§ Mr. Hume
* I rise, Sir, for the two-fold purpose—first, of calling the attention of the House to the petitions I lately presented from the parish of Mary-le-bone, and from the counties of Stafford and Chester, praying for an alteration in the present mode of assessing, levying and controlling the expenditure of the county-rates; and secondly, to move for leave to bring in a Bill in conformity with the prayers of those petitions, and in pursuance of the notice which I have already given. The object of the Bill is to separate the judicial from the financial affairs of the counties of England and Wales, and to authorize the rate-payers of counties to elect a certain number of representatives to form a County Board for the assessment, levying, and administration of the county-rates, and to perform those duties having reference to the financial expenditure of the counties, now executed by the Magistrates in Quarter-Sessions. At present there is not that sufficient check on the management of the county-rates which there ought to be, and which the ratepayers have a right to demand. This is owing to the inherent defects of the present system—the principle of which is, that those Magistrates who levy and direct the expenditure of the rates are independent of those who pay them. A Commission has been employed in investigating the expenditure of the county-rates, but their inquiries have been confined principally to prosecutions and the expense attendant on them, which have hitherto been defrayed from the county-rates. What I complain of is, that there is no responsibility, attached to any of the Magistrates who have the power of assessing and expending the rates—that there is not that wholesome check and control over the taxes in counties which has been lately extended to the Municipal Institutions of the country. A majority of this House✶ From a corrected Report.681 and of the country has approved of the Bill for allowing the inhabitants of corporate towns and cities to elect persons to control the municipal taxation, and also to recommend Magistrates for their respective cities and towns, and I ask the same privilege for counties. The House is aware that the present mode of managing the county-rates has been investigated before a Committee up-stairs; and the Report of that Committee shows to what extent abuses prevail in the present system. With a view of illustrating the extent of the want of control by the county ratepayers as compared with the municipal rate-payers, I shall read the following statement:
Statement of the Population in the Cities and Boroughs of Great Britain, which send Members to Parliament, the greater number of which recommend their own Magistrates through their Councillors. No. of Cities and Boroughs. Population at the Census of 1831. No. of Electors enrolled 1832. England 185 4,754,742 274,649 Wales 14 196,311 11,319 Scotland 76 865,007 31,322 Great Britain 275 5,816,060 317,290
Total population of Great Britain,16,262,301; number of electors, 720,784; number of county magistrates, 18,984. If the population of the five metropolitan boroughs in which there, are no councils or magistrates elected by them 1,118,725, be deducted from the aggregate of represented cities and boroughs amounting to 5,816,060, there will be only 4,697,335 actually with magistrates of their own recommendation. And if the population of the five boroughs be added to the county population of 10,446,241, the total will be 11,564,966 —namey, the proportion in cities and boroughs, 28,88-100; [proportion in counties, 71,12-100.
