§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON had given Notice that he would move, That Standing Order No. 91 be considered in order to its being dispensed with in respect of the said Bill, and that the Bill be now read 2a. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move that Standing Order No. 91 be considered in order to its being dispensed with in respect of this Bill, and that the Bill be now read a second time. The Bill would naturally have come forward on an earlier date, but for the convenience of all parties, and with the assent of the Lord Chairman, it was put off, and it is therefore necessary to move this Motion for the suspension of the Standing Order.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE)
May I suggest, my Lords, that we take the two Motions separately, and first the Motion that the Standing Order be dispensed with? The noble Earl has explained why this is necessary. Then I suggest the debate should follow on the question whether the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That Standing Order No. 91 be considered in order to its being dispensed with.—(The Earl of Midleton.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. Your Lordships have had this Bill before you on a, previous occasion, and I do not propose to discuss its merits at any length or the case which may be made on one side or the other. The Bill was rejected last year in what I may call a small House towards the end of the Session, and the opponents of the Bill have sent round notices to your Lordships upon the subject, in which they have stated that the reintroduction of the Bill is not only unjustifiable but might be regarded as 335 disrespectful to the House. I should feel deeply any deserved imputation of disrespect in a matter of this kind, but I think I can satisfy your Lordships not merely that the Motion to read the Bill a second time is not disrespectful but that it is manifestly justifiable. In deed, I would not merely repudiate the allegation; I would retort the charge. I think that the conduct of the affair last year was to say the least, unjustifiable in the result even if it was quite within the competence of the opponents of the Bill and of your Lordships' House.
What is the case? A great municipality with over 250,000 inhabitants, one of the largest in England, desires to take a neighbouring borough and certain adjoining rural districts and incorporate them into the large municipality of Stoke. Whether that is right or wrong, and I do not pre-judge that case or ask your Lordships this afternoon to prejudge it, the question has been tried out with meticulous care by a. Select Committee in another place. Many of your Lordships have served on such Committees. I doubt whether there are many who have sat as that Committee sat for nineteen days discussing this measure. I know something of a sitting of that kind because when I was a member of another place I recollect that a Committee sat for a similar period on a Bill of the same kind. I do not suppose there was an argument which could be suggested which was not brought forward, with the result that this Bill was passed unanimously in another place after nineteen days.
I suggest that the course taken here late in the Session in a small House—hardly more than one-seventh of the strength of the House being present—of rejecting after an hour or so's discussion a measure sent to us with so considerable an imprimatur from another place was of itself a very novel action, and I would submit three points as reasons why it should be re-considered on this occasion. The first point is this. It was suggested in the debate last year—there was no information at the moment to confirm it but the information is with us now—that there was no case on record in which a Bill which had been passed unanimously after consideration by a Committee in one House was rejected on Second Read- 336 ing in the other House. That is now ascertained as an absolute fact. It has been the comity of the two Houses, and more than the comity, almost the right that what has had such complete examination by an impartial Select Committee and has unanimously passed one House has invariably been sent to a Committee in the other.
The second point is one suggested in the debate last year and as to which I will give a few illustrations to show how obviously impossible it is in a Second Reading discussion to clear up minute points, Committee points in many cases, that arise in a case of this sort. I am not suggesting that any misstatements or misquotations were made. But certainly there was grave misconception in the figures supplied to us last year. I greatly regret that my noble friend Lord Dartmouth, who speaks with such authority on anything in the County of Stafford, is unable to be here for reasons of health, but he, like others, fell into the same mistake.
Let me give your Lordships three instances. A great point was made that the debt of Newcastle-under-Lyme was £6 2s. per head and that the debt of Stoke was £10 19s. It was suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buck-master, and subsequently by the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, that there was something not only unusual but almost piratical in a great community swooping down on a small community which was not so heavily in debt and planting upon it a large portion of its own debt. Figures can be made to prove anything; but. I think the misconception of these figures was a perfectly extraordinary one for anybody to have fallen into before bringing them before the House. How were they arrived at? It appears that Stoke has a very successful electrical enterprise. Indeed, it supplies electricity to some of the very outside parts which it is desired to incorporate. The opponents of the Bill quoted against stoke the incubus of this weight of debt, although it might well have been argued that a reproductive enterprise such as electricity may be, and usually is, is no weight at all. But they entirely omitted on the other side to bring in the debt for housing which happened to affect both Stoke and Newcastle. What was the result? Instead of the debt of New- 337 castle being £6 2s. per head, it is £22 5s. if you count in the money due for housing. Instead of Stoke's debt being £10 19s. per head it becomes £16 10s. Therefore, instead of there being a balance against Stoke—this piratical enterprise!—of over £4, there is a balance against Newcastle of a similar amount, and the real fact is that on those figures Newcastle stands to gain and not to lose by the incorporation.
Again, your Lordships know well that the debt of municipalities must be weighed according to what is frozen debt and produces nothing and such a debt as that in respect of electricity, which produces a great deal, and in respect of housing, which may produce something. If we look at it from the point of view of reproductive debt we shall find that. Stoke's debt is 37 per cent. reproductive while that of Wolstanton and Newcastle is only 7 per cent. reproductive. Therefore, on that again the advantage lies not with the great borough but with the smaller places which it proposes to incorporate.
Let me mention as quickly as I can the second class of misstatement with which, a few moments before the Division last year, the opponents of the Bill strongly appealed to your Lordships on the ground that it would be unfair to send the Bill upstairs. It was stated that the cost of the Bill had been up to that time £50,000 in legal costs, and no wonder the strong appeal was made—"why should we force the opponents of the Bill to any such gigantic expenditure by sending the Bill to be tried upstairs?" Time has refuted that contention. It was impossible to know at that moment, or within a few days, what the costs were. The promoters of the Bill have now sworn their costs for every kind of charge at £9,778. If your Lordships were to give the greatest latitude, and to assume that the opponents of the Bill spent as much as the promoters, the total amount would come to under £20,000 instead of £50,000—a sum which is, of course important, but which, considering that 330,000 people are involved and a rateable value of £1,200,000 a year, is not a charge to be considered absolutely crushing when you remember that the whole district has to be settled for all time by this Bill.
A great point was made of the huge majorities by which Newcastle and Wol- 338 stanton had decided by vote against the Bill. We were not told how those majorities were obtained. We all know what electioneering is. We only know now that the whole case was put by the authorities of the outlying districts in the strongest possible terms, and accompanied by most exaggerated statements of the loss which would accrue to those districts by incorporation; and apparently not a word was said on the other side. Postcards, leaflets, exhortations to keep out of this morass of Stoke, were fired at all the householders in those districts. Slogans such as "Sign and sign and sign, and make Stoke poachers squeal and whine" were sent broadcast. It was all very good electioneering, but it does not exactly produce the effect on people's minds of an absolutely unbiased statement of facts such as you require if you assume that the great majority of those affected have got the hatred to incorporation of which we were told last year. The first point I make is that this action was unprecedented. The second is that very misleading facts were brought forward. The third is entirely new.
Since last year the County Council of Stafford, within their rights, have decided that these outlying districts, and the ancient borough and other districts, should be separately dealt with and combined together. The Stafford County Council are accordingly, I understand, on the point of obtaining an Order from the Government which will enable that amalgamation to be carried out. In regard to that Order the persons affected have a right to be heard. The great County Borough of Stoke, although on the verge of the whole district, is not technically one of the parties affected. Therefore you have two proposals before you, the proposal to which I invite your Lordships to give a Second Reading tonight, and the proposal of the County Council. The difference between them is that in regard to the County Council's proposal only one side can be heard, while in regard to the proposal of the Borough of Stoke, which I bring before the House to-night, both sides can be heard if the Bill is sent to a Committee upstairs. I think there can be no doubt that cæteris paribus, the second is the proper thing to do. Surely in a matter which involves a population of 330,000 339 people, it is right that a procedure should be adopted under which all parties can be heard.
