HL Deb 01 July 1898 vol 60 cc771-4

On the Order for the Second Reading of the Borough Funds Bill,


I shall not detain your Lordships at any length in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. The provisions of the Bill do not deal with any matters of principle, but only with matters of detail, which have been found to be inconvenient, insufficient, and also unnecessary. The Bill chiefly proposes to amend both the Borough Funds Act, 1872, and the Borough Funds (Ireland) Act, 1888, with regard to public meetings. We find that those electors who chiefly come to public meetings are not those whose opinions weigh most. A matter in which we propose to make an Amendment is to take away from a single voter the power of putting the town to the enormous expense of having a poll. There was a case at Newcastle-on-Tyne, which was put to the expense of having a poll of 600, because one or two individuals were "cranky." We propose in the Bill to limit the right to one-twentieth of the electors. I confess that the exact number would be better dealt with in Committee, but the reason why one-twentieth is put down is because we follow the precedent of the Municipal Corporation Act. A second large and important detail is with regard to the division of the Bills into parts. At the present moment, if a Bill deals with two separate subjects, such as washhouses and parks, and a large number of the electors object to one, although they do not object to the other, it is necessary that they should reject both. However much a large majority may wish for washhouses, those washhouses have to go by the board, because a majority of the electors object to public parks. We wish to give facilities for the division of the poll into parts, in order that each may be rejected in accordance with the opinion of the electors. Another thing is with regard to the vote by ballot. At present the system is entirely different from that in vogue under any other regulations of local government. Initials have to be placed upon the papers, the papers are distributed all round the houses, and they are cleared afterwards. When there is an election for a School Board and for municipal purposes afterwards, it is invariably found that a large number of papers are invalidated because they were marked on papers for municipal elections with their initials instead of their crosses. The last matter to which I wish to call your Lordships' attention has regard to the payment of expenses. It is now found that considerable expense must be gone to in the matter of preparing a Bill. With complete confidence I ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill.


I should like to call the attention of the House to one point—namely, the point to which my noble Friend has called attention in the third clause. I somewhat doubt whether the number of one-twentieth is not too large. I admit with my noble Friend opposite, that the Borough Funds Act is not a satisfactory Measure, but if the House reads the Bill a second time it might be amended in Committee in a way which would give a much better form of procedure than under the present law. I think the third clause requires considerable amendment. At present a single elector can demand a poll. That is much too little. But one-twentieth is much too large a proportion. That is one point. Another point is in clause 6, to which I would ask my noble Friend to give me his attention. At present objections can only be taken to the Bill en bloc. The point really is put to the electors in this way: "Will you assent to the expenses of the Bill being placed upon the rates?" They cannot object to any part of the Bill, or any clause of the Bill. They must object to the whole Bill or not object at all. I quite agree that it is very desirable that they should have power to object to part of the Bill, but if you give power to a given proportion of the electors to object to any clause or clauses of the Bill it seems to me some confusion might arise, and it would render the issue somewhat difficult for many electors to understand. I would ask my noble Friend if he can consider any means to meet that point, because I think it is one of considerable difficulty and may involve some danger. I have no desire whatever to stand in the way of the Second Reading of the Bill. On the contrary, I think, from the Amendments which may be introduced, more efficient and more easily worked machinery may be obtained for taking the opinion of the ratepayers on a Bill brought before Parliament.


I hope your Lordships will take care when the Bill goes into Committee that the securities which large ratepayers have now against the action of municipalities in advancing unnecessary Measures are not taken away. Your Lordships must be well aware that the whole tendency of municipalities now is to go in for municipal trading, in gas and water and in everything. There cannot be a greater misfortune than such municipal trading. Instead of cheapening the cost of these articles it raises them. In America they have done so badly that they are going to leave everything free to private enterprise. I think security ought to be given to the ratepayers against this speculative action on the part of trading municipalities; and I hope that that security will not be taken away by your Lordships in the present Session.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.

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