§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. M. GIBSON,
in moving the Second Reading of the County Rates and Expenditure Bill, said, that he would content himself on that occasion with explaining to the House the position in which the question stood, without entering at any length into details concerning the plan embodied in the Bill. The subject was already well known to the House, and was fully discussed last Session. The Bill proposed to enable the ratepayers in counties to take some share in the control of county expenditure, and in the assessing of county 1269 rates. That was a constitutional principle, and the object of the Bill was to carry that constitutional principle into effect in a practical and working manner. The Bill of last Session had been read a second time without a division, and was then referred to a Select Committee. That Select Committee took what some thought a rather unusual course, that of rejecting the whole of the Bill except the first clause. But in agreeing to that first clause, they agreed to the principle that county financial boards should be established, and that the ratepayers should have a voice in the county assessment, and in the county expenditure. The investigation of the Committee was also useful in enabling the promoters of the Bill to correct many of its imperfections, and to improve its details. The plan of the Bill was founded on the report of the Committee, of which Mr. Speaker was a Member, and which recommended that county boards should be established, composed partly of magistrates and partly of the representatives of the ratepayers. The hon. Member for Montrose had introduced more than one Bill on this matter, and by his last measure he proposed that the component parts of the boards should be two-thirds representatives of the ratepayers, and one-third magistrates. The plan proposed in the Bill before the House was, that the boards should consist of one-half magistrates and one-half representatives of the ratepayers. There had been a misapprehension in the minds of magistrates, that it was intended to charge them with having neglected their duties, and to cast a reflection on their magisterial boards. But he had no such object. The Bill had been supported by petitions representing no particular parties or opinions. There were 214 petitions, and though the number of signatures to them was not large, in consequence of a great many of them being signed by the boards of guardians, on behalf of the ratepayers, they ought to have much weight with the House. Many desirable alterations had been made in the measure since last year; but these were matters of detail to be properly considered in Committee. The appointment of guardians was no longer part of the Bill, and the justices would be elected at the quarter-sessions, and not by the board of guardians; and the board of guardians would not be required to elect out of their own body, but might select any ratepayer.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
wished to be informed how many of the 214 petitions were from boards of guardians?
§ MR. M. GIBSON
could not then say, but he believed the greater portion of them proceeded from those bodies. The principal alterations in the present Bill were these—that the guardians were not to be paid for attendance; that the justices to be on the board were to be elected at quarter-sessions; and that the guardians might select any persons they thought fit to represent them.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
considered that he would be able to show that the alterations in the Bill had only rendered it more objectionable and more dangerous than ever. The first important clause was the fourth, by which the new financial board was to be constituted. It was to consist of one of the guardians from each union in the county, with an equal number of magistrates to those guardians. This was the arrangement by which the right hon. Gentleman hoped to achieve an end which he alleged to be so desirable—namely, to introduce a representative system in county affairs. As far as taxation and representation went together, he did not object to it as a sound principle; but in this Bill the right hon. Gentleman sought to apply that principle in a manner very dangerous to the public service. The constitution of the country did not entrust the justices with any power of expenditure. They were limited within the four corners of a long succession of Acts. They had no power to tax, save those which from time to time the Legislature conceded, to enable them to discharge their duties. One of the objections urged against the Bill was, that it would interfere with the functions of the justices of the peace. In the Bill of last year this was only done in general terms; in this, that interference was rendered more specific. The whole of the Bill, from the 12th to the 39th clause, was entirely new. The other clauses to which he wished more particularly to advert, were the 12th and 13th; and he would ask the House and the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether they were prepared to sanction that all the powers connected with the rural police, which the Act of Parliament entrusted to justices, should be taken away, and transferred to persons consisting of one half of justices 1271 and one half of guardians? The disposition of the police force was one of the utmost delicacy, and was only entrusted to justices of the peace by Act of Parliament. It was true that powers were conferred upon the Secretary of State under certain conditions. For instance, should the new board and the justices of the peace come into collision with respect to the management of the police, a reference might be made to the Secretary of State to say whether he would side with the justices or the guardians. It was, in truth, a very great question whether greater powers should not be exercised by the Secretary of State, for the more effectual equalisation of the police force in the counties. The present state of the law was most unsatisfactory. These financial boards, under the pretence of sharing in the administration of the county expenditure, would take away all control from the magistrates over the police force, and also over the management of gaols and lunatic asylums. They took away, insidiously and by a side-wind, the powers which had been entrusted by the Legislature to the justices, as the persons best fitted to exercise them. They would repeal nine Acts of Parliament, from the 9th of George IV. to the 5th and 6th of Victoria. In page 10 of the Bill they would find that the boards were to be entrusted with authority for erecting, repairing, building, or enlarging gaols and houses of correction. Could there be larger words, more unequivocal language? [Mr. M. GIBSON: Read the proviso.] What is the use of the proviso if it contradicts the clause? They had taken too much care that it should be so. [An Hon. MEMBER: Read.] The following is the proviso:—Provided always, that nothing in this Act contained shall give or confer any power or authority to any committee so appointed by the county financial board as aforesaid, to do, exercise, or perform any act, duty, matter, or thing which justices of the peace for counties are enabled, authorised, or required to do or perform within the powers or by virtue of their commissions as justices, but that all such acts, duties, matters, and things shall hereafter continue to be done, exercised, and performed by such justices of the peace for counties as if this Act had not been made.He very much doubted what the real force of that proviso would be. On the under standing that the constitution of the boards was to be decided in Committee, he had agreed to the second reading of the Bill without a division. He must now beg the attention of the House and the Government 1272 to the result of that inquiry. He held in his hand the report of the evidence, and the House would recollect that the Committee was one selected by the right hon. Gentleman—["No, no!"]