HC Deb 08 August 1887 vol 318 cc1668-88

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Jackson.)

MR. BAUMANN (Camberwell, Peckham)

I do not, of course, wish to prevent the House going into Committee on this Bill, because I believe the money is really required for the service of the Metropolis, though, I may observe, that, up to this point, no statement on behalf of the Metropolitan Board of Works has been vouchsafed to the House. But, considering the very large borrowing and lending powers asked for—this Bill, I believe, contains borrowing powers amounting to over£3,000,000—and, considering the rate to be levied by the Metropolitan Board of Works has now reached 7d. and a fraction in the pound, and considering, further, that the second reading of the Bill was allowed to pass the other morning, owing to the lateness of the hour, without any debate or discussion, I cannot help thinking we Metropolitan Members would be guilty of something like a dereliction of duty to our constituents the ratepayers of London if, before the House goes in Committee, we did not raise some discussion and make some remarks on the policy and expenditure of the Metropolitan Board of Works. I desire, before the House goes into Committee, to call attention to one or two anomalies in the relations between the Metropolitan Board of Works and this House, and to the conduct of Business of this kind in the House. The first anomaly I find in the fact that this Money Bill, this Budget of the Board, is introduced into this House by two Members of the Government, who are neither responsible for, or even acquainted with, the purposes for which the money is required. I do not mean to say, of course, that the items of the Bill have not been examined by some one on behalf of the Treasury, but let any ton. Gentleman ask the Secretary of the Treasury for an explanation of Clause 5, or the history of the Blackwall Tunnel, and it will be found that the Secretary to the Treasury will be obliged to refer to the hon. Member for the Knutsford Division of Cheshire (Mr. Egerton), a private Member of the House for an explanation. Of course, neither the Financial Secretary to the Treasury or the hon. Baronet the Member for Wigtonshire (Sir Herbert Maxwell) can give any explanation of the clause, for the good reason that they are not members of the Board who want the money, and therefore can say nothing as to the policy of the Board, or the financial condition of the Metropolis. I do not wish to say anything disrespectful of the two hon. Gentlemen to whom I have referred; but once every year, at all events, two Lords of the Treasury are content to figure as the financial dummies of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The anomalous relations between the Board and this House have always been felt to be inconvenient; bat since the translation of the Chairman of the Board to "another place" these relations have become almost intolerable. Here we have a body like the Metropolitan Board of Works—and this is anomaly number two—which presents annually a Budget of £3,000,000 to the House, which lends large sums of money to Vestries, District Boards, Boards of Guardians, Metropolitan Asylums Board—to all the local bodies of London, which makes new streets, erects artizans' dwellings, builds bridges, makes tunnels, manages parks: which performs a variety of functions too numerous to mention, which is perpetually bringing forward Bills of importance, and yet this Board has never had in the House any official recognized representative. Why the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works need not be a Member of Parliament at all. I believe the Predecessor of the present Chairman was not a Member at all, and even Lord Magheramorne when he sat in this House had no recognized official position, and was only allowed to answer questions in defiance of practice, by the indulgence and courtesy of the House. But he has now vanished under an unpronounceable title to "another place," and for a long time there was no one in the House to whom a Question could be addressed; but at last the noble Lord the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works has appointed and deputed as his Successor my hon. Friend the Member for the Knutsford Division, whose competence I do not for one moment question—indeed, it is beyond question, and I congratulate him on his appointment as a deserved tribute to his character; but he will forgive me if I say that Angelo the deputy is not quite the same as the Duke himself. We could not well have a Chancellor of the Exchequer in