§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Mr. BOOTH
I beg to move, as an Amendment, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
This is one of those instances of hastily considered legislation dealing with a great many different questions. It is not my fault if I may have to ask the House to 691 review quite a number of subjects. I do not know that this is the worst instance, but it is a striking instance of the way in which various corporations from time to time endeavour, under the guise of introducing beneficial legislation relating to bridges or sewers, to deal with other matters which ought really to be made the subject of public legislation—matters which do not appertain to the particular town—that is to say, not specially as apart from the rest of the community. For instance, what can Newcastle teach us on the question of insurance? Insurance is a worldwide subject, and yet they endeavour to introduce, by a series of Clauses, legislation upon this matter which, if it is good at all, should apply throughout the country. I think I can convince the House that the Clauses are vicious. It seems to me they will be productive of nothing but harm to the town and to the ratepayer. Whatever construction may be put upon my intervention to-night, my principal consideration is the way in which the population of such a town as Newcastle will be affected by this Bill. It is quite true that Newcastle is like any other town. It has special meetings, and gives notices, and professes to have certain majorities. There is in this a great deal that infringes liberty. There is a putting out of the tyrannical arms of a big public corporation, and there are many sufferers in these various cities and towns by nearly all these great Bills who have no one to speak for them, and who scarcely know how to attend a meeting of citizens and voice a complaint. They suffer in silence. They very often are men in partial revolt against the authorities, and, in my opinion, it is not at all for the public good that these large omnibus Bills should be continually passed while a large number of people feel themselves aggrieved, and have not sufficient means of redress.
I know I shall be told there are Committees which meet upstairs. If this were a Committee matter I would not have intruded it on the House; but it seems to me that when a corporation brings in a Bill to deal with certain specific objects and then introduces outside things altogether, which if they have a bearing on Newcastle have a bearing on every town and city, that is not a Committee matter. Further, if it be a Committee matter I wish to enter my protest against it being so considered. In that Committee upstairs there appears a 692 Parliamentary Bar. As far as I can make out, it rests upon a fiction. I do not know why there has been such importance given to the Parliamentary Bar, but the consequence is that large vested interests, when they are not touched by a Bill of this kind, can afford to pay counsel large fees, and they do pay them extraordinary large fees, to appear in these committee rooms, but the aggrieved population, which is poor, suffers very often in silence. There will be a very large number of sufferers under such a Bill as this. The Bill contains a great deal of literature. I have gone through it from this standpoint, that I consider this House to be the custodian of the liberties of the people. I do not think the Committees upstairs view their functions in that definite and precise manner, and it seems to me that, when we have a case of aggression, and where large municipalities domineer over private citizens and neighbouring small authorities, the proper place to deal with them is in the House. I am quite aware that with regard to the insurance clauses there have been petitions presented, and that very powerful and influential companies will make their influence felt. My objection is a Second Reading rather than a Committee objection. I object to the whole of this legislation being put in such a Bill. It is out of place. It has no relation or connection with the rest of the Bill. I should like to draw attention to Clauses 49 and 50. This is the first light which is thrown on the attitude of these huge monster corporations, with vast armies of officials, and their endeavours to get as much of the life of the common people within their purview as they possibly can, especially if it increases the importance of their departments and justifies their application for an increase of salary.
Clauses 49 and 50 deal with the question of a moor, and their object is to change a common into a town park. I believe it would be considerably more healthy and beneficial to the large population in our crowded towns if the free aspect of these open places was preserved, but that does not suit officials. They like railings and rules and by-laws and officers to administer them, and sections to be marked out here and there. [An HON. MEMBER: "Keep off the grass."] Certainly, that is one of their favourite notices. If the corporation of Newcastle had spent more time on the commons of this country they would have produced a much clearer Bill. It would not have been so cumbersome. I wish to draw attention to Clause 57. I am speaking 693 about topics so remote from each other because the corporation compels me. It is their idea of the appropriateness of things to group matters of this kind. Clause 57 deals with the recovery of private improvement expenses in the case of chapels and churches which are deserted and are afterwards bought for business purposes. This clause is most unfair to the Nonconformist chapel. It is exceedingly rare that a church changes hands. I speak as a member and an officer of the Church of England, and, therefore, I am not speaking from any personal standpoint. I can see from this clause that grave injustice will be done. As one who has a great deal to do with the administration of local authorities and the enforcement of contributions for private street improvements, I can state that I have known scores of instances where there has been a remission of private street improvement expenses in the case of places of worship. What will happen under this clause? It seems to me that if a man intends to purchase a chapel which is no longer used by the denomination, probably because the congregation has gone to larger premises, he will know that he must become immediately liable for the whole of the private street improvement expenses and five per cent. for interest. It seems to me that that is deliberately putting an obstacle in the way of such a chapel being used for business purposes. I do not know what the answer will be to that. I believe that the ratepayers by such a clause will suffer. Clause 61 takes powers to the corporation to make by-laws. Officials are very fond of clauses whereby they can make by-laws. When they are afraid to put tyrannical provisions into the Bill itself they put in clauses empowering them to make by-laws. This clause enables the corporation to make by-laws in regard to the selling or preparing of fried fish within the city. It seems to me that there is almost unlimited scope for the ingenuity of town officials to make by-laws at considerable expense, for no doubt counsel would be consulted. When they have got a long list of by-laws they will begin their tyrannical assertion, and I think many an innocent shopkeeper in the back streets of Newcastle will regret the passing of this Bill, if it becomes law.
