HC Deb 12 December 1837 vol 39 cc1028-32

Mr. Hume moved for leave to bring in a Bill to establish councils for the better management of the county-rates in England and Wales. The hon. Member said, that the Bill was very similar to the one which he introduced last Session, the object of which was, however, much misapprehended by many Gentlemen who then opposed it. It had been objected to his former Bill that he wished to interfere not only with the financial, but also with the judicial powers of the county magistrates. So far from this being the case, he had been most anxious to draw a distinction between the financial and judicial functions of the magistrates. His object was, to place the counties of England and Wales, with respect to their expenditure, in a similar situation with the boroughs. He did not propose that Members of boards of guardians should be elected to assist the magistrates in the financial affairs of the county.

Colonel Wood

said, that the Bill of last year was not confined solely to the financial affairs of the county, but interfered with the judicial powers of the magistrates. The county was to be divided into districts, in each district there was to be a paid committee, and a person very much resembling the mayor of a corpora- tion was also introduced. That Bill was rejected by a great majority of Gentlemen on both sides of the House. The hon. Member rejected the suggestion of last year that members of the boards of guardians should be elected to assist the magistrates in the appropriation of the county-rates. If, however, any interference were necessary, he thought that, perhaps, the least objectionable arrangement would be, that the board of guardians should depute some of its members to assist the magistrates in the distribution of the rates. But it was his opinion that so great a change as the one proposed in the expenditure of the county-rates ought not to be introduced by any one hon. Member, but that her Majesty's Ministers ought to take up the subject. They ought to take upon themselves the responsibility of proposing to the House what they might think desirable to be adopted, and if they did so, they would of course take care and confine their measure strictly to the financial concerns of the county, and prevent the possibility of the present judicial arrangements being interfered with. He certainly objected to the introduction of the Bill, at the same time he should not do anything so uncourteous as to divide the House against it.

Lord John Russell

did not intend to oppose the introduction of the Bill; at the same time he was very sorry to hear from the hon. Member that not only the object of the Bill, but a great number of its details, were nearly similar to the Bill of last year. He certainly was in hopes that the hon. Gentleman would have somewhat modified his views, in consequence of the opposition which his former Bill met with. He did not object to the principle of the present Bill, so far as proposing to give to the rate-payers some control over the expenditure of the very large sum of money that came under the head of county-rates. If they looked, on the one hand, to the immense increase of the rates since 1790 and on the other hand, at the decrease that had taken place within the last four or five years in the amount of the poor-rates, he thought it was very natural that a wish should be expressed that that part of the expenditure of the county should be subject to the greater control of those who had to bear the burden than was now obtained. But he owned that the hon. Gentleman did not judge wisely, whatever might be the pro- priety or goodness of the principle of the Bill in introducing so many provisions in a measure conferring this control, and which seemed to him might be given by very simple means. If, therefore, he found that the opinion of the House was the same as last year with respect to the hon. Gentleman's Bill, he should be disposed to ask leave to introduce a Bill having the same object in view, but proposing to obtain that object by the most simple possible means. He would not say, at present, that there ought to be n election of persons from the board of guardians; at the same time it was a machinery that was ready to be applied, and which certainly offered considerable advantages. At all events he should propose to limit himself to this—that a certain number of members of the board of guardians should be elected, in order to meet and consult with the Finance Committee of magistrates on the subject of the expenditure of the county, and he should propose to give them only the same power, and exactly the same power, which was now exercised by the magistrates with regard to the finances of the county. From the outline of the Bill of the last Session it seemed necessary that many offices of different kinds should be created which would necessarily have led to an increase of county-rates. He thought that any Bill on this subject should be of the simplest kind; that it should give to the rate-payer some power in matters of finance, but that it should extend to them no other part of the authority now vested in the magistracy. The question as to their judicial power was an entirely different subject, and ought to be kept separate from that question. If leave were given to the hon. Member for Kilkenny to bring in this Bill, he would state to the House the course which he would pursue. If the Government thought that the object of the Bill ought to be carried into effect, it would be the duty of Ministers to endeavour to attain the object by introducing a Bill. As to the hon. Member's Bill of the last Session, he did not attend the second reading, partly owing to the fatigues of the heavy debate which had lasted during the two previous nights, and partly because, after giving every consideration to the subject, he did not clearly see any means of carrying out the clauses of the Bill, even if it had been read a second time; and he thought it scarcely adapted to the end which the hon. Member had in view. He would sit down, assuring the hon. Gentleman that he had done good service to the House and to the country, by bringing forward that subject. He was sorry, however, that he could not agree in the present Bill so far as to adopt its provisions, but if the hon. Member did not consent to adopt a different machinery, he should feel it incumbent upon him to introduce a much simpler measure.

Mr. Aglionby

was sure that it would be as satisfactory to the country as it was to himself to find that the noble Lord agreed in the principles of this Bill, for there was not one principle to which he had not given his sanction. The great principle of the Bill was to give the rate-payers a voice in the election of the persons who were to disburse the rates, and to allow some control over the power of expenditure. The hon. Member for Lincoln was in error if by his denial he meant to intimate that this Bill interfered with the judicial power of the magistracy. All it did was to vest the financial power in the hands of aboard. The noble Lord had said that the provisions of this Bill would lead to great expense, and if the noble Lord could suggest any more simple machinery, he (Mr. Aglionby) would be exceedingly glad: he feared, however, that the noble Lord would experience great difficulty in so doing. If the present Bill were brought in, the noble Lord would not be precluded from bringing in a better Bill. He strongly supported the object of the present Bill, and though he might think that some of the details could be amended, he was convinced that some measure was necessary to cure the great evils and the most gross expenditure which had formerly taken place. He alluded to the period when the quarter sessions met with closed doors, and when no power was given to the rate-payers to know the application of the money, and when, therefore, there was no control. This system had been altered, however, in many counties through the good sense and wise conduct of the magistracy, who had thrown open the doors, and had thus been the means of effecting great saving in different counties.

Mr. Ayshford Sanford

was glad that the Government intended to take up this question, because he feared that the Bill as it stood last year, instead of decreasing, would have had the effect of increasing' the county-rates. His opinion was, that the ratepayers ought to have a control over the expenditure, and he further thought that in the board of guardians they had a machinery ready made to hand for their purpose. The board might select some member of its body to mix with the magistrates, and assist in regulating the financial affairs of the county. He believed that such a proposal would give satisfaction to the country, and that they could give all the necessary power to the rate-payers without harassing the country with another class of elections; and on the whole he thought that the subject was better in the hands of the Government than of any individual Member of the House.

Leave given.