§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [13th February], "That the Bill be now read a Second Time." Question again proposed. Debate resumed.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
rose for the purpose of moving as an Amendment the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the present mode of levying and expending the county rate in England and Wales. He considered it absolutely necessary, before proceeding to deal with so important a subject, that full and complete inquiry should be previously made. It was his wish to approach the discussion of the Bill in the fairest spirit. He admitted a great many petitions had been presented in favour of it; but what he felt was, that a bonâ fide inquiry into the subject was an essential preliminary in dealing with so difficult a matter. If it could be shown that the financial business of the counties, as conducted by English gentlemen, could be better managed by a board more popularly constituted, he should be most happy to give his consent to a change of that kind; but he was not prepared to assent to a Bill which was most objectionable, not only in all its details, but, as he conceived, in its principle also. He was certainly surprised that the noble Lord at the head of the Government, on a former day, deviating from his usual caution, without having heard a word of the discussion on the subject, should pledge himself to consent to the second reading of the Bill. Upon a subject of so much importance, he could not but think that if any change were to be made, such alteration ought to be effected with the responsibility of the Government rather than upon that of a private individual. The real origin of the present Bill was not to be found in any real love of constitutional theories, but in a mere local squabble in the county of Lancaster, among the large towns, with respect to a lunatic asylum. In order to support the Bill, a case of great grievance had been attempted to be made out for the county in which the Bill originated. Now what were the facts of the case with respect to county rates in Lancashire? In the year 1824 the amount 818 of county expenditure was 80,00l., and in 1848 only amounted to 87,000l. for the same items of expense, being an increase of only 7,000l., notwithstanding the enormous increase both in wealth and population of the county. But out of that 87,000l., so raised in 1848, the county had received back from the Consolidated Fund no less than 27,000l., so that the ratepayers had actually contributed but 60,000l., for what cost them 80,000l. in 1824. Again, in 1825, the amount of rate imposed was 74,800l., in 1849, 77,430l., being an increase of only 2,600l., of which not less than 31,000l. was for the charge of the county police, a sum considerably exceeding that paid back from the Consolidated Fund for cost of prosecutions. Large sums had been expended in the county of Lancaster and other counties for building and improving county lunatic asylums, and in carrying out other prison improvements, directed by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department; and it was thus that the apparent increase above the sums he had mentioned bad arisen in the last few years. Was it right or fair that the discharge of these duties by the county magistracy should be made a matter of inculpation and blame upon those who had only acted in the strict performance of their duty? The right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon had stated a few days since that in the county of Cumberland, with which he was connected, the county rates had diminished since 1822 not less than 40 per cent. He was not aware whether, in that reduction, credit was taken for the amount returned from the Consolidated Fund. [Sir J. GRAHAM stated that he had taken credit for that amount.] That, however, did not amount to 40 per cent of the county rates, and there had therefore been a reduction to some extent in the county rates of Cumberland. Now, he would show by reference to the county of Worcester, with which he (Sir J. Pakington) was connected, that even if new boards were elected, they would have little or no power over the county expenditure. The county expenditure of Worcestershire in 1849 was 27,000l. in round numbers. The expenses of the gaols were 5,200l., conveying prisoners to gaol 575l, cost of prosecutions 5,500l. Over neither of these items could the newly-elected board have any control. The expense of the office of the clerk of the peace was about 1,000l. This expense was incurred for services required 819 to be performed by Act of Parliament—preparing lists of voters and other things. The expense of the coroner's office was 1,500l. Over this the hoard could exercise no control. The cost of bridges was 580l., interests on the debt for the Shire Hall, 2,000l., and there remained only the cost of the county police, amounting to 7,800l., a portion of which he thought ought, as in the case of Ireland and of the metropolis, to be borne by the Consolidated Fund. But, in his opinion, nothing would be more injudicious than to give the control of the police to any varying and elective hoard. He had shown, therefore, he trusted, so far as he had already gone, that due economy was exercised by the existing machinery; that no grievances existed; and he would now proceed to show that even if any grievances did exist, this Bill, if passed, would not afford