive any further consideration, surely he has forgotten his own possible source of political advancement, the other place, which will have an absolute opportunity to reconsider this matter if we put it back. Therefore there can be a first-class judicial examination of this. All we are asking is that this matter should be looked at again.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I knew I should have to wait some time before the hon. Member reached a semi-colon because his speeches are mainly punctuated by exclamation marks, but would he be good enough to explain what was the relevance of the passage he read out from the proceedings upstairs? Of course, it was no part of my case that this Clause had been considered upstairs. How could it have been when it had been withdrawn? My case, which evidently has not been 1114 understood by the hon. Member, was that a Clause such as this ought not to be put in a Bill other than by such procedure, and it can only have that procedure if the promoters have it in their Bill.
§ Mr. Bing
If I may deal shortly with that point before I proceed, obviously when a council and the people of a town are invited approve a Bill, they approve it as a whole. Then a point comes at which a Clause is struck out of the Bill. Now the promoters, or people speaking on their behalf, are coming here and saying, "We had no opportunity of putting our case." Of course, they could have put their case. Had the Recorder wished to do so, he could have said, "This Clause was withdrawn under peculiar circumstances. I would like the Committee to look at the whole of our procedure and to weigh it up." Had this been an unopposed Bill, the Committee would have had power to deal with it. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield will remember that when he was dealing with the Birmingham Corporation Bill, it was exactly this point which was made. It was at that point that the Chairman of Ways and Means said to the House, "You should not go into this matter because it has been referred to an Unopposed Bills Committee which has had an opportunity of considering just these points and of hearing evidence." But because the Boy Scouts Association and other bodies opposed various provisions in the Birmingham Corporation Bill, it did not go to an Unopposed Bills Committee and this sort of question was not considered.
We should pass to the merits of this matter because it is extremely difficult to deal with the valid points made by the Chairman of Ways and Means. Those who are supporting the recommittal do not question those points. What we are saying in effect—and it will come out when we have a chance of dealing with the merits—is that to say that there was an agreement begs the question. What appears to have taken place—and there is a prima facia case for saying this—was that there was pressure of various sorts brought on the members of the corporation to change their views, and that there was no agreement whatsoever; there was nothing which the corporation received in exchange for the concessions which they gave.
1115 I do not know whether anyone will tell me that the agreement referred to is a binding agreement. I am informed, and I have made inquiries about this, that the so-called agreement on which this Clause was withdrawn is not an agreement enforceable at law, and the only method by which it could be enforceable is if there were a permissive Clause in the Bill which would enable the corporation to build a municipal hotel if these other people failed to carry out what they promised to do. There was no change in the circumstances whatsoever. It is difficult to deal with this without going into the merits, and that is why I hope the House will not stand on a technical point but will allow us to discuss the matter on the merits.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether people change their minds when sitting in private from when they are sitting in public. So far as can be seen, the council, sitting in public with the full facts before them, with absolutely the full details before them which they had had in private, with no other facts before them, came to a completely different decision when they came to a hurriedly summoned meeting, of which the leaders of the political parties were not notified, from that reached when it took place in private. If that is so, it is a matter which the House ought to look at on its merits. All we ask at this stage is that the House permits us to pass on to a stage in which, by proposing the Clause, we may discuss the matter on its merits. I know that the senior Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones) has other facts and views to put before the House, but it is difficult to do that unless we have that opportunity. So I ask the House, irrespective of the merits of the matter, at any rate to let us have a discussion of this question.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston upon Thames)
So many remarkable things have occurred in this Debate that I do not think one should be surprised at anything. However, I was a little surprised by two things. In the first place, the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) solemnly introduced into this discussion the consideration that the agreement by the Bolton Corporation to withdraw this Clause was not a legally binding agreement. As a matter of law I agree with 1116 him, but it was a remarkable suggestion to put forward because it must have meant, if it meant anything at all, that there would be nothing improper or inappropriate in that agreement being disregarded.
That is a remarkable proposition, which must strike at the root of our Private Bill procedure. I will not attempt as the Chairman of Ways and Means has done it with far greater authority than any other hon. Member could possibly do, to refer to the perfectly legitimate process of negotiation which takes place. Hon. Members who have had experience of these committees upstairs know that it takes place, but what the hon. Member for Hornchurch was suggesting was that where a corporation, a promoter of a Bill, had withdrawn a Clause and for that reason, and no doubt for that reason alone, had caused those who objected to that Clause not to put forward their case by counsel, not to adduce evidence, it was apparently quite appropriate afterwards to say, "Rely on the fact that that agreement to withdraw the Clause was not legally binding and go forward and reintroduce the Clause." That is not only a remarkable proposition from the moral aspect, but a proposition which, if given any support whatever, would render quite impossible the necessary negotiations which take place before Committees upstairs.