—that he was chairman of it, and that its constitution occasioned much discontent among Gentlemen sitting on his side of the House no one could deny. The right hon. Gentleman in the Committee brought forward evidence in support of his views; and his first witness was an attorney, a Mr. Roberts, from the county of Lancaster, who, it appeared, had drawn up this Bill, and who, when he came to touch the general remedy for existing evils, showed such complete ignorance that anything more absurd than his evidence was seldom heard of. He, moreover, knew next to nothing of the affairs of his own county. Other witnesses on the same side knew nothing, and could know nothing, on the subject; while, on the other hand, magistrates and other competent authorities were unanimously of opinion that it would be impossible to work such a measure as the one now proposed. He would read an extract from the evidence of Mr. Birley. That gentleman said—We consider that our duties as magistrates would be very much interfered with, by bringing other persons to direct the finance; for instance in many different ways, in the management of the gaols particularly, and in the control to be exercised over the magistrates in calling out special constables, and in many other ways; though, I believe, we are many of us in favour of giving a salutary audit or cheque; still the subject is very much beset with difficulties, because it seems almost impossible for the magistrates to fulfil their particular duties, unless they have the management of the finances of the county.He would also advert to the evidence of the Earl of Stradbroke, the only witness brought forward by the promoters who, from his habits or his position in life, was calculated to give valuable evidence upon, the subject. The Earl of Stradbroke gave his answers in the most frank and honourable manner. He said, in the county of Suffolk there were seventeen unions; so, consequently there would be a board of seventeen guardians and seventeen magistrates; and he observed that they had a good number of magistrates. He was then asked the following question:—In the event of its being required to have a lunatic asylum, would not a central meeting of all the justices of the county take place for that purpose?—Yes, for anything of that sort. What attendance do you suppose would take place then?—Upon a question of such magnitude as that 1273 there would be a large attendance. To what amount should you say?—From 50 to 60, or perhaps 100; it is not possible to say. Would not that large meeting of 50 or 60, up to 100 magistrates, consist of gentlemen having a deep pecuniary interest in the county?—Yes, of gentlemen having a deep pecuniary interest in the county, and having an anxious desire to do their duty, and consider what was best. But over and above that sense of duty, would not they be men having a large pecuniary interest in the county?—Certainly. Would not they be large ratepayers?—Yes, either by themselves or through their tenants. Do you not think there would be a great feeling of dissatisfaction created in the minds of that large body of gentlemen having a large pecuniary interest in the county, if they found themselves excluded from their share in the county business?—I should not be willing to exclude magistrates from any share of the county business at all. Practically, would not this Bill exclude the great majority of them?—Yes, it would, certainly, if it was confined to 17, no doubt, And for the number excluded you would substitute practically, in your county, from the nature of the county, 17 persons, chiefly farmers?—I stated that the probability is, that in an agricultural county the majority of those 17 would be farmers, from the fact that in the different unions the majority of the guardians are farmers. That would be the practical result in Suffolk?—The practical result would be, that the majority would be farmers; that is to say, men holding large occupations. Does your Lordship consider that, as they would be mostly tenant-farmers, they would be the real payers of the rates?—I have no doubt that all taxes are paid by the owners of property, and not the occupiers. Would not, therefore, the practical working of this measure in the county of Suffolk be to exclude a large number of real ratepayers, and to substitute for them a smaller number of persons who are not real ratepayers?—Yes, certainly, to that amount.This was the frank opinion of that Nobleman. They were not to look to the mere counties, but to take the length and breadth of the land to judge of the working of the measure. He would now come to the conclusions at which the Committee had arrived. In their fourth resolution they stated that the effect of this Bill would be to exclude a numerous body of gentlemen from the transaction of county business, in which, as magistrates and as landed proprietors, they had an immediate and extensive interest, and to substitute for them a small and fluctuating body, who would show less aptitude for business, or who had less interest in the expenditure than those who at present managed it. This resolution was carried by seven to three. The seventh resolution stated that if it should be thought desirable to give to a popularly constituted body the administration of the county finance, still the question was so beset with difficulties that, in the opinion of the Committee, the arrangement of such 1274 a measure should be left in the hands of Government. This resolution was carried by eight to two, and the minority consisted of Mr. Charles Villiers and Mr. Cornewall Lewis. He had the highest respect for the opinion of the latter hon. Gentleman; but when it was remembered that he was Under Secretary of State for the Home Deparment, and that the burden of such a measure would, if the resolution of the Committee were agreed to, devolve upon his department, he thought the House would be at no loss to divine the motives of the hon. Gentleman's vote. He would ask the House, then, was this difficult and delicate matter to be left in the hands of a private Member? Were hon. Gentlemen prepared to come down, Wednesday after Wednesday, till the middle of August next, to do battle for the 122 clauses of this Bill—clauses, many of which were not fit to be passed—which never would be passed—and which he believed were never intended to be passed? Was the right hon. Gentleman, who he saw was preparing to follow him, prepared to sanction a measure like this, which, under the pretence of establishing a constitutional principle, did in reality take away one of the most delicate and peculiar, but he believed one of the most valuable, institutions of England—the duties which were now exercised by the unpaid magistracy of England? He warned the House to beware how they tampered with one of the most valuable institutions of the country. At all events, he would be no party to such meddling legislation. He conscientiously believed that, instead of having been improved, the Bill was worse than before; that it was a Bill unjust, uncalled for, and mischievous, and though he stood alone, he would protest against it. He should therefore move that it be read a second time that day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR G. GREY
