§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion that stands in my name with respect to the Stoke-on-Trent Extension Bill, that the Order made on the 25th day of March last, "That, no Private Bill brought from the House of Commons shall be read a second time after Tuesday the 24th of June next," be dispensed with. In view of the Motion for the rejection of the Bill at this stage, which I understand Lord Dartmouth intends to move, I feel it necessary to call your Lordships' attention to the enormous volume of literature which has been circulated amongst your Lordships showing how complex this matter is. The unanimous decision of a Committee of the House of Commons entitles the Bill to a Second Reading and consideration by a Lords Committee. If this Bill should be rejected on the motion of the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, it will be the first time, as far as I can find out, that a Bill has ever been rejected after it has been unanimously accepted by a Committee in the House of Commons.
This is not a case where anybody can state the principles in a few sentences. The principles and the facts are so closely allied that the facts must be ascertained before the principles can be recognised and then decided. Any of 368 your Lordships who vote against the Second Reading of this Bill will be giving a vote without a full knowledge of the facts of the case. We are asked to make ourselves a jury to decide this case upon ex-parte statements and not upon evidence—a thing which no member of your Lordships' House would dream of doing in a Court of Law. A great deal has been made of the poll, but a tribunal should be told of the methods employed to get that poll. This can only be done before a Committee. The point which the opponents make with regard to the saving of costs is a false one. Both sides have prepared their proofs and the witnesses' proofs. The actual expenses of the hearing will only be a comparatively small additional amount. Moreover, if the matter is shelved now, it is bound to be revived until the case has been decided on its merits, thus wasting the money which has already been spent. If noble Lords who oppose the Bill are so positive that it is a bad Bill, then they need not be apprehensive as to what its fate may be before a Lords Committee. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Order made on the 25th day of March last, "That no Private Bill brought from the House of Commons shall be read a second time after Tuesday the 24th June next," be dispensed with.—(Lord Auckland.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I desire to say a few words on this Motion. There is no one in this House who is less willing to offer a slavish obedience to a rule. Rules are for the convenience of the House and if occasion requires they must be set aside. But surely before they are set aside some good ground should be offered to the House why a recognised practice approved by the House should be disregarded. I listened—I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for saying with some difficulty—I listened carefully to what the noble Lord who moved this Motion said, and I have not heard a single word of reason as to why this House should go back on its rules and suspend them. Of course, it is perfectly true that the Bill that lies behind this rule is a very highly controversial one upon which there will be, no doubt, very acute debate, but before we get there we have to see why it is that this Bill should come into this House at all. We have decided that no Bill should come 369 in after June 24 except for special reasons, and I do say that on every occasion when the rule is to be set aside a special reason should be assigned. Up to this moment I have heard none. I sincerely hope that those who are in favour of this Motion will show why it is that we should disregard rules which we have devised for our own proceedings.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE)
My Lords, I am very glad indeed that the noble and learned Lord has drawn attention to this point, because it is a very important point not only in the case of this Bill but in assisting your Lordships in the discharge of your public duties. Perhaps I am to blame for not mentioning to your Lordships on some earlier occasion the reason why we find ourselves in this position as regards this particular Bill. The rule, of course, is made in order to try to secure that contentious matters shall be got through your Lordships' House and your Lordships' Committee at a reasonable time of the year. I am, as representing your Lordships in this matter, the first person who is applied to when any question arises of suspending this Sessional Order, and I need not say that my first question to the promoters always is: "Will your Bill be opposed in the House of Lords?"—including, of course, the House of Lords Committee. My next questions always are "Why is the Bill late? Are the promoters to blame?" It is obvious to your Lordships that this Bill will be opposed both in the House and in Committee, if it reaches Committee, but I am satisfied in this case that the promoters are not responsible for the delay that has occurred. Therefore, I think it would be a pity if your Lordships penalised them in this case for what is not their fault.
Now that I am on the subject of this Bill, perhaps I ought to explain that the promoters have communicated with the House of Commons authorities, with those who advise the House of Commons in these matters. It seems impossible that there should be a long enough interval between now and the day in July or August when your Lordships adjourn to deal with the Bill, and I understand that, if a Message is sent by your Lordships suggesting that the Committee stage of this Bill should be held over until the autumn, the House of Commons 370 will be advised to agree to that suggestion.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and the Order suspended accordingly.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Auckland.)
§ THE EARL OF DARTMOUTH, who had given Notice to move, That the Bill be read a second time this day three months, said: My Lords, it has been hinted to the House that I am taking an unusual course in moving this Amendment. I have been in your Lordships' House for forty years, and I have been in Parliament for fifty-two consecutive years, so I am perfectly aware that I am taking an unusual course; but I hope that I shall be able to prove that all the circumstances of the case are so unusual as to justify me in the request that I am making. We are told that this Bill had nineteen days in the House of Commons Committee. That is quite true, but it will be perfectly easy to prove to your Lordships that the decision was entirely contrary to the weight of evidence. If I had time I should like to prove this to you. At any rate we are satisfied that, when that decision was given, everybody was surprised, especially the promoters. Nobody was more surprised than the promoters themselves.
§ I do not propose to go into detail, but to confine myself entirely to principles. Noble Lords who have had experience of county council work know well that for a considerable tune county councils were put in a very awkward position by hungry county boroughs. At one time we were almost in the same position as the Israelites under Pharaoh, who, when their tale of bricks was maintained, were deprived of straw to make the bricks with. That is exactly the position we find ourselves in on the county councils, with the result that there have been several endeavours to put this question of the taking of parts of the country by county boroughs on to a regular and understood footing.
