HC Deb 31 March 1828 vol 18 cc1376-9
Sir F. Burdett

said, he had been intrusted with a Petition from about five thousand most respectable inhabitants of St. Mary-le-bone, in favour of the bill before the House, for opening the Select Vestry of that Parish. It complained, that that body was self-elected; that funds were raised under its authority by rates of different kinds, to the amount of about 200,000l. a-year, and that, within a comparatively few years, the poor-rates had been augmented between 50 and 60 per cent. It prayed that the accounts of the Select Vestry might be open to inspection; and set forth that, besides the annual rates, the parish, under the superintendence of the Select Vestry, had incurred a debt of 230,000l. The evil was in the system of Select Vestries generally, and it was certainly a most disgusting and absurd principle, that a whole parish should be taxed by those in whose election they had had no voice.

Mr. Astell

hoped, that the House would suspend its judgment, until both sides had been heard. The affairs of the parish of Mary-le-bone were managed in a way to give general satisfaction; and for fifty or sixty years, the Select Vestry had enjoyed the confidence of the inhabitants, until certain persons assumed the existence of abuses they could not establish. With regard to the bill before the House, the Select Vestry had at first intended to introduce a measure, but abandoning that design, it was taken up by certain inhabitants, who put up notices accordingly, which had been held sufficiently to comply with the Standing Orders of the House. The forms of the House had not, however, been satisfied in the Committee on the bill; since the order of reference required the attendance upon it of four members besides the Chairman; yet the only person present on that occasion, was an hon. alderman opposite (Wood). One member of the Committee had been absent from London during the whole time. The second reading also had been got over in a very extraordinary manner; for, although it was known that the measure would be opposed, it was hurried through that stage before four o'clock. There was, in fact, no ground of complaint against the Select Vestry of Mary-le-bone, and as to the increase of the poor-rates, such had been the case all over the metropolis. The population of this principality rather than parish, was not less than one hundred and twenty thousand, and the rates were upwards of 100,000l. The outcry was, that while other rates were diminishing, the poor-rates were increased; but, on the whole, no parish was so well off. Its affairs were managed by one hundred and twenty three vestrymen, at the head of whom was the duke of Portland, and at the bottom of the list the humble tradesman. He (Mr. Astell) had only belonged to this body for a short time; but he knew that the vestry-men paid daily and hourly attention to their duties, and that their services were most beneficial.

Mr. Hobhouse

said, he had presented the original petition for the bill, and he had the high authority of the Speaker for saying, that there was nothing informal or irregular in the proceeding. When the hon. gentleman said, that no complaint could be made against the Select Vestry, he seemed to have forgotten the very petition before the House, by which it appeared that five thousand inhabitants thought they had serious ground of charge. He knew also perfectly well, that the whole parish was in a state of ferment and discontent, from the conviction that a total change was necessary in the management of its affairs. But even if its affairs were well managed, that was no reason why rates should be imposed by men who were not in any way responsible: it was enough if it were alleged, that the parishioners were refused the opportunity of looking into the accounts. He hoped the subject would be thoroughly investigated. Let both parties have a fair trial, and he had no doubt the result would be a change in the management of the affairs of the parish.

Colonel Baillie

contended, that there was no pretence for the charges contained in the petition of the inhabitants. The number present at the meeting where the petition of the Vestry had been agreed to, was, he believed eighty, and it was signed by all who were not members of parliament. Into the merits of the case he should be happy to commence a full and fair examination, being satisfied that the result would be a decision, that the grievances were entirely imaginary. The increase in the poor-rates was not attributable to mal-administration, but to the influx of Irish paupers into the parish, who had been clothed and fed by the Vestry.

Mr. Hume

said, that nine out of ten of the parishioners were dissatisfied with the present state of things in the parish. Even the Select Vestry was not unanimous against the bill, several being in favour of opening the Vestry, and the inspection of the accounts by the parishioners at large. He had no hesitation, in stating, that all the allegations in the petition would be established, in evidence before the committee.

Mr. Alderman Wood

justified his conduct as chairman of the committee, and complained of the manner in which an hon. gentleman, one of the Select Vestry, had gone about canvassing members for their votes, previous to the second reading of the bill, contending that such conduct was unbecoming and indecent. He had not moved the second reading in any haste, nor until he was called upon by others to proceed.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

supported the petition on the principle, that no man had a right to tax another without granting an inspection of the accounts, to show that the tax was justly imposed. He had had some experience on this subject, having himself sustained the expense of a proceeding against a select vestry, by whom houses were most unequally rated. The fact was, that the whole business of the parish was managed by a junto.

Mr. Dawson

observed, that the question of select vestries was one which ought at all times to attract much interest. It was often impossible to control their expenses: parishes, in many cases, being entirely at the mercy of a few individuals. Whether in the metropolis, select vestries did more harm than good, he was not prepared to say, but in no case ought the vacancies to be supplied by the remaining members; and a control over the expenditure ought to be exercised by the parish at large. The existing regulations pressed most severely upon all classes, but especially upon shopkeepers: and an alteration in the system of paving and lighting seemed absolutely necessary, as thousands at present were taxed without limitation or inquiry, He was satisfied that the result of the investigation would be, that some restriction should be placed on the enormous power now exercised by the Vestry. In his view, the prayer of the petition was proper and reasonable.

Ordered to lie on the table.

Forward to