That is my case. I know I cannot appeal with any force to those who have put down Motions against the Bill. My noble friend Lord Peel, who, I think, speaks on this occasion not for the Bench on which he sits but for himself, proposes to oppose the Motion for Second Reading. After the speech he made last year I have no hope that my noble friend Lord Buckmaster, who I see in his place, will depart from the splendid sentiments with which he thrilled the House. He spoke of the rights of minorities and of the traditions of ancient boroughs. He spoke without, I think, full knowledge of the finances of the operation. Indeed he made a speech so full of the soundest Conservative dictrine that I could not help wishing he would transfer himself from that Bench to this. Then at all events he would give us the opportunity of estimating those fine qualities which are so much needed in leadership, and which are so lost in the midst of a Party that gives him no adequate opportunity of exercisinng them.
I am afraid it is no use to appeal to him, but I do appeal to your Lordships as a body to reconsider the action of last year on three grounds. I submit it is unwise to create a new precedent of this character, reversing the procedure of both Houses practically from time immemorial. I submit also it is very unfortunate that such action should be taken in the case of a large community which is very sparsely represented in this House under the present condition of Parties. I would go further and submit that it would he inequitable in a ease like this, which deserves the fullest consideration, to adopt a procedure which will not enable the parties chiefly interested, or equally interested with any of the others, to be duly heard. I do not ask your Lordships in any way to pre-judge the issue. I have not the slightest idea what I myself should do if I were named on that Committee upstairs, but I do feel that this is a case in which we owe it to the traditions of your Lordships' House and to the great municipality which comes before us to give a Second Reading to this Bill. I hope your Lordships will do so.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Midleton.)
§ EARL PEEL, who had given Notice that on the Motion for the Second Reading he would move, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months, said: My Lords, my noble friend behind me, Lord Midleton, speaks with considerable authority in this House; nevertheless I am going to invite your Lordships to throw out this Bill on Second Reading, and I hereby move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months. What happened was this, as the noble Earl has told us. This Bill, after prolonged consideration and debate, after many speeches and careful investigation, was thrown out by your Lordships not by a small, but by a substantial majority of your Lordships' House. The noble Earl was on that occasion in the minority. It so happened that I was in the majority. The noble Earl, with that courage which always distinguishes him, refuses to be beaten, and comes forward and says your Lordships were wrong when you came to that decision. I am here to say that your Lordships were right, and to say that your Lordships are still right, and I invite you to adhere to the opinion that you so strongly and clearly expressed only a few months ago, on July 10 last.
§ The noble Earl made great play with the fact that he could not find precedents for throwing out a Bill in this House which had been passed by the other House, as he said, unanimously. I do not think we can lay much stress upon that because everybody knows that when a Bill of this sort is passed by a Committee in the other House very little attention is paid to it. It is passed practically sub silentio. Whatever may be said about what your Lordships did last year no such consideration can apply to your action this year. This Bill comes before you for the first time. This is the originating House. You have not got to consider what another House did or did not do. You have to consider whether there are general considerations which entitle you to say that this Bill should not be read a second time. I quite agree that it is generally the wise habit of your Lordships' House in dealing with Bills of this kind to say that we will not pronounce upon them on 341 Second Reading, but will send them upstairs where all details can be thoroughly thrashed out. But we have now the advantage of the fact that all the details have been already thrashed out, because the noble Earl himself admitted that last year a Committee in another place sat for no fewer than nineteen days—a very long hearing—and that every single fact and every single figure bearing upon the whole matter was there set out. Your Lordships, of course, would be entitled to read all those details. Therefore as regards an inquiry upstairs there is absolutely no new fact to be discovered and your Lordships have to pronounce upon general considerations and general principles.
§ May I very respectfully say that I do not think it is the practice of your Lordships' House to give a Second Reading to these Bills purely as an automatic action. Of course in most cases, no doubt, they are sent upstairs because there are matters of detail to be gone into; but where there is something more than detail, where principle is involved, your Lordships are surely justified in exercising your undoubted right to pronounce on these matters and to decide whether or not a Bill shall go upstairs at large expense. May I say in passing that the noble Earl made great sport of some difference of statement or some inaccuracy about the amount of costs. I did not like to hear the noble Earl talk in that way. He seemed to think that £10,000 or £20,000 was a mere bagatelle. I have always heard him speak as a champion of economy and I submit that a question of £10,000 or £20,000 spent upstairs on a Bill is a serious matter.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
May I interrupt my noble friend a moment? What I said was that there was a misunderstanding in saying that the cost of the Bill was £50,000 and that was one of the things in which the House was misled last year. I do not say that it was a bagatelle.
§ EARL PEEL
I am very glad to hear my noble friend say that, because to me such an amount is a very serious burden to be put on the rates of a borough in these penurious and impecunious days. I submit that there is no new fact to be brought forward which can possibly alter the views of your Lordships. It is 342 exactly the same Bill. I was going to use a rather vulgar expression and say it is the same old Bill. I do this because I have been reading a newspaper called the Evening Sentinel. It is a newspaper of the Borough of Stoke, and in it under the heading "The same old Bill"—I apologise, of course, for any journalistic reference in your Lordships' House—it is stated that every single detail of the Bill is exactly the same as last year. The noble Earl has alluded to a very important matter. I am glad that he did not say it was a new fact, because I was going to show that that was wrong and that it was an old fact. Under Part IV of the Local Government Act, 1929, Section 46, it is made the statutory duty of county councils to review boundaries and orders can then be made by these county councils about these changes of boundaries. But they must be confirmed by the Ministry of Health, It was stated last year—stated in debate and in Committee in another place—that the ancient borough (shall I call it?) of Newcastle, and may I say the urban district of Wolstanton, not the rural district, have applied to the county council of Stafford for leave to amalgamate. That has been approved by the County Council of Stafford and the matter is now before the Ministry of Health.
I want to call the attention of your Lordships to a very important point. It is that as regards these matters of amalgamation and union and alteration of boundaries, Parliament only two years ago laid down very important procedure. This procedure is important on two grounds. In the first place it relieves Parliament—and we hear a great deal about, the congestion of business in Parliament—from dealing with a large number of these Private Bills which take up a great deal of time, and secondly—this will appeal to the noble Earl—the procedure is far cheaper than the method of putting a proposal into a Bill and having it fought out with counsel before both Houses of Parliament. It has been suggested by the noble Earl that you ought to send this Hill upstairs to Committee, expose it to the criticism of counsel and the Committee, with all the expense therein involved. Why? In order that the County Borough of Stoke may have an opportunity of stating its case as against the amalgamation of these two 343 places. The noble Earl, no doubt from inadvertence, did not tell you that it is provided in the Statute to which I have alluded that the County Borough of Stoke must be consulted by the County Council of Stafford. Therefore the County Borough of Stoke is enabled to state its case to the County of Stafford, and not only is that so but when the matter comes for approval before the Ministry of Health again the County Borough of Stoke has an opportunity of stating its case.
Is it not satisfied with such opportunities of putting its case before the County Council and the Ministry of Health? Must it put the unfortunate Borough of Newcastle and the urban district of Wolstanton to tremendous expense upstairs in order that it may a third time state its case, just when Parliament itself has laid down this procedure in order that boroughs in matters of amalgamation should be spared this tremendous expense? Of course it may be that the promoters of this Bill think that now that this matter is going to be settled before the Ministry of Health and the borough amalgamated with the urban district, it may be a little more difficult in the future to annex the new borough. "Therefore," they say, "we will try what we can do to put these two unfortunate districts under the harrow of this great expenditure in order that we may try and check, if we can, the determination of Parliament to manage these things better under the Act of 1929."
You have here a great County Borough which has already, I may say, taken large slices from the County under previous Acts. We are always told that as a matter of principle you should try to establish some balance between the town population and the rural population of our country. Therefore any fresh encroachment of these county boroughs on the counties should be watched by your Lordships with considerable care and jealousy. In these levelling and standardising days we should sympathise with anything that would give variety, distinction and attractiveness to our country and our municipal life. These new professors of symmetry, with their new cosmetics, would smooth out every fold and wrinkle in the old and lovely face of England. I submit that we must do our best to resist this effort to "county-borough" the countryside.