§ As I have said, the circumstances of this case are very unusual. The promoters, who had a large slice of the county—some 900 acres—in 1922, have not yet digested that. Why should they come 371 down now and ask for so much more, when they have not dealt with the part that they have already received? That is an unusual thing to do. There is another rather unusual matter. I have had some personal experience of sitting on Committees in this House and the other House. I find, on reading the literature that has been referred to, that the Chairman of this Committee laid great stress on the fact that the Committee were unanimous. He repeats it over and over again. He repeats it so often that we begin to have a slight suspicion whether the Committee really were as unanimous as is made out. At any rate, this has nothing to do with it. I am going to base my arguments, not on the unanimity or lack of unanimity of the Committee, but on the justice of the case.
§ What is it that this Bill proposes to do? It proposes to swallow one of our urban district councils, Wolstanton, and it also proposes to swallow Newcastle-under-Lyme, one of the most ancient boroughs in the country. Wolstanton gives us, just the evidence of what we had all hoped to see as the result of the Local Government Act, 1888. It provides an excellent illustration of the manner in which the work of urban district councils ought to be carried on. Newcastle-under-Lyme has one of the finest histories in the country. It had its first Charter in the reign of Henry II, so long ago as 1117. It had another Charter in the reign of Edward I, another in the reign of Elizabeth, another in the reign of Charles II, and another in the reign of James II. These are to be scrapped and swallowed up by a new borough. Newcastle has sent members to Parliament, I understand, since 1336. Perhaps the one fly in the ointment of Newcastle, from the Party point of view, is the political complexion of the members it has sent. This Bill has done something which nothing else in the whole world could have done: it has welded together in one harmonious whole all Wolstanton and all Newcastle. All classes and all Parties—Labour, Liberal, Unionist and Tory—are all joined together with the firm determination to stand shoulder to shoulder and prevent, if they possibly can, this glaring injustice.
§ One of the principles that has been laid down over and over again is that the wishes of the population should 372 count. I think the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of the Bill rather questioned the manner in which the votes wore obtained. We hear a good deal to-day about the referendum. Here was a referendum, a postcard referendum, sent out to the ratepayers, and the interest taken in the measure was so great that nearly 90 per cent. of replies were received, and of those 90 per cent. 97 per cent. were opposed to the Bill. Yet in spite of what has been said over and over again, we are asked now, against the almost unanimous wish of the population, to swallow them up. I maintain that the wish of the population is a thing that ought to count, and that where you have a strong feeling against being swallowed up by another body the opinion of the people ought to carry the greatest weight.
§ Where has Newcastle failed? Why should it lose its great history? Why should it lose all that it has had for so long? because let us remember that, with an experience of independent life of over 700 years, to-day it sets an example of local government at its best. Where did it fail? Has it failed in education? No! Newcastle has been the recognised education centre in North Staffordshire for two centuries. It has, I believe, an educational system that will compare not only with anything in the county but with almost anything in the country. If you want any evidence as to the failure or not of Newcastle, you have only to refer to the Preamble of the Bill, and in that you will find our justification, for while they are proposing to hand over to Stoke the educational system in Newcastle, they at the same time reserve it to the county by giving them 60 per cent. of the managing body.
§ Has Newcastle failed in building? Again we can refer to the evidence of the Preamble, because there it is admitted that the housing scheme of New-caste is very much preferable to and much finer than that of Stoke; and they trust that now they are throwing Newcastle into Stoke, Stoke will not materially deteriorate the methods of Newcastle in the building line. I do not think there can be better evidence than that when it comes to the question of swallowing up the ancient Borough of Newcastle. After all that it has done for education in the county and for local government, to swallow it up in another 373 body in which it has no interest, and with which it has no connection of any kind, cannot be justified.
Then we are inclined to ask, why is it that they have passed this Bill? Here, again, the Chairman of the Committee takes another rather unusual course, and he gives his reasons. I would like to read to your Lordships what his reasons are. He said:—
In view of the magnitude and importance of this Bill, the Committee desire to add that in their view factors of exceptional character are present in this case, such as the incidence of the cost of Poor Law administration under the Local Government Act, 1929, in consequence of which they have been obliged to picture the probable state of affairs in this combined area ten or fifteen years hence …
I am sure that the promoters of the Bill never had any idea of ten or fifteen years hence, and that seems to me to have been an endeavour to give justification for an entirely unjustified act. Of course we who are not very regular attendants in this House find a little difficulty in understanding these measures which are from time to time introduced, but I always thought that one of the objects of the Local Government Act, 1929, was to "break up the Poor Law," and to secure so far as possible that assistance where required should be given not as Poor Law relief but as public assistance. The Unemployment Insurance Act of 1930 will tend to increase the number of persons who will be entitled to receive unemployment relief and thus automatically reduce the scope of Poor Law relief. Having regard to these considerations it is clear that when the county have had time to organise their area, which they hope to do in the course of three or four years, Poor Law relief should, to a very great extent, disappear, or be limited largely to looking after aged and infirm persons.
§ I do not know whether I am right in that view, but if I am then there is no possible reason whatever for anticipating ten or fifteen years hence, unless it is that the Chairman of the Committee was under the impression that there would be still a Labour Government ten or fifteen years hence, and was therefore prepared for the worst. That is the sole and only reason given for this great injustice—the ignoring of the municipal charter, the ignoring of the wishes of the people, and the swallowing up of these two great well run areas, and putting them in one 374 where the management is certainly not to be compared with the management of the areas to be swallowed up. There is a great deal more that I should like to say, but one gets a little confused with the large amount of literature which has to be considered, and I will therefore content myself with moving that the Bill be read a second time this day three months. I would ask, in the interests of economy, which we are always preaching and never practising, that this Bill should be thrown out. I ask you to do so in the interests, of county government, because if this Bill is made a precedent there will be no hope for county councils in the future. I ask you to reject this Bill in the interests of local government, in the interests of Staffordshire, in the interests of Newcastle, and in the interests of Wolstanton. I might even go as far as to ask you to throw out the Bill in the interests of Stoke-on-Trent, because I am sure that if Stoke-on-Trent succeeds in swallowing Newcastle it will find, to use an Americanism, that it has bitten off a good deal more than it can chew. I beg to move.
Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day three months").—(The Earl of Dartmouth.)
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, I think perhaps I might assist your Lordships by recalling very briefly the recommendations which were contained in the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in regard to the extension of county boroughs. This question of the extension of county boroughs was a very controversial one some years ago, and the Royal Commission, which was appointed to go into it, made certain recommendations. Those recommendations were, I think, generally acceptable to local authorities, because all classes of local authorities were represented on the Commission, and the parts of the recommendations which necessitated legislation were embodied in a Bill which passed through Parliament practically without opposition, showing, I think, that about these particular recommendations there was no great controversy. I thought, therefore, that it might perhaps be useful briefly to summarise them.
In the first place, it was felt in the Report of the Commission that the test 375 should be left to the discretion of Parliament. It was not thought possible to recommend any more precise definition of the test than that which is contained in Section 54 of the Act of 1888, and that is whether the extension was or was not desirable. Therefore the criterion whether a proposal for an extension is desirable or not desirable must mean whether it is in the interests of all the persons concerned. That is to say, as a general rule; but of course we have to consider cases like the present one, where the interests of the various local authorities in the proposal are divergent. When that is the case the question must be settled upon an equitable and judicial balance. The advantages for the extension must be weighed on the one hand against the advantages against it on the other, and the same with the disadvantages: the disadvantages of an extension against the disadvantages of no extension. And so, when all the facts relevant to the proposal have been taken into consideration, in the end it must be the cumulative effect of the advantages and disadvantages which will influence Parliament in giving its decision.
In the opinion of the Royal Commission there were certain considerations which come into nearly all these proposals, but, the circumstances of every extension being different, greater or less weight will attach to the different considerations in different cases. First of all in importance, in the opinion of the Royal Commission, generally if not invariably, one would expect to put the wishes of the inhabitants of the area proposed to be added. Now, the first necessity is to be sure that those wishes have been fairly and accurately ascertained. It was not thought by the Royal Commission that the expression of opinion of the inhabitants of the proposed added area, whichever way it might go, need necessarily be absolutely conclusive, whether it was for or against the proposal. But the Royal Commission thought that the wishes of the inhabitants of the area proposed to be added were so important, and the weight to be attached to them so great that they ought not to be overruled, unless it could be shown that there were considerations of public importance more 376 weighty than the decisive wishes of the inhabitants.
The next point, and one which is very nearly connected with that of the wishes of the inhabitants, is that of community of interest. The Royal Commission did not think it was possible to lay down any hard and fast rule in regard to community of interest, and the only satisfactory way of deciding on that point was to leave it to Parliament to decide on the merits. Then comes the question of sewerage and other sanitary services; and arguments relating to the provision of such services tending to show that extension is desirable have great weight if they prove that there would be a substantial improvement in sanitary administration suited to the requirements of the proposed added area. Especially would this be the case if it could be shown that it would not be reasonable to expect to attain such improvement by other means than by extension of the county borough area.
Then I come to public education, and the decision on that matter, according to the Royal Commission, would seem to be whether the county borough council could make better provision for the added area than is possible by other means, or has been available in the past. Arguments as to trading services have perhaps less weight than those I have already mentioned unless the promoters can show circumstances of a very special kind; and similarly arguments as to town planning would hardly affect the case. So, in deciding for or against an extension, the Royal Commission thought that Parliament would be guided largely by the wishes of the inhabitants, and by the question whether or not the essential services of the area would be materially improved by such extension; also by the fact that such improvements could not be attained by other means. I have ventured very briefly (for they were contained in a lengthy document) to summarise as best I could the recommendations of the Royal Commission, as I thought perhaps that might be a way of assisting your Lordships in arriving at a decision.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I have no local and no personal connection with any of the areas that are involved in this dispute. I know nothing about 377 the controversy beyond the material which has been given to me equally, I imagine, with every member of your Lordships' House; and I desire to make that statement in order that your Lordships may feel that, whatever my opinion may be, it is at least wholly uninfluenced by anything excepting what I regard as the indisputable facts of the matter. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, has rendered considerable service to your Lordships in pointing out what it was that the Royal Commission recommended as the matters that ought to be held chiefly in regard when you are determining that one area should be included in another. And the first and the most obvious of all is the wishes of the people—not merely of the people who are going to take and swallow, but of the people who are going to be consumed, the people of the areas which are going to be annexed. To disregard such wishes would be in my opinion to disregard one of the fundamental principles of liberty. Why should an independent body, with its own independent local life, with its own old and dear traditions, be forcibly absorbed against its will in another place, with which it has no personal and no historic connection whatever? it was for that reason, I imagine, that the Royal Commission in their wisdom emphasised as one of the things for consideration the question of the wishes of the people concerned.