the House of Lords and a Deputy Chancellor here; but here we have the Chairman in the House of Lords and a deputy here. Well, it may be said all these matters concerning the business of London are for the ratepayers of London, and not for this House. So they would be; so they ought to be, if the Metropolitan Board of Works were directly elective. But if these matters are the concern of: the ratepayers, then I say, submit your Budget to the ratepayers. I am far from saying it would be wise or expedient to transfer all control over the Board of Works from this House to the ratepayers, for it should never be forgotten that London is the capital of the Empire. But what is not arguable is—and I address myself specially to Metropolitan Members—the fact that we, the Metropolitan Members, are the only protection the ratepayers have against the Board of Works; because the peculiarity of the Board's position in regard to this Money Bill, and, indeed, to all its public Bills, is, that while, on the one hand, it escapes the control of the ratepayers, it often, on the other, escapes the ordeal of a Private Bill Committee upstairs. And this brings me to the last and not the least anomaly which disfigures the conduct of the business of the Board, the anomaly that its finance is separated from its policy, that its schemes go before one tribunal and its finance come before another. All the schemes of the Metropolitan Board of Works which involve questions of property are, in accordance with the Rules of this House, introduced as Private Bills, and are sent upstairs to a Private Bill Committee: but the money which is wanted for the carrying out of these schemes is obtained by this Bill introduced into this House by the Government as a Public Bill. Well, the inconvenience of this is obvious. Of course, in dealing with, other public bodies or Companies, the Private Bill Committee has before it the financial as well as the engineering, or works, part of the scheme, and the Committee can overhaul the scheme as a whole; but when a Private Bill Committee comes to deal with a Board of Works proposal, it is told, "Oh, here is a beautiful scheme for the making of a tunnel under the Thames. It will cost so much; but never mind about that; the money will be provided by the Metropolitan Board of Works Money Bill which will be introduced by the Government." Then this House is told, "Here is the Metropolitan Board of Works Money Bill, which you must pass, because the money is wanted for schemes already sanctioned by Committees upstairs." So the Committee is asked to pass the scheme without a thought of the money, and this House is asked to vote the money without the scheme. Now, I venture to think and to say that that way of doing business is very unsatisfactory because it enables the Board by these moans to escape all direct control whether from the ratepayers or from this House, because Metropolitan Members of this House are prevented from criticizing with any effect the clauses of this Bill. For this reason I will not attempt the task at this hour. But I may make the general remark as to the loading powers sought for in this Bill, that it seems to me the Metropolitan Board of Works and the local bodies that it feeds have got into the habit of mortgaging the rates with much too great facility. I have thought it my duty to draw attention to what appeared to mo some anomalies in the conduct of the business of a great public body which has, on the whole, deserved well of the public. I say this with the greater emphasis in the face of recent scandals, and I hope that the anomalies may be remedied some way or other, but until such time as the Metropolitan Board of Works is directly elected by the ratepayers, I repeat, in my opinion, it is essential that the Chairman of the Board should sit in this House, and, if possible, he should have a recognized official position; and, if I may say so, to my hon. Friends who are Members of the Board, I do not think the Metropolitan Board of Works quite realize the enormous change in its own position, the altered position of the Board brought about by the passing of the Redistribution of Seats Act. When there were only 20 Metropolitan Members in the House it was no doubt easy to slip a Metropolitan Board of Works Bill through in the small hours, but now that there are 60 Members sitting for London constituencies, unless the Board shows a desire to consult the convenience of those Members, and the wants and wishes of their constituents, the Board cannot expect to find their Bills passed through the House with such facility.