Clause 64 is also remarkable. One of the first things that delighted me as a boy when I came to London twenty-five years ago, was to see a butcher's boy going along the street with a joint of mutton or beef on a board on his shoulder. I found that he went to the best houses to deliver the 694 meat, but what is good enough for the West End of London is not good enough for Newcastle. People work at Newcastle, and so much smoke is produced that they are afraid to send meat in this open way. The corporation have powers to deal with the smoke nuisance. Why is it that the atmosphere there is such a disgrace? It is because they will not enforce their powers to purify the atmosphere. It is the duty of the corporation to see that there is atmosphere fit for the Newcastle population to breathe, but that is, I suppose, the last idea that would percolate through the head of the average corporation official. Clause 72 really seems ridiculous. It provides that they shall appoint and pay inspectors of nuisances. Is it not the ordinary function of a house authority to appoint inspectors of nuisances? The trouble is that these officials when they come to frame by-laws like to take in as much as possible. I remember a distinguished surveyor and valuer in Manchester advising his son that whenever a bill was extra large he should give the person who had to pay plenty of Paper, because he would pay the bill all the more willingly, even if it was for a large amount. The officials at Newcastle want to make this Bill as comprehensive as they can, and they introduce things in respect to which there is no necessity for special legislation. Now I come to an important point dealt with in Clause 100. It provides for the superannuation of officials—a most delightful task I have no doubt for the agents who drew up the Bill. I shall read the words:—
"It shall be lawful for the corporation from time to time to invest in any of the securities of the corporation all or any moneys for the time being standing to the credit of the Superannuation Fund Account."
Now I say that that is a vicious principle. It is a principle altogether foreign to the laws relating to limited liability companies. Surely if there are any funds at all in their possession, or any moneys which should be separately invested and quite beyond the fortunes of the corporation itself, they should be those of a superannuation fund. The great insurance companies pride themselves on their large reserves, so as to be able to pay claims when they become due. But this corporation actually propose that they shall be able to invest in any security of the corporation. I do not say that any of the Newcastle councillors intend to do any- 695 thing wrong, but the opportunity is here. It is the beginning of a system which exists in the United States and which leads to the great corruption scandals there. The beginning of the trouble in places of America is that people can buy and sell shares by some dodges and tricks in companies in which they are personally interested. If Newcastle Corporation stock was falling in the local market these councillors could go and buy some of that stock to try to give it a local rise. You know that no limited liability company is allowed to invest in its own shares. I have known cases where people connected with companies have tried to do things which the law did not allow, but I have never seen the most unscrupulous of them attempt to defy the well-known principle that they must not buy or sell their own stocks. Powers of the kind asked in this clause are sometimes misused, and, therefore, we should be continually on our guard lest the local authorities of this country should become tainted with the evils which are prevalent not only in the United States, but in the Dominion of Canada. I would warn hon. Friends below the Gangway who have more faith than I have in the Collectivist principle that when mistakes are made through going on wrong lines by persons who are not themselves in sympathy with the Collectivist ideal it only prejudices the movement in the province to which it might more lawfully belong. Of these subsequent Clauses I may refer to 126 for making bylaws with regard to various powers. This gives one of those opportunities so dear to the heart, unfortunately, of the officials of meddlesome action causing irritation. Many a poor man starts in business with a little cart of his own gives it up and becomes disheartened or joins the ranks of the unemployed, or falls in his ideal as a citizen through being badgered and hunted about by the officials of local corporations. And I do hope that Newcastle, if it gets a Clause such as I have named will at any rate administer it in a more humane spirit than has been shown in certain towns that I could name.
he Insurance Clauses begin at 116 and finish at 121. Apparently the town clerk and the parliamentary agent have issued a miserable jejune document on the subject. It is a matter of the utmost difficulty to find out from this what the discussion to-night is about. I have had to explain to forty or fifty Members of Parliament what it is about because of this 696 document. The forty-four insurance companies referred to embrace the tariff offices of this country who are united. The non-tariff offices of this country are not united. The tariff offices are larger and older established and better organised, and no doubt will take very good care of themselves; but when it comes to this contribution to the fire brigade it is a contribution really to the rates at the expense of the town. I believe that those Clauses cannot be read before any impartial Committee. I am not going to discuss them, because the little experience I have had of Committee Rooms upstairs has increased my confidence in those hon. Members who are kind enough to give so much of their time freely to the public in endeavouring to lop off from these Bills their excrescences and delete from them the objectionable attempts of the meddlers. But they go on to say in this document that apart from insurance they are not aware that any other objection is to be taken to the Bill at the present stage. I have made no secret of the fact that I view these Bills more from the standpoint of a champion of liberty and freedom than any other. Hon. Members who have conversed with me know that, and as to the suggestion that I could handle a Bill like this and simply deal with insurance clauses because I have been specially instructed on them, of course, what am I to expect, coming from the quarter it does?
