HL Deb 31 March 1909 vol 1 cc543-9

My Lords, I rise to move that it be an Instruction to the Committee to which this Bill is referred to leave out Clauses 5 and 8 to 12. The question to which I desire to call your Lordships' attention may seem at first sight a small one, but it really raises a very large problem. Clause 5 of this Bill provides that— "The Town Council may and they are hereby authorised to carry on and continue the cartage undertaking presently carried on by them for the conveyance and delivery of goods wares merchandise parcels and personal luggage of every kind whatsoever within and beyond the burgh." This, therefore, gives them the power of carrying on an immense cartage business, not only in the burgh of Dunoon, but, as far as I can see, anywhere in Scotland, or, indeed, throughout the world. Clause 8 provides that— "Subject to the provisions of this Act the Town Council may build purchase hire provide charter employ and maintain steam and other vessels of every or any description and may navigate work and use the same and may therein and thereby convey and carry passengers animals goods merchandise and things of every description between the Burgh and Port of Dunoon and all ports and places on the River and Firth of Clyde and all waters and lochs within a line drawn from the Mull of Kintyre to the Heads of Ayr and may do all acts and things and may employ and hire all such officers and other persons as may be necessary to enable them to carry fully into effect the purposes aforesaid." The other clauses referred to in my Motion are subsidiary to these two. This really raises the whole question of municipal trading, and is one more step in the direction of Socialism. Although it may be in itself a small one, yet if it is agreed to by your Lordships' House, it is difficult to see how the same powers can be denied to other municipalities. At the annual conference of the Social Democratic Federation, held at Burnley, a resolution was passed supporting all forms of municipal enterprise on the ground that it tended to substitute socialisation for private enterprise. This is another step in that direction.

I submit that municipal trading is undesirable on several grounds. First, the legitimate functions of municipalities are quite sufficient to occupy all their time and attention without going into matters of business; secondly, what has already been done has occasioned an enormous addition to our municipal debt; thirdly, this trading involves municipalities in labour disputes; fourthly, as there will not be in these operations the same stimulus to economy as in private enterprise there will be a great probability, if not a certainty, that one of two things will happen—either there will be a loss which the ratepayers will have to make good, or the service will cost more to the ratepayers; and, lastly, municipal trading is a serious check to progress. I do not think I need occupy your Lordships' time in enlarging upon the great and complicated duties which municipalities have already to perform, nor need I trouble you with any statistics as to the enormous increase in the municipal debt. As regards the question of labour disputes, the report of the conference of municipal employés associations for 1906 contains a very interesting speech by Mr. Keir Hardie, in which he said— "As a Socialist he was naturally strongly in favour of organisation amongst municipal employés, and he was pleased to see the marvellous progress that had been made. In this country there were already over two million municipal employés, and as the total wage-earners numbered fourteen millions, this was very interesting. He also found that in 1903, when there was a reduction in wages all round, the wages of municipal employés had alone increased; indeed, they had doubled." As regards loss in municipal trading, a great number of illustrations could be given. In fact, I believe these bodies never make a profit, except where they have a monopoly. I do not know what line His Majesty's Government may be disposed to take on this question. The late Lord Farrer—and no one had greater experience in all these questions—began life strongly in favour of municipal enterprise as against private enterprise, but in later years his experience led him to the opposite conclusion, and in his work on the State and its relation to trade he speaks of the great danger involved in municipal trading. This is another step in that fatal direction. Mr. Meyer, Professor of Political Economy, of Chicago, in his work on municipal ownership, has given interesting statistics showing the effect upon the employment of labour of what has been done in regard to the telephone service, electric lighting, and tramways in the United States as compared with England. He shows that, in consequence of the freedom which was left in the United States, there were 115,000 more persons employed in those three industries there than here.

I submit that municipal trading is very much in opposition to the interests of working-men, and that the tendency of legislation such as that comprised in Clauses 5 and 8 of this Bill is in the direction of increasing unemployment. Why should the Town Council of Dunoon ask for power to engage in shipbuilding? The Clyde is celebrated for its shipbuilders, and surely they can supply any number of ships which Dunoon may require. As regards the running of ships, there, again, the Clyde steamship companies, which send ships all over the world, are surely able to supply the wants of Dunoon. I, therefore, fail to see the need for these additional powers. If we constantly give powers of this kind we shall find it difficult to draw the line. The question arises whether we should pass this Instruction or leave the matter to the Committee. When it is a question between two companies, or between a company and individuals, or a question of fairness to individual rights, then no doubt the matter is best dealt with by a Committee. But this is not a question of detail. The great principle is here raised whether powers of this kind ought to be given to municipalities. I submit that this is a question which really ought to be decided by the House, and it is from that point of view that I venture to move the Instruction which stands in my name.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Committee to which the Bill is referred to leave out Clauses 5 and 8 to 12.—(Lord Avebury.)


My Lords, it is impossible, so far as abstract doctrine goes, not to agree with a great deal that the noble Lord has said. I certainly agree that such a departure as this is a matter for the decision of the House itself rather than a Committee, but to enable the House to come to a final decision on the merits, and to feel that it is coming safely to such a decision, it ought to have the full facts before it. My belief is that it would be wiser to allow this Bill to go to Committee to see what evidence is presented upon the matters involved, and not to attempt to come to a decision, as this House would naturally have to come to a decision if it decided to-day to strike out the clauses, in practical ignorance of the merits of the case.

