HC Deb 23 February 1853 vol 124 cc466-87

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the Second Reading of the County Rates and Expenditure Bill, said, the subject possessed so little novelty that he thought he might stand excused if he did not press it on the attention of the House with any lengthened observations. It was a subject which had been before Parliament for the last twenty years. Immediately after the Reform Bill two Committees—one of the House of Lords, and the other of the House of Commons—sat to consider the subject of county rates; and, though the object for which these Committees were appointed was not strictly the introduction of the representative system, yet at that time it was held by many influential persons to be desirable that the ratepayers should have some voice in the control of the county expenditure. A Commission was afterwards appointed, of which Mr. Speaker was a Member, and that Commission reported that a plan had been suggested to them which appeared to be reasonable, namely, that the representatives of the ratepayers should act in conjunction with the magistrates in assessing the county rates and in controlling the county expenditure. The Commission distinctly admitted the soundness of the principle that there should be representative control over such large sums as the county rates then amounted to, and which at the present time reached a much larger amount. Subsequently the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) introduced a Bill for the purpose of giving the ratepayers the control that was asked. After struggling against much opposition, his hon. Friend, having many other matters of public interest to engage his attention, gave up the contest. It was from the hands, as it were, of the hon. Member for Montrose that the promoters of the Bill which he (Mr. M. Gibson) now submitted to the House, had received the measure; but he regretted to say that they had been obliged to make very considerable concessions, and to depart very greatly from those sound principles which his hon. Friend originally introduced into the Bill; and they had done so, he admitted, with the views of expediency, that they might get something carried, desiring, on the instalment principle, to take as much as they could get. The Bill which it was now proposed to read a second time, was supported by Members on both sides of the House. It did not assume at all the character of a party measure. In fact, his hon. Friend the Member for South Nottinghamshire (Mr. Barrow) had consented to let his name be put on the back of the Bill; and, from his great knowledge of county matters, his aid was of much value. The measure might be correctly described as a Liberal Conservative measure. Making certain concessions to the representative principle, it reserved at the same time to the magistrates considerable powers, and did not in the smallest degree trench on their judicial authority. When the Bill Was intro- duced in 1849, or rather in 1850, it was referred to a Select Committee, which had the power of taking evidence. The Bill was read a second time, the House distinctly recognising the principle that representative control should be introduced. In 1851 the Bill was again read a second time, and referred to a Select Committee, which, however, had not power to receive evidence. That Committee went through the clauses with great care. It was composed of men qualified to form a sound opinion on the subject. The present First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir J. Graham), the right hon. Member for Morpeth (Sir G. Grey), the present President of the Poor Law Board (Mr. Baines),and the late Secretary for the Colonies (Sir J. Pakington), as members of that Committee, devoted great time and attention to the clauses of the Bill. He (Mr. M. Gibson), with some other Gentlemen who were on the Committee, did not agree to all the alterations which the Committee of 1851 thought fit to introduce. The Committee were by no means unanimous. In one instance, by a majority, the Committee at first sanctioned the view he proposed, though the decision was afterwards rescinded. He should not have ventured, as an independent Member of Parliament, to introduce a Bill at all, knowing the great difficulties which must attend the effort by a private Member of Parliament to carry through a Bill of such magnitude. He should have preferred its being in the hands of the Government. As Parliament had sanctioned the second reading of the Bill, and the subject had been considered in two Committees—he might have said in four—it became, he would suggest, the duty of the Government to introduce a measure on a subject with which for a long period it had been the wish of Parliament to deal. The Government had not, however, shown a disposition to take that course; and he felt it a matter of duty to use what humble powers he had in bringing forward the pre-sent Bill. He hoped, however, that the Government, if they would not take the responsibility of initiating the measure, would, coming to his aid, assist him in carrying it into a law. He was much en couraged to take his present course by the declaration of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer at the commencement of the present Session, who said, with respect to the administration of the county rates— I will state generally, on the part of Government, that we have not the slightest objection to the representative principle being carried into any portion of the management of the affairs of this country into which it can be introduced with advantage to the general interests of the community. On that statement he now claimed the vote of the right hon. Gentleman for the second reading of this Bill, because sanctioning the second reading did no more than give an approval to the introduction of the representative principle for the control of county expenditure. He (Mr. M. Gibson) claimed also the votes of those Members of the Government who were more immediately connected with the late Sir Robert Peel. In 1850 that distinguished statesman supported the second reading of the Bill then before Parliament—a Bill much stronger in its character than the present—and on that occasion he said— 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."—[3 Hansard, cix. 832.] The present First Lord of the Admiralty said— 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."