I beg to move,
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill, among other purposes, gives local authorities the power to extend the operations which they are presently entitled to conduct according to the powers which have already been given to Parliament. One feature of the Bill to which I would draw the attention of hon. Members is that it entirely obviates the necessity for any local authority to come to Parliament when it has some scheme under its consideration for the extension of a water supply, or the installation of electricity, or the commencement of a transport system, such as laying down tramways in their streets, operations in regard to which at the present time local authorities who wish to undertake them must submit a Bill to this House before those powers can be granted. In many cases those local authorities are opposed by various interests in the suggested operations they intend to undertake, and considerable expense has to be borne by them before the power is ultimately granted, if it is granted, by Parliament. Those expenses have to be met by the ratepayers of the particular areas whose authorities have introduced a Bill. This Bill would render it unnecessary for a local authority to have to come to this House for many of those things for which at present it must obtain the consent of Parliament. By passing this Bill you will be making it possible for these corporations and local authorities to save a considerable amount of money. After all the expense that the country has borne and the amount of money that has had to be borrowed by the country, any system that is likely to make for economy, either nationally or locally, is a method which I should imagine would commend itself to Members of this House. There are other Clauses of this Bill which are of a very wide-reaching character. If it is passed, it will enable local authorities to enter into any schemes which they care to undertake. It would enable them to acquire land without having to come to this House for further powers. It would
enable them to start milk centres for the distribution of good milk to their citizens. It would enable them to enter into all forms of trading that are presently carried on by shopkeepers or mutiple firms in the City. It would enable them also, where any of them wished to do so, to take up banking, in order to eliminate the present banking system of this country, which—I speak with many hon. Members behind me—has become a pure monopoly in this country which ought to be broken up either by the Government taking the matter over as a national banking scheme, or by giving powers to local authorities to operate as local bankers.
Some Members of the House may be under the impression that this is a Socialist Bill. I should like to disabuse their minds of any such opinion, if it is there. Although I am not ashamed to describe myself as a Socialist, this is not a Socialist Bill, but merely an extension of Collectivist principles which already exist. You now have the municipalities and local authorities all over the country undertaking work that previously had been in the hands of private companies. You have them supplying the householders of their district not merely with gas, water and electricity, but with easy methods of transportation from one part of the locality to another, by tramcars or other kinds of transportation. These, what one might describe as necessary features in one's daily life. In addition to supplying what are necessaries to the community in the shape of gas, water and electricity, you also find corporations pandering to the æsthetic and artistic tastes of many of their citizens. They have public parks, museums, art galleries and various other places of that kind, where the citizens of the locality can go either for pleasure or enjoyment. This Bill is an extension of the principles that have previously been accepted by Members of this House. We on these benches cannot conceive any radical or fundamental difference between a corporation supplying their citizens with water or gas and the communal ownership and distribution of bread, butcher meat, and milk.
The Bill is a short one. By Clause 1 corporations are not allowed to borrow for the purpose of starting these operations more than a quarter of the annual rateable value of the rateable property in the area of the council. That of itself is a safeguard against corporations going in for extravagant schemes which would bear too heavily upon the ratepayers. While the Bill applies to councils of districts with a population exceeding 20,000, Clauses 5 and 7 provide that two or more councils, or other bodies, of less than 20,000 population can join together. The Memorandum gives a summary of the whole of the purposes. Clause 1 enables councils of counties, the larger boroughs and urban districts, to acquire land and do everything which a company acting under the Companies Act, 1908, might lawfully do. Clause 2 specifies the proceedings by which the powers may be enacted. Clause 3 deals with borrowing powers and the sanction of the Board of Trade to loans, and compels a council to obtain the consent of Parliament to a Board of Trade Provisional Order when the proposed loan exceeds a quarter of the annual rateable value. Clause 4 authorises a council under the Board of Trade to exercise its powers beyond its own area. Clause 5 enables councils to combine in an undertaking. By Clause 6 a council is prevented from selling or leasing any of its undertaking to an outside firm for a longer period than seven years unless it receives the consent of the Board of Trade, and by Clause 7 smaller district councils and parish councils may exercise powers, but merely with the Board of Trade's consent and under such conditions as the Board of Trade may prescribe. Clause 8 requires every council to place the net profits of the undertaking in a common fund, which may not be used for the reduction of rates. Nothing in the Bill interferes with the existing powers of councils conferred upon them by public or private Statute, Provisional Order or common law. We believe a council in these days should have the powers that we seek to enable them to obtain through this Act. When you see the difference that exists in many towns in distributing various things, and the unnecessary expense incurred in their distribution, the necessity for such a Bill should be at once seen by everyone. You have only to compare the distribution of letters by the postman in any street, where you will see one postman delivering letters down the whole of a long street, followed probably a few minutes later by half a dozen milk carts and vans of other descriptions, stopping at one or two or it may be half a dozen houses, and then on to another street. The overlapping that goes on and the unnecessary expense means an increased cost to the consumer, because the consumer must bear the cost of distribution. When all these things are taken into consideration, in these days when we are preaching economy, when we are being told we ought to practise economy, such a Bill as this is necessary. I trust the Government will accept it, and that any Amendments which hon. Members think necessary to strengthen it will be brought forward in Committee.
I beg to second the Motion.
I feel the time has arrived when an extension of principles already in operation should be enacted. I propose to limit myself to three or four matters which I regard as extremely important so far as the public generally is concerned. Milk appeals to me as one of the most important matters which we ought to deal with at the earliest possible moment. It is admitted that there is no worse form of introducing disease into the human body than is caused by the supply of milk. Impure milk is the cause of no end of suffering, which could be avoided, and the sooner this House agrees to allow boroughs and urban district councils to take over completely the supply of milk the better it will be for the inhabitants of the country. Many people imagine that you only obtain impure milk in large centres. There was never a greater fallacy. I come from an urban district surrounded by thousands of acres of land that sends milk to Manchester, Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent, and quite a number of other large cities. But despite the fact that we are in the heart of a milk-producing country the milk supply in our district is no better than the supply that is sent along to the large centres. Very often one sees milk poured out of a jug, and at the bottom there is a muddy sediment, which proves conclusively that the milk has not been produced under the best possible condition. This exists all over the country. It is time the House took steps to put into operation a better method of producing a supply of milk for consumers all over the land. Medical officers of health have stated in their reports for years past that this ought to be done, and it is a surprising thing to me at this time of day that we are now asking for facilities to allow public authorities to take this matter over. We are merely asking for the extension of a principle. Already you have in some large cities milk retailed by the municipality. It is high time that we agreed to extend the principle all over the country, thus allowing for the first time an opportunity to obtain pure milk at a reasonable figure throughout the length and breadth of the land.
Leaving milk and turning again to the land, you come to the question of cattle. As soon as that point is raised you come to the question why should we not supply meat. Why should not butchers' shops be opened by municipalities as has been done in some of our Colonies? Take New Zealand, for instance. England is supposed to be the Mother Country, but when one realises, as is perfectly true, that her sons, her children, are leaving the Mother Country, it is high time that we took steps to alter that state of affairs. In New Zealand butchers' shops have been opened, and successfully are competing to day with the private trader. Not merely are they successfully competing, but they have actually brought down the price of meat in New Zealand to a very considerable extent. I hope the methods that we suggest in relation to the supply of milk and the opening of butchers' shops will be adopted. Each of the municipalities should be allowed to retail meat to the consumers, which would result in the long run in a large reduction in the cost to the consumer. There is another question, and that is the supply of pigs. In Stoke-on-Trent some years ago a piggery of a most up-to-date type was opened. They have very successfully reared an immense number of pigs and have realised a very considerable profit on the business. The municipalities ought to have the facilities, without having to apply to this House for powers, for taking up this kind of work. I think it is time that the public authorities should have the same privileges and powers that private traders have.
Take the question of bread. Surely, of all the things consumed in this country bread plays a most prominent part. At the present time, when we consider the immense cost entailed in the production of bread all over the land, in innumerable small bakeries which are attempting to compete one against the other, in conditions absolutely against the proper production of bread, conditions totally of a bad description, often in sanitary to the utmost degree, I think it is time that municipalities were allowed, without having to apply here, to take over the work of baking and supplying bread to their particular localities. The sooner that is done the better it will be for the country. It is well known that if you produce in bulk, that if you make your bread in bakeries of the best possible type, such as are in existence to-day in some parts of the country, you are bound to reduce the cost to the consumer, and that is one of the points of this Bill. There are several other things in connection with this Bill where the localities should play an important part not merely for their own district, but for the country generally, I suggest that in acquiring land, such as we maintain ought to be allowed, the fact ought to be taken into consideration that under the land that may be purchased there exists in many urban districts the best possible type of marl for producing bricks, and there are stone quarries. All these are in the hands of private monopolies, and we hold that the municipalities should be allowed to purchase land on which is marl and stone for the purpose of utilising those materials for the public good. In these matters, as in the other matters mentioned, the result would be that the cost to the consumer would be bound to come down. I hope hon. Members will bear these most important matters in mind.
The Bill states that only a borough or urban district of 20,000 inhabitants and upwards shall have power to conduct these undertakings, but those with smaller populations may combine together for that purpose, as mentioned in one of the Clauses. I draw particular attention to the importance of this Clause providing for combination of two or more councils. The bulk of the urban councils in the United Kingdom are in districts under 20,000 in population, and unless this Clause be accepted in full it would mean that a large number of urban districts would not be allowed the same privileges that would be granted to the rest of the country. In my own particular Constituency there are three urban districts whose borders touch each other, every one of them within a radius of nine or ten miles, varying in population from 15,000 to 18,000. The land is very similar, the industry is the same, the minerals in the land are practically identical in the various districts, and I hold that this particular Clause should be accepted in order that these three councils—and the same would apply in similar circumstances all over the country—should be allowed to combine for the purpose of enjoying the same benefits and privileges as are granted to other districts. Sub-section (2) of Clause 8 also contains a wise provision. Private traders are out for the purpose of making profit for themselves at the expense of the public, and prices go up, but the municipalities would not be out simply for the purpose of making profit. Of course, the business must pay, but they would not be out merely for the purpose of making profit, they would be out for the purpose of doing the right thing for the public in their particular locality and incidentally for the people in other localities. I trust that the House will agree to the Bill. I have heard right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House during the last three months eulogising the magnificent public spirited work which has been done by members of borough and urban district councils. Stress has been laid on the way in which they have neglected their own business for the purpose of performing public work. This Bill seeks to remove the limitations which hamper these public spirited men who are anxious to do the right thing for the people in the particular localities in which they reside, and I hope that the Government will give it its blessing and that it will shortly be placed on the Statute Book.