I feel quite sure that my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle-on-Tyne had nothing to do with the issue of such a pamphlet as this. I indicated to both of them that I had points to raise in connection with this Bill. But I have been in a difficulty with regard to the Order Paper in indicating that there were objections. When I studied the Bill and found it so unsatisfactory, there were already on the Notice Paper half-a-dozen notices to move the rejection of the Bill. The consequence was that I could not interfere, and one of the hon. Members opposite from Somerset, who was deeply interested in this question, handed in a notice, and it could not appear. And now I find, even on the day the Bill is coming up, that no proper indication can be given, and I think that days ago it ought to have taken place. The explanation is this: Six hon. Members have put down notices to move the rejection of the Bill and instructions upon the Milk Clauses. They occupy the Notice Paper. I do not know why half a-dozen should always repeat the same thing and 697 then deny to other hon. Members the opportunity——
§ Mr. BOOTH
Yes, because I drew attention to this. My point is that when these people were printing their circular it was not there, because there were six hon. Members who previously took the trouble to come and put down the same Motion. My point is that hon. Members should consider when they are opposing the Bill that there may be other opponents as well as themselves. I find this remarkable statement, by-the-bye, in this document which professes to emanate from the Newcastle-on-Tyne Corporation. I suppose it only emanates from one official. They are able to say in this document, which must have been printed a day or two ago, that the instructions with regard to Milk Supply would all be withdrawn. I submit it was a hardship upon me. They know, and could only have got it from hon. Members concerned that the whole of those instructions relating to milk supply are going to be dealt with in this way. Yet they have crowded the Paper from day to day and prevented the hon. Member for Somerset and myself from bringing our points forward.
I now draw the attention of the House to a most serious danger contained in these clauses. They provide for an interfering inspection whereby officials of the corporation will be able to find out what every insurance company in Newcastle is doing. That is a most serious thing. It would become the duty of any competent manager in Newcastle to try to get on this corporation, however distasteful it might be to him, in order to have first-hand knowledge of all the insurance business of the city. I would ask hon. Gentlemen to put themselves in the position of having anything to do with a fire insurance company transacting business and knowing that certain officials of the corporation have the right of access to their books, whereby the whole system of conducting their business would be laid bare. The opportunity, therefore, of corruption and interference seem to me to be endless. I cannot understand that any body of men, large or small, could for a single moment tolerate the introduction of a new difficulty of this kind. I have made careful inquiry and certainly no one has ever had this power before. Why is it wanted in Newcastle? What 698 is there particular about Newcastle, except that it is famous for coals?
It does seem to me that it is really going too far. Clause 120 is bad enough, but Clause 121 is very much worse. I am not concerned to plead the cause of the powerful insurance companies; they can defend themselves; I am on the point of the general public. Under the various proposals of this Bill, if they become law, the officials of the corporation could go into the offices of private companies and take notes of the business, trade profits and losses, and so on, which does seem to me to be a very serious power to confer. All these towns are in touch with each other, and if one succeeds in connection with a Bill of this kind, the news is speedily spread, and each of these towns tries to bring in the biggest Bill, and get the most clauses it can. I submit that these authorities ought to be a little more careful about minding their own business. The excuse that they give for bringing these proposals before the House is that our business is necessarily so congested that they are obliged to come in this way, and get legislation under the guise of a private Bill. That state of things, I say, is a scandal. I do not know what steps could be taken in any rearrangement of the procedure of this House in regard to private Bill legislation, but at any rate, so greatly have these matters been impressed upon me by long experience that I am quite prepared to sit on any Committee to investigate every private Bill, no matter how big the corporation, or whether it has a Lord Mayor or only an ordinary mayor, and if I find any encroachments on the liberties of small authorities or of traders, I shall feel bound to use the forms of the House to oppose such legislation to the very best of my power.
§ Mr. GOLDSMITH
I beg to second the Amendment, and I wish to draw attention to a part of the Bill which has hardly been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. Clauses 74 and 75 propose to confer on the corporation power not only to inspect any dairy, but the supply of milk which is being offered for sale. As a Member representing an agricultural constituency, I wish to say at once that I do not deny the necessity for further legislation to control the sale of milk to the public, but I do say that it is a matter for general legislation and not local legislation. The dairy farmers throughout the country are of opinion that the regulations with regard to milk——
§ Mr. HUDSON
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but it may perhaps save time if I inform him that we are prepared to accept the instruction on that point.
§ Mr. GOLDSMITH
I am not moving the instruction, but I am raising the question in order to get a definite reply from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board in regard to the question of milk supply. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is his intention to introduce a Bill this year to deal with the question of milk supply. In 1908 the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Government, said he was ready to bring in a general Bill dealing with the subject of the milk supply, and that he hoped it would be carried through that Session. That was in 1908. We have now arrived at 1911, and although the right hon. Gentleman gave us that promise on several occasions, nothing has been done. I am raising this question mainly as a member of the local legislation committee which deals with these Bills which contain clauses very similar to those in the Newcastle Bill. These have been brought before us in various other ways. In the Ipswich Bill, for instance, we decided to hold over the milk clauses until we had a definite reply from the President of the Local Government Board. I wish to know whether the right hon. Gentleman can give us any definite promise or statement as to whether he is going to introduce general legislation to deal with the question of the milk supply. I shall not follow the hon. Member into the other questions which he raised, but on a great many of them I must say that I entirely agree with them, and that they ought to be thoroughly considered by the Committee upstairs. I must say that I also agree with him that local authorities at the present time are trying to get as many powers as they possibly can; they are vying with each other to get more powers than their neighbours. I trust that although these clauses have been withdrawn from the present Bill the President of the Local Government Board will see his way to make a clear statement on the subject of the milk supply.
