I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the word
This House declines to give a Third Reading to the Bill on the grounds that it contains proposals it; direct opposition to the principles for which the county councils are endeavonring to obtain definite recognition, and upon which the proposed Royal Commission on the creation and extension of county borough-will be asked to pronounce; that it is therefore a highly contentious Measure falling within the spirit of the undertaking recently given by the Minister of Health in the House of Commons and should accordingly not be further proceeded with pending the Report of the said Commission and consideration of its recommendations by Parliament.
On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for the Thirsk and Malton Division (Mr. Turton), I move the Amendment standing in his name I do this with a view of entering an emphatic protest against taking this Bill after the definite statement made by the Minister of Health to this House on, I believe, the discussion of the Leeds and Bradford Measure. The right hon. Gentleman on that occasion said, speaking of borough extensions and the creation of new county boroughs:
I do not propose to proceed on the lines of conferences, hut by the method of a Royal Commission to which I understand both sides are now agreeable. The question of when the Royal Commission should be appointed is one which requires further consideration.
Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say:
In the interval we should call a halt and I should like to take advantage of this occasion to give notice, so far as the Ministry is concerned, that no contentious proposals for the extension of boroughs and the creation of new county boroughs will be entertained by the Ministry in the meantime."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 13th June, 1922; col. 306–7, Vol. 155.]
After that clear and definite statement from the Minister of Health we consider that a breach of faith has been committed with regard to the undertaking given to the County Councils' Association. Since the inception of county councils a very
great change has taken place all over the country. Some of the areas within an administrative county have become Indus-tralised, and they have come forward to seek to be made county boroughs apart from those areas. In view of what has taken place in this respect, to proceed with such an order as this for Doncaster is quite illogical. It raises the whole principle which is at stake between county boroughs and county councils, and if that be so surely there is here a real test case and it ought to come before the proposed Royal Commission on the creation and extension of county boroughs for consideration.
On what ground is Doncaster seeking to be made a county borough? Simply on the ground that it has 50,000 inhabitants. Surely the proportion of the county borough, urban council and district councils, ought to be considered when you are dealing with a matter of this kind. Surely there cannot be any ground for alienating a portion of a county area simply because it has 50,000 inhabitants, and there ought to be much more substantial ground before this House should listen to any such request. I cannot say that I know so much about this subject as some of my hon. Friends here, but I have had the matter brought to my notice by the County Councils' Association. Many of these areas are desirous of becoming separated from the county areas because by so doing they can get rid of certain expenses for the maintenance of main roads and other county services which the county must render to them in any case, and which would increase their rates. They think that by becoming a county borough the roads leading to their borough must be maintained by the county, and consequently they are trying to get rid of their responsibilities in regard to this matter.
There are also other expenses which they think they will be able to get rid of. For these reasons I wish to protest against this Bill being carried any further. We thought that a halt had been called now that no further county boroughs would be created. We have, however, been rudely awakened by this Bill being thrust upon us. I feel sure that even Durham would have a better case for being made a county borough than many of those towns which have made such an application. My con- stituency has been industrialised from one end to the other, and if we have to be governed in a different fashion, then let us approach the question with our eyes open, and let everybody concerned have a say in the matter. If we go in the way suggested by this Bill, then county administration will become absolutely impossible. The whole thing is impracticable, and that is the reason why I have moved the Resolution on the Paper.
I offer a humble apology for intruding in this Debate for a very few moments. This Bill came before my consideration as Chairman of the Committee, and for this reason I think it is my duty to lay before the House the full particulars which we have gleaned after a very careful examination of the whole question of Doncaster's application. First of all, I should like to correct my hon. Friend's statement about Doncaster. Doncaster is not doing anything which was not anticipated. May I begin by saying that the Act of 1888 deprived a large number of very ancient boroughs, which had quarter sessions of their own, of the right of self-government, and Parliament, in passing that Act, had clearly before its mind the fact that in certain circumstances these ancient boroughs might ask this House to restore to them the powers taken away from them under that Act.