any remedy. It was suited for the county of Lancaster, and for that county only. There were twenty-seven unions in the county of Lancaster, and no detached bits of unions as there were in some other counties. The board there, under the new Bill, would consequently consist of 27 elected justices and 27 elected guardians, who would supersede a body of 450 magistrates. In the county of Worcester there were twelve unions, that is, twelve centres of unions; but there were also several detached bits of unions. They had four cases in which there were three Worcestershire parishes belonging to unions in other counties; they had two cases in which there were two Worcestershire parishes belonging to unions in other counties; and there were three cases where there was a single Worcestershire parish belonging to a union in another county. How, then, would this Bill operate? Those detached bits of unions were also to elect magistrates and guardians; but they must be magistrates of the county to which those parishes or bits of unions were attached. The consequence would be, in the four cases where there were three detached parishes, that although those detached parishes could each elect guardians, they would not be able to elect magistrates, for they would have no magistrates of the county in which the board was to act, to elect. In the three cases where there was a single parish, the guardian there, whoever he might be, must every year elect himself to be a member of the county board. The state of things he had described would destroy the equality: they could not have an equal number of 820 guardians and magistrates. They must have a greater number of guardians, for there were places where they could have no magistrates, there being no magistrate of the county in those districts. There was another objection. He would venture to give a union in Worcestershire, in which there were resident four magistrates, who from their abilities and habits ought not to be off any county board. They could not be well dispensed with, and it would be an injustice to deprive the county of their services; but under this Bill it would be impossible to choose more than one of them, and the others must be set aside, and magistrates elected from a different part of the county, who from habits and qualifications were not so fit to be members of the board. He would give the House another illustration of what would be the effect of the Bill. If the inequalities he had pointed out were corrected by not allowing such detached bits of unions to elect representatives, he would show that in the county of Worcester, with twelve unions, there would be twelve magistrates and twelve guardians; and see what an injustice that would be when there were 170 to 180 magistrates in the county. He considered the magistrates were, in the first place, the largest ratepayers; and, in the next place, he contended that their tenants did not pay the rate. Each occupier had but a small rate, and he maintained that directly, as well as indirectly, the magistrates were the largest ratepayers. That being the case, would it be just in the county of Worcester to supersede nearly 180 magistrates, and supply their places on the board by the election of twelve small ratepayers? What had happened in the county of Gloucester only last year? A question arose about the reduction of salaries; and what would be the result if small ratepayers were to settle the question? But 120 persons who paid a largo portion of the rates came together, watched the inquiry with the greatest anxiety, and decided the question with great deliberation. The duties of the magistrates of England were never discharged with more care and economy than now: there was a finance committee in every county, and every transaction regarding the public expenditure was carried on under Act of Parliament in open court. He thought he was making the fairest possible proposal, when he asked them to go upstairs, and there, in a Select Committee, have a bonâ fide inquiry on the subject. 821 Let them beware how they tampered with the existing state of things, or superseded the present men by a measure of this kind. Let not the House be carried away by the fallacy which many gentlemen were affected by, that the magistrates exercised an irresponsible and arbitrary power. It was not so. The magistrates could not arbitrarily impose taxation under the powers given them by the Act of Parliament. They had certain duties to discharge, and to enable them to carry out those duties, they had power to raise money, but that power was exercised in open court, and limited by statute. He did not say that no improvement could be made in the present system. He dared say, that if they went into Committee, an improved mode of auditing public accounts might be adopted, and means also taken to give increased facilities for the inspection of the public accounts. Though he could not sanction the second reading, he was willing to go into an inquiry on this subject, and he warned the House how they tampered with the present system of voluntary exertion.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the present mode of levying and expending the County Rate in England and Wales, with a view to ascertain whether any more satisfactory mode of levying the said rates, and of giving to the ratepayers more effectual control over their expenditure, can be adopted,'
§ instead thereof.