§ Mr. SHORTT
I admit that this Bill is of very considerable scope, but, as my hon. Friend observed, its provisions are neither ill-considered nor hasty. It is true that they are varying in their scope, but each one of them has been most carefully considered, not only by the town council, but 700 by the ratepayers of Newcastle themselves. In the case of this particular Bill, not only has there been some four or five town's meetings in the centre of the city and at the town hall, but a large number of similar meetings were held in the smaller districts; and there actually has been a ballot taken upon some of the provisions of this Bill. I should think very few Bills have ever come before this House the proposals of which have been more carefully considered than have the provisions of this measure. The hon. Member (Mr. Booth) certainly displayed the very greatest ingenuity in trying to find something which could be used as a whip for corporations in general and for the corporation of Newcastle in particular. The main opposition to this Bill is, I conceive, against the insurance clauses. As my hon. Friend and colleague (Mr. Walter Hudson) has said we have undertaken to withdraw the clauses dealing with milk and with meat. Coming to the question of the insurance clauses, there is no question in this Bill, as my hon. Friend appears to suggest, of the Newcastle Corporation teaching the insurance companies anything at all.
§ Mr. SHORTT
I daresay they cannot; but there is the question of ensuring that the insurance companies should contribute fairly for the benefit which they receive from the locality. I suggest to the House, with very great confidence, that that is no infringement of the liberty of the subject, which seems so dear to my hon. Friend's heart. He has set out himself, he tells us, as the protector of the poor downtrodden ratepayer from the tyranny of the local corporation. I should think myself that anything which assisted the rates by obtaining a fair contribution from those who get public benefits from the fire brigade would in that way be in itself a great protection to the downtrodden ratepayer. Apart, however, from the question of these insurance clauses, this is no new question. Practically the selfsame clauses have existed in London from the year 1865. It is perfectly true that those clauses were introduced in London by agreement between the great fire insurance companies and the Metropolitan Board of Works; but, none the less, they have been in existence since 1865, and they have worked well, so far as I can ascertain, during the whole of that time. No doubt it is true that exactly the same clauses are not to be found in any other place except in the 701 Metropolis, but there are other places in which clauses founded upon the same principle are in existence. In Liverpool there has been an Act in existence since 1842 which provides that the fire insurance companies have to give an annual contribution towards the fire brigade. The same is in Manchester, and the same, I believe, in Belfast and in Salford. Even in Newcastle itself, although there is no such provision exactly as this, there has been in existence since 1865 a provision which has the same practical result as this; that provision came in in 1865, and in 1870, by an amending Act, it is provided that where the fire brigade is used for the purpose of extinguishing fire every property owner and occupier of property must contribute up to £30 towards the expenses of the fire brigade. That has been consistently collected in Newcastle direct from the insurance companies. It has worked well. The insurance companies have always paid it, and this Bill will only provide a legal basis for that which has been found a convenient practical basis, and which has been voluntarily adopted both by the companies and the corporation.
In addition, may I remind my hon. Friend that in 1900 a Commission considered the whole question of fire brigades and reported to this House. It dealt, amongst other things, with this very question of the contribution which ought to be given by the fire insurance companies to the fire brigade funds. That Commission sat, I believe, fifteen times, and heard a very large number of witnesses. According to the Report, they heard witnesses sent by a committee of the fire insurance companies of the United Kingdom, so that those companies had every opportunity for putting forward their case before the Commission. After hearing all their evidence, the Commission reported that, after a careful review of the whole case as it had been placed before them, they had come to the conclusion that all the fire insurance companies should be required by law to bear a certain portion of the expenses connected with fire extinction, which is an obligation already recognised by some of the most important companies. In a summary of recommendations for alteration in the law, they recommended that fire insurance companies should be required to contribute some portion of the expenses connected with fire extinction. My hon. Friend asked why this should be done in 702 the case of Newcastle. It is because Newcastle has got its opportunity in the Bill, that is being brought forward to make that, so far as Newcastle is concerned, the law, and which this Committee recommended should be the law. I cannot understand how it can be suggested that because Newcastle happens to have a provision of this description, that that will in any way prevent a general measure, if a general measure is ever brought forward-We were told by my hon. Friend that these insurance companies would suffer some form of inconvenience or danger, or something which would be very difficult quite to follow. But so far as I can follow the objections of my hon. Friend, they are one and all objections which would be raised before the Committee upstairs. I have here a petition presented against the Bill by the forty-four leading insurance-companies who insure property in New-castle-on-Tyne. I understand that there is no objection to their locus, and that they will be able to bring forward anything which they consider necessary in the interests of the fire insurance companies. I think, without exception, and I have followed my Friend as carefully as I could, that every single objection which he has raised on the score of the fire insurance clauses is raised by this petition, and, therefore, will be brought before the Committee.