344 Let me say a word especially about this Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme. It is a very ancient Borough. I think that, in this House at least, we have sympathy with some of the older institutions of our country. It received its first Charter in the time of Henry II, in 1173 and Charters were renewed by Edward I, Elizabeth, Charles II and James II. Since 1336 it has sent members to Parliament. I am not saying this merely as an antiquarian, interested in ancient institutions and the antiquities of our country. I am saying that the inhabitants themselves are proud of their ancient Borough, and that all persons of all classes, without distinction of politics or of sex, are united against this Bill. A poll was taken of the inhabitants in order to see what their views were, and the noble Earl, being rather troubled by the figures—I do not think he mentioned them—tried to sneer at this arrangement, on the ground that some sort of unfair representations were made, and that the position of Stoke was not fairly argued. It was not necessary to argue that matter before the people of Newcastle. They adjoin Stoke and they know, if I may say so, far better than the noble Earl whether they wish or do not wish to join or to be absorbed by Stoke. At any rate, the noble Earl tries to get us into some little argument about the figures, as to whether the debt was larger in one case or the other, whether you had to deduct the housing debt from the other, or whether parts of the debt were remunerative or unremunerative. Leave that to the people of Newcastle and Wolstanton. I submit that they know these things far better than the noble Earl or, I would respectively add, any member of your Lordships' House can know them. What is this poll? It is most significant and remarkable. The poll was oaken by postcard, and in Newcastle-under-Lyme 90 per cent. of the ratepayers replied.
§ EARL PEEL
Of the ratepayers. The result was that 98 per cent. voted against the Bill. In Wolstanton 94 per cent. replied and 98 per cent. opposed the Bill. I have the postcard in my hand, because I rather anticipated the argument of the noble Earl on this point. Nothing, to my mind, can be fairer or simpler than the wording of this card. 345 It says in red letters: "Are you in favour of the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme being included in the City of Stoke-on-Trent?" There nothing complicated or difficult there. I submit that any voter could understand that, and he need not be deluded by all these statements to which the noble Earl alluded. It goes on to say: "If you are not in favour, place a cross here; if you are in favour, place a cross below."
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
I think my noble friend again misconstrues me. I did not say there was anything complicated about it. I merely said that documents which conveyed an impression very different from the facts accompanied that postcard.
§ EARL PEEL
Again I say that I am inclined to think that the inhabitants of this Borough and this urban district know their case almost as well as the noble Earl knows it; I do not put it higher than that. I do want your Lordships to dwell for a moment on these extraordinary figures. You are very familiar with the percentages of voting in the different municipal elections. Only the other day, in an election of the greatest importance in London—an election in London on municipal matters often determines elections on political issues—the percentage of voters was no higher than 36. If you get these enormous percentages, practical unaniminity, on this matter, you may be perfectly certain that public opinion is strongly stirred and that through all classes there runs a determination to oppose to the utmost of their energy and capacity any amalgamation with Stoke. Indeed, why should they not oppose it? There is no affinity between the County Borough of Stoke and Newcastle. Newcastle is a residential and market area with a large industrial district. Absorption into the County Borough of Stoke would deal a blow to the whole economic organisation of that part of Staffordshire. Everybody knows of the pottery works in Stoke. There are none in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and it was for that reason, when twenty years ago the "Five Towns" were united together to make up Stoke-on-Trent, that there was no proposal to include Newcastle. Newcastle is in no sense a suburb of Stoke. It is a 346 road transport, marketing and amusement centre, with a large area lying west of Stoke.
Let me appeal for a moment to authority. It is an important question how far the wishes of the inhabitants are to be allowed to govern a situation. I should like to quote here from the Report of a Royal Commission which dealt with these subjects, and which said:—The weight to be attached to these wishes"—that is to say the wishes of the inhabitants—is so great that they ought not to be overruled unless it is shown that there are considerations of public advantage which are more weighty and of greater importance than the objections of the inhabitants.No sort of larger public advantage has been shown to exist in this case, and the unanimity, as I must call it, of the inhabitants clearly ought not to be overruled. Let me quote again the remark of the late Lord Cromer, as Chairman of the Committee which dealt with the question of the amalgamation of the Five Towns into Stoke twenty years ago. He said:—If local public opinion cannot decide what its own local government should be, there is really no value in public opinion at all. We therefore should be most unwilling to overrule even a large minority.There is no question here of overruling a large minority. It is a question of overruling a great majority, even unanimity, as expressed in the vote to which I have referred.
Your Lordships may ask: In spite of the wishes of the inhabitants, in spite of the antiquity of the borough are there any reasons in the administration of the borough itself, and of Wolstanton, why they should not be annexed? Nobody attempts to establish any such reasons. It is admitted on all sides that the administration of these places is entirely satisfactory. Not only is it satisfactory, but it is thoroughly approved by all the inhabitants. Housing has been carried on, as was stated by the noble Earl, on a far larger scale than in Stoke and, as regards education, the position was so good that the Committee of the House of Commons actually gave for five years a preponderance of voting power in secondary education to the County of 347 Stafford in regard to the schools concerned. If you ask, again, if Stoke is anxious to annex Newcastle, I would reply that there is no unanimity even in Stoke itself. The resolution to promote the Bill was carried in the council of Stoke only by 58 votes to 36. Last December, at a ratepayers' meeting, no vote was taken at all, probably because the annexationists thought they would be prudent not to take one, but in January, at an open meeting at Hanley, an anti-annexationist motion was carried. Even in Stoke itself a considerable body of opinion is not in favour of this annexation, so your Lordships will see that there is difficulty on both sides and that it is an unwilling bridegroom as well as a reluctant bride that is to be dragged to the altar by the officialdom of Stoke.
Now may I refer to what was said by a Committee in another place on this subject? They referred, in finding the Preamble proved, to the incidence of the Poor Law under the Act of 1929 and the probable state of affairs ten or fifteen years hence under existing conditions. I have great belief in the Committees in another place, but I do not consider that they can prophesy with certainty about the future. That is a gift which is not possessed by Committees even in your Lordships' House. Who can tell in these changing days what is going to happen about the Poor Law ten or fifteen years hence? If ten or fifteen years hence these changes are made, let another Bill then be promoted by Stoke. Whatever may happen ten or fifteen years hence, we can only judge by the tendencies of the day, which undoubtedly are to relieve the ratepayers in matters of public assistance and for the State to bear in many respects the greater part of the burden. I submit that this is not a very convincing reason, and I ask your Lordships therefore to adhere to your previous decision on the general ground that, if you send the Bill upstairs, you will be inflicting a great hardship on the inhabitants of Wolstanton and Newcastle, who have unanimously expressed their desire to the contrary. You will be doing something to thwart the desire of those people to unite themselves and to form a borough with the approval of the Ministry of Health.
348 Finally, I appeal to you on the question of economy. Your Lordships struck a magnificent blow for economy only a few weeks ago in a larger matter, and I ask you in this smaller matter not to forget the ratepayers of these Boroughs and to remember that, if it is only £5,000 which are the expenses of Newcastle-under-Lyme, that means a charge of 1s. or 1s. 2d. on the ratepayers of that Borough for sending the Bill upstairs. I therefore ask your Lordships on these general grounds not to permit the officials of Stoke, under cover of our Parliamentary procedure, to lay this heavy amercement on the people of Newcastle and Wolstanton merely because they love their institutions and desire to retain their civic independence.
Leave out ("now") and at end of the Motion insert ("this day six months.")—(Earl Peel.)
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, I feel indebted to my two noble friends for the clearness and thoroughness with which they have put the general merits of this Bill before your Lordships. Following as they do on the statements which have been circulated and which are model statements, especially as they contain a map which has made it much easier to understand the matter, I do not feel I can go into the merits or the circumstances at any great length. As my noble friends have reminded your Lordships, the House rejected this Bill last July. There may be a few words different, but the Bills are substantially the same. If the Bills were the same and the circumstances were exactly the same, I should not venture to take up the position I took up last year in advising your Lordships that it was desirable that this Bill should go to a Committee. I do not think the circumstances are exactly the same, as I hope I shall be able to show your Lordships in a very few sentences. The new fact arises under the section of the Local Government Act to which my noble friend Lord Peel referred, Section 46, and it is a new fact of great importance—namely, the definite decision of the County Council on the 10th January last, long since your Lordships rejected this Bill on Second Reading, that under Section 46 it was desirable that the districts outside Newcastle should be amalgamated 349 with Newcastle. Therefore there are two propositions definitely in the public eye at this moment. There is this Bill by which Stoke asks that Newcastle and these county districts should come into Stoke, and there is the second proposition by which Newcastle asks that these country districts should come into Newcastle.