Also a Statement of the Population of the Counties where the Magistrates are appointed by the Lord-Lieutenants, the people having no choice or control. No. of Counties. Population at the Census of 1831. No. of Electors enrolled 1832. England 40 8,336,263 344,564 Wales 12 609,871 25,815 Scotland 30 1,500,107 33,115 Great Britain 82 10,446,241 403,494
682 It appears, then, that, in round numbers, there are 11,500,000 inhabitants of counties who have no share in the management of, or control over, the expenditure of county-rates, nor the right to appoint the county officers, or to recommend their magistrates. The chief object I have in. view in bringing forward the present measure is, instead of the irresponsibility which now exists, to give to the ratepayers of counties the same power and control over their local or municipal taxes as is possessed by the inhabitants of corporate towns and cities. I wish to show how unjust it is to have individuals acting as magistrates, who, being named by the Lord-Lieutenant, without any choice on the part of the people, have ample power to take from the pockets of the people any sum for any expenditure they may think proper. It appears, by the evidence given before the Committee on County-Rates in the last Session, that there is no fixed general principle for assessing the rates in counties; that the assessment varies in each county, and very often there are different modes of assessment pursued in the same county. By the Report of that Committee, the valuation on which the rates are collected was made in eighteen counties on the amount of the Property-tax as it was in 1814; in twenty counties the rates are laid on the actual value, or some proportion thereof; in thirteen counties it is not known on what principle the collection is made; and in one county it is agreeable to 12th Geo. 3rd. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to say on what principle the present system rests. It happens in some counties, that large masses of propertyare never assessed for the purpose of local taxation; and while the owners of such property derive equal benefits with the rate-payers from the application, of the county-rates, yet they do not contribute anything towards them. It is, therefore, utterly impossible that justice can be done, whilst inequality in the valuation and assessment prevails to such a degree in separate parishes and in towns. To illustrate this as regards parishes, I would submit a statement of the present assessment of the county of Middlesex. The right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), in introducing his Bill for the establishment of the metropolitan police, was obliged to assume a certain sum for levying the rates in each parish for the support of the police force, I shall read from a parliamentary 683 paper some of the valuations on which the police-rate is levied in the parishes in and about the metropolis. The parishes of Acton contribute on two-thirds of rack-rent; Barnes, on the net value; Battersea, on the full, or rack-rent; Christ Church, Surrey, on two-thirds of ditto; Clerkenwell, on something less than rack-rent; Fulham, on five-sixths of assessment; Greenwich, on four-fiths of rack-rent; Mile-end Old Town, on-three-fourths of assessment; Paddington, on four-fifths of ditto; Penge on 2s. 6d. per 1l. on assessment; Poplar, on seven-tenths of rackrent; Putney, on between three-quarters and seven-eighths of rack-rent; Ratcliff, seven-eighths of rack-rent; St. Anne, Limehouse, on two-thirds small, and four-fifths large houses; St. Anne, Westminster, on four-fifths; and St. Mary, Stratford, Bow, on seven-eighths. Sir, if it had been desirable to devise the greatest possible variety of assessments, the ingenuity of man could not have effected that object to a greater extent than appears from this document to exist in this and the neighbouring county. Inequality also exists in many other counties, though perhaps not to the same extent. Other counties have been called upon to give returns of the mode upon which each of them proceeds in its assessments, but they have not been made, and I cannot, therefore, give further examples. The Police Report states this:—It appears that the assessment on which the county-rate is founded was made, from time to time, by the parish authorities of the respective patishes; that different parishes made the returns in different ways: that in some, the rating empty houses was objected to, and.
|In Liverpool the valuation was||584,687||and||751,126|
|In Bolton District||169,673||and||320,467|
|In Lonsdale, South Side||172,541||and||159,362|
|Ditto North Side||105,655||and||123,000|
§ Shewing that valuations, from time to time, are necessary, if we expect or intend that all kinds of property should contribute equally to the county-rates; and, as another example of the inequality in the valuation of land, and of mills and factories, &c, I find that, in Warwickshire, land pays 107,143l., whilst the mills and factories pay only 2,703l.; and, in Leicester-684
§ in consequence, omitted in the Return to the county; and that, in fact, no clear and general rule prevailed. It is obvious, therefore, that some regulation is required, founded upon some clearly-defined general principle; and some fresh control is required over the alterations which are sometimes made in the Return for the County-rate.✶
In the Report of Committee on County-Rates, Mr. Hinxman states:—
This regulation of valuation becomes necessary from parishes being rated to the poor-rates in very unequal proportions of value; for though it is the duty, interest, and business, of every parish to include all rateable property, and preserve as nearly as possible an equal rate, yet it does not matter to a parish whether its rate is assessed at a high or low value. Hence it may happen that the parish of A. is rated only at one-half its value, that of B. at two-thirds, that of C. at three-fourths, and so on; and, therefore, to found an equal County-rate, all these different proportions of value must be equalized upon one scale, and by this means the County-rate is rendered equal; and it is so easy and simple a mode, that to revise all County-rates, every seven or ten years, would cost a county so trifling a sum, that it is presumed the beneficial effect in rendering a county-rate fair, just, and impartial to all the contributors to it, would amply compensate for entailing upon parishes such cost of revision and equalization.