—[3 Hansard, cix. 827] He (Mr. M. Gibson), therefore, claimed the votes of those Gentlemen on that side of the House to whom he had referred as connected with the Government; and, as a matter of course, he claimed the votes of the Members of the Whig party, because they had never ceased to advocate at least the principle that the ratepayers ought to be admitted to exercise a control in regard to the county expenditure—that the system established in boroughs with town councils should, as far as possible, be extended to county populations. He should proceed briefly to state in what respect the Bill of which he now moved the second reading differed from the Bill which came out of the Committee in 1851. It might appear singular to hon. Gentlemen, that after the Committee of 1851 devoted so much time and attention to the perfecting of a measure, he should have undertaken to make some not immaterial changes, and to have introduced a Bill different from that to which the Committee agreed. He quite admitted that Members of the Committee might vote against those alterations when they appeared in the Bill, but he anticipated their support on the principle of the Bill. The first material alteration was this: that in consti- tuting the County Board all the members of it should be elected by the elective portion of the Board of Guardians. The Bill of 1851, as it came out of Committee, laid down that one-half of the members were to be elected by the elective portion of the guardians, and that the justices who were to form the other half of the Board were to be elected by the Justices of the Sessions. Although the financial board was to be composed one-half of justices and the other of persons, whether justices or not, who should be elected by the elective portion of the Board of Guardians, the promoters of the Bill thought, that inasmuch as responsibility to the ratepayers was the principle to be established, it was more desirable that the justices who were to form part of the Board should be elected by the ratepayers, rather than by the justices at quarter-sessions. It would be a departure from the principle of the Bill if they did not adhere to that alteration, that principle being that those who constituted the Board should be responsible to the ratepayers. He believed that the proposed mode of electing the Board would be found sound, and consistent with the main objects of the Bill. He attached considerable importance to this amendment of the Bill of 1851. The next change which had been introduced was this: The Bill of 1851. although it gave to the financial board the power of making and levying rates, and of regulating the expenditure of all the moneys collected under the Constabulary Act, did not give to the board all the powers which were exercised by the justices in quarter-sessions under the Constabulary Act. He thought the financial board should have all the same powers as were conferred by Parliament on the town-councils of boroughs, who had complete control over the police. That portion of the law had been found to work well. It was thought right that the financial board should have the same powers as were vested by the Constabulary Act in the justices; but an objection had been started, though he did not consider it of any weight, that the financial board might not be willing to keep up such a constabulary force as was necessary for the safety of the county and the maintenance of an efficient police; a proviso, therefore, had been introduced giving to the justices of the county power to make a representation to the Secretary of State, that, in their opinion the constabulary force was not sufficient for the protection of the county. In making this representation, they would be required to set forth their special reasons. The Secretary of State might then order an increase in the number of the constabulary force, but to such an extent only as should not exceed the number now fixed by law. Another alteration was, that the financial board, having nothing to do with the patronage connected with the gaols, or with the regulations of the gaols, or the discipline in the prisons, it was thought that they should at least have the power of controlling the salaries to be paid to the officers of the gaols. That was a power possessed by the town-councils of boroughs. A decision had recently been given in the case of the York city gaol. It appeared that the town-council would not pay the increased salary of the governor as voted by the justices. On a mandamus, the Court held that the justices could not increase the salary without the consent of the town-council; that showed that it was the intention of the Legislature, that although the justices should have the regulation of the gaols, yet, the salaries of the officers being a matter of finance, they should be controlled by the town-council. Therefore it was provided by this Bill, that, reserving to the justices all powers of regulation, the financial board should have a controlling power in the matter of salaries. With regard to the pauper lunatic asylums, a precisely similar course had been taken. It was proposed to vest in the financial board similar powers in reference to those asylums as were vested in the town-councils by Act of Parliament. These were matters for the consideration of the House. If the House thought it was not right that the financial board should exercise such extensive powers as the promoters of the Bill had thought fit to vest in them, it would be for hon. Members to urge their own views upon the House, and for the Committee to make such alterations as the Bill might require. But at the present time he submitted that these differences of opinion as to the precise amount of power which the financial board should exercise, Would not be a sufficient argument to justify the House in rejecting the Bill upon the second reading; for in agreeing to the second reading they did but sanction the sound constitutional principle that the representative principle should be introduced in some form or other in assessing and expending the County rates. Therefore, with the utmost confidence, he now begged the House to sanction the second reading of the Bill. He did not propose referring it to a Select Committee. He hoped no hon. Member would make any such proposition. If the Bill was to be destroyed at all, he would prefer being relieved of his sufferings at once on the second reading, rather than he put to the torturing process of a Select Committee. They had already had a Select Committee, who examined all the witnesses who could be called; and the House was now, in his opinion, in a condition to legislate upon the subject. He therefore asked the House to take the Bill into their favourable consideration, and to sanction its second reading.