Do let us for one moment recall the figures that the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, gave, because I think they are startling. They sent out notices to all the people on the register, and of the people on the register in Newcastle there were 86.98 per cent. who polled, nearly 87 per cent. of the total electorate, and in Wolstanton, the other place, 88.55 per cent. When you allow for sickness, for indifference, for all the causes that, render the number of those who poll at an election a long way below the number on the register, I think your Lordships will agree that those are most striking and startling figures. But the figures that ensued are more startling still. Of that percentage, 97.84 of Newcastle and 96.8 of Wolstanton voted against this provision. I say that it is impossible to imagine any condition in which you could get a more coherent, and a more emphatic and authoritative repudiation of the proposal than that 378 contained in these figures. Therefore, it is plain that if this Bill is to be accepted the wishes of the people in those districts are not only going to be set aside but wholly and, I should add, insolently ignored. They might just as well never have been enquired into. You might just as well never have asked them what they thought. Yon might just as well have said: "We do not care what you think now or hereafter; you are going to be absorbed." That is the first thing that struck me when I read these papers, and I am bound to say that it struck me very forcibly.
The next thing I looked for was the reason why these people were going to be absorbed. Of course, it is possible, in the first place, that two boroughs like these might be wholly misconducting their affairs. They might have run heavily into debt. They might not merely be old, as certainly Newcastle is; they might have decayed, and it might be desirable that there should be some new life brought into them. As soon as I examined the figures in regard to that I found that there is an extremely active, vigorous and healthy life in these places. I find that their education is of such a standard that it is admitted that, even after they are taken away from their own individual life, they are still entitled to retain an enormous percentage on the education committee. I find that not only have they to an extraordinary extent exercised their powers in regard to housing, but that by every means by which you can test local activity honestly pursued these places have justified their existence.
Then why is that existence to be destroyed? I look a little further and I think I begin so see. As far as I can understand the papers that I have—and I know nothing beyond what these papers tell me—the Newcastle debt is £6 2s. per head while the Stoke debt is £10 19s. per head. Is it not possible that that may he one of the reasons, and that there may be a desire to distribute an indebtedness in which Newcastle and Wolstanton have never had the faintest voice, which they have never been able to control and have never been responsible for incurring—that now it has been incurred there is a wish to spread it over a larger area that it may be less heavy on Stoke? That seems to me to be one of the reasons, and it looks to 379 me very much as if, for some astonishing cause, that was one of the reasons which actuated bile Committee in another place.
I trust your Lordships will not think that I have only looked at one side of this matter. I have read with infinite care the document that has been sent out by the promoters in support of their Bill, and I find that this is the reason why it is said that all the other considerations are to be ignored, every one of which tells in favour of these two boroughs. It is that, having regard to the incidence of the costs of Poor Law administration and the re-organisation of Poor Law administration, in consequence of which the Committee have been obliged to picture the probable state of affairs in this combined area ten or fifteen years hence under existing tendencies—existing tendencies which I sincerely hope will not continue—of local government conditions, they have no hesitation in coining to the conclusion that the wishes of these places should be overridden.
That is really where it lies. The truth of the matter is that Stoke-on-Trent has cast envious eyes upon these two independent, reasonably prosperous and well-conducted places. They want to bring them into their one vast area and say that it is necessary in the interests of a big central administration. I have always doubted the value of this central administration if it is going to destroy local spirit. I do not believe it is any good at all. What it can give in exchange for what it takes away is not worth possessing. I know, having read these papers, that if I were an inhabitant of Newcastle I should do everything in my power to prevent my being absorbed into a place to which I owed no duty, which I felt had no tradition and which would prevent my feeling that I was a number of a small corporation in which I had just pride.
The next thing is this. Your Lordships will notice that this proposal contemplates a state of affairs ten or fifteen years hence. If it is going to happen ten or fifteen years hence I would suggest that they had better come again in ten or fifteen years time. Your Lordships must remember that this is not the first time that they have come, as it is. They came in 1919, I believe, and then they 380 were defeated. They are coming again now, so that they snow the road, and if in ten or fifteen years time this thing is at all necessary they can travel it once more. At the moment I say that these facts are facts which do not justify the Bill.
I do not desire to keep your Lordships longer, but there are one or two other matters which I think need attention. The first, of course, and the obvious one is the suggestion: "You had better read the Bill a second time. Everything you say can be urged again before the Select Committee." If there were disputable facts that had again to be elicited, if there were matters upon which evidence could be called that is not contained in these documents I have referred to, I should admit at once the overwhelming weight of that suggestion. I trust I am not unreasonable in these matters. I think that we had just now a very good cause for refusing to suspend the Sessional Order. I am sure that the noble Earl the Lord Chairman will appreciate that I did not challenge a Division on the second occasion owing entirely to his intervention and suggestion that it might not be fair. I am not unreasonable in these matters, but I can see no earthly cause why the facts which are before your Lordships now should be disregarded by you and that you should say: "Let somebody else do it." Why shelve the responsibility? It seems to me that we are asked to consider it now and I beg your Lordships to consider it now. Unless there be some much stronger reasons offered than those that I have seen in any of these documents I shall certainly support the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, if he goes to a Division now, in asking your Lordships not to crush the life out of little places that have done no harm whatever except to have the misfortune to find themselves on the borders of a greedy corporation.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, I rise to support the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Auckland. I am strengthened in doing so by some remarks that fell from the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, who told us all about a long and righteous political life of over 59 years during which he had never sinned politically. To-day, for some unexplained reason, he wants to change all that and go against the established 381 practice of your Lordships' House. We then heard a remarkable speech—and when I say remarkable I mean able—as we should naturally expect, from Lord Buckmaster. But Lord Buckmaster appealed entirely, I think, to our hearts and sentiments and very little to our heads. I certainly was very much carried away by his speech, and I am not at all sure, if this matter comes up again later and if it goes to a Committee, that I shall not be swayed by a great many of his arguments.