§ Now, Sir, I think I have succeeded in proving the great inequality that exists in the assessment of parishes; and I shall next call the attention of the House to the great variety there has been in the amount of the valuation. By Act 55th Geo. 3rd, for equalizing county-rates, a Return was ordered. I extract some items from that Return, as follows. In Lancashire the difference was great, viz:—
shire, land pays 108,330l. while mills and factories pay but 783l. I think these examples show that a valuation should be made from time to time, and upon some known and fixed principle, in order that injustice may not be done in the assessments. There is not
✶ Since October, 1833, one uniform plan, has been adopted, omitting unoccupied property.
§ only a great difference in the mode in which these county-rates are raised, but instances have been given of large, populous, and rich places, where no county rates are at all paid. I shall quote an instance given by Mr. Portman formerly a Member of this House. In speaking of the inequality, he says "the town of Weymouth, possessing so much wealth, does not pay 6d. to the county-rate of Dorset—having come into existence since the last valuation for county-rates was made." A stronger case could not be given to show the necessity of an alteration. He further says, that there have been, of late years, forty inclosure Bills passed for inclosures in the county of Dorset, and that these new lands paid no county-rate.
|A Summary of the Expenditure of the County Rates in England and Wales, in 1792 and 1832, or for such year as could be obtained nearest to such period, under the several heads, with the increase and decrease of each.|
|HEADS OF CHARGES.||Expenditure.||Net Increase.||Total Increase per Cent.||Increase per cent.|
|1792.||1832.||In England.||In Wales.|
|2.||Gaols, Houses of Correction, &c.||92,319||177,245||84,926||92||90||156|
|3.||Prisoners, Maintenance of✶||45,785||127,997||81,512||178||170||341|
|9.||Lieutenancy & Militia||16,976||2,116||14,860||88|
|12.||Miscellaneous, Printing, &c.||15,891||59,062||43,173|
|£467,635||Increase 148 per cent.|
|✶ Expended thus: —|
|In 1792.||In 1832.||Increase per Cent.|
|Maintenance before and after conviction||£40,627||£87,798||218|
|Conveyance of prisoners||4,865||25,201||525|
|Conveyance of transports for embarkation||653||14,298||2,383|
§ Many places claim, in the same way, exemption from county-rate.
§ The county-rates have increased to an enormous extent within the last few years. As a proof of this I would refer the House to a statement made in the Appendix of the Report of a Committee of the House of Lords on the subject in 1834. In that Report there is a comparative statement showing the increase which has taken place in a number of items of county expenditure, between the years 1792 and 1832 to be so very large, that I am sure hon. Members will see the necessity of putting some limits to the expenditure. It is as follows:—687
§ I shall now proceed to examine some of the items in this table. With preference to County Lunatic Asylums, I cannot help observing that, after the excellent mode in which the Poor-Law Bill has worked, it would be better to place these asylums under the control of the Commissioners of Poor-laws, than leave them to the management at Quarter-Sessions. I think, also, that every prison in the country should be placed under the control of the Crown, and under one uniform system of management, and that the expenses of the prisons should be defrayed by the public at large, and not out of the county-rates. By such arrangement the expense of the county would be materially diminished, and a much better system than prevails at present would be adopted. I would, however, state, that the counties should pay the expense of apprehending, keeping, and bringing the prisoner to trial, but that
|COUNTY.||ASSIZES, 1832.||SESSIONS, 1832.|
|No. Tried.||Expense.||Expense. per Head.||NO. Tired.||Expense.||Expense. per Head.|
|Average of 13 counties||67 6–13||1654||6||0||24||0||17||303 7–13||2508||5||9||8||5||3|
I find that many of the witnesses before the Lords' Committee agree in opinion with me in that respect. In the Lords' Report, page 73, Lord Wharncliffe is asked—
What may be the probable effect of throwing the expense of prisons on the general fund of the country?—I should rather prefer the prisons being in the hands of some responsible officer of Government than in the hands of the magistrates. I think it would not be desirable to put all the expense of bringing the prosecution and the management of it on the country, but that, after he is convicted, the prisoner should be handed over to the Government, to be dealt with according to his sentence. I
§ when tried, they should be under the management and at the expense of the Crown. It would be highly useful to establish local courts for the trial of offenders, by which reat expense and trouble would be saved. The expense of trying a person at the Assizes, on the average of thirteen counties, has been 24l. 7s. while the average at the sessions, in the same counties, is only 8l. 5s. 3d. The establishment of local courts sitting periodically, would not only save the difference of this expenditure, but would also effect a material saving in the sustenance of the prisoners for months before they could be brought to trial. I shall now submit to the House the whole of the statement just alluded to, of the relative expense charged on the county rates, for prosecutions at Assizes, and for prosecutions at Sessions in the year 1832, in thirteen counties in England and Wales, taken at random. The statement runs thus:—
would introduce a more uniform mode of prison discipline than there is now.
