HC Deb 11 May 1869 vol 196 cc602-19

In accordance with the promise contained in the gracious Speech from the Throne, I have now to ask leave to bring in a Bill which has for its object the introduction of the principle of representation in the control of the county rate. I wish to state at the outset that, in proposing such a measure to Parliament, Her Majesty's Government have not the least wish or intention to impute any mal-administration or want of competency to those who have hither to had the entire management of county rate expenditure. No doubt, through out the country, there are many magistrates who concern themselves very little about the general and financial business of their counties, and who are content with the occasional discharge of judicial functions in their own immediate localities. But it will not be denied that in every county in England there are to be found a certain number of the unpaid magistracy, who, at great personal inconvenience, devote much of their time and attention to the administration of the business of their counties, other than judicial, and who conduct that administration in a manner creditable to themselves and advantageous to the public. And when we are about to legislate in the direction which I have to propose to-night, I think it is but just and fair to express our sense of the value of services thus gratuitously rendered, and to guard against the possible supposition that any want of appreciation of those services or any doubt of their value lies at the root of our proposed legislation. I would observe, moreover. Sir, that as many of the magistrates are themselves rate-payers to a considerable extent, the interest of rate-payers are not likely to be willfuly or intentionally neglected under the present system. And I think that many of those who wish that system altered, and complain of the largeness of county expenditure, are really scarcely aware of the fact that a very large proportion of the county rate is levied under the authority and direction of special Acts of Parliament, for which the magistrates are not in any way responsible; and that of the expenditure thus incurred they are not the originators, but only the ministers and agents of the law in its administration—acting under the direct supervision of Government Departments. Still, Sir, it must be owned that even in that administration there is a certain discretion according to the due or undue exercise of which greater or smaller sums may be levied upon the counties. Taking this into account, considering that the rate-payers have no voice whatever in the appointment of the magistrates, and bearing in mind that this is the only part of the fiscal system of Great Britain in which representation and taxation do not go together, we can hardly wonder that a cry has been somewhat loudly and extensively raised in favour of the establishment of Representative Boards to control the finance of counties. Sir,—speaking myself as a magistrate and country gentleman, I would venture to say that such a proposal will be by no means either unpopular with the class to which I belong, or at all likely to diminish their just influence in the country. If as a body, we have hitherto exercised the powers entrusted to us with diligent attention, and with a due regard to economical considerations, it cannot be otherwise than satisfactory to us that this fact should be more generally known among the rate-payers of our respective counties by means of the association with us of their direct representatives in the future exercise of those powers. Nor have I the least fear that any feeling of jealousy will prevent the harmonious working of the old and new administrative elements. The matter has been already tested. On Boards of Guardians—on Fishery Boards—on Cattle Plague Committees—on Assessment Committees—ex-officio and representative members have worked together with perfect good feeling and with great public advantage, and I do not, for a moment, doubt that these elements may be blended with equal advantage in the general financial government of counties. Now, Sir, this subject is by no means new to Parliament. In 1850, a right hon. Friend of mine, whose absence from the House I am sure we all regret—Mr. Milner Gibson—introduced a Bill which proposed the establishment of a County Financial Board, half to be composed of ratepayers elected by Boards of Guardians, and half of magistrates elected by the Court of Quarter Sessions. The question was referred to a Select Committee, whose Report condemned the proposal to take the power out of the hands of the magistrates—whose administration they found to be efficient and economical—and negatived the Preamble of the Bill. This Committee, however, made several recommendations upon the general subject—they recommended that the clerk of the peace should be paid by salary instead of fees, and a measure was passed the following year which sanctioned this arrangement. They recommended that annual financial statements should be published and distributed to every union. Accordingly, an Act was passed (15 & 16 Vict., c. 81) to consolidate and amend the statutes relating to the assessment and collection of county rates, which, among other provisions, directed that all financial business should be transacted in open court, and that county treasurers should publish once a year an abstract account of their receipts and expenditure, and send copies of the same to clerks of Boards of Guardians. This Committee also recommended that "the accounts of counties should be annually audited by some efficient and responsible officer," and although no legislative action has followed this recommendation, it has been adopted by several counties with, I believe, considerable advantage. Mr. Milner Gibson introduced his Bill again in 1851, but had no better success in passing it. Nothing daunted, he brought in another Bill in 18,52, in which he ignored Quarter Sessions altogether, and proposed that the rate-payers should, through the Boards of Guardians, elect the whole Financial Boards. This Bill was negatived upon the second reading, and the question slumbered for some years. No measure was introduced till last year when two Bills were proposed—one by the hon. Baronet the Member for Thirsk (Sir William Gallwey) and the other by Mr. Wyld, then Member for Bodmin, the result of which was the appointment of a Select Committee which was presided over, with his usual ability, by my right hon. Friend opposite (Colonel Wilson-Patten). I think that the result of the deliberations of this Committee may be summed up in two sentences. First, they were of opinion that there is no great fault to be found with the practical results of the working of the present system. Secondly, that the desire of the ratepayers to be directly represented in the