said, that his hon. Friend who had just moved the Amendment, had so distinctly and repeatedly appealed to him in the course of his address to the House, that he begged to state his views with regard to this Bill. And he would say at once, that although he was not prepared to oppose the second reading of the measure, there were many clauses which, 1275 in his opinion, would require careful consideration and much amendment in Committee, if the Bill should be read a second time. He was very far, however, from concurring with the hon. Gentleman in the feelings of alarm and apprehension which he had expressed, and which he (Sir G. Grey) must say he thought were greatly exaggerated with regard to the principle involved in the Bill, or to its probable effects if passed into a law, after the consideration and amendments which a Bill of such magnitude and importance would necessarily receive either before a Select Committee, or a Committee of the whole House, or both. He confessed that the Bill having been before Parliament on two former occasions—he saw no reason why he should not adopt the same course which he had adopted on the former occasions, and that was, to declare his concurrence in the general principle of the Bill—that principle being that there should be an admixture of the representative principle in the formation of the boards; to whom was entrusted the imposition and expenditure of the county rates of England. His hon. Friend himself had declared that he did not object to the principle; that, in fact, he would be the last man to raise any objection to the principle. His real objection, then, must be to the details; and, strong as his (Sir G. Grey's) objections were to the Bill as it then stood, it did not appear to him that they were insuperable or conclusive against the adoption of the principle; or, in other words, he did not think it was impossible to amend the Bill, and allow the principle to be embodied in our legislation for the benefit of the country. He would admit, at the same time, that it would be a great calamity if the magistrates of England and Wales were to be deprived of those functions which for many years they had performed with the greatest benefit to the country, as well as with the greatest honour and credit to themselves. He, for one, would be sorry to see them taken away and transferred to any other quarter. But he must say that he thought his hon. Friend had exaggerated the effects of the Bill, even in its present form. He confessed, however, that there was one of the provisions of the Bill in which he was not prepared to concur, and that was the provision in the fourth clause, which restricted the choice of the boards of guardians to persons who were not magistrates. It appeared to him that the Bill would work better if, instead 1276 of making it a disqualification that the persons so elected by boards of guardians were magistrates, it provided that the restriction should be the other way, and that the boards of guardians should elect none but persons who were magistrates to represent them at the financial boards. But upon this point he was not prepared to express a final opinion, though, if adopted, he thought it would be in perfect consistency with the principle of the Bill, and would tend to remove some of the strongest objections of his hon. Friend opposite. At all events, he thought it would be inexpedient to adopt the restriction proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester. He would not follow the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich into the details to which he had referred, because he did not think that that was the occasion to go into details. He would only allude to one point, with respect to which a distinct appeal had been made to him, and that was, as to whether he was prepared to undertake—and the House had also been appealed to whether they would allow him to undertake—the power of determining what should be the amount of the constabulary force in each county irrespective of the magistrates, and even of the financial boards. According to his (Sir G. Grey's) reading of the Bill, it contained no such provision. The duties of forming and organising the constabulary, which were now vested in the quarter-sessions, were by this Bill proposed to be transferred to the financial boards, but subject to the restriction that the Secretary of State, "upon the representation of the justices of the peace for any county," should have power to "order the number of men to be appointed as constables to be increased," that was to say, that if the financial boards in the exercise of an unwise economy should reduce the number of constables below that which the justices thought essential to the safety of the county, the Secretary of State, upon their representation and motion, and not upon his own, was to have power, against the financial boards, to augment the number within the limits imposed by the Acts of Parliament. If his hon. Friend had looked into the Bill more closely, he would have seen that it contained no such provision as that to which he had referred. He begged to say, however, that he saw no reason why those functions of the magistrates which were connected with the impositition and expenditure of county rates, and those which 1277 were purely executive, should not be kept entirely separate and distinct; and this he thought had not been Sufficiently attended to by his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, in the framing of the present Bill. The executive powers, he considered, might be safely retained by the justices, in perfect consistency with the general principle of the Bill. Admitting that there was nothing like a universal or general desire in the country to see a change on this subject, he appealed to the House whether it would not be wise and prudent to anticipate the more general diffusion of the desire which did exist, by showing that they were prepared to consider the question in a proper spirit? This was one of those questions which had no sort of connexion with party politics; and he felt sure that the House would be disposed to enter upon it without allowing such considerations in the slightest degree to affect their judgment. Even in those localities where the desire for change did exist, he did not believe it arose from any distrust of the magistrates with regard to the manner in which they discharged their duties. He had presented a petition on the previous day from the county of Northumberland—not in support of this Bill precisely, but in favour of county financial boards; and the gentleman who sent it to him stated that he did not believe that practically such a measure would make any essential change with regard to the persons who managed the finances of the county; because he had no doubt that most of them would be found after the passing of the Bill just where they were before it. He (Sir G. Grey) believed that that was a general feeling. He believed that it was quite a misrepresentation to say that the magistrates had shown any neglect in the management of the county rates. He believed that so far from that being the case it would be found, that though there had no doubt been a positive increase in the rates, yet relatively, and as compared with the population, there had been a decrease, and that, too, notwithstanding the large expenditure which had necessarily attended the improvement which had taken place in the gaols and lunatic asylums of the country. He held in his hand a report with regard to the county expenditure of Hampshire, in which it was stated that a considerable portion of the items were not within the control of the quarter-sessions, and that no material reduction could be made in the expenditure, 1278 except upon those items which were directly under their control. The hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich had adverted to the resolution of the Select Committee of last Session, to the effect that in their opinion the arrangement of such a change ought to be undertaken by Her Majesty's Government. Last year, when the Bill was referred to a Select Committee—a Committee, he admitted, that was well qualified to deal with the subject—he certainly had hoped that they would render more assistance than they actually did in perfecting the details of the measure. It appeared, however, that they directed their attention rather to the principle than the details of the measure. When a question was addressed to him at the close of last Session, as to whether the Government would undertake to bring in a Bill on the subject, after the failure of the previous Bill, he declined giving any such promise, but stated that during the recess he would consider the evidence taken before the Committee, and then determine what course the Government would take. He had since given his attention to the evidence. He admitted that formidable objections had been brought forward to the details of the former Bill, and he thought that the right hon. Gentleman was right in endeavouring—he would not say with what success—but in endeavouring to meet those objections. He still thought that it might be advisable, if the Bill should now be read a second time, to refer it once more to a Select Committee—not for the purpose of taking evidence, but of considering the details with a view of facilitating the practical working of the measure. On the part of the Government, he would certainly be happy to serve on the Committee, and render it all the assistance in his power; but the Government did not feel that they were called upon to propose a Bill of their own to take the matter out of the hands of the right hon. Member for Manchester.
§ MR. W. MILES
said, the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had given the best of all reasons why this Bill should emanate from the Government. He had first of all taken exception to the leading principle of the Bill—that magistrates should not be eligible for election by the ratepayers; and he had even gone so far as to suggest that none but magistrates should be elected. ["No, no!" Sir G. GREY explained.] He had not misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman. Rather than ex- 1279 clude the election of magistrates, the right hon. Gentleman would prefer that none but magistrates should be elected. The principle which the Bill involved was of sufficient importance to warrant the introduction of such a measure by Her Majesty's responsible advisers, rather than by a private Member. It could not be questioned that the Bill, as it at present stood, was liable to many and most serious objections. If the financial boards were to be composed of magistrates elected to serve upon them by the ratepayers, the probability was, that the magistrates so elected would not he the men who had either the largest pecuniary interest in the fiscal arrangements of the county, or who were, from previous habits, the best qualified to take part in financial business. Under the present system, the practice was, for the magistrates who assembled at quarter-sessions to select from their own numbers nine Members who were to serve upon the Finance Committee. Care was invariably taken to select only such magistrates as were peculiarly qualified for the management of financial affairs; but no such precaution could be taken under this Bill, for the ratepayers would not be competent to say which of many magistrates possessed the best qualifications in that respect. The members of the financial committee, as at present constituted, enjoyed office for three years; but the Bill under consideration proposed that there should be an annual election—a most injudicious provision, which would cause the continued adoption of new measures, before there had been time to fairly test the old ones. The Bill would upset the authority of the magistracy where that authority was requisite in order to the preservation of peace and the maintenance of public order. The magistrates would be wholly incapacitated from taking any effective measures with a view to the preservation of the peace of the county, if they were to be deprived of the power which they now possessed over the prisons and the police. If there were a strong feeling out of doors in favour of the establishment of such financial boards as were contemplated by this Bill, that House, which was the representative of the opinions of the public, should at once acquiesce in the institution of the boards; but no such feelings really prevailed amongst the multitudinous masses of the English people. Some petitions in favour of the Bill had no doubt been presented from various boards of guardians; but 1280 those petitions had been "got up" by a section of the population with a view to the accomplishment of a particular object, in which they had an especial interest; and the boards of guardians, who were aware of the pressure of distress on the agricultural classes, were enticed to sign the petitions by an ex parte representation that the Bill might tend to relieve the counties from excessive taxation. But if the boards of guardians had been given to understand how the case really stood, they would be quite indifferent as to the establishment of these financial boards. If both sides of the question were laid before them, they would concur with him in thinking that it would be impossible to make the county expenditure smaller under the new system than it was at present under the old. The magistrates had always done their best to keep down the public expenditure, and they had uniformly exhibited their anxiety to administer the funds with as much economy as comported with the public interest. He held in his hand a return of the expenditure for the county he represented, the county of Somerset, and by that account it would be seen how much the system had, since the year 1834, been altered for the better. Now, in that county the population was upwards of 436,000, and the rates raised during last year for county purposes were only 1¾d. in the pound; the whole expenditure of the county, excluding what was paid by the Government for prosecutions, was but 13,025l., whilst at the end of 1849 there was a balance in hand of 4,000l., and at the end of 1850, 8,000l. Publicity, too, was an advantage of the existing system, the whole of the business being transacted in open court. But it appeared to him that a financial board like that which the Bill contemplated might decide upon laying out 40,000l. or 50,000l. for a new prison, without a single opportunity being given to the public to say "nay" to it. As far as the public were concerned, then, he contended that it had gained by the present system, and that whatever other board might be appointed, it would be impossible to conduct county affairs more economically than they were now conducted by that system. He had no objection to urge against the principle laid down by the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, that taxation and representation should go together, but he did think that a measure of such magnitude, involving as it would the destruction of a most efficient body of men, 1281 and the substitution of persons less competent to the discharge of their functions, should be proposed by the Government, and not left to a private Member to carry through the House. He entirely concurred in the opinion that the Bill was unjust, impolitic, unnecessary, and that in its operation it would be most injurious; and, with this conviction, he would not hesitate to vote in favour of the Amendment.