I have repeatedly made the statement in your Lordships' House that I am not a lawyer and therefore not qualified to interpret sections of Acts of Parliament. At the same time, I have had as much practice as most laymen in trying to understand sections of Acts of Parliament. Nevertheless I find Section 46 very difficult to understand, and I wish my noble friend, who was a member of the Cabinet that approved it, would explain it. I shall try to do so and, if I make a mistake, he will put me right. The section begins by saying that the council of every county shall before 1932 review the circumstances and make any necessary schemes carrying out, among other things, the union of any district or parish with any other, or the transfer of any part of any district or parish to any other.
Your Lordships will notice the procedure. The council of the county has to consult the councils of the county boroughs adjoining the county. The Minister then, who has already come into the case because the scheme is forwarded to the Minister, gives these councils an opportunity of placing before him their views on the proposals of the county council. I understand that means that lie invites them to lay their views before him by correspondence. Then the clause goes on to enact that, as soon as the Minister receives these proposals, he publishes a notice and again he has to give an opportunity as a result of that notice to the neighbouring people to make representations with respect to the proposal. My noble friend Lord Peel used the phrase "state their case in writing." It is nut quite the same as stating their case to an inquiry. The Minister then goes on, under subsection (4), toconsider the proposals and any representations with respect to the proposals.By that I understand he considers the correspondence, but he does not give a hearing, and then he makes an Order 350 with or without modifications or may refuse to make an Order. Then follows a proviso:—Provided that, if an objection with respect to any proposal is made by a local authority affected thereby … the Minister shall not make an Order giving effect to the proposal without first holding a local inquiry …If I understand all that clause correctly, it means that, if anybody in the county outside, objects to coming into Newcastle, then a local inquiry must be held and the authority objecting will be heard. But I do not understand from this clause that, if Stoke objects to part of the County of Stafford going into Newcastle, they can be heard at the local inquiry. At any rate that is the fear that Stoke have. Finally, the clause says that any Order made by the Minister is laid before Parliament. Parliament is not put in a position to criticise it in any way. Therefore, the position as I understand it, is this. We have, on the one hand, this Bill, in which Stoke asks to be heard in their proposition that Newcastle and the county districts should come into Stoke. If that matter goes to a Committee of your Lordships' House, I do not wish to suggest that the Committee is entitled to go into alternative schemes. It cannot, but it would hear the Stoke case with full knowledge that the other case exists. I will not put it higher than that, but in practice it would be quite as high as that. On the other hand, we have this other scheme promoted by Newcastle, concerning which Stoke cannot be heard at all except by correspondence. I cannot persuade myself that it would be to the public advantage that some such inquiry should not take place. I do not believe the matter will ever be settled until Stoke has been heard in public inquiry by somebody, and therefore I shall vote for the Second Reading, with a perfectly open mind on the subject of merits. I am not going to attempt to judge now between Stoke and Newcastle, but I suggest that it will be to the public advantage that the matter should be heard by a Committee upstairs, always remembering that your Lordships in reading the. Bill a second time in no way prejudice the decision of the Committee. Every Committee meets with full knowledge that it is equally entitled to pass or reject, a Bill, whichever it thinks fit.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, I ventured last year, when this Bill was before the House, to trouble you with a short résumé of the findings of the Royal Commission on Local Government in regard to this particular matter. I do not want to weary your Lordships with a repetition, but perhaps it will not be inconvenient if I repeat the salient features of what I said on that occasion. First as to the question of tests, as to whether an extension should be agreed to or not. The Royal Commission felt that this should be left to the discretion of Parliament. It was not thought possible to recommend that any very precise definition of the test should be introduced beyond that laid down in the Act of 1888, namely, desirability—that is, whether or not an extension was desirable. So the criterion is whether the extension is in the interests of all concerned. Of course, as has been apparent from the debate, the interests of the various authorities are divergent, and the question must be examined and settled on an equitable basis. The advantages for and the disadvantages against must be weighed, and when all the facts which are relevant have been considered then Parliament must give its decision.
There are certain considerations which come into practically every case. Of course, as the circumstances of the extension differ so does the particular nature of these considerations. First of all in importance, in the view of the Royal Commission, are the wishes of the inhabitants of the area proposed to be annexed, and, of course, it must be obvious that the wishes of the inhabitants are correctly and accurately ascertained: but I want to be quite clear on this point. It was not thought by the Royal Commission that the expression of the wishes of the inhabitants of the area proposed to be annexed need necessarily he absolutely conclusive, whether for or against the proposed extension, but it was thought that those wishes were so important, and the weight to be attached to them was so great, that they ought not to be over-ruled unless by public considerations more weighty than the wishes of the inhabitants.
The next point is the question of community of interests. You cannot, however, lay down hard and fast rules, and it is for Parliament to decide upon that point. 352 Then comes the question of sanitary services. Arguments for the extension would have great weight if it could be shown that the sanitary services would be greatly improved, and especially if it could be shown that those services could not be reasonably obtained except by means of the extension. Similar arguments might be applied with regard to the question of education. With regard to trading facilities and town-planning they are possibly of less weight. So the decision of Parliament should be guided by the wishes of the inhabitants and the question of whether material services would be greatly improved, and especially if the improvement could not be obtained unless the extension were carried through.
I ventured to place these matters before your Lordships last year at somewhat greater length, but when the Division took place I did not feel justified in giving a vote because I was not sufficiently acquainted with the particular case, although from speeches which I had heard my sympathies were inclined towards the decision of the majority on that occasion. This year matters are different. Last year, the question of the amalgamation of Newcastle-under-Lyme and other districts, although adumbrated, had not gone through, and the real opposition was by the county, and was really for the maintenance of the status quo. This year, as the noble Earl has pointed out, the opposition comes from a different reason. As my noble friend has pointed out, under Section 46 of the Local Government Act, 1929, a comprehensive revision of the boundaries of districts has to be undertaken by the counties, and in the course of this review it was decided by the County of Stafford—and it is part of the arrangement for the division of the whole county—to amalgamate into one borough Newcastle, Wolstanton, Clayton and Keele, with an area of 8,800 acres, a population of 56,000, and a rateable value of £230,000.
The noble Earl, the Lord Chairman, told your Lordships of Section 46 of the Act of 1929, and the provision included therein for consultation with the county boroughs on the boundaries of the county. The noble Earl has also told your Lordships of the proviso to subsection (4) of Clause 46, which says:—Provided that, if an objection with respect to any proposal is made by a local authority affected thereby, and is not with- 353 drawn, the Minister shall not make an Order giving effect to the proposal without first holding a local inquiry into the objection.He has interpreted the Act as meaning that the "local authority affected thereby" must be one within the county. It does not say so in the section, and I do not quite know the ground upon which he relies, although I have no doubt he has excellent grounds for coming to that conclusion.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
I want to be quite clear. I want to make it clear that it is the anxiety of the promoters that they would have no locus standi.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
Then I am afraid it is not a decided question. I can only say that as it stands in the Act at any rate the County Borough must be fully aware of what has to be done and must be able to put its counter proposals before the County. That has been done, and of course the County is perfectly well aware of what Stoke proposes. In those circumstances I feel that we are hardly justified in giving this Bill a Second Reading. It seeks to interfere with an important part of the scheme of re-organisation of the County of Stafford and proposes as an alternative to a very important part of that scheme the absorption of a number of local authorities within the County into the area of a County Borough on its boundaries. Doubtless, the local authorities concerned have considered the whole matter and have expressed their views very strongly; much more strongly, indeed, than by the method that was used apparently last year and has been described accurately, no doubt, and with much humour by my noble friend Lord Midleton. They have said: "No, we propose to form ourselves into a new municipal borough and we shall not adopt the alternative scheme." The borough that they propose to form is one of 56,000 inhabitants. Under the former law, the Act of 1888 until it was modified by the Act of 1926, that would have given them a prima facie case to ask Parliament to constitute them a county borough. That means that the new municipal borough is a very important local government entity.
