HC Deb 06 June 1828 vol 19 cc1116-21

The report of the committee on this bill was brought up. On the motion, that the amendment be read a second time,

Mr. Astell

contended, that no case had been made out against the present Vestry. After the books for the last twenty-two years had been examined, certain gentlemen had found that more money had been expended than they were pleased to think necessary; but that fact did not at all show that the Select Vestry were unworthy of the confidence of the parish. They were now called on to put an end to a vestry that had been established, by act of parliament, sixty years ago. It had been found necessary, at that time, to have a Select Vestry, on account of the extent of the parish; but if it was necessary then, how much more was it now, when the population had increased to one hundred and twenty thousand persons. What was the nature of the proposition in this bill? Why, that each inhabitant householder rated at 25l. should have a vote in the election of vestrymen. Now, there were in the parish ten thousand rated houses; and would not the House be going too far, in extending so largely the power of such householders? The bill went to overthrow the vested rights of the higher classes of the inhabitants. Many complaints had been made of the vestry: but none of the allegations had been proved; and the duke of Portland had petitioned against the bill. It went to take out of the hands of the present vestry the fulfilment and management of the contracts into which they had entered. They had hitherto carried on the affairs of the parish to the satisfaction of the inhabitants; and no ground had been established to call on parliament to interfere with their management. He should move, as an amendment, "That the report be taken into consideration this day six months."

Sir T. Baring

said, that the hon. gentleman was altogether ignorant of what had passed in the committee, and could not possibly know how far a case had been made out. He was himself acquainted with many members of the Select Vestry, and entertained respect for them individually, while he refused them his confidence as a public body. Their gross extravagance was proved by the fact, that the parish under their management had incurred the enormous debt of 227,000l., although possessed of an income of 150,000l. per annum. But, independently of this mismanagement, he objected to the body, on constitutional grounds. The principle itself was a departure from the spirit of the English constitution. They were invested with powers not granted to any body in the state. They nominated themselves, judged their own cause, and audited their own accounts. How could the hon. member say, that such a system had received the approbation of the inhabitants, in the face of their solemn protest against it? Not to mention other facts against the management of the vestry in 1811, such as the giving of 470l. for a dinner, the parish actually borrowed money in 1814, at the enormous discount of twenty per cent. While they were building a chapel in the parish at a vast expense, an alteration was suggested, which compelled the architect to have a considerable part of it pulled down. It was also proved, that the item of church furniture was not less than 2,000l. For covering the pulpit, the charge was 159l.; for covering the reading desk, 139l.; for the churchwardens' table, and its appurtenances, 166l.; for two chairs, 213l.; for cushions, 100l.; and for the clerk's desk, 261l. They had also purchased colonel Eyre's ground for a watch-house; they paid a large sum, and yet it was not yet appropriated to that purpose. Their rates had increased fifty per cent during the last four years. They wanted to have a picture for the church, and applied to Mr. West, who painted a piece on muslin according to their directions. Although it was to have been a transparency, they made no arrangement for fixing it before the light, and it was in consequence laid aside. This they might have had for 120l., but they gave 800l. To Mr. Rossi, for certain figures, they paid400l. Aggrieved by such extravagance, and oppressed by so mischievous a principle, the parish had had no alternative but to apply for the present bill.

Mr. Ross

said, that the hon. baronet had been misinformed in many of the statements he had made. He had stated the parish debt at 227,000l.; but he had over-looked the fact, that a great part of it consisted of annuities. He had valued those annuities at the price they cost when the money was borrowed, which was 98,000l., when he ought to have made his estimate upon the present value, which would reduce that amount by 30,000l. The amount of the income of the parish he had stated at 150,000l.; but it was in reality, only 110,000l. In one instance, a dinner had been given on a perambulation, but that was the only instance of the kind. With respect to the change from the chapel to the church, the cost to the parish only amounted to 2,000l. If the House thought there had been some unwise expenditure, at least no corrupt motive had been proved. Out of the seventeen members who had voted for this report, nine were not present when the evidence; was given, and of the remaining eight four only had attended a single meeting. He knew that they had said they did not care for the evidence, but that was not the thing he complained of. He denied that the accounts were a secret to the inhabitants. Every respectable parishioner was able to see the accounts of the parish, if he requested to do so.

