§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)
This Bill has had a very difficult time and a very chequered history. It has caused a great deal of trouble to the Committee upstairs and has raised certain difficulties of principle about which many of us feel keenly. If Manchester wonders why the Bill has taken such a long time to get through the House, the Corporation of Manchester has only itself to blame.
There is no doubt that if we refer to the principal bone of contention in the Bill—that is, the letter written by the Town Clerk of Manchester to the shareholders—
§ Mr. Harold Lever (Manchester, Cheetham)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not want to take technical points, but is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to raise matters on Third Reading which are not dealt with in the Bill?
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that the hon. Member was speaking by way of introduction and saying that the Bill had had a difficult time. I was waiting to see whether he strayed beyond the contents of the Bill. The hon. Member, of course, ought to direct his speech to the Question. "That the Bill be now read the Third time" rather than say whether there is something in the conduct of the Bill of which he approves or disapproves. I do not know whether the hon. Member is speaking in favour of the Bill or not.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
I was not proposing to make a long speech. I merely felt that I ought to say something about the Bill as one who represents a constituency in the County of Chester, which is next door to Manchester, and as one who represents people who feel very keenly about what has taken place. You have said, Mr. Speaker, that I must not develop those matters in detail, and, therefore, I do not propose to do so. I do not think it is out of order to say that the Bill could have been disposed of long ago if 500 Manchester had so wished and made the necessary apologies for what had taken place. Having said that, I do not propose to try to hold up the Bill any longer.
Other people are concerned with the Bill besides the Corporation and bureaucracy of Manchester. A great number of things in the Bill are very important for the benefit of the citizens of Manchester who cannot necessarily be held responsible for everything that their own bureaucracy does. That being so, I certainly shall not stand in the way of the Bill receiving a Third Reading. I do not know what the rest of my hon. Friends will say about it, but I shrewdly suspect that that is the line that they will take. However, I think that it ought to be made clear to Manchester that we consider that any difficulties that they have are their own fault.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
We have just listened to a wonderful speech by the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris). To begin with, I think that he was on the wrong premise altogether when he was dealing with the letter which you. Mr. Speaker, quite rightly I think, ruled out of order.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have not ruled it out of order. I think that it is in order on the Third Reading of a Bill to advance any valid and relevant reason why the Bill should not be read a Third time. If there is something in the Bill embodying a transaction of which an hon. Member disapproves, he is entitled to urge it up to a point. I think it is a reason against giving a Bill a Third Reading if that be the hon. Member's view.
§ Mr. Williams
I, of course, accept your interpretation with the greatest respect, Mr. Speaker, but I must remark that the hon. Member must have had a tinge of conscience because he dropped the matter so quickly.
There has been a good deal of talk about the bureaucracy of Manchester, to which I take strong exception. This is not a question of bureaucrats trying to do something which is not proper for their own city or people. In my opinion, the officials and the Corporation of Manchester have been much maligned for no good purpose or reason. I do not, however, wish to develop that point any further other than to try to clear the good 501 name of the Manchester Corporation and its officials of what I regard as an unnecessary and unreasonable attack by an hon. Member representing an adjacent constituency. Some of us think that we know the reasons for his action and the action of some of his colleagues, but it might be out of order if I were to develop that matter too much.
I should, however, like them to know that some of us have a fair idea of what all the trouble is about; and it certainly is not the Ardwick cemetery. I feel sure that not even the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport) would regard the Ardwick cemetery as a proposition which might bring in 2s. or half-a-crown by inviting visitors to inspect it.
Whatever differences may have occurred between hon. Members and some from Manchester on this Bill, I certainly think that we should make a serious mistake if we delayed the Third Reading in view of the important and urgent projects which are included in the Bill. I think that the Ardwick cemetery project is the smallest possible of all the projects which are under consideration. I was very surprised when I discovered that of all the great controversial matters that could be argued in the Bill hon. Members had to choose such a dead subject as the Ardwick cemetery and make such a fuss about it.
Some of the projects in the Bill are not only important to the people and business and commercial interests of Manchester, but they are also important to the townships which are adjacent to Manchester. They are also important from a national point of view as well.
§ Mr. Williams
Yes. I repeat that it will be a serious responsibility on this House if it rejects the Third Reading and defers the commencement of some of the major schemes and projects which will bring so much benefit, not only to Manchester as a city but to that part of industrial Manchester which is so necessary today to the industrial, scientific and technical development of the affairs of this country.
Part III of the Bill deals with two such important major projects. The first is the construction of a link road which will be 502 the first section of a major highway network for the city. The road is designed to carry traffic from the docks and industrial areas in the west of the city to the east and south of the city without passing through the heavily congested centre of Manchester. I should have thought that hon. Members representing adjacent constituencies would at least have realised the importance of the project. I should have thought that hon. Members who are interested in the commercial and business life of Manchester, many of whose directors live in their constituencies, would have been very keen to ensure that this Part of the Bill would not be delayed in the House.
Anybody who knows Manchester very well, as do several hon. Members opposite, will know what the congestion is like in the centre of the city. They will know what the delay is to traffic and the hours of labour and vehicles which are lost to the city and to its businesses and people as a result of the congestion. Here is a project which will go some way to relieve that congestion and to economise in vehicles and man-hours in that great commercial centre. I should have thought that some of these considerations would weigh heavily with hon. Members opposite when considering the Bill. I am afraid, however, that they have rather allowed other issues to cloud their normal good judgment.
Another scheme under Part III of the Bill which is extremely important is the project whereby the Manchester College of Science and Technology can be enlarged and extended. Some of us are very proud indeed that one of the finest technical colleges in the country is situated in Manchester. We believe that that college will not only be a great asset to Manchester and to the large industrial area for which it caters, but will be of great benefit and importance to the country as a whole. I believe that the Minister of Education is solidly behind this project, which will make it easier for more students to be accommodated in the college and will result in accrued knowledge of scientific matters, of benefit not only to Manchester, but to the whole country.
My information is that unless this second part of the scheme is agreed to, the enlargement and extension of the college will not be possible. I hope, 503 therefore, that hon. Members on both sides who are interested in the development of scientific and technical knowledge will join with us tonight in securing expeditious treatment of the Bill so that work on this important project can be commenced in the very near future.
It would be tragic if the Bill did not receive its Third Reading and the House were to go on, possibly, a three months' vacation, with resultant delay to the necessary work on the commencement of these two projects. I sincerely hope that every effort will be made to pass the Bill tonight. I know that there are hon. Members opposite who may have legitimate grievances against the Bill, but I ask them to consider carefully the simple issue of whether the benefits which accrue from the scheme as a whole are not much greater than anything that they can derive in the form of pleasure or otherwise at the deferment of the Bill tonight.
The House of Commons is rather on trial in regard to the way in which it deals with Private Bills.
§ Mr. Williams
A number of people—we might as well be honest and frank—consider that our procedure is antediluvian and is not up to the modern requirements of the day. Many corporations are wondering whether they can afford to spend thousands of pounds in promoting a Bill to benefit their citizens when it can be torpedoed and wrecked at the whim and fancy of a few individuals who have no direct contact whatever with the corporation or city in question and whose interest in the matter is at times very doubtful.
This House must, therefore, be most careful about how it deals with some of these issues. The feeling already exists in Manchester that this has been delayed too much, that some of these schemes should have been proceeded with long ago and that normally, had we acted reasonably and rationally, they would already be being dealt with. The Bill could have had its passage through another place in time for the corporation and the other bodies concerned to have been working on the schemes now.
There are other projects and schemes in the Bill which are of peculiar interest 504 to Manchester. I refer to some of the projects dealing with backyards, the lighting of habitable rooms and matters of that nature. My own view is that these are only temporary measures. They ought to be temporary measures. I would like to invite some hon. Members opposite to come to some part of my constituency or of other constituencies in Manchester to see whether they would be as pleased as some of them are over the rejection of the overspill projects concerning Manchester. I believe that these can be only temporary measures. I sincerely hope that before long some of these old houses, which are not fit for human beings to live in, will not only have something done to their backyards, but will disappear from the horizon of Manchester.