It seems to me that by the adoption of this scheme, which, I understand, has been adopted in Staffordshire by the local 354 authorities affected unanimously and without objection, the wishes of the inhabitants are very clearly expressed, indeed much more clearly than they were last year, for the new proposal of the County and equally definitely against absorption into Stoke. It seems to me that the wishes of the inhabitants are plain, and (as the opinion of the Royal Commission was expressed) I think it would be impossible for over-riding considerations to be brought forward. In those circumstances and in view of—I will not say the enormous expense, which would be, perhaps, an exaggeration, but the very considerable expense which must be entailed by a Parliamentary inquiry, and in view of the fact that the proposals of the County Borough have had the fullest opportunity of consideration both by the County and the Ministry, if my noble friend (Lord Peel) goes to a Division I shall feel it my duty to follow him into the Lobby.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I should like by way of preface to explain my interest in this matter. I have declined to see anybody on behalf of either of the Boroughs involved. Interviews, it seems to me, often pervert your judgment and always waste your time. I have, therefore, asked everybody who has written to me entreating an interview to send me whatever information they could, which I would gladly consider. My request has been answered with a generosity and liberality which is certainly rare when I ask people favours. I have had before me, and I have read, I believe all that can be said in this matter, and I find myself strongly confirmed in the view that your Lordships' House did the thing that was right in July of last year, and I strongly hope it will do it again.
Let me say to begin with that it would be a great mistake to imagine that the action of this House had anything reactionary or contrary to progress in it. The Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme has been represented for ten years at least by one of the most ardent members of the Labour Party, and the opinion that has been given regarding this amalgamation to Stoke is the opinion of a vast body of people who are Labour in politics. And though only too often, as I fear, the advocates to progress are apt 355 to disregard both the lessons of history and the charms of tradition, and are frequently inclined to think that the aggrandisement of a local authority is one step further forward towards the time when the whole of this country will be one vast Government Department—though they may think that, yet it has been plain that Newcastle-under-Lyme and Wolstanton, the people who are affected, certainly do not think anything whatever of the kind.
It has been pointed out that the opinions that have been given represent a practical unanimity. I think the unanimity is something more than practical; I think it is actual, and I will tell you why. The figures have been quoted but they are so remarkable that they will certainly bear repetition. In Wolstanton 94 per cent. of the people who could vote voted. I ask you to consider for a moment the number of people who have removed and cannot be found, who are sick and ill and tired of these quarrels and cannot be approached, the people you will find everywhere who are genuine cranks and who think about their locality what some other cranks think about their country, that it must always be wrong. Making allowances for these people, who must exist, I say that you have a full accounting for the 6 per cent. that were not there. 94 per cent., therefore, of that constituency voted and 97 per cent. of them opposed this Bill. The Newcastle figures were nearly the same. The result, as I have worked it out (my mathematics may be wrong), is that 91 per cent. of the total voters of Wolstanton are against the Bill and 89 per cent. of the others. I say that is unanimity.
The noble Earl, Lord Midleton, in a picturesque speech asked us to imagine how this unanimity was obtained. He even broke into verse, which, apparently, has been sent to him, though my correspondents have not honoured me with it, and said that there had been—
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
It has not been sent to me. On the last occasion the noble Duke of Atholl intervened in this debate and I must say that I welcomed his unusual intervention because 356 he is not as often here as we might wish him to be. I heard him with great interest and some amusement because I could not help wondering what would happen if an English Peer who rarely attended your Lordships' House came down to be a protagonist in a quarrel between two Highland burghs. I cannot help thinking that his lot would be a difficult one. None the less the noble Duke made a statement which I thought of enormous value. He asked, "How did you find out about this voting?" The consequence was that I wrote to my correspondents and asked how it was done. It was done on postcards one of which has been read. "But," says the noble Earl, "you cannot think what accompanied the postcard." I have a postcard which has been sent through the post addressed to a voter who is asked to sign it, and I ask your Lordships how do you accompany a postcard through the post with all the alluring literature which the noble Earl referred to? I cannot help thinking he would find that the Post Office authorities would have something to say to it.
The result, apparently, has been obtained—it is a mere accident that I have got the postcard—by what appears to me to be the most simple and the most straightforward means by which the people's opinions can be ascertained in any district. A request is made upon an open card to sign whether or not you wish the amalgamation to take place and the answer sent back through the post. Until somebody is going to satisfy you that these figures that we have quoted are untrustworthy, we are entitled to rely upon them, and I do rely upon them, because they appear to me to be the real reason why your Lordships should adhere to the opinion you expressed before. It is the real ground. When it is said this is an unusual course for your Lordships to take, will anybody tell me of a Bill that has ever come before this House for the amalgamation of two boroughs like this with the unanimous opposition on the part of the Borough that was going to be joined? Such a thing I have never heard of. My noble friend Lord Peel said it was like a reluctant marriage. It is not the least bit like that to me. It seems to me far more like the operation of an octopus. This is a vast place, 357 which, the noble Earl says, is of enormous size, on the boundaries of these two little places desiring to swallow them up. Is it surprising that in the circumstances they fled into each other's arms, and met before the County Council and asked to be made into a borough of their own?
Then we are told that that, fact is to be a new reason why we should now undo what we did six months ago. It puzzles me greatly. It was one of the reasons that the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, urged; but, indeed, he did not urge what the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, did, that, without anything really substantial by way of novelty, we should go back on our previous expression of opinion. I do not think that this question about the union of these two parishes has any real value in this discussion at all. First of all it is no new thing. It is new that the County Council has consented, but the plan itself was older than the promotion of this Bill. It has been before them ever so long, so it is not the fact that this has been suddenly sprung upon them. The consent has no doubt made a great deal of difference. I must say I am not clear that Stoke is not entitled to be heard. The noble Earl says the Borough must be heard by letter; that the Minister has to consider representations. The way that the representations are generally made, I should think, in a ease like this, is by a deputation. Why should not the Minister have a deputation just the same as a letter? The Act does not say "by correspondence." The normal thing is by deputation. I have grave doubts as to whether there will not be in the end an inquiry into this matter down in the district. I should hesitate to use that authoritatively now, because I should not like your Lordships' opinion to be in any way influenced by that.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
There is a provision that a local inquiry should be held. The noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, was of opinion that Stoke would not have a locus at a local inquiry. I think that was a personal opinion. It says in the Act, "any local authority affected thereby." One cannot say whether Stoke would or would not be a local authority affected thereby.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I should have thought that the local authority of Stoke would be quite easily able to attend, but whether they are or whether they 358 are not is not the real question here. The one thing that has been in my mind all through is this. Against the unanimous consent of the inhabitants Of two ancient Boroughs, are you going to have their corporate rights destroyed because a large Borough on their boundaries wants to expand itself? My case is, and has always been, that to do such violence to the opinion of the people who are going to be affected you must show a strong case. You must establish a strong reason. You might get it in all sorts of different ways, but if you look at what is suggested here, you will find nothing but what I describe as peddling reasons. There is no outstanding reason of any sort or kind that has been heard in support of the measure. It is easy to look down on and laugh at the strong and passionate feeling that people have for the place where they have been born and bred, but I think it is one of the most powerful things in our national life. When a man says that he is proud of England, what does he mean? He does not really mean he is proud of England; he means he is proud of the little place which to him is England, and he cares nothing about anything else. You know that is true. These people have got this local spirit intensified, and I am not surprised, because their history is certainly most remarkable. I wonder whether the noble Earl himself could tell me why it is called Newcastle. I can tell you. It is called Newcastle because the new castle it was called after was built in 1169. That at least is some antiquity for a borough.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Of course they had the castle before the Charter. They probably had the castle built and then had the Charter from the King, which is the original way they did the work. At any rate, is it surprising that people who live in that district under those conditions should desire to keep their Charter and to keep their local associations and their local government, which have been theirs for 700 years, and not wish to have them taken away? When this matter was last before your Lordships it appears that some representative from one of those threatened Boroughs attended, because somebody, I do not know who, sent me 359 a local paper after it was all over. If you had seen what happened! It was more like a Roman triumph when Julius Caesar overcame the Gauls. These people had met in numbers. They had a holiday; they had put on their best attire, and had come spontaneously to welcome the man whom they believed had redeemed them from captivity. You may laugh at them, but that is what they obviously thought, and the question is whether you are going now to hand them over.
