London County Council (Money) Bill (By Order)
Order for Consideration, as amended, read.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be now considered."
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."Every year the London County Council brings to this House a Money Bill, under which they are authorised to borrow and expend large sums of money. In the case of every other corporation the procedure is that if they wish to borrow money an Inspector of the Ministry of Health will hold a local inquiry and deal with the matter in that way. The procedure, so far as the London County Council is concerned, is that they bring a Money Bill to this House, in which they practically include their Estimates for the year. It is the duty of this House to deal with the Estimates included in that Money Bill, and having heard the reasons for the Estimates to pass the Bill, and what is contained in it, if the House thinks fit. I remember 14 or 16 years ago a very stalwart member of the London County Council (Mr. John Burns) upbraiding us when we spoke about economy, on the ground that opportunity was not taken annually to deal with this Money Bill in the way in which I am dealing with it now. Since that time attention has been called to this Money Bill, not in any unduly hostile spirit, and it is certainly not in any unduly hostile way that I call attention to it now. The object has been to call attention to the large sums of money which it is necessary for the County Council to borrow, and to seek for some explanation. It is very desirable that this should be done, because possibly in days to come a very extravagant County Council may be in power, and in that case this power of the House of Commons will need to be exercised with much greater vigour than at the present time. It. is useless for hon. Members to complain if I occupy some time year after year in connection with this Bill, and to say that surely I can trust to them not to make any excessive claims upon the ratepayers. There may come a time when such inquiry must be very carefully carried out, and it might well be that strong comments would be made if the inquiry had been reserved simply for that occasion. It would be said that the House; of Commons only goes into these questions when a party is in power in the County Council which holds political views opposite to those held by Members of this House who might then be criticising the Estimates in the Money Bill. This Bill contains a Schedule of the estimated expenditure for the coming year, and I should like to ask the hon. Member who represents the County Council to give an explanation of certain items. In the first place, I would call attention to the item "Metropolis Management Acts and various Acts authorising improvements and works," on which an expenditure of £500,000 is estimated for this year. I should like to know why that sum is necessary, having regard to the very large number of sums in the Schedule for kindred objects. That £500,000 is a large sum, and when it is added to the various similar items in the Schedule the amount for improvements comes to a very big sum. The present is not a very good time for building or other work to be conveniently carried out at a reasonable cost. With respect to Item 10, for tramway improvement works, the original estimate was for £78,000, and now the revised estimate amounts to £152,000. Why is there that very large jump between the original estimate and the present estimate? Of the estimated amount, only £4,375 is to be spent this year. I should like to know whether this expenditure is in respect of tramway work or improvement work, or how much is for tramways and how much for improvements. There is also a very big sum, Item 13, under the heading "London County Council (Tramways and Improvements) Act, 1920," amounting to £120,000. These items following one another need very careful explanation. Is any part of this £120,000 for tramway work, or is it really for improvements? If so, the figure for improvements will come to a very large item. I should also like to call attention to the item, "New County Hall—erection of buildings and incidental expenditure," for which this year a sum of £670,000 is asked. What has been the total expenditure upon the hall? Has there ever been any sort of estimate as to what the expenditure was going to be? Is it correct, as has been suggested in this House, that that work was entered into without any sort of estimate, without any sort of contract. If that is not so, I should like to know what contract was entered into, and whether there was any estimate ever put before the County Council as to the cost. It was suggested last year in this House that the total expenditure would be £4,000,000 or £5,000,000. There is no information in this Bill, and there is no original estimate, and no figures given, except that £650,000 is to be spent upon this building this year, and possibly another £70,000 in the subsequent six months. If that building has been put up without any estimate of the expense, or any contract stating the amount which it would cost, that is a matter for comment as to the want of care by local authorities in their expenditure. I hope that when the hon. Member comes to reply he will be able to give an answer different from the information with which I have been supplied. I am advised that the work went on without any estimate, or any contract with a definite amount, and the result has been enormous expenditure. Another item is in connection with a new Court-house for Quarter Sessions. The amount is £9,000, which would be regarded as a very small item in comparison with these other amounts, and unless my hon. Friend has some information I will not trouble him on that point. I come now to item No. 21, the purchase of tramway undertakings, construction, reconstruction and equipment of tramways, provision of buildings, power stations, machinery, rolling stock and other purposes, £1,000,000. Then there is a subsequent sum of £127,000. From what I remember from last year, this means that the County Council bought up the London United Tramways and that £1,000,000 expenditure is the cost of buying it up. Has that company for some years been earning any profit? If it was run at a loss lately why should the London County Council pay £1,000,000 for it? Have they estimated that they will ever get any return on that £1,000,000 in the way of interest from the profits which they are going to make out of that company? It is not part of their system. The London United Tramways Company runs to Hounslow, Hampton Court and similar places. Why do the County Council want to spend £1,000,000 of the ratepayers' money on an enterprise which no business man would put money into? Why could not the company itself continue to work it? Surely the hon. Member does not suggest that if the company fails to make it pay the municipal authority is likely to make it pay. I can give a very large number of instances to the contrary. I happened to be a small shareholder in the Thames Steamboat Company. My directors knew their business and knew how to run steamboats on the Thames. They asked for a small concession from the County Council, namely, that they should not charge 6d. each time they called at a pier. The County Council would not give them that concession. The County Council started a fleet of their own and ran the company off the river. The County Council managed to lose £1,000,000 upon that wretched enterprise. They smashed up the company and there have been no steamboats on the Thames ever since the County Council boats ceased to run. That is the result of London County Council management. Why should they try to do the same thing now? They might have bought us out I agree. They are buying out the London United Tramways. Why should they do so if the London United Tramways were carrying on at a profit. That £1,000,000 is for the purchase of the London United Tramways.
No, the amount is £235,000.