I appeal to some of the hon. Members who represent adjacent constituencies to think of people living in some of the hovels in Manchester when they consider such matters as overspill and other projects. We cannot retard progress all the time. Men and women will not stand for the retarding of these things for long. If we have much more of the antics which we have had on this Bill or on some of the other things, desperate things will happen in Manchester as a result of the conduct which we have recently experienced.
We can do no better than accept the advice given on Report by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in what I regarded as an excellent speech. When I compared that—
§ Mr. John Mackie (Galloway)
I intervene in no sense of hostility. Should there be a Division tonight, as I said the other evening when discussing the Bill at a former stage, I shall vote in favour of the Corporation. I resent, however, some of the remarks made by the hon. Member about opposition to the Bill. He is in danger of threatening the House with what may happen in certain conditions. I resent that, and hope that the hon. Member will make his position clear.
§ Mr. Williams
I am glad that we have at least one convert for the Division Lobbies, and I welcome the fact that he will come into the same Lobby as myself. I am sorry that the hon. Member regards what I have said as a personal threat. I repeat, however, that things cannot go on like this in Manchester very long 505 without serious disturbances concerning some of the projects with which Manchester has for many years tried to proceed, but on which it finds opposition from many quarters. Men and women cannot stand the strain of that for long. All I would do is to warn the House and the hon. Member that if we do not carry on much better with some of the work which is put to us and show a little more human sympathy from one part of the country to another, men and women will not be prepared to stand it much longer.
I was saying before the hon. Gentleman interrupted me that we can do no better than accept the advice of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. He said the other day that he hoped nobody would jeopardise the passing of this Bill, and he added that nothing had been said on Report which had convinced him that anybody had a legitimate reason for opposing the passage of the Bill. I think he was right, and I compare his speech very favourably indeed with that of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. I think it was an excellent speech and that it represents the point of view of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the view of the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation. It should represent the point of view of the Minister of Education, and I am certain that it represents the view of every progressive-minded Member of this House.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Pannell (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I should like, first, to express my pleasure at the inclusion of the new subsection (2) of Clause 44 referring to the much discussed question of compensation for the shareholders of Ardwick Cemetery Limited. I am not a lawyer, and I do not know whether that subsection will give the safeguards which it is intended to give. I should have preferred that it had excluded altogether any reference to the sum of £2,100 and had left it, in the case of a dispute, to an arbitrator to decide what amount should be paid.
I am somewhat concerned that the chief official of a great and famous Corporation, almost as great and famous as that of the City of Liverpool which I have the honour to represent—
§ Mr. Pannell
My local patriotism is no less than that of hon. Members who represent the City of Manchester.
I am concerned that the chief official of such a city should be held guilty of an impropriety in an offer to purchase the shares from the Ardwick Cemetery company. There are other matters which perturb me as a result of this question.
It is stated that the Ardwick Cemetery company could not obtain a disclaimer because the City of Manchester might intervene in any court proceedings. I cannot help feeling that there is a suggestion of the big stick, that the company was told it had better accept the terms offered and that the Corporation, with its unlimited resources, could embark on litigation which would cause most of the assets of the company to be swallowed up.
§ Mr. H. Lever
Will the hon. Member support that assertion by saying where such a threat was made, when and by whom?
§ Mr. Pannell
I think the threat was implied in a remark by one of the officials when he said that the expenses—I am speaking from memory—would depend on the amount of determination with which the Corporation prosecuted its case.
§ Mr. H. Lever
Will the hon. Member who is making this assertion kindly give chapter and verse for it?
§ Mr. Pannell
Yes, if I may detain the House while I search for the reference for which the hon. Member asks. It is in the report by Mr. H. R. Page at the request of the City Council. He stated:Much depends on the degree of determination with which the Corporation and other parties would contest the application for leave to disclaim …
§ Mr. Pannell
I hope the hon. Member will give me the credit of believing that I am expressing an opinion honestly in this matter.
§ Mr. Pannell
The suggestion that the Corporation was wielding the big stick still remains in my mind.
§ Mr. K. Zilliacus (Manchester, Gorton)
The quotation which the hon. Member has just made refers tothe degree of determination with which the Corporation and other partiesmight proceed. Surely that suggests that if either side went in for litigation the costs would go up. Surely that is different from saying that the Corporation was wielding a big stick?
§ Mr. Pannell
I think that that is fairly implied. [Interruption.] I do not wish to give way again. Hon. Members may have the opportunity of catching Mr. Speaker's eye and of developing their own arguments.
I think it is clearly implied that if the company had sought to disclaim the land it would have met with opposition from the Corporation and that the costs would have eaten most of the assets of the company. I think that is clearly implied in the brochure explaining the position and of which hon. Members have copies.
The Corporation had made its plans, it seems to me, rather carefully, to build a school adjacent to the cemetery, no doubt with the idea of using the cemetery ground as a playing field.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
My hon. Friend is inaccurate in saying that the Corporation had just built the school. It had been there for years.
§ Mr. Pannell
I concede that my hon. Friend may have more accurate information than I, but according to my information the school was built within the last two years—perhaps by a fortunate coincidence—adjacent to the cemetery.
§ Mrs. Eveline Hill (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
On a point of order. Is it right Mr. Speaker, that an hon. Member should mislead the House? Honestly, he does not know the strict position. The school has been up for more years than I can remember.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not know anything about the facts of the matter, and that certainly is not a point of order for me. I would suggest to the House that we should make better progress if hon. Members made speeches and fewer interrupt- 508 tions, which merely draw out our proceedings.
§ Mr. Pannell
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
It is perfectly clear that the Corporation sought this adjacent cemetery for the purpose of a school playing field. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I think that that is beyond dispute. It therefore approached the company and asked the company what offer it would accept for the sale of that land. The directors said that they would require the sum of £2,000 and that they would abandon the land entirely to the Corporation for that amount, retaining such securities as they possessed. This was rejected by the Corporation, in my opinion on insubstantial grounds.
The Corporation brusquely dismissed the question of any value attaching to the land leased by the Ardwick Cemetery company to certain individuals. This land was bringing in an income of some £250 a year and notice had been given to the lessees of an increase in rental to operate this year of £310 in all. I think it is wrong for the Corporation to assert that those leases had no value. It cast some doubt on the legality of the leases, but it is quite clear that the cemetery company had for many years enjoyed the leases. It was quite clear that the Corporation, in taking over that land, would continue to enjoy them. It is inconceivable that the Corporation would try to invalidate a claim to its own property. Therefore, the Corporation could enjoy the income of £310 a year from that land.
In my view, that would give that land for the Corporation a capital value of not less than £5,000. We are told that the securities in the possession of the cemetery company were valued last December at £3,800. We do not know their value today. We assume that it is no less. That is a total of £8,800 capital assets which the Corporation would take over on acquiring this land. It offered in return the sum of £2,100, which gives it, according to my calculation, a net gain of £6,700.
What we have to decide in this connection is the value of the land to the Corporation for the purposes for which it intends to use it. We are told that from the commercial point of view it is worth £7,000 an acre. There are 4.2 acres 509 which represent a value of roughly £30,000. The land cannot be used for commercial purposes but it has that value to the Corporation, and the Corporation is prepared to spend £21,000 on converting it. If the Corporation had a sum of £6,700 in hand from the assets acquired, the cost of converting the land into a playing field would be £13,300 to the Corporation. Had the Corporation acquired the land for commercial development, if that had been possible, the cost then would have been £30,000.