It is said that this is an interference with the rights of Committee; and that such interference should but rarely be exercised. I do thoroughly agree with that, but remember me have done it before. Do you remember the Bill when the Corporation of Croydon, within their own area, were seeking to take down a building in order to improve a road, and in grave and measured tones the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, wondered about the danger of interfering here and not letting the matter be decided in Committee? I am sure he was expressing his own feelings, but he was expressing what he has done to-day because he represents the rights and authorities of the Committees of this House. But your Lordships disregarded him, and we decided in this House, without sending the Bill to the Committee, that the Corporation of Croydon should not have the right to interfere with a place within its own jurisdiction, a ten thousand times stronger case than this, and I believe your Lordships' decision has not only been received with gratitude by people to-day, but will be received with gratitude by people to come.
I am not for a moment saying that there may not be occasions when your Lordships, having taken a step at one time, should not reverse it by another. I am not saying that, but I do say that the circumstances which lead you to take such a step must be very strong. The circumstances which the noble Earl quoted—I say with all respect to him—appear to me to be lamentably weak. The question about the rateable expenses is really behind the whole thing. What it means is this, that Newcastle have exercised their powers under the Housing Acts and provided homes for their people, and Stoke have not. That is the whole explanation of it all. To 360 have that urged as a reproach against them and to say it affects the argument based upon the fact that apart from the Housing Acts the rates stand in the relationship in which they have been quoted, is, to my mind, straining the figures too far. If there be new circumstances, if there be new facts, if there be new atmosphere, I would always do my best humbly to invite your Lordships to reconsider anything in order that your political judgment may be the best. But if there be no new facts worth consideration, and the atmosphere is just where it was, then to undo to-day what you did six months ago is not evidence of being fairminded, is not evidence of being open to new impressions: it is vacillation and it is weakness, it is infirmity of purpose; and I sincerely hope your Lordships will never give true occasion to your enemies to lay this charge against your door.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, in rising to support the Second Reading of this Bill, I confess that I have a sort of what is known as an inferiority complex feeling when I realise that I have to follow so great an orator as the noble Earl who opposed this Bill and so eminent an advocate as the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken. I am sorry that the official representative of the County Councils' Association is not here to-day. I really feel that in rising to oppose the County Councils' Association my action almost amounts to fratricide, for I have been a county councillor twenty-eight years and I have been present at more than one meeting of the County Councils' Association. As my county council is affiliated, you cannot say that the County Councils' Association, at all events, is entirely agreed. While I understand its reasons for opposing the Bill, I cannot understand any member of your Lordships' House wishing to put this desire of the County Councils' Association before the common practice of this House from time immemorial, of sending to a Committee a Bill of this nature, which has been passed unanimously in another place: in other words, putting it before the right to be heard. There is something in that right to be heard. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, denies it, but I think it still exists.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
The noble Lord says: "Here, now." How can we possibly discuss a measure of this sort at a sitting of this kind? It is well known that Bills of this sort have from time immemorial been sent upstairs and he cannot deny that. The people of Britain have great respect for their law and more respect perhaps than they will admit for your Lordships' House, because they feel and have always felt that it is a just House, and every man in this country who values liberty values the right to be heard if he feels he has a good ease or if he feels aggrieved. In this particular instance your Lordships, owing, I feel, to well organised opposition before the Bill came up last time, rejected a measure which had been meticulously examined for nineteen days in another place. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, said that the examination was perfunctory because people are very busy in another place. I should have thought if they had been very busy they would not have wasted nineteen days looking into the measure. We are certainly not slavish admirers of the correctness of the views of another place, but we do surely pride ourselves on the correctness of our methods and on our endeavour to be just.
While I think the County Councils' Association have the right to oppose the Bill before an ad hoc Committee which alone can deal with it, frankly I do object to this House being steam-rollered by an outside body into doing what it has never done before and doing what I think your Lordships may regret having done. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, suggested that your Lordships would stultify yourselves because you rejected a practically similar Bill before, but you will surely stultify yourselves very much more if you make this great departure from usual practice and make pets and favourites of some Bills and martyrs of others, especially when your Lordships have no knowledge as a House of their merits. The Oldham Extension Bill is one case that I remember and the Edinburgh and Leith Bill was another.
362 I do not know if there is going to be another speaker against the Bill, but I have more than once lately heard the suggestion made that the Bill, should be rejected, the reason being that the special Committee of your Lordships' House would be packed. I want only to allude in parenthesis to such a monstrous suggestion, which is not only absurd but is, I think—well, I will not say what I think so far as it concerns the Lord Chairman of Committees.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
He may mean from a member of your Lordships' House. I for one decline to sit under an imputation like that.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
I hoped that the noble and learned Lord would ask that question. It was not a member of your Lordships' House. I am perfectly willing to show him the letters I received. I prefer to do it privately for very obvious reasons, but I think I can fully satisfy him. I am just going to put this question to the next noble Lord who speaks. Does he think that a Committee of this House is a fair tribunal or an unfair one? If fair, why does he object to the merits of the case being fought out in Committee in every detail? If, on the other hand, he thinks the Committee unfair will he tell us why? I should like that question to be answered. In passing may I remind you that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, made a personal statement about me, and perhaps I may ask for his attention upon this point. That was that I ought not to take part in this debate.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
The noble Duke completely misunderstood me. I never suggested anything whatever of the kind.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
He thought it very undesirable or funny or quaint that I, a mere Scotsman, should take part in a debate in your Lordships' House on an English question. So long as we have a united Parliament I cannot follow the noble and learned Lord's argument, but may I inform him that as a Scotsman I have no right at all in this country of 363 voting in any way. I cannot sit as a Peer and I cannot enter the House of Commons. Although I have perhaps very great interests in the country I am debarred from sitting or voting anywhere as a Scotsman. The interesting fact, and a rather strange one, is that I sit in this House as Earl Strange, and stranger still is it that I derive that title from my Stanley ancestors, who lost their heads in other ways than some people sometimes do in this House and who were in possession of much of the land we are talking about now in the ancient days of which our new Crusader has been talking.
I do wish that this Bill had not been dealt with in the way it has been dealt with. I had much rather have seen it dealt with in another place, and that we should merely have to discuss to-day, not the merits of the Bill, which is an impossibility in all fairness to both parties, but whether it should go to a place where it can be discussed properly. Let me take the statement that has been circulated among the noble Lords in this House against the Bill. I am going to make these criticisms simply because I want to show how impossible it is to discuss matters on their merits in a few hours of a Second Reading debate, without sending the Bill to a Committee. I think the best plan is to take the manifesto that was sent us by the County Council. The leaflet regarding Newcastle reached me only last night, and it was, of course, impossible to master it in the short time available. In the first place, a great deal is made of the unreduced rateable value of the various districts concerned, which comes to £232,425. Is it quite fair to try—I was almost going to say to trick your Lordships, by giving half the figures and not the whole? Why do they stop at the unreduced value and not go on to the reduced value, which is the figure of the present day? The correct figure would then be about £200,000, so that there is a little error of £32,000. That sort of point would have come out only in Committee, and would not have been known to your Lordships unless I had mentioned it.
As regards the third paragraph, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, made great play with the ancient date of this castle—a castle which, I may say, my ancestors may have been at the 364 building of, but which the people of Newcastle have been at the destruction of when they wanted any stones for their houses. We are told that Newcastle-under-Lyme is a very ancient Borough. I think that the noble and learned Lord said that the date was 1173. To me it would not seem that the exact date when the Borough was made is of any more than academic interest to us in 1931, when one of the main points that we are talking about is the disposal of sewage, but, as I am out for accuracy, I want to show that nearly every statement that is made to us is inaccurate. I am going to ask Lord Buckmaster where that Charter is.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
I am quite sure that, if the noble and learned Lord had it, he would have waved it at us now. I may tell him that a more exact date is probably about 1235. That is a detail, but it is a point of accuracy. Let me now take paragraph 5, along with paragraph 11. We are told that the area of Newcastle is well governed and at least in as good a sanitary condition as Stoke, and that there is no precedent for the extension of the boundary of a county borough to include an ancient municipal Quarter Sessions borough. Considering that there have been only fifteen cases during the last ten years at Newcastle Quarter Sessions, is it worth the expense of holding Quarter Sessions in Newcastle when there is another, I am sorry to say with more work to do, in Stoke-on-Trent? So far as the sanitation is concerned, the sanitary conditions of the Borough of Newcastle may be good, but I believe they have had to scrap five of their sewage works. They will not remain good very long unless they have some agreement with Stoke, since the only available place proposed on expert advice into which they can possibly drain is on Stoke territory. Your Lordships must remember that the Provisional Order of 1919 was thrown out to a very great extent because the Stoke-on-Trent sewage works were not then available, as they are now.