management of county finance is a just and reasonable desire, and one that ought to be granted. Then, Sir, I reduce those two results into the following proposition as a basis for our legislation. Let us introduce the representative principle with as little disturbance as possible of the present administrative system. But before I proceed to describe the precise nature of the Bill which I shall ask leave to introduce, and which is, in some respects, founded upon the recommendations of last year's Select Committee, I wish to point out what I have been especially desirous of avoiding in attempting to legislate upon this matter. In the first place, it is very undesirable to have a very long Bill, introducing cumbrous machinery which is calculated to confuse the minds of those who have to administer the law. This Bill will have one advantage over its predecessors which I am sure the House will appreciate; for, whereas the Bill of 1852 contained 122 clauses and last-year's Bill 140, we have so managed as to reduce our Bill within the reasonable limits of twenty clauses. And, as my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. Gladstone)'suggests, if we can only contract the county expenditure in the same proportion, we shall achieve no inconsiderable results. Then we have been anxious to avoid the creation of any now districts. Rural England is already plagued to death with sub-divisions and new districts. What with Petty Sessional Divisions, Local Government Districts, Highway Districts, Union Districts, and I know not what besides, we have arrived at a state of confusion which I think really unfortunate. We therefore avoid the creation of new districts, and we take the Board of Guardians as the constituent body from whom we are to obtain our representative element, confining ourselves, however, to those who are themselves elected members of the Boards of Guardians, and who in electing representatives may be supposed to afford a fair index of the feeling of those who have elected them as guardians. One at least of last year's Bills proposed to introduce the permissive principle. Now, Sir,—especially considering the discussion awaiting us to morrow upon permissive legislation—I am not going to commit myself or the Government for or against the permissive principle, but I think it especially desirable to steer clear of such a principle in dealing with the question at present under discussion. I take leave to say that I think the application of the permissive principle to the Highway Act has been very unfortunate as regards the working of that Act. You have persons for and against its adoption, and where it has been adopted against the wishes of a considerable minority, it is not always carried out with that cordiality which is necessary to ensure its good working. In such a case as this, Parliament is quite competent to decide whether the plan which we propose is a wise and salutary plan or the reverse, and I do not think we ought to throw it upon the rate-payers or the magistrates to decide whether Parliament has been right or wrong, but if our measure is passed, it should be equally applied to all the counties of England and Wales. Well, Sir, what we propose, practically, is to divide the business now performed by the Court of Quarter Sessions into two divisions—judicial business and administrative business—to reserve to the court its powers as to the former, but, as to the latter, to engraft upon it a body of representatives who shall, upon terms of equality, share in the transaction of all administrative business. The technical manner of achieving this object is as follows:—We establish a County Board, to consist of official and elective members; we make the Justices of the Peace in every county the official members of the County Board; and we supply the elective members in a manner which I shall presently describe. Then we re- serve exclusively to the Justices in Quarter Sessions assembled, the trial of offenders, the hearing of appeals, and all other judicial business. I think the line of demarcation will be tolerably clear in practice; but if any question arises as to whether any one branch of the business belongs to the Quarter Sessions or to the County Board, we propose that there shall be an appeal to the Home Secretary, whose decision shall be final. There is one other exception which we make with regard to the powers of the new Board. It is with regard to the Visiting Justices of Prisons, and to the making of regulations for prison discipline. We think this power should still rest with the magistrates, and as, in boroughs having gaols of their own, the representative council of the municipality controls the funds, whilst the borough magistrates are the visiting authority and regulate the discipline. We propose to apply precisely the same principle to counties, so that while the County Board shall control the finance, the magistrates shall still maintain their power over the prison discipline, for which indeed they are responsible. All committees appointed by the County Board are to consist of an equal number of official and elected members, and, of course, the Board will exercise the same control over its committees as is now done by the Court of General or Quarter Sessions. The general result will be that all the financial arrangement of counties, and in fact all arrangements which bear upon the expenditure of the county rate, will be in the hands of the new County Board: and we provide that the accounts shall be annually audited and examined by an auditor whom the Board shall a point. The House will be anxious to know the method by which we propose to obtain the elective or representative members, and the proportion which they are likely to bear to the official element upon County Boards. Without going into details, which may be more advantageously discussed at future stages of the Bill, I will state the broad principle upon which we desire to act. We propose that the Boards of Guardians throughout the country shall elect the representative members of their County Boards according to the gross estimated rental of their respective Unions—no Union is to return more than four representatives. A gross estimated rental up to £50,000 in England, generally, and £25,000 in Wales and two or three of the smallest English counties, will give one representative; from £50,000 to £100,000, two representatives; from £100,000 to £150,000, throe representatives; and above £150,000, four representatives. Now it is impossible to state, with precision, the proportion which, these elected members will bear to the official members of the Board. It is impossible, because if I take the whole number of magistrates who are upon the roll in each county, and who are qualified and acting magistrates, I find that as a matter of practice, only a