§ MR. W. PATTEN
expressed his regret that, from the manner in which the Amendment was framed, his hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich would not allow him to vote with him now as he did last year, when he proposed that this subject should be referred to a Select Committee. In a great deal of what he had said he entirely agreed; but the House had already ox-pressed its opinion on the principle of the measure, namely, that the county ratepayer should have some control over the county expenditure. However, he would be ready to join with his hon. Friend so far as an attempt to amend this Bill, for he thought there was a great deal of it which was most objectionable. His hon. Friend had stated that the feeling regarding this measure in Lancashire had been caused by a county squabble with regard to two lunatic asylums. He believed that circumstance had added a little to the feeling on 822 the subject in the county of Lancaster; but it was not the origin of the feeling, which existed not only in Lancashire, but elsewhere, with regard to the control of the county expenditure. As to the conduct of the magistrates of the county of Lancaster, he had himself been ready to give an explanation of it, and to defend them from many of the misrepresentations which had been made of their proceedings; but the hon. Baronet had himself relieved him from this task. The feeling in Lancashire with respect to this question originated in a great measure from a sense of injustice as to the way in which the county rates were collected. In that he agreed, for the present system of collecting the county rate was not founded upon a strict principle of justice. The rate was levied immediately upon the occupying tenant, and included expenses with which the occupying tenant ought not to be saddled. It included permanent improvements—for instance, bridges, and several other buildings. He had lately met several of the ratepayers of Lancashire, by one of whom his attention was called to the subject of county bridges. He asked him (Mr. Patten) if it were not too bad that he should have to pay for a bridge in the neighbourhood, when he only held for two years, and the entire sum for that bridge had been laid on the rates for one year. As to the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, he was sorry that he could not give it his full accordance. He would vote for the second reading of it, simply on this ground, that it recognised the principle that the ratepayers should have some control over the expenditure; but he reserved to himself the right to give expression to his disapprobation of a great portion of the Bill. One of his objections was, that the very abuses to which he had alluded were not provided against by this measure. The great body of ratepayers were occupiers, who would, of course, elect persons on the board to represent their own interests; and when a question came to be decided with regard to the erection of a large public building in the county, or the carrying out of any other improvement of a permanent nature, the occupiers would say they would not age to it because they had no permanent interest in the matter. Consequently it would be impossible to have such improvements made. He was strengthened in this opinion by an examination of the petitions which had been presented to the House, and he could say that 823 as regarded those from his own county ninety-nine out of 100 of the signatures belonged to occupiers and not to owners. He thought the principle of popular control might be established without interfering with the judicial functions of the magistrates at all; and if they altered the system of collecting the county rates, and relieved the occupiers from the payment of those rates, they might have a system of representation by which those judicial functions would not be interfered with. At any rate it was undeniable that the inspection of the county rates might be given to the ratepayers of a county without interfering with the judicial control of the magistrates. At a public meeting of the county of Lancaster, he and his right hon. Friend had met the ratepayers from all parts of the county, and he was so satisfied with his right hon. Friend's statement on that occasion, of the course which he intended to pursue, that he promised to support him in it. The proposition which the right hon. Gentleman made then was the one he wanted him to make now; it was agreed to last Session by the House. But the right hon. Gentleman had changed his course altogether, and one reason why he (Mr. Patten) rose now was to show that he was ready to fulfil the engagement he had made to his right hon. Friend. On the occasion to which he referred, there was a general concurrence of opinion with the right hon. Gentleman; but this Bill, he thought, would meet with disapprobation. In conclusion, he would again say it would be better for his right hon. Friend, after the second reading of the Bill, to adopt the course taken last year, and let it be referred to a Committee to ascertain in what way popular control should be exercised over the public expenditure.
§ MR. HUME
was anxious to disabuse the hon Gentleman who just sat down of the opinion he entertained that this Bill was otherwise than was intended last Session; and he thought the hon. Gentleman was under a great mistake, if he thought the supporters of the Bill had altered their plans. The hon. Gentleman who proposed the Committee said he wanted to have a bonâ fide inquiry; but was he ignorant that a bonâ fide inquiry had already taken place with the greatest care? An inquiry had taken place on the subject long before this Bill was introduced; that inquiry toot place in 1835; and instead of the Bill having originated in the county of Lancaster, he (Mr. Hume), in the year 1837, 824 had introduced a Bill to the same effect. Many of the provisions of this Bill would not carry out the principle he contended for by his Bill; for, to remove the objections of magistrates, some of the provisions of his Bill were omitted. The Bill had been introduced in consequence of the report of the Committee which had inquired into the subject. In that report it was stated that the management of the county funds was regarded with some distrust, and whatever ground there might be for the imputation, it was natural it should be made whilst the funds were administered by individuals over whose proceedings there was no effectual control. The hon. Baronet the Mover of the Amendment had asked them, would they destroy the long established institutions of the country by superseding those who had so well conducted the business of the county; but he (Mr. Hume) tendered the evidence given before the Committee, to show that such a change was necessary. When the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwitch said the magistrates were better qualified to discharge the duties than persons appointed by the ratepayers, he (Mr. Hume) asked him what were the opinions of those who sent petitions to the House on the subject? There was not one petition that did not express distrust of the magistrates, and ask the House to pass a Bill that would give the ratepayers control over the expenditure. He would support the second reading of this measure, on the understanding that it should be then sent to a Select Committee, with instructions that that Committee should not enter into any new matter.