said, that he was anxious to say a few words on this subject on the part of the Government, and possibly the statement which he would have to make might save some of the time of the House. He admitted fully the importance of the matter to which his right hon. Friend's Bill related—it was indeed of much greater importance than it would appear at first sight to one who superficially examined the subject, because it involved not merely the question of local expenditure, but it involved also those very important national considerations, he might say, of the police of counties, and of the treatment of prisoners in general, and that more delicate and interesting subject—the custody of pauper lunatics. It involved, also, considerations connected with the personal feelings and the public position of that most valuable class of men—the unpaid magistracy of the country. With regard to the fundamental principle of the Bill, namely, that of the introduction of the representative system, for the purpose of controlling the county expenditure, he considered that principle to have been so completely admitted by what had passed in regard to this matter in former Parliaments, that he was ready to acquiesce in this Bill so far as that principle was concerned. Therefore it was not his intention to offer any opposition to the second reading, meaning thereby that he acquiesced in the representative principle of the measure. The House, however, must bear in mind that of all the great aggregate of county expenses there was a much smaller proportion than might at first be supposed which was capable of being made the subject of discussion on the part of the magistrates, because a very large portion of the annual expenses of counties arose out of matters regulated by Acts of Parliament, over which no person could exercise any control, so that the House must not expect I that the introduction of this principle could very materially influence the amount of county expenditure. When stating that, he was quite ready to concur in the second reading of the Bill; hut he must say that it was with the view of going into Committee, and there of having the Bill brought back to the provisions of that measure which, in 1851, came out of the Select Committee, where the subject bad been most anxiously and deliberately investigated, and from whence a Bill had come which he believed had received the unanimous concurrence of the Committee to which it had been referred, and in that Bill his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty had concurred. There was one point mentioned by his right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Gibson) in regard to which he himself should not insist upon the adaptation of the present Bill to that of 1851—he meant the question as to how the financial board should be elected. The Bill of 1851 had provided that the financial board should consist of at least one-half magistrates; that half should be elected by the magistrates themselves in quarter-sessions, and that the other half, which might or might not be magistrates, should be elected by the elective portions of the Boards of Guardians. His right hon. Friend, in his explanation of the difference between the several Bills, laid some stress upon the principal provision of the present Bill, which provided that the financial board should be entirely elected by the elective portion of the Boards of Guardians. He (Viscount Palmerston) had no objection to that arrangement. Indeed it struck him that it might be more conducive to the harmonious action of the financial board; and for this reason, if for no other, that if they divided the financial board into two parts, the one part to be elected by the one authority, and the other part by the other authority, each electing body would take special care to elect those of its own kind, that was to say, the magistrates would, of course, elect their half entirely from the magistrates, and the Boards of Guardians in that case would be likely to elect no magistrates as forming part of the half which fell to their share; whereas, if the whole body were elected by the same electoral body, he thought the chance might be that in many cases magistrates might be elected as part of the half which might consist of magistrates or not of magistrates. In all other particulars he cer- tainly would urge the House to adapt the present Bill in all respects to the arrangements of the Bill of 1851. He had only further to say that in agreeing to such a proceeding he trusted that the House and the country would not suppose that the acquiescence of the Government in this change, which was of considerable importance in the arrangements of counties, arose from any distrust whatever in the unpaid magistracy of the country. Nor did he think, himself, that it would he found on inquiry that those magistrates had at all been inattentive to a proper economy of the funds entrusted to their management. He was much inclined to think, although this alteration might he more agreeable and satisfactory to the feelings and opinions of the country at large, that practically it would not be found that any material saving of expense would be effected by it. There might undoubtedly be some instances where magistrates in particular districts had been, perhaps, less attentive than they ought to have been to economical considerations; but, taking the country as a whole, he was disposed to think that those funds over which the magistrates had had the control, had been administered with a due regard to economical considerations and the interests of the ratepayers. And, in fact, the magistrates being themselves a very essential and important part of the ratepayers, it was obvious that they had a personal interest in bringing the expenses within such moderate limits as were consistent with the efficiency of the services which had to be performed. There was another change which had been suggested to him by some hon. Members, and which when the proper time came he thought might well be considered by the House, and that suggestion was that this measure, which naturally might be repugnant to the feelings and opinions of the magistrates at large, might be made optional, instead of imperative—that was to say, instead of compelling any county to adopt it, it might he left to the decision of the Boards of Guardians of that county, as intimated by majority or otherwise, whether the Bill should or should not be applied to their particular county. It had been stated that some counties were very anxious for this Bill; for instance, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, and others; whilst other counties were not desirous of the change. Upon this question he really could give no opinion of his own; but he merely threw it out as a mat- ter which the House would he called upon to consider during the progress of the Bill. But his only object in rising at present was to state that on the part of the Government he was ready to concur in the second reading of this Bill, with the clear understanding that in Committee the measure— subject to the exception that he had stated—should be brought back to the arrangements of the Bill of 1851.