proportion—greater or smaller in different counties—attend to that description of county business which I have called administrative. I believe it will be found that the proportion of elected representative members to acting magistrates in each county, will average one to five upon paper; but this must by no means be taken to be the actual and reliable proportion. In counties where no great desire to be represented exists in the minds of the ratepayers, it is certainly likely enough that there might be no great attendance of the elected members. After all, if this is so, no one need complain, and the worst that will happen is that the present System will remain practically undisturbed, and undisturbed because it has not given rise to complaint's among the rate-payers. But considering the wish that has been expressed by the ratepayers for representation, and that these elective members of the County Board will have a constituent body to look after them, to whom they will be responsible, I think we may presume that where this wish really exists, the attendance of the elected members will be much greater in proportion to their whole number than has hitherto been the case with the body of acting magistrates. If this be so, the proportionate strength of elective to official members attending on the County Boards will, practically, be much greater than I have stated, and they will be able to exercise a perceptible influence upon the proceedings of the County Boards. Now, Sir, having briefly sketched the main features of the Bill, I do not know that I ought to anticipate opposition, but there are one or two possible objections to which I will allude before I sit down. I am not afraid that much objection will be raised on the part of the magistracy. After all we only propose to engraft upon their body, for the purpose of the discharge of a certain part of their duties, a number of men who will probably be selected from the best of their class, and whose local and practical knowledge will frequently prove of great public utility. I think, however, it is probable that some of my hon. Friends near me may raise the objection that we do not introduce a sufficiently strong infusion of the representative element. For that objection I am quite prepared; but I would respectfully caution the House not to form a hasty judgment upon this point. The objection arises, I think, in the minds of those who cannot get rid of the idea that these representative members are about to enter the court to oppose the existing element. That is a great mistake. We are not going to supersede, but to strengthen and improve the existing body. The objection is founded upon the same sort of error into which a certain class of debaters always fell in our old franchise debates. There were some Gentlemen who always appeared to consider that the new voters were about to be banded as a class, and as one man, against all who had been voters before. That turned out, as I always felt sure it would, to be an entirely erroneous idea, some of the new voters taking one side and some another. Just so in the present instance; I will answer for it that in every division which may occur in these Financial Boards, there will be found ex-officio and representative members on one side and on the other; and if a case should occur in which the whole, or nearly the whole, of the representative members voted—as we should say here—in one Lobby, they would have on their side a sufficient number of the ex-officio members to make it tolerably certain that they would be in a majority. There are two more objections which may probably be raised. One is that there is another Bill before Parliament at this moment, introduced by the President of the Poor Law Board, which constitutes another Board for the valuation of the property in counties, and that a double Board may be hold unnecessary. I think, however, without going further into the question, that the process of ascertaining the proper basis upon which property should be rated, and the duty of administering the rate are two dif- ferent things, and that the two plans may go forward together without clashing one with the other. A larger and more formidable objection may probably be raised by those who desire to see the establishment, of some great Financial Board upon the elective system, which shall exercise a control not only over the expenditure of the county rate, but over local taxation generally. There is something in this idea theoretically beautiful, but it is a serious question whether it would be found practically possible—what may come hereafter is not for me to prophesy, but such a scheme could not be carried out at the present moment without great difficulty and no inconsiderable risk of failure. But I venture to suggest that those who look forward to such a change may well accept this Bill as a tentative measure. If it is found that the representative clement does not make itself felt—that, as some fear, the representative members of the court do not attend or are over-ruled—at least the existing machinery will remain unimpaired, and the ground will be as clear as it is now for any such great scheme as that to which I have alluded. If, on the other hand, the Bill works well, and fresh vigour and popularity is infused into the county governing body by the introduction of the representative clement, it will be open to us hereafter to extend the principle and to engraft upon it any improvements which time and experience may suggest. But those who wish to supersede the magistrates entirely, as an elective body, must remember that before doing so they are bound to show that there has been some failure—or want of efficiency—in their administration. Every inquiry has resulted in a conclusion precisely contrary; and I therefore believe that we are doing that which is just as well as wise in preserving the present system of administration, and endeavouring to strengthen instead of to subvert it. I do not wish to deceive the House by professing to believe that any great changes—any vast reductions of expenditure—will follow upon this legislation. What I do believe is that a grievance—partly sentimental, no doubt, but none the less for that a grievance—will be removed—that a good understanding will be promoted between the magistrates and the rate-payers, and that without impaling the efficiency of the existing system we shall add to its vitality and increase its popularity; that is the intention of the measure which I ask leave to introduce, and believing that it will be one of practical utility and will satisfy a demand which Parliament is bound to satisfy, I respectfully submit it to the consideration of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish County Financial Boards."—(Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen.)