§ MR. PACKE
called upon the House to consider how different the state of things now was, from the state of things that existed in 1835, when the report was made on which the hon. Member for Montrose founded his support of this measure. The law had since been completely altered, and the relative positions of the magistrates and ratepayers had been materially changed. Powers had been given to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and to the Lunatic Commission, by which the expenditure could be controlled, and there were no complaints to be made at present, like those which had been made before that Committee. He, for one, would say as a magistrate, that he should be glad to get rid of the trouble of managing the county rates; but he was perfectly persuaded that if this Bill came into operation, it would cause confusion, and increase the 825 county rates. There was a provision for the payment of the members elected by the board of guardians, which might lead to jobbing, and also increase the county rates. The amount raised by the county rate was not, in fact, well known at pi-t-sent, because it was raised with the poor-rate. It was mixed up with the poor-rate, and the consequence was, if the ratepayers paid 3s., 4s., or 5s. in the pound, they immediately said, see how high the county rates are. Many ratepayers imagined that the county magistrates could do what they pleased as to the rates; but that was not the case. The rates were under four heads—1. Those for the protection of life and property, half of which was now thrown on the Consolidated Fund, and over which this board would have no control. 2. The sums for lunatic asylums; and as to those none could be built but with the sanction of the Lunacy Commissioners. 3. For Bridges. 4. For the registration of voters, over which also the board would have no control. Considering the expensive machinery this Bill provided, and the small sums over which the magistrates had any control, he was sure there would not be many petitions in its favour. If the county rates had been collected in a different manner from the poor-rates, he was quite sure that this outcry would not have been raised. He should therefore vote for the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Droitwitch, thinking that the House was not at present sufficiently acquainted with the subject to legislate upon it.
entertained objections to some of the details of the Bill, but he should support the second reading. In his neighbourhood the magistrates were not very large ratepayers, and it might so happen that a magistrate might not be rated at all.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
said, he wished to state shortly the reasons of the vote which he was about to give. The object of the Bill was to provide for a better administration of county rates, and was founded on the principle of the introduction of popular control over the irresponsible power now exercised by the magistrates of England in reference to taxation. His hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich said, that the measure introduced a change of great magnitude. That was very true; but were they of late years so unaccustomed to changes of great magnitude? The reform of the borough corporations of England was a 826 great change. Previous to that the power of raising rates in all their municipalities was vested in a self-elected and irresponsible body. That was found to be so great a grievance by the ratepayers, that the principle of representation as a check on taxation was introduced by Parliament. Then, with regard to the poor-rate, what was the principle of the new Poor Law Amendment Act? Was it not the introduction of control by a body of guardians annually elected by popular constituencies to cheek that great branch of expenditure? The reform of the Poor Law was a great change. The reform of Parliament was a great change. Therefore the magnitude of the change did not alarm him. Well, but it was said in reference to this measure that the magistrates of England who exercised this irresponsible power were the great proprietors, and had the greatest interest in the expenditure of the county rate, and that, therefore, it was perfectly safe to allow them to regulate that expenditure, to which they themselves most largely contributed, without the check of popular representation. That seemed to him to be a very odd argument to use in the House of Commons. Why, on the very same ground they might entrust the taxation of the whole country to the House of Lords without any interference from the representatives of the people. The House of Lords consisted generally of the large landed proprietors of the country. They, therefore, it might be said, had an interest in keeping down taxation, yet was it found necessary to have the check and control of this elective assembly. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Leicestershire said, that there was a limit to this power of taxation on the part of the magistrates; he said that the tax of county rate was a matter of no great consequence, that it was very small in amount. But it was one of those local burdens of which they had lately heard so much. It was small now, but it was very large a few nights ago, when you wished to transfer it as a local burden to the general taxation of the country. It was a sum, however, of 1,200,000l. The hon. Gentleman said, that there were only four heads of expenditure, but these were four important heads of expenditure; and if the magistrates decided on rebuilding a bridge, which, although to them it might seem to be necessary, might not appear to be so to the tenant, it would be but little comfort to him to read the account of the expenditure of his money in 827 the county newspaper. Hon. Gentlemen had lately called to their councils the tenant farmers of England; but if he was not mistaken, he read a speech made by Mr. Bennet, who was well known as the representative of the tenant farmers, in Willis's roooms, and he said distinctly with regard to a Bill introduced by the Under Secretary of State respecting roads, where the power was vested in the magistrates, that that measure was, in the opinion of the tenant farmers indefensible, because it transferred the power to the magistrates, who were irresponsible, and that, from the experience of the tenant farmers with regard to the county rate, they