There is only one other point which occurs to me. It is rather remarkable that, although the House has had the good or bad fortune of hearing a number of hon. Members, so far we have not had the opportunity of hearing the views of the hon. Members for the borough directly concerned. The name of the junior Member for that borough appears at the head of this Motion, and he has sat in his place while allegations of, at least, irregularities by that Corporation have been made by other hon. Members who have spoken in support of this Amendment.
§ Mr. J. Lewis
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be prepared to accept my statement when I tell him that the reason I remained in my place and did not attempt to catch Mr. Speaker's eye was because I thought it was unnecessary at this stage to deal with only one part of the case and, by necessity of the Ruling which would inevitably come from the Chair, to have to avoid any 1117 reference whatever to the merits of the case. I prefer to reserve my remarks until such time as I have the opportunity of making a comprehensive statement. The hon. Gentleman should not take advantage of that. If I succeed in catching the eye of Mr. Speaker, or the eye of the Chairman of Ways and Means in Committee, the hon. Gentleman may be quite sure that I shall be heard.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman's appreciation of the duties of a Parliamentary representative in his Borough is, of course, a matter solely for himself and for his conscience. I can only say that it seems to me a peculiar view of the duties of a Parliamentary representative that he should place his name upon a Motion, that other supporters of it should make direct insinuations against municipal government in his borough, and that he should remain in his place apparently neither supporting nor repudiating those allegations. I hope very much from the point of view not least of a speedy termination of this Debate, that the hon. Gentleman will indicate at the earliest possible stage his attitude upon this Amendment. I think it is owed both to the Bolton Corporation and to the House that he should do so.
The case, the only case, for forcing upon this corporation powers for which it is not asking is that the proceedings of this corporation have been in some degree irregular. The House only has before it at present the express wish of this corporation, which is that they shall not have these powers. It seems that the only conceivable argument for going behind it is the argument at which the hon. Member for the Platting Division of Manchester (Mr. Delargy) hinted rather 'than stated, the argument that although the corporation appears not to want these powers its voice has been interfered with in some way. That was the suggestion. I agree with the hon. Gentleman up to this point, that that would be the only conceivable basis upon which a case for a Motion of this sort could possibly be supported. It is for that reason, no doubt, that the hon. Member, with his very clear and logical mind, put forward that argument.
The House is entitled, therefore, to have from the representative of the borough concerned, who has placed his name upon this Amendment in support of this, which appears to be the only argu- 1118 ment—certainly, it is the only argument which has been used—whether he is prepared to advise this House that irregularities of that kind have taken place in the Corporation.
§ Mr. J. Lewis rose—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Just let me finish. The House is entitled to be told that in fairness to the corporation. As this is the last point I am making, the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity now, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, of making the position perfectly clear.
§ Sir J. Mellor
Before the Question is put, surely the House is to have the assistance of at least one of the hon. Members who represent Bolton. The hon. Gentleman the Junior Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) must appreciate that if the Amendment for recommittal is not carried, he will have no chance of addressing the House or the Committee at all. Surely, therefore, he should take this opportunity of giving us his views. I am hoping that we shall also have the advice and assistance of his hon. Friend the Senior Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones).
§ Mr. J. Lewis
I should like to make clear to the hon. Baronet, as I endeavoured to make clear to the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who did not wish to accept the point, that in order to save the time of the House I support the recommittal so that the whole matter, including the merits of the case, can be discussed comprehensively. For that reason I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will support the recommittal and let us get on with the facts of the case.
§ Sir J. Mellor
As it is very probable that this Motion for recommittal will not be carried, as the hon. Member must know, it seems that he is trying to run away from making any speech at all. I noticed, however, a moment ago that the Parliamentary Secretary was about to rise, and I do not wish to stand between him and the House.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Blenkinsop)
It is only right that the House should know the views of the Government on the point which was raised by the Chairman of Ways and Means. The Government take the same view as he does, that it would 1119 not be desirable to recommit the Bill. In taking this view, as, indeed, the Chairman of Ways and Means said himself, the Government also are expressing no view at all on the question whether or not local authorities in general, or the Bolton Corporation in particular, ought to have powers to erect or to carry on residential hotels. Further, we would not express any view as to the rightness or otherwise of the proceedings which led the Corporation to drop the provision relating to hotels from their Bill. It is a matter which has been raised on several occasions. I would only say that before the Minister, in accordance with the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1933, gave his approval to the promotion of the Bill, he received a statutory declaration from the town clerk that the requirements of the 1933 Act had been complied with.