said, he could not allow the opportunity to pass, without bearing his testimony to the correctness of the description given by the hon. Gentleman, as to the view taken by the Committee over which he (Colonel Wilson-Patten) presided last Session. That Committee had been unanimous upon two points—the first being that in every part of the country there existed a desire among the rate-payers to have a greater control than they had at present over county financial matters; and the second being that that desire was called forth by what was regarded as a constitutional right, rather than by any extravagance resulting from the operation of the present system. After a careful investigation into the facts, the Committee had arrived at the conclusion that if; was almost impossible that the affairs of the English counties could be managed more efficiently or more economically than they were at present. In the county of Lancaster—of which he might say he was not a magistrate, and, therefore, he spoke disinterestedly—financial matters were; managed in the most economical manner. He agreed with the hon. Member that, whatever change was effected in this matter, greater economy of administration was not likely to result from it. He had come to the conclusion that the anxiety for a change existed to the greatest extent in those counties where, unfortunately, the magistrates did not publish their accounts in sufficient detail. Wherever those accounts were published in great detail there was very little dissatisfaction, although, the finances were administered in much the same manner as in those counties where the conduct of the magistrates was open to the freest criticism. He had not exactly understood the proposal of the hon. Member with regard to expenditure for the police and the gaols; but he should vote for the second reading of the Bill, because he believed it was based very much on the Resolutions of the Committee, although not in all particulars. He should reserve any observations on the details of the measure until the Bill had reached another stage. There was a difference of opinion, as to the mode in which County Boards should be constituted, and there was a general feeling that it was not desirable to have them exclusively composed of rate-payers, but that the magistrates should have a large interest in their management. It would, no doubt, be unfortunate, if these Boards were so constituted as to discourage the magistrates from taking part in them.


said, he was glad to find that they were recognizing the principle that, in county finance, taxation and representation should go together. He had been acting for three years on the assessment committee of a union, which committee was composed of selected guardians and magistrates, and no differences had arisen between the two classes of members. He was convinced, therefore, that the plan proposed in this Bill would work well. He thought, however, that the Committee would be a great deal too large. He believed that one member from each moderate sized union and two members from each large union, with an equal number of magistrates, would be quite sufficient. He would suggest, also, that the Boards of Guardians should not be limited in their choice to elected guardians, but that, if they chose to do so, they should be at liberty to send ex-officio guardians to represent them on the Committee. With the right hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Wilson-Patten), he did not think there was any prospect of much additional economy, but he did think there was every prospect of additional satisfaction to the ratepayers.


said, he was of opinion, from his experience as chairman of a body constituted in the manner which it was proposed to constitute the Committee, that the two classes of members would work together harmoniously. He did not think that the largeness of a consultative body was any objection to it. For special purposes the Committee delegate executive functions to a portion of the body.