The hon. Member has been somewhat unjust to the Board of Works in his criticisms on the mode in which its Members are elected. The Metropolitan Board has nothing whatever to do with that, that was settled by the Act passed by Parliament in 1855, so I do not think the Board is a fair mark for the sarcasms levelled at it on this account. Then, Sir, as to the form in which this money Bill comes before you. The method of setting forth the accounts of which we have an elaborate specimen, was laid down in the l2th clause of the Metropolitan Loans Act. It was thought at that time a matter of interest, and well for the public to have information, annually in the form of a statement showing how the rates had been mortgaged, and how far the redemptions had proceeded, and this statement finds a place in this Bill every year. This is prepared under Statute. I understand my hon. Friend to say he has no doubt that this money is really required by the Metropolitan Board. But how did he I arrive at this opinion? He said no statement had been vouchsafed to the House for what this money was required, but I suppose he has read the Schedules, and he must have come to his conclusion from that reading, for there every authority is quoted, and every Statute mentioned under which powers are granted. Information is given in very considerable detail, and upon this the hon. Gentleman must have come to the conclusion that the money was required. If that statement requires amplification there are Members in the House willing and desirous to give further information; but I assume, hearing nothing to the contrary, that this is not necessary now. As to the way in which the Metropolitan Board is represented in the House, allow me to say I am surprised at my hon. Friend's remarks. I thought we were all in favour of decentralization, and it seems a strange thing to hear my hon. Friend say the Metropolitan Board should be a Government Department. I thought we were all in favour of local self-government, but my hon. Friend, in a speech in which he says the Board ought to be elected by the ratepayers, advocates the creation of the Board into a sort of Government Department with a Representative in the House to answer all Questions that Metropolitan Members are disposed to put on Metropolitan affairs. There is something of inconsistency in his speech. Now, in regard to this money—it is required for the service of the Metropolis in respect to schemes sanctioned by this House, or in respect to contributions to Local Authorities authorized by the Government and sanctioned by Parliament as proper expenditure. The policy of the Board is the policy of Parliament, because all the expenditure is in consequence of Statutes passed for the regulation of the Metropolis. The Board introduces a Bill to obtain Parliamentary sanction for certain works, and the cost of the work is stated before the Committee. The reason why the money required for the tunnel works at Black-wall was not put in the Tunnel Bill itself was because we thought it more convenient to come to Parliament and ask for the whole of the money for the year than that the Board should put the money in its Bills for many purposes— sometimes for a tunnel, sometimes for a common, sometimes for a bridge, and so on. You would have to look through 50 Acts of Parliament before you could get at the amount of the expenditure; but here we show the expenditure as a whole, and give opportunity for the discussion of any item. It is, I believe, a much better plan than submitting the financial proposals in fragments. The Blackwall Tunnel Bill received the Royal Assent to-day; surely Parliament would not, in the same Session, authorize a scheme which, beyond doubt, if carried out, would greatly benefit the inhabitants of the East End of London on either side the river, and refuse to grant the money for carrying it out? The hon. Member says our annual budget is about £3,000,000, but our annual budget is much less, it is usual about £1,500,000; but it happens to be £3,000,000 this year, because of the addition of this Blackwall Tunnel. A discussion in regard to the Metropolitan Board must be regarded in connection with the interests of the ratepayers, and if the habit of attacking public bodies is indulged in towards the Metropolitan Board, that body can only be discredited at the expense of the ratepayers. We go on the Market and raise the money we require at 3 per cent, and our Stock stands as high as Consols. If you injure the credit of the Metropolitan Board of Works you injure the interests of the ratepayers of the Metropolis, and I would advise Metropolitan Members to be careful of attacks upon that body, which, will only recoil upon their own constituents. No doubt, there are many points of interest in the Bill, and the Board will satisfy any inquiry; but I believe the House is not now desirous of going into the details. We have had to satisfy the Treasury, and with that authority we now ask Parliamentary sanction. The Government bring in this Bill, for theirs is the responsibility to see that the details in the Schedule correspond with the statutory powers of the Board; and this Government control is most useful. A great deal of the money required is for the renewal of powers previously granted. Large contracts have been entered into, especially in regard to sewage, on the faith of previous grants. The money has not been borrowed, and we ask to have the power renewed. The expenditure is subject to a public audit, and ratepayers may object to any part of it. The whole thing may be surcharged, even to the pockets of members of the Board. Surrounded as the whole transaction is by safeguards, I think the House may pass the Bill satisfied that there is no injustice to the ratepayers, and allow works of great public utility to be constructed.

THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand. Westminster)

It may be for the convenience of the House if I state the circumstances under which we are responsible for the promotion, of this Money Bill every year, and how it was that the practice was set on foot. I was Secretary to the Treasury in 1874–5, and at that time the Treasury was responsible for the auditing of the Metropolitan Board of Works accounts, and for seeing that the Board proceeded under their statutory powers. It was represented to me at the time that the practice of the Metropolitan Board then, in promoting Bills in Parliament, which gave them the right to raise money on loan in respect to particular works, was accumulating an amount of liability, so far as the Metropolis was concerned, unknown to the ratepayers. When a bridge, or a tunnel, or a system of sewage was undertaken by the Board, they passed a Bill through Parliament—a Private Bill—containing all the powers for raising the money in respect to the particular work, the borrowing and taxing powers for that object. The result was that there were many concurrent powers running at the same time, and the gross amount of indebtedness was unknown to the inhabitants of the Metropolis. It appeared to the Government at that time desirable that all these powers should be brought into one focus in a statement made to Parliament every year of the unexhausted powers of the Metropolitan Board, of those terminated each year, and that this should be attached to an annual Bill, providing for the amount required in the year, not only for works incomplete, and for which authority had been given in previous years by legislation, but, also, for works, if any, which would be carried out within the year. Thereupon legislation was passed by Parliament, and the system which now prevails was adopted. Hon. Members will understand that nothing is provided for in this Bill to which Parliamentary sanction has not already been obtained. Subject to this Parliamentary sanction, it is the duty of the Treasury carefully to check the demands made by this Money Bill with the powers obtained by previous Bills promoted by the Board, and investigated by private Bill Committees. It was thought desirable that the Metropolis should be made aware in this statement of the total liabilities incurred year by year, and the statement accompanying the Money Bill introduced into Parliament each year, shows the whole of those liabilities. That is the extent to which the Government are responsible for the Bill. We are not responsible for the policy under which the powers are taken, but for the accuracy of the demands as agreeing with the statutory powers conferred on the Board by Parliament. My hon. Friend has referred to anomalies that exist in the procedure, and I admit the existence of anomalies in the organization and operations of the Board, but I do not think a remedy would be provided by the representation of the Metropolitan Board of Works in the House. I think it is far better for the Metropolitan Board to rely on the representation of any of its members who may be Members of the House, than that any Member of the Government should be entrusted with the duty of representing the views of the Board. I have thought it right to give this explanation, and I think it will be obvious that it is a great advantage to the ratepayers to have this annual financial statement, and not remain in ignorance of growing liabilities that might at any time lead to the imposition of a very heavy rate.

MR. SYDNEY BUNTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I did not understand that the objection of the hon. Member for Peckham was to the control exercised by the Treasury; and I think that so long as the Board maintains its present non-representative character, it is essential that there should be such control, imperfect though it may be, over the expenditure. I was myself very glad to hear such a speech from that quarter of the House, and Metropolitan Members will agree with it in the main. the hon. Member pointed out an anomalous state of things in connection with the Board, but so far as I see, he has failed to draw the con- clusion most of us here would draw therefrom—namely, that the only remedy is to have in London some central and representative authority directly responsible to the ratepayers in a way that the Metropolitan Board certainly cannot be under existing circumstances. The hon. and gallant Member for Woolwich seems to think that the policy of the Board is almost of a sacred character, which Members should not challenge or criticize; but while I admit the valuable work done by the Board, I must say their action is sometimes open to question. If we had some system in which the ratepayers had direct control, we should have the money of the ratepayers properly spent, and it would not be necessary for us to discuss the Metropolitan Budget in the House in the way it is now absolutely necessary it should be discussed. I do think that, considering that the House of Commons is the only way in which popular control of any sort or kind that can be exercised over the Board, that this Bill should come before us at a time when the 60Metropolitan Members could have a full opportunity of discussing the important matters therein contained. One word further in reference to the remarks of the hon. Member for Peckham, on the Thames Tunnel. He pointed out that the expenditure under the scheme would be very great, and so far as I could gather from what he said, he seemed rather to object to that expenditure. But I would point out that the proposed tunnel is the only means of communication between the North and South of the Thames east of the Tower Bridge, which is not yet finished, and many of my constituents are five or six miles even from the Bridge. It costs many of the manufacturers in the Isle of Dogs as much to send goods to Greenwich as to send them to Sweden. This is a state of things that should be put an end to, and the £1,500,000 will be well spent upon a scheme that will bring great benefit to the whole of the East End of London. The West of London has received much from the ratepayers in recent times, and it is only right that the East.End should have a means of communication across the river. I hope the discussion of this evening, the speech of the hon. Member for Peckham, and the speech from the First Lord of the Treasury, in which he acknowledged the very anomalous position of the Board of Works will do something towards that reform and towards the formation of a central authority on a representative basis which, I believe, every Metropolitan Member, Liberal or Conservative, regards as the essential thing to be carried out, however much we may differ in the actual reform, we propose.