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words ''upon this day six months."
Apparently the municipalities and local authorities on whose behalf this Bill is introduced do not want the Bill, because if they did require it for the carrying on of the representative duties hon. Members would have received some notification from the various borough councils. I have received none myself, and from what I can hear no other Member of the House has received instructions from any local authority to support this Bill. On the other hand, I have had many letters and requests to oppose it. Anybody who reads the Bill from beginning to end must realise that this is another attempt to create the system which the Socialists have tried for years to create of municipal and Government training. There is nothing in this Bill about milk, cattle, bread, or bricks—all necessaries of life. It is more than an omnibus Bill; it is a whole trainload. It means that any municipality or county council can establish any business they like. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] It is as well that we should know what the object is that it is to do away with the individual trader and to make everybody the servant of the municipality first and afterwards the servant of the State. The hon. Member who has just sat down went into the question of milk. We all know that there has been and is a great deal of impure milk sold. We know that it is absolutely necessary that steps should be taken to improve our supplies of milk, and I do not think as a rule that there would be much opposition if a proposal were made in this House to enable municipalities or any other local authority to take what steps they consider necessary for the supply of pure milk. It is one of the essential necessities of life. When it comes to the question of cattle, perhaps the hon. Member is not aware that we do not produce in this country sufficient cattle or meat for the requirements of the country, and if authority were given to municipalities, as proposed by this Bill, to open shops for the sale of meat, and viritually to sell at cost price, in competition with the tradesmen, who we must bear in mind are voters in the municipalities, who have not been at all considered, their shops would be shut up entirely by the hon. Member. Then these municipalities, if they were raising cattle themselves, in all probability, knowing what we do of the production of cattle in this country, would have to go outside to buy what they require to make up the deficiency in local production. The consequence would be that we should have these municipal authorities competing in Smithfield or any of the other wholesale markets with private traders from another locality or with other municipalities for the necessary meat for their own market. And all the time, whichever one of the municipalities was to adopt the system—probably there might be many—would be shutting out the actual ratepayers upon whom the municipality was depending for ways and means. When it comes to bread you have the same argument. If the municipality took up the production of bread if you are rearing cattle you cannot grow corn, and you would have, therefore, to go outside to buy your supplies in the open market, there, again, competing with and shutting up the bakers, because they have to sell to make a living, like all tradesmen, and it is necessary that they should live.
I hope that my hon. Friend does not suggest that I have indicated in my remarks that these bakers, who are now established, should starve. I would like my right hon. Friend to re- member that if municipalities did open public bakeries there would be still work for these men to do.
It may be that knowing what we do of the ideas of leaders of the Socialist party, Mr. Sydney Webb and others, probably the municipalities would have, under the powers of this Bill, their own organisation for the distribution of bread, and would not require the services of the bakers or anybody else. The servants of the municipality would do the whole thing from beginning to end. When we come to the question of bricks, there is the same thing. That is a trade which requires an enormous amount of labour, and the masters who have carried it on know their business perfectly well, and I doubt whether the politicians who would run these municipalities would know very much about the actual making of bricks. They might, and probably would, say that they would get experienced men. That experienced men would have to be a supporter of those politicians. Two or more councils are able to combine, but if you are going in for municipal trading as the thin end of the wedge for Government trading, it does not matter whether you have one local authority, or ten, as the objection to large employment by any local authority remains the same. We have heard from hon. Members suggestions in connection with trades which we may call utility trades, but the Bill does not stop there. It empowers local authorities to go in, not only for those enterprises, but for businesses, such as tailors or jewellers, or any business they like. They can establish any factories they like, and can run the whole work of the whole of the country. If such a Bill were allowed to become law, nobody would be able to reside in the locality where the municipality had elected to work under the provisions of this Bill, because the whole production and distribution of every material might be in the hands of the municipal or local authority, and it could only be the servants of that local authority, who could possibly reside there, as the rates would be so heavy, on the few people outside of their employment, that living in such a locality would be an impossibility. There are Clauses in this Bill which are so wide, that the commonsense of anybody must revolt at the idea that such a law could be enacted here. We are used to individualism, and have been in the past, and it has enabled this country to attain a position in the world which we are proud to occupy. If such a Bill as this, could possibly be passed, it would do away with all ambition, because no man could be successful in such a locality where you had municipal control over everything. The hon. Member referred to Clauses 2 and 8, and to payment out of a common fund in reduction of rates. We do not know, and it is not explained here, what the common fund is to be used for. According to the Bill, if there is a profit on any trading, that is to be paid into the common fund, but that common fund is not to be allowed to be used for the reduction of rates. It is conceivable in every business, where there are profits, there may be losses. Are we to understand that in the event of a loss in any of these municipal undertakings the rates are to bear that loss. What is to become of the common fund? I think we are entitled to have some idea as to this common fund. Is it to be divided amongst the employés of the municipality, or what is to become of it. It is very difficult in a business, at the beginning or at any time, to make your calculations so that there is neither a profit or a loss, and you would therefore estimate that there should be at least some small profit. I want to know, because there is nothing in the Bill which lays it down, what is to become of this common fund. Is it to accumulate for an indefinite period, or what is to become of it? That is a question which I have no doubt hon. Members opposite can answer.
By the Bill, the municipal or local authorities are authorised to establish or purchase and carry on any business or any undertaking, and to purchase or hold land outside the area of any such council, which in the opinion of the Board of Trade is necessary or desirable in the interests of any business, or undertaking, carried on, or to be carried on, by a council within their area; and to establish or purchase and carry on a business or undertaking, or purchase or hold land without their area. I think we ought to know before proceeding with this Bill what is the opinion of the people principally concerned, namely, the municipal and borough and county councils, and. above all others, the ratepayers. They are the people who will have to pay the piper, and their representatives on the various councils have expressed no wish or desire to have this Bill passed. The whole Bill, from beginning to end, is so objectionable, and so against the freedom of the individual, that I felt constrained to put down my Amendment. If you look about for the reason of this Bill, I think it is not difficult to find. We can assume, or at least I assume, that the object is, when the municipal elections come round, if a section of the community are successful at the polls, on a Bill which gives them such powers as these they can offer a direct bribe to the electorate, by saying, "If you return us to power, we are going to establish every possible trade, and for those who support us there will be certain remunerations and jobs in those different trades and industries." [Hon. Members: "No, no!"] There can be no other reason. It is simply the power to offer a bribe to those who support municipal or Government trading. There is no use mincing the matter. It is my opinion that the object of this Bill is political, and that it has nothing whatever to do with the welfare of the people or their interests, but is diametrically opposed to the interests of the ratepayers and taxpayers, and the sole object of the Bill is to enable, a political party to offer bribes to the people to support them and put them in power.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I have listened with a good deal of amusement to the Mover and Seconder of this Bill, and it affords me a great amount of pleasure to learn the peculiar ideas of Members on the benches opposite with regard to trading. Of course, if they had had any experience in a competitive industry or any knowledge of business, they would not speak in the manner they do, because they would know more about their subject. We have listened to Members opposite talking about municipal trading, and one cannot help thinking that a good many of these arguments and speeches have been used in their own constituencies time and time again.[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] I am very glad to hear the admission, because it will hardly be necessary for me to labour the point that I myself have listened to representatives of that party making street-corner speeches for a matter of fifteen or twenty years past, trying to convert the electorate to this form of municipal trading, and we know that, in spite of all their efforts—and I must Bay that some of their representatives are very eloquent speakers—the more these arguments are used, the more inclined the electorate is to reject them. We have only to look at the returns of the last election and to examine where this party has grown and where it has failed. I myself have the honour to represent a working-class constituency in Manchester, and I am quite convinced that there is no corner of this country where these doctrines have been preached with more vigour than they have in the constituency which I represent. If we compare the representatives of Manchester with those in the last Parliament, we find that 50 per cent. of them then were adherents to the Labour cause; but what do we find to-day? That has been reduced to 20 per cent., and those 20 per cent. are right hon. Members of this House who gave their wholehearted support to the Coalition Government, and it was only on account of their support to the Coalition cause that they have been allowed to hold their seats in this House. The hon. Gentleman who introduced this measure comes from a city where they have fifteen representatives, and what do we find there? He claims to be the only representative of the Labour cause that is returned from Glasgow. Are we to understand that this propaganda for nationalisation and municipalisation which they have advocated for so many years has not been brought forward in Glasgow? How is it that the city of Glasgow, which is an industrial centre, composed to a large extent of a working-class section of the population, has returned only one Labour Member? Let us turn to Liverpool, which is a large shipping and industrial centre, where a big portion of the electorate is composed of the working classes. Have we any representatives of the Labour party in this House returned from Liverpool? Yet hon. Members opposite tell us that they have 60 or 70 representatives, and that they are a growing party.
If they be a growing party, let us examine the districts where they have grown. We find that they have grown in those districts where they have never had candidates before. We find that this doctrine is one of those doctrines which, when it is listened to for the first time, is very fascinating, especially if your mind happens to be young. I myself as a boy was very enthusiastic after reading "Looking Backward," by Bellamy, and "Merrie England," by Blatchford, and I must gay that I became infatuated with this beautiful idea, and I cannot help but think that in a good many of the agricultural districts it may be something new, a new form of entertainment to listen to Socialistic speeches, and I think this is the reason why the party has grown; but I am sure it cannot be any compliment to the party, and the party itself can take no credit and cannot claim that this country is prepared to accept their stupid ideas if, after years and years of toil, ten, fifteen, or twenty years of laborious work in working-class constituencies, their, doctrines are rejected. In addition, this controversy has gone on and on at municipal elections. If there had been anything in these arguments which would convince the electorate, I think that before this time we should have had vast majorities in our city and borough councils in favour of the municipalisation of these various industries. But we find no demand from our city or borough councils in favour of these schemes. Yet there are a good many more municipal elections than Parliamentary elections, and the representatives and candidates for municipal honours have far more opportunities of being in touch with the electorate than representatives in Parliament have; and on the whole, considering that this propaganda has been going on for a good many years and that they have all these facilities, one would think that it is rather to their discredit that they have not so far converted any of these municipal councils.