Would you propose the management of the prisons to be under the control of Government?—Yes; but I give that merely as opinion.
§ From this statement, the House will at once perceive how superior would be the advantage, and how great the saving, of trying all cases before local courts, sitting periodically, instead of keeping them for three, five, or six months, for the assizes. The statement of expenditure under the three great heads of bridges, gaols, and prosecutions, in five counties, taken at random, in 1792 and 1832, stands respectively thus;689
|Total expenditure in five counties||3000||8975||8849||34101||590||16704|
|Showing an increase per cent.||199||284||2371|
§ Again, of late years, the expense of county officers of all descriptions has been very much increased. The increase per cent, in the salaries of various county offi-
|COUNTIES.||Treasurers.||Chaplains.||Surgeons.||Surveyors.||Goals.||Governors of H. of Correction.|
My own opinion is, that the duties of treasurer in particular might be most efficiently fulfilled by any banker in the county, and thus the whole expense of that officer be saved. The evil is aggravated still more by the practice which I have so often condemned—namely, that of paying officers by means of fees, whilst, in the view I take, the officers ought, in all cases, to be remunerated by a fixed salary. I hope I shall not tire the House by referring to one or two authorities on this subject. The county-rates in England and Wales have much increased; in 1792 they were 315,805l., in 1832, 783,441l. In 1792, the county rates of Middlesex amounted to 39,832l, and in 1832 they had increased to the enormous sum of 77,772l. In the parish of Mary-le-bone, the county-rates have been 9,654l. annually on the average of the five years, 1830,1831,1832,1833, and 1834. There have been large increases in the same period in the county rates of Leicester, Essex, and Nottingham. The Duke of Richmond in February, 1834, said—
Before moving for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the subject of country-rates, I wish to trouble the House with a few words. Your Lordships are doubtless aware, that within the last few years, the county-rates of England have greatly increased, not only in consequence of the provisions of various Acts which have been passed from time to
§ cers, from 1792 to 1832, in five counties taken at random, will appear from this Table:—
§ time, but very possibly from other causes, into which, I think, at the present moment, your Lordships will not deem it desirable for me to enter. His Majesty's Government have for some time past turned their attention to this subject. It appears that during the past year another increase to a considerable amount has taken place in the local taxation of England and Wales; and under these circumstances it appears very desirable that a Committee of your Lordships' House should be appointed."
I have here the testimony of several other persons to the same effect; but I shall trouble the House only with Mr. Robinson's opinion. He says, pages 142 to 145, that—
The great evil in the county-rate revenue department, is the irresponsibility of those who disburse the money of the rate-payers A better control, by a smaller and more responsible body than the court of Quarter-Sessions. Accounts should be paid quarterly, and regularly audited, &c.