In acquiring the land for a net sum of £13,300 after conversion into playing fields the Corporation would pay a price which is said to be fair from its point of view, but my only concern is whether a great and powerful Corporation, with unlimited resources, has applied undue duress on a company with meagre resources to acquire a piece of land at less than its value to the Corporation. Doubts on this point still remain in my mind. I hope that hon. Members will help me to resolve those doubts before the Bill is given a Third Reading.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Manchester City Council and its officials are to be congratulated on at last having introduced the Bill. Those who know Manchester know that many Bills of this character are urgently required to do justice to the teeming millions who live in that area. Manchester, relatively speaking, makes as great a contribution to the economic needs of the country as any part of this land. One would have thought, therefore, that there would have been no opposition to proposals of the kind contained in the Bill.
The object of the Bill is to enable improvements to be made in the living conditions of people in the area. Its purpose is described in the text as, among other things,To authorise the lord mayor aldermen and citizens of the City of Manchester to construct street works …These are among the most urgently required street works in the country. I have travelled in Europe and I have seen no place where improvements are more urgently required than in that part of Manchester in which so many of us have spent our lives.
The other object of the Bill is to enable the Corporation to purchase land com- 510 pulsorily for certain given purposes. Some of us have played our parts in both the First and Second World Wars and yet we find at this stage that a huge city like Manchester has to come before the House of Commons and plead that it should be enabled to carry through urgently required improvements of this character. A further elementary proposal in the Bill is to make provision for improving the health of the people. Surely these are most reasonable propositions which should command the support of every hon. Member.
I hope that hon. and right hon. Members present who do not know the gentleman will accept it from me when I say that the Town Clerk of Manchester is one of nature's real gentlemen.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
He should not be subject to the things to which he has been subjected during the proceedings on the Bill. I admit that we can all make mistakes, but I learnt early in life that if a mistake is made the best thing is to admit it. People then admit that a man is big and has a big approach to questions, and due allowance is made. This was done in this case and one would have thought that instead of statements of the kind that we have heard being made about this gentleman an attempt would have been made to understand the background against which this matter which is now in dispute came about. Instead, this man, who is looked upon in Manchester as one of the most conscientious officials, has been subjected to these criticisms. He has a long record of public service which should be upheld as a model to be followed by the young men who are now coming along. We should have held him up as a good example to others rather than subject him to the kind of comments to which he was subjected a few weeks ago.
If all this is regarded jocularly by some hon. Members, I hope that they will say so. We believe in the cut and thrust of debate in the House of Commons, and some of us have been brought up in that atmosphere. If hon. Members differ from me in my references to that gentleman I hope that they will say so, in order that we may have any misunderstanding on the subject removed. Our case is so strong and clear that we welcome any 511 criticism. Since no one has intervened, I take it that every hon. and right hon. Member present agrees with me in my references to that gentleman.
As a result of the way in which Bills of this kind are dealt with, it has been my lot to have a great deal to do with the Chairman of Ways and Means and his staff and the staff of the Private Bill Office. I have had a fairly long experience and I have met people in all walks of life, and I want to pay tribute on Third Reading of the Bill to the Chairman of Ways and Means. I have known several Chairmen of Ways and Means of various political parties. I have known no more conscientious holder of that office than the present holder. So much work and negotiation are done behind the scenes that it is the duty of some of us to give the person involved a pat on the back occasionally to encourage him in his work. In view of the fact that the present holder of the office intends to retire, I feel that we should place on record our appreciation of his services. I apply my words about him equally to the seniors on the staff of the Private Bill Office.
I am pleased to have been allowed to digress slightly because I have had a guilty conscience on this matter for twenty years. Three or four Parliamentary giants turned down the North Staffordshire Transport Bill twenty years ago. On that occasion I blamed the Private Bill Office. I was wrong. The people there were real, honest gentlemen. It was the political giants who were wrong.
On page 3 the Corporation, to its credit, is at last including a Clause which has for its object the incorporation of Lands Clauses Acts, and further on the Bill deals with the need to take over certain lands. As I said earlier, this is being done only after two world wars in which many of us played our part in saving the land.
On page 9, Clause 19 authorises the Corporation to carry out the development of land. Anyone who knows the Liverpool Street and Quay Street area will realise that this should have been done fifty years ago. Clause 22 gives the Corporation power to provide and use an exhibition hall. Anyone who has seen the exhibition hall which runs parallel with Liverpool Street will realise that it is in such a state of disrepair that it is nearly falling down. If there is any criticism of 512 the Manchester Corporation it is that it has delayed so long that the hall is practically in ruins before it asks for power to build a new one.
In Clause 23, on page 11, there is a proposal to authorise the Corporation to have power to construct works dealing with Medlock Street, Downing Street and other similar streets. If you knew those areas, Mr. Speaker, and saw the way in which people have lived there for generations, you would agree with me that this Bill should not have been subject to the criticism that has been levelled at it. The only criticism which could be made is that the work has been delayed so long.
Then in Clause 27 we come to the river of ink; not the Blue Danube that we sing about but the Black Irwell. It is one of the blackest rivers in the world and ought to have been dealt with long ago. Then on page 19, Clause 33 deals with artificial lighting in habitable rooms. It was my privilege to serve my time in one of the most efficient and best known industrial establishments. There we worked providing electric traction and electric lighting for the world, but not for our own use in Manchester. At last—let me emphasise "at last"—the Manchester Corporation is taking power to insist at least that artificial lighting shall be provided in habitable rooms. And this is 1958.
Clause 36 concerns precautions against fire in certain buildings. Manchester is the capital of the north. We hear a great deal about London. We hear a great deal about Wales and Scotland. But we do not hear enough about the industrial north, nor do we hear enough about the capital of the north. But at last, in this Bill, the Corporation is taking power for fire precautions.
My next point, Mr. Speaker, is put to you in particular. I have a fair knowledge of Private Bill legislation. In the past, whenever an authority has promoted a Bill and has been the subject of vexatious expense, application has been made to the Chairman of Ways and Means, who has consulted Mr. Speaker and the authorities, and there are cases on record in which a financial allowance has been made. In this instance, if anybody has a grievance it is the Manchester Corporation and the citizens of Manchester, who have been put to the needless expense of promoting this Bill and 513 of bringing their people down here on several occasions. Whilst we are the first to agree to any necessary democratic procedure, we say that there is a limit and that if it was right to compensate people in the past who were subject to vexatious treatment when promoting Private Bills, then on this occasion the Manchester Corporation should receive the same consideration.
Finally, I hope that any hon. Members who may still be inclined to be prejudiced against the Bill or who dislike the way it was dealt with in Committee will ventilate those grievances. However, let us give the Bill its Third Reading so that the Corporation can get on with urgently needed work and do justice to its citizens.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. John Arbuthnot (Dover)
As you know, Sir, and I think the House knows also, hon. Members who were members of the Committee which considered this Bill were unable to speak in the House during the time when there was a possibility that the Bill might be referred back to the Committee. There is no longer any question of that and this enables us to say one or two things which we think ought to be said.
I will start by agreeing with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams), when he said that there were many valuable Clauses in the Bill and that it would be a pity if it were not given its Third Reading. Hon Members who had this Bill before them in Committee will agree that the Bill has valuable Clauses in it, otherwise we would not have passed it in Committee. These Clauses will be of value not only to Manchester but to a much wider area, especially those dealing with road traffic. I hope, therefore, that the House will decide to give the Bill its Third Reading.
If the House rejects the Bill we would not be punishing the people who have erred but the ratepayers of Manchester; people who have done no wrong. To do so would put them to considerable further expense, and they have had enough expense in connection with this Bill already.
§ Mr. H. Lever
The hon. Gentleman has referred to people who have erred. In what respect is he suggesting that people have erred?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I am suggesting, for example, that an error has been committed by an offence under Section 13 of the Prevention of Fraud (Investments) Act. That is a purely objective statement and I am not trying to be controversial. I feel that we do not want to punish the ratepayers of Manchester, and therefore I hope we shall give the Bill its Third Reading.