Mr. Hobhouse

said, that the hon. gentlemen opposite had displayed a very earnest kind of eloquence on behalf of the select vestry, and he was not surprised at it, as they were, in fact, their own clients, being members of that body themselves. He was, however, notwithstanding all that had been said, as much opposed to the principle as ever; being well assured, that such power could never be exercised with satisfaction or advantage to the parish. It was asserted, that none of the allegations against their management were proved; But this he must deny, as several had been so far substantiated as fully to warrant a conclusion against the system generally. He was astonished to hear it asserted, that the inhabitants were satisfied, when it was known that five thousand had petitioned for the bill. Would it be affirmed that they were not parishioners? Although the duke of Portland was not a personal friend to the measure, five hundred of his tenants had given it their support. It was monstrous, that this irresponsible body, possessing a power so abhorrent from the spirit of the British constitution, should be suffered any longer to exist. The vestry said, "It was avowed that this bill, if carried, was only the first of a series of attacks against the system of select vestries generally." He, for one, avowed such an intention, and was about to give his vote in hopes of reforming the general frame of those bodies.

Colonel Baillie

insisted that the grievances complained of were wholly imaginary. The rates were less, on an average of ten years, than they had ever been, and the vestry contemplated a further reduction. The parishioners were in general satisfied with the decisions of the vestry in cases of appeals.

Sir T. Fremantle

contended that the charges against the Select Vestry were unfounded, and had originated in prejudice.

Mr. Hume

denied that the annual revenue of the parish was only 100,000l. In twenty-one years the vestry had col- lected 1,848,000l. The last account stated the revenue at 154,000l. in the preceding year it was 158,000l., and in the year before that 149,000l. This was exclusive of a debt of 227,000l., making the actual expenditure in twenty-one years 2,075,000l. In 1813, the parish agreed to build a church, which was to cost 19,810l., and after it had been erected, even to the cupola, by a vote of seventy-six select vestrymen, it was ordered to be pulled down, and re-constructed at an expense of 75,000l. He put it to the House, whether it was fit that the vast majority of a parish, hostile to such an extravagant vote, should be bound by it. It had been proved also, that 2,152l. had been laid out upon velvet for the altar-piece, and 12,000l. given for the site of St. Mary's church, which had been bought of individuals connected with the vestry. He did not, however, mean to bring forward any charge of corruption. The vestry had a lease of the workhouse from the duke of Portland; and from 1798, to 1827, 79,900l. had been expended upon it. The sum of 27,000l. had also been applied to the erection of a court-house for the meetings of the vestry. The vestry had borrowed money of one of their own body at five per cent., and had refused to take the loan from another party who offered it at only four per cent. These facts shewed that some control over the vestry was necessary. And what was the control provided by the bill? Merely that one-third of the vestry should retire every year; so that a vestryman continued in office for three years: the vacancies were to be filled up from the parishioners, and no man was entitled to vote who was not rated to the extent of 25l. per annum.

Dr. Phillimore

objected to the bill, as he thought such an election annually would be productive of periodical tumult and disturbance, and he did not think any blame attributable to the present vestry.

Sir E. Owen

contended, that, for the sake of the peace and quiet of the parish, it was necessary that the bill should be passed.

Sir T. Baring

said, he was as anxious as any body to avoid the evil of a popular election; and was willing to raise the qualification of a voter to 50l., or even to 100l.

Sir F. Burdett

thought that the objection suggested by the learned doctor, on the ground that an election, such as that proposed, would disturb the peace of the parish, was wholly refuted by the practical effects of the same system in an opulent and extensive parish adjoining. They had there an example to the contrary. There was no annual tumult consequent on the election; but all their proceedings were conducted in the spirit of harmony and concord. The House ought to remember, that there was a large property at stake on the present occasion, and that if wealth, character, and rank, were entitled to consideration, they were arrayed in favour of this measure in the parish. What was the dangerous doctrine against which so much alarm had been excited? Why, a 25l. annual qualification, and this apprehension was urged in a House of Commons as a too strong experiment of free election—a portion of whose members was returned by 40s. freeholders. He did hope, in justice to the parish, in obedience to the dictates of common sense, and in accordance with the general desire expressed on the occasion, that the House would consent to the bill.

The House divided: For the Amendment 105; Against it 88; Majority 17. The consideration of the report was consequently put off for six months.

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