would not support or favour any further extension of irresponsible power in that direction. With regard to the county with which he was connected, a saving had been effected in the county expenditure of 40 per cent since 1822. Great abuses had previously existed, because the magistrates exercised their authority in secret court, and the public were not admitted to their discussions. The press and the public had been excluded, and he could state from his own experience that great jobbing had existed. Immediately after the passing of the Reform Bill an Act of Parliament was introduced, to the effect that all public money should be voted in open court; and the operation of this cheek was found to be most salutary in the county in which he had local experience. It was now the practice in most counties to appoint a financial committee, who prepared a report which was laid before the bench assembled in open court. That course had been very much commended, but he was not sure that it was not open to the objection of counteracting the good effect of voting money in open court, because a report so brought forward, ready cut and dry, was adopted without any or with very little discussion, and was generally acquiesced in and adopted off-hand. His opinion was that some check, founded on popular election, and consisting of ratepayers, acting with the magistrates, and on the magistrates, was now necessary, and ought to be established. That appeared to be generally acquiesced in. His hon. Friend below him was not prepared to resist that principle. It was said that this was a Lancashire Bill. He had always thought that the mode in which the county rates were administered there was admirable, considering the natrue of the conflicting interests in that great county. There were rival and conflicting 828 interests in the north and south of that county; and by an excellent arrangement, it was agreed that an annual meeting should be held at Preston, where the expenses of the whole county should be discussed by the assembled magistrates, and the local expenses for the different portions of the county should be regulated. But that plan had been rendered inoperative by a system of adjournments, so that when a question arose affecting Liverpool, the meeting was adjourned to a special session in that hundred, and so on for the north and south of the county. In consequence of the adoption of that system of adjournments, the ratepayers, who had a deep interest in the administration of the funds, became dissatisfied. He was not prepared to say that the details of this Bill approached to anything like what he should have wished; but the question was, whether the time had not not now arrived, when they should endeavour to introduce a better system of managing the county rate, and whether they should not sanction the principle of some popular control, to check the power of the magistrates. As far as that went, he should not hesitate for one moment to vote for the second reading. He was not prepared to pledge himself to the details, but the right hon. Gentleman who moved the second reading was ready to send it to a Committee. He (Sir J. Graham) believed that if such a Committee were appointed, the Bill, notwithstanding its imperfections, which were numerous, would come out of that Committee so improved as to be worthy the support of the House. On these grounds he should not hesitate for one single moment to support the measure.
§ MR. AGLIONBY
said, he came down prepared to support the principle of the Bill and the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon, whose experience and judgment were entitled to the greatest respect, confirmed him in the view he took of the subject. He could state that the right hon. Gentleman was most assiduous in attending to the affairs of the county of Cumberland, and there was no person there who did not feel indebted to him for his assistance. He did not think the present system was calculated to give satisfaction in regard to the expenditure of the county rate, because those who levied and administered it were an irresponsible body. A question had been raised, whether it was the owner or occupier that paid the rate; but in the county where he resided there were a great 829 number of persons who occupied their own property, and it was a great hardship upon such persons to be told that the magisstrates were the owners, and, as such, had the greatest interest in the expenditure for the county. He considered also that the mode by which magistrates were now appointed was most objectionable. There Could be no doubt that a more effectual control over the county rate was necessary than any that existed at present. Therefore, he did not think that a Committee was necessary, and he expected no other result from it than doubt, delay, and dissatisfaction.
§ MR. SPOONER
was of opinion that some control by the ratepayers over the magistracy was desirable, and the only question before the House was the way in which that principle was to be carried into effect. The Bill before the House was of a character so impracticable that he doubted whether by sending the Bill to a Committee they would not delay the accomplishment of the object which his right hon. Friend opposite had in view in proposing this measure. As, however, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon had expressed his opinion that the Bill might be so altered in Committee as to make it a good measure, he should advise his hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment. There was no doubt that the Bill would be thoroughly sifted in Committee, since the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon had said that in its present form the Bill was totally impracticable. The Amendment of his hon. Friend differed from that which was proposed last year in this respect, that the Select Committee was to be directed to inquire, not into the "best" mode of levying the county rates, and controlling the expenditure, but whether any "more" satisfactory mode of levying the rates, and giving the ratepayers a control, could be adopted. He suggested, however, as the best course, that the right hon. Gentleman should withdraw his Bill, and that the whole question should then be referred to a Select Committee, the principle being conceded that there ought to be a more effectual control over the county expenditure by the ratepayers.