I received instructions that £1,000,000 was being taken up by the purchase of the tramway undertaking. I am obliged to the hon. Member for his information, but for what purpose is the remaining three-quarters of a million pounds being used after a quarter of a million pounds is devoted to purchasing the London United Tramways Company? Either that company was going successfully or it was not. If it was going successfully, why do you want to buy it? Are you going to make any return upon the quarter of a million pounds which you are paying for this enterprise? If what I have been told is correct, there is no prospect of these lines running at anything like a substantial profit after paying working expenses. Then on what are the remaining three-quarters of a million pounds being spent? I would ask the hon. Member to elucidate this point, because nothing can be more fatal than for a County Council and Municipal Authority to carry on works which private companies are carrying on efficiently. The steamboats are a case in point. The hon. Member will agree with me that as far as possible these matters should be left to private enterprise and the County Council should not interfere.I congratulate the County Council on two points. Apparently, there are fewer new schemes contained in this Bill than there usually are. With the exception of the tramways scheme and Part II, which is a comparatively small matter, there are practically no new schemes involved in this Bill. Part III is also a matter of congratulation. Though even in its present form they ask for £250,000 as a general enlargement of spending power to provide, under Treasury sanction, for possible further expenditure for purposes included in the foregoing Estimate. Yet that margin is very much less than in previous years. I am sure that the hon. Member will assure me that that is not likely to be spent, and is only put in case for emergency, though I do not like such a large amount to be put in. Part IV of the Bill includes a very large amount of loans which are being made, for which I agree the County Council are not directly responsible, to metropolitan borough councils. These amount to £1,500,000, and there is also a large margin of £100,000, which they may lend to the same bodies in case of need. I agree that these loans are not matters for which the County Council strictly are responsible, but it is a convenient occasion on which to ask how these loans are as large as they are? I know that the hon. Member who represents the London County Council on this Bill is in a position to answer some of my questions. These matters require explanation. I therefore move the Amendment so as to give the hon. Member an opportunity of dealing with the points raised.
I beg to second the Amendment.On page 9 of the Bill it is stated that the net aggregate borrowing powers sought under this Bill are no less than £6,145,381. I support every word of the last speaker with regard to the importance of this matter, and I maintain that it is the duty of the House to go most carefully into the Estimates of the London County Council. As has been said, the Estimates to-day may have been most carefully considered by a party pledged to municipal economy, though I have my doubts. At the same time it must be remembered that another party may come into power in years to come, and then if hon. Members belonging to my party were to raise the matter we should be told that we were making a party matter of it. We are not doing that at all. I am taking part in this Debate to-night in the interests of economy and nothing else. There is an uneasy feeling among the ratepayers as a whole that their money is taken from them and spent, and that they have very little control over the expenditure. It is true that they have their remedy in the elections, but elections come only once every three years, and when members have been elected ratepayers have very little control over them. The House of Commons, however, has still a certain amount of control, inasmuch as it is necessary for the London County Council to bring this Bill to Parliament every year. When we are told that the County Council wants new borrowing powers to the extent of over £6,000,000, it is the duty of every Member of this House who is interested in economy to go most carefully into every item of the proposed expenditure. No doubt the London County Council have a very good explanation to give. There are, however, certain items in the Schedule with which I am not in the least satisfied. Take Item 3. It provides for an expenditure of £32,380 on parks and open spaces and pleasure grounds this year. I want to know exactly what is the policy of the County Council with regard to parks and open spaces and pleasure grounds. It is a subject of great interest to the electors of London. There are many people who would like to play games in the parks. I do not say whether it is right or wrong, but they want to play games, particularly at the week-ends and on Sundays. They see the more fortunately-situated people, the people who have enough money to own motor cars, able to get out of London and to play their games of golf on Sundays. They see others able to enjoy themselves in every direction on Sunday. But when they go to their parks and want to play a game of rounders, or something equally innocent, they are told they are not allowed to do it. The County Council seeks money for the extension of parks. Some explanation is wanted as to why the County Council persistently refuses to allow games in the parks on Sundays. What provision has the County Council made for people to play such games as lawn tennis? I am not satisfied with the County Council's policy with regard to games in the parks, particularly on Sun- days. There is a strong feeling amongst a great many people in the London constituencies on this subject. It is not right that the well-to-do should be able to play their games on Sundays and that the County Council should set its face rigorously against all Sunday games. I come next to Item 11. It provides for the Mall approach improvement, Charing Cross widening, the purchase of property, etc. Can we be told what is being done with the devastated area around Trafalgar Square? There is there a ruin which looks as if it were the remains of a German outrage during the War, or the preparation of a fortification to menace the unemployed when they meet in Trafalgar Square. How much longer is the London, Liverpool and Globe Insurance Company to occupy a sort of hovel behind a hoarding at the bottom end of Trafalgar Square, thereby utterly defacing the Square? Cannot the London County Council do something? They propose to spend more than £16,000 this year. Are they going to sweep this unsightly building into oblivion? I hope we shall be told that this money is all that is wanted in order to get rid of the disfigurement and to make this place what it should be—one of the finest vistas which the Londoner can look at and be proud of, instead of a standing reproach to the authorities, who are, I suppose, the London County Council. Is the sum mentioned here all that is required to sweep away this very unsightly building or will it be necessary to apply next year for a further sum? I hope the London County Council will take this matter up and consider the great improvement that could be affected in the appearance of this part of the City which is enjoyed by all sections of the population. After all, Trafalgar Square is visited by people from all parts of the provinces, and only last week I myself noticed an enormous number of people there in chars-a-bane. They were visitors from Eccles who were seeing round London. We should have London made worthy of being the capital of the Empire. I now come to the question of the tramways. I went recently to see a revue, and one of the characters in that revue asked: "What does L.C.C. stand for?" The reply being, "Oh, it stands for trams." Of course it does, and the London County Council go on trying to throw good money after bad and trying to bolster up an unremunerative and unproductive system. Can the hon. Member show us what profit is made out of the tramway system, or is it a fact that the London County Council actually make a loss and if so how much is the loss? I do not believe that at the present time the London County Council could say what is the actual financial position of the tramway undertaking and whether they are making a profit or loss. I do not believe they could show that to the ordinary Member of this House. If my statement is regarded as being exaggerated or unfair, then it is for the hon. Member to put me right in his reply, and show exactly what the state of the tramway system is, because, speaking candidly, the people in London do not understand it. In Vote 8 it is proposed to spend £3,835 on the trams; in Vote 9, £3,590; in Vote 10, £27,690; in Vote 12, £2,000; in Vote 13, £120,000; in Vote 21, £1,000,000; in Vote 23, £60,000. All these Votes have something to do with the trains, and the total sum is £1,217,115. Surely the London County Council are not going to go on for ever throwing money into the tramway system unless they can show that they are getting a really satisfactory return from it. It is proposed to spend £235,000 on the purchase of the London United Tramways system somewhere in the Hammersmith district. Can the London County Council show any reasonable prospect of a return for this money? It is becoming perfectly intolerable that the money of Londoners should be thrown every year into the tramway system by the million. After all, it should be remembered that this Money Bill also deals with proposals for expenditure on other objects which are of the first importance, for instance, those of housing and the clearing of slum areas. I find only a small sum is being devoted to the acquisition and clearing of Tabard Street, Southwark, Crosby Road, Bermondsey, and places of that sort. It is proposed to spend only £113,000 on the acquisition and clearance of unhealthy areas, whereas no less than a million is to go to trams. That is a very doubtful proposal, taking it even from the most optimistic point of view.