said, that by adopting the second reading they were adopting all that was objectionable in the principle of the Bill. The principle of the Bill was the establishing a financial county board. He considered such a board to be entirely unnecessary; and that, if established, it would be productive of the worst possible consequences. Why was such a board required? There was already a finance committee in each county, to examine the accounts, and to report upon them to the sessions. All those accounts were made public in the different parishes; and they clearly showed how little control the magistrates really had over the expenditure, and how much they were bound to provide by the power exercised by the Secretary of State under the authority of Parliament. The greater portion of the county expenditure was on account of the interest of money borrowed, and in repayment of the principal, for those essential improvements which the magistrates were bound to make in providing pauper lunatic asylums and county gaols. All their proceedings relating to the county rates must take place in public, and were open to inspection in every respect, so that every security against mismanagement was now afforded to the ratepayers; and by the 15 & 16 Vict., c. 81, passed in the last Session, returns were periodically to be made to the Secretary of State, and were afterwards to be laid on the table of the House; and there was this advantage to be derived from those returns, that they would not only show what rates were actually levied in any particular county, but also afford an opportunity of making a comparison between the expenditure of the different counties throughout England. He held in his hand an account delivered previous to every Session from the county of Middlesex. There was no one subject of expenditure which was not divided from another. There were, also, the details of every separate head which might be made the subject of discussion, if necessary, on the part of the magistrates; and who were those magistrates? They were men entertaining different opinions, and who had an interest in showing them-selves anxious to attend to the concerns of the county. Some of them were the Parliamentary representatives of the people, and were naturally desirous of showing how much care they took of every 5l. or 10l. of the money raised from the ratepayers, who were their constituents. He (Mr. Fresh-field) took an active part in the management of the financial concerns of what he might term his own county (Surrey), and he could vouch for an extent of care and economy in the expenditure of county money, quite equal to that which took place in Middlesex; and no vote open to observation ever passed without criticism, nor was such criticism ever discouraged. The magistrates were, in fact, engaged in discussing their own concerns, in an expenditure principally paid by themselves, directly, or through their tenants. By the proposed measure power would be put into the hands of the ratepayers to decide upon questions whether this or that expenditure should take place, not with reference to the necessity of such expenditure, but in order to limit the expenditure to the lowest possible amount:—improvement would be out of the question. There would be that difficulty to be contended with if these financial county boards should be established. The Boards of Guardians were not intrusted to elect the district surveyor, under an important Bill introduced by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, and the Bill failed in consequence; but they were to be intrusted to elect a financial board, The noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) was of opinion that there would be a propriety in allowing the Board of Guardians to elect both the magistrates and those who were not magistrates, who should constitute the financial board; but had the noble Viscount considered that in some counties there were magistrates who were desirous to expend not only as little as they ought, but less than they ought, and who were guided, not by a feeling of economy, but of parsimony? Now, the Board of Guardians would probably wish to elect such men. The consequence would be that there would not be a fair representation of the magistracy of the county on such a Board. On the contrary, you would have those magistrates elected who had made themselves conspicuous in advocating measures for limiting the expenditure of the county, however proper that expenditure might be. You would not have a Board composed of magistrates on the one hand and ratepayers on the other, but you would have a Board composed altogether of a peculiar class of men. See, again, the power which it was proposed to confer on the ratepayers. A man paying, it might be, upon a rental of 30l., a year would have a control coextensive with the largest landowner in deciding upon what improvements should be adopted in the county. He did not wish the ratepayers to be made to pay a shilling more than they ought; and if there were any particular counties where this Bill was desired, let them be placed under such a measure; but, at all events, a general Bill ought not to be forced upon the great majority of the counties which were satisfied with the present system. An hon. Friend of his the other day said that the question of the hop duty was one of Sussex against all England; and he (Mr. Fresh field) would venture to say that this was a question of Lancashire against all England. So far as Middlesex and Surrey were concerned, he could affirm that no proposition more unnecessary or more objectionable could enter the imagination of man. But there were some counties where the interests of the ratepayers were not so well provided for. Let his right hon. Friend bring forward a proposition to give them more ample powers to control the expenditure of tin-county rates, and he would find him (Mr. Freshfield) ready to support it. But let him not press such a measure as this upon the counties indiscriminately. The noble Lord appeared to consider it a measure perfectly agreeable to the magistrates; on the contrary, it was regarded as a degradation of the magistrates. It was true that their judicial powers were reserved to them; but, practically, they would be very much impaired by a measure of this sort. The confidence of the people would be withdrawn from them. The ratepayers would be taught not to rely upon the magistrates, although they might be acting for the public advantage. What, after all, was the amount of the county rate? He doubted whether in any county in England the rate exceeded 4d. in the pound, and of that sum probably not more than one halfpenny in the pound was levied for an expenditure which could be regarded as voluntary: all the remainder, as he had before stated, consisted of payments for works which the county had been compelled to execute under public authority. It was in the levying of such a rate that the representative principle was to be introduced. Why was not the same care shown in regard to the highway rate? The surveyor of the highways was allowed to levy three tenpenny rates upon his own authority, and yet for this small amount of four-pence, he would rather say one halfpenny, in the pound, the whole system of management was to be changed. But since the noble Lord had thought it his duty to give his sanction to the principle of this measure, he (Mr. Freshfield) owned he should have been much more satisfied if the noble Viscount had determined to take the responsibility of the Bill upon himself; as an opportunity might have been afforded of removing from it much of its objectionable character. It was unfortunate that the noble Lord had, to some extent, consented that there should be a county financial board. If there should be any such board instituted, let it be formed how it might, he would say that from that moment there would be an end of all improvements in the county. No such board could be satisfactory to the public, or beneficial to the public interest.