§ SIR G. GREY
said, that when this Bill was before the House a few weeks ago, his noble Friend at the head of the Government stated the course which he intended to pursue, and the reasons why the Government had determined to affirm the 830 principle of the Bill by supporting the second reading. It was, therefore, unnecessary for him to take up the time of the House by entering into an explanation of those reasons. The principle of this Bill was the formation of financial boards based on the representative principle. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich was not correct in saying that this was a transfer of the duties and powers which now devolved upon a large number of magistrates to a body consisting of ten or twelve persons, because it must be borne in mind that these boards would be mixed. He had no hesitation in expressing his concurrence in the general principle of the Bill, but, at the same time, he felt that there were very great difficulties in the way of carrying that principle into effect, as the Bill was framed, differing, as he did, from many, and these important, details. The Bill, though based on a sound principle, could only be carried into effect after due inquiry, and with great caution. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last admitted that there was a difference between the Motion now brought forward, and the Amendment moved last year. The terms in which the Amendment of the hon. Member for Droitwich was framed, would imply that the principle of popular control was to be referred to the Committee; whereas last year that principle was distinctly affirmed by the House. It was clearly understood that if the Bill was now read a second time, the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of it would refer it to a Select Committee for a thorough investigation. If, then, this principle was admitted by the Committee, it was but fitting that they should have before them a Bill with a specific plan for the purpose of carrying it out. The mode of election, whether the election should be annual or not, and the qualification of the members of the board, were all matters of detail. He begged to say that he did not support this Bill, on the ground that the magistrates did not pay proper attention to their duties. From his own experience he could state that, in regulating the county expenditure, the magistrates had endeavoured to combine economy with efficiency; and, while he thought the principle a sound one, and the demand a just one, that taxation and representation should go together, he must not be understood to throw any imputation upon the magistrates. The paper which had been referred to appeared to him to afford a complete explanation of the expenditure 831 of the county of Lancaster. This Bill required much consideration. One point must be fully considered, which had attracted the notice of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire on a former occasion, namely, as to whether they should leave duties to be discharged by magistrates when they took away the power of performing them by leaving no funds at their disposal. For these reasons, he hoped that the Bill would be speedily returned from the Select Committee with such amendments as it might deem it expedient to introduce.
§ SIR R. PEEL
wished, as he had, like his right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon, filled the office of Secretary for the Home Department, and was also a Member of the Committee in 1837, and had paid much attention to the subject, shortly to state the grounds upon which he should vote. He did not give his vote on any supposition that the magistrates of the county had abused the power and trust reposed in them, but from a conviction that there was a defect in the constitution of the body to which these powers were entrusted. He believed that implicit confidence might be placed in the integrity of the gentlemen who constituted the magistracy; and that, as far as they were personally concerned, there was no body of men on whom he should less hesitate to repose trust. As he said before, however, there was a defect in the constitution of the present county board, which rendered it difficult for them, with every caution, to give entire satisfaction. He presented a petition yesterday on the subject of this Bill, from a body that was highly calculated to exercise an unprejudiced and dispassionate judgment on the matter. It was from a board of guardians in a part of the country with which he was immediately connected, who urged that there should be some concurrent control with the magistrates over the county expenditure; and that for this purpose the principle of representation should be adopted. The petition was unanimously adopted by the board, and was concurred in by nearly all the magistrates who generally came in contact with it The petition prayed for some concurrent control with the magistrates. Looking at the opinions which prevailed out of doors as to the charges which were borne by the county rate, and at the complaints which were urged against taxation, he thought there would be great dissatisfaction if all inquiry were not in some degree controlled by the principle 832 of representation. Though his belief remained unaltered as to the integrity of the magistrates, he conceived the time had arrived when they should freely and calmly consider the whole subject; and, after what had passed, if he was a magistrate, he should not wish to retain the power objected to without such inquiry. If all inquiry were refused, the magistracy would be placed in a very invidious position; their duties would become more irksome and difficult; and they ought, therefore, to acquiesce in, rather than dissent from, the proposal calmly and dispassionately to consider their position. On these grounds, he wished for the fullest inquiry into the whole subject of the control of the county rates. In the county of Lancaster unjust imputations had been thrown out as to the conduct of the magistrates in regard to the imposition of the rates. He had gone through the accounts, and he was satisfied that this unfavourable impression had arisen from a supposition that the increase of the rates was the act of the magisterial body, from attributing the increased expenditure, due to other causes, to the want of vigilance, or profusion of the magistrates. He was sure they were anxious, not that they should at once legislate, but should consider whether there could not be some concurrent control with that which they exercised. It appeared to him, indeed, that there was little difference of opinion on the subject. He, therefore, was inclined to support the second reading of the Bill, in preference to the Amendment of his hon. Friend, reserving to himself the right to consider any important modifications of it when it reached the Committee. By voting for the second reading, he should admit—what he was prepared to admit—the principle that the representative system should, to a certain extent, be adopted in the administration of the county funds. His hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich admitted the same thing, for he proposed that the House of Commons should institute a Select Committee to inquire into the present mode of levying and expending the county rate of England and Wales, with a view to ascertain whether any more satisfactory mode of levying the said rates, and of giving to the ratepayers more effectual control over their expenditure, could be adopted. It was impossible not to discover, in this admission of the necessity of inquiry, a recognition of the general principle of the Bill. In voting as he intended 833 to do, he only recognised that general principle which was virtually acknowledged by his hon. Friend in his Amendment. He did not care very much which Motion was adopted, as in his opinion each implied an admission in favour of the principle of representation. Without implying the least suspicion of the fidelity and care with which the magistrates had hitherto performed their functions of managers of the county expenditure—giving them the fullest credit for the manner in which they had discharged the duties entrusted to them—he should vote for the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. ROBERT PALMER
said, that in the county which he represented, no strong objection was felt to the principle of the measure; but with respect to the Bill itself, he believed that it was impracticable. If the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, it was not likely that a single clause would ever come back to the House; nevertheless, after the opinions which had been expressed by high authority in the course of the discussion, he would not object to the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. HENLEY
really wished to know what was the principle of this Bill, for several hon. Gentlemen had given a totally different description of it; he therefore preferred the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Droitwitch. The right hon. Secretary for the Home Department had said, that if the change proposed by this Bill should be effected, the magistracy ought to be relieved from certain duties. That was what he had himself suggested, and he did not object to it; but he would show the House how it was proposed to effect the object by the Bill.