I will come at once to the controversial Clauses, those dealing with the Ardwick Cemetery Co. The Committee which considered the Bill was guided by four pieces of evidence which were brought before it. The first was that Manchester sought to wind-up the cemetery company, a company registered under the Companies Acts, without going through the procedure laid down in the Companies Act. The second was that the Board of Trade said that the break-up value was in excess of the £1 which Manchester was offering. The third was that the Town Clerk of Manchester said that there was a liability, which he estimated at £3,100, to put the cemetery in repair. The fourth was that counsel for Manchester Corporation said that there was no liability such as the Town Clerk had suggested.
That therefore eliminated from the minds of Members of the Committee the evidence of the Town Clerk that there was a liability to put the cemetery in repair. We were thus left with two salient pieces of evidence, that Manchester sought to wind up the company without going through the procedure of the Companies Acts, and that the Board of Trade said that the break-up value was in excess of the £1 being offered. With that evidence the Committee decided to put things right for those people who had not parted with their shares, which is why we have the Clause which the Committee put into the Bill. We did not, however, put things right for those people who had already parted with their shares, but since that is not in the Bill, it would be out of order to discuss it. If Manchester feels that it has been badly treated, as some Manchester Members appear to believe, then it has only itself to blame for the way in which the case was presented to the Committee, which was completely objective on the subject.
515 The Bill which we are now discussing on Third Reading is a very different Bill from that which Manchester originally deposited before Parliament. It is to the Bill as deposited that objectors could make objection. The Bill changed shape considerably between that time and the time when it came before the Committee as a filled Bill. It is true that some of those changes were made to meet points raised by objectors, but that did not apply to all the alterations. The Committee therefore found it necessary to protest to the promoters and to point out that if negotiations had been begun at an earlier stage with the interested parties, before the Bill had been presented to Parliament, possible objectors would have had a fairer opportunity of seeing what the Bill was with which the Committee would be presented. In this way they would have had a fairer opportunity of presenting their case and objecting if they saw fit.
I personally, and I am sure all hon. Members, deplore the fact that we are having a Third Reading debate on this Bill at all. This House is a very forgiving place to anyone who says that he is sorry, and I hope that it is not even now too late for Manchester to earn the goodwill of the House by doing just that.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel W. H. Bromley-Davenport (Knutsford)
The hon. Member for Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams)—that is a fortunate constituency—entertained us at some length with his reference to the recent inquiry at Lymm. I did not see that that had very much to do with the Bill, but an allegation was made against our fair County of Cheshire that we did not wish to provide Manchester with the necessary land on which it could house its overspill.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport
It does not come within the Bill, but, with respect, the hon. Member referred to it.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport
I referred to it only because the hon. Member did, but I will now return to the Bill.
516 I regret that the Amendment to Clause 44 which was so eloquently proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) was not accepted.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport
I am not too happy about Clause 44 and the assurances which were given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, but I hope that our fears are unjustified.
It has been insinuated that because of the objections of myself and some 100 hon. Members who put their names to my Amendment, "That the Bill be considered this day three months", we are responsible for the delay in the passage of the Bill. With great respect, nothing could be further from the truth. The people alone responsible for the delay in the passage of the Bill are the Manchester Corporation. I know that many hon. Members, although they would be the last to admit it on the Floor of the House, will agree with what I am about to say. It is said that the House of Commons is the toughest audience in the world. One thing is also certain: it is the most generous audience in the world. The House will forgive anybody practically anything if he says that he is very sorry and if his apology is frank, full and sincere.
If only the Manchester Corporation had had the grace to apologise it would have got this Bill a long time ago. I know that many hon. Members on both sides of the House agree with what I have said. I regret the delay in the passage of the Bill which I submit was not my fault nor that of the 100 hon. Members who put their names to my Amendment.
We all know that this is a very important Bill for Manchester. It is also important for the surrounding districts. For that reason I shall not oppose the Third Reading, and I hope that my hon. Friends, however much they may regret and resent the fact that there has not been an apology tendered by Manchester City Corporation, will agree with me and not cause any further opposition.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hirst (Shipley)
The argument in this matter has been so well deployed that I shall not weary the House 517 with repeating it, but I feel that some of the remarks made today have not been very helpful and that even now we could have proceeded very much more quickly if those remarks had not been made.
It is on occasions like this that Parliament performs one of its best functions. It is perfectly proper and perfectly right that it should operate as it is intended to operate, as a check on matters which it has reason to believe have not been undertaken as properly and as correctly as they should have been.
One or two hon. Members opposite have been understandably keen to defend the Town Clerk of Manchester. I do not deprecate their attitude; I have no doubt that the Town Clerk is a very admirable servant of Manchester. But nobody can always be 100 per cent. Some hon. Members of this House would not like to claim that they are always 100 per cent. None of us is 100 per cent. But to put this master in shades of absolute black and white, to adopt the attitude that because we object to something that happened we are putting the Town Clerk in the black and therefore hon. Members opposite must immediately rush to put him in the white, begs a large number of questions. Unhappily, this attitude has been responsible for some of the delay that has occurred.
Mistakes were made. One has only to read the speech which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade made on Report—to which no hon. Member objected—to realise only too well that that is the case. Nevertheless, some hon. Members today insist that they were not made, and there has been a certain amount of chastisement of some of us, in the form of an agonised reading through pages of what we have all agreed is an excellent Bill, as if we were opposing all the provisions. Of course we are not; we are merely objecting to the fact that certain procedures were followed which, in our judgment—and we are the custodians of our own judgment in these matters—were not the best and fairest means to use, and were not matters which Parliament should allow through on the nod.
If the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) had not been in such a hurry to move the Closure on Report the Bill would in all probability have been disposed of then. On that 518 occasion some of us were prevented from speaking; in fact, very few of us had an opportunity to do so. To suggest that we have unduly delayed the matter is not fair to those hon. Members who could not speak on that occasion.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
We must also bear in mind that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South was provoked by what he overheard.
§ Mr. Hirst
I have no ill feelings towards the hon. Member; I merely suggest that he delayed the matter.
I do not want to delay the House. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) has said. His was a very fair speech, made from an objective standpoint, and it contained a great deal of what is in my mind.
Many provisions of the Bill, particularly those in Clause 44, would have been better rewritten and re-enacted in a more favourable way, but it must be accepted that a good deal of water has gone under the bridge, and that it would not be fair to Manchester to insist upon any such re-enactment. The only way in which we could achieve that object would be by throwing out the Bill, and, although it is not perfect, I join with my hon. Friends in saying that we have no desire to do that.
We shall not, however, apologise for taking the opportunity of expressing ourselves fully. This is not merely a matter of what Manchester wants or does not want; it is a matter of principle, which may affect other Bills coming before us in a similar way. Although Parliament may do well to let the Bill through on this occasion—and it has been amended by some excellent work in Committee—the fact remains that it still has a slight blemish. I hope that people will realise that so that we shall not have this trouble again.
Like my hon. Friends, I believe that it would not be unbecoming to Manchester 519 if the Corporation were a little more gracious and forthright; if it recognised that this House has its duties, that hon. Members have to perform those duties and that the House is justified in expecting some remarks from the Corporation which could be taken as an apology.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Lever (Manchester, Cheetham)
I rise with a certain diffidence, because I am addressing a mixed audience upon a non-party matter. I hope every hon. Member is fully aware that this is not a party political matter, and the fact that I happen to be speaking from these benches does not make it one. All the Members who represent Manchester constituencies are united in desiring that the Bill shall receive a speedy passage through the House.
Many criticisms have been directed at the Clause which deals with the purchase of the shares in the Ardwick Cemetery. I am always ready to believe the sincerity of the motives of hon. Members. Some hon. Members have said that a soft word by the Manchester Town Clerk or the Corporation would have turned away their wrath. They think that some sort of apology for the error committed—if one was committed—would be timely. I must take full responsibility for the fact that no such word has as yet been forthcoming. The only error which any fair-minded person can allege against the Town Clerk or Corporation of Manchester is that there has been an infringement of a Section of the Prevention of Fraud (Investment) Act—an infringement which amounts merely to the fact that the Town Clerk sent out a circular offering to buy these shares without using a licensed dealer or himself becoming a licensed dealer for the purpose of that Act.