said, he was rather surprised to hear his hon. Friend at this time of day utter the strong denunciations which he had done against the Bill before the House, because he (Sir B. Hall) had thought that all those old Tory denunciations in reference to the conduct of the magistrates of this country had been long since exploded. He was glad that his noble Friend (Visct. Palmerston) had sanctioned the principle of the Bill; and, although he concurred with his noble Friend in the opinion that it was not likely the measure would effect any very great reduction in the county expenditure, yet he believed it would introduce a principle which would give general satisfaction. The people would know that the great principle of local self-government had been adopted in the management of the county expenditure; and that if any extravagance should in future occur, they would themselves be alone to blame, and the odium would no longer be thrown on the magistrates, as now, whether justly or not. The hon. Gentleman had said that this was a question of Lancashire against all England. Now, considering his (Sir B. Hall's) connexion with the county of Middlesex, he might be supposed to know something of the feelings and wishes of the people of that county, and he could most truly say that the people of Middlesex wished to have a control over the expenditure of the county rates. His hon. Friend had said that everything was conducted by the magistrates in open court; that the accounts were gone through and audited in the most satisfactory way; and that the public might come and see how the management of the expenditure was conducted. Now he (Sir B. Hall) believed his hon. Friend was a Member of the House when Lord Stanley of Alderley brought in a Bill to compel the magistrates to have a public audit of the expenditure of the county; and the very same argument was then used as now, about the degradation that such a measure inflicted upon the magistrates, that it threw a stigma upon them, and that they ought to be permitted to conduct their proceedings in secret, as they had hitherto done. Lord Stanley's Bill was carried, and he was glad to hear his hon. Friend say that it had worked well. There was another proposition laid down by his hon. Friend which called for remark. His hon. Friend asked whether men who paid even the smallest amount of rates, should have the same power of giving the same vote for a bond of audit of accounts as the man who paid the largest amount of rate? He (Sir B. Hall) would at once answer the question by asserting that every ratepayer, without distinction, ought to have the power of voting proposed to be given to him by this Bill. One of the greatest evils of parochial legislation was the system of a plurality of votes. He trusted that nothing of that sort would be inserted in this Bill. The noble Viscount had thrown out a suggestion as to whether this should be a permissive or a compulsory measure. Generally speaking, he thought, if a good principle were once laid down, it was much better to make the measure founded upon it compulsory than permissive. Some Boards of Guardians might wish to bring the Bill into operation, and yet might not be able to do so unless the law was made compulsory. With regard to the proviso that the whole financial board should be elected by the guardians, he considered it to be a most salutary provision; it would never do to allow the magistrates to elect one half, and the ratepayers the other, and the House might be assured that the ratepayers would always elect to the Board those parties who did their duty, and reject the others.