I should like to say one word before the Financial Secretary to the Treasury speaks. I should like to point out one omission—namely, that there is no provision made for the acquisition of Parliament Hill. Only last year an Act was passed authorizing the Metropolitan Board to acquire that particular piece of land extending from. Hampstead Heath, and power was also given to the vestries immediately concerned to make contributions towards the cost. The vestries have performed their part; they have promised Hampstead £20,000 and St. Pancras £30,000, on the understanding that the Metropolitan Board will fulfil its part. But so far as I can see, that Board has done nothing to carry out this scheme. It is not necessary for me—as this House last year fully concurred as to its utility—to go into details of the improvement, but let me say there must be no delay in regard to it. Those who have been engaged in the promotion of the schema are well aware of the attendant circumstances which will not permit of any delay whatever. My object in rising is to impress on the Metropolitan Board not to delay if they intend to carry out the scheme for the acquisition of the Hill.

MR. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)

I would first point out to the hon. Member for North St. Pancras who last spoke that the reason why the Metropolitan Board of Works have not yet asked for Parliamentary powers to borrow £200,000 for the purchase of Parliament Hill is that at the present time they are pressed in every direction to carry out undertakings of this character, and if they acceded to every request—and these requests are urged on them in some cases by Members of Parliament—they would expend a sum of £10,000,000. At the present time, we are not aware whether the powers we have to receive a quota from the Coal and Wine Dues will be renewed. It may be asked, why, if we have delayed the purchase of Parliament Hill, we propose to spend a vast sum of money on the Blackwall Tunnel? Now, the question of making this important intercommunication has been pressed on the Metropolitan Board for many years past. It will be very useful to the East End of London—a district representing in trade and commerce a population greater than the combined populations of Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham. The population of the district of East London on the North side of the bridge is 894,000; and the combined populations of Manchester and Birmingham is 860,000;the population on the South side of London Bridge is 655,000, while that of Liverpool is 552,000. This question has been carefully considered by the Metropolitan Board. I am quite prepared to hear the argument that that Board is a non-representative body; but, Sir, to my mind, it is not absolutely so. The major portion of the gentlemen who sit on that Board are men who have sat for many years on local governing bodies in London, and who have been found to be men competent to serve on the central body. They have had their training in local government in smaller bodies, and it is their duty to go to those bodies from time to time and report upon what has been done by the central board. In many instances there has been great contests over the election of members of the Metropolitan Board, while many of those so elected have also had to fight an election in order to secure a seat on the local body appointing them, so that it is altogether wrong to say it is a totally non-representative body. Just look for a moment at the Ministry of the day. The Members of this House are elected, the dominant Party selects a Leader, who nominates certain men to sit in the Ministry. Of course, those nominated have to go back to their constituencies, and to be re-elected; but after all the constituencies simply ratify; they do not appoint similarly on the Metropolitan Board; we would be quite willing, after being elected on the Central Board, to go back to the general constituency to be re-elected. My hon. Friend has pointed out the fact that at the present moment the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board does not sit in this House. But let me remind him that on a former occasion not only was the Chairman of the Board not a Member of the House; but no single member of the Board had a seat in the House of Commons, whereas at the present time you have three Members sitting here, either of whom surely is able to answer any question that may be put as to the proceedings of the Board. Incidental reference has been made to what is called the "recent scandal." I should like to say it is not a "recent" scandal in the proper sense of the word. It is connected with a matter which occurred some years ago; we have had a thorough inquiry into the matter, and let me remind the House that there are occasionally—in the Army and Navy, in banks and in other institutions, where 400 or 500 men have to be looked after—small scandals.


Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is now getting rather wide of the mark in discussing on this Bill the past history of the Metropolitan Board of Works.


All right, Sir. ["Order, order!"] I will not refer any further to that fact. Before I conclude my remarks, I would point out to the House that this Money Bill has to be presented from year to year. The Board's present powers will expire on the 31st December, 1887, and unless this Bill is passed the Board's liabilities and contracts now in existence cannot be met. We are under a vast number of liabilities and contracts, and I am bound to point out that every year those liabilities are increasing owing to the action of Parliament itself. For instance, in this very Bill we have had to provide for a sum of £20,000 to be spent in connection with the Public Parks Bill, which has just passed this House. That means one-sixth of a penny in the pound, and Parliament from time to time throws fresh obligations on the Metropolitan Board of Works. We would not willingly spend one farthing of the ratepayers' money, but we are obliged to do what you order. We are an executive body; we have to carry out, to the best of our ability, the various Acts of Parliament. The Board does its work well; its debates are brief, and to the point. When you have the new Central Government of London, which will not have the check of the House of Commons which we have, I venture to say you will have a vastly increased expenditure.


