§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ MR. BALLANTINE (Coventry)
said, one part of this Bill related to a sewage scheme for the City of Coventry, and the other part to some scheme for the water supply of a Lancashire town. Since the Second Reading the Bill had been entirely transformed, by the omission from it of the Coventry Scheme, in accordance with a pledge given by the President of the Local Government Board. In face of that pledge it was useless for him to do what he had desired to do—namely, to move the re-committal of the Bill; but, at all events, he was in a position to do this: protest very earnestly against the course that had been taken. This matter was most important to every town in England, for it showed conclusively that the Local Government Board had no power whatever to give effect to its own Provisional Order, and that a Provisional Order could only acquire validity by the fact that it was unopposed. Coventry had been placed in a most impossible position by the action of the Local Government Board. In August, 1892, an injunction was obtained against the Corporation for polluting a river in the neigbourhood by its sewage, prohibiting them from using that system of sewage for the future, and an order of sequestration was made against the Corporation upon that injunction. This order of sequestration was suspended for a year, until August, 1893, in order to give the town an opportunity of framing a now system of drainage. The Corporation immediately instructed the best engineer they could secure to frame a scheme, and this scheme was submitted to the Local Government Board, and a Provisional Order applied for. The Local Government Board sent down an Inspector to hold an inquiry at Coventry. This inquiry extended over nine days; it involved the Corporation in enormous ex- 1637 pense, and at it were represented the opponents to the Bill, the chief of whom was Lord Leigh, whose property was in the neighbourhood of the proposed irrigation farms. Every conceivable argument was used by the able counsel whom his Lordship retained to point out every possible objection to the scheme; but, in the result, the Local Government Board gave their sanction to it, and brought in a Bill for the purpose of giving effect to it. This Bill was backed by the President and the Secretary to the Local Government Board, and the town supposed that the fight would be conducted by the Local Government Board; and, therefore, took no part in it whatever. The Second Reading came on; and the unusual course was taken of moving an Amendment to the Second Reading. The President of the Local Government Board, observing on that occasion that there was opposition to the Bill, did not make any very serious resistance, and began his speech by assuring the opponents of the Bill that if there was an adverse vote to the Coventry Scheme he should not consider it any reflection upon himself or his Department; and he concluded by offering to the opponents of the measure a very easy way out of their dilemma. He pointed out that as the Bill comprised two Provisional Orders a vote against the Coventry Scheme would wreck them; and he consequently suggested to the Mover of the Amendment that he should move the Adjournment of the Debate, stating that if that Motion were agreed to be would accept it as the sense of the House adverse to the Coventry Scheme. The Mover of the Amendment eagerly accepted this way out of the difficulty, made his Motion; and the President of the Local Government Board—although it was his own Bill to give effect to a Provisional Order, granted after an exhaustive inquiry of nine days—did not challenge a Division. As Member for the Division, he (Mr. Ballantine) might have challenged a Division; but, as the right hon. Gentleman had taken the fight entirely to himself, he and his Colleagues had no notice that they were expected to fight it, and if he had challenged a Division, what purpose would it have served in face of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had deserted him, and the Division would 1638 have been, in these circumstances, an utterly unfair one. What now was the position of the town of Coventry? It certainly had not been encouraged to ask for another Provisional Order or Scheme in face of this experience; and it was quite obvious that in any scheme that it did propose it was a condition that lands should be obtainable for the scheme without opposition, and that no influential person should reside in the neighbourhood. He considered it was a monstrous position that this city, after trusting its interests to the Local Government Board and implicitly following the directions of that Board for a year, at the end of that period should find itself without a scheme at all after the expenditure of several thousand pounds, and with a sequestration order hanging over their heads to come into operation in August. He would ask the President of the Local Government Board to point out some mode by which the town might be indemnified for the expenditure it had incurred, not through any failure of its own, but of the Local Government Board, and that it would be offered some safeguard or protection against the action of the law.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER,) Wolverhampton, E.