said, he had listened with satisfaction to much that had fallen from the noble Viscount with respect to the Bill before the House; but he could not help asking him and the House to bear in mind the animus which was but too palpable throughout the measure—and which clearly was to strike a blow at the magistracy of England. This measure had been brought forward annually for many years past, and the noble Viscount might not be aware that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson), in his Bill of last year—which materially differed from all his preceding Bills—proposed altogether to dispense with the services of the magistrates of England from his contemplated county boards. The House rejected by a large majority that measure on the second reading, and the right hon. Gentleman now reverted to his old proposition, not, however, without candidly avowing that his object was to proceed by instalments to supersede the magistracy in the discharge of their financial duties. The right hon. Gentleman had repeated two glaring fallacies in these discussions, until, no doubt, he believed them himself—the first of which was, that the magistracy of England had an arbitrary and unlimited power of taxation. So far from this being the fact, the functions of the magistracy were strictly and rigidly confined within the four corners of the Acts of Parliament by which their duties were imposed upon them. The other fallacy was, that of drawing the false and invidious distinction—against which he had always protested—of arraying the magistrates on the one hand, and the ratepayers on the other, as two opposite bodies. The truth was, that no portion of the ratepayers could have a more direct interest in economy and retrenchment than the magistrates themselves had, for they were generally the largest ratepayers. It was said that the magistrates were apt to indulge their taste in architectural ornaments, without regard to economy; but he thought that more popular bodies were not altogether free from faults of the same kind, and he believed that one of the most costly gaols in the country had been built by the freely elected town council of the borough of Birmingham. After the announcement of the course that the Government was to take, he (Sir J. Pakington) did not intend to press his opposition to the second reading of this Bill; but he wished it to be distinctly understood that he reserved to himself the right to take the gravest objections hereafter to all its most material provisions. The Bill required very important alterations, and if it was to be passed, it ought to be taken up by the Government, and not left in the hands of a private Member. The noble Viscount was greatly in error in saying that the Bill of 1851 received the unanimous approbation of the Select Committee. He (Sir J. Pakington) was himself a Member of that Committee, upon which he could state that there was great division of opinion, and one of the most important provisions of the Bill was only carried by a single vote. The worst part of this Bill was the restriction of the number of justices to serve upon the board to the same number of members as were to be elected by the Board of Guardians. The effect of this in his own county (Worcestershire), where there were twelve unions, would be, that the board would consist of twenty-four members, one half of whom only would be justices, and the consequence would be that the magistrates, who were now two hundred in number, would be cut down by a sweeping reduction to twelve. Such a measure would create the greatest disgust throughout England, among gentlemen, who, to their own honour and to the benefit of the country, had been accustomed to discharge the important functions of the magistracy. He maintained that it would be most impolitic and unwise, for the sake of any abstract theory, to deprive the magistracy of the powers which they had hitherto exercised with such advantage to the country. He would not have objected to any proposition to place a certain number of elected members upon each board; but nothing could justify the wholesale disfranchisement of the magistracy which this Bill contemplated. He could not agree with the noble Viscount that it was an improvement to have the magisterial members elected by the Board of Guardians, instead of by the magistrates themselves; and he further objected to the transfer of other than poor-law duties to the Boards of Guardians, who had quite enough to do already without throwing additional duties upon them. He would not detain the House any longer, but simply express his belief that this measure, even if it were adapted to the provisions of the Bill of 1851, would seriously tamper with a system which was intimately connected with the administration of justice and the preservation of order in this country. The right hon. Member who introduced their Bill, admitted economy was not an object in view. What, then, did he seek? For centuries the Legislature had confided the working of our laws to the magistracy; and now they were going to transfer the management of the internal affairs of the counties—their gaols, lunatic asylums, bridges, &c—to a new body, untried and inexperienced. It was one of the greatest questions the House could consider, whether the body proposed to be constituted could administer county affairs as well as those who had been so long intrusted with them.


said, that after the obsesvations that had just fallen from his right hon. Gentleman who had just resumed his seat, he could not refrain from rising to express his concurrence in all that had been stated by his noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston) with regard to the second reading of this Bill. He thought that it was desirable, and would be more satisfactory to the ratepayers throughout the country, that the representative principle should be applied to the constitution of bodies charged with the administration of financial affairs. When a Member of a former Government, he (Sir G. Grey) had assented to the second reading of the Bill of 1851 of the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson), although objecting to many of its provisions, in order that it might be referred to a Select Committee. The Bill was so referred, and the Committee, after much deliberation, effected important alterations in the measure, the principle of which alterations was, that whilst it was desirable that boards with the representative principle infused into them should have the control of the financial affairs of counties, not only their judicial duties, but also their executive powers with regard to the management and control of the constabulary, the gaols, and lunatic asylums, should be reserved to the magistracy. On the present occasion he understood that his noble Friend the Home Secretary intended to go back substantially to the alterations which the Committee made in the Bill of 1851; and therefore, agreeing to the general principle of the Bill, and understanding that his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester was willing to give a fair consideration to the Amendments proposed by that Committee, he (Sir G. Grey) would support the second reading.


said, that none of those who had consented on a former occasion to the second reading of the Bill, had given their approbation to the measure. The Select Committee had decided to reserve the control of the gaols, lunatic asylums, bridges, and such matters, to the county magistracy, and he hoped the House would agree to that decision. He trusted the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) would see that any clauses which might be introduced would really work, for the great difficulty in managing these Acts was to work them so as not to bring county affairs to "a dead lock," which would inevitably be the case if the Bill was passed in its present state. He warned the noble Viscount to beware lest a conflict should arise as to the executive administration of gaols and lunatic asylums, and to see that it was confined to one body, for he could not expect the unpaid magistracy to take on themselves the responsibility of management if they found themselves controlled by a body which was not responsible. He had the greatest objection to create these electoral colleges in the counties. If they must have elections, let them have elections by the ratepayers at large, as Poor Law Guardians were elected. On the whole, seeing the objections which had been expressed to the Bill by the noble Viscount and the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir G. Grey), he hoped the Government would bring in a measure of which they would assume the full care and responsibility, and that the present Bill might be withdrawn.


said, he entirely concurred in the opinion which had been expressed by several hon. Members with respect to the great importance of retaining in the hands of the magistracy the powers they now possessed over the county gaols and lunatic asylums; and, if the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Henley) referred to the Bill of 1851, he would find it contained express provisions for that purpose. The object the Select Committee of last year had in view was to prevent the powers which were most wisely and beneficially vested in the magistracy from being transferred to the new financial boards. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington) had made one mistake with respect to the operation of this Bill, when he said that only half of the board could be composed of magistrates. One half of the board must be magistrates—the other half might be magistrates, if the ratepayers pleased to elect them. It was also a misapprehension to suppose that the proceedings of those boards would be secret, for the 58th clause provided that all the business of the county board should be discussed publicly. He agreed to the second reading of the Bill on the grounds stated by his noble Friend the Home Secretary.


said, he was one who wished to preserve property and the rights which belonged to it, and he desired to have the details of the Bill honestly carried out. He objected to the extremes of the coincidence of taxation with representation, and he believed the Bill avoided them, while it sufficiently protected the rights of property by giving it, to a certain extent, a plurality of votes. He was surprised to hear the objection that the electoral privilege was not rightly vested in the Board of Guardians, and ought to be vested in the ratepayers, because the Boards of Guardians were ratepayers, with a strong interest to restrain county expenditure within proper limits, and were frequently presided over by noblemen and Members of that House. For the same reason he could not imagine there would be any improper selection of the financial boards. He was not willing to interfere with the unpaid magistracy; but as to the remark which had been made, that they had exercised those executive powers for many years, he believed that those powers had been conferred on them by driblets, as Act passed after Act, and in the absence of proper machinery to carry out their provisions, which was now supplied by this Bill. It was as well to remind the House also, that, under the system which had prevailed, the county rates had been doubled in the last twenty years. He was quite sure the measure would, if passed, increase the confidence of the county ratepayers as to the employment of their money. He did not believe there would be that extreme economy and absence of public improvement which some hon. Gentlemen seemed to apprehend; and in proof of this he knew that since the rates had been administered by the ratepayers in towns, the amount of money spent upon works of improvement in those towns had been most excessive. This was a very strong answer to those who said that a financial board elected by ratepayers was likely to be characterised by extreme economy.


said, that in the county of Chester the magistrates had adopted a plan very much in consonance with that proposed in this Bill. At every petty sessions they elected one of their number to a financial board which had the sole control of the finances of the county, instead of the body at large.


said, there were two offices created in this Bill which were now unknown, and he believed that so far from producing economy, this would be a mea- sure of extravagance. One part of the Bill upon which hon. Members had omitted to touch, demanded, he thought, the utmost care, namely, that portion which affected lunatic asylums. He was chairman and treasurer of the lunatic asylum for the county of Leicester, and from his knowledge of the management of that asylum, he was quite sure that if the operation of the 9th of Vict. c. 126, were interfered with by this Bill, it would most materially affect the interest, and operate very prejudicially to the working, of that institution. He should therefore at the proper time think it his duty to offer his strenuous opposition to that part of the Bill. As, however, he had ever been friendly to giving the ratepayers some power over the control of county matters, he should under certain conditions, be very glad to assent to the second reading of the Bill.


said, he could state that there was nothing short of an unanimous feeling in the Boards of Guardians with which he was acquainted in favour of having that control over the expenditure of the county which justice demanded they should have. At present there existed in the minds of the ratepayers suspicions as to the magistrates, which interfered very much with the discharge of their magisterial duties. The ratepayers suspected that in the dispensation of patronage—in the case, for instance, of the rural police—the magistrates exercised that power more for the protection of their own property than for the general good, as well as with regard to the erection of bridges and other works. As a magistrate, he knew that those suspicions were quite unfounded, but at the same time magistracy would be raised in the estimation of the ratepayers by removing the possibility of attaching such an imputation to them. It was a constitutional principle that those who paid the rates should have a control in expending those rates; and he should therefore support the second reading of the Bill.


said, he thought the Bill ought to have been brought forward by Her Majesty's Government. After the reforms of 1832 and 1833 were settled he pressed the Ministry of that day to put the counties in the same position as the Reform Act had placed the boroughs—that was, to put the control of the expenditure in the hands of the ratepayers. The Government appointed a Commission, who took evidence as to the propriety and necessity of that change, and in their report the Commissioners said it was impossible not to admit that persons who contributed to the county rate should be allowed a voice in expending it, instead of the irresponsible power which now existed. On that Report, attended by copious evidence, being laid upon the table of the House, he had pressed the Government to bring in a Bill to carry out its recommendations. The Government declined to do so, but offered him assistance if he would bring in such a measure. He had, in consequence, prepared a Bill, which was introduced in 1837, but when the time came for discussing it, he and the Bill were left to their fate. After trying it a second and a third time, he had given the thing up; and now, after the lapse of fifteen years, he saw the principle acknowledged. He hoped there would now be an end of squabbling on the subject, and that the Government would take it into their own hands. He wished to see the broad principle of representation and taxation carried out, and the board elected by the whole body of ratepayers. He was against putting into the hands of the county magistrates the disposal of any portion of the general taxation of the country, having seen the waste which attended the expenditure for the maintenance of prisons and other objects under the present system. The appointment of a public prosecutor would lead to a great saving of expense as regarded prosecutions, and put an end to the extravagance arising from a system of divided powers. There were many anomalies in the present practice which ought to be done away with, and he objected to the executive Government paying a single shilling to the counties, except under strict powers of supervision and control. There was an ample field for effecting a great reform in this matter, and securing economy, responsibility, and efficiency. He advised his right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Gibson) not to run counter to the Government upon this question, but to take the admission which the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) had made, and to let the additional improvements suggested be added to the Bill.


said, there appeared to be a great desire to assimilate the management of the county expenditure to that of boroughs; but he should regard such a change as one of the most detrimental that could be effected. He was satisfied no greater injury could be inflicted on the counties in the west of England than to transplant into them a system of management similar to that which prevailed in the boroughs, especially under the Municipal Reform Act.


said, that on the understanding that he should have the support of the Government in doing so, he would agree to alter the Bill so that it should correspond with the Bill which came out of the Committee of 1851, with the exception of the mode in which the financial board should he elected. He would therefore, after the Bill had been read a second time, ask to be allowed to commit the Bill pro formâ, in order to introduce those changes in it.

Bill read 2°

Back to