§ SIR G. GREY
said, that he had referred to provisions which ought to be introduced into the Bill, but were not in it now.
§ MR. HENLEY
begged the right hon. Gentleman's pardon; they were in the Bill at that moment. The Bill was the Bill of last Session amended, and it was amended as regarded the particular point to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred. It did, in fact, contain the provisions which the right hon. Gentleman said were not in it. The Bill completely superseded the power of the magistrates with respect to all matters relating to the allowance of rates of every kind. It superseded them as regarded the duties of visiting prisons, lunatic asylums, and workhouses, and he believed that by the 8th clause they were also superseded as ex officio guardians of the poor. Now, with all 834 these matters introduced into the Bill, who would undertake to say what its principle was? The right hon. Member for Ripon said that the county rates of Cumberland had been reduced 40 per cent within a stated period; but he had not informed the House whether that reduction was the result of the completion of the permanent buildings of the county for which the high rates were formerly required. The right hon. Gentleman said something about the magistrates increasing the rates by the building of new bridges, but he ought to know that, by law, no bench of magistrates could order a new bridge to be built. [Sir J. GRAHAM: They can pull old ones down, and build new ones.] County bridges, after all, were not very numerous. The reduction of the rates in Cumberland was, no doubt, caused by the completion of the permanent buildings of the county. In order to show the difficult nature of the question with which the House was called upon to deal, it was only necessary to state what the gentleman who framed the Bill proposed should be done with respect to auditing the accounts. They were afraid to intrust their own newly-elected body with the auditing of the accounts, so they established a separate audit, and gave every single ratepayer the right of appeal against the audit; and to whom did the House suppose the appeal was to lie? Why, to the justices at quarter-sessions. That was a specimen of the extraordinary inconsistencies into which the authors of the Bill had fallen. The 8th clause transferred to the new board all the functions now discharged by magistrates, excepting judicial ones. Now, the commitment of prisoners was not a judicial function, and therefore the magistracy would be divested of that. Another clause repealed every Act of Parliament which was inconsistent with the provisions of the Bill. That was summary justice with a vengeance. After such a sweeping clause as that, it might be supposed that a schedule would be annexed to the Bill, containing the titles of all the Acts of Parliament which it was proposed to render thus null and void; but there was nothing of the kind. This important question ought to have been taken up by the Government, and Ministers shrank from their responsibility in leaving the Bill in the hands of a private Member. In conclusion, he begged to state, that he did not object to the principle of establishing popular control over county expenditure.
§ SIR G. STRICKLAND
felt, as the subject had been fully discussed, that there was no necessity to go into it. The principle was admitted that there should be some popular control over the county expenditure, and the only possible effect of the Amendment would be, to cause further delay, which would give rise to much dissatisfaction. He should not have addressed the House, unless for the observation of the hon. Member for Droitwich, that this was a Lancashire question, and that it arose from a squabble between the two divisions of it as to building a lunatic asylum. He could state that this was not a mere Lancashire question; but there was a very general feeling in favour of the Bill in many counties of England. He was sure, in all places where the subject had been considered, there was a strong desire that this Bill should pass into a law. In the county in which he resided (Yorkshire), few subjects had excited so much interest as this question of control over local expenditure. A worthless and extravagant expenditure had been gone into for building a great wall round the gaol, which was more fitted to resist another Danish invasion than to serve any useful purpose at the present day.