§ MR. HUME
said, that many of the observations of the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich were not applicable to the Bill. He (Mr. Hume) had been asked to serve on the Committee last year, but he declined, because he thought no information was wanted. The hon. Baronet said, that the Bill was mischievously bad, dealt with a delicate subject, and was an attack on the magistrates. If he had been in the House when the Municipal Corporation Reform Bill was discussed, he would have heard the same arguments used. All those who now opposed this Bill would have opposed, and some of them did oppose, the Municipal Corporations Reform Bill; and, therefore, as a matter of course, he expected that they would oppose this Bill. He wished to disabuse the House of the notion that there was any intention on the part of the promoters of this Bill to attack the magistracy of the country. He, for one, had always thought that the magistracy had been of great benefit to the people of this country, though, perhaps, if they had been otherwise appointed, they might have been still more useful. What was wanted was, that the ratepayers should have some control over the expenditure of the money which they contributed; for he put it to the House whether money would not be differently managed if it were put into the hands of men who knew that they were subject to no control, and if it were put into the hands of men who were at any moment liable to be called to account. He was quite ready to admit that more attention had been paid to county expenditure of late years; but of what use was that to persons who paid the rates, and wished to have some control over their management? He was sorry to observe that the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary objected to the clause in the Bill which provided that the persons to be elected by the boards of guardians should not be magistrates. Now, as one-half of the board was to be composed of magistrates, he would ask, could anything be more fair or 1282 just than that the other half should be selected from the body of the ratepayers? It had been said that there would be no reduction of expenditure; but it would give much satisfaction to the ratepayers if they knew that they themselves had had control over the accounts. It might be impossible to exceed the economy of the present management; but still the measure would place the ratepayers upon a better footing, and the magistrates would disentangle themselves from the present contest in which they were engaged with the ratepayers. Upon that principle, and upon the admission of the hon. Gentleman opposite, that the subject ought to be taken up by the Government, the House ought to support the second reading; for if he had not misunderstood the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, he was ready to sit upon a Select Committee to consider the details. Much had been said about publicity. He (Mr. Hume) would ask, was there nothing like secrecy? He knew that the accounts of the county of Norfolk were sent to every union, but that was after the expenditure was over; and if anything was wrong, the ratepayers had no power to call the magistrates to account. It was a fallacy to talk of publicity when the control did not rest with the ratepayer. He was perfectly aware that in some, if not in all, counties the courts were open. But what was the use of the ratepayer coming in to hear accounts read and discussions in which he could not join; the ratepayer would say he had no remedy, and that he was most unjustly treated. Was it the way to promote a good understanding between farmers and landlords, to hold out to the tenant-farmers that they were not fit to manage their own affairs—not so fit as those selected and put in by the lord lieutenant, because they possessed a certain number of acres? If a man succeeded to an estate of 5,000 or 6,000 acres, if he was the greatest dolt in existence, he was put into the magistracy. Did hon. Gentlemen opposite think that the film which had hitherto covered the eyes of the tenants, if not already removed, was not gradually removing? The right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary admitted that there was a growing desire among the farmers to possess a control over the county expenditure. They ought not to wait, but to meet the demand of the ratepayers, and place them on the same footing in counties as they were in large towns. The magistrates in boroughs had not lost any- 1283 thing of their efficiency; they managed the police as before, though they had yielded tip the management of municipal affairs. The effect of an adverse vote on the part of hon. Members would be to say that the farmers and ratepayers in counties were not worthy to be placed upon the same footing as the ratepayers in boroughs. The hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich had referred them to the evidence taken before the Committee last year, but that was controversial evidence: and if he had looked to the evidence taken before a Commission which was issued on the subject, he would have found that not a single witness was in favour of the present state of things, and all his objections were met by that evidence. It was not fair to Mr. Roberts to be spoken of in the way he had been, and who was said to be a witness who knew nothing about the matter on which he gave evidence. That gentleman was employed by the county of Lancaster to prepare a Bill. He was asked before the Committee if it would alter his opinion as to the necessity for the Bill if he had been more accurately informed of the details of the mode in which the magistrates did their business; and he said that he came there only to state, that however that business was conducted, all that he wanted was representation on the conduct of expenditure. All that was wanted was the establishment of that principle. The Committee of last year, the Commission, and even the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwieh, and the Member for East Somersetshire, concurred in the principle of the representation of taxation. He confessed that great caution and great prudence ought to be exercised in any change; but he entreated them, after all the admissions he had made, and ail the admissions they had made, not to reject altogether a measure which was wise and just, and calculated to promote good understanding between the ratepayers in counties and the county magistracy, and which would elevate them in public opinion, if, in a spirit of independence and liberality, they voted for giving the ratepayers the proper management of their affairs, whilst retaining the judicial functions which they were called upon to exercise.
