HC Deb 22 February 1825 vol 12 cc614-7
Mr. Fyshe Palmer

rose to move for leave to bring in a bill to empower magistrates at quarter sessions to effect Exchanges between counties of insulated Parcels of Land, for the more convenient administration of justice. To provide a remedy for the inconvenience and perplexity which resulted from having certain parcels of land belonging to particular counties situated at a considerable distance from those counties, was the object of his bill. The best method of prevailing upon persons to apply a remedy was, to prove the existence of the evil. That he would endeavour to do, by stating a few short facts. In the first place he would remind the House that Holy Island, which lay off the coast of Northumberland, did not, as one would naturally suppose from the situation, belong to that county, but to the county palatine of Durham. Another place belonging to Durham, called Crake, was situated in the centre of Yorkshire, fifty miles from the courts of the county of which it was called a part. Its inhabitants voted for members of Parliament for the county of Durham, whilst the assessments for land were made in, and men were raised and embodied for, Yorkshire. In the same way a part of Derbyshire was to be found in Leicestershire: and a part of Huntingdonshire in Bedfordshire. From the town of Oakingham, a tract of land belonging to Wiltshire ran into Berkshire, for about four miles in length. It was, in some places, two miles in breadth, and in others not half a mile; and there was no notorious mark by which the boundaries of the two counties could be defined. In like manner Swallowfield East, and Swallowfield West, both belonging to Wiltshire, were situated in Berkshire. He had the authority of all the magistrates on the Oakingham bench for stating, that the situation of the, three parcels of land which he had mentioned, had for many years produced great inconvenience. He had seen a bill which had been framed with reference to this very subject, by lord-chancellor Hyde, who had resided for some time in the parish of Swallowfield. The bill was drawn up with great accuracy, it enumerated every parish, tithing, and village within the three parcels of land before-mentioned, as well as all the evils which had arisen, or were likely to arise, from their locality, and the remedy which it proposed was, that those three parcels of land should be annexed, for all purposes whatever, to the county of Berks; that all power and jurisdiction over them should be taken from the lord-lieutenant and the magistrates of Wiltshire, and vested in those of Berkshire, with full authority to raise all dues and subsidies, all tenths and fifteenths, and all taxes whatever. The bill also contained a saving clause, guarding the right of every man's inheritance. He would not enter into an inquiry as to whether the divisions of the kingdom were effected under the reign of Alfred—or under that of Offa, or whether the division by tithings.—or by counties, was of the greatest antiquity: but he must say a few words on the constitution of shires, as he thought he could make it appear, that the establishment of those isolated spots in particular counties, which created so much inconvenience, must have been the effect of some overpowering influence, in direct violation of the principle which led to the establishment of county courts, itinerant magistrates, and of the office of high sheriff. He found, from several authorities, that there were three objects proposed to be attained by the constitution of shires. The first was to suit the ease and convenience of the people, because all justice being at that time immediately in the Crown, and administered only where the king was personally present, the increase of population rendered this mode of dispensing justice troublesome. It was therefore ordered, that every shire should have justice administered within itself, by county courts holden monthly to settle disputes between parties, and by sheriffs' courts holden half-yearly, to take cognizance of criminal cases. The second object of the constitution of shires was the more easy conservation of the peace; because the sheriff, being constantly resident in the county, and at a convenient distance from all parts, could without difficulty suppress all tumults, and execute all process. The third was the more easy defence of the country, and to facilitate the raising of, subsidies, and all kinds of taxes. These being the objects proposed to be gained by the constitution of shires, it remained for him to show by what influence these isolated spots which he had before described, could have been established in almost every county, of England. He was of opinion, that they were established by the influence of men of great rank and power, and of the church. Dugdale, in his Warwickshire, speaks of a spot of ground which interfered with his survey, and which he found to belong to the county of Worcester. He ascertained, that this piece of land belonged to the church of Worcester, which, upon the general division of land throughout the kingdom, had influence enough to preserve it, and, ever after, it continued to be taxed as part of that, county. Sometimes those isolated parcels of land had been retained in counties, because they were attached to the seigniories of great noblemen. In Devonshire was a parcel of earldom land which had always been taxed as belonging to the county of Cornwall. In Berks was a piece of land called Twyford, which belonged to Wiltshire, although it was twenty miles from that county: the reason, was, that it constituted part of the possessions of the abbey of Amesbury, in Wiltshire. He knew that the House would be likely to object to any thing like innovation, and therefore he would show a precedent for the measure which he proposed. In 1698, the counties of Ross and Cromarty were, by an act of session, united for all purposes, and have since been considered as one county by almost every act of parliament which had been passed relative to them. In 1740, many changes took place in the geographical situation of the county of Dorset; and a variety of changes had, at different times, been made in counties, by forming several small hundreds into one large hundred, and by dividing large parishes, in order to collect the poor's-rate, more easily. There was one precedent, which he could not omit to mention, because it would have weight with the House as being one of its own measures; he alluded to the act of the 41st of George 3rd, which was passed for the purpose of annexing Malta, to the map of Europe He trusted that the House would not object to the introduction of the bill.

Mr. Secretary Peel

had no intention of opposing the motion; on the contrary, he would give the bill every consideration, although he could not at present pledge himself to support it. As it struck him, there would be some difficulty as to the, detail of the measure. The hon. gentleman, for instance, had not stated what he intended to do as to the elective franchise. Again, what arrangement was to be made with respect to county rates, assessed for works which were already completed, but not paid for? The bill, further, only proposed to give the power of exchange to counties; it was not provided, what a county should do which desired to take, and had nothing to offer in return.

Mr. F. Palmer

said, that with respect to the elective franchise, it would be impossible to make any new arrangement at the eve of a dissolution of parliament. His view was, that no alteration should take place until one year after the next general election. For the matter of county-rate, the sum at stake would be so trivial that it might be easily disposed of.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.