§ MR. E. B. DENISON
said, that his hon. Friend had observed that there was a general feeling in favour of this Bill. Now he believed he had presented the greatest number of petitions, perhaps, that had been presented to the House from any district, except Lancashire, namely, the West Riding of Yorkshire; and he had examined all those petitions attentively, and though in their general tenor they prayed for the establishment of financial county boards, they did not say one word in favour of such a Bill as that before the House. He never recollected a Bill which had been so cordially pulled to pieces on both sides of the House as this had been, and he did not believe that any hon. Member competent to form an opinion on the subject would vote for any of its clauses as they stood. He believed, when it returned from the Select Committee, they would find every word in it changed, except the first word "Whereas." It had been said last year, that popular representation should be mixed up with this part of the magisterial business of the country, but he doubted much whether the plan could be made to work well. He had no objection to the exercise of control over the county expenditure; but he warned the House against 836 such powers being entrusted to bodies which might defeat the objects and intentions of the magistrates, and the Government of the day. No doubt the expenditure was very great, and the county rates had of late years pressed heavily upon the ratepayers. But to what was that owing? Why, to the building and improvement of prisons; and thus the very outlay itself has been instrumental in saving expense at future times. He believed between 60 and 70 new prisons had been built, and others had been improved at great expense; and this was absolutely necessary to carry out the Acts of Parliament, which declared that a certain and uniform system of prison discipline should be adopted. He warned the House, if they put it to the ratepayers or their delegates to say whether a prison, or bridge, or other public work should be erected, they would often find them take a shortsighted view of the case, and refuse to assent to the proposal. Nowhere had the expenditure for these purposes been so great as in Lancashire and the West Riding. In the latter district, ten years ago, the expenditure was 49,000l. a year, while in the last ten years it had been respectively 102,000l. and 93,000l., which had been occasioned chiefly by the erection of a new prison. He was sure, under the Bill as it stood, the county expenditure would not be reduced.
§ SIR H. WILLOUGHBY
was not prepared to support the Bill of the right hon. Member for Manchester. It had been stated that the county rates of England and Wales amounted to 1,250,000l., the management of which it was proposed to leave to local elected boards. How they could think of imposing fifty-two county financial boards on the country, which were to perform functions somewhat analogous to those of the House of Commons, he did not understand. He did homage to the principle of taxation being allied with representation; but, in this case, he thought the Government should propose to the House to take many of the charges now on the county rates and defray them from the public funds of the country. He would not detain the House by going through the sixteen heads of charges on the county rates. He could not understand why the charge for coroners' inquests, and for the inspectors of weights and measures, should be defrayed out of these rates. Again, if a person committed a robbery, and stole a bale of goods, or any other article, he was prosecuted at the public expense, but he 837 maintained, on conviction, in prison was at the expense of the county. Why this should be allowed to continue, he could not understand.
§ MR. M. GIBSON
said, he was not on the present occasion going to repeat himself. All he intended to do was to impress this—that the House was not forced to commit itself to the details of the present measure. They were only asked that, having adopted the measure, which, to the best of the ability of those who framed it, they thought was calculated to carry out the representative system in controlling-expenditure, the House would give the proposition a chance of being submitted to a Select Committee, who would give the matter full and deliberate consideration. He thought the proposition was a fair and reasonable one. He thought he should not be doing much service to the cause he was supporting, were he to undertake to defend in that House the details of the measure, especially against so acute a critic in Acts of Parliament as the hon. Member for Oxfordshire, who always made him (Mr. Gibson) tremble when he set about explaining or criticising one. These details would undergo full consideration; and were certain to be brought into such shape as to secure the principle which they sought to establish. The adoption of the Bill would furnish a check to inconsiderate and extravagant expenditure; and, in his opinion, when brought into operation, could not be regarded as throwing a slur on the characters of magistrates, but as a measure analogous to the principle acted on in boroughs, where town councils had the control over the expenditure of the rates.
§ SIR H. HALFORD
should have preferred the adoption of the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich, because he believed it would be found that in this Bill it would be impossible to separate the machinery from the principle of it. It was proposed that boards of guardians should each elect a member of their boards; but in that case they would depart from the principle of property being the qualification. He denied that occupiers had a direct interest in the question, for the burden ultimately fell upon the owners of property.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
said, in explanation, that the right hon. Baronet opposite had referred to the difference between the terms of his Amendment this year and last year. He had only to say that this difference was entirely accidental; and he had 838 no objection to adopting the very same words as he had used before. With regard to whether he should divide the House or not on his Amendment, he found that he now stood in a very different position from the one he occupied when he moved the Amendment, having had the satisfaction of finding that almost everybody, on all sides, condemned this Bill; and it was therefore a question for the House whether it was desirable to send such a Bill to an inquiry upstairs. But, bowing to the high authority before and behind him, and hoping that the future progress of the measure would be watched with jealous care, he would not put the House to the trouble of a division.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed to a Select Committee.