§ MR. WODEHOUSE
would not have troubled the House, if the hon. Member for Montrose had not particularly referred to the county of Norfolk. It was perfectly true that the county expenditure had been very materially increased in the course of 1284 the last few years, and it was attributable to three causes—for gaols, lunatic asylums, and constabulary police. The cost of the constabulary was between 11,000l. and 12,000l. per annum; but as that was essential for the prevention of crime, it was hardly open to any objection. The lunatic asylum had been a considerable expense. For many years the county of Norfolk had kept its lunatic asylum cheaper than any other in the kingdom, but the custody of the patients was the only object; now, their cure was also an object; and to no other cause was the great mitigation of lunacy more attributable, than to the improvements in lunatic asylums. He declared his conviction that this Bill was not called for by any general expression of opinion; and he entirely concurred with the hon. Baronet who moved the Amendment, that such was the character of it, seeking to introduce men who from their station in life could not give attention to the business, that he felt it absolutely necessary to vote in favour of the Amendment.
§ MR. WILSON PATTEN
agreed with the hon. Baronet who moved the Amendment, that this Bill ought to be taken up by the Government. It was in the county he had the honour to represent that the measure had been first suggested. A large meeting of the boards of guardians in Lancashire was held, and he and other parties were appointed a deputation to come up, and request Her Majesty's Government to undertake some measure having for its object the giving control to the ratepayers, upon which point there was a unanimous opinion, though there were differences as to details. And he felt bound to say, in justification of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, who had brought forward this measure, that he brought it forward, not because the Bill in detail afforded the best mode of carrying out that unanimous opinion, but because Her Majesty's Government had declined to introduce it. He (Mr. Patten) had heard with great pleasure from the right hon. Secretary of State for the Home Department, that if the House would pass the second reading, he would do almost the same thing as if Government took* up the measure—that he would serve upon a Select Committee of this House to consider its provisions, and would exercise that influence which he would always have in any Committee on which he sat, in endeavouring to bring forward a right measure on this subject. He (Mr. Patten) had objec- 1285 tions to some of the details, into which he would not then enter; but of this he was quite certain, that there was a growing feeling that some control should be given to the ratepayers, and as he approved that object, he, for one, should vote for the second reading. It was stated by the hon. Baronet who proposed the Amendment, that the pressure of the county rates, as bearing upon the ratepayers individually, had not increased. But in the county which he (Mr. Patten) represented—Lancashire, if the pressure was not greater, there was a much greater anxiety to have more control of so large an expenditure of public money, which, in the gross, had very much increased. He would vote for the second reading, because he was quite certain that, with the aid of the Government, some satisfactory measure, though perhaps not satisfactory to all, would be produced, and the great difficulty, the not interfering with the judicial functions of magistrates, would rest in safe hands. He thought the hon. Member for Droitwich had been, to use an old saying, abusing plaintiff's attorney—that was an instruction which was only followed when the case was very bad. He (Mr. Patten) was not there to defend the witnesses, whom the hon. Baronet accused of so much ignorance; but he must say, if the hon. Baronet wished to damn those witnesses, he should have brought more convincing arguments. It was very well to say the witnesses were fools and idiots, and all of them very dull people, but he should have brought a little more proof; indeed, the hon. Baronet would find that he had misrepresented the point, and that he had not stated the particular answer quite as it stood in the evidence. The hon. Baronet said also, that no one gave evidence in favour of the Bill on county expenditure but persons who knew nothing about the business. He thought if the hon. Baronet took the list of witnesses, he would find he was mistaken. As far as Lancashire was concerned, there was one most respectable magistrate, a man of the highest standing, and who had paid the greatest attention to this subject, and he expressed an opinion decidedly in favour of giving control to the ratepayers over the county expenditure, which he fortified by reasons. The hon. Baronet might say that those opinions were devoid of reason; but he should have shown that they were devoid of reason before giving utterance to such an opinion. Believing the principle of the Bill to be this, that 1286 some control should be given to the ratepayers, without going into the details, which would be discussed at a future stage, he should support the second reading.
§ MR. ELLIS
considered that taxation and representation ought to go together. This was not merely a tenant's question; the parties that felt most aggrieved were the small owners of property. They felt they had no representation, any more than the tenants, and that they ought to have some control over the expenditure of their own money. He could bear his testimony to the admirable way the magistrates of Leicester administered the funds; but it was no matter how little they spent, so long as the people had no representation. They were not satisfied, and never would be satisfied. He should be sorry to see any division which might produce had feeling against hon. Gentlemen opposite, and he suggested that the Bill should be allowed to go a second reading without any division.
MR. HENRY DRUMMOND
had presented petitions in favour of financial boards from nearly every board of guardians in the county of Surrey, and he confessed that there was a growing desire on the part of the ratepayers for some such measure; but he was utterly at a loss to know how they could make any Bill which could give any real control. He thought the ratepayers would be completely deceived, and that not one shilling would be saved. He wished to be perfectly fair, and he must say he did not understand how it could be considered they were setting aside the magistrates, by simply asking them to share a part of their duties, especially when they recollected that in the early history of this country these magistrates were all elected by the people. He very much questioned whether this Bill would answer without giving much stronger powers to the Secretary of State than were now assigned to him. He believed they would see at these boards precisely what they saw in poor-law unions: those who possessed only a short-lived interest would be doing like the hon. Gentleman opposite in Government matters, always saying a less sum, without any regard to the adaptation of amount to necessity. Reserving to himself the discussion of the provisions at a future stage, he should not object to the second reading.
