Orders of the Day — BRADFORD CORPORATION BILL (By Order)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th February 1949.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[Mr. Bowles.]

7.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

On a point of Order. May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker? I have on the Order Paper, as you will observe, a Motion for an Instruction to the Committee, and I would seek your guidance whether the matters which I seek to raise on that Motion can be more appropriately discussed on Second Reading or after the Bill has been read a Second time.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I am really rather in the hands of the hon. Member. If it suits him to discuss the matter on Second Reading, well and good. It seems to me that it would be a mistake to discuss it twice over, and therefore, if he chooses to discuss it now, that will be in Order. He may, if he so chooses, let the Second Reading go, and then discuss his particular point on the Motion, which I almost think would be the better course, but I must leave that matter in the hands of the hon. Member himself.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I am much obliged for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, and I propose to raise the matter after the Second Reading has been taken.

Photo of Mr Frederick Erroll Mr Frederick Erroll , Altrincham and Sale

Further to that point of Order. If that course be followed, are we precluded from discussing any other Clauses than those mentioned in the Motion? By discussing the Bill on Second Reading, we should have a wider field. I am anxious to elucidate the point, because I have a Motion on the Order Paper relating to the Bill which is to follow.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

Most certainly, if the hon. Member wishes to discuss other Clauses than those which are set down in the Motion, that must be done on Second Reading. It cannot be done in the discussion on the Motion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed.

7.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clauses 8, 88, 94, 95, 99 and 110. This Motion relates to six of the Clauses of this Bill, but I do not think it will be necessary to detain the House for more than a few minutes. I would hasten to assure the impressive array of Parliamentary representatives for the City of Bradford whom I see opposite that I am not raising this matter in any spirit of hostility to a city, one of whose Parliamentary constituencies was represented in this House by my father for a number of years and all of which at one time fell within my grandfather's diocese. There seem to me to be raised on this Bill certain matters of substantial public importance which should at least be discussed before they come to be, as I hope and believe they will be, very strictly scrutinised by the Select Committee upstairs.

As I understand it, one of the two matters to which I wish to refer is contained in Clause 94, with which it is not intended to persist. At any rate, I have been so informed, and I notice that the hon. Lady the Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol) is good enough to indicate that that is so. If that is the case, I shall not waste the time of the House about it. My Motion deals also with one or two minor Clauses, with which perhaps I had better deal before passing to the major matters.

Clause 8 empowers the Corporation of Bradford to operate a parcels service over a considerable radius outside the city as well as within it. I do not know that, on merits, there are any very strong objections to that, but I have reason to believe that the Corporation, in anticipation of receiving such powers, has been operating such a service for some time, and, no doubt, it will be helpful to the Select Committee to know whether they have taken that somewhat optimistic view of the decision of this House before it is actually made. Clause 94 has already been withdrawn, but I may say that the objection to it was on the ground that it was not a step which should be taken by one city alone. It involves a not very great extension of the criminal law in the direction of shifting the onus of proof. and while a case may be made out for it I think that case should be made by a general Amendment of the criminal law. I am perfectly certain that none of the Parliamentary representatives of Bradford would have sought to justify that Clause by suggesting that this was a form of crime more rampant in their city than in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Clause 99 proposes a compulsion upon window cleaners to be licensed. It is material to point out that two of the Private Bills of the present Session, those promoted by Barnsley and Halifax, contained such a Clause, and that both have now been withdrawn. I believe I am right in saying that, with those exceptions, there is no precedent for this Clause. Here again, this seems to be a matter on which there can be legitimate difference of opinion whether or not window cleaners should be free to carry on their very important trade without the permission of the local authority, but there seems to be no justification whatever for one city having this power while the general law remains as it is at present. It seems to me that the right way to deal with this matter, if it is desired to deal with it at all, is by way of a general Bill, and I would quote by way of illustration the fact that the somewhat analogous position of hairdressers is in fact being dealt with in a Private Member's Bill. I desire to take formal objection to this licensing Clause, lest it might seem to go by default, but that is not my major object in raising this matter tonight.

Clause 110 places the Corporation in a privileged position with regard to the law of contract, and it seems to call for some explanation, but the major matter to which I would refer is contained in Clause 88. I would make it quite clear that I am expressing no opinion at this stage whether this is a justifiable provision or not. All I am saving at this stage is that it seems to me that it is not a provision which should obtain a Second Reading in this House without some explanation and justification being given. Quite simply, what Clause 88 does is to proceed, retrospectively, to give power to the Corporation of Bradford to expend out of the general rate fund money which has already been spent. or to reimburse money already spent, and which could not, at the time it was spent, have been legally expended from the general rate fund. In principle, that is a matter of some importance, and it arises in this way.

