§ *SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)
I am, of course, very reluctant to object to the Second Reading of any Bill promoted by a municipality, especially with such a Bill as what is known as an Omnibus Bill, but I am acting at the request of a large number of Chambers of Commerce throughout the country who are alarmed at the tendency of municipalities1 to engage more and more deeply in commercial undertakings, and who think that the subject is a matter which requires the immediate attention of Her Majesty's Government. The London Chamber of Commerce has passed a unanimous resolution, and asked the House to appoint a Joint Committee of the two Houses to inquire into the whole subject, because they firmly believe that these commercial undertakings on the part of municipalities must result in a heavy loss to the ratepayers. This Bill enables the Corporation to enter, for instance, into certain branches of manufacture. Before going further I will refer, in support of this view, to a speech delivered a few days ago by the Attorney-General at the Society of Arts. My honourable Friend, we all know, has had great experience in these matters. In that speech he said, "Whatever might be said as to the profit made out of undertakings, such as gas or tramways, worked by Corporations, my belief is that the burden on the ordinary ratepayers was less where no such risks were undertaken." I do not so> much object to these undertakings on account of the loss which they may entail, because, after all, the Corporations are responsible to the ratepayers; but I do so mainly upon other and perhaps stronger grounds. In the first place the system of Municipal trading has an inevitable tendency to check private enterprise. In the second place, if we once allow Municipalities to trade in order to make1 money, where are we to stop? Undoubtedly 14 it will involve an enormous addition to our Municipal debts in the future, which I certainly think the House will agree is most undesirable. These undertakings, moreover, will occupy a very large amount of the time of the Councillors and Aldermen who have to consider other and much more important Municipal questions, and the time which should be devoted to the consideration of these larger questions will be frittered away on trading and manufacturing details. In the third place, there are the labour questions, and it is surely very undesirable that our Municipal Government should be involved in these labour questions more than can possibly be avoided. Town Councillors would have to regulate the wages of their electors, and this would naturally have a tendency to set the wages against the votes. Is this an imaginary danger? Look at New York. Although it is denied that there is actual corruption there, there is no doubt a great tendency to support candidates who will support the local organisations carrying on these enterprises, and this must inevitably have a tendency to deter honest men from coming forward as candidates. The maintenance of the purity of Municipal life is a most important matter, and it is very undesirable that our Municipal Councillors should be mixed up with commercial and trading transactions. I was very glad to be informed by my right honourable Friend the Chairman of Committees that he considers there is much force in the suggestion of the Chamber of Commerce that there should be a Joint Committee of the two Houses to consider the question. We are now at the parting of the ways. We began by allowing Municipalities to purchase tramways, but not to work them; then we took the next downward step and allowed one or two to do so under certain circumstances. But that was within the Municipal boundaries; now we are asked to do away with all limits. We are told that we must allow the privilege to> Bootle, because it has been conceded in the case of Manchester. We have unfortunately allowed Manchester to invest in a canal, but is that to be a precedent? It is because I believe that Municipalities would lose money, that the Aldermen and Councillors would be diverted from their true and most important functions, that they would be 15 dragged into labour struggles in which it is moat important that they should not become involved, and that it would be dangerous to the honour, dignity, and character of Municipal life, that I ask the House to withhold this dangerous privilege. As I said at the beginning, I am very reluctant to oppose these Bills, or to put these Municipalities to any inconvenience. I have raised the question in the hope that we may get a Committee to investigate the whole question. The Chairman of Committees has informed me that he will strike the Manufacturing Clauses out of this and all similar Bills, and intends to support the proposal for a Joint Committee, which I understand will not be opposed by the Municipalities. Under these circumstances, I do not propose to object to the Second Reading of this Bill, or of the other Bills which raise the same question. Of course, in saying that I reserve to myself the right at any time to raise the whole question involved in these other Bills, but I trust that Her Majesty's Government will agree to appoint a Committee to look into the matter. I will not, however, further press any objection to the Second Reading, but reserve to myself the right to move any instruction on any particular clause which we may think to be desirable at a later period.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
This Bill is one of a series which lays down proposals of a novel and objectionable character. I would draw the attention of the House especially to a provision which appears in Clause 40, under which any cow-sheds from whence milk is supplied in the limits of the borough, although situated outside the limits of the borough, are to be subject to the inspection of the borough officials. Now, that is certainly a novel proposal. I am by no means objecting to giving every protection to the consumers of milk, such protection being exercised within the actual limits of the borough itself; and I do not suppose there will be anyone of us here who would say one word against such protection being fully given. But Clause 40 gives a power which I venture to think is entirely novel, and I myself have never heard of such a proposal in any other Act of Parliament. Permission is to be given to the authorities of a 16 borough to exercise power outside the borough limits. My right honourable Friend who has just sat down, as I understood him, thought the whole question of Private Bill legislation connected with the trading of Municipal Corporations should be dealt with by a representative Committee of the House, and I do not know whether he intended to include within the scope of that inquiry such matters as I have just referred to. The claim by Municipal Authorities to exercise powers outside their limits involves such a grave departure from the existing law that I do not think it should be sanctioned without the express authority of the House. I am not going into the question as to how sufficient safeguards should be embodied for the protection of consumers of milk, or how protection should be afforded with respect to other Measures. But I do think that there ought to be some uniform scheme adopted, and I hope that some representative of the Government will enlighten the House as to the view which the Government takes upon this important question. I shall not be prepared to acquiesce in this Bill proceeding, unless I have an assurance that whatever measures are taken are to be made applicable to the whole question involved in these numerous Municipal Bills. A strong feeling has been aroused, and various expressions of opinion have come from agricultural bodies, and some strong representations, I have every reason to know, have been addressed to Her Majesty's Government upon this subject, and I, therefore, trust that the Government will now say what steps they intend to take.
§ MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
There are several of these Bills which have the same provisions in them with regard to the inspection of cow-sheds outside the Municipal area. Nobody, I am sure, wishes to limit a thorough inspection with regard to the sanitary matters inside the area of the borough, but when it comes to their going outside the borough it might happen that various inspectors of various boroughs would be inspecting the same cow-sheds, and would be holding different opinions as to whether those cow-sheds are clean and sanitary or the reverse. I have put down an Instruction with regard to another Bill in order that some of these objectionable provisions should be eliminated from it. 17 I certainly agree with the right honourable Gentleman that there ought to be some uniform measure adopted, by which sanitary means should be taken to inspect cow-sheds and provide for the absolute purity of the milk supplied within the area of the boroughs; but I do not think that any borough should have the power to go outside its own area. I think, after the expression of opinion that we have heard to-day, that the Committee upstairs will take notice of what has been said, and will be guided to some extent by the conversation which has taken place, and will probably modify Clause 40 of this Bill, and similar Clauses which may be contained in other Bills.
§ MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, W.)
This Bill has a provision in it similar to provisions contained in other Corporation Bills, and I think that the Government should do something by which a decision may be come to by this House giving uniformity to the whole of these Bills. The right honourable Gentleman said that he had no objection to these boroughs taking powers in respect of the sanitary condition of cow-sheds and the purity of the milk supplied therefrom in the area of their own borough. Now, Sir, unfortunately, the borough which I have the honour to represent does not possess in its area any cow-sheds, and therefore a provision of this sort would be absolutely inoperative. I think my right honourable Friend will admit the necessity of every precaution being taken in order to see that produce which is offered for sale in a large working class borough like Manchester should be as far as possible protected from anything like the danger of fever. What I want to ask the right honourable Gentleman is whether ho will take into consideration the appointment, of inspectors, either locally or by the Government, in the various areas. That, I think, would meet the case and remove the objections of my right honourable Friend, and the objections of those who are acting with him in this matter. If the Government would give us some idea of their intentions with regard to this point, I think that the Bill might be allowed to proceed to the Committee, and as these and other Bills come before the various Private Bill Committees each Corporation should give an undertaking 18 to agree to anything which the right honourable Gentleman may propose with regard to this matter.
§ MR. WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
Although we quite realise the importance of taking precautions against the spread of disease, yet at the same time I think the Local Authorities throughout the country districts have claims not to be overridden by the Authorities in their own towns, and I think the only way in which this question can be properly dealt with, is for the Government to appoint the inspectors, because I think that the appointment by the Government of inspectors would get over the difficulties. The milk produced would be inspected by these officials on a uniform system, and there would be no complaint on the part of the boroughs nor of the Local Authorities of being over-ridden by any Sanitary Authority. The Board of Agriculture has a perfect right to have such an inspection, and I think it ought to be done by them. Unfortunately, I believe at the present moment Her Majesty's Government do not intend to appoint inspectors. I asked a question on this subject the other day and got an answer from Her Majesty's Government to the effect that they would not appoint inspectors; but I think when they see the difficulty which is created under these Bills, they will probably take the matter up and endeavour to do something. I think that the appointment by the Government of inspectors will meet all the difficulties of the case, for there can be no possible doubt about it that the County Authorities will object very much to the town inspectors inspecting cow-sheds outside the borough limits, and the only possible way to prevent disease from spreading is to make the inspectors Government officials, whose decision will be recognised by all Authorities. I trust that they will shortly introduce a Bill for this purpose, and then, as I have said before, all difficulties will be removed.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE: (Mr. WALTER LONG,) Liverpool, West Derby
Everybody has agreed that it will be undesirable to interfere with the progress of this Bill at this stage, merely because, in some quarters, objection is taken to a certain clause. At the same time it is impossible to ignore the fact that the powers asked for in the 19 Bill now under consideration, and the other Bills to which reference has been made, are, without one exception, novel. There is one precedent, and one precedent only, for this proposition, and that is the case of the Glasgow Corporation Bill of 1890; but although that Bill gave the Corporation a right to exercise certain powers outside its limits, those powers, I think, have never yet been used. Of course, we are all agreed upon the fact that it is desirable that every legitimate step should be taken to prevent the spread of disease, and that when it is spread we should be in a position to trace its origin and to> discover the reason of its so spreading. The honourable Gentleman opposite and my honourable Friend