Tell that to the Ministry of Health.
I will tell it to anyone. If it is a choice between clearing slum areas and spending more money on trams, let us by all means clear out the slum areas first and look after the trains later. The tram system to-day is in keen competition with the motor omnibuses and all the services of the London combine—the Underground, and so forth. There will come a time, in my opinion, when the finance of the London County Council tramway system must inevitably break down. It may be that I am quite wrong, and that it makes a profit, but a great many people think, as I do, that it is unremunerative, and the London County Council is up against one of the foremost business concerns of the world, with ramifications above ground and below ground—a highly organised and enterprising concern competing with the County Council in every direction. It may be found necessary in years to come for the County Council to acknowledge that they made a mistake and adopted the wrong method of transit, and then proceed to cut their loss, and the question is whether or not they can change to some other form of locomotive. The London County Council may think I am very much opposed to them, but I am really sympathetic. I would like to help them if I could, but I do not see any way of doing it at present.There is a sum of £650,000 in respect of the London County Council Hall, and £70,000 is set apart for the ensuing six months. Can we get any idea as to what the final cost of the London County Council Hall will be? I understand the London County Council is in partial occupation of the building. I would like to know how much of the building they occupy at present. I know that one portion of the London County Council organisation which is housed in the new building concerns the issue of motor licences. [Laughter.] I thought I should get an expression of appreciation when I referred to motor licences. This is a point of some importance, and hon. Members may laugh at me—I am delighted that they should—but they should also remember that I am only one, of an enormous number of motorists who pay 5s. yearly for the renewal of their licences. These people, when they go to renew their licences, are provided with the most disgraceful accommodation I every struck in all my life, and this is at the London County Council Hall. I sent my secretary to get my motor licence renewed last year, as I was unable to leave this House, and it took him no less than five hours to get the licence renewed. The person who goes there for this purpose has to go into one queue in order to get a form, then in order to fill up the form he has to join another queue, and finally, in order to present the form at the pigeon hole or booking office, or whatever is provided for the purpose, one has to join a third queue. There are three separate queues to be formed, and as this all falls at the same period of the year the position of affairs is simply chaotic. The motoring interests of this country to-day are to be found amongst all sections of the population, and it is, up to the County Council to see that they make proper arrangements for them, which they do not do at present. I would like to have some indication of the provision which the Council are intending to make for the renewal and reissue of motor licences of all sorts for motor vehicles in the London area. I believe they know the point and that they are dissatisfied themselves with the provision they have made, but can the hon. Member show me that they are going to make better provision in the coming year than they have made up to now? With regard to the London County Hall, I support everything my hon. and learned Friend has said on that subject, and it is what every member of the public is saying. If you go into the street and talk to the ordinary man in the street about the County Hall, he will at once want to know what it has cost and how much it is going to cost. I have no doubt the hon. Member can give a very satisfactory answer in regard to estimates and so forth, and I know that the War came along at a most unfortunate moment for the County Council, making it difficult for them to arrange estimates, but prices are falling, and have been falling for some time now, and are they taking every advantage of the fall in prices to readjust their figures? This figure of £650,000 may be affected by a fall in prices. I do not know when this estimate was got out, but there may have been another fall in prices since then, and are the Council snatching at every straw which will give them the advantage in the construction of their hall? I beg the hon. Member to give me some sort of explana- tion of what the final cost of this hall will be. In regard to loans for Metropolitan Borough Councils, I see there is a sum of £1,500,000 up to 31st March, and another £1,000,000 for the ensuing six months. That is a very large figure, and I have no doubt the County Council are bound, probably by the action of this House, to a large extent, but I would like a more detailed explanation of that figure. Can the hon. Gentleman who will reply for the London County Council say what the Council are doing with regard to street improvements? Wherever you go in London to-day the streets are a sort of big obstacle race for the traveller who wishes to go along.
It is for motors.
It is for ail vehicles—motors, motor 'buses, and so on.
It has nothing to do with the County Council.
When the hon. Member is questioned about improvements, he says it is not the Council, but I say that Items 16, 17, 18 and 19 are all for improvements.
I see there is the widening of Piccadilly. Then there is Item 20, the Mall Approach, and Items 21 and 22 are for improvements. What is the policy of the County Council? They may not be the people who go and pull up the streets and make them impassable at the most inconvenient time of the year, but what is the policy of the Council in regard to improvements? What do they do? On what plan do they work? Are the improvements only necessitated by the laying of tramway tracks? Do they lay down new road surfaces?