What I want to say now is this. Why should we go against the established practice of Parliament, which is to let a Bill that has been an unopposed Bill in another place come up here and be given a Second Reading and be considered on its merits? I, like Lord Buckmaster, know nothing about the merits of the case, but I know something about my own responsibility with regard to it, and I am not prepared to stand here today and vote upon a measure which I have had no chance of studying and to which obviously there are two sides. The fact that there are two sides is all in favour of giving a Second Reading to the Bill. The opposition to this Bill wish to defeat the measure right away without any proper consideration by your Lordships. Quite apart from any personal interest which I might take in the matter, I feel that it would be a mistake that a proposition of this magnitude—because it is a big thing, aid a great deal of money has been spent upon it—should be turned down without any further consideration. It is not one of those matters which can be discussed in detail by your Lordships' House this afternoon, or with equity on an occasion of this kind. Considerable injustice may be done to the promoters, who at least are entitled to have the matter examined critically from every aspect by the impartial tribunal which your Lordships' House always sets up and whose findings are always respected, though they are not always liked.
To throw out this Bill to-day would mean that your Lordships have done so without having examined it, and in consequence we might have to shoulder the responsibility not only of doing injustice to the larger body, the promoters, but also of having been carried away by 382 sentiment for the grievances of the smaller bodies, either fancied or real. Personally, I strongly advocate that the promoters should be given a run for their money, and then to use a Scottisism, "Let the de'il take the hindmost." The responsibility would not then rest upon us. Lord Buckmaster wants us to take the responsibility to-day when we should not take it. I am perfectly prepared to take responsibility when I have heard both sides.
I would point out that we have in Stoke-on-Trent an existing City of over 21,000 acres with a population of 280,000 people, and a rateable value of £1,213,000 as against an area of 8,000 acres, with a population of 56,000, and a rateable value of £200,000. Now these areas are absolutely contiguous, and amalgamation is bound to result in economy of services and increased efficiency in, I think, every respect, and it will not affect, I believe, those who are carrying out the public work in those places now. Lord Buckmaster tore my heart very much when he spoke about the rights of minorities. I hope when the time comes in other respects, when we have other Bills before us, he will also remember the rights of certain minorities in this country and speak for them then. A still further point, and one which weighs very strongly with me, is the difficulty that the authority of Stoke-upon-Trent has in improving its own housing conditions for working classes on account of subsidies and so on unless they are able to obtain control of more land in the neighbourhood of Wolstanton. Another point is that of health. The whole of this area, including the City of Stoke-upon-Trent, is obviously one area for the purposes under review.
I can quite understand the County Council objecting to the inclusion of a valuable part of their area. I am a county councillor myself, and know that county councils are bound to oppose these Bills in order to retain their own locus. So far as Wolstanton and Newcastle-under-Lyme are concerned, they cannot very well object to the principle of amalgamation when we find that they themselves are petitioning the County Council to assist them in swallowing the parishes of Clayton and Keele and the County Council is quite prepared to support them in that. So far as the parishes of Clayton and Keele are concerned it makes 383 very little difference except that they will be swallowed up by a fish with a larger interior capacity, while Newcastle-under-Lyme and Wolstanton are in the disagreeable position of having to admit that what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. One quite understands the dislike of the smaller body to being incorporated with the bigger one, and if you take a referendum on the subject the people concerned naturally always do object, because it is the way of the world. But if they take the larger view they will realise, I hope, that they will be able to get greater services from those who will be responsible in the future if this amalgamation goes through.
The opposition relies for your Lordships' support upon the fact that 97 per cent. of the population in the area concerned voted for their independence, and for remaining with the county. I should like to see the terms of reference in the referendum. I want to remind noble Lords that they were asked if they wished to be amalgamated, not necessarily with any body, but if they wanted to be amalgamated or to retain their independence. It was not suggested to them that if they were not amalgamated with Stoke-on-Trent they would be amalgamated with each other. If that had been the case I am told they would probably have preferred to have been amalgamated with Stoke-on-Trent. There was exactly the same opposition to this Bill in another place. The Committee sat for nineteen days. It started with being hostile, but in the end unanimously came to the conclusion that the amalgamation should take place. That is what we are told the facts are.
In these circumstances, whether your Lordships eventually agree or disagree, I think it would be wrong not to have the matter thoroughly investigated by giving the Bill a Second Reading and referring it to a Select Committee, thus ensuring a fair decision by which we can all stand, for if the arguments of the opposition are sound nobody will recognise that quicker than a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. While the noble Earl who opposes the Second Reading is fully entitled to voice his reasons against the measure, I hope he will at least content himself with the public protest he has 384 made to-day, and will allow a Second Reading to be given to this Bill so that it can be thoroughly discussed on its merits at a later stage.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, I find myself in agreement with a great deal of what has been said by my noble friend, the noble Duke opposite, more especially as regards procedure. My noble friend Lord Dartmouth, in moving the rejection of the Bill, said the case was unusual. I agree it is unusual, and it is difficult, I think, for that reason. I do not remember a case in which there has seemed to me to have been such a strong case on both sides as there is in the case of the Bill before us this afternoon, and the fact that there is so much to be said on both sides makes it the more difficult for me to ask myself whether I can decide it this afternoon.
These cases of extension have been greatly assisted, I think, by the Report of the Commission of my noble friend Lord Onslow, and in trying to think of any extension cases on their merits in the atmosphere created by that Commission I ask myself, as a rule, two or three simple questions. First of all: Does the area desire it? I think all the proof, the suggestion of proof, is to the contrary in this case. I then ask myself: Is the smaller area badly governed and is it necessary for the public advantage, therefore, to amalgamate it with a more efficient neighbour? I think that there can be no doubt whatever that Newcastle is efficiently governed, and one of the first things I learned in local government, if I may say so in the presence of the noble Lord, is that Staffordshire is efficiently governed. Then there is a third question: Is there any public case making expansion of the larger area desirable? Or, in the exact words of the Royal Commission, "Are there considerations of public advantage which, in the opinion of the proper authorities, are more weighty and of greater importance than the objections of the inhabitants?" That question has been considered in another place by a Committee which sat for nineteen days and the answer is in the affirmative.