§ Mr. SHORTT
My hon. Friend is at liberty to look at it; but, so far as I can gather from it, every one of his objections, will be raised before the Committee. I do not know quite what other objection, there is to this Bill going forward. This Bill is of great importance to the people of Newcastle and is a Bill which they very much desire. It deals with many matters of urgent importance and provides for an extension of their powers by conferring facilities for improvements which are of urgent importance to the people of Newcastle. I do urge the House to pass the Bill through its Second Reading, because no possible danger can happen to anyone so far as any objection is concerned which has been raised here to-night. The Committee are perfectly competent to deal, and I have no doubt will deal, with every single objection which is raised before them. They will have those objections raised which have been indicated by my hon. Friend. With regard to the other matters which he raised on the question of putting up a railing round a portion of 703 the moor, his objection is that it will be far better to have large open spaces without those railings. If my hon. Friend knew anything at all about Newcastle he would know perfectly well that it possesses in its town moor as fine an open, unrestricted common as exists in this country. All those matters are dealt with by the Corporation by agreement with the freemen who have rights over that great town moor. Anything which is done under this Bill with regard to that, is done by agreement. With regard to the power to pass bye-laws it is a small matter. It is only for bringing any new innovation into line with that which already exists; it gives power to apply the old bye-laws to any new state of things that may come into existence. The hon. Member twitted the corporation with the bad drafting of their Bill. I am sure the House will not reject it upon that ground. He twitted the corporation be-cause they want to appoint more inspectors of nuisances. If they have not enough surely it is for the protection of the people of Newcastle that more should be appointed. The hon. Member objected to the fact that meat which is carried through the streets of Newcastle for human consumption should be so covered up that it is protected from any danger of contamination. I do not think it is necessary to suggest because of that proposal that the atmosphere or air of Newcastle is any worse than that of London or any other great city. Perhaps I am prejudiced in saying so, but I consider it an excellent atmosphere, so far as big towns are concerned. It will compare favourably with that of the great industrial centres of the country. But even in the purest atmosphere there is contamination in the air. You cannot help it. I should have thought, if protecting the poor ratepayer were really my hon. Friend's object, he would have welcomed the clauses, because they are for the protection of the ratepayer, and are as much desired by him as by the members of the council. Without detaining the House further I will ask that the Bill should be given a Second Reading. It is a measure of great importance to Newcastle. Nothing has been urged against the Bill which is not purely a Committee question or which ought in any way to affect the Second Reading. Therefore, I trust that the Bill will now be read the second time.
§ Mr. COURTHOPE
My primary reason for rising is to say to those other agricultural Members who have for some years 704 worked with me in the matter of milk legislation that I am entirely satisfied with the assurances given by the hon. Members for Newcastle, and with their promise to accept my proposed instruction. Therefore, I hope that none of those Members who come down to oppose the Bill will continue their opposition in that respect. The Mover of the rejection of the Bill somewhat severely criticised county Members for putting down a number of instructions. I would suggest that if he wishes to get on the Order Paper of the House notice of the fact that he has discovered the enormities of some private Bill he should discover that fact a little sooner. If he does not find out for a fortnight that a Bill is a bad one it is no use his complaining——
§ Mr. COURTHOPE
Then I am surprised that the hon. Member waited so long before putting his Motion on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. COURTHOPE
I accept the hon. Member's correction. I can only say that I did not put mine down the next day. I took nearly a week to consider the matter, and still I find my name second on the list. No one will suggest that the officials of the House would be so unjust to the hon. Member as to exclude his notice in favour of one given in a week later.
§ Mr. COURTHOPE
I will not pursue it further. I will merely reassure the hon. Member with regard to the fear which he expressed that his voice will ever be a feeble one in the objections which he raises to Private Bill legislation. I wish to repeat what I have said on former occasions that, in opposing the Milk Clauses in Private Bills, we agricultural Members are not animated by any disinclination to submit to sound protective regulations, but we want general instead of piecemeal legislation. It is generally admitted that this is a national matter, and should be dealt with in a general public Bill. I am quite ready to reintroduce my own Bill, which was supported by representatives of the London County Council and other great corporations, but I hope it may not 705 be necessary. I would urge the President of the Local Government Board to push forward Government legislation on the subject. Even though from an agricultural point of view I cannot be expected to like all the details of his Bill so much as the details of a Bill drafted by myself, still from every point of view it must be recognised that this is a matter which should be dealt with by Government legislation, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give some indication that steps will be taken by the Government to deal with the matter in the current year. I would like to pay a tribute to the extremely broad-minded way in which in dealing with this question of milk supply the right hon. Gentleman has faced the very difficult task of finding a method which is satisfactory to the interests both of the producer and of the consumer of this important commodity.