As long ago as the summer of 1946, the City of Bradford, whose centenary was due in 1947, set up a committee to conduct the appropriate centenary celebrations, which duly took place in 1947 with what can only be considered disastrous financial consequences. I understand that, in round figures, the expenses involved amounted to £27,000, and the receipts to about £8,000, leaving, to be completely precise, a deficit of £19,593 13s. 3d. The precision of that figure reflects great credit on the punctilious accuracy of the City Treasurer's department. It had been anticipated that there might be some deficit, and a number of public-spirited citizens of Bradford had in fact guaranteed £8,000, which is a fact of some importance, but the deficit has turned out to be £19,500 in round figures. To deal with the matter, the Corporation last year sought to obtain by Provisional Order power to finance the deficit out of the proceeds of the Corporation's gas undertaking. It was a proposal which was no doubt not unconnected with the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Fuel and Power to take over that undertaking from them, and, if I may express an opinion, I feel great sympathy with them in that attitude of mind. However, less sympathy was felt after various proceedings had been gone through by the relevant authorities, and on 9th June last the Unopposed Bills Committee of this House refused its sanction to that. Having failed in that way, they have now come forward with Clause 88 of the present Bill.

I only wish to make one further comment which is that, as I understand Clause 88—and I speak subject to correction—it proposes to authorise payment out of the general rate not only for such part of the deficit as is not covered by guarantees, but for the whole of the deficit, and is designed to have the consequence of relieving the guarantors of responsibility for the money which they guaranteed. It seems to me that the two parts of that deficit are on rather different footings. It would no doubt be an oppressive thing to compel the distinguished citizens who conducted the centenary celebrations, and who are, I understand, at law personally liable, to pay. But when we come to the citizens who gave a personal guarantee against a deficit, I can see no reason why, when the deficit has resulted, they should not be called upon to implement their guarantees, as, otherwise, it seems purposeless for them to give a guarantee at all. It would seem quite unreasonable that, when a deficit has resulted, the ratepayers should have to make up the loss.

Without venturing to intrude in the complicated processes of Bradford's municipal politics, it is perhaps material to point out that, at the moment it is sought to impose this extra burden on the rates, that city is proposing to advance its rate from 19s. 6d. to 21s.in the £, the highest in its history. I am perfectly certain that hon. Members and the Select Committee upstairs will realise that this is not one of the more appropriate moments for asking the ratepayers of that city to accept a greater burden in that direction.

I have suggested to an hon. Member opposite that it might be convenient, and might save the time of the House, if an explanation and justification could speedily be given, but I would stress that such explanation ought to cover not only the general proposition of this retrospective financing of the financial catastrophe of the centenary, which itself requires justification, but still more, if my interpretation of the Clause is right—and I should like confirmation of that—why it is proposed that the ratepayers should have to carry that part of the liability which was covered by the personal guarantees of a number of distinguished individuals. That point is one which, quite frankly, disquiets me a good deal more than the rather larger sum involved in the other part of the deficit, and is one which I think merits explanation.

Photo of Mr James Hutchison Mr James Hutchison , Glasgow Central

I beg to second the Motion.

7.14 p.m.

Photo of Mr Meredith Titterington Mr Meredith Titterington , Bradford South

May I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) on the spirit in which he has introduced these somewhat controversial matters? I recall, as does the hon. Gentleman in his remarks, the association of his father and grandfather with Bradford and the Diocese of Ripon. I am disposed to feel that he is not actuated by any form of destructive criticism. From the observations he has made, I venture to suggest—I hope I have drawn the correct inference—that he and his colleagues are prepared to support the Bill provided they receive reasonable assurances on the one or two points raised.

With regard to Clause 94, may I state categorically that that Clause has been withdrawn. It was discussed, submitted to a public meeting, and later a controversy was raised in the Press and elsewhere. The Council democratically reconsidered the matter, and the Clause has been definitely withdrawn.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

From a strictly procedural point of view, I think the hon. Gentleman will accept it from me that the Clause has not been withdrawn—it is, in fact, still in the Bill. I take it that what he means is that he is now giving an undertaking that it will be withdrawn when it comes before the Select Committee?

Photo of Mr Meredith Titterington Mr Meredith Titterington , Bradford South

The hon. Gentleman can certainly rely on that assurance. Clause 94 is to be withdrawn on the Committee stage. I do not propose after the hon. Gentleman's very kind comments to follow the controversial points he has raised because, like himself, I know that they can be handled in Committee. Therefore, in the interests of the time of the House, I want to come to the specific points raised by the hon. Gentleman.