What did you do when you widened Piccadilly? Did you not lay down any road surfaces then? I would like to know. I think it is of importance that we should know how the London County Council spend their money. They say they are improving the streets, and I want to know how. Does it mean they are simply widening them, or does it mean that they are laying a better road surface? I always notice that the Noble Lord the Member far Hastings (Lord E. Percy) is always very much amused by my remarks in regard to London streets.
He should remember that he represents a constituency which has fortunately reformed itself now, but whose tramway system was notorious throughout all the boroughs of this country some time ago.
Is the Noble Lord aware that they are privately-owned tramways.
I am glad to notice that that tramway system has been reformed, because it was quite unsafe. There is only one other point I wish to bring to the attention of the House. There is a provision for contingencies under Item 29 of £250,000, and I see that last year, 1921–22, a similar provision was made. Could the hon. Member say whether the money which he got then was actually spent, or is this a hardy annual? Does he ask for the money and not spend it, and if it is not spent, what happens to it? The same remarks apply to the next Item, for a sum of £50,000. A similar item was asked for last year, and I would like to know if it was spent, and, if not, what was done with it? In conclusion, I can only apologise for having taken up the time of the House so long, but I hope other hon. Members will go through this money Bill and take part in the discussion upon it, because the subject of economy is of importance nowadays, both in national and local expenditure, and this is one of the few opportunities which we get really to bring pressure to bear on the London County Council to economise in every possible direction. I am sure they are only too glad to do that, both in their own interests and in other people's interests, and I hope the hon. Member who will reply for them will be able to give an explanation of the few points I have ventured to raise.
I have often wondered why we have this pleasant interlude annually. I wondered whether the County Council had been guilty of some crime towards my two hon. Friends opposite, because, if so, I was prepared to recommend any form of restitution, and to offer ample apology myself, in order to bring to an end this annual vendetta; but I am greatly relieved, because I learned this afternoon, for the first time, that we have this Debate year by year in order to preserve the rights of Parliament. This reminds me of the custom of looking through the Grille when Black Rod is coming. It an ancient custom to preserve a Parliamentary privilege. Therefore, I look upon this Debate as something in the way of a repetition of an ancient ceremony, in order to preserve the right of Parliament, not to criticise this particular Council, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson) said, but to criticise a possible spendthrift Council. He was good enough to say he had no serious fault to find with the present Council, but the Noble Lord who seconded found endless fault with this Council. There was this further difference. The Mover, who had little fault to find, had some knowledge of the Council's work; the Seconder, who had great fault to find, had evidently very little knowledge of the Council's work. In fact, while he was putting that long series of questions, I was irresistibly reminded of a former Member of this House who went down to his constituency and declared that during the course of the year he had put no less than 250 odd questions to Ministers, whereupon one of his audience remarked, "What an ignorant fellow he must be!" I could not help feeling to-night that this shoal of questions did betray, if I may say so without offence, a very scant knowledge of the work of the County Council.The Noble Lord wanted to put upon us the sins of the borough councils, as well as those of the County Council. Let me assure him at once that we are not interested in obstacle races at all, although I can quite understand he would be interested in taking part in one, especially if it happened to be a motor race. The borough council and other authorities, however, are responsible for taking up the roads on various occasions in the London area, but not the County Council. As a matter of fact, we are greatly interested in removing obstacles, and that is why we come forward with some estimates for road improvements. I was asked, for example, whether our scheme for widening Piccadilly was for the purpose of tramways. As the Noble Lord probably knows, there is no tramway in Piccadilly, nor is there ever likely to be one. That is part of the road improvement for the general convenience of those who use the roads, and none require it more than those who are in the habit of driving motor cars, whose convenience we try to meet, not merely on the roads, but also in the issue of licences. Let me say this with regard to licences. We have not yet got the builders off the premises. It is a long walk to some of the offices at present, owing to the fact that the nearest approaches are necessarily closed, as they are in the builders' hands, but, so far as the issue of licences is concerned, it is perfectly notorious that those who wish to renew their licences will persistently postpone making application until the very last day, and they all come in a crowd. I should very much like to know on what particular day the Noble Lord's servant went to secure a licence, and how long it was before the licence expired.
If I send the hon. and gallant Member full particulars of this case, as I certainly will, will he look into it, and see if the County Council cannot make better provision? My representative was only one of several hundreds, and it took five hours to get a licence.
That is one of the most reasonable questions of the long stream the Noble Lord has put to me, and it goes without saying that if the particulars of the case be sent, the case will be very carefully looked into. I would suggest to the House that there are serious difficulties in the way of meeting the public needs at the present moment, for when you have a great building like that, with workmen all over the place, and the organisation not yet in smooth working order, you must have, for a short time, some delay and some inconvenience. But I believe the Council is as anxious as the Noble Lord would be himself to give every possible facility for the public, not only to secure licences, but for the multifarious duties which call them to the County Hall.May I take one or two questions at haphazard, before I try to deal systematically with the estimates as a whole? May I venture to remind the Noble Lord, when he suggested that we ought to spend money in clearing slums and not on tram- lines, that there is a close connection between slums and the tramway system? If you clear a slum area, are you going to put upon that same area the same dense population you clear away? Certainly not You have to find other and more convenient residences for them, and in a great city like London these areas for the displaced slum dwellers must be right on the outskirts of the county, and, in order that they may be brought cheaply and rapidly to their work, tramway lines have to be constructed. A very large number of former dwellers in slum areas are now carried morning and night between their homes and their work, and therefore there is a close connection between the clearance of slums and traffic facilities for those who live far out in the new housing estates of the Council, towards whose erection my Noble Friend near me so largely contributed by his useful work on the County Council. One of our great difficulties in finding new areas for housing the working classes is that of convenient, cheap, and quick transit to and from their homes and places of labour. Therefore, as I say, there is a close connection between the clearance of slums and the establishment of a tramway system. With regard to loans, it must he borne in mind that the local authorities to whom the Council lends money are themselves already empowered to borrow. It is merely a question from what source they shall obtain the money, and the Council obtains annually from Parliament the power to lend, and the amount sought year by year is founded upon the Council's knowledge of the probable requirements of the borough councils and other authorities, who already possess statutory power to borrow. Therefore, it makes no difference to the amount of money likely to be raised for public purposes by these local authorities during the year. What happens is that the Council comes to this House for power to raise the money, in order that it may lend to the local authorities at the cheapest possible rate. The amount at which it is lent merely covers the cost of raising the loan, and it is easier for the County Council to go to the money market, and secure the total sum of money likely to be required, and then lend it, than it is to have about a dozen authorities going into the market, each raising its own loan. At least, that has been the experience of many years past, and it has justified the Council in coming to the House for power to raise the money to lend to the authorities, who already possess power to borrow.