§ Mr. ELVERSTON
While I cannot associate myself with all that the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) said against this Bill, I associate myself with what he has said with reference to the insurance clauses. I feel that this House will be taking a retrograde step if it allows any corporation to secure the inclusion of such clauses in an omnibus Bill. This House has laid it down time and again that it is one of the functions of a municipality to provide proper means for the extinction of fire. It is in no way a duty of a fire insurance company to extinguish fires. All that they do is to assess proper rates for insuring against any particular risk, whether the risk is a good or a bad one. That really is the beginning and the end of the function of a fire insurance company. Therefore, I cannot understand to what the hon. Member for Newcastle was referring when he said they ought to contribute for the benefits which they received. He also referred to the fact that Manchester has clauses of this description in some of its Bills. I served for some years as a member of the Manchester Corporation, and am familiar with the clauses affecting that city. I can only say that Manchester has extended its borders time and again, but this House has always refused these powers with reference to the added areas. It is only with reference to the old central area of Manchester that it has these particular powers which Newcastle is now seeking to secure. I have said that it is the duty of fire insurance companies simply to assess the risk. I venture to point out to I he House that if they put upon fire in- 706 surance companies a special part, of the cost of the maintenance of fire brigades they will really be making certain ratepayers, who have sufficient foresight to insure, contribute twice, and an undue proportion of the cost of the maintenance of fire brigades. It is because I feel there is an important principle underlying this particular objection that I venture to raise my voice.
§ Mr. HOARE
As a former Chairman of the London Fire Brigade Committee the House will bear with me if I make one or two observations with reference to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman opposite with reference to the insurance clauses in the Bill. Let me say, although the system proposed has been in operation in London, I do not think that, on logical grounds, it can be defended. In the first place, it is the duty of the local authorities to provide the means of fire extinction, and also the means of the preservation of life from fire risks. I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman opposite who has just sat down said when he drew attention to the fact that to compel the insurance offices to make a special contribution is to make those men and women who are shareholders in the insurance offices pay twice over. It is the duty of the local authorities to provide the means of fire extinction, just as it is the duty of the local authorities to provide police, and many other things, that come within their purview. Let me also remind the House' that just as it is the duty of the local authorities to find the means for the extinction of fire, so also it is the duty of fire offices not to put out fires. They simply have to compensate the loss that is incurred by the fire in the case of the policyholders. I think those two points should be clearly remembered by the House.
I am quite aware that in London—the right hon. Gentleman opposite knows it even better than I do—a system is in force by which the fire offices contribute £35 for every million pounds worth of property insured in the county of London. But that is the result of very special arrangements with the county of London. Up to 1865 the duty of extinguishing fires and of preserving life from fire risks in London was in the hands of certain private or parish fire brigades, or was the duty of the fire insurance offices. As a result chiefly of the great conflagration in Tooley Street in 1861, when no less than £2,000,000 worth of property was destroyed, and when the 707 county of London also suffered a great loss in the death of Mr. Braidwood, the superintendent of the fire engine establishment, an arrangement was made with the Metropolitan Board of Works to take over the fire establishments that up till then had been in the hands of the fire offices and certain private societies, to remove the heavy expenditure from their shoulders and to administer it as a public service. The understanding was that the offices in the future should make a contribution of £35 per £1,000,000 worth of property insured in the county of London. So that really the case of London is not a case to quote with Newcastle. It is the result entirely of a special arrangement. So far as I know, Newcastle manages its own fire extinction and its own system of life preservation. Therefore its authorities are not in a position to make a bargain with the fire offices. The two cases do not stand on "all fours" at all. I am in this difficulty: I am not prepared to oppose a Bill that I feel sure has received the very careful consideration of the citizens of Newcastle, and also contains proposals that have been the subject of open criticism. At the same time, I should like some assurance that the minds of the promoters of this Bill are not irrevocably made up, and that they are prepared at any rate to consider in Committee proposals for removing these fire insurance clauses, provided adequate reason can be shown. I believe if the question is carefully gone into, although, as I said, it seems on the face of it not unreasonable to ask the fire insurance companies to contribute to the ever-increasing expense of the local fire brigade, it will, on further consideration, be found that this is a superficial view, and that there is no reason whatever why these clauses should be inserted.