I certainly am not going into a defence of the clauses as they stand. To do that would be to take the House into a discussion on the merits, which is exactly what I want to avoid. But there are special circumstances affecting the burgh of Dunoon, and I think it would be wiser for the House to let this Bill go upstairs, and then, upon Third Reading or a stage subsequent to the Committee, see whether any sort of case has been made out for what I frankly admit is a very large departure in private Bill legislation in the way of giving powers to a municipality. The first point I make, then, is that if we reject this Instruction the House is not parting with control; it is only suspending its judgment until we see the whole facts as they may be proved before the Committee. Dunoon is a small town upon the banks of the Clyde. In the winter it has a population of some 7,000 or 8,000, which in the summer time rises to 25,000 or 30,000, owing to the extent to which Dunoon is used by summer visitors from Glasgow and the larger places on both sides of the Clyde. For this business to be carried on, it is absolutely necessary that there should be convenient modes of communication with Dunoon. There is no possibilty of getting to Dunoon by road, there is no railway communication to it at all, and the only means of communication is by steamboat.

The steamboat service on the Clyde is largely in the hands of two or more railway companies. They have lately, as I venture to think very wisely, combined their services for the purposes of economy. It is alleged by Dunoon that the service either has been or is likely to be unduly restricted. Dunoon burgh have the ownership of a ferry. It is questioned how far they should be allowed to exercise their rights over that ferry, and they are undoubtedly asking for power to compete with the railway companies. I should be the last person to defend that power except upon the very strongest ground, as I think it quite possible that the burgh of Dunoon, like other people, sometimes ask for more than they ought to have or more even, perhaps, than they themselves expect to get. It may be that the railway companies are reasonable or unreasonable. As to that I express no opinion; but, owing to the peculiar circumstances of the situation, the physical characteristics of the place, and the absolute necessity for the livelihood of the inhabitants that communication should be as free, as easy, and as rapid as possible, I think it would be reasonable that the people of Dunoon should have a chance of proving their allegation by means of cross-examination and witnesses before an impartial tribunal like a Committee of your Lordships' House. I do not think it would take a long time, and I believe it would be more satisfactory to all parties that the matter should be thrashed out on its merits upstairs. Your Lordships would then be able to decide with full knowledge on the subject.


My Lords, the difficulty that I always feel myself in with regard to Motions of the kind now before the House is that it sometimes is difficult to find a way by which a member of your Lordships' House, interested in a private Bill but not about to sit upon it as one of those selected for the Committee, is able to give expression to his views and invite the sense of the House. If he does so before the Second Reading he is told that it is much better to let the Bill go to a Committee and be thrashed out there. If he takes action after the Bill has been considered by a Committee he is invariably told that the Committee has thoroughly looked into it, and that if your Lordships once decide to go behind the decision of the Committee you are creating a dangerous precedent.

But I would point out to my noble friend that, in this case, if he allows the Bill to go to a Committee without this Instruction, his opportunities for further considering the matter will be by no means at an end. I suggest whether it would not be well for him to allow the Bill as it stands to go before the Select Committee, because in this House, at any rate, there is always an opportunity of moving the omission of Clauses on Third Reading, and my noble friend and such of your Lordships as are interested in the matter would then have had the additional advantage of studying the evidence, which, of course, will be printed, given before the Committee. With regard to Clause 5, which affects the question of cartage, that has to a limited extent, at any rate, already been sanctioned by Parliament. The burgh of Dunoon were allowed to purchase the pier undertaking, and with the pier undertaking the cartage establishment used in connection therewith.

Then there is the larger question, namely, the powers which the burgh seek to obtain to run steamboats across the Clyde. Most of your Lordships have fresh in your minds the results of attempting to run steamboats on the River Thames, and I do not think that the success which attended that experiment is such as to lead your Lordships very readily to entrust other local authorities with similar powers; but, in the case of Dunoon, the business of communication by steamer across the Clyde is now, as my noble friend Lord Balfour has said, in the hands of certain railway companies, and it is the fear that these steamboat services may be curtailed, or possibly, during the winter months, taken off altogether, which has led the burgh of Dunoon to some to Parliament with these proposals.

If I may venture to throw out a suggestion to the Town Council of Dunoon as well as to the railway companies concerned, it seems to me that it would be very much better if an arrangement could be come to between them by which a service of steamboats should be guaranteed by the railway companies—a minimum amount of accommodation such as the Town Council of Dunoon would be content with—and that thereupon the burgh should leave these matters to the railway companies and not endeavour to obtain powers for themselves. I throw that out as a suggestion, and if, when the Bill comes back to your Lordships from the Select Committee, it is found that nothing of the kind has been possible, it will then be perfectly competent for the noble Lord to make a Motion similar in effect to that which he has on the Paper, and he would have the additional advantage of the full facts being before him and the House.


As I gather that we shall not be in any way committed to these Clauses if we allow them to go to the Committee for consideration, I will not put your Lordships to the trouble of dividing, but will accept the suggestion which has been made. I therefore ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill committed:

The Committee to be proposed by the Committee of Selection.