May I also say that the County Council has discretion as to whether they will lend these sums of money, and in some cases they have very properly declined to lend the money which the local authorities were wishful to spend.
I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman for that interruption. I hope I have not conveyed the impression that we were bound to lend to any authority which had the power to borrow, because that would be a wrong impression altogether. We are constantly exercising a restraining influence over local authorities, and declaring that we do not consider that such and such a project is a suitable one, and one for which we are going to lend the money.
Then the local authorities' plan has been either reduced or modified, or probably abandoned altogether, or the project at least has been long postponed. I have cases in my mind at the present time where there has been a prolonged application, and a prolonged refusal, and at last the money remained unborrowed, and there has been no demand in the money market for it; the project of the local authority has not yet fructified, and it is doubtful whether it ever will. That restraining influence is always used. It is wise that that restraining influence should be retained, and the fact that the Council has to come to this House to get the total sum of money likely to be wanted does induce an exercise of restraining influence, not merely over the Council but over the authorities which come to it to borrow, because we are able to say we have no power beyond the amounts which have been allotted by Parliament for the next 18 months. It will be recollected that we have to come here not only with estimates for the 12 months ensuing, but for the six months following that. Therefore we cover a period of 18 months. The amount to be lent depends very much upon the knowledge that our officers have of the various projects before the borrowing authorities. They know which are likely to be sanctioned and which are likely to be refused, which are the subject of discussion, which have already been approved, and while we come and allow a very narrow margin for contingencies, we have no power to lend to an authority outside the prescribed sum, for we cannot trade upon the contingency fund. I hope that although imperfectly I have answered the questions raised in regard to the loans.May I turn now to the subject upon which my Noble Friend seems to have very full information, because he said everybody is asking about the County Hall; therefore he must have been in touch with a very large number of people in London. I know inquiries have been made as to the cost of the hall and I am not at all surprised at it. Let me, however, in passing, remind hon. Members that very few people have any idea of the enormous amount of confusion and loss to the public entailed by having the Council's activities spread all over London, instead of their being concentrated in one large building. Whatever may be the ultimate cost of the new County Hall there will be a very large—I suppose I may use the phraseology adopted here—appropriation-in-aid derived from the sale of buildings already owned by the County Council, and used until this transfer. Take, for example, the great building on the Embankment, formerly the property of the London School Board, and then of the County Council, offices in Charing Cross Road, medical officers' quarters and architects' offices scattered all over the place because we have not been able to house the various services in one suitable building. Here let me again remind the House that a multitude of our duties does not depend upon ourselves. We are constantly having new obligations thrust upon us by Parliament. Act after Act is passed referring to the local authority in the London area. There is a Bill before the House now, the Allotments and Small Holdings Bill, in more than two-thirds of its Clauses there is a reference to the local authority, and we are wondering how many of these refer to the County Council as the authority. We know many of them do. Fresh duties, fresh work, fresh expenditure—and consequently a larger staff—are constantly placed upon the London County Council. A great majority of our duties have been placed upon us. We have not asked for them. We have not sought the powers. We have been endowed with them through the will of Parliament. There will he, however, no doubt a very great gain, economy, and convenience to the public generally when we are able to concentrate our offices in the one great Hall. Let me try to give a few figures. I believe that nothing is further from the truth than the suggestion that the new County Hall has been built without calculation or without carefully drawn estimates. I have been a Member of the Council for 16 or 17 years. I believe that nearly the whole of that period I have been aware of negotiations as to finding a site; then an estimate as to t he possible cost of securing the site, and then long and laborious examination of the cost of building on the various sites before one site was adopted on which it was decided to erect the Hall. Estimates for every branch of the work were secured before the contracts were let out. Most meticulous care was taken in the allocation, for example, of the architects' fees. The letting and the sub-letting of the various portions of the building, the stone, the marble, and the woodwork—the whole were subject of careful estimates. But what has happened. Our estimates have again and again been falsified. The building started before the War. The estimates were framed on pre-War prices. What happened?
So far as I am aware, no estimate was ever presented to Parliament before the War, though asked for, year after year.
Yes: I believe my hon. and learned Friend is perfectly right in saying that no full estimate was ever submitted to Parliament. The County Council is not required to do so by the Statute.
They do it in every other case.