In view of the sustained and very misleading oratory of some hon. Members who have made much play with the title of the Act under which the Town Clerk is said to have committed an offence—the prevention of fraud—it cannot be made too plain that, upon the findings of the Attorney-General himself, the only thing which any honest and fair-minded person could allege against the Town Clerk is that, not being a licensed dealer, he sent out this circular offering to buy the shares. By posting a nominal 520 sum to the Board of Trade he could have made his office boy a licensed dealer and sent out a circular, in which case he would have committed no offence.
I would have had no difficulty in getting the Town Clerk of Manchester—who has asked me to say that he accepts exclusive responsibility for the legal advice tendered to the City Council—to tender to the House an expression of apology for any misjudgment or error which may have occurred in relation to this technical infringement, but in the light of what I have heard from some hon. Members and of the very careful study that I have given to the whole matter, I could not conscientiously tender on behalf of the Town Clerk an apology which would in any sense be construed as justifying the sneers and imputations which people today are most unfairly and under the Privilege of the House making against Manchester's senior official. I say that with the fullest sincerity.
Every Member ought to realise that the defamation of a person who cannot take action because the defamation occurs in this House discredits that individual Member and is an abuse of the Privilege of this House. I would have nothing to say if those hon. Members had been careless of their own reputations; after all, they are the best judges of how much care those reputations warrant. But I am very concerned about the reputation of this House. Every repeated abuse of its Privilege is bound to reflect upon the very high traditions which the House has in this matter.
I am not among those hon. Members who regard as other than a coincidence the fact that the leaders of this campaign to besmirch the name of the Town Clerk happen also to be the chief opponents of Manchester's overspill housing developments. I am prepared to believe that that is a coincidence and that those hon. Members are speaking with complete sincerity, but I wish they would limit the amount of their defamation. If a man is honestly, though reluctantly, doing his duty in this House by assailing the reputation of a senior public official, I should have thought that once would be enough, but some hon. Members seem to find what to a decent person would be a disagreeable task—even if it were justified—to be a pleasant occupation.
§ Mr. Lever
In this transaction of taking over the shares there is no justification for any allegation of unfair dealing, of impropriety or dishonest concealment of facts from the shareholders. In fact, to show the amount of carelessness with which the Privilege of this House has been used, I take the case of the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell). I will say nothing of his outrageous assertion that his own native city is to be compared with that which, with other hon. Members, I have the honour of representing in this House, but he was inaccurate in his reference to the Bill. For instance, he suggested that Manchester Corporation owed an apology in that it had unfairly obtained these shares by threatening the shareholders that if they did not part with them for the sum offered they would be in trouble.
When I asked the hon. Member to document that charge he referred me to the Treasurer's report, in which the Treasurer had said that the cost of disclaimer would depend on how vigorously the Corporation and others intervened in the matter. All that would be very well as some sort of substantiation of his rather comprehensive charge but for the fact that by the time the Treasurer's report to which he referred was compiled, the shares had already been bought. The circulars had already been sent out and the only person who could be influenced by that report would be someone like the hon. Member who is anxious to find some stick, however fragile, with which he thought he could beat the Town Clerk and Manchester Corporation and make these allegations.
§ Mr. N. Pannell
The suggestion I made was that in their negotiations with the cemetery company the Corporation suggested that the costs of litigation would be such in the event of the Corporation intervening on a disclaimer as to swallow up most of the assets of the company. If that doubt is dispelled, I am very happy to withdraw any suggestion of impropriety.
§ Mr. Lever
I take it that the hon. Member means to say that although he mentioned the Treasurer's report as justification for the charge, he no longer relies on that as justifying the statement he has made. What he said was that the 522 Treasurer's report amounted to a threat to the shareholders which induced them to part with their shares. That statement is simply unfounded.
§ Mr. N. Pannellrose—
§ Mr. Lever
I am not going to keep giving way, because the hon. Member will see the statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow. He justified the assertion against the propriety of the behaviour of the Corporation and the honesty of its behaviour by quoting from the Treasurer's report and said that it had bulldozed the shareholders into accepting, but the Treasurer's report was written in June, 1958, long after the shareholders had settled and long after the notice to treat with the Corporation had been sent.
That is what has gone on at all stages of this Bill. Even the Chairman of the Committee made complaints in connection with this Clause in the Bill. He said, for example, that an additional Clause was brought in of which the Committee could not approve, but that Clause was brought in—
§ Mr. Lever
Perhaps I misheard, but I understood that the complaint was that an additional Clause had been brought into the Bill by which the take-over was altered. The Clause was drafted on behalf of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The hon. Member complained that the Corporation had done something unfair in that it had shown an intention not to comply with the Companies Act. I do not know what the hon. Member means by that. After all, he must be a fairly responsible person or the House would not have trusted him with the chairmanship of the Committee in this matter. I will give way readily to the hon. Member. What does he mean by that expression?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
Having studied this Bill with some care, the hon. Member knows quite well that the report of the Board of Trade made it quite clear that the proposals, if they had not been amended, would possibly have prevented the shareholders having the protection to which they were entitled under the provisions of the Companies Act.
§ Mr. Lever
I understand the hon. Member imagines that the absence of that protection would in some way affect the matter today. I understand that he thinks in some way it would affect the protection of shareholders who have already sold their shares, but by the time this was brought into consideration the overwhelming majority of the shareholders had sold their shares to Manchester Corporation.
§ Mr. Lever
I am not suggesting that the hon. Member is not anxious to be honest and fair in this matter, but his complaint is that Manchester Corporation was not going to give itself the benefit of the Companies Act. By the time the hon. Member had charge of the matter the Corporation overwhelmingly was the principal shareholder. Today the Corporation owns almost every share in the company. It does not matter whether the company is wound up under the Companies Act or otherwise, because the only persons who need to be protected in a situation such as this are the creditors. The Companies Act is to protect the creditors and to see that they get the assets. I should say to any hon. Member who doubts that and thinks the Corporation is going to make off with the assets and default should come to me and get a little insurance on the matter at very reasonable rates.
That sort of spurious, artificial complaint about the Corporation has been made over and over again. There is not one shareholder in this company who has sold his shares to the Corporation and authorised a single one of these sneers at the Corporation or its officials—not one—in spite of the most shameful publicity which this matter has had. These charges have been megaphoned abroad. After all, we in this House are able to form our own opinions of the weight to be attached to statements made here partly upon the nature, character and standing of the hon. Member making them, but the public outside reading these things in the newspapers are apt to take seriously the kind of statements and the kind of people whose words are not regarded in this House as carrying any undue weight and great damage has been done. These things ought to be said.
524 To hon. Members in this House to whom these remarks do not apply I wish to say this. I went very comprehensively into this matter, as did every hon. Member who spoke in the debate and who had taken the trouble to inform himself. On the last occasion, we spent some time in debating it. I said then that I had no sympathy at all with any hon. Members on this side of the House, or on the other, who imputed motives to those hon. Members who insisted on ventilating this problem and rightly judged it their duty, as watch dogs, to see that no corporation, however large and however reputable, should be able to railroad a Bill through the House if it was unfair. Far from criticising anyone who has performed that function, I would respectfully say he is fulfilling his proper duty to the House and to the people who sent him here, irrespective of the fact that this Bill contains other valuable Clauses which he would like to see in it. I am making no sort of slur on those hon. Members who came here to inquire into the matter and to bring it to the notice of the House, but what I am saying is that the repetitive enjoyment of defamation is not to the credit of hon. Members who have indulged in it and that is quite another matter.