§ SIR H. VERNEY
could give testimony to the strong and growing feeling that some Bill of this nature should pass the House, having come from a very sharp 1287 Parliamentary contest, where hardly any point was pressed more strongly upon the candidates by the ratepayers and tenant-farmers than that there should be some representative body to control the expenditure of the country. He thought a saving might be effected in some points of that expenditure; in some counties where the constabulary were introduced, there was one policeman to every 2,000 inhabitants; in others there was one policeman to every 10,000 inhabitants. Clearly both could not be right; it could not be necessary in one county to have only one policeman to every 10,000, when in another there was one policeman to every 2,000 persons. If a good principle of constabulary were carried out, he believed the country could be "policed" for a very much smaller sum than at present, and that a saving of one-third might be effected. He contended, also, that if proper economic management and arrangement were introduced into the highways, at least a third of that item might be saved. Under present circumstances no exertions ought to be spared to alleviate the distress among the farmers. It was extremely to be deplored that a large portion of local taxation should have been fixed upon real property, by the refusal to entertain the propositions brought forward by Mr. Ward in 1842 and 1843. If a man were bred a farmer, he could do nothing else. If he reached the age of 40, he was unfit to turn his mind to any other occupation than farming; he was, therefore, more interested in the prosperity of the landed interest than the landlord himself. It must not be supposed that he had a mere temporary interest; every man connected with the land was interested that no unfair burdens should be placed upon it. It was with the belief that such a measure as the one proposed, if fairly worked, would be a great alleviation to the landed interest, that he should now support the second reading.
§ MR. SPOONER
said, the real question before the House was whether they could again do that which they had already twice done, namely, recognise the principle that the ratepayers ought to have a voice in the expenditure of the country. He had not heard that principle challenged by anybody, but he had heard that this Bill was very improper for the purpose. To the principle he gave his full and complete assent; but he did agree with the hon. Member for Droitwich that he never saw such clumsy machinery, or a measure so 1288 likely to bring the whole principle into contempt. If he had been bound to take the Bill as it was, he should have said No to the second reading; but the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department had promised to give his most valuable services in Committee in endeavouring to carry out the principle. There was no man in that House to whom he (Mr. Spooner) could look with greater confidence, or to whom he would be more willing to commit the task, than to the right hon. Baronet. That would induce him to vote for the second reading; and he hoped, after what he had heard and the promise given; that the hon. Member for Droitwich would withdraw his Amendment.
concurred in the hope that the hon. Baronet would withdraw the Amendment. As he understood the Bill, it would give the ratepayers a voice in the expenditure; they would be able to express an opinion upon the extent of the police, but not upon the use of that body. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary that the ratepayers ought not to be restricted in the choice of persons. He saw no reason why they should not appoint a magistrate; many of their own body, though well qualified from their having been made conversant with public business at the meetings of the boards of guardians, would be really unwilling to go a great distance from their homes, and might probably be very glad to find a magistrate to act as their representative. When the right hon. Baronet spoke of the restriction the other way—that none but magistrates should be selected—of course he was only to be understood to use that as an argument to do away with the restriction that magistrates should not be chosen.
§ CAPTAIN PELHAM
thought they were endeavouring to couple together, for the purposes of county business, two parties—one not only more conversant, but saddled with responsibility; but the other party having no responsibility whatever. They were asking the ratepayers to control expenses, upon which they could not possibly form a correct judgment, inasmuch as they were connected with duties which the magistrates alone had to perform. He could not, for the sake of popularity, consent to lead a people on a false scent, which must end in disappointment. They had heard a great deal of public feeling on this subject; but he believed the noble Lord at the head of the Government had 1289 stated to a deputation that the reason the Government had not taken up the subject was to be attributed to the fact that no expression of general feeling had been elicited upon it. He believed that the Bill would lead the people into error with respect to the supposed benefit to result from it, and therefore he would vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Droitwitch. He considered that it would be far better to appoint a public auditor than to interfere in this way. The outcry which had been raised against the county expenditure, originated with a class of persons who really did not know what taxes they were paying. It would be time enough to deal with a subject of so much delicacy when the appointment of a public auditor had not given satisfaction.
§ MR. ROBERT PALMER
thought the hon. Member who had moved the rejection of the Bill had adduced strong and good grounds for making that Motion when he rose. He (Mr. Palmer) did not at all wish to dispute the principles endeavoured to be carried out in the Bill, but he agreed with the hon. Member for East Somersetshire that the subject ought to be taken up by Her Majesty's Government—that it ought to be carried out under their sanction. From what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, it appeared he objected, almost as much as he (Mr. Palmer) did, to many of the provisions, which would require an alteration of almost every clause; but since the right hon. Gentleman had offered to give every attention to the Bill, he thought it would not be unworthy of the hon. Member for Droitwitch to agree to affirm the principle, only reserving perfect liberty to discuss the details.