Let us examine a few of the cities that have gone in for municipal trading, and let us examine the kind of industries which they have taken in hand. I speak with some knowledge of these things in Manchester, but I suppose what is applicable to Manchester is pretty much applicable to other cities and boroughs. Some years ago we had a horse tramway company running in that city, and the municipality very rightly came to the conclusion that the time had arrived when our tramways should be electrified, and they, like other municipalities, sought powers to take over the tramway company and to electrify the traffic. They came to this House for a Bill to enable them to take over this very important public service, and they entered into communication with the tramway company, and, after negotiating, paid them a very considerable sum of money to buy out that company in order that the municipality might run the trams. This same tramways committee, a year or two afterwards, thought it would be a great public convenience if they also carried parcels, and they started to carry and distribute parcels to the people of Manchester and suburbs and outside districts. There were, perhaps, half a dozen parcel-carrying companies and private firms in Manchester, but they did not come to this House to get powers to buy those companies out. They proceeded deliberately, with the ratepayers' money, to try and run them off the road. I ask hon. Members opposite if this is a just form of trading? A corporation will come to the House in order to obtain powers to buy out a powerful company, but when it comes to dealing with smaller firms and smaller companies they proceed to endeavour to run them off the road.
The hon. Gentleman opposite talked about dealing with the milk supply and the bread supply. I would like to ask under which of these heads will they deal with this business? Are they going to buy out the milk people and the bakers, or are they going to run them off the road in the same way as the Manchester Corporation endeavoured to run the parcel people off the road? Luckily, in the case of the Manchester Corporation, it was found that they were acting in an illegal manner, because they only had power to carry parcels over their own track, and not to distribute beyond. They spread out their tentacles with horses and vans, and we had members of the corporation going to Ireland and buying horses, and so on. Although the tramways themselves were a financial success, because they had taken over a monopoly, and because they had been able to introduce anew form of traction in the way of electricity instead of horseflesh, on these grounds, and these grounds alone, the Manchester Corporation proved that they can make a big success and that they can make something like £100,000 a year for the reduction of rates; but when it came to individual competition, they were losing money on the parcel side of their business, and this proves, as it has been proved over and over again, that a municipality or a government can run with very great success a monopoly, but they cannot run against individual competition. I contend that it is possible for any fool to run a monopoly successfully, but that in a highly competitive business it requires men who have had training, and who know how to meet the various phases of competition, who know how to meet public services and to give satisfaction to their customers, in order that they may keep their trade together.
The hon. Member opposite spoke about the delivery of letters and compared it with the delivery of milk or of bread, and he said that one postman delivers letters in a street, whereas several milk carts come there, and I presume several bread vans in that street. He forgot to tell the House that the postman does not write or manufacture the letters before he delivers them, and that the question of delivery is perhaps a separate thing altogether from the manufacture of the article which is delivered. As a matter of fact, those letters which the postman delivers in that street are written by different people indifferent parts of the country, and the recipients have the advantage of receiving letters which are written by different people in different sorts of ways. I contend that it is quite possible for those same people, who may have a fancy for different letters from different people, to have a fancy for bread made by different firms or for milk delivered by different firms. Tastes in this matter differ. Everyone does not fancy the same kind of bread or the same kind of milk. They may have a fancy even as to the people who distribute it or the way it is distributed, the amount of credit given; the amount of civility they receive, and so on. All these factors enter into competitive businesses of this sort, and it is up to the various firms to improve their service in order that they may enlarge the amount of their business. In addition, we have to bear in mind that it is always open to these gentlemen with these wonderful ideas to start at any time, even without an Act of Parliament, in any of these businesses and endeavour to improve these services.
It is argued that there is tremendous loss in the matter of delivery, and that if only organised in the proper way, how much saving there would be to the public. If it be possible to save this enormous amount of money, and to reduce the price of bread and milk to the public by this wonderful organisation, I would invite any of these gentleman with these wonderful ideas to start out and try to do it. There is no licence, required, and there is no restriction in any shape or form. They may start in any of these businesses, and one would think if they could reduce the cost to such an enormous extent, there is a very lucrative future for any one of them to try to run these businesses. We are told—and, it may be, rightly told—that the delivery of our milk could be vastly improved. We are told that it is possible to pour out milk from a jug into a glass and to find a muddy sediment. I have heard of people pouring out a glass of beer to-day and finding a muddy sediment at the bottom. At any rate, if the municipality took over the supply of milk, they would still need horses and carts and shippens and cows, and so on. The milk would not be produced or distributed in any fresh or wonderful way unless there were new regulations introduced, and unless the municipality laid down regulations for the handling and distribution of milk. If that is the difficulty, why cannot the municipalities or this House bring in such regulations? Let them leave the supply and distribution of milk in private hands as it is to-day, and bring in regulations in order that the production and delivery may be improved.
We were told by one hon. Member opposite that there are a lot of in sanitary small bakeries up and down the country, and in the next sentence or two he told us that there are very efficient large bakeries that are able to supply people in a much cheaper and better way. If he had any knowledge at all of this business, one would think he would be able to say at once that, if the larger and better equipped bakeries were able to supply the public that the small bakeries supply, the large bakeries would be able to run the small bakeries off the road in a very few months. Yet we find these small bakeries continuing year after year, and the larger bakeries are not able to run them off the road, or at any rate, they have not done so. It is only because the smaller bakeries probably are in different districts, and because they have a different clientèle, and do a different class of trade from the larger ones, that they exist. There are grades of the baking business just as there are grades in the Labour party, and different ideas prevail amongst the people as to the way in which they desire to purchase, and the kind of bread they wish to purchase. If they can be economically run at a profit, they are fulfilling a public service, and you have no right to interfere and to tell the people that they should have either their bread or their milk in any other form unless you can prove that it is going to be for the public good. I am a democrat, and I believe in democratic rule. These issues have been fought time and time again both in municipalities and probably in Parliament, and the country by an overwhelming majority reject all forms of collective ownership, and return people who are pledged to support the individualistic principle.
These issues have been before the public not only at the last election but for a matter of fifteen or twenty years, and the public have made up their mind, and do not need to be told, when they see the various candidates, what those various candidates are out for. They know, without being told at the General Election, under which party banner they fight, and what they are fighting for.
May I ask whether the hon. Member has any knowledge of the singular success of the Labour men at the last municipal elections, especially in Durham, Cumberland, and Nottinghamshire?
My argument was that so far I have not heard of a single municipality which has returned a majority of councillors who were in favour of municipal ownership. Even if a Bill of this sort were passed, we do not know that any city council would be so elected as to be able to work it. I think it is most ridiculous that Parliament should waste its time to-day in a discussion of this sort, for the purpose of bringing in a Bill for which there is no demand. I contend that until we have a demand from the municipalities, and until the municipalities have made up their minds to this form of trading, it would be useless to go any further with this measure, We must look at it from the point of view that we cannot introduce various forms of municipal trading unless we are prepared to increase the number of officials. The more officials you have in a city council, and the fewer members of the council you have to look after the interests of the ratepayers, the more you will be having the interests of the ratepayers resting in the care of the officials, and the less supervision and the less public control you will have. I con- tend that officialdom is not public control, either in the municipal or in the national walk of life. Public control is such a form of control that the direct representatives of the people have control over the energies of either the municipality or the Government. The more that control is weakened and taken away from the direct representatives of the people, the more the control goes into the hands of officials, and the less the representatives of the people know about the business in hand. If you are prepared to go on increasing the energies and the work of a municipality, you must increase the number of officials, and you will have less control by the councillors. It is quite a common thing for those officials to say that councils may come and councils may go but they go on for ever. Some of the officials in both municipal and Government offices have so much power and are so well seated in their positions, and have been there so long, that the influence of public opinion on their policy is very small. They become more and more determined to carry out their own ideas, and run their department in their own way, and they take less and less notice of any public man who is elected to look after them. If, instead of passing such a mass of legislation, we gave legislation a rest, and the country a rest from legislation, and we all made up our minds to administer instead of legislate, I am quite confident that we should give more satisfaction to the country. If this House, instead of having to debate so many measures, could be divided up into Committees to look after the various Departments of the Government and to see how those Departments were run, and if we had direct control by the electors over the administrative parts of the Government, I am quite sure that the people would be more satisfied and the country would be better run. I beg the House to pause before it adds any more to the labours of the municipalities. I am quite confident that they have enough work at the present time to do, and the time which in many cases those men are able to give to the public work is not sufficient to look after every interest and every walk of life. I believe that competition is more likely to provide an efficient service in a good many directions than can be achieved by the municipality.
I rise with a certain amount of humility to speak in favour of the Bill, the principle of which has been described by the Mover of the Amendment as political bribery, and by the Seconder in the gentle and courteous terms of "silly ideas." I want to suggest to the hon. Members that some of the statements they have made will not bear very close investigation. I am a living example of the falsity of the statement that the Labour party has grown only in divisions in which no contest from the Labour point of view had previously taken place. I won my seat in an industrial constituency which had been frequently contested by Labour men, and I won it against a Coalition candidate. I am an example of the accuracy with which the Seconder of the Amendment spoke! On the question of political bribery I admit quite frankly this Bill lays down definitely the idea that collective action is better than individual action. Let me ask the Mover of the Amendment what has taken place during the War? Everything we have done well has been done by the curbing of individualism, by pulling its claws, by preventing it mauling the people, by putting it in its place and allowing the nation's interest to stand supreme. All the triumphs of the War are due to the very principles laid down here. We should have lost the War had we maintained that individualistic action so loudly praised by hon. Members opposite. Bribery! What has taken place? Why were shipping rates fixed but to prevent the gentle and a kindly individualist who loved his country from bleeding it too much! This is history. Everyone can see we had to replace individualistic by collectivist methods to prevent the individualist, first of all, bleeding his country, and, secondly, in order to win the War. When hon. Members come here and talk of silly ideas and political bribery with the example of the War before them I have more respect for their blindness than I have for their capacity. Look at the provisions of the Bill. They do not make it compulsory on the part of any municipality to embark on any undertaking. The provisions say that when the people of the municipality desire they shall be able to engage in any operation which, in their opinion, is for the good of the community. We stand by that principle. We are in favour of collective methods of working. We are against individualistic methods of working. Rightly or wrongly we stand for our principle, as honestly as any hon. Members opposite, and with move historical justification if we take credit for what we have seen during the War.
Lieutenant-Commander C. WILLIAMS:
Like the previous speaker, I also rise with very considerable humility to address the House. This particular Bill seems to me, as one who has taken some considerable interest in affairs of the various sections, to be one of those curious measures which are brought forward from time to time by the Labour party for window-dressing purposes. I congratulate them on having produced to-day a nice little Bill which will not take up too much room in their shop window and which can be conveniently hidden or produced if necessary—that is, if they are lucky. As a new Member, I scarcely like to mention the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. M'Lean). He has had such extreme rapidity in promotion and in getting to the Front Bench. He tells us that one of the objects of the Bill is to save costs to the municipalities. Instead of having to approach this House by means of private Bills, which are costly, they will be able to avoid that. If that is the only object and result of the Bill, I welcome it very sincerely. I admit that these costs may possibly be beneficial to the legal community. I do not happen to belong to that section of individuals, very excellent in their way, and efficient in fee-drawing I believe. So far I have been lucky to escape. But a measure which proposes to give facilities for trading to almost any municipality throughout the country, for them to go into almost any work they may choose, must surely have something very much stronger and more important in its favour than to save legal fees! The hon. Member refers to trading enterprises. He suggests, amongst other ideas, that in addition to milk deal-and so on, they would be able to go into other forms of trading industry. We heard a moment or two ago that during the War we were forced under certain conditions, and because of certain reasons, to adopt the national schemes all round. I can conceive that a very great deal can be said in favour—or at all events certain arguments can be adduced in favour of the nationalisation of banks, or the unification of the control of the banking world for the good of the whole nation. But I cannot conceive good in allowing boroughs, the county council, and other similar bodies, to have their own banking system when banking has advanced so far as it has to-day, and when you have the main great banks controlling between them almost the whole of the country. I say I can see the argument, although I do not agree with it, of a national banking institution, but I cannot conceive why there should be local banking institutions. This is a retrogressive and not a progressive measure, so far as I understand banking.
Then as to the third point, which the hon. Member for Govan camouflaged very carefully—though I am not quite certain of his arguments. He was very anxious that those of us who are young and new to the House should not imagine this was very much of a Socialistic measure. I have always understood Socialism meant the ownership of what was previously individual property by some form of communistic property. This means the elimination of the individual and substituting in his place the community, either locally or in a broader sense. I fail to see how there can be any argument for claiming that this is not an undiluted socialistic measure. If the Labour party mean to stand by this case and force it forward, are they going to come in the open and state that this is brought forward with the intention of gradually forcing the power of Socialism forward in this country? There was one other remark which interested me very much, and it was in regard to the question of milk. I suppose you could not have a stronger platform for municipal ownership of some sort or other than the case of milk. Under Clause 7 I believe the outside localities, those in the local country areas, would have the power of combination for the control of their milk supply. It may not be generally known that at the present time you frequently get a really bad milk famine in a country village where the milk is produced, and under a scheme of this sort you could get the country districts combining to send away the whole of their milk supplies to the place that would give them the best market, and this might cut off the local supplies. That is one instance of where you get under this Bill as it stands very great confusion indeed if you put the milk control—as it may possibly be necessary—under a definite organisation, and if the best interests of the consumer, and especially the child consumer, is to be looked after, you must have something wider and more national than the mere simple power of the locality to control. It must be the widest possible con- trol on national lines, taken in the interests of the consumer throughout the whole length and breadth of the country.
I come now to one or two more details of the Bill. In Clause 1 powers are given to the various boroughs to absolutely engage in any form of trade which they like. They may enter into competition with existing local traders, cut them out and undersell them, and the point I wish to emphasise is that this is going to be done at the expense of individuals whom you will be depriving of their living. We all know of the common case to-day of the gradual elimination of the small trader by the large firm. I am not afraid, for example, that Selfridge's, or any other big firm, will suffer under this Bill, because they will always command the best brains, and they will defeat the local authority every time. Individually the small trader under this Bill will be paying rates in order that the members of the councils can set up in direct opposition to his trade. I ask Members of this House to consider whether it is fair to force individuals of this kind to pay rates which are going to be used to take away their means of living. I think that is a case for which at any rate those of us who are opposing this Bill will find a very great deal of sympathy in the country when it is realised that it is the small trader who has undoubtedly suffered during this War almost worse than any other class, and for this reason his interest should be carefully guarded in the future.
I was surprised to find that more has not been made of the proposals contained in Clause 3, which allows any council to borrow money up to one-fourth of the rateable value. That may be all very well for the time being. You may say that it limits their power of entering into trade and competition, but we can hardly imagine that my hon. Friends would be very long willing to accept that limitation of their powers. If they are going to do everything from banking to hair-cutting, from the milk supply to the direct supply of meat, and every other kind of individualistic enterprise, then the mere question of having only one-fourth of the rateable value would very soon be too little, and they would demand a very great enlargement of their powers. It might be found that some of those industries undertaken by municipalities would not be quite so successful as was expected. That is a point which I would like to develop further. Are you going to take the losses incurred under this Bill out of the rates or out of a common fund? Suppose the banking side did not pay, but the fish-selling industry did pay, are you going to amalgamate the two into a common fund, or put one to profits and the other to loss, and put the loss on the rates if you have not absorbed your one-fourth, and the profits into the common funds?
In Clause 8 you provide for a common fund. I am a little doubtful as to what is meant by that term. I have been told that it is a Scottish term under which a city council, for example, can apply their common funds to some kind of work which is not productive. If this is a Scottish term, and it is to be applied to a Bill which is intended to apply to England, I think the Scottish Members of the Labour party with their knowledge of local phraseology might enlighten some of us humbler English Members as to what they actually mean by this Scottish term. Legal terms are always confusing, and Scottish legal terms always seem to me to be a peculiar method of insanity beyond my comprehension altogether. I would like those hon. Gentlemen who support the Bill to explain one or two of these terms, and to state exactly what they are going to do as regards the losses. I want to know what they mean by a common fund, and I would also like them, out of the kindness of their hearts and their desire to help the people of this country, to tell us exactly what they are going to do with those individuals who are going to be deprived of their means of livelihood. I would like to remind them that it will be very unfair indeed if you charge a man for the rope as well as hang him. You will destroy his means of livelihood, and charge him for doing so.
I must express my surprise, seeing that it was common knowledge that this Bill was put down for today by the Labour party, that there should be only half a dozen Members of that party in the House to support it. I should like the Labour Members to inform their Constituencies how many they have mustered out of the sixty-two of their number who sit in the House. It is not the first instance of the kind. We have had other Bills introduced by Labour Members, and many of their party have forgotten to turn up. The Mover of the Bill referred to the milk question, but, however dirty the milk may have been in the past, I cannot see that a municipal supply is going to affect the matter, unless Liverpool, which is supplied from one urban area, buys up all the land from which the milk is obtained. We ought to have a more drastic supervision of the dairies and farms, but I do not think that question is relevant to this Bill. The Seconder said he came from an urban area which sent large quantities of milk to various places, including Liverpool, and he complained that in the area in which he lived they did not get better milk than that which was sent outside. I do not know whether he meant it, but that was a tribute to the honesty of his own dairymen, showing that they did not put any water into it before sending it to Liverpool.
In my Constituency we have 54 borough councillors, and I do not think there is one who does not have to work for his living. They have charge of the ordinary duties of the municipality, and there is an electric supply which has not been very profitable, because they bungled the matter when they installed it. They paid an enormous price for the land, and built the station a mile from the river, although they would have saved 1s. on every load if they had placed it near the river. It is proposed that that municipality shall have the power to trade in the district. We have the finest street market in the Metropolis. It is most crowded, and is one of the cheapest and best. Every trader in the street, as well as every shop keeper, gives his whole thought and attention to getting a good article at a good price. A reference was made to the profit that traders make. These retail traders only just make decent wages and a reasonable interest on their small capital. It is proposed that our municipality, which pays its town clerk and the top officials enormous salaries, shall start opening greengrocers' shops, butchers' shops, and fish shops, and the members of the council, after their day's work, will, I suppose, attend the committee meetings in the evening. The greengrocery committee will decide what they are to do about the borough market to-morrow and about Covent Garden. They will decide who is to go up and buy, or whether they are to relegate it to a manager. The manager, from what I have seen, will want a very good salary. I do not know how they will arrange about the purchase of fish. I suppose there will be another manager and one or two assistants, because you could not expect a public official to be up every morning at three o'clock. We shall get an army of officials, and we have quite enough already. Under the Bill, there is power to buy up businesses, but they would do that as a rule. They would proceed on more drastic lines. They would take premises or build premises and start in business. At the next election there might be a change of public feeling—everyone knows that changes of public Opinion do frequently occur—and a different party might come into power and at once decide to close these businesses. All kinds of jobbery might take place, and undoubtedly there would be all kinds of waste.
The hon. Member for Wandsworth (Mr. S. Samuel) said that there was no provision in the Bill to deal with the surplus funds. I am rather surprised that such a business gentleman should raise the point. Surely he knows where the surplus would go. If they made a profit of £150 one year in the greengrocery shop, there would at once be a proposal to raise the salary of the manager by £100. The next year the same thing would happen, but the first year there was a loss they would find that they could not reduce the salary of the manager or the salaries of the staff. The whole proposition is mere window-dressing and is undoubtedly brought forward at a most unhappy time. We have in front of us the question of the nationalisation of the coal mines. I believe in nationalising the coal mines. We have also a proposal to nationalise the railways, and I hope we shall do it. Those are concerns which can well be undertaken by the local authorities, but, having regard to the policy of the Government with all kinds of reconstruction proposals, the present is a very unhappy time to bring forward a proposition of this kind. I know it is optional, but where they can get a certain number of members in favour of it they may try the experiment, and I am perfectly sure that in almost every case failure will result and a reversal of public opinion will follow. There is also the case of the individual trader himself. He is suddenly to be pushed on one side. Probably he will not get any of the fresh appointments, I have seen, a little of municipal administraton for the past thirty or forty years in my own district, and from what I know everybody on the council will be urged to give the position of manager of the fish shop or the boot shop or the butcher's shop to someone who probably had never got more than £3 or £4 per week, and who was out for a position of £400 per year. The appointments undoubtedly will go by favour. In my opinion for this country at the present time to go into such transactions as this would be not only wasteful but dangerous, and I shall be only too delighted to give my vote against this Bill.
I have been rather interested in the discussion which has taken place on the Bill submitted to-day and not the least interested in the remarks of the last speaker, who led off by telling us what a very fine type of person he was associated with in the local authority with which he is connected, and then went on to declare that if this Bill were passed those thoroughly intelligent and capable people would at once set to work to do the most absurd things possible. There does not seem to be a great deal of logic in reasoning of that character. I am afraid the hon. Member has been speaking rather more from the point of prejudice than from the standpoint of the Bill itself. The Seconder of the Amendment told us, in his opening remarks, that he came from Manchester. If he had not told us so at the beginning we should have known it before he had proceeded very far by the method of his reasoning, because the traditions of the old Manchester school of thought hung very heavily over him during the time he was addressing the House. I have yet to learn that any measure introduced in this assembly is to be tested, so far as its merits are concerned, by the success or non-success of the party which brings it in in the elections in the country. But even if we had to face that issue, I am not altogether fearful that we could not show some substantial reason for this Bill being adopted by the House.