Now, Sir, it is upon that very principle I make my proposition to the House, with this difference, that I propose the appointment of responsible officers by the ratepayers. I am sure no hon. Member can look at the statistics I have read, and not admit that great abuses arise from the present system, which I am convinced cannot be removed except by a complete alteration in the law. I therefore submit
that the judicial and financial affairs of every county should be separated. The financial affairs should be committed to the management of a County Board, composed of a certain number of persons elected by the rate-payers of the county or their representatives; the existence of such Boards being limited, say to three years. This Board should, immediately upon their powers and election being verified by the Sheriff, proceed to elect a chairman, and then to appoint the county officers. The county magistrates should be permitted to exercise no interference whatever in levying or expending the rates. Every county might be divided into districts, and each district might select a certain number of members for the County Board. I would propose that the County Board, so selected by the rate-payers, shall recommend to his Majesty a number of persons to be elected magistrates for provincial and police matters, as in the Municipal Corporations. The judicial business of the county might, for the present, be left to the Lord-Lieutenant, and the justices of the county appointed by him. The adoption of such a plan as I suggest, would produce the good effect of dealing out equal justice to the county constituency, with that which has been dealt out by the Municipal Bill to the town constituencies. Lord Wharncliffe says that—
All the financial business of the county (West Riding of the county of York) is done at one time of the year, and upon one day in the year. I do not mean to say, that if the business to be done is of great extent, it may not be carried on to another day, but that the business is advertised, and always begins at a certain hour on a certain day at the Easter Sessions, that day is the Wednesday in the sessions week. The first step that is taken after the meeting of the Court on the Monday at Pomfret, is the appointment of a finance committee. The finance committee proceed immediately to call upon the treasurer for his accounts; and his accounts are audited and prepared for us on the Wednesday. Notes are taken by the committee of any charges they may think improper to be brought before the whole body of magistrates to be inquired into.
Sir William Cosway, a magistrate, says:—
In the county of Kent, we have no committee of accounts; the whole is submitted annually to the body of magistrates. I think it would be infinitely better if a committee were appointed—say three, or, at the utmost, five; I believe three would be better, because, with 50 large a body, there is not anything like
individual responsibility; and, according to the old doctrine, what is everybody's business is nobody's business. Those three gentlemen would be aware that the eyes of the county were upon them; and if there were found to be any excess or abuse of expenditure, that would come home to them. The habit in Kent is, that some time in June, the commission day of the summer assizes, a week before certain gentlemen do meet at Maidstone, but it is more as auditors of accounts than comptrollers or superintendents of expenditure.
Mr. M. H. Courts, in a letter of 17th April, 1836, says:—
Under the order of the Court of Quarter-Sessions for the county of Berks, in 1825, the treasurer has, since that period, published in the county papers, quarterly abstracts of his receipts and disbursements; but in such publications, which have superseded the annual abstract required by 55th George 3rd, cap. 51, the treasurer has rarely made any entry of balances of cash in his hands, so that the ratepayers have had no opportunity of determining for themselves the fitness of the assessments made upon them, nor the accuracy with which such detailed accounts have been presented to them.
Sir Thomas Fremantle, in a speech on county-rates, August 10th, 1836, on the vote moved for Government paying half the expenses of criminal proceedings, said:—
I am one of those who deny that the magistrates look after the local expenses of counties to the extent they ought to do. They do a great deal I allow, but still not so much as I wish. A public officer ought to be sent down to superintend the management of the county funds, and the arrangement would introduce great economy, and an uniform system into the counties.