It is true, as the Chairman of Ways and Means has rightly said, that had the Corporation not withdrawn the Clause the interests involved would, under the Rules of Procedure of the House, have had the full right to petition against the provision and to be heard by a Committee of the House. The effect of the withdrawal of the Clause by the Corporation was, of course, that the question was not considered by the Committee on the Bill, and no evidence was taken on it. This proposal would mean, as the Chairman of Ways and Means has emphasised, an attempt to enforce upon, or at least to hand to, the promoters of the Bill a power which they do not seek.
This right to petition the House against provisions in a local Bill affecting particular interests is an important one and should not lightly be denied. It is certainly one that does not affect only the interests involved in this particular case. A Committee of the whole House cannot take evidence, and if the Bill were recommitted, the interests here involved would no doubt feel a proper sense of grievance at not having the normal right under Private Bill procedure. What is more, if the Bill were recommitted and the Clause put in, the corporation might very well feel that they ought not to operate it because of their agreement with the hotel interests. There is, indeed, nothing to compel them to do so.
The House may feel, therefore, that, without considering or expressing any 1120 view on the merits of these powers, the Private Bill procedure does not lend itself to a recommittal of the Bill at this stage without throwing, perhaps, undue hardship on not only the interests here involved, which, as I have said, might be seriously affected but on others. I hope, therefore, that after consideration of this point of view my hon. Friends who put down the Motion will be prepared to withdraw it.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)
Although it would be an exaggeration to describe the few remarks we have just heard from the Parliamentary Secretary as a very clear and resonant lead, I rise to associate the Opposition with what I understand to be his general intention. We agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means that the Amendment should be resisted, but we cannot allow the Debate to come to a conclusion without once more giving an opportunity to the junior Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) to make his own position plain. He must have known the guidance that w as likely to fall from the lips of the Chairman of Ways and Means. He probably knew the attitude his own Government were going to take to the proposal. He knew, therefore, that he would have no opportunity at a later stage of being able to make the detailed comments which he is anxious to make. His silence can only be interpreted as a readiness to allow the corporation and city, of which he is one of the representatives in this House, to have veiled slanders raised against the conduct of its public affairs by his own colleagues, and a readiness to take no part himself in attempting to dispute the accuracy of those charges, even though he put his own name at the top of the Amendment.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. Jack Jones)
I rise to make the attempt briefly to give the House something of the facts as I, the senior Member for the borough of Bolton know them. My borough council decided to present a Town's Bill. The Bill was duly drawn up and included 140 Clauses of various designs and intentions, including Clause 87. That was a Clause to give the borough the right, if it so desired, at any time subsequent to the Bill being agreed upon, to build a residential hotel. The Bill became public 1121 property and it was, of course, as is usual, looked at by all the interested parties. My information—and I have sought to make certain that it is completely accurate—is as follows. The brewers in the district made known informally their desire to discuss the Clauses in the Bill with the council and they met the Mayor of the Corporation and the Town Clerk. They made certain informal observations and submissions, subsequent to which the Town Clerk advised the Mayor, which was his duty as the legal authority, to convene the Parliamentary sub-committee.
The Parliamentary sub-committee sat —I have the minutes in my hand—and discussed carefully and completely the whole of the submission of the brewers concerned. They went into the details of the size of the hotel they were prepared to build, and, as a 'result of the detailed submissions and discussions at which a majority of Socialist Members were present—I have the names in my hand—it was resolved:That the town clerk be instructed to take such action as may be necessary for the withdrawal of Clause 87 of the Corporation Bill which has been deposited in Parliament.Subsequent to the meeting of the Parliamentary sub-committee, the general purposes committee met. The general purposes committee was the whole of the council and the rules under which that committee sit give it the right to make decisions. After careful discussion—and I can give a detailed, authentic, written report, not from any opposition parties in the corporation, but from my own people—by a majority of 42 to 32, it was agreed that the Bill be submitted with Clause 87 deleted. Subsequently there was a town's meeting and, although I was not present at that public meeting, I am informed that the Bill was discussed in the light of the fact that Clause 87, by previous resolution of the general purposes committee was deleted and no comment or observations were allowed thereon.
Later, by a huge majority, the Bill was adopted and subsequently the council, in full council assembled, discussed the minutes of the previous meeting of the council and, by 64 votes to none, approved the decision to withdraw Clause 87, and the Bill, with the Clause withdrawn, was submitted to the Select Committee which sat upstairs in this House.