the Member for Manchester suggested that the Government ought to bear the responsibility of appointing inspectors. I confess I do not understand what the work of those inspectors would be. Surely, all the sanitary work is entirely in the hands of the Local Authorities, who are fully equipped for the purpose of their duties. They have Medical Officers of Health, and they can obtain any opinion that they require as to their own districts. This clause proposes that the Local Authorities should go out of their own districts into any other districts from which they draw supplies of milk, and the least consideration of that will show what a ridiculous state of things will be arrived at. It might be that several inspectors or Medical Officers of Health representing different boroughs might meet at the same cow-shed or dairy outside the limits of their respective boroughs. I believe it is a well-known fact that doctors occasionally disagree, and it is quite conceivable that you might have entirely different reports as to the milk supplied from this one place from the Medical Officers of Health representing different sanitary centres; and I cannot myself see any greater confusion than that which might result from such a state of things. The zeal of these Authorities is tremendous, but the truth of the matter is that they are a little too advanced in their generation. There is a great deal of difficulty in saying how this power, which it is proposed by these Bills to confer upon Local Authorities, should be carried out. At present Local Authorities are called 20 upon to deal with certain diseases; but that is a very different matter, because they are there called upon to exercise powers which they may properly exercise. I agree with my honourable Friend that we cannot ask the House to reject any of these Bills now, and it would be extremely unfair for any mandatory Instruction to be sent from this House to the Committee upstairs. I think we may rely upon the fact that the Committees who would consider these Bills will call the necessary evidence, and having heard both sides of the question, and having some knowledge of what the Local Government Board does on these occasions, may be safely trusted to sift the matter thoroughly. I cannot help hoping that the expression of opinion which has fallen from both sides of the House, coupled with the evidence that will be called upstairs, will form an excellent guide as to what the Committee should consider proper with regard to the powers that are sought for. I trust that the object of the right honourable Gentleman will have been attained, and that it will therefore be unnecessary that any definite instruction shall be issued from this House to the Committee upstairs.
§ *MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
At this stage of the Bill I feel sure that most Members of the House will agree that it will be undesirable to press the issue that has been raised any further at the present moment. At the same time, I think it is my duty to say what I have said in private elsewhere. I think it would be a very serious blunder on the part of the representatives of agriculture to stand in the way of the general results arrived at in these Bills. The Local Authorities rightly claim a power to protect the inhabitants of these great Municipal areas from serious diseases which may arise from the contamination of food supplies. That is a case which cannot be resisted, and the real case which the representatives of agriculture have to face, and which they ought to bring forward to this House and to Her Majesty's Ministers, is to remove all those elements of confusion which arise from conflicting jurisdiction and from these powers being extended beyond the areas to which the Local Au- 21 thorities ought rightly to be extended. It is urgently necessary that Her Majesty's Government should in this present Session recognise their duty—their imperative duty—of dealing in one uniform plan with this matter, and of adopting some uniform procedure, giving a solution of the difficulties pointed out by my right honourable Friend opposite. I do not think it is right for us to go on in this haphazard way with these Local Bills. This is a subject of the most vital importance to the welfare of the community. Hut whatever the proper course may be, if these Bills can be limited to a few simple powers which can be readily exercised in these areas; if the Government can give the time to pass a well-considered Measure dealing only as a public Bill can deal with a case of this sort, the difficulty can be solved. I certainly do know this: that if Her Majesty's Government are not prepared to deal with the whole matter by a public Bill this Session, it will be exceedingly ill advised on the part of agriculturists to show a violent and strong opposition to these local Bills, which are so urgently needed for the benefit of those communities to which they particularly apply.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
This question is of very great importance, and my right honourable Friend raised a very serious and novel question in speaking of the Municipal Trading Clause contained in many of these Bills. He referred to the action of the Chambers of Commerce—a unanimous action—taken in the interests of the ratepayers and others. We have the right to expect the Government to give us some statement as to whether they intend or not to refer this matter to a Committee. The right honourable Gentleman said that he believed that the Chairman of Ways and Means agreed to this idea, and many others feel that there is a great danger of the already overburdened ratepayers being burdened still further if this state of things continues. It does seem reasonable that we should ask the Government to say before these Bills are accepted that they will grant this Committee power to inquire into the whole subject of Municipal trading, which is now becoming a very large and important one.
§ Question put,
§ Bill read a second time.