But after all, successor non-success in this regard is not to be limited by the number of members who are returned to this House or to any municipal authority. The number of votes given is the real test of the situation, and viewed from that standpoint I venture to say that the Labour party can show a degree of success in the matter equal to that of any other party in the country. But the results of the last Election surely have nothing to do with the measure before the House. These were not the issues that were before the country at the Election. The question of the extension of municipal effort was not one that dominated the country at that, time, and therefore it has no bearing on the actual result, so far as the election is concerned. It has been stated that one of the chief reasons why the House should reject this measure is because of our failure as a party. I venture to suggest that if that has any bearing upon the question at all, if we as a party have not grown so rapidly as we would have liked to do, and as hon. Members might have anticipated, that has been very largely due to the fact that those opposed to us in the first instance have gradually but surely adopted the ideas and principles which we advocated in the beginning. It is obvious in the different municipalities of the country that one of the reasons that has mitigated against the success of labour in this matter has been the fact that the other parties, who have fought against their policy for years have gradually come to put into operation the very thing which the Labour party advocated in its earliest days. One would imagine that the idea of municipal effort was something new in the history of this country. One would imagine that it was a question brought forward for the first time, and that we had nothing behind us in the way of experience. Yet when we look upon this question we have to realise that from one end of the country to the other the whole tendency in municipal effort has been to extend its influence so far as the public service is concerned. Take the question of the tramways. Is any Member of this House prepared to suggest that municipal effort in tramways has been a failure, and that it has not met the needs of the people better than private enterprise? The Glasgow Tramway system, which is spoken of not merely throughout this country but throughout the world, constitutes a wonderful effort in municipal enterprise, and in all directions one can point to similar illustrations. Can hon. Members who are opposing this Bill point to one single case where there has been any real endeavour made to go back on the policy of municipal enterprise when it has once been adopted in any part of this country? The whole tendency of it has been to grow, and the object and purposes of this Bill is to enable municipalities better to meet their obligations and to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. Something has been said with regard to the question of the milk supply. It has been suggested that it would be unwise for us to consider that question from the point of view of municipal effort. But what is the position to-day? Every municipality has to appoint a staff of officials in order to see that the supply of milk to its people is of a proper nature. Surely common-sense would suggest to the business mind that letting alone the standpoint of public interest it would be far better to organise the supply and to control it as far as possible from its source in order to guarantee its purity and cleanliness, and to ensure that it may be delivered to the people at their homes in a way that will contribute to the health of the district, rather than that there should be inspectors continually going round to investigate and frequently taking people into the Courts of law because of their failure to meet the obligations which the State has imposed upon them. It seems to me to be a natural corollary of municipal effort that it should have an opportunity if it wishes to extend and complete its work in order that the duties and obligations imposed upon it so far as the public health is concerned should not be limited and restricted.
Another argument against this Bill is that greater municipal effort means more officials. Really I was astounded to hear that put forward as an argument against municipal effort, because it would seem to inter that you can have extended effort in municipal enterprise without that kind of thing. Surely it is commonly understood and accepted that any extension of business means an increased staff. Why, then, should it be urged against a municipality that when it extends its activities it has to engage extra labour? Does that not necessarily form part of any extension of business, whether it be by a municipality or by private enterprise? There is no argument worth considering in that. Again, it is suggested that if this Bill is passed at once every municipality will embark upon ventures of this description. Surely hon. Members do not understand the proposals of the Bill, neither do they seem to appreciate the exact position in which local authorities find themselves. This Bill merely gives the local authorities opportunities to extend municipal effort wherever they deem it advisable. All the talk about absurd developments, of wasting public money and of doing things contrary to the public interest can only be used by hon. Members by ignoring the fact that public opinion controls in all these matters. There is a distinct difference between local authorities and this Assembly. In regard to local authorities, especially borough councils, there is an opportunity of having these questions discussed every year. The elections for a city or borough council take place annually, and the policy of the council is before the electorate every twelve months. There you have a safety valve, which must of itself be the means of preventing any-think of a wild or extraordinary nature being done, which it is suggested must inevitably follow if this Bill passes. What this Bill means is that we are prepared to trust to the common sense of the people in the municipalities of the country. Past experience has shown that more and more must the public interest rise above mere private interests. Unless public authorities have the power to develop on lines which their experience suggests to them are wise and proper, how can we hope in the future to see public life in this country develop on lines that are in the interests of the people? I have not the slightest doubt that years ago we should have had people arguing against the municipalities developing their public services, such as water supply, electricity supply and their various other activities, on the ground that it would not be right and proper. Nobody would do that to-day The very success of their enterprise makes it impossible for arguments of that kind to be used. Only a few years ago it would have been found possible to use arguments against the municipalities developing a housing policy. Nobody would suggest to-day that that is not a right and proper thing in the interests of the people. We recognise the necessity of giving local authorities even greater powers in that respect, because these are public questions and public services in regard to which the municipalities must have greater powers. Why should this House hesitate to give to local authorities powers such as are contained in this Bill? It will not mean that everything which has been imagined by hon. Members will come into operation. We have to trust to the common sense of those who constitute the local authorities, and there is the safety valve of the elections every year. Those who have been associated with municipal effort in years gone by know that questions have arisen in regard to which public interest carries with it an extended municipal effort, but that has not been possible owing to the lack of power possessed by the authority itself. We are doing nothing against the national interest or against public policy in giving to local authorities powers which permit, them to extend municipal effort and the public services in regard to those matters which are vital in the interest of the nation itself.
I have listened with great interest to the last speaker, because he recalls to my mind many matters connected with the ancient city of Norwich, with which he has had so much to do. I think I am right in saying that he is a justice of the peace for that area. I am surprised that he should have, if I may use the word, the effrontery to address the House in support of the Bill after the experience he has had in that ancient city. They could have taken over gas, water, and other municipal works, but, with one exception, they did not take advantage of the opportunities they possessed and did not acquire control of them. The only thing of which they did acquire control was the electricity supply, which I believe is run by a hard and dried old Tory, Mr. Edward Wild, the father of an eminent Member of this House. I support the rejection of the Bill because I have come to the conclusion that it is not a question even of Socialism but of rank dishonesty. The Bill as it stands is nothing more or less than a wage bribery trust. The Memorandum in front of the Bill says that the net profits of the undertakings are to be placed in a common fund, which may not be used for the reduction of rates. The question is, for what is that fund to be used? I can see a danger to the State. If elections were going against the party in question in any municipality they might do wonders with the funds in their hands, and influence people to send them back. In Central Wandsworth—the constituency which I have the honour to represent, without a coupon—if it were put to the votes of the people there, I am sure that a large majority of them would vote against it: I have had many representations made to me, and that is one of the main reasons why I put my name to the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. They feel that those of them who sought to start a business of their own, and who proved successful in developing a butcher's business or a milk business or a grocer's business, or some other undertaking, might find the local authorities, under this Bill, taking a whole block next to them and cutting them out completely of their livelihood. That could be developed in many directions. The main danger is that it would lead to corruption in our municipal elections. Not only would it interfere with local tradesmen, but it might develop into something much worse. It is calculated to do more harm and damage to local residents and people interested generally in trade.
There has been much discussion in the Press and on the floor of this House by way of questions in regard to the Chep-stow Shipyard. There is an opportunity for the great unions of this country or the Labour party to take advantage of the Government offer, with a life-line thrown round them. I happen to know Chepstow. If they selected some of their able leaders to run it, I am sure they could make a great success of it. No one in the House or outside has greater admiration for some of the Labour leaders I have had the pleasure of meeting. They have the necessary ability, and if they only liked to make up their minds they would make a success of that undertaking at Chepstow. If they could demonstrate the ability which I believe they have, it would be going a long way in support of a Bill on somewhat similar lines, with certain modifications, which might be brought in later. I have always tried to get the Labour Members' point of view and, as far as possible, to meet it, but this Bill is going a little too far. The powers are far too wide. I am almost sure in my own mind that if you had municipal elections throughout this country based on this Bill the percentage in favour of it would be very small indeed, and I doubt if in my Constituency any candidate for the municipal council would dare put it forward and seek the suffrages of the people on it. Furthermore, you have the great co-operative societies doing splendid work, and they are a great success in many centres. They virtually have power to do everything in this Bill, the difference being that under the municipal authorities there would be no continuity of management, and that is a danger at all times in any business. Those who were in the council one year might be pushed out the next, and another set would come in, and you would have overlapping and waste and all sorts of difficulties which face us in any line of business we may have to deal with. Co-operative societies, to my mind, have been successful because of their Continuity of management. If I could sex; in the Bill any possibility of continuity of management, it might alter my opinion to some extent, and I might be rather inclined to advise those who sent me here to support the Bill, with one or two modifications which would improve it from a working point of view. If I had known the previous speaker was to have spoken I should like to have asked him for more details as to what happened in Norwich and why, when they had the power to do all these things, they did not take advantage of it apart from electricity. I am convinced that if the Bill became law it would entirely alter the whole basis of our municipal elections and would ultimately influence Parliamentary elections too.
The primary intention of this Bill is to make possible the extension of municipal effort, and there are very many reasons why that possibility should be extended to municipal authorities. For instance, during the Coal Commission it was clearly proved that the co-operative societies in London had been able to distribute coal at 2s. 6d. to 5s. per ton less than the ordinary private distributing agencies. That in itself was an evidence that if you had had an efficient municipal authority invested with the right and power to undertake the distribution of coal the price which the consumer would have paid in and about London during the War would have been much less that that which he actually paid. On the evidence of the Commission the consumers of London alone paid millions more for the coal than there was any necessity for them to do. The same thing applies to most of the great cities in this country. That is due to the fact that the municipal authorities have not the power a present to undertake the distribution even of coal. I know of no authority which would be better adapted to the distribution of that one commodity than the municipal authorities, and a great saving to the consumer would actually take place. I have noticed during this Debate that to a very large extent opposition to the Bill has been based upon the idea of interference with private traders, though many speakers have contradicted themselves The hon. Member who seconded the rejection of the Bill argued, first, that public enterprise when it was brought into competition with private enterprise had failed. Afterwards he went on to show that it was a very unfair thing indeed to subject private enterprise to the competition of public enterprise, because the likelihood was that you would squeeze out the small trader and you had no right to do that. I cannot conceive of anything more illogical than an argument of that character. If it was perfectly true that public enterprise must inevitably fail when brought into competition with private enterprise, it must inevitably follow that you could not squeeze out the small trader. The same argument has been repeated here. It is suggested that this municipal enterprise must inevitably be a. failure. The hon. Member opposite tried to be a little consistent in his argument. You cannot have it both ways. If public services are going to be a success, and they are going to squeeze out the individual trader, then you cannot contend at the same time that they are going to be an absolute failure.