1122 I submit that this is not so much a matter of party opinion, or minority opinion. I bow to no one in my desire to further the interests of the party I have the honour to represent and which brought me here. But this is a matter of constitutional procedure and, in my candid opinion, constitutional procedure was followed. It has been suggested from benches on this side of the House that some form of subversive or wrong legal direction could be adduced in the carrying out of this Bill. I submit that the members of the Borough Council of Bolton—members of all parties—are as able and as competent as anyone to see to it that they would not act under any wrong direction whatever. If wrong direction had been so given, there has been ample opportunity since for that council assembly to take to task any person who is alleged or suggested to have given wrong direction. No such procedure has taken place. Therefore, the Bill was presented, Clause 87 by agreement and democratic constitutional decision having been deleted, and the Bill was considered upstairs by a Select Committee. This is not so much a matter of a minority, or a majority, or party opinion, but of the constitutional procedure of this House remaining inviolate.
§ Mr. Jones
All I can say is that I have not received any telegram of that type and it is a rather remarkable fact that the senior Member for the Borough has not received it. It is rather late to hand it to me now. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it."] I now have the telegram and, with the consent of the House, I am prepared to read it. It says:On behalf of the Labour Party and Labour Group we dissociate ourselves from the circular sent to all Members of Parliament by the Town Clerk of Bolton.That is signed by Alderman J. Vickers.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
On a point of Order. A telegram of that nature might, for all we know, be sent by anyone, from anywhere. I would ask if we could have further proof showing to whom it was sent and who in 1123 fact sent it. We have had experience of other telegrams which was not satisfactory.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham) rose—
§ Mr. Jones
On 4th February I received a letter over the signature of the same person who signed this telegram and the letter reads as follows:Having regard to the fact that the Clauses in this Bill have been fully and thoroughly debated by the Bolton Town Council and, holding the view that it is in the interests of the county borough of Bolton that this Bill be approved by Parliament, I would urge upon you, with a due sense of responsibility, to take what steps lie in your power to influence Mr. Bing to withdraw his Motion.This letter was sent on the occasion when the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), not representing my borough, was prevailed on by someone, I know not whom, to put down a resolution of which I have no knowledge. I wish to make my position quite clear. As a good Socialist and democrat, I am always prepared to listen to the minority point of view and at all times to abide by democratic constitutional decision. Therefore, I submit to the House again that this is not so much a matter, as has been suggested, of party prejudice, or venom, or spleen, but a matter of constitutional procedure.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask for your guidance in this matter? A rather serious position has arisen in which an hon. Member has presented a telegram to the House which purports to come from an individual in Bolton who has previously written a letter which carries the same signature, but I understand that it is in exactly a contrary sense. Therefore—
§ Mr. J. Lewis
Having regard to what has already been said tonight, but before I proceed to clear the air and deal with 1124 the real facts of this case, I ought to say quite specifically that I was in telephonic communication this morning with Alderman Vickers, the leader of the town council and in fact I am in a position to confirm that the telegram received by my hon. Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) was sent by Alderman Vickers and is a perfectly genuine document on which this House can rely. I do not think it is at all necessary or desirable to hide from the House the fact that the Bolton Labour Party, its executive committee, its Labour Group and its delegate conference have passed resolutions as a result of which, on consideration, my hon. Friends and I deemed it necessary in the interests of both Parliamentary and local democracy to move the Amendment we have before us tonight.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have spoken against this Amendment and my hon. Friend the senior Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones) feels himself, for reasons best known to himself, unable to support those of us who are carrying out what the Labour Party in Bolton want us to do. But that is not a matter for discussion tonight. That must be a matter for the judgment of the electors in Bolton and those in other parts of the country.
What I am concerned about is that the facts have not been presented fairly and specifically to the House. There have been notable omissions, particularly with reference to the letter which was received by the senior Member for Bolton from Alderman Vickers. My hon. Friend failed to read the further letter sent to him which specifically explained the reason why Alderman Vickers had sent the earlier letter. I shall came to that in a moment. I propose, and I hope that the House will help me, to go into the facts in this case so that Members, particularly on this side of the House, shall know precisely what happened in respect of this particular case, and shall not have dust thrown in their eyes inadvertently or wittingly by hon. Members opposite.
May I first make clear the fact that a special Parliamentary sub-committee, which included Members of all parties represented on the Council, was set up, and instructed the town clerk to present a draft for submission to the sub-committee and to the general purposes committee of the town council. I am now coming to what I regard as the most 1125 material factor in this matter. When the first meeting of this general purposes committee of the council to consider the draft was held, that draft included Clause 87, the hotel Clause, and it was supported by all parties, including the Conservative Party represented by hon. Members opposite. There was one dissentient, Alderman Entwistle, and the town clerk and others prevailed upon him to approve the Bill as it stood, with that Clause included in it; and Alderman Entwistle subsequently withdrew his opposition. Thus the Bill, with the hotel Clause included, was approved virtually unanimously by all Members of the council including those of the Conservative Party. The date of the meeting to which I have referred was 9th November.