The hon. Member has taken the rather unusual course of making an attack upon the Local Government Board with reference to the procedure of this Bill upon the Third Reading instead of making it upon the Second Reading. He has, I think, quite unintentionally, made several serious misrepresentations, and I think it necessary in the interests of Coventry that I should explain exactly what is the position of the Local Government Board, and what the powders and duties of the Coventry Urban Sanitary Authority are. So far as I can make out, they do not themselves understand them. The position of the Bill is not owing to a pledge I gave. I gave no pledge whatever in any way involving the Local Government Board; but I indicated to the House of Commons a mode of expressing their opinion on one part of the Bill as to which they felt strongly without expressing their opinion on another part in which they took no interest whatever; and I think I was only carrying out my duty to the House and to the Department 1639 in pointing out that mode of procedure. I would remind my hon. Friend that the House of Commons is supreme over the Local Government Board as well as supreme over the Corporation of Coventry. He says that a Provisional Order is absolutely worthless if it is opposed. I venture to toll him precisely the contrary. There have been several Provisional Orders of the Local Government Board opposed this Session; they have been discussed before the proper tribunal—namely, a Committee of the House of Commons upstairs; and the Committee have supported the decision of the Local Government Board after hearing the evidence, and have made the Provisional Orders. This is a case in which the House chose to take the matter into its own hands. I remember—as those who were present will recollect—that I strongly protested against the House so doing; and I went so far, when I suggested the course I did with reference to the adjournment, as to say that if the House went to a Division I should vote against it, and yet the hon. Member now says I deserted the Bill. It was his duty to have taken a Division on the Adjournment, and not that of the Local Government Board. The little experience I have had of this House enables me, to some extent, to fairly gather its opinion; and observing from different quarters of the House, and from every section in it, that if the promoters of the Provisional Order challenged a Division they were sure to be ignominously defeated, I thought my hon. Friend had exercised a wise discretion in not putting the House to the trouble of a Division. No doubt the town of Coventry is in a difficult position, and they wish for the assistance of the Local Government Board in extricating them from that position. They have had two alternative schemes before them. It was, as I told the House, with the greatest reluctance and considerable doubt that I made the Provisional Order approving of this scheme. On the whole, I thought it the best; and when the House of Commons see fit to think otherwise, it is not my business to comment on the decision of the House, in saying that on public grounds—and not upon the private grounds to which the hon. Member alluded—they will not approve of it. Under these circumstances, I think the 1640 City of Coventry will now have recourse to the alternative scheme, on behalf of which some very valuable evidence has been adduced, and which has a great deal to recommend it. Strongly as I am attached to these Provisional Orders, and anxious as I am to see them extended, believing they afford the true solution of the difficulty that is coming fast upon us in consequence of the pressure of Private Business, I must protest against the attempt to bring the Department having charge of these Provisional Orders into conflict with the House of Commons. If the Provisional Order system has any value, and is to be uphold and maintained, it must be subject to the supremacy of the House; and the House itself will never part with that power, and hand it over to any Department. I think last year we passed 90 Provisional Orders of the Local Government Board, of which only three were disputed, so that the House will see this is a very valuable and cheap mode of procedure. It is not the duty of the Local Government Board to spend public money in defending what are called their own Provisional Orders. They make the Provisional Order for the benefit of the Local Authority; the Local Authority has been saved all the expense, delay, and trouble of the preliminary procedure of a Private Bill; and the moment the Provisional Order becomes a disputed Order then the promoters, be they a Corporation or any other Local Authority, are put in precisely the same position as if they had introduced the Bill and they have got to defend the Provisional Order and to pay the costs of defending it. Under those circumstances, I think no blame attaches to the Local Government Board. We have done our best in the circumstances of the case; and it is not for me, as President of that Department, to challenge the decision of the House of Commons.
* SIR C. W.DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
said, he could not but think the right hon. Gentleman did, quite unwittingly, deal somewhat of a blow to the Provisional Order system by suggesting to the House of Commons that they should accept a Motion for Adjournment as a defeat of one of the clauses contained in the Bill. The House of Commons was so inclined to accept Motions for the Adjournment of Private Business, so few 1641 hon. Members had a real interest in Private Business, and they were so anxious to get to questions that in the buzz of conversation which always took place during Private Business, Motions for Adjournment were jumped at by the House.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
If the Motion had not been carried, and the House of Commons had rejected the Bill, a most valuable Provisional Order respecting the water supply of a largo district in Lancashire would have been rejected.
§ SIR C. W. DILKE
said, he quite understood the effect of taking the course which was taken. He would point out that nothing but the very stoutest resistance by the Department concerned would ever save a Bill when the great private influences were brought to bear which were brought to bear on the occasion when this Bill was previously before the House. It was notorious that on that occasion the Government Whips were practically whipping against what was a Government Bill.
§ SIR C. W. DILKE
said, he was aware the right hon. Gentleman did not know of it; but that was the case. The hon. Member for Coventry had on this occasion a real grievance. One point made against the hon. Member was that he did not divide the House, as he ought to have done. That certainly was a fatal mistake on the part of the hon. Member. He (Sir Charles Dilke) happened to be the only Member of the House who challenged a Division. The Government Whips were anxious he should not do so a second time; and as the hon. Member for Coventry did not challenge a Division, he (Sir C. W. Dilke) did not do so the second time. If whenever a Private Bill was opposed which contained two or three Provisional Orders, a Motion for the Adjournment was to be made so lightly after a strong and excellent defence of the scheme such as the right hon. Gentleman had made in his first speech on this Bill, he was bound to say the result would afterwards be that the Provisional Order would be defeated, and it would make Corporations chary of resorting to the Provisional Order system on occasions of this kind.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed