HC Deb 13 April 1853 vol 125 cc1097-110

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clause 4.


said, there was considerable inconvenience in resuming an adjourned debate after an interval of three or four weeks; but without any wish to occupy unnecessarily the time of the Committee, he thought it was desirable that he should briefly restate the grounds upon which he was anxious to recommend the Amendment which he had moved to the attention of the Committee. The scope of his Amendment was, that it was not advisable to deprive the magistrates of the power which they now had of controlling the county rates and expenditure, but to add an elective body, chosen by the ratepayers, to the machinery already in existence. He had only heard two objections raised to this proposition. One was, that it was not consistent with the principle of the Bill; but he thought that the delegation of the elective powers to the ratepayers was in perfect accordance and harmony with the principle and spirit which the Bill involved. The other objection which had been urged, especially by the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) was, that if the Amendment were carried, and the financial boards were constituted as he proposed, the elected ratepayers would be swamped by the greater number of magistrates. He wished to meet that argument. Would hon. Members tell him that, if he went to the quarter-sessions as a country gentleman and a landlord—his tenants and himself paying a considerable portion of the county rates—he had no interest in objecting to county extravagance? Was it not as much the interest of the county magistrates who attended these sessions to control the expenditure, as of any gentleman whom the ratepayers of the county might elect? Nobody could contend that they had not. The two parties had a common interest; and, so far from believing that there was any weight in the argument that the elected members would be swamped by the ex-officio members, he was fully convinced, that if the ratepayers sent—as he believed they could and would send—good, sensible, and practical men of business as their representatives at the county board, their word would not only be entitled, but he was sure would receive as much attention, and would be allowed as much weight, as that of any other men of business who attended the quarter-sessions. He would ask hon. Members who talked of swamping, whether he had not analogy in favour of his, proposal? Were not Boards of Guardians composed of a large majority of persons elected by the ratepayers and a small minority of ex-officio guardians? And had anybody ever heard of the ex-officio members having been swamped by the elected members; or of any invidious feeling being generated between them in consequence of the one part of the board being more numerous than the other? In his own experience he had certainly never found anything of the kind. On the contrary he had found that, both having a common object in view, they had carried it out by the most harmo- nious possible action. Why, it would be quite as reasonable to say that the Irish Members in that House were swamped by the Members for England and Scotland, because the former constituted only a minority of the House; and yet they had a proof last night that Irish interests were not neglected on that account. He earnestly entreated the supporters of the Bill to consider the very serious practical and unavoidable difficulties which stood in the way of making this great change in the system of managing the economical and internal affairs of the counties which had so long prevailed. He begged them to bear in mind that they could not do what was now proposed without touching such a multitude of Acts of Parliament, and dealing with such a variety of considerations, that it necessarily became a very difficult task indeed to draw up a Bill so as to meet the various requirements of the case; whereas, if they adopted his Amendment, they would avoid most of those difficulties, and, instead of a complicated measure composed of 135 clauses, a short and simple Bill of three clauses would do all that was necessary. There would be no new corporation created —no new arrangement formed—all that would be required was a short enacting Bill to allow the ratepayers of counties to elect a certain number of persons to join with the magistrates in administering the finances of the county. There was one argument, regarding the practical working of county affairs, which he believed had not been mentioned in the course of the discussion, and that was, that as the affairs were at present managed very much by committees, the members of the proposed Board (twenty-four in number only) would not furnish the necessary committees. It might be said that the number of magistrates at present was too large for the proper management of the business of the counties. He could only say that he had never heard that the existing number of magistrates was too large, any more than that the Members of the House of Commons were too numerous for the business of the country. He submitted his Amendment, not as the best arrangement that could be devised, but as a fair compromise. It admitted the principle of elected members, and avoided the numerous difficulties connected with the shaping of clauses to meet the requirements of the plan of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester.

Amendment proposed, in p. 2, line 17, after the words "consist of" to insert the words "the Justices duly qualified to act in such county, together with—"


said, he must object to the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Baronet, because, so far from admitting the principle of the Bill, which was to establish a representative system to control the expenditure of public money, it would continue the anomaly, the only one now existing, of allowing the public money to be administered by an irresponsible Board, for the homœopathic dose of representation which it admitted could hardly be considered as a recognition for the principle contended for, though the Bill was saved from the imputation of being a democratic measure, and that it merely secured a fair representative system in the control of county expenditure. It gave to all property the right of representation, and that was a fair principle on which to legislate. He was opposed to the present irresponsible and oligarchical system by which the county expenditure was controlled; and as to disfranchising the magistracy, he would ask who elected the guardians by whom the members of financial boards would be elected? The right hon. Baronet's theory seemed to be, that the occupiers of land, who paid the county rates, were virtually represented by their landlords, who were in the commission of the peace. But he could show that this theory was fallacious. The right hon. Baronet would probably concede to him that it was only a small proportion of the 160 magistrates in the commission of the peace for Worcestershire who interfered with the financial arrangements of the county. And, besides, he would ask, if they found that out of some 18,000 or 19,000 names in the commission of the peace for all England, only 7,300 were qualified to act, where was the virtual representation of the tenantry in the case of the two-thirds who were not qualified? Moreover, the right hon. Baronet left out of view apparently the absentee and smaller proprietors, minors, and women, whose names were, of course, not in the commission of the peace at all. He could not accept the hon. Baronet's modicum of representation as anything like carrying out the principle of the Bill. He must object to an Amendment which would allow 160 Worcestershire magistrates, for instance, to be ex-officio members of the county board, and allow thirteen or fourteen Unions to send only two members each.


said, that like the right hon. Baronet, he had been endeavouring, during the late vacation, to see how he could carry out the principle upon which they were all agreed without such cumbersome machinery as that which had been proposed. But, before he stated his plan, he begged to premise that he believed they were all agreed on this point, that others besides the magistrates were to meddle with the management of county affairs, because, if they were not all agreed on that point, it was useless talking on the subject. Well, what was the ordinary practice in the management of the financial affairs of counties? They all knew that whole bodies of magistrates did not form themselves into financial committees to examine into the county expenditure, but that they appointed from among themselves a sub-committee for that purpose, which sub-committee made its reports to the general body on the first day of the sessions. Well, he would propose that that principle should be adhered to; but that, instead of the sub-committee being appointed by the magistrates, it should be appointed by the ratepayers. He proposed that each Union should send two representatives, the one a magistrate, the other not; that this sub-committee should make its report on the first day of the sessions, as at present; and that during the time the financial business was under discussion, all the members of the board should be allowed to take part in the discussion; and further, that in case the recommendations of the sub-committee should be overruled by the general body, they should have the power of appeal to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whose decision should be final. They must have a power of appeal somewhere, and he saw no place where an appeal could be so fairly lodged as with the Secretary of State, for it should be remembered that the Secretary of State was the cause of the whole difficulty. It was his orders, and not the extravagance and jobbery of the magistrates, which was the cause of the great expense. The demand for financial boards was the consequence of the orders given to the Secretary of State by that House, and by the Secretary of State to the magistracy; and yet the whole blame was thrown upon the magistracy. If the plan he proposed was adopted, they would get rid of these new corporations with a seal, even though there was no mace, and obtain a true representative system. He (Mr. Drum- mond) would propose also, that in the case of a small number of members of the board— say five—finding themselves aggrieved by the resolution of the general body, they should also have the power of appeal to the Secretary of State. This would enable them to get quit of the cumbersome machinery of the present Bill. It would provide that there should be persons to manage the county finances elected by the ratepayers, and, at the same time, insure a sufficient control by the magistrates. He believed that a Bill of this kind could, like that proposed by the right hon. Baronet, be easily composed of three, or, at most, four clauses.


said, that the scheme just referred to by the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond) was a completely new one, and he did not think it was advisable to occupy their time in discussing schemes which were not before them, and which, in effect, would supersede the Bill which was before them. The case of the Poor Law Guardians to which the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington) had referred, as analogous to his Amendment, was not at all in point, for in that case the elected members constituted the majority, and the ex-officio members the minority; whereas by the Amendment now proposed the ex-officio members would be the majority, and the elected members the minority. The adoption of the right hon. Baronet's Amendment, therefore, would defeat instead of promote the object of the Bill; and be must say that he thought it hardly fair in the right hon. Baronet to have brought it forward. He certainly could not admit that the adoption of a representative system would be degrading to the magistrates, and he thought the magistrates generally would be glad to receive assistance from members of the comity financial boards elected by the guardians. He conceived that, although a measure of this nature might be very much required in Lancashire, and in other populous counties, it was a most objectionable mode of proceeding to endeavour to remedy local grievances by general enactments. He could say for the midland counties, with which he was well acquainted, that there was no feeling in favour of a representative system, and that if the ratepayers were required to choose representatives it would be found very difficult to get such representatives to act. He thought it most desirable that such an option should be allowed with regard to this measure as was allowed with respect to the County Constabulary Acts. He considered that they should not make this measure compulsory in the case of counties which did not desire any change in the management of their financial affairs.


said, that in the six counties of South Wales, by a special Act of Parliament, the administration of the county roads was confined to a board composed of twelve magistrates and six elected representatives; but he found that the Bill now before the Committee proposed that county finances generally should be administered by only twelve persons, six less than the number required for the management of county roads in Wales. He had been a member of the county road boards for many years, and on several occasions great inconvenience had been occasioned by inability to form a board at all. He believed, if this measure was carried into effect, that in the course of a short time there would be no working board whatever in Pembrokeshire. In the county of Glamorgan there were only five Unions, and as each Union would elect two members, they would have no more than ten members to represent the interest of the most important county of South Wales. He did not in the least object to the most perfect publicity, or to the introduction, in a certain degree, of the representative principle; but there were many objections to this Bill. The Boards of Guardians, for instance, represented in many counties only a very small proportion of the property of the county, and he believed it would be almost impossible to carry on large public works extending over many years with any effectual supervision by boards elected annually, and liable to constant alteration. Ho had no objection to meeting persons not magistrates, because, after his experience of the roads boards, he thought they might secure the services of a very valuable body of men, who would form an independent opinion as individuals, and not as a body. He did not anticipate that if a certain number of persons were elected members of the financial boards, they would necessarily come into collision with the magistrates. He must say, that unless most material alterations were made in the Bill, he could not give it his support.


said, the speeches that had been made on this subject had been rather directed against the general principle of the measure, than against the particular Amendment before the Committee. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich took a similar course when the Bill was before a Select Committee of the House. Then, as now, he made a succession of suggestions against the principle of the measure, instead of discussing the particular clause before the Committee. He did not think that was the correct mode of dealing with this measure. The principle that financial boards should be constituted, and the representative system adopted, had been affirmed by that House. And, in reply to the statement that this was a Manchester measure, or a measure for any particular county, he said that the House had, by successive divisions on the second reading, asserted that England and Wales did require representative members to be introduced into the management and expenditure of the county rates. It was the House that had adopted the principle, and the imputation must be on them. He must say reflections had been cast upon the county population, which ought not to have come from the farmers' friends and those who represented the rural population—that the farmers and small holders and occupiers in counties were unacquainted with business—that they were so little conversant with the ordinary affairs of life, that they could not be trusted even to control the salary of a turnkey. ["No, no!"] Oh, yes; it was said they would appoint inefficient turnkeys, who would let all the prisoners out of the gaols. Now was this the way in which hon. Gentlemen spoke of those who sent them to that House? Being a resident in a county himself, he was acquainted with the population of rural districts, and he would say they were as well qualified to manage their own affairs as the inhabitants of towns; and he contended that as the Legislature had given to municipal bodies the power of managing local concerns in towns, it was bound to extend the same privilege to counties, and to establish county councils, which would give owners and occupiers of land an efficient control over the county expenditure. The present Bill had been considered by a Select Committee of that House, who had gone carefully through it, clause by clause; and he thought, therefore, he was not presumptuous in asking the House to proceed with this measure, instead of waiting for the Bills that might be introduced by the hon. Members for West Surrey, Droitwich, and Northampton. They were now asked to add to the elected boards the whole of the magistrates in each county. As an instance of the effect of such a proposition, he might mention that in the county of Worcester, which contained thirteen Unions, there were 560 magistrates, so that to the thirteen representatives of the ratepayers in the different Unions, these 560 magistrates would be added. He hoped that even the enemies of the Bill would not endeavour indirectly to nullify its object by supporting the Amendment.


said, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gibson) had professed much virtuous indignation with regard to reflections which he alleged had been cast by the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington) upon the persons who might become members of the proposed financial boards. The right hon. Gentleman must certainly have misunderstood the observations of the right hon. Baronet, who he (Mr. Palmer) was sure had not used language casting any such reflections upon the class referred to. The right hon. Gentleman had accused his (Mr. Palmer's) right hon. Friend (Sir J. Pakington) of being unwilling to allow farmers, and the class of persons who might become members of the financial boards, even the privilege of appointing common turnkeys; but if he (Mr. Palmer) was not much mistaken, the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gibson) left in the hands of the magistrates, instead of transferring to the financial boards, the power of appointing turnkeys. He (Mr. Palmer) must say that he could not agree with the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington). He had assented, both during the last and present Sessions, to the general principle of this Bill, though he did not himself think that any very great advantage would result to the ratepayers in counties from its adoption. If, however, it would be more satisfactory to ratepayers in general to have boards established for the management of county rates, in the mode proposed by this Bill, he saw no objection to such a system being established. He must say he thought the Amendment of the right hon. Baronet, although, perhaps, strictly speaking, it did retain the principle of representation, retained it only in a very small degree, and people might suppose that the elected members were likely to be overruled by the large majority of the magistrates. He agreed in many of the observations of the right hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. V. Smith). A great portion of that right hon. Gentleman's speech would lead him to think that the Bill was not at all necessary, and he believed that although it might be very necessary in the county of Lancaster, it was quite unnecessary in many parts of the country. If he was not much mistaken, some 70l. or 80l.a year had been charged upon the county rate of Lancashire for luncheons for the magistrates. He was not surprised, therefore, that the ratepayers of Lancashire should wish to prevent such ridiculous and indefensible charges from being placed upon the rates; but he thought the title of the Bill should be altered, and that it should be called a "Bill to amend the rates and expenditure of the county of Lancaster." Those counties which were so fortunate as not to have such charges placed upon their rates, might then have the advantage of seeing how the proposed measure worked in the county of Lancaster. He believed that the Bill would lead to a considerable increase of expense in counties, for although under the present law no charge was entailed upon counties for the management of the county rates, this Bill rendered necessary the appointment of clerks and other officers, whose salaries would be a new charge upon the rates. He considered, with the right hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. V. Smith), that the Bill ought to be optional—that it should not be forced upon counties which were not desirous of adopting it. He thought the measure ought not to be brought into operation in any county unless upon the requisition of a large proportion of the ratepayers of the Boards of Guardians.


said, he must beg to observe that the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Gibson) had entirely misunderstood what he had said as to the persons who might be elected members of the financial boards. He had said, in the most distinct manner, that, from his own experience, he knew that members of the Boards of Guardians were most competent men of business.


said, he considered that alterations had been made in the Bill since it came down from the Select Committee, which had materially changed its character. He thought the object of the measure evidently was to take away all the authority possessed by the magistrates with regard to the administration of the county rates. He hoped the House would not forget that the Bill was originally brought forward on account of the—he would not say malversation—but inattention and neglect which had occurred with respect to the application of the finances of the county of Lancaster.


said, the proposal before the Committee was this—that in counties where there were 100, 200, or 300 magistrates, they should associate with them a dozen or two elected men as members of financial boards. Why, they might as well have no elected members of the board at all. He was not a Manchester man, a chairman of quarter sessions, or the representative of a county, but he had acted for a long time as a county magistrate, and he thought the time had come when it would be wise on the part of magistrates to concede this question. He was satisfied that no one who was acquainted with the intelligent yeomanry of this country could doubt that they were fully equal to the discharge of the duties with which it was proposed to intrust them. There were in the Boards of Guardians men of intelligence and leisure, and those were the Men they wanted for those offices, for he did not think they would get farmers to leave their homes for the purpose.


said, he had no inclination to keep up this debate, because there would be full opportunities for discussing the question in its various parts as the clauses came regularly before them; but there were some things they must correct at the time they came before them, or they would pass as perfect and correct. The hon. Member for South Nottinghamshire (Mr. Barrow), had asserted that there was a great increase in the county rates. That might become a grievance, and deserving serious consideration; but he doubted the fact, and thought if they looked over the county expenditure and saw the nature of it—the large sums that had been devoted to improvements, humanity, and justice, as in the case of lunatic asylums and county prisons, and other expenses of that kind—they would see that there had not been such an increase. Upon the question immediately before the Committee, it was said the clause would effectually swamp the magistracy and the ratepayers; but the Amendment would, in his opinion, have the effect of making the ratepayers members of the county boards as effectually as if they were in the commission of the peace. He would only add, that in the county of Surrey, where the county business took place last week, this question was very fully considered, and a very strong resolution was come to by the magistrates present that this Bill was not called for, but was unnecessary, and was only calculated to increase expense; and they unanimously requested that that opin- ion should be respectfully conveyed to the House.


said, he was not going into the question then under discussion, but wished to say one word as to the suggestion made by his right hon. Friend behind him (Mr. V. Smith), and which had been repeated by other hon. Members, and upon which he had heard much from other persons since they had last discussed the Bill—he meant the notion that, in conformity with many precedents of laws of this kind, the application of the Bill to particular counties should be made optional, depending on a desire expressed by the ratepayers. The impression on his own mind had become more and more favourable to that conclusion, and, so far as he was concerned, he should be willing to pay the best attention to any suggestion that was made in the course of their discussions for applying that principle to the Bill; and if the House should come to that mode of dealing with it, he should propose that those hon. Members who had announced their intention of moving Amendments to the Bill should be so far satisfied with such an arrangement, and that they should discuss only amendments that were made, not as this appeared to be, to impede the measure, but that were calculated to improve it.


said, he thought the Amendment of his right hon. Friend (Sir J. Pakington) was most important, and he could not agree in the description given of it by the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston). It went, in his judgment, to laying the foundation upon which alone this measure could be made to work. All who bad considered this subject must be aware of the great difficulty there would be in constituting a new corporation in a county, and that they would run great risk of leaving many things dropping between the old and new bodies. If, however, they added a number of electors to the old body, they would keep one general body alive, and there would be no danger of letting any duties drop between the two; they would also keep one common body for the control of the officers they must appoint, and one set of officers would be sufficient. If they did that, it would be quite open to them, by enactment if they pleased, that a financial committee should be constituted out of that common body, consisting of an equal number of the elective and magisterial bodies; and they would have this great advantage in that system, that they would have a common body from which all authority might proceed, and would get rid of all that class of questions that must and would arise of a mixed judicial and financial character. For that reason alone he should vote for the proposition of his right hon. Friend. With reference to the second reading of the Bill, they were now, in fact, discussing the second reading; and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson) must admit this, that there was but one division on the second reading of the Bill, and that was adverse to it.


I said the House assented to it.


The House assented, not to the Bill, but to the principle that there should be a representative system. If they added an elective body to the body of magistrates, and out of that carved a body altogether part of it, the measure would, he thought, work well, and they would thereby secure that which the hon. Member for Somersetshire (Mr. Miles) wished to secure—a body of an equal number of the elective and magisterial bodies to have the control of the financial matters of the county; but if they made separate corporations in the counties, they would have great confusion and increased expense. He would say one word to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson) to induce him to accede to the suggestion of the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston), and for this reason, if he were not misinformed, Lancashire was not under the ordinary law of the land as to the county rates, but those rates were under a local Act.


said, he thought there was great objection to the element of dissension they would at once introduce into every Board of Guardians in the Kingdom, and that this clause must be entirely amended, from first to last, before it would be capable of working. But he would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington), that there was an appearance of unfairness in regard to his Amendment, standing as it did in the way of an Amendment about to be made by the hon. Member for East Somersetshire, and which seemed to him to obviate the objections made to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman.


said, he only rose to say that, from whatever quarter it might come, he protested against the offensive imputation of the hon. Baronet (Sir W. Jolliffe) of unfairness on his part.


said, his hon. Friend did not charge the right bon. Gentleman with unfarness: he spoke only of seeming unfairness.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 115; Noes 144: Majority 29.

The House resumed.

Committee report progress.

The House adjourned at one minute before Six o'clock.