§ MR. DEEDES
said, there was one ingredient wanting in the proposition of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Berkshire, which was—that they had not, at present, the consent of the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill to the arrangement proposed—that if they allowed a second reading it should then pass to a Select Committee for the purpose of being considered in its details upstairs. He could not be bound to consent to the second reading, unless he had that distinct understanding from the right hon. Gentleman that he would adopt such a course. He was not prepared to deny that there was a growing feeling—from what cause it arose he should not now stop to inquire— 1290 for some legislation on this subject. With regard to the county which he represented—Kent, there had been no pressure, and he was free to adopt that course which he believed to be the best. Only one petition from a board of guardians in the county of Kent had, he believed, been presented; but still he had no right to disregard the feeling in other parts of the country, and he hoped the measure would come out an efficient one, though he much doubted this, because the views entertained by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State and by the right hon. Member for Manchester were directly antagonistic. He (Mr. Deedes) was one of that majority in the Committee that thought and voted, that if anything ought to be done it ought to taken up by the Government. If the right hon. Gentleman was willing to allow the Bill to go to a Committee upstairs for the purpose of being discussed in the manner suggested, he should, after what had fallen from the right hon. Secretary of State, feel bound to look upon this, in fact, as a Government measure, and having said that he was ready to consider any Government measure, he did not think it right to pass this by, now that it had assumed that shape. As to its being a measure to alleviate that agricultural distress which was now generally admitted on both sides of the House, how could it be so when the hon. Member for Montrose, and he believed the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden) had both expressed an opinion that the working of this Bill would, in the first instance at least, rather increase than diminish the amount of county rates.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
wished to prevent any misunderstanding with respect to the promise made by his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He said, that if the House would agree to the second reading he was willing to serve upon a Select Committee upstairs, to attend assiduously to the subject, and to state his opinion as to the best mode in which the objects of the Bill might be attained. He did not think his right hon. Friend could be expected to engage himself further than that, because his views might not be entertained by the majority of the Committee. What his right hon. Friend had engaged to do was to serve upon the Committee, and to state what amendments ought to be made in the Bill.
§ MR. M. GIBSON
should strongly object to the appointment of any such Committee as sat upon this Bill last year. He did not want a Committee to take evidence; but if it were proposed to go into Committee, with a bonâ fide intention of considering the clauses, and that when it came out of Committee it should be considered something in the light of a Government measure, then he saw great advantage from such a Committee. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary so far concurred in the principle and design of the Bill that he would suffer the Committee to place him in the post of honour, rather than that he should serve simply as an independent supporter of any private Member bringing forward this Bill. If he had a clear understanding on this point, he would not stand in the way of such a proposal as the right hon. Gentleman had made. With reference to the observations of the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich as to the evidence of Mr. Roberts, he thought Mr. Roberts deserved infinite credit for not having said anything before that Committee which he did not know of his own knowledge. He stated that he had only a general acquaintance with the proceedings of quarter-sessions, and confined his evidence to matters of which he was himself cognisant; and upon those matters his evidence was accurate and valuable. The remarks of the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich would lead them to suppose that the Earl of Stradbroke, in the evidence which he had given, was doubtful as to the propriety of financial boards. Now the Earl of Stradbroke stated that he was in favour of financial boards, constituted upon the plan as propounded in the Bill before the Committee; and he believed there was a general feeling in favour of such boards in the county of Suffolk, and that their establishment would afford satisfaction to the ratepayers.
§ MR. HENLEY
was glad to find that the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary was of opinion that they ought to separate the judicial and the financial functions of the magistrates, and thought he could see his way to effect that object. There being no difference of opinion on any side of the House that taxation and representation should go hand in hand, he would be inclined to give the right hon. Baronet an opportunity of developing his plans in Committee. He (Mr. Henley) and the country would, however, have been 1292 much better satisfied if the right hon. Baronet had, during the recess, been endeavouring to arrive at a solution of the matter, and had been prepared to bring forward a Bill which would have had the weight and responsibility of a Government measure. There would then have been better chances of arriving at a proper solution of the question. He was not at all surprised at the repugnance of the right hon. Member for Manchester to have anything to do with evidence; but he was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman candidly admit his repugnance on the subject. If the right hon. Member had gone on some other Sessions with his evidence, he would have found himself put fairly out of court. A great deal had been said about the principle of representation; but he (Mr. Henley) did not admit that to be in accordance with the principle of representation, which was only done by delegation. Boards were elected for particular purposes; and he did not admit that, because A. or B. was appointed to fulfil certain functions, that therefore he was a proper representative for the whole community. He should be sorry to say that, because they had a kind of machinery at their hand, they should destroy that machinery by throwing duties on it which did not properly belong to it. He did not object to representation; but let them have it really, and not by delegation, for that was not a principle which belonged to our constitution. He would, under these circumstances, leave himself very much in the hands of the hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich. If the hon. Baronet thought fit to divide the House, he (Mr. Henley) would vote against the Bill. Still, after what had passed, it might be better for the hon. Baronet to withdraw his Amendment; for it would scarcely be fair not to allow the Government an opportunity of showing what they could do with the Bill.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
had not imputed any want of truthfulness to the evidence of Mr. Roberts, but he had said that he knew little of county affairs. The question had now assumed a different aspect from that which it presented when he had moved his Amendment, and after what had been said on behalf of the Government he would not divide the House.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed to a Select Committee.