I do not think that there are any of us speaking on this matter who are prepared to say that the money asked for is not in all cases required and for good objects. We are thankful to the First Lord of the Treasury for the statement he made, and I think no one of us who holds a strong opinion against the constitution of the present Board does not also think that a very great improvement was made—and for the benefit of the ratepayers—when Parliament undertook that this annual budget of the Board of Works should come before it. Bat we do complain that the Central Authority for governing London should be so very badly constituted that the Government should consider it necessary for Parliament to give it this dry nursing every year. We in London believe that we are as capable of governing ourselves as are the people living in large Provincial towns. We only want to have a directly elective Board—one directly elected by the ratepayers, which shall control its own finances. Such a Board could be elected just as well as we can elect 60 Members of this House. I think the case, so far as we have had one made out by two hon. Members of the Board of Works who have seats in this House, is a very poor one indeed. They have entirely failed to grasp the point made by the hon. Member for Peckham, that the state of things in London has changed. They seem to fret under the criticisms directed against them. I should like to give them one word of warning, that if this Bill in future Sessions is not brought in at an earlier hour we shall have to take stronger action instead of confining ourselves to criticism, and I venture to say that in that stronger action we shall have a very strong public opinion at our back. I have yet to find that the Metropolitan Board of Works possesses the confidence of the ratepayers, for those ratepayers have never yet had a chance of showing whether or not they feel any confidence in it. A most amusing illustration of a thing which has no existence was given by the hon. Member for East St. Pancras. He said that Ministries in this House were formed out of the Party having the majority, and that the Ministers had to go back to their, constituencies to get their appointments endorsed. The inference he drew from this—and I am sure I do not know where the point came in—was that they did not do this thing on the Board of Works, and that therefore there was some similarity between that Board and Parliament.


I beg the hon. Member's pardon. What I said was that if each member of the Board was to go back to the parish where he had a seat on the Local Body to be re-elected, it would be an analogous case.


Unfortunately it does not take place, and when one uses an illustration in a speech, it is generally intended that it should point to an existing state of things, and it is not usually applied to a practical question as to what might occur if a totally different state of things existed. Now, Sir, with regard to this being an elective body in a certain degree, let us consider what its constitution is. The members of the Board are nominated by Vestries, District Boards, and the City of London, who may or may not be members of the bodies nominating them. The Vestry may choose someone outside their body, and who has never had any connection whatever with the ratepayers of that particular parish. I know that in a good many cases the local bodies do choose the members from among themselves, and I think that that is a very good thing; but, after all, that is only an accident. How is the Vestry itself constituted? Let us take, for instance, the Vestry of the parish represented by the Member for East St. Pancras. Why, the great majority of the ratepayers of that parish are not qualified to sit on that Vestry, because it is necessary to have a £40 ratal qualification. In one Division of the parish of St. Pancras a vast percentage—I should think at least five-sixths of the entire body of ratepayers—could not stand as Vestrymen if they wished, because their ratal qualification would be under £40. You have no representative system, and if our Friends from the Provinces on both sides of the House will just give a little attention to the wants of London, they might usefully employ some of the time of the House which is wasted on other matters. An hon. Member opposite said just now—"Do not attack the Board of Works; do not say anything against them, or else down will go their credit." Just fancy that! The credit of which, he boasted so much is to go to smithereens if we criticize a Money Bill! Does he really think that that credit depends on the constitution of the Board? What is it the credit relies upon? the credit is that of the ratepayers of London; and to interfere with that credit and bring it down, you must do something which will affect the stability of London itself. You can abolish the Metropolitan Board of Works altogether, and I venture to think that the people of London will not even shudder at it, and the effect on credit will be to improve it rather than otherwise. I do not like this Bill, nor the way in which we are called upon to vote this money; it is too late an hour at which to deal with so important a question. The Metropolitan Board of Works year by year spend an enormous sum of money on sewerage; but if we had a directly-elected body, you would have that important question properly dealt with. You would have the necessary amount of public attention drawn on it, schemes for dealing with it would receive consideration, and people would see how money was now wasted on that. An attempt would be made to utilize the sewage. This is one of the questions which will have to be thoroughly discussed in public, and by a thoroughly representative authority, before the people of London will be satisfied. Now, with regard to the confidence which we are told the Metropolitan ratepayers have in the Board of Works, why if one takes up the papers day by day you will see that there are members of the Board who are under very grave charges. A City paper last Saturday had a series of interrogatories for which it demanded the attention of the members. Members of only two years' service cannot, I know, speak with authority on what has taken place; but I am confident of one thing, and that is that before long the whole of the transactions of that Board will have to go before a Royal Commission. The Robertson scandal is only the commencement of it, and it is because I think good is to be done by drawing attention to this Board that I have said these few words.