The Act of 1888 fixed an arbitrary principle of population and it fixed it at 50,000 inhabitants. The result was that however progressive an ancient Corporation might have been, or however well it had been managing its own affairs, or however high its reputation stood, still it had to bow to the ruling of this House and it had to part with rights which it valued enormously and rights which it? has hankered after ever since. After all there are very few of us, if we have been deprived of anything which we value very greatly, who would not endeavour to lay the foundation to regain it. I think the least we can do is to grant that liberty to a great and ancient corporation which we so much covert for ourselves. What has happened in this case is exactly what has happened before in the case of all the ancient boroughs in the West Riding. There is not one of those ancient boroughs with a population of 50,000 which has not had restored to it the powers which it used to have.
If that be so, why exclude Doncaster simply because certain hon. Members fear that the county council is going to lose something by it. I have listened to a good many Debates in this House, and we have always set our face against the policy of grab. Whenever a great corporation has made proposals to add very largely to its territory this House has always been very careful to preserve the rights of small areas against any such policy. Here are the county councils, and by an Act of Parliament they have obtained something which they had not the remotest idea of obtaining when the Act was passed, and now they are hanging on tenaciously to something which they think is of value to them. I think it is our duty to safeguard and watch all over all these interests and pay due regard to the interests of the ancient corporations, and that is what I and my Committee have endeavoured to do.
It has been said that this Bill was only passed by the casting vote of the Chairman, but that is perfectly untrue. Ours was a unanimous decision, although there was some hesitation. I am a man who loathes hesitation of any kind, and I have always endeavoured in any Committee with which I have been connected to get them to agree with me on definite lines laid down clearly by this House. We wanted to draw attention to a particular fact. I am not sorry that this movement on the part of certain hon. Members has given me an opportunity of bringing it to the light of day. We ventured to think, when we looked at the whole thing, that the cases both for the petitioners and for the Bill had been badly prepared. The witnesses brought before us on behalf of Doneaster were so poor that really had not Doneaster had an unanswerable case, we should have been bound to throw it over. We found that they had fixed on matters of infinitesimal importance, such as the irritation of certain great Don-caster human beings at being governed from Wakefield. I quite understand the feeling. I know, as an old Londoner, what we feel when anyone endeavours to guide the London intellect which we regard as so superior. We are so egotistical that we plant our roots firmly down in the soil in which we exist, and we think it our duty to make people fall in with our views.
The curious point was that when we came to the case for the petitioners we found it even worse prepared than the case for the promoters. The eminent King's Counsel who had the conduct of the case, did not bring one single witness to counteract the evidence given by the other side. A witness on that had put before us matters which we thought were unanswerable. I put this question to him:
Is not the whole thing a question of finance? Is it not a question of the West Riding being loth to lose these large sums of money"?
The answer was, "Yes." I fully expected, when the petitioners case was opened, that we should have some equally eminent financial witness on that side to point out how poor was the case advanced by the financial witness to whom I have referred. But the eminent King's Counsel who was conducting the case finished his speech by saying that he would not endeavour to strengthen his case by bringing up a long line of witnesses. If there is one thing from which, serving on these Committees, I draw my nutrition, it is from what the witnesses may tell me, and surely we were entitled to think, under the circumstances, that the eminent King's Counsel had no witnesses to produce. We decided then and there that the Doneaster case was unanswerable, and that there had been no refutation of it of any sort whatsoever. There was no suggestion of any shape or description that, during the whole of the years they had had the conduct of then-own business, they had shown themselves incapable of carrying it on.
With regard to the arguments advanced in favour of further delay, I am rather reminded of this. If one had a son who was sitting for an examination and had practically passed it. would it not be surprising if it were suddenly said to him, "We will go no further with this examination, although you are practically through, because we are going to have a Commission appointed to see whether or not the examination is difficult enough." During the many years I have been associated with this House, I have always found it to be eminently fair in everything it has done and decided, and in asking hon. Members to adopt the same line as the Committee have adopted, after doing their best to examine every' detail of the Measure, I am only asking, it to follow a course which has always obtained in the Parliament of this nation.