No; the building of this hall and the raising of money for the purpose, and the securing of an estimate comes within the provisions of a Parliamentary Act which enables the Council to proceed without submitting to Parliament the total estimate at the time of the commencement. It cannot, however, secure any portion of the money except by coming to the House year by year. Perhaps I may be allowed to read a line or two from the report presented to the London County Council on the 11th April, 1922. You may divide the great building that is being raised on the other side of the river into four blocks. Three of those blocks are practically complete. The exterior work is almost ended, and a very large part of the internal work is finished. There is a fourth block, of which only the foundations have been laid. In this report to the London County Council, these three blocks are usually spoken of as Block A, Block B and Block C. The report says:
that is the fourth block—"The actual cost up to 31st January, 1922, of sections A, B and C of the new Council Hall, including, for section D"—
this, as the House will see, is a fairly large sum without the cost of the fourth block—"the site, embankment wall, drawings, etc. of raft foundation, and part fees for drawings and bills of quantities for superstructure"—
Therefore, the total cost has not reached the estimated cost for this work."amounts to £2,339,554, while the capital estimates so far passed by the Council amount in all to £2,643,329."
I can say this that, apart from the War troubles, the cost of execution is within the estimate and not outside. This new Supplemental Estimate of nearly £600,000 is only approximate, though prepared on the best information at present available, but it is hoped that when the work is completed, the influence of falling prices will enable the Council to complete at a much smaller sum than that which I have just quoted. Let me remind the House of one difficulty that occurs to me. That building was in the course of progress at the outbreak of War. There was a perfect forest of huge cranes overhanging the building. Immediately the Government called upon is to stop we readily responded. The portion of the building already completed was placed at the disposal of the Ministry of Food and occupied for national purposes; but the contractor had to take practically the whole of that apparatus away. The great forest of cranes disappeared, and we had to pay part of the cost. When we were enabled to recommence the work of building, that forest of cranes had to be brought back, and anybody with the least practical experience of building will know that a very large part of your cost results from getting your plant into position before you can lay a single stone or brick. Therefore, War emergencies involved us in a very heavy outlay. Throughout the whole country and even abroad the work was being prepared for internal decoration and fitting. The quarries were quarrying stone and finishing it. All that had to be housed, and we had to pay for housing. It has been a much more expensive job than we ever expected, but who can help it? You cannot blame the Council. I cannot blame any authority in the land which, under similar circumstances, found its original estimates substantially exceeded. It is one of the inevitable consequences of the warlike operations which brought the peaceful work of housing the largest municipal authority in the country to a standstill. In the meantime, while that work was arrested, prices were rising by leaps and bounds, and when we had to recommence, we had to enter into new contracts at enhanced prices. I hesitate, without the fullest knowledge, to give an estimate of the final total cost when the four blocks are completed. I perhaps should be wise to limit the statement to that which is an ascertained fact, namely, the actual amount which has been spent on three blocks now practically completed, and on the work already accomplished, with regard to the fourth block. I think, however, I can say this without hesitation, that when, on the 17th of next month, His Majesty opens that building, he will find there a municipal residence fit to fulfil the various obligations in the way of public work which must necessarily be thrown upon it, and commensurate with the dignity of this great city. I do not think anyone who goes through it and examines all the building in detail will for a moment believe that the Council has acted extravagantly. It is built, it is true, not for a day and not for a year, but in the hope that the hall will stand for centuries. It is built strongly and in a businesslike manner, although we are not altogether excluding the æsthetic side of our national life."The council is now asked to approve for portions of the work a supplemental estimate amounting to £596,600 which, added to the total estimates already approved, will bring the total estimated cost to £3,239,929. This figure is about £76,000 less than the figure given as the approximate estimate to the Council in July, 1920."
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves this matter, may I ask if it is intended to carry Block D to completion?
Yes, we hope to carry Block D to completion. I believe—I am speaking from memory—that that block will eventually house the Tramway Department, but I am not quite sure.
Scrap Block 4 and the tramways.
My right hon. Friend suggests that Block 4 and the tramways should be scrapped. I have never known him advocate anything in this House except the work of destruction. [HON. MEMBERS "Except for dogs!"] It would be an absolute relief to me to find the right hon. Baronet lending himself for once to the least part of a constructive work. I do not say he has not been a very useful critic, but he always reminds me of the Italian fable of the hen and the frog, when the hen remarked with regard to the frog:
[HON. MEMBERS: "Translate."] Translate? Not in the House of Commons. I am asked for some explanation of the expenditure on the parks, and I am bound to say that my Noble Friend has put to me a puzzle, because he asks me to declare the policy of the Council with regard to Sunday games. All I can reply is that that policy has not been formulated. It is one of the questions to be decided at an outcome of the recent elections. I can say without hesitation that, in coming to a decision, the Council will take the greatest care to see that those addicted to very energetic exercise shall not monopolise the whole of the place, but that there shall be room for those who indulge in peaceful exercise. We shall see that excessive energies are somewhat restrained in the use of the parks. Upon what are we spending this money? What is our policy? To put it briefly, we dare not spend any more money acquiring new sites. We have to be content with the present sites and wait until our finance improves. But we are maintaining those parks for the health and the enjoyment of children and adults, who in tens of thousands find rest and recreation in those open spaces. If hon. Members require the details they are available, and they will he found in such things as the provision of refreshment rooms for those who indulge in lawn tennis and so forth. There are also small sums which have become payable under old contracts in connection with the King Edward Memorial, the Princes Square and the Waterlow Parks, and so forth. A question was raised with regard to the tramways, but I dare not detain the House by giving even a sketch of the tramway proposal. But I will say that I doubt whether any Money Bill ever came before this House promoted by the London County Council asking for so little money for new tramway systems as this one. There is only one new line for which provision is made, and it is for a sum of £74,000, and that is dependent on the Bill now before the House being adopted. If that Bill be thrown out, then there is not a single penny for a new line of tramways under this Bill. The £1,000,000 which has been referred to includes £235,000 in respect of the purchase of the London United Tramways. I may be asked why we purchased that undertaking. As a matter of fact, we are bound to carry out that purchase. The contract for it was made before the War, and we have merely postponed it owing to our inability to fulfil the contract on account of War conditions. Now the money which was made payable after arbitration has become due, and we shall have to find that £235,000. Let me inform the House that the whole of the remainder of the £1,000,000 is to be spent on generating plant, new cars and general purchases for carrying on effectively the undertaking. I think I have a right to complain of some of the criticisms, because it must be common knowledge to everyone in London that during the period of the War all our expenditure was restricted and our activities