said, he did not think the; magistrates would have, or ought to have, the slightest jealousy on the subject of guardians being united with them for the purposes stated by the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary, Magistrates, as magistrates, had nothing to do with county finance. The power they had in this matter was conferred on them by the representatives of the people in Parliament. They had it under statutes passed by Parliament. They were responsible to the country for the discharge of certain duties in connection with gaols and lunatic asylums, and if all control over matters of finance in connection with those institutions were put into totally irresponsible hands the magistrates would have reason to complain; but, as he understood it, the proposition of the Government was to unite a certain number of rate-payers with the magistrates in a sort of separate sessions for county financial business. He did not think that the plan would lead to retrenchment, because he believed that in boroughs retrenchment had not resulted from placing financial control in the hands of rate-payers; but he approved the proposition for a regular audit and publication of accounts. Even in cases where expenditure was low there was public dissatisfaction when there was not such an audit and publication; while in eases where it was high, but in which there was a regular audit and publication of accounts, there were no complaints. Borough accounts were under the control of persons elected by the rate-payers, and the magistrates had nothing to do with them, and yet he believed a comparison would show that, all things considered, the borough expenses were proportionately greater than those of the county. He desired to ask the hon. Gentleman some questions more particularly relating to the county which he represented. Owing to the size of that county, Courts of Quarter Sessions were held in four different places, but under the local Act the county expenditure was regulated at an annual sessions held for the whole of the county. This was felt to be a great inconvenience, and he should wish to know if any remedy would be applied under this Act. There were also, he believed, as many as thirty distinct sets of rate-payers, rates for certain purposes being collected for the whole of the county, for other purposes from cer- tain subdivisions and so on. Four largo boroughs, moreover, had Quarter Sessions of their own. He should be glad to learn how the hon. Gentleman proposed to deal with these conflicting interests, and to make them all work under this Bill.


said, it used to be a maxim of undisputed wisdom—leave well alone; but now they seemed determined not to leave very well alone, for a change was advocated from both sides of the House. He was not surprised, however, at the Government taking action in this matter, nor could he blame them, because, after the Report of the Committee which had been referred to, they could hardly avoid taking some step in the matter. But he believed that the cry of the rate-payers for a change arose from their not being fully informed as to the conditions under which the magistrates administered the county finance. As his hon. Friend had mentioned, that part of the expenditure which was under the discretion of the magistrates was very small indeed, and if the rate-payers were made fully acquainted with the Acts of Parliament that rendered certain portions of the expenditure absolutely necessary, and what portions of it were under the magistrates discretion, he believed the cry for a, change would sink to almost nothing. His belief was that rather than County Finance Boards should be created for the control of that part of the county expenditure that fell within the discretion of the magistrates, it would be better to collect the county rate and the poor rate separately, and to allow the tenant, on paying the former, to deduct it from his rent. He thought it a fair demand that those who contributed towards the taxation should have a voice in its expenditure; but it should be remembered that though the rates were in the first instance paid by the tenant, they really fell upon the landlords, so that the brunt of the rates was. in reality, borne by those who imposed them. That fact was not sufficiently acknowledged by those he were now so clamorous that the rate-payers should be represented. However, he had no doubt that there was a great desire in the counties for change, and he was therefore not surprised that the Government should have brought the matter before the House. At the same time he thought his hon. Friend would find greater difficulties in his way than he imagined. It was proposed that the magistrates should continue to visit the gaols, but the Financial Boards were to have a control over their expenditure. But suppose the Visiting Justices should think it necessary that a certain expenditure was necessary, either for the health of the prisoners or for their safe keeping, in might step this Board and decline to allow the expenditure. So with regard to the police. The magistrates were responsible for the peace of the county, but they might think that a certain number of police of a certain class were required—and the class regulated the pay—in might step this Board and decline to find the money for the purpose. He did not doubt the possibility of the magistrates and rate-payers working harmoniously together, for they did so now when sitting together on Assessment Committees and Highway Boards. But one objection which he had to his hon. Friend proceeding to carry out his view this Session had been to a certain extent anticipated by his hon. Friend himself. The Government appeared to have been acting too departmentally in reference to the machinery which was to be employed; there seemed to have been no concert between the different Members of the Government on this point. Some years ago one machinery was adopted for the Highway Board: at a more recent period they had adopted another for the Assessment Committee; while there was another in the Valuation of Property Bill, which was now awaiting its second reading—that Bill proposing the formation of a county body, consisting partly of magistrates and partly of rate-payers who were not on the bench. And now in this Bill his hon. Friend proposed still another county Board, also to be composed partly of magistrates and partly of rate-payers which were not on the bench. A short time ago, too, when a Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Mr. Acland) was before the House the right hon. Gentleman the First Minister of the Crown undertook that the whole question of local taxation should receive the early attention of Government. He would, therefore, ask whether it was statesmanlike or wise that the Home Office should nibble at one part of this question and the Poor Law Board at another, when the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had promised that the whole subject should receive the early attention of Government. Was it worth while to erect a County Financial Board to control the small portion of the county finances which could be submitted to their management, and if it was wise to do so, might not the duty be intrusted to the Board which was to be erected for the purposes of valuation? Then it should be remembered that local taxation could not long continue on the principle now adopted. It was only last Session that the Secretary of the Treasury proposed that the rates should be collected together; and if that plan were to be adopted, would it not be premature to introduce a Bill to set up a new machinery, involving much expense and change merely for the purpose of administrating one portion of the consolidated rate? He should not object to the introduction of the measure; but he thought it would be better, especially bearing in mind the fact that the Valuation Bill was in progress, that his hon. Friend should content himself with laving it on the table of the House, and not for the present press it further.