§ Mr. Lever
Everybody has talked as though it is a proven fact that the Town Clerk of Manchester has committed an offence under Section 13 of the Prevention of Frauds (Investment) Act which, as I have said before, is ten times more technical than a parking offence, for reasons I have already explained to the House. But I thought that in this House we were not in the habit of convicting people without a trial. I have been outraged at the way every hon. Member who thought fit to do so has felt entitled over and over again to say that the Town Clerk has committed an offence. Of course, they are not qualified to say so. They have no authority, even on the statement of the Attorney-General, to say so. It is against all traditions of fair play, especially as we expect them to be observed in this House, to judge a man guilty of an offence on which he has never been heard and on which he has never been tried. I must enter this objection, with respect to the learned Attorney-General. This Section is a most complex one. Hon. Members, 525 with legal training will know how complex and difficult it is to construe and to apply the rules for the construction of Statutes. Perhaps laymen too can have an amusing hour or two with it. But it can be argued whether any infringement of this Section has occurred at all.
We are all agreed that this is a valuable Bill. Those of us who believe that the matter has been fully investigated and that the purchase of the Cemetery shares has been honourably conducted and undertaken are quite satisfied. Those who feel that they were entitled to raise this matter have also been satisfied. I say, as sincerely as I can, that I know of no impropriety or unfair dealing or any suggestion against the Manchester Corporation or its senior official; save only that there might have been this infringement of the description which I have already given to the House. Because of the useful things in this Bill, I ask the House to leave aside all the considerations which have been more than fully ventilated and to give the Bill a Third Reading.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. R. Bevins)
I have no desire to curb this debate—
§ Mr. Bevins
—but I think it would be helpful if I said a word at this stage. When I was younger, it was a commonplace in Lancashire to refer to "Manchester men" and "Liverpool gentlemen" and as I—
§ Mr. Bevins
—belong to the second category, I shall resist the temptation to discuss whether Manchester or my native city is the "capital of the North". I shall also resist the temptation—because I wish to keep within the bounds of order—to say anything at all about overspill.
I wish to emphasise, that every hon. Member has participated in the debate has declared that he hopes this Bill will secure a Third Reading. Every hon. Member who has spoken has said he hopes that this Bill will become law without undue delay. That is certainly 526 the hope of my right hon. Friend. I think it right that I should once again put to the House, however briefly, the views of my right hon. Friend who, after all, is interested not only in cemeteries in general and in Ardwick Cemetery, but in the other matters which are dealt with in this Bill. I will mention one which was referred to by the hon. Member for Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams).
An essential part of the programme for the Manchester College of Science and Technology is the diversion and culverting the River Medlock. The Manchester Corporation is anxious to do this work on behalf of the college while it is constructing the new ring-road, and any delay in dealing with the River Medlock will result in a corresponding delay in the development of the college. It seems to me that any such delay would be deplorable. That is the view of Manchester. It is the view of the Government, and I believe it to be the view of the House of Commons as well.
The Manchester Corporation hopes to acquire the site of the Ardwick Cemetery and convert it into playing fields for the use of a nearby school. There is general, if not, perhaps, universal support in this House for that proposal. There are a number of old cemeteries throughout the country which are now closed. Very often their conversion into open spaces for playing fields would seem to be the best way to deal with them. My right hon. Friend hopes that other local authorities contemplating such a course will not be frightened by the rather choppy passage of the Manchester Corporation Bill.
The storm which has blown up here has not been caused because of the purpose to which Manchester proposes to put the cemetery but rather because of the method by which the Corporation sought to get control of this site. The letter from the Town Clerk to the shareholders has been referred to this evening. No one disputes that this letter constituted a contravention of Section 13 of the Prevention of Frauds (Investment) Act of 1939. But the Director of Public Prosecutions decided, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General concurred, that the public interest did not require him to prosecute.
The point which has caused most anxiety to hon. Members is the suggestion that the Corporation bought up a 527 large proportion of the shares in the Ardwick Company on the strength of a misleading letter which gave a false picture of the financial position of the company. The House will remember that the Select Committee came to the conclusion, on the evidence before it, that a one-sided view had been presented and that the position at a break-up had not been disclosed. Subsequently there was a very thorough police investigation which showed, in the words of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General… that there is no ground for concluding that the letter contained any false, misleading or deceptive statement or that there was any dishonest concealment of the material facts. Consequently there are no grounds for a prosecution for an offence under Section 12 of the Act."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1958; Vol. 590, c. 77.]I do not really think that it would be proper for the House tonight, on Third Reading, to enter into an even more detailed discussion of the financial implications of this matter, but I should like just to say this. The Manchester Corporation is, undoubtedly, one of the largest and one of the most influential local authorities in the country—
§ Mr. Bevins
All local authorities, whether they are powerful, like Manchester, or less powerful, like hundreds of others in the country, have a very serious responsibility to set an example in public conduct. Of course, they make mistakes—we all do—but the important thing is that they should always act in good faith towards their citizens, both collectively and individually. It is because my right hon. Friend believes that that standard has not been transgressed by the Manchester Corporation, and because, moreover, this Bill is a worthy one in itself, that we very earnestly hope that it will be accorded a Third Reading.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
The House is indebted to the Parliamentary Secretary for the very clear and frank way in which he has dealt with the one matter in this Bill that is really in dispute. As one who, as chairman of a great local authority, had to promote several Bills before this House, I may say that no local authority should complain about 528 the meticulous examination of its Bill by a Select Committee of the House. After all, a Clause may go through—perhaps not even much stressed before the Committee—and, two or three years later, another Corporation or county promotes a Bill, and puts in the same Clause.
When it is disputed, the first defence of the promoters is that it is only a copy of the Clause that was granted to someone else two or three years previously. Steadily it goes on until, at last, either the Minister of Health, in the old days, or, as I imagine, the Minister of Housing and Local Government in these days, brings in some kind of Public Health (Amendment) Act, and that Clause, having been granted to a dozen or twenty local authorities, is embodied in general legislation. Therefore, there can be no complaint of the meticulous examination of this Bill, and the meticulous attention paid to the way in which the transactions under it have been carried out.
Certainly, as one keenly interested in local government, and in seeing corporations, counties, urban district councils and other people getting Bills through the House, I do not think that we have any real ground for complaint on that score. It does seem to me, however, that the explanation tendered has been quite ample. The Committee discharged its duty, the Clause was amended, and in that amended form is now in the Bill, which has been commended by the two Government Departments concerned on the previous stage of the Bill, and, tonight, by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.
Of course, we all like ragging the chief official of a big corporation. I have done it myself. I have even done it in regard to a council of which I have been the chairman. But there is a limit to the extent to which that should be carried on. To my mind, the explanation tendered has been adequate. I think that some attention might be given to what my hon. Friend the Member for Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever) said; that if the junior office boy had been appointed a licensed dealer, and the appropriate authorities had been informed that the corporation was behind him to the extent of a couple of hundred pounds, and he had issued the circular, no complaint could have been made. I do not suggest that any corporation should 529 descend to that technical way of avoiding responsibility, but it is an indication of the extent to which this matter ought to be flogged any further.
This is a Bill that has in it a very great deal of good. It will enable at least one great cemetery—and it is a great cemetery, when one remembers the people whose bodies are there interred—to be put, in these days, to a use in which, whilst the revered dead are honoured, the living—the best of the living, the youth—can also get the benefit of an open space that has been almost accidently preserved; and can get some inspiration from the memorials that, I hope, will be appropriately left to the great people who lie within this small but very important cemetery. I hope that we can now feel that this Bill can be given a Third Reading, that any error that was committed has been more than adequately punished by the language that has been used by some people in reprobating it, and that Manchester can get on with the numerous developments that will spring from the passage of this Bill through this House.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eveline Hill (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
I must first declare my interest in the Bill, as a member of the Corporation of Manchester and as one of the "bureaucrats" as we have been labelled. I do not feel in the least like a bureaucrat, nor is that the way that we conduct our business in Manchester.
One feels some regret about the length of time which the House has taken to consider the Bill, and the great delay that it has meant to its complete passage. I do not think I need repeat the number of things which are waiting to begin operations. They have been enumerated so often.