Then we come to the sixth paragraph. I am not going to deal with the story of how votes of the electorate were taken. It was rather like a pithead vote and had 365 the same result, but I want to remind your Lordships that there cannot be any counter vote because, under the Local Government (County Boroughs and Adjustments) Act, 1926, polls by petition are forbidden, and therefore Stoke cannot possibly take a vote on an open poll. In the ninth paragraph we are told that a further area of 430 acres was added to Stoke in 1929. The objectors to this Bill suggest that this ought to be used for building houses but, considering that Stoke made it into sewage works, I cannot quite see where the benefit to the inhabitants would come if houses were put on that site. In the eleventh paragraph we are told that there are at least 3,000 acres reasonably safe for building, the risk of subsidence, if still real, being off-set by the cheapness of the land. In other words, the objectors contend that, so long as land is cheap, it does not matter what happens to the wretched inhabitants of the houses. To show how little frank the objectors are to your Lordships, I may remark that it would surely have been much fairer to your Lordships to have stated that since the Bill was last before the House, seven more housing sites in the area of Stoke have been condemned by the Ministry of Health because of mining difficulties.
The twelfth paragraph of the objectors' leaflet deals with rates. The noble Lords, Lord Buckmaster, Lord Danesfort and Lord Strachie, based their statements on the last occasion, when the Bill was rejected, as again to-day, on the original fact that the Newcastle debt was £6 2s. per head, while the Stoke debt was £10 19s.
§ LORD DANESFORT
May I interrupt the noble Duke for one moment? I have the OFFICIAL REPORT here, and I said, it is perfectly true, that the debt of Newcastle, exclusive of housing, was over £6 per head. I said that that was the figure furnished me, and I stick to it. That is the true figure, exclusive of housing.
THE DUKH OF ATHOLL
I wish I could cut my accounts where they suit me, and not where they do not. The actual answer, then, is that the housing debt was very conveniently left out, though it would bring the Newcastle debt up to £22 5s. 3d., as against the Stoke debt of £16 9s., which knocks the noble Lords' 366 argument to smithereens. Surely the three noble Lords must now suggest that, instead of Stoke being moved by cupidity, as they suggested on the last occasion, it is really, on their argument, an act of generosity. On this occasion, since they have been found out since the Bill last came up, we have a very biased paragraph which strikes a balance where it is favourable, and where it is not favourable the actual facts are buried in a lot of verbiage about the superior activities of Newcastle-under-Lyme, which, of course, may be true, but which does not seem to have resulted in their being able to put up one single factory or industrial business. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, went into ecstasies over the factories of Newcastle but, as a matter of fact, they do not happen to possess one.
I should like to correct one error, which cannot possibly be borne out by the facts, in the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, that the proceedings in the House of Commons already referred to cost something like £50,000. He said that the proceedings in this House were likely to cost another £50,000 or £60,000, and suggested it was wicked to put a small borough to that expense to please a large corporation. May I say that the total expenses to the promoters of the Bill, including all expenses of whatsoever kind, were under £10,000?
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
Less—less than £9,000. I can hardly believe the expenses of the opposite party were anything like that. In any case the hypothetical figures of £110,000, which Lord Danesfort's figures imply, are very different from the £20,000 actually spent. But that is another instance of the type of statement put before the House. I am not blaming Lord Danesfort, but those who gave him the figures.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
I would prefer to spend £20,000 than the £110,000 he suggested and, if the noble Lord had allowed the Bill to pass then, there would be no money spent now. Another point, so far unknown to this House, is that the promoters offered to arbitrate in this 367 case, and to save money, but Newcastle refused. May I draw attention to paragraph 10 of the statement of the Stafford County Council against the Bill, in which they oppose the Bill because they tell us they are prepared to make one municipal borough out of the whole of the outside area in question? In that paragraph they let the cat out of the bag. They have actually been to the Minister of Health about it and, if the Minister gives a decision in their favour, Stoke-on-Trent is absolutely powerless to intervene. This is referred to as a measure of long standing now before the Minister of Health. If it was of long standing, why did not the objectors mention it before? But, as a matter of fact, like the rest of their "plum pudding," it is about ten days old, having been only submitted to the Ministry a fortnight ago, which I think is hardly courteous to your Lordships' House.
I want in conclusion to remind the House of what the geography of these places is like, and your Lordships will then realise how absurd is the contention to make a municipal borough lying alongside Stoke-on-Trent. If there were any natural division, one could understand it, but how insuperable the difficulties are becoming without amalgamation is shown by the fact that between Newcastle and Stoke there are thirty-seven houses, three public buildings and a sewage works which lie in both Boroughs, while the Burslem sewage works of the City are partly in Stoke and partly in Wolstanton. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, talked about happy marriages, but I do not know if marriages are happy if the wife is sleeping in one borough and the husband in the next. Many of these houses are so situated on the march line that it is obvious that something must be done to regulate the boundaries. It is obvious, too, that the City itself is one area.
I want to conclude by making an appeal to your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading. Lord Buckmaster told us last time in opposing the Bill that he hated to see big fish swallowing up the little ones. He could not realise that that is what Newcastle wanted to do—to get rid of the biggest fish and then to become a big fish itself. I do not want to advocate this Bill, but I want to point out to the House that the people 368 have a right to be heard and that the people of Stoke-on-Trent have again brought up this Bill. Never before has a Bill in such circumstances been rejected by your Lordships. It ought to go upstairs where both sides can be heard. If that is not done, then the matter comes before the Ministry of Health and the people of Stoke cannot be heard. The only way they can put their views is by this Bill. We must not, as I have said, take sides at this stage of any measure and make pets or favourites of any Bills, but rather we should send all Private Bills of this nature to a Committee, who have the time and the opportunity to go into them.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, there are two reasons which make me desire to take part in this discussion. In the first place, I have some local knowledge of the circumstances and perhaps rather more than has been exhibited by some noble Lords who have spoken. The debate so far seems to have been conducted by rather exotic orators. The noble Duke who has just sat down made some complaint against my noble and learned friend for having suggested that he ought not to take part in the debate. I am sure my noble and learned friend meant nothing of the kind. The noble Duke has been able to show that he possesses an ancient ancestral connection with the district, but that long-standing connection appears to have embittered him somewhat against the ancient Borough of Newcastle, because, although he expressed himself as unwilling to take sides and begged your Lordships not to take sides, he devoted a considerable part of his speech to a most unflattering description of Newcastle—
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
I did not mean that. The Borough at that time was in Stoke-on-Trent. The Borough we are talking of now was not a borough at all at that time.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I am talking of the Borough of Newcastle. It so happens I know the district well. I am a near neighbour and know both Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle intimately. It is not possible to overrate the importance of the figures which my noble and learned friend announced as expressing practically the unanimous opinion of both 369 Newcastle and Wolstanton. That is one side of the question which has to be considered. I also feel strongly myself that the absorption of great areas by large existing county boroughs is always a matter that is to be looked on with some suspicion and caution. I certainly have no hostility to the Five Towns—far from it—but I think, if one were to examine the merits of the case at all, that Stoke-on-Trent, turned as it is into a very fine County Borough, requires a little more time in which to look about it before seeking to enlarge its boundaries. That is simply on the merits of the case, and those I do not wish to discuss, but I think it does suggest an argument against the necessity of immediate examination by a Committee of this new claim. To my mind the argument has never been answered against sending this Bill to a Committee, on the ground of expense. At first the noble Earl, as has been pointed out by another speaker, seemed a little inclined to pooh-pooh the £20,000 or £30,000 which it would cost. It would cost Newcastle a good deal, and also Stoke-on-Trent, although possibly Stoke-on-Trent can afford the expense much hotter. In the circumstances, and in view of the action taken last year by this House, I have no hesitation whatever in supporting the rejection of the Bill which has been proposed by the Amendment of my noble friend.