He very correctly, and in chronological order, raised the whole question of the Bradford centenary. I want to make as clear as I can the motive behind the promotion of the Bradford centenary. It was promoted under a local Act which would have permitted the City Council to bear the whole of the expenses and the deficit incurred. Unfortunately, or fortunately as it might have been, they were actuated by a desire to bring in all the interests of the city, and all types or organisations. The local authority appointed an executive committee which took charge. In a way, the local authority contracted out of what was obviously a civic responsibility. But, in so doing, their motive was not to avoid any financial or other obligation, but rather to encourage a civic incentive in an attempt to make the centenary celebrations a huge success. The Lord Mayor convened the meeting, and guarantees were given. May I assure the hon. Gentleman that the guarantors have met their obligations, and that the Bradford City Corporation have met theirs. But there is a deficit of something like £12,000. How and by whom is that deficit to be met?

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

As I understand the hon. Gentleman, what he is saying is that the Clause now requests not the £19,000 which the draft provisional order originally requested, but the £19,000 less the £8,000 covered by the guarantees?

Photo of Mr Meredith Titterington Mr Meredith Titterington , Bradford South

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. All that the local authority are seeking to do is to pay off that deficit. I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept the assurance that the motive behind the local authority's promotion of this pageant was very sound and proper. Everyone knows that Bradford is the pivotal town in the wool textile industry, and that far-reaching international obligations lay upon us to promote pageants of this type. The history of our town shows that when the opportunity arises our celebrations take the form of pageants and similar civic celebrations. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree with all of the points I have made.

May I now come to the specific points which were made by the hon. Gentleman? He is correct in assuming that the local authority are willing to undertake the retrospective payment. It is true that the Order was sought and that facilities were not granted; they were short-circuited and we were unfortunate in not being able to liquidate the debt. Bradford people are great constitutionalists and they are taking the only constitutional action open to them, namely, legislative action. They hope that both sides of the House will reflect the same co-operative spirit as was shown by the local authority. All political parties co-operated in this pageant; not one political party has raised any objection to the proposals incorporated in this Bill. It was my privilege to attend the public meeting, and I can assure the House that there was no political motive of any description in seeking to liquidate this debt. It is a deficit which arose out of unfortunate circumstances—largely the weather—and involved the expense of materials which have to be purchased for this sort of undertaking.

I am sure that on those grounds the hon. Gentleman will accept the assurance that the deficit was reasonably incurred and with a sense of responsibility. The local authority have decided to incorporate this Clause in the Bill, the motive being the acceptance of a moral obligation by the citizens as a whole. We invited people to assist and promote the pageant, and they in their turn have met their financial obligations, but the City has an obligation. In Bradford, trade is often transacted by a shake of the hand and a promise is often a bond; in this case there was a civic promise to promote the pageant and the decision to hand out the work was taken with the best motives. In those circumstances, I hope the House will accept my assurance that we are honouring our moral Obligations. Our tradition insists that we should do that, so does the fair name of our City; Bradford's promise is Bradford's bond, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames and his colleagues will co-operate with us in giving this Bill a Second Reading.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

Would the hon. Gentleman deal with the point which I raised on Clause 99, and say why his City requires this window-cleaning Clause upon which neighbouring cities have not insisted?

Photo of Mr Meredith Titterington Mr Meredith Titterington , Bradford South

This matter was raised at the public meeting to which I have referred. An objection was raised and was over-ruled. However, my colleagues and the authorities are prepared to give full weight to any observation which the hon. Gentleman may make on that matter. We want to clean our windows so that we can see through them clearly. If it will satisfy the hon. Gentleman and remove his objection to our Bill, I can give him this categorical assurance. In view of the objections which have been raised, I am authorised to say that the Parliamentary Sub-Committee of the Bradford City Council, who have power to act, will give instructions for Clause 99 to be withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Charles Challen Mr Charles Challen , Hampstead

Does that mean that the Clause will be withdrawn?

Photo of Mr Meredith Titterington Mr Meredith Titterington , Bradford South

I have already said, on the authority of the Bradford Parliamentary Sub-Committee, that the Clause will be withdrawn, and I again assure the hon. Gentleman that Bradford's bond will be honoured.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I accept the hon. Gentleman's assurance, which I am certain is valid and binding. I cannot be wholly satisfied with the explanation of how this unfortunate matter with respect to Clause 88 has arisen, but I do not think it would be right at this stage to press the Motion. I therefore beg to ask the leave of the House to withdraw it, while, of course, reserving all rights, if at an appropriate later stage it should seem necessary, to take any action which may be open to me.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.