§ Mr. HUDSON
After what has fallen from one or two hon. Members I cannot refrain from expressing a few thoughts upon this important Bill. Every effort has been made upon the part of the promoters to meet the objectors. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract, could have had Clause 121, which he subjected to such severe criticism, withdrawn. He rejected the offer. If it is the chief objection of the hon. Member that there should be an opportunity of inspecting the accounts of the corporation, that might have been met a week ago, because that was then put before him. It was at his option to 708 accept it, and we should have cleared it out of the way. With regard to the broad question upon which this opposition is based, I am aware that my right hon. Friend has travelled all over the ground of the Bill from the beginning to the end. But really his intention was to settle down upon the Fire Insurance Clauses. That was really the bone of his contention. I would ask hon. Members of this House if there is anything unreasonable on the part of the corporation, who are to be the guardians of the interest of the ratepayers, to ask these insurance companies to pay a reasonable quota towards the upkeep of these fire brigades. It is quite true that under the Act of 1865 they took certain powers in order to recover either from the owner or occupier, or it might be the insurance company up to £15, and, later, in 1870, they took up to £30, and it rested upon the ratepayers who paid for the upkeep of the fire brigade also to pay the fire brigade when called out. Yet the whole work of fire extinction is very largely for the benefit of the insurance company. I was interested in the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, but I find in this Report of the Committee of 1900, paragraph 173, the following statement with regard to insurance companies and the question of premium:—The sum of the evidence seems to be that Insurance Companies have discontinued the practice of maintaining their own fire establishment; that they realise the immense gain accruing from the saving of insured property through the efforts of public and voluntary fire brigades, though they make no corresponding return in the form of reduced premium.That is a very important matter. Though they are not legally required to contributor in any way to the extension of fire extinction, what happened? In 1865 it is quite true that the fire insurance companies had the stations mentioned, and that at the moment the Metropolitan Board had to buy all the ground and stations, an agreement was come to with the insurance companies to contribute £35 per million, or any part of a million insured, and the fire insurance companies have in consequence reaped an immense benefit from the Metropolitan Board taking over the stations. The Newcastle Corporation merely asks for a corresponding benefit to that which the Metropolitan Board now receives from the insurance company. Surely that is not outrageous. If there is to be a claim against anyone for the extinction of fires, it should be against people who receive the benefit, such as fire insurance companies. I ask hon. Gentlemen who object to that to consider what is to be the alternative. 709 the objection is to hold good that fire insurance companies are not to be contributors towards the corporation who are responsible for the up-keep of the fire brigade, the next thing that must occur—and it is mentioned in this report—is that the corporations must become insurers themselves and enter into competition with the insurance companies. This Bill is largely one for the extension of tramways and the trolley system for the benefit of the great mass of the populace of Newcastle-on-Tyne. I venture to say no Bill ever came before the House after a more searching inquiry. Meetings on behalf of the citizens have been held in the town hall, and a ballot has been taken on the land clauses, and, speaking for my own class, I may say labour meetings have been held all over the constituency in order to decide upon the Bill. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Gateshead should oppose the Bill at this stage. I ask the House to pass the Second Reading and to send it to a Committee upstairs where it can be fully examined into.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
I listened with a considerable amount of interest to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and I must say, if I was a little doubtful before he rose as to the course I should pursue his speech has convinced me that unless the promoters of the Bill agree to withdraw the objectionable clauses it will be my duty to vote against the Second Reading. The argument of the hon. Gentleman was that in London the fire insurance companies contribute £35 per million towards the expenses of the fire brigades, and he asked why, if that is so, should not the Corporation of Newcastle be placed in the same position? There, to my mind, is the absolute weakness of the argument in defence of this clause. Why should not the Corporation of Newcastle be placed in the same position as London? Because origin-ally they were not in the same position as London. Hon. Members opposite apparently will not see the position of London is different because its present position arose out of a bargain made. If you make a bargain you must stand by it whether you lose or profit by it. The Corporation of Newcastle never made a bargain in this matter.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That only emphasises my argument. Hon. Gentlemen opposite want to have their cake and eat it. They do not want to enter into a 710 fair bargain. But because somebody else arrives at the conclusion under different circumstances they want to come down and force a similar bargain under quite different circumstances. There can be no bargain unless both parties enter into it. In London the original bargain was voluntary between London and the companies. It was entered into by people both of whom had duties to perform, namely, the insurance companies who had been themselves maintaining the fire brigades and the Metropolitan Board, who desired to-take over the duties of the insurance companies. That does not arise here. If the same position had existed in Newcastle I should vote with the hon. Member opposite. What really has happened is that the Corporation of Newcastle want to shirk their duties and put them on the shoulders of somebody else. An hon. Member opposite the other day made a statement which made a great impression upon me when he talked about people who desired to catch the votes of the many. It is because the insurance companies have not got the vote of the many, and that possibly the corporation have, that this thing is brought forward. It is brought forward not because it is a fair and reasonable bargain, but because it may be advantageous to one section of the community. I also oppose this clause because it is a retrograde clause, and in that I shall have the approval of the President of the Local Government Board, because he and I together are always against anything retrograde, and because anything that is reactionary strikes both of us as bad. Let me justify that position. Originally, many years ago, the insurance companies undertook the duty of extinguishing fires. With the march of modern thought, and the institution of corporations with vast powers, they took over the work which had been done by the insurance companies, and they carried it out badly or well according to the circumstances of the case. Now Newcastle wants to reverse all that, and say the insurance company shall do certain things. What is the consequence of all this? You have no bargains with the insurance companies in Newcastle. The corporation says they must contribute. Is it not fair that if insurance companies have to contribute towards putting out fires they should have something to do with the apparatus which puts out the fires? Hon. Members seem to think that a certain class of people should always contribute and do nothing else, and that they exist to put their hands in their 711 pockets to the advantage of hon. Members opposite. The natural consequence of insurance companies contributing money to the expenses of the fire brigade must be that they will demand a voice in the management of the fire brigade. How would the Corporation of Newcastle like that? I am sure they would not like it at all.