At this meeting of the town council the Bill was unanimously passed with the hotel Clause in it, and the town clerk rose in his seat, and said, "Members of the council, this is a completely unanimous vote, and the Bill is a good one." It was arranged that the ratepayers should have an opportunity to approve this Bill at a town's meeting on the following Thursday night—[Interruption]—I intend to make the facts clear whether hon. Gentlemen opposite interrupt and try to prevent me from being heard or not. I ask my hon. Friends on this side of the House to note that at the meeting of the council to which I referred the Conservative Party did not object to this Clause being in the Bill. If they had had any fundamental or radical objection in principle they would have done so. In fact they supported the hotel Clause at the meeting to which I refer, and it was a unanimous decision of the town council. It is what happened subsequently which my hon. Friends and I regard as very slippery practice, and I propose to make it perfectly clear to the House what I mean in that connection.
The town's meeting was due to be held on the following Thursday night. In the "Bolton Evening News" of 11th December, there appeared the following:Any elector who objects to the proposed Parliamentary Bill for Bolton—which has already received town council approval—or to any part of it—and for the benefit of the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) I would emphasise that by underlining those words— 1126will have an opportunity to express his opinion and even propose to have some part of the Bill altered, at the town's meeting which is to be held in the Albert Hall on Thursday evening. The meeting has been called to discuss the Bill and any elector is entitled to attend. The meeting will probaly be presided over by the mayor, Alderman Hampson, and will begin by an explanation of the Bill by the town clerk, Mr. Philip S. Rennison, after which questions on the Bill will be invited. The mayor will then ask for a resolution approving the whole Bill, and if no objection is raised, such a resolution will be moved, seconded and carried. If there is an objection, each part of the Bill will be dealt with separately"—I stress this point—and those sections to which there is objection will be left until the end. Speeches for and against will be allowed, and if when the vote is taken there is a majority against a certain clause, that Clause will be deleted unless the town council demands a poll. Alternatively, if a dissatisfied minority can muster 100 people to sign a form, they too can demand a poll.What does that mean? It was made specifically clear in the local Press that in the town's meeting every opportunity would be given for discussion to take place in respect of any Clause of the Bill, taken separately or as a whole.
The following occurred after that meeting of the council and before the town's meeting. It would appear that the town clerk was approached by representatives of the local brewery and by other trade interests in Bolton whose object appeared to be to ensure that Clause 87 should be deleted from the Bill. I would remind the House that this was after the town council had unanimously passed this Bill with that Clause included. Those trade interests presented themselves to the town clerk and said that in certain circumstances they were prepared to proceed with the extension "with all expedition" of a hotel known as the "Packhorse Hotel" which it had been decided they would enlarge.
I wish to make the point that there was no special bargain as referred to by my right hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means, with great respect to him, because in 1946, I was asked to survey the plans for the extension of this hotel. There had been no change whatever, and when the council as a whole passed this Bill unanimously they were fully aware of the fact that McGee, Marshall and Co. had submitted plans to the local authority and elsewhere to extend this hotel. No new situation had 1127 arisen. It was only after the Bill had been agreed to by the town council in the form I have described, that certain trade interests came along and privately, in conjunction with the town clerk, asked that there should be a change in procedure, and that the permissive Clause should be deleted from the Bill.
I propose to quote in a moment from the local Press in order to substantiate the words I am using and in order to ensure that hon. Members opposite may not feel that I am attempting in any way to mislead the House. There was no legal obligation involved whatsoever; the plans to build this hotel had been submitted two years before; there was nothing new about the matter at all. The town clerk decided to call a meeting of the general purposes committee in order to propose that this Clause should be deleted. That was between the time of the town council meeting and the town's meeting. It may be of interest if I read the statement made by Alderman James Vickers, justice of the peace, leader of the town council of Bolton, a statement made to the local Press which is headed "Duty to Tear Away Veil of Secrecy." I propose to read the statement of this man, who have given his whole life to public service in Bolton and who is highly esteemed in Lancashire. He is a man whose view my hon. Friends would like to hear. His statement was printed in the "Bolton Evening News" as follows—the date of this was 21st December, 1948—In a statement to the 'Evening News' on the decision not to seek powers for a municipal hotel in the Parliament Bill Alderman Vickers, leader of the Labour Group of Bolton Town Council, says he felt it his duty 'to tear away the veil of secrecy which I had to maintain as leader of the Council last week.' Alderman Vickers states that, unknown to him, a meeting took place betwen the Mayor and the Town Clerk and a deputation of brewery representatives and others on December 9th, when he himself was engaged in a by-election. He was therefore surprised to be told that the Council was to consider the Bill again, as the Council had given approval to the whole of the Bill. 'I felt there was no fundamental change to be discussed, since we have known all along of the plans to extend the Pack Horse Hotel and of the opposition we were to expect from the trade.' The whole Bill, as it had been approved by the Council sitting in public, could, he insists, have been conveniently and democratically dealt with at the public meeting. 'It was disconcerting,' he continues, 'to note the rapidity of movement of the brewery directors and to realise that a vested interest 1128 can press its claims sufficiently to cause a sudden and complete change in the attitude of so many members of the Council, with the public prevented from airing their views or asking for a poll on this important matter.' I wish to state clearly that I was never invited—this is the leader of the town council speaking—to be present at the meeting with the deputation and, as policy was at stake, leaders of the political groups in the Council should have been invited. The methods adopted are dangerous for the future of local government and as imperious as in the days of the patricians, plebeians, and slaves in ancient Rome.It may interest hon. Members to know that that was the statement made by Alderman J. Vickers on 21st December.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Would not the hon. Member agree that Alderman Vickers made all these representations and arguments if perhaps in a little different language in a meeting of the general purposes committee on 13th December and quite obviously there those arguments failed to carry conviction with his colleagues, inasmuch as the motion to delete the Clause was carried.