MR. EVELYN (Deptford)

It is not my intention at this hour of the night to continue the discussion at any length; but I venture to say that the remarks of the hon. Member who has just sat down have very little bearing on the matter before the House. He speaks of the scandals of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and he appears to me to look forward to the possibility of future scandals. I shall not deal with such topics, because I do not think that they can be properly discussed on this occasion; but I do desire to make some remarks with regard to points that have arisen in the course of the debate. In the first place, I think we are very much indebted to my hon. Friend for the manner in which he has brought this matter forward. We have had from the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury a very interesting account of the system on which the Board was formerly managed. As to the present system, it is admitted that there are anomalies in it, and I do not wish here to go into that matter. But when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Woolwich got up to answer the speech of the hon. Member for Peckham, I cannot help thinking that he avoided grappling with the real arguments that were advanced. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham did not enter into the question of the present mode of electing the Metropolitan Board of Works, nor did he make the absurd assertion that there is no statement of the purposes for which this large amount of money is demanded. Of course, we have in the Schedule a full account of the purposes to which the money is to be applied. But the hon. and gallant Member for Woolwich seemed to entertain the superstitious feeling that the Metropolitan Board can do no wrong—in fact, he seems to claim from us greater confidence in the Board than, judging from the reports in the newspapers, that august body has in itself. Now, let me refer for a moment to the provision in the Bill dealing with the Blackball Tunnel. I have put down a Notice adverse to that project; but I consider that the thing is practically decided as the Bill for it has received the Royal Assent. I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite, or with my hon. Friend the Member for East St. Pancras, as to the great advantages of this scheme; in fact, I have as little faith in this hole under the Thames as I have in the hole projected under the Channel. Speaking on behalf of those I have the honour to represent, I can only say that the people of Deptford do not expect any great advantage from the tunnel; they would much have preferred a free ferry from Deptford to the Isle of Dogs, which would only have cost £4,000 or £5,000, as compared with the £1,500,000 or £2,000,000 which will be expended, on the tunnel. Surely, Sir, this tunnel project should not be allowed to pass sub silentio; and Her Majesty's Government should give us some account in regard to so gigantic a scheme. I do not see why the Metropolis should bear the whole cost of it, as it is intended that the Government should make use of it. Then as to the phraseology employed in the Bill. I wish to know if it is consistent with Constitutional usage? Is it right to ask us to vote money for a project which does not become law until it has received the Royal Assent? I know that, as a fact, the Bill received the Royal Assent to-day; but I would suggest, as a verbal Amendment, that we omit from Subsection 2 of Clause 9 the words "if it becomes law." In Sub-section 4, the same words recur, and in reference to the London Parks and Works Bill, which has not received the Royal Assent, but which is now before the House of Lords, is it quite respectful on our part towards the Crown to presume that the Bill will not only pass the Lords, but that it will receive the Royal Assent? I do not like to vote money on any such assumption. To the list of anomalies mentioned by the hon. Member for Peckham may be added the greatest of all—that at this late hour we should be called on to discuss a Bill of this important character, and one which so nearly and intimately concerns our constituents.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 5 (Power to expend moneys for the purposes of the Metropolitan Board of Works (Various Powers) Act, 1887, the Thames Tunnel (Blackwall) Act, 1887, the Artizans, &c., Acts, and. the London Parks and Works Act, 1887).

Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 35, omit the words "if it becomes law."—(Mr. Evelyn.)


I hope my hon. Friend will not press this. It is perfectly true, as he says, that it would make this clause in accordance with facts, and it is also true that in the subsequent clause you have another anomaly arising from similar words applied to a matter which has not yet received the Royal Assent. I would further point out it would be undesirable to lay down a precedent on this occasion. My hon. Friend will see that if compulsory powers to take property are given by Parliament in this Session, it is only reasonable that Parliament should simultaneously make provision to pay for it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

MR. SYDNEY BUNTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I see £20,000 has been put down for the Metropolitan Parks, which have just been transferred to the ratepayers. The Committee will, perhaps, remember that the First Commissioner of Works, when he introduced the Parks Bill, stated that the Parks would be handed over to the ratepayers free of all charge; yet here this £20,000 seems to be capital expenditure. I wish to know how it is that the promise of the First Commissioner of Works has not been kept, and that the ratepayers are to be saddled with this sum of £20,000 capital expenditure, in addition to the annual cost of maintenance?


I think my hon. Friend is under a misapprehension as to this capital expenditure. The Bill itself, which has passed this House, states that the Parks pass to the Metropolitan Board of Works as they stand without charge; but it is necessary to make provision in this Bill for the expenditure for the remainder of this year. The Government, of course, will meet the charges which accrue during the remainder of the period that the Parka remain in their hands.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 6 to 9, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 10 (Special powers to expend money for purposes of main drainage and main sewers).

MR. ISAACS (Newington, Walworth)

I rise to protest against the expenditure of £370,000 for fouling the River Thames, and I ask the hon. Member in charge of the Bill under what special power the Metropolitan Board expend this money? I can understand in regard to bridges, tunnels, and other matters they submit their scheme and the Committee passes it; but it seems to me they also have the power to go on from year to year expending sums to which, there appears no limit under the generic title of Main Drainage Works. I do not hesitate to say that the proposed expenditure of £370,000 would be a wicked and wanton waste of the ratepayers' money. It will utterly fail to do what it is intended to do, and, if persisted in, the river will be a worse receptacle of filth than it is at the present moment. It is idle to allow the Board of Works to go on peddling with this subject, they not having the courage to deal with it in a broad and comprehensive manner. I do not know whether it is in my power to move the omission of the clause. I certainly think it should be expunged, and that the Board should not be allowed to spend the money.


It was only last Saturday I went down to Barking and Crossness, and I can assure the hon. Member that the works are being carried out on a gigantic scale. At Barking there are 1,200 men at work upon enormous tanks for precipitating purposes, and a large number are employed at Crossness. We propose barging a portion of the sludge to sea, and one steamer is already constructed for that purpose; and we hope to make the sludge available for agricultural purposes, and I am sure the hon. Member would be surprised at the trouble and the amount of investigation undertaken by the Thames Sewage Committee of the Board. How the sewage is to be disposed of has occupied the unremitting attention of the Board's Committee, and they have consulted the most eminent chemists in this and other countries. The expenditure was first pressed upon the Board by the Report of a Royal Commission, and it will be less than the Report of the Commission anticipated. I know there are great complaints of the state of the Thames during the summer months; but let hon. Members remember that it is not many years ago that they could not use the Terrace or the Embankment owing to the effluvia from the river, and now they can. I appeal to them whether the state of the river is not much better here, and it is gradually becoming better lower down, When we have thoroughly completed the works we have in contemplation, hon. Members may find it possible to catch salmon off the Thames Embankment, although I need hardly say I will not guarantee that such will be the case.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining Clauses agreed to.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedule 2.

MR. LAWSON (St. Pancras, W.)

I believe it was agreed, when the Parks were handed over to the Board, by the Office of Works, that the transfer should be free absolutely from any debt or liability. If so, I cannot understand the item of £20,000 which has to be paid on capital account.


I do not see how that question, arises on the 2nd Schedule.


It deals with, the Parks.


No; it does not arise on the Schedule.

Schedule agreed to.

Preamble agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the third time To-morrow.