§ As the plan I propose gives a sufficient control over the finances, and also an appeal to the Secretary of State, if the representatives of the County Board should exceed their power, and likewise will establish a complete representative system, I am at a loss to know upon what grounds any Gentleman can oppose it. But, Sir, I may be asked how I intend to conduct the affairs of this Financial Board during the intervals of its sittings? I propose that the Board, when assembled, should appoint an exclusive Committee, who shall be held responsible for the administration of the financial and police affairs of the county, and the members of which I would pay for their time and trouble, if necessary. It may be said that the Poor-law Unions would answer the purpose, but to that I am opposed for several reasons— 693 first, because the Poor-law Unions ought to be an inferior Board, and subservient to this Board, which should be paramount in the county; secondly, because the unions are formed from different counties; and I have yet a stronger objection in the fact, that the guardians of the poor are elected by a plurality of votes:—a variable qualification at the will of the Poor-law Commissioners, who are appointed by the Crown, and thus county affairs may be influenced by the Poor-law Commissioners and by the Crown. Besides, unions are not yet established over half the country; and my wish is to extend the operations of the now proposed measure over the whole country at once. The country is anxious for the change, and I trust that there will be no opposition to its being carried into effect. I therefore move for leave to bring in a Bill "To separate the financial from the judicial affairs of the counties in England and Wales, and to authorise the rate-payers in counties to choose representatives to form a County Board for the assessment, levying, and administration of the county-rates and financial affairs of counties in England and Wales.
§ Mr. Wyse
could not but congratulate his hon. Friend, the Member for Middlesex, on his having brought forward such a measure as that which he had just moved for leave to introduce, which appeared to be in some measure founded upon the Irish Grand Jury Bill. It would be remembered that when some time ago a similar measure was introduced, it was said it could not be carried into effect. Since then the Municipal Corporation Acts had demonstrated the sense which the Legislature had of the importance of giving to the borough rate-payers control over their local affairs. And he rejoiced at seeing this measure introduced, as it seemed to be the first step towards extending that principle to the counties. He trusted that when it had been found applicable to England, it would not be long ere it was extended to Ireland also.
§ Mr. Eardley Wilmot
Sir, I do not object in the slightest degree to the proposition of the hon. Member for Middlesex, as it goes to exonerate the county magistrates from a portion of the onerous and painful duties which they now have to perform. With respect to the inequality of the rates in various counties, on which the hon. Member has dwelt at some length I must observe that it does not appear to 694 me to be applicable to the present question; because the magistrates at present have no control over that subject. With respect to the salaries, &c. and the other branches of county expenditure referred to, all these have been considered before the County Rates Committee; and to the abuses at present existing, all the remedies suggested by the hon. Member have been proposed. But what I wish principally to observe is this; that I do not think the hon. Member has gone far enough; for I fear much that if you take away from the magistrates their financial control, you will find considerable difficulty in getting them to attend to their judicial duties. In my own county I can speak from experience, for on the first day of the Sessions, when financial matters are to be settled, there are usually from thirty to forty magistrates present; but on the next and following days, though perhaps there may be 150 prisoners to try, I can often with difficulty obtain the presence of a second magistrate; and if I refer in any case of difficulty to any magistrate present for his opinion, the answer usually got is, "Decide it yourself; you know much more about it than I do." I think, therefore, the Bill of the hon. Gentleman should be carried further, and that, as he has in what he now proposes copied the measure of municipal reform, he should copy it to the extent of appointing a County Recorder, to be nominated and paid by the Crown, who shall be a Barrister of not less than ten years' standing, and who shall preside at Quarter Sessions, and at other intermediate Sessions, for the trial of offences. And I think that he should not only sit at Quarter Sessions, but should sit in various parts of the county. For the fact is, that if you separate the financial and the judicial functions, you will find great difficulty in getting the magistrates to attend to the onerous and invidious duty of punishment only. With respect to what the hon. Member has suggested as to the appointing of county magistrates, by recommendation from the County Board, there can be no objection to that, if the persons so recommended are from their property, education, and other circumstances, fit to be elected to the magisterial office. If, as I understand, this Bill provides no qualification whatever, I confess I see great difficulty in effecting that object. At the same time I must protest against any charge being expressed against the county magistrates; for I do not think that under 695 the present system justice could be administered better; though I think it may be administered much cheaper. I can only say for my own part I court the most perfect responsibility; and I think this Bill ought to be introduced, that it may be brought into such a shape as may give universal satisfaction.
§ The question carried: Bill to be brought in.