§ Mr. Lewis
Yes, Sir, but my hon. Friends may be interested to know something of the standing orders of the general purposes committee. According to the constitution of the standing orders of the Bolton Town Council the powers of the general purposes committee includethe power to transact all business which is not comprised in the powers delegated to any other committee of the council and such business as should be referred to the committee by the council or by any of the committee thereof, subject to the acts and proceedings of the committee being approved by the council and also with power to transact all business which might arise from time to time and cannot conveniently be postponed.…What I am going to state now, and about which my hon. Friends may be interested to concern themselves, is what happened at this town's meeting when this particular matter was brought up. This town's meeting took place on Thursday, 16th December, and I submit to the House that never in the history of local authorities has there been such a travesty of justice and a complete abrogation of the common rights of the citizens in a county borough. On the recommendation of the town clerk—and I am seeking to avoid specific reference to the town clerk for obvious reasons because I am afraid in certain matters I shall have to refer to his conduct at a later date—but on 1129 his recommendation—and this is not a matter subject to dispute but is included in the Press reports—the mayor ruled that the particular Clause relating to the municipal hotel could not be discussed at the town's meeting. In fact it was presented as a fait accompli.
On the recommendation of the town clerk the mayor ruled that this Clause should not be discussed. So we have the position of the council unanimously approving a Bill previously at a full council meeting including the Clause and then when it comes once again to a full meeting of the town council the mayor, on the recommendation of the town clerk ruled, "You cannot discuss this particular Clause." The town clerk said the council's instructions to him to withdraw the Clause, to be carried out, he said, as arranged between the brewers and the council, was not a legal contract, but the council's word was its bond and the council would expect and were confident that the brewers would carry out their part of the bargain to the letter.
When the town clerk made that statement he knew full well that McGee, Marshall and Co. had applied to the local authority two years previously for permission to extend that hotel. So it would appear that the deputation from the representatives of the brewers, the Bolton & District Licensed Victuallers' Association, the Chamber of Trade and the Chamber of Commerce had the effect of bringing about an alteration in what had been a unanimous decision previously made by the town council, and this arose only as a result of a private meeting which took place between the brewery interests and the town clerk.
Now I come to the final stage in this unhappy story, which has to do with the meeting of the town council when this matter was discussed. I should point out to the House that no such statutory notice of the meeting which had been published some time earlier had been amended. The public of Bolton were not, in fact, advised that this Bill would be presented in a different form having regard to the new circumstances. When the final town council meeting was held Alderman Vickers was refused permission by the mayor, on the recommendation of the town clerk, to answer any questions on this particular Clause, and hon. Gentlemen opposite have the temerity to come before this House and 1130 suggest that this has been constitutional procedure and that my hon. Friends and myself are attempting to do something which in effect is most unusual and contrary to the best traditions which one would expect in a situation of this kind.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The hon. Member persists in saying that it is the Opposition who are saying such and such. Is he not aware that the Chairman of Ways and Means, the Parliamentary Secretary and the senior Member for Bolton have all agreed that the procedure was fully constitutional?
§ Mr. Lewis
I do not agree at all that the hon. Gentleman has represented the matter in its true perspective. I have the deepest sympathy with the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health. They do not know the facts. They are getting them now for the first time and I hope that as a result they will decide to change the point of view which they have expressed to the House.