I have a further objection to this Clause. We will assume for the sake of argument that it is right a new departure should be made, and where there has never been an agreement between a corporation and fire insurance companies that the company should contribute towards the extinguishing of fire. If that is so it should be an agreement which applies to all corporations, and it should be done by a measure brought in by the President of the Local Government Board and made the law of the land. It is not right for one corporation in an omnibus Bill to introduce a clause of this sort. There are many reasons why this House should regard with suspicion the attempt on the part of municipalities in what is called an omnibus Bill to introduce all kinds of clauses which the vast majority of hon. Members know nothing about, and which make a very great alteration in the law of the land. I am a very humble Member of this House, but I take a certain interest in its proceedings, and I endeavour—feebly, I am afraid—to get some knowledge of what is going on. I confess that I came down here this afternoon with the idea of taking part in an Irish Bill, which I understand has disappeared. I confess I had not the remotest idea that this clause was in the Bill. Hon. Members will see the enormous size of it. As a protest against this attempt to introduce controversial clauses altering the law of the land in an omnibus Bill of this kind, unless we get an assurance that in Committee this clause will be withdrawn, I am afraid we shall have to divide the House against this measure. I understand that the Milk Clauses have been withdrawn. In the interests of peace I hope the hon. Member opposite will see his way to withdraw this clause.
§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Burns)
A number of interesting and discursive speeches have been made on a variety of topics this evening, and one of the most ingenious of them is the speech made by the hon. Baronet who has just sat down directed against one of the hon. Members for Newcastle, who did not respond to his 712 invitation. As far as I am concerned there are only one or two topics in this Bill to which I have to refer. The hon. Member for Newcastle who dealt so ably with this measure has rendered any comment by me on many of the clauses entirely unnecessary. I have been asked to express the Government view on the question of milk. I have only to say that in 1909 I introduced a Milk Bill which had for its object the dealing with the question of milk production and distribution in a general way by a general Act rather than by private Bills. I had intended in 1909 to press that forward, but that turned out impossible in consequence of legislation which, in the opinion of the House, had a greater claim upon its time. In 1910 we had an exceptional Session and two elections, and it was impossible, willing though I was, to secure the passing of the Milk Bill.
I have been asked to give an opinion upon this subject. I may say that I am still hopeful this Session—now that I have been in what I trust may be successful negotiation with those who previously differed from me on the Bills of 1909 and 1910—notwithstanding the exceptional nature of our work for this year, to secure the passing of a general Milk Bill. It is only right at this moment I should say that not quite so much harm has been done as was anticipated by the non-passing of the Milk Bill, because the discussions that took place in 1909 and 1910 in this House and elsewhere has brought home very clearly to the agricultural and milk-producing industries that they must put their house in order, and adapt themselves to the growing requirements of the time with regard to milk supply. During the last four years there has been an extraordinary diminution in infantile mortality. Some people contend that infantile mortality has been largely contributed to by a defective milk supply. Dairymen, farmers, and those connected with the agricultural industry are beginning to see that from the point of view of enlightened self-interest it is wise for them to adapt themselves to producing a cheap, more plentiful, and a more pure milk supply. I trust that by the introduction of a Bill on this subject by agreement of all parties we shall be able to accelerate that very useful object.
§ Mr. BURNS
I was not referring to the hon. Baronet. I have invariably noticed that in all these matters—and it is to his credit—the hon. Baronet has no connection with any of the companies with which too frequently in many parts of the House he is supposed to have sympathies. I have also noticed the disinterested and public-spirited way in which he criticises all measures, whether promoted by private individuals or by municipal corporations. The other question is whether or not insurance companies shall make a contribution to the fire brigade of the Newcastle Corporation. May I put this to the hon. Baronet? The hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth), who criticised this clause at greater length than any other Member, paid a great tribute to the sagacity and ability of the Private Bill Committees upstairs, and it seems to me that the consideration of the details of these insurance clauses might really be properly left to the tribunal which has been so highly eulogised. I particularly emphasise that, because the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Elverston), who seemed to know something about insurance, said the House of Commons would not allow Manchester to extend their clauses to the portion added to Manchester some years ago. That is decided proof that the Private Bill Committee upstairs is competent to deal with this particular subject. We know from previous speakers that five or six other towns have either directly or indirectly something like what the Newcastle Corporation is asking for, and it is obviously a matter for a Committee upstairs.
I do not know that there is anything in the London instance as a precedent to justify action either way. It is a fact that in London the insurance companies pay £35 per million insured towards the cost of the London Fire Brigade. It is also true, and equally anomalous, that in London the Government pay a direct contribution of £10,000 to the London County Council for fire brigade purposes. The insurance companies, not only pay £35 per million towards the maintenance of a fire brigade, but what is even more anomalous still—and I noticed the hon. Member for-Pontefract did not mention it—they incur the responsibility and defray the cost of maintaining a very large and effective 714 salvage corps. We have, therefore, a number of illustrations, some one way and some the other. I look at the matter from the point of view of common-sense. The desire of the Committee upstairs is to deal fairly and equitably with any claim that is reasonably put forward by a great corporation, and I believe there is nothing in any of the clauses of the Newcastle Corporation Bill which cannot be better discussed by a Committee upstairs than by the House of Commons. I respectfully suggest there is no reason for going to a Division on this, and that the Newcastle Bill should go upstairs. I can assure hon. Members that, both with regard to the insurance companies and the other matters which are dealt with by by-laws and regulations in this Bill, they may trust the Committee upstairs to do their work.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.
§ Mr. COURTHOPE
I beg to move, "That it be an instruction to the Committee to strike out Part XII. of the Bill (Milk Supply)."
§ Question put, and agreed to.