I think the hon. Member misunderstood my point. It was, that it is possible for a municipality to be losing money and at the same time to be ruining the traders, and therefore both making failures.
Has the hon. Gentleman developed his argument? I think he was trying to show that it must follow that public enterprise would be a failure, and he was trying to have it both ways. He can have it which way he likes but my point is that he cannot have it both ways. This small Bill enables local authorities to do a good many things, but during the Debate most speakers have confined themselves to the trading aspect; the right to undertake business. This Bill refers also to the right to acquire land for the purpose of art, science, recreation, charity, and a good many other things about which hon. Members have not spoken. We know that at present the local authorities are not invested with that power. [An Hon. Member: "What about education?"] In respect of education it is perfectly true they may do certain things, but the local authority may not buy land for the purpose, say, of erecting and running a cinema, or a theatre.
Why should not a municipality do that. What reason is there why municipalities should not erect and run a cinema or theatre if they like for the benefit of the community? It will be one of the coming functions of a municipal authority to contribute to the well-being of the community even along these particular lines. Therefore, I submit that this Bill will give the local authorities a power which has been denied them for a long time, and without which they can never fulfil their proper functions in relationship to those they seek to represent. Furthermore, the limitation of power strikes at the very rights and freedom of the people. What right has this House to say to any local authority or to the ratepayers of any local authority, that if there is an overwhelming majority of people who desire to undertake trading, they will not allow them to have that power?
That is true, but they cannot do it through the municipal authorities. Therefore, it is a blow at the freedom of the ratepayers of a municipality to undertake trade if they so desire. One hon. Member, representing the free Liberals, complained of the absence of Labour Members, and based opposition to the Bill on that fact. I do not know how many Free Liberals there are here to-day. There has been one who condemned the Labour party for their absence. He was the single representative of that party here, and now he has gone. Opposition was also based on the assumption that the representatives of local authorities have not time to do this work, and that they will not efficiently do it. It is said that they will refuse to do it because you take away the incentive for gain, and that, because you curb what is thought to be the natural ambition of life, they will not be willing to faithfully and efficiently serve the community. I know of no greater condemnation of the willingness of public men of all shades of opinion to serve the community than a statement of that kind. I believe that all classes of public men have not only been willing at all times to give their best to the public service, but will be willing to do so in future. I believe that the assertion to the contrary is based upon a fiction; but if it were true, then there is no such a thing in human life and human conduct as a moral basis for our conduct and our lives. I deny that very strongly. I believe the very best effort that has been rendered during this War, not only by Members of this House, but by people outside it has been done not for monetary gain, not for pelf, not to gratify ignoble ambition, but has sprung from moral considerations in relationship to this country.
I believe that if we pass this Bill there will be no attempt to wildly undertake things which would end in failure. I believe you can trust the people to build upon their own experience, and that as one thing succeeded another thing would be undertaken. To expect that in a month they would rush into wild schemes of extravagance is a travesty on the work already done by municipal authorities. This House may trust to the experience of the men who have devoted a great measure of their time to the well-being of the ratepayers they represent. If we do so, ultimately we shall find that stage by stage the municipalities will undertake desirable trade interests, which will ultimately mean the general well-being of the community. But to limit them, and to say that they shall not do things, that they are to be left entirely in many respects at the mercy of great interests which have grown up, which have no soul, even in relationship to the small traders, would be wholly wrong. It was fully demonstrated during the War, when the little shops and the little traders had to depend upon the great multiple shops for articles that, when the shortage came, the multiple shops absolutely refused to supply the small traders, and this went a long way towards squeezing them out. So that it will not be the municipalities that will ultimately squeeze out the small traders; it will be the great multiple traders. They will not only squeeze out the small shopkeeper, but, in view of the enormous percentage which is being paid by one undertaking which is supplying margarine and butter to the people of this country, they will also hold up the country and extract all they possibly can from it.
The hon. Member who has just sat down has said that the consumers of London would obtain their coal more cheaply if this Bill became law. But within the last two years or one and a half years the coal management of the country has been in the hands, not of the municipality, but of the Government, which is more or less the same thing. Both are very bad, but if I had a choice I would prefer the Government to the municipality. But the result has been that we have had to pay considerably more for our coal than before the Government interfered, so that I do not think coal is a very good illustration to bring forward in support of the Bill. Then the hon. Member says that nobody has a soul except a municipality. A municipality would have a soul, and when it saw a struggling tradesman unable to carry on business because he could not obtain goods, it would assist him. That is not what this Bill does. The result of this Bill is, and must be, to squeeze out the small trader. That is really the argument which has been used, though I do not say that it has been used to-day, in the country in advocacy of this Bill. An appeal has been made to the selfish instincts of the community, and it has said that the consumer would get his goods cheaper. If so, he will naturally have to get them cheaper from the person who sells. That will not be the small shopkeeper, but the body with the soul mentioned by the hon. Member. The hon. Member says that nobody who opposes this Bill has touched on the numerous good things which municipalities are going to do. I presume he includes in the municipalities the borough councils, district councils, county councils and parish councils, in fact anything that is elected by anybody else. One of the proposals is promoting charity. I presume that that means that the ratepayers are to be compelled to pay a rate to contribute to a charity of which perhaps he does not approve, because certain gentlemen who are elected choose to say that in their opinion it is a good charity, though they will not contribute their own money except in so far as they contribute in the rates that they pay. Then they are to run cinemas. But if the hon. Gentleman reads the Police Court reports he will notice caustic comments by magistrates in the case of youthful offenders who plead that they have stolen, and committed various other offences, because of things which they saw at the pictures.
I understood that at the present a licence has to be obtained, so that they have some control, and yet the youth of our country are misled and do things which they ought not to do. An hon. Member who spoke a short time ago laid stress on the fact that municipal elections take place every year, and seemed to think that it would be all right because every year the ratepayers would have the opportunity of turning out the body with the soul, who had wasted their money and putting in a much more economical body. It is quite true that there are elections every year, though they were suspended during the War, but only a very few electors take the trouble of going to the polls. In a borough in a country with which I am familiar I am not quite certain about the actual figures at an election, but they were something of this sort. There were 500 electors; fifty of these polled; twenty voted one way and thirty the other. Therefore, the man who got in was returned on a poll of thirty out of 500 electors. That is not confined to one instance; it is typical of the whole. The proportion of the people who do go is extraordinarily small.
I do not know whether the hon. Member is a member of the municipality in the constituency which he represents, but suppose that the council is elected on 1st January and that on 3rd January these excellent people go into a big scheme which is going to cost a great deal of money, and that by the 31st of December that is very nearly completed. An election comes round. A certain number of people may object to this money being spent, but the argument would be that it has already been spent and that it is far better to let the people which have made a muddle see if they cannot improve the position themselves, and consequently the muddle would continue and the waste would go on. An hon. Member a short time ago said that Glasgow had been very successful with its tramways. I am not quite sure that that is the case now, but I believe that it was the case some few years ago. But I can give other cases where the municipality has not been very successful. One instance of that is the Marylebone electricity. It is quite easy to come down and say, "Here is an instance in which a municipality has been extremely successful in its enterprise," but it is just as easy to come down and say, "Here is another municipality which has been unsuccessful in another enterprise." There have been failures and there have been successes. That has nothing to do with the point of this Bill, which alters entirely the powers that have been given to these municipalities and that have been confined to great enterprises dealing with the life of the public, and allowing it to trade in everything. The attempts to minimise the effects of the Bill which the speakers who have spoken lately on that side of the House have made by saying that nobody supposes that they are ever going to do everything which is in the Bill. They will only do a little at a time. Then why not only give a little at a time and see how you will get on?
But the Bill gives enormous powers to trade not only in the municipality, but outside it. Suppose the Corporation of Glasgow think that the City of London is a good place in which to open up some big trading enterprise, and come down and, with the money of the ratepayers of Glasgow, compete with the unfortunate men in my Constituency, what is to happen? The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but it is quite possible. The Scotch are sharp people, and if they can, under this Bill, make a successful enterprise in the City of London they will come and do it. The only check upon them is this—what are they going to do with the money? Suppose this is successful, what is going to happen with the money? Apparently it is going to be put in a bank and held up, or it may possibly be brought down here by a successful council and held up to show the successful result of municipal trading. But you may not use it in the relief of rates, which will be a bitter disappointment to the ratepayers. As far as my feeble intellect goes, there is nothing you can do with the money. It is to be put into a sort of suspense account. The Bill does not allow it to be used by the council, but an hon. Member said they were going to use it to meet their obligations, and I think they will want it. They can indulge in all sorts of wild schemes, and if they are going to be unco guid, I do not speak Scottish, we will go and see them. Let me put in a word for the despised trader and small shopkeeper, who is hit by these Bills more than anybody else, and is being hit by the very large stores. Being a lover of freedom, I have no objection to hon. Members opposite combining and starting a store, as long as they do not ask me to contribute towards it. It is quite wrong to use public money to interfere with individual enterprise.
An hon. Member asked. Why should not municipalities do all these things without having to come to Parliament at all? The answer is that Parliament governs the country. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that Norwich should govern that district, he has got to go in for Devolution, or something of that sort on a very greatly extended scale, and propose to give full powers, not only to Ireland, and England, and Scotland, and Wales, but to every municipality. We would thus be a number of isolated little places, and all of them are to have kinemas and theatres. The real fact is that this is an extremely foolish Bill which has been brought in in order to carry out certain election pledges which have been wildly given at certain times. May I venture very humbly to suggest to hon. Members opposite to follow my example and not to give any pledges at elections? It is an extremely awkward thing to do, as possibly you may have to give reason why you do not carry them out. Much the safest thing to do is not to give any pledges, and then we never should have had this Bill, which I trust will be rejected.
