§ Motion made, "That this Bill be read the Third time."
§ *MR. CHANNING moved to recommit the Bill in respect of Clauses 16, 23, and 25. He wanted to draw the attention of the Government to two important points which, as yet, there had been no opportunity of considering in that House, and which could not be dealt with in another place. With regard to Clauses 16 and 25, the objects which he had in view were embodied in Amendments which were placed upon the Paper for the Report Stage, but which could not be moved owing to the questions raised being questions of rating, and thus out of Order except in Committee. Those Amendments provided that any rates levied for the purposes of this Bill should be special rates, and should be divided between the owner and the occupier, having regard to the great advantage conferred on the owners of estates by this Bill. In order that those points might be considered, it would be necessary to re-commit the Bill. The second of these clauses, he would point out, referred to Scotland, where most of the rates of this nature were at the present time divided between the occupier and the owner, and not to divide the rate would create an anomaly. To render 1130 the special rate under the Bill divisible between owner and occupier, would, therefore, only be to apply to the case of light railways the usual rule of Scotch rating. He also asked that the Bill should be recommitted in respect of Clause 23. He thought that many hon. Members could hardly have considered how largely this Bill would modify the rights of municipalities and local authorities under the Tramways Act of 1870. As matters stood now, a local authority, when a tramway was constructed by promoters other than themselves, had a statutory right to acquire it by purchase within six months after the expiring 21 years, or of any seventh year afterwards. The present Bill provided machinery which would be largely used by the promoters of tramways, but it contained provisions which would completely alter the position of local authorities in respect of the power to acquire tramways. The tendency of legislation in these matters had been hitherto to increase rather than to decrease the power of local authorities. Under the Bill as it stood a local authority would have to decide at once whether it would purchase a tramway or not. It could not retain the option of purchase for 21 years. Then, the right of the local authority to purchase even under the original order was rendered subject to the discretion of the Light Railway Commissioners in the first place, and to the discretion of the Board of Trade in the second place. In the Committee upstairs—he was only referring to tramways, and not to light railways—the Government inserted words which made it absolutely imperative that any amending order relating to railways constructed under this Act should not only be, like the original order, at the discretion of the Light Railway Commissioners and of the Board of Trade, but also at the discretion of the promoters of the tramway, without whose consent no order for purchase by the local authority could then be made. The whole of the rights of local authorities with regard to tramways would be imperilled and swept away by this Bill if the promoters of the lines adopted its procedure in preference to the procedure under the Tramways Act. That was a matter which seriously deserved the consideration of Her Majesty's Government before 1131 the Bill passed into law. These matters could not be raised on Report because they raised questions of rating; and for the same reason it was impossible for the Government to deal with either point in another place. He, therefore, ventured to ask Her Majesty's Government to consent to the recommittal of the Bill, and especially with regard to the question of tramways. It seemed to him a matter of very grave importance that the Government, before they passed this Bill into law, should consider how far they were justified in modifying the present state of the law and the statutory rights now enjoyed by local authorities under the Act of 1870.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. C. T. RITCHIE,) Croydon
said he was quite unable to accept the Motion. The hon. Gentleman was himself a member of the Grand Committee before which the Bill came, and he had ample opportunity of raising these questions then and did not avail himself of it. Having regard to the fact that the Bill took several days in Committee, it was rather hard now to ask the House to consider these matters. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Gentleman's main point was in connection with tramways, and he wished a provision to be inserted which would enable a local authority, if they found one of their railways was a success, to purchase it at practically the cost of the material of which it was made.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Yes, but there is no distinction between tramways and light railways under the Bill. He thought that enterprise would be very largely stopped if a local authority could wait until they saw that one of these railways was a success and then come forward and demand to purchase it. That was a most unreasonable request to make, and would greatly interfere with the making of these railways. There was a good deal to be said for the division of rates between owner and occupier, but this was a feeble way of approaching the subject. A rate separate from all the others would have to be levied, and that could only be done at an enormous cost of trouble and expense to the local authority.
§ MR. HUMPHREYS-OWEN
said he was in favour of imposing the whole rate in respect, of light railways on the freeholder, and letting the tenant on whom the rate was assessed deduct it from his rent in the same way that the property tax was now deducted. There would be no trouble or expense if the light railway rate were made a separate item and charged and set ont separately in the demand note. When the freeholder's property was permanently improved he should bear the whole charge.
§ Question put, "That the words 'now read the Third time' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 104; Noes, 31.—(Division List, No. 359.)
§ On the question "That the Bill be read the Third time,"
§ MR. CALDWELL
said the Bill involved considerable constitutional changes. Parliament had the sole power of giving the compulsory power of purchase and of displacing the occupiers of the soil. Even in the case of a Provisional Order Bill giving the Secretary for Scotland, the Local Government Board or the Irish Office the power of compulsory purchase, the Bill had to pass through both Houses of Parliament like any other Bill. But for the first time this Bill proposed that Parliament should surrender its powers in that respect to the Board of Trade, and there was no appeal to Parliament, from any Order the Board of Trade might authorise for the making of a light railway. A new principle was also introduced in connection with the question of compensation. The Board of Trade was to be allowed to appoint a sole arbitrator who was to decide the question of compensation between the railway company and the proprietor of the land. That was a novel and extraordinary power. The Board of Trade was to be given the power to decide whether a certain light railway should or should not be submitted to Parliament. Such a proposal was monstrous, and if it had emanated from a Liberal Government they would 1133 have heard loud objections made to it. [Laughter and loud cries of "Divide!"] The powers surrendered to the Board of Trade in this case were far greater than any powers which, it was alleged, were to be surrendered under the Home Rule Bill. [Laughter and loud cries of "Divide!"] In the latter case, some power was reserved to the Imperial Parliament, but in this case no power of veto of any kind was reserved to Parliament. [Cries of"Divide!"] At present the Board of Trade was liable to Parliament for any order they issued; but in this instance they would be free to act independently of Parliament. Another matter to which he wished to refer was the important question of rating. [Cries of "Oh, oh!" and "Divide!"] He complained that through the action taken by the Government on the Bill, he and other Members had been prevented from fully discussing the rating clauses of the Measure, from moving Amendments with the object of providing that the rates should be divided between the landlord and tenant, and from having the opportunity of dividing the House on the matter. Thus they had been altogether prevented from discussing the point on whom the rates should fall. [Cries of "Divide!"] It would not be denied that a railway in a district was a great benefit to the community. There was no question that it largely increased the value of the land, and yet, according to the Bill, the whole rate which might be necessary was to be levied upon the tenants. In Scotland the rate was divided between the landlord and tenant, and he objected to any alteration of the practice. Then there were the farmers who had no particular interest in light railways. ["Oh!" and interruption.] He must say he never sat in a Parliament where there was such an amount of interruption as that which proceeded from the Party opposite. [Ironical cheers and "Hear, hear!"] All that they wanted was that they should give them a fair opportunity of stating their views. If they cared to let them closure them, and not howl them down. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * SIR C. DILKE
said that his hon. Friend had given the same reasons as those advanced by Lord Salisbury with regard to the Parish Councils Bill in the 1134 matter of allotments. He therefore could not vote with his hon. Friend.
Main Question put and agreed to; Bill read the Third time, and passed.