I find it very difficult to disagree with that answer on the facts which are before 385 us this afternoon, able as are these memoranda on both sides which have been circulated. I therefore feel that I should like further guidance and further inquiry by a Committee of your Lordships' House. I hope it is not too late to appeal to my noble friend not to divide. But if he does divide I shall vote for the Second Reading, having clearly in my mind that when I vote for the Second Reading I am not expressing any opinion that the case for the promoters is better than the case for the opposition, or vice versa. shall vote with the feeling that I want more guidance on this matter, and believe that a Committee of your Lordships' House is the most efficient tribunal to discuss anything in the world, but above all a case like this involving the weighing of evidence between two parties, both of whom are in a very powerful position and thoroughly able to put their case efficiently before your Lordships.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, I had the honour to serve on the Royal Commission to which the noble. Earl, Lord Onslow, referred and of which he was Chairman. To my mind the argument is even stronger than the statement made by my noble friend. To my mind it is perfectly clear that no great area should be taken out of a county against the wishes of the inhabitants unless there are very exceptional circumstances indeed. I have not heard from the noble Duke or from anyone else what are the exceptional circumstances in this case. I cannot blame the noble Duke, because he told us that he had not examined the Bill and knew nothing about it. Naturally he would not be interested in an English Bill. He is not a member of any English county council, as far as know, and he does not know how strong are the feelings in this country of members of county councils.
I would venture to tell him that I have come here on behalf of the County Councils Association, the Parliamentary Committee of which has asked me as Chairman to tell your Lordships that they are unanimously opposed to this raid of Stoke on the County of Stafford in the interests of the people of Stoke as against the interests of the people of Staffordshire. The Royal Commission recommended that unless there was any real reason for overriding the 386 wishes of those living in a county, they ought not to be put into a borough. We have had no such reason given us. The decision of the House of Commons Committee, it seems to me, was given in a very halting way and I cannot help thinking that the Chairman of the Committee felt that there were very strong objections to Stoke absorbing Newcastle-under-Lyme and Wolstanton. He referred to the question of education, which I am sure your Lordships will consider very important indeed. As regards secondary education the Committee evidently thought that Stoke was unfit to deal with the matter and they reserved the right to Newcastle to have 60 per cent. of the members of that committee so that Stoke would be always in a minority. That was rather a strong admission that Stoke is not exactly the right body to absorb Newcastle.
The Chairman of the Committee also stated that he hoped the housing scheme in Newcastle would go on because the Newcastle scheme was so admirable. It does seem rather extraordinary that you should take away from Newcastle the power of housing its own people when it was said by the Chairman of the Commons Committee that the work was so admirably done that he hoped it would go on. Of course, if Newcastle is merged in Stoke those powers would be taken away when Newcastle was absorbed into this great county borough. The only reason advanced was that stated by Lord Buckmaster, that in fifteen years' time there might be difficulties as regards Poor Law administration and, therefore, that amalgamation was desirable. Apparently those are the only grounds why these two places should be absorbed into Stoke. I very much doubt if it is desirable.
As regards debt, Stoke has a debt of £11 a head as against a debt of £6 odd in Newcastle, and it rather seems as if they are in difficulties and want in future Poor Law administration to be able to increase the rates of Newcastle for the benefit of their own area. As regards what has happened in the past in the House of Commons, I would refer to what has been said by Chairmen of other Committees. In the Bradford case, the Committee said:—No place should be taken in without the consent of the majority of the inhabitants unless it can be shown that the existing authority has failed in its duty.387 No attempt was made by the noble Duke—
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
The noble Lord has used my name several times. May I say that I did not wish to go into the merits of the case to-day but, rather to give reasons why we should not break the established practice of the House and send this Bill to a Committee?
§ LORD STRACHIE
The noble Duke wants to know why. I am going to give reasons why we should not cause the wasting of a large sum of money by the County of Stafford and the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme and the urban district of Wolstanton. There was a nineteen days hearing in the House of Commons. Why should you now put upon the ratepayers the cost of perhaps another nineteen days inquiry in this House, which might all come to nothing?—because I rather gather from what has been said that unless there is a very strong case made out for Stoke-on-Trent it is very doubtful if this Bill will pass Third Reading. May I return to previous decisions which have been given? In the case of Liverpool and Bootle we had this decision:—The Committee consider that they should be guided by the principle that large self-governing areas should not be amalgamated without mutual consent, except upon one or both of two definite grounds: first, that the administration of the area proposed to be annexed is proved to be unsatisfactory; second, that the separate municipal existence of either area is opposed to the interests of the community at large.We have had no statement here, and I doubt if any noble Lord would get up and say, that administration has been unsatisfactory in the particular areas which Stoke want to take in.
Again, it is not a small area that is to be taken into Stoke. It is an area of 8,000 acres with a population of 56,000. That means taking in a large agricultural area. It has been stated by the noble Duke that one reason why we should allow this amalgamation is that Newcastle and Wolstanton have already asked the County Council that they may be amalgamated into one borough. But does he think that is a reason why they should be put into Stoke? Here we have an area with 56,000 inhabitants which in itself would make a very large borough if all the districts were combined, and I am 388 wondering whether Stoke was afraid that in time the area which they seek to absorb might itself form a county borough. They may think that there would be a certain disadvantage in having another county borough adjoining them.
Apart from that point, it is obvious that this large area, with a population of 56,000, might readily become a municipal borough, and it would be a body admirably equipped to deal with housing, Poor Law and sanitary matters, and to do all that was necessary. It is rather ridiculous that such an area should be added to the City of Stoke. The argument has been very properly used—I remember this point coming before the Royal Commission—that in some cases small urban districts cannot properly deal with water, sanitation and general public utility works on account of the small rateable value of the areas. Sometimes they cannot even get a loan to carry out such work. I quite agree, but that does not apply in this case. Here you have a large self-contained area with a population of 56,000, which Stoke wants to get hold of, probably, as my noble friend Lord Buckmaster suggested, because they hope thereby to reduce their debt, in which in the future they may possibly have a heavy increase.
I would like to remind your Lordships that in 1919 the Ministry of Health held a very lengthy and full inquiry into the proposed absorption of these very areas, and rejected it. I wonder if the circumstances have really altered. We have been told that the Ministry of Health is anxious for this amalgamation. You may say that the condition of things is different and that we had a different Government in 1919. It may be that the present Government have a changed attitude and do not agree with the decision of their predecessors and of the Ministry of Health. We know that much has altered under the present Government in a way which many of us do not entirely approve. But I once more implore your Lordships to remember that this is a very serious matter for the ratepayers of the district. If they have to fight this Bill once more before your Lordships' Committee, it means a very serious charge upon the local rates. All who live in the country know very well that an increase of rates is a serious matter.
389 Part of this increase will fall upon a large agricultural area. This Bill seems to me to be entirely unnecessary. I am certain that the whole of the county councils in this country will be unanimous in saying that the right course for your Lordships to adopt is to reject this attempt by a county borough to seize a large area entirely against the wishes of those who live in that area.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (LORD PARMOOR)
My Lords, I hope that in this case we shall accept the advice given us, as the result of great experience, by the Lord Chairman. We are not now considering whether this proposal ought to be accepted or not. I do not want to go into the merits of either side of the case. The merits of a case of this kind can only be judged by the evidence given before the deciding body, whatever it may be. But surely, in exercising our proper duties in a matter of this kind where there is obviously a difference of opinion between two parties, we ought not to prevent the case being heard in the ordinary course before a Select Committee upstairs. I think this is very important when you consider that it has already been considered in a quasi-judicial spirit, after many days of inquiry, by a Committee in another place. I deprecate altogether the consideration of the merits of either side of the case. Everyone who has experience of these cases knows that they depend upon what is desirable in the public interest in each particular case. I think, therefore, that we might now allow this matter in the ordinary course to go to the Committee, where all the questions that have been raised can be determined after relevant evidence has been heard.
§ LORD DANESFORT
My Lords, I hope that you will not accept the advice that has just been given you. I am confident that your Lordships are now in possession of all the relevant undisputed facts, which show that, as a matter of principle, this Bill ought not to be read a second time. I agree that, as a general rule, where there are relevant facts in dispute which can only be settled by evidence taken in Committee upstairs, your Lordships will read a Bill a second time and entrust the examination of those facts to the Committee. In this case I submit that there are no relevant 390 facts in dispute, and the facts that are undisputed will show that, as a matter of principle, your Lordships ought to reject this Bill.
We all, of course, attach immense weight to the opinion expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore. His opinion seems to be in favour of rejecting this Bill, if I read it aright, because he puts several questions and gives the answers. He asked in the first place whether the area proposed to be annexed approves. His reply is—and again I think it is unquestionable—that the areas proposed to be annexed, by a preponderating majority in a poll fairly taken—no one has suggested the contrary—strongly object to this annexation. Then the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, asked: Is the smaller area which it is proposed to annex badly governed? As he very truly said, the evidence is entirely the other way on the admitted facts. The Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme, which has been in existence for 750 years and which the new Corporation of Stoke, which is, I think, about twenty years old, seeks to swallow up, has been and is admirably governed. It is up-to-date in every respect, in housing, education, and in all the requirements of modern municipal life. I have not heard a word from my noble friend Lord Auckland or from the noble Duke who spoke in support of this Bill to suggest that the Borough of Newcastle is not admirably governed in all respects. Let me add that in some respects it is governed a great deal better than Stoke.
In the matter of education—to take that as a test and, I think, not an unimportant one—Newcastle, with its 25,000 inhabitants, has three secondary schools and Stoke, with its 250,000 inhabitants, has only four. So great is the shortage of provision for secondary education that they have to pay £4,000 a year to Newcastle for the education in secondary schools of their own children, whom they cannot educate in Stoke. As regards housing, Newcastle has spent something like £600,000 in providing houses for the working classes, and Stoke has done nothing comparable in any respect. Accordingly I answer the second question, as indeed the noble Earl answered it, by saying that the smaller area is admirably governed, and 391 from that point of view there cannot be the slightest suggestion that it ought to be handed over.
The only other question which, I gather, appears at all material to the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, is whether there is any question of public advantage in this Bill. There is certainly no public advantage to the Borough of Newcastle. They know their own business, and 97 per cent. or 98 per cent., on an immense poll, have decided that they do not want the Bill. I have read with great care the statement put forward by the promoters of the Bill, in which they urge that there are some reasons why the Bill should not be passed. I can see that there may be some reasons in the interests of Stoke alone why the Bill should he passed, but that surely is not a reason for allowing Stoke to swallow up a well governed municipality like Newcastle. Indeed, Lord Buck-master, with every word of whose admirable speech I agree, pointed out that there may be some not very good reasons why Stoke should desire to swallow up Newcastle, when he pointed out that the debt per head of the population of Newcastle was £6 2s., and that of Stoke £11 per head. Neither the noble Duke nor Lord Auckland advanced any reasons of public advantage why the Bill should be passed. They hinted vaguely that there were some, but I think their arguments would have carried much more weight if they had shown what public advantages there would be in passing the Bill.