I wish to summarise my statement with a reference to what happened at the final meeting. The House will bear with me when I say that this was the most important meeting, the final meeting to approve the Bill before Bolton finished with it for the time and it came to Parliament to go through the necessary stages before going on the Statute Book. There was uproar in that meeting of the Bolton town council. The leader tried to rise twice and was refused permission to speak. Councillor O'Hara declared that a most unfortunate precedent had been introduced. Councillor Fagan said that, as the Clause was still in the Bill and as the general purposes committee's decision to withdraw it had not been carried out, it was competent for the meeting at that time to discuss whether or not that Clause should be deleted. In fact, they all failed to achieve what they desired, which was a discussion on the matter. The decision remained and references were made at that meeting to an "iron curtain." I myself have not the slightest doubt that the people of Bolton were kept in ignorance, in the circumstances, of what had taken place behind closed doors. The Bolton Corporation Bill was passed at that meeting in the suspicious circumstances which I have outlined, without one single word of discussion having taken place on the deletion of this Clause.
1131 8.30 p.m.
I ought to make it clear that on this occasion, apart from being misguided and misguiding the council in other respects, the town clerk made a very serious error here. He advised the town council that if they did not pass this Bill unanimously the Bill would be lost. There is no question of challenging my statement in that respect, because a very careful Press report was taken of this meeting. In fact I have the Press report available here.
§ Mr. J. Jones
I suggest that the words used by the town clerk were "absolute majority" and not "unanimously."
§ Mr. Lewis
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has handed me the actual reference. I think the House should be satisfied on this point, because it is most important. This is an extract from the "Bolton Evening News" of 5th January. It is headed "Bill if amended would be lost. Town Clerk's ruling." It states:Because they were told by the Town Clerk, Mr. P. S. Rennison, that the whole Bill would be lost if every member did not agree today to its going through in its present form, Bolton Town Council unanimously passed a resolution at a special meeting today.That in itself is significant. No doubt my hon. Friend the senior Member for Bolton was under a misapprehension. The local Press does not support the Labour Party. It is a Liberal Paper. It may be interesting to hon. Gentlemen opposite, whose consciences make it necessary for them to come into the House and refer to the unconstitutional procedure, to hear something of what the Opposition Press said about this procedure of which we are complaining tonight. The "Bolton Journal and Guardian," which I am pleased to say is a scrupulously fair paper, said:The last-minute decision of the General Purposes Committee of the Bolton Corporation to withdraw from the proposed Parliamentary Bill the Clause which would have given power to build and operate a municipal hotel is, to say the least, disturbing. Whether or not we agree with the proposal of a municipal hotel—and the question has never been publicly discussed—all ratepayers are bound seriously to consider whether or not democratic local government has been best served by the method adopted to secure the deletion of this Clause. The outstanding fact is that the Council approved the inclusion of this Clause without a dissentient vote although there was one abstention.It then goes on to refer to the Conserva- 1132 tive and Liberal members of the general purposes committee. It says:One finds it hard to believe, and it will be greatly disturbing to one's faith in local government if we have to believe that men who have a conscientious objection to a municipal hotel can be silent in public council.On the recommendation of the town clerk, permission was not given for a discussion to take place at the final meeting of the town council. I submit that it is the duty of members of the corporation to accept the legal advice of the adviser to the corporation—that is the town clerk. He told the town council in those circumstances, "If you do not all vote unanimously for this Bill, it will be lost." Members of the council, actuated by a desire to ensure that the very best possible form of local government should exist in the town and who did not want to see the whole Bill lost because of this Clause, accepted the advice of the town clerk, submitted under duress—
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
I have taken the opportunity of getting a cutting of the report of the town council meeting. What the town clerk said was:It was within the knowledge of all members that the matter had been disposed of by the general purposes committee which had power to act. The only matter before the council was the resolution confirming approval of the Bill which required an absolute majority or the whole Bill would be lost.That means that if there are 100 members of a town council, 51 must vote. The resolution could be lost by 50 votes to nil. In fact, I was once party to a little manoeuvre at a council of which I was a member in persuading people to abstain in that way; although there were no votes cast against the Bill, it was not allowed to proceed. It seems to me that the town clerk did, in fact, give the right advice to the town council. There had to be a clear majority of all the members of the council.
§ Mr. Lewis
We know the views already expressed by the Government, but what I wish to do is to reiterate to the House what was included in the top part of that document and in the first paragraph from which the Home Secretary has already read. That stated that the town council had been told by the town clerk that the Bill would be lost if every member of the council did not agree to its going through in that form. I think that my authority for this statement is just as good as that of the Home Secretary, because we are both reading from the same document.
From my consultations with the members of the town council, I can say that the statement made by the town clerk in fact was that if every member did not vote for the Bill, it would be lost, and I ask hon. Members to agree that that is the true and authentic record of what took place at that meeting.
§ Mr. J. Jones
I thank my hon. Friend the junior Member for Bolton for allowing me an opportunity to reiterate what I said before. I was in consultation as recently as last Saturday morning with the town clerk and members of all parties, and the word "absolute" as against the word "unanimous" was agreed to as the word which was used.