Owing to my attendance at a Committee of this House I have not been able to hear all the arguments advanced against the principles contained in this Bill, but I have been informed that one of the hon. Members at the beginning gave a severe lecture to what he called "street-corner spouters." I am unrepentant in that respect. I shall be at the street corner to-morrow, and, so far as education is concerned and knowledge of political and economic subjects, I would suggest that some of our critics here should spend a few Sunday mornings at some of our street corner universities. As I listened to some of the speeches I began to imagine I was not in the House of Commons but in Tussaud's. The arguments that have been advanced seem to indicate a colossal amount of ignorance. Some people imagine when they are arguing against the propositions of the Labour party that we are simply drawing upon a well of ignorance which we keep at our disposal when introducing Bills. I venture to suggest in the case of hon. Members who have sneered at the Labour party, that their heads will not burst with the amount of brains they have displayed in this Debate. I do not know the trade in this country to-day outside coal mining which is not; being carried on at present by some public authority. You will find works departments, electricity departments, and various others controlled by public and municipal authorities, and that almost every trade carried on in the United Kingdom is being conducted by municipalities within limitations. What are those limitations? I happen to be a member of a public body in the East End of London. We are to-day responsible for about two million pounds worth of invested capital in various municipal undertakings. We cannot extend them without a Parliamentary Bill. We cannot lay down a new bit of tramway line without Parliamentary powers or increase other municipal functions for the same reason. One of the principal items of expenditure of municipalities is the spending of large sums of money to obtain powers to enable the local authority to do what private individuals are allowed to do without having to ask anybody's permission. Is it right that a small section of people in a town or strangers from outside can take advantage of the necessities of the people, and form a monopoly, while the citizens of the town are debarred from doing what any small section of private individuals are perfectly entitled to do? [Hon. Members: "No, no!"] The municipality must not do it without permission while a private company can.
We are asking for the extension of public powers by this Bill to enable the people collectively to do what private individuals are able to do without let or hindrance. We say, and I am an unrepentant Socialist, that there is no single necessary or useful thing done by the capitalist for the people which the people organised cannot do for themselves. Right throughout this Debate there has been the suggestion, that the only spirit that ought to animate us, and does animate us in reality, is profit making, I am almost beginning to believe—in fact, I honestly believe—some of our right hon. Friends believe so much in rent, interest and profit that they will have on their tombstones, R.I.P., to remind them of the crimes they committed while alive. There are twenty-nine borough councils in the London area and each of those has certain limited powers. If we want to correlate our services and our activities we have to go through a whole process of engaging lawyers I suppose that is one of the reasons why we have got opposition to this Bill, because the legal fraternity want to see that their fees may be well protected. Every time we want to move an inch in the direction of carrying out anything that our own people require we must first of all go to the gentlemen who demand good payment for their services. We have at the present moment in London about fifteen different electrical authorities, and everybody knows—at least I have always heard business men say so—that the more you centralise production and decentralise distribution the more likely you are to have successful management, and I say that here in this great Metropolis of ours we are absolutely crippled—first, by the limitation of our powers to do what the people want doing, and secondly, by private individuals being allowed, almost without hindrance, to try to destroy the results of municipal enterprise. The tramway service has been held up to ridicule, because it does not pay, but what is the principal reason for the tramways in London not paying from the financial point of view? The main reason is that its chief competitor, the London General Omnibus Company, has at its command the richest carrying area in the civilised world. The whole of the inner ring of London is absolutely a monopoly for one or two 'bus companies, which not merely have the monopoly of that particular part of London, which is a gold mine, but they have free powers to compete in the outer area of London against the trams, subsidised and maintained by the community. We have to pay about £1,000 a mile for the maintenance of the tram tracks in the London area, but the 'bus company does not pay a single farthing, except for rates on its garages, and not a penny for the use of the roads.
In order that we may have the opportunity of something like equal competition this Bill is brought in. I am very much surprised to find that competition is only right when engaged in by private individuals. If the principle of competition has anything good in it, if it is such a grand thing to bring out the best in us, why should not the people combined compete against individuals who are combined to compete against them? We suggest, those of us who are not so intelligent as hon. Members on the other side of the House, and who have only attended the university of poverty and not the university of Oxford, that if you say competition is such a grand thing, surely the competition of a community, where, at least, there is some standard of the need for public service, is better than the unscrupulous competition of people who are merely out for pelf. That, at any rate, is the basis of most of our industrial enterprises to-day. We have had references to the failures of municipal enterprises. I had an opportunity of attending a Conference some time ago as a representative of a municipal authority, and we had a report presented to us on one of the departments of public service conducted by municipalities, and we had a comparative statement of the same kind of services conducted by private individuals, and what was the result? Both from the standpoint of fares charged to the community, taking the whole Kingdom through, and from the standpoint of financial results in consequence of the service, both private and municipal, cheaper fares and longer distances were given on the average by the majority of the municipally conducted undertakings, as against higher fares and shorter distances provided by the privately-owned concerns. In the next place, the financial results were 1 per cent. in favour of the municipal undertakings against those controlled by private individuals. If the test of trade is the financial result, and if the test of success has got to be the benefit conferred on the community, I venture to suggest that those two tests could be fairly taken and the municipalities would not suffer by the comparison. If we are going to have the failures of municipal and public bodies trotted out, why not have the failures of private enterprise trotted out? When we are discussing, through Coal Commissions and through our industrial councils, the horrible conditions of industry that prevail in our principal industries, when the railwaymen were almost on the point of revolt, when the agricultural labourers and nearly every section of the industrial workers have been demanding and resolving that they will never again go back to the conditions that prevailed previous to 1914, what is that but a monument to the failure of so-called private enterprise, even to meet the people's ordinary needs? When you talk to us about the failure of municipalities, do not forget your own failures, do not forget the people who have been driven, to the slough of despond as a result of the bad conditions created by the desire to make profits. I believe that some of the opponents of this measure, if they ever by accident should get to Heaven, would grumble at the place not being run for a dividend. I hope it will not be so dear as their salvation may be. In so far as we are concerned, we are standing absolutely without desiring to apologise, because this situation will have to be fought out, and, even if this Bill is defeated by the vote of the Members of this House, the principle which it stands for cannot be defeated. Jokes have been made at our expense about the possible difficulties that would arise in regard to devolution. Some of my hon. Friends know more about that than I do, but I have yet to learn that the British Empire is going to collapse because the people of Norwich are going to be allowed to look after their own internal affairs. I have yet to learn that if the people of Norwich decide to open a cinema that would mean that the rock of Gibraltar would suddenly melt away. It might be strange to some hon. Members to know that some of our municipalities already run places of entertainment. I come from one where we run free concerts every week for the people, and, of course, there being no profit in them, they must be a failure! The music does not sound so nice, and the artists do not sing so well, because nobody is making a dividend out of the exercise of their ability! I do not believe Madame Melba would do as well at the Opera if the syndicates were not able to make a profit out of the results!
But we who belong to the organised Labour movement want to see industry conducted for use and not for profit, and we are saying that we want municipal bodies, which are supposed to be self-governing, to have the right, with the consent of their own people, to go in for anything which the people in that locality decide they are entitled to do. That would not interfere with the Imperial Government. It does not interfere with London, because Glasgow runs its own trams, and the picture drawn of Glasgow trying to interfere with London is simply an attempt to make a joke at the expense of the hon. Member's own intelligence. We are anxious here that our public authorities shall be allowed to move forward. At present the whole of our machinery seems to be devoted to preventing them making any movement. The amount of red tape and circumlocution that exist to prevent public authorities carrying out necessary alterations in the public service makes it impossible to get anything done effectively. This Bill simply trusts the people, it simply gives to the people the right of self-determination in local affairs. That principle of self-determination has re- ceived a considerable amount of lip service in this House lately. But, on the main issue of the Bill, I do not see how any man who has had any experience of local public work, who has had anything to do with the administration of local public affairs, but has come up against a dead hand, and that is central bureaucracy against decentralised democracy. This Bill stands for decentralised democracy against centralised bureaucracy. Consequently, we hope the Bill will receive support, although we do not of course expect it will receive the support of those who are opposed to anything of this character. The country is a fine country to fight for and a grand place when we are all members of the same body, and our lives are at the service of the State if necessary. But do not touch our vested interests, or our world will come to an end, and all the grand things we have been telling you are only so much camouflage to get your support.
Are you doing anything wrong, or against any principle of patriotism, by allowing people in a municipality to decide their own destiny from the local point of view? We educate our children nationally through our local education committees. Do we allow private interest in education to stultify public interest? At one time there was only the private schoolmaster; now we have national education. Have we suffered in consequence? As a matter of fact, I venture to suggest that we want a great extension of national education, and not go back to the old principle of each man for himself and the devil take the hindmost, intellectually as well as materially. We are asking in this Bill for enabling powers for municipal bodies. Some may not want to go so far as this Bill does. But why great cities like London, Glasgow, and Manchester should be stultified merely by machinery which is absolutely out of date I cannot understand. We are supporting this Bill to give people the power to decide for themselves how far they shall go, and if they do not want to move no one can compel them. But if they deside to move, they ought to have the opportunity to move forward in the direction the people desire, and from the particular standpoint that we believe in industry being organised nationally for the public good. I am against autocracy and bureaucracy. I do not want square pegs in round holes. I want to see industry managed by those engaged in it, and there is nothing in this Bill which prevents the adoption of that principle, that the people shall be the owners, and that the management shall be arranged and organised by those who are elected by the people.
One argument which one hon. Member used struck me as rather peculiar. He said there is no continuity of management in our municipal undertakings, but that there is in our co-operative undertakings. Any man who is a member of a co-operative society knows that that is not quite correct. We elect our co-operative committees annually in the same way as we do our town councils. The members of the society go to the ballot and elect a committee which is responsible for the management, but under them we have qualified officers who carry out their instructions and desires. There is as much change in co-operative bodies as in municipal bodies from that point of view. The argument that has been used would be one against the very existence of this House. I am not clever enough to manage anything—not even myself at times—but making up one of a number, the instructions given in this House are carried out by probably as able a body of men as there are in the world. Those men are continuous, but the constitution of the House of Commons changes. It is no argument against the principle of this Bill that, because the constitution of a body may change, that in any way necessarily interferes with the continuity of management of the undertakings of that body. We stand for the main principle of this Bill. We know we shall be defeated, but every defeat marked against us in our progress in this House will only mean an ultimate realisation of the object we have in view. We trust the people both locally and nationally, and when the proper time comes the principle of this Bill will be accepted by the overwhelming majority of the people of this country.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Bridge-man):
I think it is time some member of the Government took part in this Debate, in order to let the House know what is the attitude of the Government on this question. I have waited till now in the hope that some of the speakers who advocate this measure would have enlightened us on one or two points connected with this Bill which seemed very difficult to understand on reading them. I have not heard a single Member say why it is that, whatever functions were formerly carried out by the Local Government Board in sanctioning loans, should now be carried out by the Board of Trade. Not a single argument has been raised on that subject. I do not know whether it is that the President of the Local Government Board is a more formidable man than the President of the Board of Trade, or what may be the reason, but no one has attempted to give any reason why it should be done by the Board of Trade rather than by the Local Government Board. On the other hand, I should like to point out that the Local Government Board have all the machinery for carrying it out, and the Board of Trade have not Although that is only a small portion of the Bill, I should have liked to have understood a little better what the reason of it was.