were brought within the narrowest possible limits. Consequently, we have a. large amount of leeway to make up now. The people using the London roads are declaring that the tramlines at great crossings like the Elephant and Castle are in a deplorable condition. Of course, we could not repair them during the War because we had not the material, nor the labour, nor the money, but we have done every- thing possible since the War by coming to this House for further grants of money to make up for lost time during the War. Having regard to the great extent of the tramway system, I do not think that we are asking for an unreasonable sum of money when I say that we require something like £600,000 for such work as the generation of electricity and the provision of new cars, which have now become absolutely essential to increase our car mileage. Those who live in Westminster and on this side of the river in Park Lane and Paddington can form very little idea indeed of the service rendered by the tramway system to the hundreds and thousands of workers who reside in the South of London. Go into the Walworth Road, the Brixton Road, or the roads near the Elephant and Castle at any hour of the day or night, and you will find tens of thousands of people travelling by those cars. I dare not enter now into the question of competition with the motor omnibuses. I am asked, "Why do you not scrap this system and go in for a more flexible traffic?" May I remind hon. Members that not long ago a Bill was brought before this House for the construction of a trackless trolley system? How did the Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea vote on that occasion? The House insisted upon putting in that Bill a proviso to the effect that the borough council could veto it. In those circumstances it is quite useless to suggest that we should abandon our present system and put down one more flexible. We have tried to do that, but you would not let us. The proposals of this Bill are absolutely necessary for the needs of London. Within the last two years, like nearly every other business undertaken, we have been obliged to draw on capital in order to carry on. There has been a loss and the revenue has not met the charges for the year. If, however, I take a longer period than a year or two years, and take the amount which has been contributed to road improvements out of tramway revenues; if I point out that many an awkward corner in the public roads has been knocked off and streets widened for the general benefit of London traffic, then the loss is not so serious. Under these circumstances I think I can safely say that in a few years time London will have the largest system of tramways anywhere in England and in the end it will not have cost the ratepayers a penny, for out of the revenues we shall have paid for everything. Even now we are gradually getting out of the difficult position into which we got during the last few years, and I think the tramway system will eventually, justify the Council under these circumstances. It is quite easy to say now that we ought never to have embarked upon this system, but it must not be forgotten that the motor omnibus was not even in sight when the London County Council first laid down the lines for its tramway service. Nevertheless, I believe that the present system will amply justify itself if it is given sufficient time. I have done my best to cover all the points which have been raised."Che molto critiche e nulla fa."
What about the Mall?
That is one of the cases which have to get worse before they are better. You cannot erect an aesthetic approach to the Mall until you have got rid of the old buildings, and you cannot get rid of the old buildings precisely when you like. You have to wait until certain interests run out; you have to wait until you have an opportunity of purchasing the leasehold and the freehold, and you have to take the property as it falls in. That is the case with all great improvements. You have to seize your opportunity to purchase pieces here and there. I have never known a public improvement in London that has not presented the appearance of a wretched eyesore for years before the new building sprang into existence. My Noble Friend talked about the picture presented by the Mall. Does he remember what the Kingsway looked like 20 years ago when it was a desert and a rubbish heap, Let him go there now, and realise that that desert site, that mass of debris, that hideous eyesore has now been converted into one of the finest thoroughfares in the world. It is paying for itself. It is covering its coat. We had to stand the strain and resist the attacks of critics then as we are doing to-day. We were condemned at election after election. It was said to us, "Look at the money you have squandered over that site. No one will put up a building there, it lies derelict!" Yet now the finest buildings in London are to be found on both sides of the thoroughfare, and the Kingsway and Aldwych stand as a monument to the foresight of the London County Council and its predecessor. I venture to say that the Mall site and many another project of the Council which at the outset has been criticised will in years to come be quoted as monuments of the foresight, wisdom and economy of the London County Council.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that probably the wisest course with regard to the Mall approach is to do what he has just said. I do not think it would be wise from the point of view of economy to rush into the purchase of the buildings required in order to complete the approach to the Mall. With regard to what he has said about the Kingsway, I am not sure that I quite agree with him, because in order to arrive at a correct conclusion one ought to know how much the County Council was out of pocket during the 20 years in which the scheme was being brought to fruition. Of course, all these great improvements are entered into at first with the enthusiastic idea that you are going to improve London and make it a very great city. No doubt in the long run you will, but what concerns the ratepayers mainly is how much it is going to cost, and that is a point of view which the County Council sometimes apparently forgets. The hon. Gentleman commenced his speech by saying he wanted to know what crime the London County Council had committed in order to bring about the vendetta which had been carried on by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson) assisted by my Noble Friend the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon). He suggested that he would do anything he could to bring to an end that vendetta. I am not quite certain that that was not something in the nature of an offer of a bribe. But let me point out to the hon. Member that he stands convicted out of his own mouth, because a little further on he went on to say that the criticism had been effective in bringing about certain improvements. Therefore, although I am not in a position to offer anything in the shape of a bribe to my hon. and learned Friend or anyone else, I hope he will continue his opposition, because it is always useful to instil a certain amount of fear into the London County Council when they come to this House for additional power, and that is done if they know that hon. Members of this House are prepared to criticise their expenditure.The hon. Gentleman also referred to the Allotments Bill at present before the House and suggested that it would put increased expenditure on the London County Council. I have not got a copy of the Bill with me, but my recollection is that its chief feature is to enact that where allotment holders are to be called upon to surrender their holdings, certain notice must be given them, and provision is made for compensation for the loss of crops. There are also powers of compulsory acquisition embodied in the Bill, but it is really an enabling Measure, and I do not think it puts any additional work on the London County Council. Then my hon. Friend went on to support the system of loans. He said that the County Council had found it very advisable to borrow considerable sums and then deal them out to the various local authorities. There again I agree with him. I believe the London County Council can obtain the money cheaper, and in a better way than it could be obtained if the various local authorities themselves went on to the market to borrow. But I hope that when the London County Council has got that money it is careful what it does with it. I was rather reassured by the statement of my hon. Friend that they sometimes refuse loans to the local authorities. As one who has had some experience in dealing with money, I would suggest to them that they had better not lend any of it to Poplar, because, if they do, my belief is they will recover neither principal nor interest.