It is regrettable that a certain Clause in the Bill has been discussed by so many people who have not a complete knowledge of the conditions as we in Manchester have. It seems that because of our generosity we have landed ourselves into this difficulty. We thought we were being generous, because we knew the conditions, and we probably rather precipitated the procedure, but any evil intent was the farthest thing from our minds, and should be farthest from the minds of those who conduct a big corporation.
530 If there was a slight infringement, as was suggested in the reply of the Attorney-General, I would have thought that in view of all the indignities and, indeed, suffering which the Town Clerk had to undergo on our behalf—because, after all, this Bill has been approved by the Manchester Council consisting of members of all parties—the verdict which has been given by the Attorney-General should be satisfactory to hon. Members. While admitting, of course, that we are entitled to examine all the matters involved, I should think that it is less than democratic for one voice to halt the progress of something which has already been examined, delaying what could help nearly 700,000 people, that being the size of our population.
I feel that all this has been flogged very hard and that there is no need for any further whipping of the type that we have experienced in this Chamber during the last debate and this one. I plead with those people who may still have some small doubt to believe that a corporation the size of ours, far from being the octopus which many people seem to believe it is, and far from being comprised of bureaucrats, as we have been labelled, has a very great regard for the people who live in that great city. We are most anxious to give better conditions to many people in that city and to provide those things to which the Bill relates. I hope that after all this there will be no further acrimonious feelings and that Manchester will be able to get on with its Bill, because we have barely time.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I support what has been said by my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House on this very important Bill. I was very pleased to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government intimate, as he did on a previous occasion, that the Government were supporting the Bill. Having said that, I think the opponents of the Bill ought to withdraw their opposition because their own Government are prepared to give Manchester Corporation the Bill that it desires.
Having listened to the previous debate as well as to tonight's debate, I have begun to think that we are living in two 531 Englands—one represented by hon. Members coming from vast sweeping acres of woodlands and green fields, and the other represented by those speaking on behalf of the Manchester City Corporation, representing an area which is cribbed, cabined and confined, and that when the occupants of that area wish to release themselves from bondage by promoting a Bill they find themselves up against great opposition.
I have come to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly—I believe rightly—that there has been too much vendetta and vindictiveness not only against the Manchester Corporation but against the Town Clerk. The Town Clerk—and I speak with some experience of municipal administration—only carried out the instructions of the Manchester City Corporation. Having carried out those instructions, I do not see why some Members should criticise him for doing his duty. Here is a gentleman, one of the best in the country, whose prestige is high, regarded as one of the finest town clerks in municipal administration that this country possesses. Yet he is subjected to this vendetta and vindictiveness. I hope it will go forth from this House that we admire the organising and administrative ability of a great man like the Town Clerk of Manchester.
While listening to the debate, I have been thinking also of a passage in the good Book which tells of a time when one of the great prophets, confronted by a problem put to him by his people, went to a great Authority, and when that great Authority said to him:'Go thou and sit where they are sitting,' and he went and sat where they sat.His opinion of the problems confronting the people was totally different after he had experienced what they were experiencing. If the opponents of the Bill, after all they have said and all the criticism they have levelled at it, would go to the City of Manchester and sit where some of the people of that city are sitting they would withdraw their opposition and concede the Bill.
To my knowledge the authorities of that city have been struggling for years, long before I came to the House, to try to improve the social and industrial conditions of their people. Who could say one word against improving the social 532 conditions and industrial amenities of the city and its people? Let it never be said in this House that we are party to preventing the opening up of places to provide pleasure for children.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) referred to the purpose underlying the promotion of the Bill. What was it? It was to enable Manchester Corporation to make provision for playing fields for its children. Let us remember that a generation has been denied them. When I became chairman of my local education committee, a position which I occupied for 7½ years, an old veteran said to me, "Always remember, Tom, that the children pass this way only once. If you fail to do your duty for them as they pass this way, the opportunity will be gone for ever".
The Manchester City Corporation desires to purchase the cemetery in order to establish playing fields and to improve the social environment of the people in the area, and we ought not to object. I respect the opinions of those who are opposed to the Bill. Although they are totally different from mine, I respect their opinions and I want them to respect mine. In my view, the time is long overdue when Manchester should be free from the fetters which have hung rounds its neck for half a century or more. Let it go forward with the work it has set itself to do. Let it never be said in this House that by our opposition or criticism of a Bill of this kind we were responsible for preventing the children of Manchester from having a fair deal and social justice in the improvement of their amenities, which are long overdue.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel J. K. Cordeaux (Nottingham, Central)
I feel very diffident in seeking to intervene in this debate, for two reasons. In the first place, I did not speak during any of the previous stages of the Bill. That was not my fault; it was the fault of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith). In the second place, I had felt that this was purely a domestic matter for hon. Members representing constituencies in Manchester and nearby. However, on that, I should like to say that we in Nottingham suffered recently from exactly the same sort of problem as did Manchester, namely the problem created by one of these commercially owned 533 cemeteries. Moreover, we may well suffer from another in the near future. It is very likely that what Manchester does today, Nottingham and other places similarly affected, may have to do in the near future.
I know that I should be out of order if I started, as I should like to do, by talking about the cemeteries in Nottingham. Perhaps I might say that the cemetery I was referring to there was first formed in 1836—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am afraid that the hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot discuss the cemetery in Nottingham. It is not in the Bill.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux
The Ardwick Cemetery, like so many other cemeteries, was established in the middle of the last century when all these commercial cemeteries began to spring up in our large industrial towns. In those days, they probably fulfilled a very useful function. Indeed, to many people, they may have seemed the only alternative to what would then have been called, perhaps, a pauper's grave. In the years which followed, however, many commercial cemeteries became some of the worst examples of private enterprise which we have ever seen.
As you have so ruled, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I may not go into the history of the Nottingham cemetery, but it was not unlike the history of Ardwick Cemetery which we are now considering. As I understand the position, the Ardwick Cemetery Company made very large profits in the early days, as most such cemeteries did. People were buried as close together as possible. Masses of plots were bought up in the early stages. Large sums were paid out in dividends. I think I am right in saying that, for many years during the second half of the last century, dividends of 25 per cent. were paid by the Ardwick Cemetery Company. In some years, 100 per cent. was paid, but it seems that very little money was put by for reserve to maintain the cemetery in the days when its normal source of income would have dried up.
The stage has now been reached when the years of profitability of many cemetery companies are coming to an end. Whereas in Nottingham the Corporation refused to take over the cemetery, in the Ardwick 534 case the Corporation was not only willing but anxious to do so. We have had a good deal of discussion about the estimated value of the shares, but I should like to say that from what I have been able to understand from studying this case and from my own experience in Nottingham, I believe that the amount offered, £1 for each share, was fantastically generous.
We have already heard, and I must not detain the House by going over them again, most of the reasons why some of us feel that that is so. There is the reason that on the only recent occasion, six years ago, when a valuation was made for probate, 5s. was accepted by the Inland Revenue. There is also the fact that if the company had gone into liquidation and obtained a disclaimer, then after allowing for the costs of the court proceedings and compensation, there would I feel, from our experience in Nottingham, have been little left. The court proceedings there amounted to £1,750. There was also the very cogent reason that practically all shareholders, with expert advice, jumped at the offer.
There is one other reason which I should like to give and which was not, I think, mentioned in earlier debates. I am sure that it is absolutely wrong to estimate the value of the shares in a company like the Ardwick Cemetery Company without considering the obligation of that company to maintain its cemetery. Why on earth should a company of this sort be allowed to retain its liquid assets and distribute them as it likes when it leaves its cemetery in a condition that amounts not merely to desecration, but a lack of proper sanitary conditions?
I feel that there is a definite danger that the attitude that the Board of Trade felt it right to adopt in this case may encourage certain cemetery companies whose life of profitability is drawing to a close—there are many in that position now—to get rid of their remaining assets in the form of dividends to renounce their obligations and simply ignore the future of their cemeteries.