§ House may also like to know that the leader of the town council has dissociated himself from the circular sent out by the town clerk, a copy of which has been received by every hon. Member of this House.
§ I hope I have said enough to show the House that, in fact, the resolution passed by the Bolton Labour Party asking the House of Commons to re-insert Clause 87 in this Bill is not based on political prejudice but is based upon a sound reason, on the grounds that this procedure whereby the Clause was eliminated from the Bill was entirely undemocratic, unconstitutional and out of order. I regret very much that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Chairman of Ways and Means should deem it necessary to say what they have said, although I appreciate the special circumstances and the fact that there is a question of procedure involved here. I hope that hon. Members on this side of the House will not allow brewers or vested interests, in conjunction with the town clerk or any other official, to interfere with the democratic rights of the people of a borough, through their properly-elected representatives, to express their point of view, as they did at the original town council meeting, and to see that it is carried into effect.
§ Question put, "That the words. 'now considered,' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 159; Noes, 79.1135
|Division No. 131.]||AYES||[8.41 p.m.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Dobbie, W.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Drewe, C.||Hobson, C. R.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Hogg, Hon. Q.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Houghton, A. L. N. D.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Elliot, Lieut.-Col, Rt. Hon. Waller||Hurd, A.|
|Baird, J.||Erroll, F. J.||Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Ewart, R.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.|
|Battley, J. R.||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Jennings, R.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Johnston, Douglas|
|Bottomley, A. G.||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Jones, Jack (Bolton)|
|Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.||Freeman, J. (Watford)||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Keeling, E. H.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Gage, C.||Kendall, W. D.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Kerr, Sir J. Graham|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Gates, Maj. E. E.||King, E. M.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Gilzean, A.||Kinley, J.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Lavers, S.|
|Burden, T. W.||Grierson, E.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.|
|Burke, W. A.||Grimston, R. V.||Linstead, H. N.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Guest, Dr. L, Haden||Logan, D. G.|
|Challen, C.||Han, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Lyne, A. W.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||McAdam, W.|
|Crowder, Capt, John E||Hardy, E. A.||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Daggar, G.||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Deer, G.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.|
|Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)||Spearman, A. C. M|
|MacLeod, J.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Spence, H. R.|
|MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Pearson, A.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Popplewell, E.||Studholme, H. G|
|Mainland, Comdr. J. W.||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Price, M. Philips||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Mann, Mrs. J.||Proctor, W. T.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Manningham-Buller, R. E||Rayner, Brig. R.||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)|
|Marples, A. E.||Reeves, J.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.|
|Marsden, Capt. A.||Renton, D.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Rhodes, H||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Robens, A.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. J. T. (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Maude, J. C.||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Mellor, Sir J||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W|
|Messer, F.||Savory, Prof. D. L.||Wilkes, L.|
|Middleton, Mrs. L.||Scollan, T.||Wilkins, W. A|
|Morris-Jones, Sir H.||Sharp, Granville||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Mort, D. L.||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Moyle, A.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)||Willis, E|
|MuIlan, Lt. C. H.||Simmons, C. J.||Woodburn, Rt Hon A|
|Neven-Spence, Sir B.||Skinnard, F. W.||York, C.|
|Nicholson, G.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Oldfield, W. H.||Snadden, W. M.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir frank||Mr. Snow and Mr. George Wallace.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Haworth, J.||Porter, E. (Warrington)|
|Attewell, H. C.||Holman, P.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Barton, C.||Hoy, J.||Randall, H. E|
|Beechman, N. A.||Hubbard, T.||Ranger, J|
|Bing, G. H. C||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Rankin, J.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.|
|Bowen, R.||Jenkins, R. H.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||John, W.||Royle, C.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Kenyon, C.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Cobb, F. A.||Lang, G.||Skeffingion-Lodge, T. C.|
|Collins, V. J.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M||Smith, C. (Colchester)|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||McGhee, H. G.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Cooper, G.||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Cove, W. G.||Mckinlay, A. S.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Delargy, H. J.||McLeavy, F.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Dodds, N. N||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Edelman, M.||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Viant, S. P.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Morley, R.||Walker, G. H.|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Mulvey, A.||Watkins, T. E|
|Fairhurst, F.||Naylor, T. E.||Weitzman, D.|
|Farthing, W. J.||Neal, H. (Claycross)||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Foot, M. M.||Oliver, G. H.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Paget, R. T.||Yates, V. F.|
|Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Hale, Leslie||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Peart, T. F.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. John Lewis and Mr. Shackleton.|
Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill, as amended, considered accordingly.
§ Amendments made to the Bill.
§ Bill to be read the Third time.