You are bound to get it from Poplar.
I remember Mr. Burns, when he was in the House many years ago, telling me that the London County Council could borrow money at 2½ per cent. That was perfectly true, but, because they could borrow money at 2½ per cent., he went on to say that they ought to borrow large sums and spend them. That was a very bad thing, and the result was that, instead of borrowing at 2½ per cent., they had to pay more. I hope the hon. Gentleman will impress upon the Finance Committee of the London County Council that, however well they may borrow, they must be careful in not pressing that advantage too far.I now come to the County Hall. The hon. Gentleman said that the County Hall would result in a saving to the ratepayers, because it would concentrate the various offices under one roof. That is exactly the argument which was advanced when, I think some ten years ago, I ventured to say in this House that the London County Council had better abandon their idea of building a great County Hall. That, of course, was before the War, and I freely admit that we must not blame the London County Council for the increased expenditure due to the War. I did venture to point out, however, at that time, when the Council came to this House for authority to build, that it was always an unwise thing to embark in a building speculation, or in building at all. Foolish pen build houses for wise men to live in, and the idea that they could, by concentrating their offices under one roof, obtain an economy was, to my mind, entirely fallacious. They would carry on their business far better if they obtained various offices at a cheap rate—not particularly ornamental offices necessarily; so long as they were convenient for the purpose, that was all that was required. There was the idea which was emphasised by the hon. Gentlemen this evening when he said that, when His Majesty opens the new County Hall next month, he will find a municipal residence fit for the conduct of the business of a great city like this. But what about the ratepayers? It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman and other members of the London County Council, and for the officials, to go into a fine building and be surrounded by everyone, so that on touching a button a messenger appears and you get whomever you want without any further trouble, but that costs money, and the ratepayer, who does not sit in this beautiful building, puts his hand in his pocket and finds that its contents have been considerably diminished in order to enable the hon. Gentleman and other members and officials of the London County Council to sit in a beautiful building. I am against that. I remember that, in the days when I was in business, the more shabby an office was, the more likely the firm occupying it was to be respectable. It was the new firm that was not very sure of its financial position, and wanted to impress everyone with the beauty of its offices, that had all these fine things. If you went into a rather dirty office, and saw the partners sitting in a rather dirty room with a shabby carpet, the conclusion you might draw was that they were respectable people with a good balance at their bank, and that you could trust them in any dealings you might have with them. It is, I think, quite a modern idea that you must be housed in a beautiful building with hot water, electric light, and all those wonderful things—which are very nice, if you can find the money with which to pay for them. 10.0 P.M. I come to the question of the trams. I quite admit that during the War it was very difficult to carry out the necessary improvements. We were not able to maintain our stock and roads in the condition in which we should have if the War had not taken place, and what we had to do was to pay expenses and wait until we had succeeded in saving money for the purpose. Therefore, as far as this £1,000,000 is concerned, if it is all spent in necessary renewals and repairs, I have very little to complain of: but when we come to the question of a further extension of the tramway system, I venture to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I believe the tramway system is played out. It is quite true that 10 or 12 years ago no one ever anticipated that motor omnibuses would be as they are to-day, and, of course, it naturally follows that 30 or 40 years ago, when the trams started, no one ever supposed that there would be motor omnibuses, or that, if there were any, they would be in the efficient state in which they are now. That, however, emphasises the very great disadvantage of putting these things into municipal hands. If the tramways had been in the hands of a private company, there is not the slightest doubt that they would have been run off the roads by a competitive motor omnibus company, to the disadvantage of the shareholders but to the advantage of the public. If anyone said that that was a rather hard on the shareholders in the tramway company, the answer would be—certainly from the Labour Benches, and I should agree—that these people, when they invested their money, took the risk, that if the tramways had not been superseded they would have made a very good thing out of it, but now they must take their loss. In the case of a municipality, however, that does not arise. No member of the municipality—I am not now speaking particularly of the London County Council; this applies to every municipality—would get up and say, "We have made a mistake and we have to cut our loss." In the first place there would be a great outcry of indignation from the ratepayers, who would say the municipality never should have gone into it. The loss has to be met somehow, and it comes out of everyone's pocket, with the consequence that all improvement it stopped. The result of these municipal undertakings is to stereotype the matter, because the municipality dare not go to their electors and say they have lost a large sum of the electors' money and must get rid of the undertaking. Therefore, while sympathising to some extent with the London County Council, I think this is an illustration showing that the less we leave in the future to municipal trading, and the more we leave to individuals, the better. I only want in conclusion to ask one question of the hon. Gentleman. I am not quite certain with regard to the continuation schools of the London County Council. An instance happened to come within my knowledge last year in which a certain boy of 15 or 16 had to go to a continuation school. He was asked what he was taught and he said "Greek."
Can the right hon. Baronet point out the money in this Bill that is dealing with continuation schools?
It is on the Schedule, page 7—Provision of Schools. That is really a waste of money, because Greek would be of no earthly use to him in any kind of way. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will tell me what is going on with regard to continuation schools.
The Council have sent a deputation to the Minister of Education asking to be relieved of their obligation under the. Act of 1918, and I believe the Minister of Education has that under his consideration. It was not a unanimous request of the Council, but the majority have sent it.
If it were only by a majority of one, it would be sufficient for me.
Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put., and agreed to.
Main Question put, and agreed to.
Bill, as amended, considered accordingly; to he read the Third time.