§ LORD DICKINSON
My Lords, I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes. I have no personal acquaintance with this part of the country, but I have read very carefully the papers circulated to us, and listened with great attention to the speeches this afternoon. I approach the question rather from the point of view of procedure, and the importance which I attach to making use as far as possible of the Private Bill procedure, which is well known in this country. No tribunals are more respected, in regard to those particular questions which are the subject of Private Bill legislation, than the Committees of this House and the House of Commons, and it is almost looked upon outside as a right—of course it is not a right—that any public authority in this country has, to bring its case before this House and to have it heard in Committee. The great advantages of 370 your Lordships' Committees are that they do not come to any decision until they have heard all that can be said, for and against, and have listened to the evidence, and when the Committee pass the Preamble in the form with which your Lordships are well acquainted, that is in reality the effective Second Reading of the Bill, given after every argument has been brought forward and all the facts have been ascertained.
Having listened to the speeches this afternoon, it does seem to me that it is impossible for us to give the kind of decision which is given in the Committee upstairs, and arrived at after a full study of the facts. I venture to submit that on this occasion we shall be doing a great injustice to the people of Stoke if we refuse to allow them the right to come before a Committee in the ordinary way; and for this reason, that this particular scheme can only be dealt with in this way, because we have definitely laid it down in our procedure that a proposal by a county borough to absorb other districts, or convert another borough into a county borough, must be dealt with by Private Bill legislation, and cannot be dealt with in any other way. We have this afternoon discussed a great deal the Act of 1929, and the Lord Chairman has explained that in his opinion even if an inquiry takes place the County Borough of Stoke-on-Trent cannot be heard. I have carefully looked into the matter, and I have come to the conclusion to which he came, that there will be no locus standi if an inquiry is held, and that even if there were an inquiry this proposal could not be carried out by an inquiry, and could only be done by a Committee upstairs of the two Houses of Parliament. Therefore it seems to me that we are closing the only door by which Stoke-on-Trent can lay before Parliament its particular scheme. This at any rate can be said for the scheme, that last year, after nineteen days' inquiry, a House of Commons Committee unanimously accepted it. Therefore there must be something to be said for it, and it seems to me that we ought to give an opportunity to a Committee of the House of Lords to listen to the scheme and to understand what it is.
Something has been said about the Report of the Royal Commission. The 371 Royal Commission definitely laid it down not only that great weight should be given to the opinion of the locality, but also that other circumstances should be taken into consideration. In a passage that has not been quoted they stated that:—In other cases, Committees of Parliament have confirmed proposals to which strong objection has been taken by a large majority of the inhabitants of the area sought to be annexed, and evidence has been submitted to us to the effect that the result of the extension has been beneficial even where it has been authorised in face of the objection of the inhabitants.My noble friend Lord Buckmaster made a great deal of the fact that the great majority of the people of Newcastle objected to being enclosed in Stoke-on-Trent, but it, is precisely because of this opposition that the question must come before Parliament and be dealt with by Parliament. There is no other body that can give satisfaction in a case like this, except a Committee of the House of Lords. Therefore the very fact that there is this great opposition is an argument in favour of observing our usual procedure, and sending the Bill to a Committee and having an inquiry into the opposition, into the reasons for the opposition, and into all the other facts which are generally brought before a Committee in similar circumstances. I do not want to delay your Lordships, but I wish to make these observations, because, as I have said, it seems to me that it is a claim that Stoke-on-Trent have upon us that their ease shall be laid before a Committee, because in no other way can they obtain their desire.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD AMULREE)
My Lords, if I might I would just remind you what is the position with regard to Private Bills of this nature going to a Committee upstairs, after your Lordships have granted a Second Reading. A great deal has been said about local feeling in Newcastle-under-Lyme against the proposal that they shall be brought into Stoke-on-Trent, and no doubt that must be taken into account and considerable attention paid to it. But the question is not what is the feeling of the local inhabitants of a particular area, but what is to the public advantage of the community as a whole. That is really the question which has to be determined, and I submit that question can only be determined by a 372 full investigation by an impartial body such as a Committee of your Lordships' House. I regard one question which has been raised as a very important one—the question of the costs of these inquiries. That is a contention which surely does not lie either in the mouth of Newcastle or of the County Council, because on two distinct occasions Stoke has asked that the question should be referred to the arbitration of the Minister of Health or of a person to be appointed by the Minister of Health. Had that offer been accepted on either of those occasions all this question of expense would have been saved and the whole thing might have been covered by a small expenditure of £200 or £300. That offer was distinctly rejected by the Borough of Newcastle, the urban district of Wolstanton and the County Council. Therefore I do not think it can be said with any great fairness that an inquiry by a Committee upstairs should be rejected simply because of the cost that may be incurred.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
My Lords, I should like in a very few words to give my reasons for differing from the noble Lord who has just spoken and my noble friend who preceded him. It appears to me that in all these questions of annexation unless there are strong reasons on the other side regard should be had to the wishes of the area which it is sought to annex. If you cannot show some overpowering reason of general or national interest I think the express wishes of the area ought to prevail. We have been shown by my noble friend Lord Peel and others that on this occasion the people of the area which it is sought to annex are almost unanimously opposed to this proposal. That being so I think we ought to refuse a Second Reading to this Bill.
My noble friend Lord Dickinson said a good deal about Private Bill procedure and intimated that in his opinion the purpose of that procedure required that we should allow this Bill to go upstairs to a Committee. I do not think so. In certain cases, of which this is one, I think if is a very useful thing to let it be known outside that an area like Stoke cannot, by merely putting down a Private Bill for consideration by Parliament, force either your Lordships' House or another place to give a Second Read- 373 ing to the Bill, and it is a very good thing to discourage that idea. My noble friend behind me put the question in the form of a dilemma. He said, "Do we regard the Committee upstairs as a competent tribunal? If we do, why not let it go to them? If we do not, we ought to give our reasons for not thinking so." Speaking for myself, of course I think a Committee upstairs is a very competent tribunal, but there should be first, in all cases of Second Reading, a strong prima facie case shown in favour of the proposals. When that strong prima facie case is made of course it is perfectly right that the measure should go upstairs to a Committee and that its details
§ Resolved in the negative and Motion disagreed to accordingly.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to and Bill to be read 2a this day six months accordingly.374
§ should be threshed out. In my judgment no prima facie case has been shown for this Bill at all. No new reason and no new facts have been brought forward which were not before your Lordships in July. No reason new or old on the merits has been brought forward to show why this annexation should be made. In those circumstances I feel very strongly that we ought to refuse a Second Reading to the Bill and I shall certainly vote with my noble friend Lord Peel.
§ On Question, Whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 31; Not Contents, 73.373
|Sankey, L.(L. Chancellor.)||FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.)|
|Hailsham, V.||Marks, L.|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Morris, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Newton, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Mersey, V.||Ormonde, L.(M. Ormonde.)|
|Midleton, E. [Teller.]||Passfield, L.|
|Rosslyn, E.||Amulree, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Strange, E. (D. Atholl.) [Teller.]||Auckland, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Daryngton, L.||Sanderson, L.|
|Denman, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Astor, V.||Dickinson, L.||Sydenham of Combe, L.|
|Chaplin, V.||Gorell, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Aberdare, L.||Hanworth, L.|
|Addington, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Bristol, M.||Aldenham, L.||Hylton, L.|
|Crewe, M.||Ampthill, L.||Illingworth, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Jessel, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Askwith, L.||Lamington, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Balfour of Burleigh, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Banbury of Southam, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Iveagh, E.||Belper, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Lichfield, E. [Teller.]||Berwick, L.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)|
|Liverpool, E.||Biddulph, L.||Phillimore, L.|
|Macclesfield, E.||Buckmaster, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Charnwood, L. [Teller.]||Remnant, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Clwyd, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Cornwallis, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Peel, E.||Cottesloe, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Scarbrough, E.||Cranworth, L.||Sinclair, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Cushendun, L.||Somerleyton, L.|
|Danesfort, L.||Stafford, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Deramore, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)|
|Bridgeman, V.||Desborough, L.|
|Churchill, V.||Dynevor, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Esher, V.||Doverdale, L.|
|Hereford, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Hood, V.||Gainford, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Leverhulme, V.||Hampton, L.||Wraxall, L.|