There is only one other question, I venture to suggest, which is worth consideration at all, and that is whether we are going to depart from what I agree is the usual practice of reading the Bill a second time and sending it to a Committee. That is almost the whole point of the argument of the noble Duke, and I think almost the only argument of Lord Parmoor, and certainly it was the main ground of the advice given by Lord Donoughmore. I grant that that is the usual practice, but where there are no facts really in dispute—no relevant facts—and where it is a question of principle, and it is inadvisable to read this Bill, I think your Lordships are not only entitled but are almost hound to throw it out, bearing in mind the enormous expense of sending it upstairs. I fully grant that if 392 sending the Bill upstairs were only to cost £200 or £300, or some such trifling sum, your Lordships might say it is a trifling matter, the lawyers will be pleased, and some other people will be pleased at the expenditure, so let the Bill go upstairs. In this case, however, I am informed that the proceedings in the House of Commons cost something like £50,000, and proceedings in this House, considering the nature of the opposition, would undoubtedly be prolonged and would probably cost another £50,000 or £60,000 That is the best information which I am able to get, and I really ask your Lordships—this is my last word—is it right or reasonable, when so strong a case has been made for the rejection of the Bill by those who know all the facts, to put this small borough to an expense of £50,000 for the purpose of pleasing this large Corporation of Stoke?
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, I will only trouble the House for a moment, but the noble Lord who has just sat down unconsciously made the strongest speech for sending the Bill to a Committee. The noble Lord based himself most vehemently, as his first argument, on the fact that all relevant facts were known and that no relevant facts were in dispute. As an illustration of that he mentioned that the debt of Stoke per head was £11, and of Newcastle £6 2s. I have been supplied by the noble Lord in charge of the Bill with a statement which shows that not only Lord Danesfort but Lord Buckmaster also was entirely in error. If Lord Auckland is correct in his statement the debt of Stoke instead of being £11 per head is £16, and that of Newcastle instead of being £6 2s. per head is £21 per head. Therefore the whole basis of the noble and learned Lord's contention, that all the relevant facts are known, falls to the ground.
§ LORD DANESFORT
It is a matter of some importance. It is perfectly true that the debt of Newcastle, exclusive of housing, is only £6 2s. That fact has been furnished to me, and I stick to it.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
But the difference is the other way round, and the unfortunate doubt and difficulty as to the facts constitute the strongest 393 argument for sending the Bill to a Committee. I could not possibly be drawn into an argument with regard to the merits of the Bill. I am aware of the high authority of Lord Dartmouth, and I know how strongly the noble and learned Lord impresses the House, but I want to put this point to the House. The Bill was read a second time in the House of Commons on January 28. Five months elapsed during which all this evidence was brought out, and the Committee were unanimous. On June 26 the Bill was read a third time. Not one single word was said by any member of the House of Commons in opposition to the Bill. None of these highly contentious and in some respects highly coloured arguments were used, and I for one, more strongly than a great many of your Lordships, would assert the right of this House to consider any of the matters which come between us and
§ the House of Commons. There is reciprocity in that, and I never remember a case—I doubt if the noble Lord who guides us in this matter can recollect a case—in which a Bill not challenged in the House of Commons has been refused to be sent to a Committee. Nobody regrets more than I do, or resents more than I do, the enormous expense which takes place before Committees, but your Lordships, by refusing to send the Bill to a Committee, while you may save one party additional expense, at the same time are condemning the other to bear the loss of the whole £50,000, while feeling that their interests have not been fairly considered by your Lordships' House.
§ On Question, Whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 45; Not-Contents, 63.393
|Sankey, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Strange, E. (D. Atholl.) [Teller.]||Daryngton, L.|
|Parmoor, L. (L. President.)||Yarborough, E.||Elphinstone, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Elibank, V.||Erskine, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)|
|Hailsham, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)|
|Ancaster, E.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Gainford, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Hardinge of Penshurst, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Mersey, V.||Ker, L. (M. Lothian.)|
|Iddlesleigh, E.||Ullswater, V.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Kylsant, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Addington, L.||Marks, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Alvingham, L.||Phillimore, L.|
|Midleton, E.||Amulree, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Plymouth. E.||Auckland, L. [Teller.]||Sanderson, L.|
|Russell, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Sempill, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Brentford, V.||Dulverton, L.|
|Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.|
|Camden, M.||Churchill, V.||Forester, L.|
|Exeter, M.||Hood, V.||Hanworth, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Abinger, L.||Heneage, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Armstrong, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Dartmouth, E. [Teller.]||Askwith, L.||Jessel, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Banbury of Southam, L.||Latymer, L.|
|Harewood, E.||Barnard, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Harrowby, E.||Belper, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Lichfield, E.||Berwick, L.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)|
|Lindsay, E.||Brancepeth, L. (V. Boyne.)||O'Hagan, L.|
|Liverpool, E.||Buckmaster, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Cawley, L.||St. Levan, L.|
|Morton, E.||Charnwood, L. [Teller.]||Sandhurst, L.|
|Peel, E.||Cornwallis, L.||Stafford, L.|
|Stradbroke, E.||Cranworth, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Strafford, E.||Danesfort, L.||Strachie, L.|
|Westmeath, E.||Deramore, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Wicklow, E.||Desborough, L.||Treowen, L|
|Digby, L.||Wharton, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to; Bill to be read 2ª this day three months accordingly.