LORD TWEEDMOUTH moved:—
That Standing Order 133A relating to Tramway Bills be suspended for the remainder of the Session.
His Lordship explained that the Standing Order was one which prohibited or impeded the consideration of clauses in
that House empowering Corporations to work their own tramways. A corresponding Standing Order in the other House was suspended a week ago on the Motion of the Chairman of Committees, Mr. Lowther. The reasons for the suspension of the Standing Order were briefly these. In spite of the Standing Order, various Corporations already had the power to work their tramways, and the experience of those Corporations being not unfavourable to the extension of such powers, there were now before Parliament various Bills asking such powers by various Corporations. These clauses would have to be struck out if the Standing Order were not suspended. But there was a further reason, which was, that by the Light Railways Bill promoted by the Government, not only was power given to Corporations to work tramways, but also to County Councils and District Councils. It would be difficult to define the line exactly which divides light railways from tramways, and therefore it was desirable that the Committees of the House should be enabled to deal with the clauses of each Bill on its merits.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (The Earl of MORLEY)
did not offer any opposition to the Motion, although he thought the suspension of the Standing Order must lead to its repeal altogether eventually. As his noble Friend had said, there were several Bills asking for powers to work tramways, powers wider than were given by the Standing Order, one of those Bills being an important one of the London County Council, which was passed by the House of Commons last Session. As Chairman of Committees he had told the promoters that, until the Standing Orders in this House were modified, it would be impossible for any Committee to consider the clauses for working tramways. The policy of Parliament up to the present time had been that local authorities, as having charge of the repair and maintenance of roads, were a proper authority to which to entrust the construction of tramways; but, except under very special circumstances, Parliament had declined to give powers to work tramways, and therefore their lines had always been leased to companies. However, as had been stated, the House of Commons had 979 adopted a Motion similar to the present, and in addition to that, the policy laid down in the Light Railways Bill so clearly pointed to facilities being given to local authorities for working as well as constructing tramways, that he felt he should not be justified in offering any opposition to the Motion. At the same time he thought Parliament should be a little careful in extending very largely the commercial activities of Corporations. It seemed to him that the control of the ratepayers was not a control on which they could depend very much. [The PRIME MINISTER: "Hear, hear!"] In addition to that, members of Corporations and of local authorities were not elected for the purpose of carrying out undertakings such as tramways, and were not subject to the same checks and motives as private companies were. He was afraid, moreover, that, if these enterprises were encouraged, though they might have successes, as they had had successes, they might also have failures, and a failure of a public undertaking in the hands of a Corporation was a very different thing from the failure of a company. In the case of failure by a local authority or Corporation, the injury inflicted was one that was inflicted upon the whole of the ratepayers in the community, and was nothing short of a public misfortune. Gas and water undertakings were on a different footing, as they involved the supply of necessaries of life. The experiences of Corporations undertaking dock enterprises, as at Manchester and Preston, was not encouraging. Now they were about to give unlimited powers of working tramways. Where were they going to put a limit? Were they going to allow Corporations to work omnibuses or auto-cars and cabs?—for he really did not see, if they were given this absolute power to work tramways, why they should not have a monopoly of locomotion altogether. It was also worthy of consideration whether there was not some political danger in encouraging Corporations to undertake enterprises which would involve so large a number of the voters in those municipalities being directly employed by the Corporations. That was a question that might give rise to anxiety in the future. In the meantime, as a practical point, he wished to point out that many of those tramways led 980 out of large towns into country districts. Who was to work the ends of the tramways that extended from the large municipalities? Were they going to give municipalities power to work tramways outside their own districts? It had been done, he knew, in the case of Glasgow for a small distance between Glasgow and Govan, but if this power were to be generally conceded it would be necessary to put some limitation upon it. At any rate, he would suggest that local authorities should come under the same provisions as they did with regard to gas and water supply, that they should be obliged to sell to the neighbouring local authorities at arbitration price any plant placed within the district of those authorities.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF TRADE (The Earl of DUDLEY)
said, that, after what the noble Lord had said, there remained little for him to add, and he simply rose to say that he did not propose to offer any opposition to the Motion. In the circumstances which had been placed before their Lordships, it was difficult for this House any longer to resist the demand, which was undoubtedly increasing on the part of municipal authorities, to work their own tramways. He did not think Parliament had always taken up a consistent attitude in regard to the question. Other Corporations had, by special Acts of Parliament, been granted power to work their tramways, and he believed, in the majority of cases, these powers had not led to any evil results.
§ Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.