There is another point on which questions have been asked by a good many Members who are in opposition to the Bill, and that is, what is to be done with the common fund? Nobody has attempted to answer that. It seems to be assumed that there will not be anything in the common fund to distribute, and therefore, as the power of using it is so unlikely to arise, no provision has been made for dealing with it. It comes under Clause 8, Subsection (2), which is a very interesting Sub-section, and we ought to have been told, I think, exactly what the intention was in dealing with the common fund. One thing is quite clear about it, and that is that the ratepayers are not to get any benefit out of it, at any rate, in the saving of rates.
That means that the ratepayer has got to stand the loss if there is one, and not to gain anything if there is anything to distribute. A good many hon. Members opposite have seemed rather sensitive in their speeches to-day, and one hon. Gentleman even said that the subject had been made the subject of a joke. We are all accustomed to that in this House, and I think it would have been better if, instead of showing this sensitiveness, they had told us a little more as to their ideas of what this Bill will do. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Nottingham (Mr. G. Spencer) made a very interesting contribution to the Debate about the provision of facilities for science, art and commerce, which I would like to deal with in a minute. But the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading began by talking as if the main object was to deal with questions like gas, electricity, trams, and so on. That is how he began, and I was waiting to hear from him exactly why the present arrangements by which municipalities can work gas, electricity, and trams are inadequate for the purpose for which, in his opinion, they should be used. I only understood him to give one argument, and that was that this Bill would save expense in coming to Parliament. I think he must be under some misapprehension on that point, as practically no borrowing can be done under this Bill which would not necessitate a Provisional Order in this House. Clause 3 states that when the total debt of any council will exceed the amount of one-quarter of the annual rateable value of the rateable property in the area, then it is necessary to proceed by a Provisional Order made by the Board of Trade and confirmed by Parliament. I think there is not a single municipality, or at any rate practically none, that has not already borrowed considerably beyond the point named in this Bill, and therefore in practically every case they will have to come to this House for a Provisional Order.
The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Bill spoke at great length about certain public services, such as the supply of meat, milk, bread, and other public necessities, which he said this Bill would enable municipalities to deal with. I think that in doing so he put the strongest side of the arguments that would be in favour of this measure. I notice, however, that he and nearly all the other speakers carefully abstained from explaining to us how the municipalities or any towns or counties were going to benefit by the other powers in this Bill, enabling the municipality to engage in trade of every description—amusement, recreation, science, art, and shopkeeping of every kind. Nobody has advocated that side of the Bill, and I think that perhaps that was wise. I think the fallacy which ran through nearly all the speeches in favour of the Bill, beginning with that of the hon. Gentleman who seconded it, was that all they were asking was to have exactly the same treatment as private, enterprise. One speaker after another said that. But that is not what they are asking. They are asking to have preferential treatment. What they are asking for is to be able to engage in enterprise with the rates as a guarantee behind them, the ratepayers bearing the loss, if there is any, but not getting any of the profits, while private enterprise has no such money to fall back upon. To say that they are asking exactly the same as private enterprise gets is to say what is distinctly untrue. It has been said that all that was wanted was that the people should be able to co-operate together and do these things for themselves. It has been assumed that the proposed course would be cheaper. I am not prepared to admit that; it might be or it might not, but it was said that they ought to be able to do these things themselves. So they can if they co-operate. The only thing they cannot do is to take other people's money to back up the enterprises which they desire to include in this Bill. A point was raised, from which I venture to differ, by the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Spencer). He said that they had not powers now to put up places for the purposes of art, science, recreation, and so on. I think he is mistaken. I think that under the Companies Consolidation Act of 1908 there is nothing to prevent a licence being given to some company promoted by a municipal authority for carrying on buildings, using land, carrying on any promotion of art, science, commerce and so on, provided that it is not for profit. I think that is done now, and I think that a great many of the things which it has been claimed that this Bill will for the first time enable municipalities to do could really be done under the existing law.
This Bill is not a new Bill, though I do not think it has ever been debated in this House. It was introduced by Mr. Keir Hardie, I think, about the year 1914, but I do not think it ever reached the stage at which it could be debated. I want to say this about it from the point of view of the Government. Many speakers ingenuously described it as a small and innocent Bill, but it is a Bill of very far-reaching scope and character. Most of those who spoke in favour of it have rather minimised its importance, although the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Jones), who spoke last, certainly did not, but went as far as he could in widening it. Supposing it were desirable to attempt something of this kind, say, in regard to the distribution of milk, that would be a measure which must be taken up by the Government themselves—probably the Department concerned would be the Health Department of the Local Government Board—after very careful consultation with the various local authorities. It is not a matter which they could allow to be brought in mixed up with a whole lot of other subjects in a private Bill. Therefore I am here to say that the Government cannot accord their support to this Bill. Several speakers have said, "Why oppose the will of the people?" I presume that that means the will of the people who elect these municipal authorities. It is a very odd thing, if that is the will of the
I am afraid it may be too late. But I wish to say most emphatically that there is no evidence before us that the municipal authorities want it, or that anybody wants it except a certain number of hon. Gentlemen opposite who have, I think, been advocating it in the past and who no doubt will continue to advocate it in the future. With regard to the general question of municipal trading, that is a matter of academic interest. As far as this Bill goes the Government are unable to give it their support.
|Division No. 31.]||AYES.||[3.37 p.m.|
|Arnold, Sydney||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Spencer, George A.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Murray, Dr. D. (Western Isles)||Spoor, B. G.|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||O'Grady, James||Swan, J. E. C.|
|Bromfield, W.||Rose, Frank H.||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Cape, Tom||Sexton, James||Wedgwood, Col. Josiah C.|
|Crooks, Rt. Hon. William||Shaw, Tom (Preston)||Wignall, James|
|Griffiths, T. (Pontypool)||Sitch, C. H.|
|Grundy, T. W.||Smith, Capt. A. (Nelson and Colne)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.|
|Hartshorn V.||Smith, W. (Wellingborough)||Neil M'Lean and Mr. Tyson Wilson|
|Jones, J. (Silvertown)|
|Adair, Rear-Admiral||Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Hinds, John|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Cohen, Major J. B. B.||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Sir Samuel J. G.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)|
|Allen, Col. William James||Cowan, Sir H. (Aberdeen and Kinc.)||Hopkins, J. W. W.|
|Amery, Lieut.-Col. L. C. M. S.||Craik, Right Hon. Sir Henry||Hughes, Spencer Leigh|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Col. Martin||Curzon, Commander Viscount||Hunter, Gen. Sir A. (Lancaster)|
|Astor, Major Hon. Waldorf||Dawes, J. A.||Hunter-Weston, Lieut.-Gen. Sir A. G.|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Dean, Com. P. T.||Hurd, P. A.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Doyle, N. Grattan||Inskip, T. W. H.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Edwards, A. Clement (East Ham, S.)||Jameson, Major J. G.|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G.||Elliot, Capt. W. E. (Lanark)||Jesson, C.|
|Barrand, A. R.||Eyres-Monsell, Com.||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)|
|Back, Arthur Cecil||Fell, Sir Arthur||King, Com. Douglas|
|Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Foreman, H.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement|
|Benn, Com. Ian Hamilton (G'nwich)||Forestier-Walker, L.||Law, A. J. (Rochdale)|
|Betterton, H. B.||Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)|
|Birchall, Major J. D.||Geddes, Rt. Hon. Sir A. C. (Basingstoke)||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ. Wales)|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Loseby, Captain C. E.|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. W. E.||Gilbert, James Daniel||Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Brassey, H. L. C.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. John||Lyle-Samuel, A. (Eye, E. Suffolk)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Glanville, Harold James||Lynn, R. J.|
|Brittain, Sir Harry E.||Glyn, Major R.||Lyon, L.|
|Buchanan, Lieut.-Col. A. L. H.||Green, J. F. (Leicester)||M'Curdy, Charles Albert|
|Buckley, Lieutenant-Colonel A.||Greig, Colonel James William||M'Donald, D. H. (Bothwell, Lanark)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Gretton, Col. John||M'Laren, R. (Lanark, N.)|
|Burdon, Col. Rowland||Griggs, Sir Peter||Macleod, John Mackintosh|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Torquay)||Guest, Capt. Hon. F. E. (Dorset, E.)||McMicking, Major Gilbert|
|Campbell, J. G. D.||Guinness, Lt-Col. Hon. W. E. (B. St. E.)||M'Neill, Ronald (Canterbury)|
|Campion, Col. W. R.||Hallas, E.||Malone, Col. C. L. (Leyton, E.)|
|Casey, T. W.||Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Luton, Beds.)||Molson, Major John Elsdale|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Harmsworth, Sir R. L. (Caithness-shire)||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||Hennessy, Major G.||Morris, Richard|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford)||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert|
|Nall, Major Joseph||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Newman, Major J. (Finchley, Mddx.)||Reid, D. D.||Wardle, George J.|
|Nicholl, Com. Sir Edward||Richardson, Alex. (Gravesend)||Waring, Major Walter|
|Norton-Griffiths, Lt.-Col. Sir J.||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Norwood)||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.|
|Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||Samuels, Rt. Hon. A.W. (Dublin Univ.)||Warren, Sir Alfred H.|
|Palmer, Major G. M. (Jarrow)||Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur||Watson, Captain John Bertrand|
|Palmer, Brig.-Gen. G. (Westbury)||Seddon, J. A.||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Parker, James||Shaw, Capt. W. T. (Forfar)||Whitla, Sir William|
|Parkinson, Albert L. (Blackpool)||Sprot, Col. Sir Alexander||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Parry, Major Thomas Henry||Stanier, Capt. Sir Beville||Williams, Lt.-Col. Sir R. (Banbury)|
|Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Preston)||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Pickering, Col. Emil W.||Steel, Major S. Strang||Wilson, Capt. A. Stanley (Hold'ness)|
|Pilditch, Sir Philip||Sugden, Lieut. W. H.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir M. (Bethnal Gn.)|
|Pinkham, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles||Surtees, Brig.-Gen. H. C.||Wood, Sir J. (Stalybridge and Hyde)|
|Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray||Sutherland, Sir William||Woolcock, W. J. U.|
|Pownall, Lt.-Col. Assheton||Talbot, Rt. Hon. Lord E. (Chichester)||Yate, Col. Charles Edward|
|Pratt, John William||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)||Younger, Sir George|
|Prescott, Major W. H.||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Randles, Sir John Scurrah||Wallace, J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.|
|Raw, Lt.-Col. Dr. N.||Ward-Jackson, Major C. L.||S. Samuel and Mr. Hailwood|
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.