I hope, therefore, that no hon. Member on either side will deny this very valuable Bill a Third Reading in order to champion what I feel is the undeserving cause of these commercially-owned cemeteries.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport
Before my hon. and gallant Friend sits down, may I ask one question—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I have called the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever).
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)
I am sure that we are all grateful for the contribution of the hon. and gallant Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux), which was full of knowledge and experience.
The Bill, as has been rightly said, is of the greatest consequence to the City of Manchester. I happen to be the Member of Parliament for the constituency in which this much contested Ardwick Cemetery is situated. I can assure you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and the House that all the people in my constituency and all the people in the city are wholeheartedly in support of the proposal which the Corporation has set forth in the Bill. To any unbiased person, this cemetery in its present condition constitutes a real eyesore in an already congested part of Manchester where, as has been said, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), thousands of people are in great need of rehousing and amenities which will give them a lung where nothing but smoke and stench obtain at present.
This is one of the results of the Industrial Revolution and of the way in which the city and its centre, not least in Ardwick, is constructed and in which the people have to suffer. Every day of the week, people come not only to the town hall, but to myself as their Member of Parliament, asking when they will have more open spaces, where the children can play and when they will be re-housed. I have patiently to assure them that I am gently pressing their case at the town hall. These applications have come in such torrential numbers that they make one truly frustrated because of one's inability adequately to deal with them at the necessary speed.
The Bill gives opportunities of developing land in the centre of the city. It is a very fair Bill. Hon. Members have spoken about the payment to the shareholders of the Ardwick Cemetery, 536 but nobody has mentioned certain of the Clauses of the Bill. By Clause 16, for example,The Corporation may enter into and carry into effect an agreement or arrangement with the owner or occupier of any land acquired under this Act with respect to his reinstatement elsewhere.That shows a concern for fairness and justice to those who may have to be moved as a result of the Clause.
Clause 17, which is another example of generosity on the part of the Corporation, provides thatThe Corporation may pay to any person displaced from any building acquired under this Act and carrying on a trade or business therein such reasonable allowance as they may think fit towards the loss which in their opinion he will sustain by reason of the disturbance of his trade or business in consequence of his having to quit the building.To my knowledge, throughout the years—and I have been a member of the Manchester Corporation for nearly 27 years—whenever these clearances have taken place the Manchester Corporation has been most generous to businessmen and householders who have been affected by any transfer from the area. No mention has been made of the fairness of the Bill in this respect.
Clause 31 deals with urgent repairs of private streets. Clause 33 deals with the question of artificial lighting in habitable rooms. Clause 34 deals with the repair of walls, etc., of yards. Under the existing law, a landlord can be compelled to do the repairs of the interior of a house, but there is no power to compel him to repair a backyard wall, thereby, perhaps, leaving a house completely exposed at the back with all the dangers that arise in such conditions in a closely congested area.
By Clause 35, we are to register persons engaged in the destruction of rats or mice. This has no reference whatever to any of the circumstances which have arisen in connection with the Bill, but is a measure to ensure that the destruction of rats and mice is in the hands of properly accredited persons.
Clause 36 deals with fire precautions. There are Clauses dealing with underground garages and providing opportunities for traffic to move more easily in Manchester in accordance with the requirements of not only one of the most important industrial cities in the country 537 but one of the most famous throughout the world for its pioneering zeal in local government activity and in commercial advancement. I say, therefore, that on all scores the Bill should be read a Third time.
I speak quite sincerely as one who is normally fair in his associations in politics, business and his profession, but I must say that some of those who have spoken today have done so in terms which are not fair to the Town Clerk of Manchester, Mr. Dingle, who bears a most honourable name in the city, in his profession and in local government service throughout the country. Last year I was Lord Mayor of Manchester. I am the only Lord Mayor in the history of the city who was at the same time a Member of Parliament. During my mayoralty I had personal experience of Mr. Dingle's tremendous kindness and of the painstaking efforts he makes for the benefit of our citizens. The Bill is one of the fruits of his anxiety to translate the Corporation's policy into effective practice for the benefit of the people.
The Psalmist says that those who sow in tears reap in joy. Manchester on this occasion reaps in tears, but I hope that the city and its citizens will reap in joy in days to come through the passing of the Bill and that other authorities, like that of Nottingham, which make a fine contribution to our national life, will have the fruits of the suffering which we have borne in the course of the passage of a Measure which means so much to the future of our great city.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Sir John Barlow (Middleton and Prestwich)
I shall not detain the House very long because I think that the debate has gone on for far too long already, but I wish to clear up one or two small matters. We all realise the great importance of the Bill and most of us agree with the greater part of it. Those of us who disagree with a small part of it recently created a good deal of hard feeling during the recent debate on Report.
It was not a party matter in any way, and I wish to make it quite clear that what we said at that time and what we say now is not in criticism of the clearing up of the cemetery, which very much needed doing a great many years ago. It was entirely a question of the Companies Act, the taking over of the shares 538 and the making of a suitable offer for them in the right way. I have seen the cemetery, and I entirely agree that it needs to be cleared up.
I confess that I did not entirely agree with the hon. Member for Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever) when he said that it was merely a technical error that such an offer for shares was not sent through a licensed dealer or stockbroker and that the Town Clerk's office boy could write and obtain such a licence for the cost of a postage stamp.
§ Sir J. Barlow
If the hon. Gentleman will refer to The Times of 3rd July he will find there what no doubt he knows from his professional knowledge. It stated:The most natural way would be to channel the offer through an exempted dealer (most naturally a member of the local recognised Stock Exchange) or a licensed dealer. Such dealers are subject to their own special disciplines, which are in themselves some guarantee that the offer would be drawn up and phrased in the ways that experience has shown to be fairest and most satisfactory. All local authorities should take due note of this.I hope the hon. Gentleman now agrees with me that it is not everyone who, by making an application, can become a licensed dealer.
§ Mr. H. Lever
Anybody who can prove that he is of good character and has not been to prison and sends a relatively small sum as a deposit to the Board of Trade can become a licensed dealer. I would like to assist the hon. Gentleman because it may help him to make a valid point instead of the invalid point he is making. There are other dealers who are exempted, dealers who are not licensed by the Board of Trade but by the fact that they are members of the Stock Exchange or are specially exempted by the Board of Trade in this matter. They have their special disciplines, and it was that class of person that The Times was recommending to be used for this kind of offer. That does not invalidate what I said, so that the only offence was that they were not licensed dealers.
§ Sir J. Barlow
I agree that there are certain classes of people who can become 539 licensed dealers, but it was suggested that the office boy of the Town Clerk could send an application and get such a licence.
§ Sir J. Barlow
Naturally, I pay great attention to what the right hon. Gentleman says. I, also, during the last month have made careful inquiries and the answers I received from the Board of Trade do not exactly bear out the assertion made originally by the hon. Member for Cheetham.
Passing from that point, in spite of what we think is this small but rather important defect in the Bill, we want to see it become law. I could not agree more with the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) who said that Manchester should help to provide playing fields for children. I have never dissented from that belief, but I am sorry that at no time has any representative of the Manchester Corporation, as far as I know, suggested that there was anything wrong in the dealings. If such an indication, not necessarily a full apology, had come forward earlier, some of my hon. Friends 540 on this side of the House would have done much more than they have done to help the Bill go through quickly. In spite of that, we recognise the urgency and we hope that some of the perhaps relatively small points about values and so on, which we have criticised may be remedied. We recognise the urgency for getting the Bill on to the Statute Book as quickly as possible. I hope, therefore, that we shall finish this debate soon, as I can assure the House that my hon. Friends and I will not oppose its Third Reading tonight.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I have no desire to prolong the debate, but in the debates which have taken place last week and this, much has been made of too little. Nevertheless, I support what my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said when he stressed the importance of the House examining Private Bills containing vast powers for local authorities and other corporations. There is a tendency for great powers to be slipped into Private Bills without hon. Members knowing about them. The duty of examining Bills first rests with us, and I hope that we shall honour it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.