said, the County Financial Boards were intended to take the position of the magistrates in the levying of rates; and as the magistrates had the power of assessing the county rate, he thought the County Board might very properly be made a Board for the purpose of carrying out the assessment of the counties. Having sat upon the Committee, he could confirm the statement of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Wilson-Patten) as to the strong opinion entertained in favour of establishing County Financial Boards. Formerly these representations used to come from the large towns, but recently they had proceeded chiefly from the rural districts. This feeling, which appeared to have been promoted by the Chambers of Agriculture, was based upon the opinion that it was only right and fair that taxation and representation should go together in counties as they did in other parts of the country. Many difficulties would arise, especially in transferring the management of the police and gaols to these joint Financial Boards. Similar difficulties had already arisen in some large towns, where the Visiting Justices had the power of managing the gaols, but where the financial details were under the control of the Town Councils. In one case the Visiting Justices proposed to give certain pensions to the warders, which the Town Council refused to grant, the result being that there was for some time a doubt whether the Justices would consent to continue the; management of the gaols. Another question was whether the boroughs, that managed their own police and gaols, were to have a representative on the County Board. Whatever course might be taken on these matters, he doubted whether any considerable reduction would be effected in the county expenditure by the change. It was not the opinion of the witnesses before the Committee that any such reduction would be made. The idea in their minds was that if they paid the rates they ought to be represented. He should like to proceed cautiously and gradually, giving the lunatic asylums and county bridges and other items relating to the whole of the county to the new Board, and retaining the management of the prisons and gaols, for the present, in the hands of the magistrates.


said, he had listened with great satisfaction to that discussion, not only because he thought there was a general approval of the principle of the Bill, but because he thought the chief objections urged against it were capable of being satisfactorily solved. In the first place, the right hon. Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt) had made a mistake in supposing that the choice of the Boards of Guardians was in any way limited. It was free to them to choose any member that they pleased, whilst, with regard to the questions raised by his hon. Friend the Member for South-west Lancashire (Mr. Cross), he believed that both of those difficulties had been met. As to the boroughs which had their own Quarter Sessions and the management of their own gaols and police, they would be excluded from participation in the County Board. The Report of his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Wilson-Patten) suggested that there should be a County Financial Board, consisting of the magistrates and representative members in equal proportions, who should have the complete power to deal with a certain portion of the finances of the county, but who should not have power to deal with the gaols and police. The gaols and police, however, formed a very large subject indeed, and it seemed to him that if they could frame a scheme by which that expenditure should come under the consideration of the representative body, yet be left ultimately to the magistrates, so far as the decision in expenditure for which they were themselves chiefly responsible went, they would really have solved the difficulty. They purposed, therefore, that a certain number of elected representatives should unite with the magistrates in forming committees for the consideration of the different subjects, and that these committees should be composed of an equal number of magistrates and elected members. The ultimate decision of these questions would, however, be referred from the committees to the general court consisting of the magistrates and those united with them, and as the magistrates would be in a majority there would be no danger of their due influence in those matters to which reference had been made being overruled. His hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) would therefore see that in all the important matters in. reference to the gaols and the police it would be in the power of the magistrates to over-rule, in case of necessity, the decision of the committees. On the other hand, the whole of the expenditure of the county would be submitted to the body, and they thought that this advantage compensated the disadvantage of the magistrates being able, under certain circumstances, to overpower the representative body. He agreed in the opinion that no very great reduction would be gained by the Bill. The increased expenditure under the county rate had been too often attributed to lavish outlay on the part of the magistrates. It had, however, been in a great degree forced upon the magistrates by improved prison discipline, an improved treatment of lunatics, and by the other demands of a higher state of civilization. A much greater regard for economy was manifested, however, in some counties than in others, and the voice of the representative members in such matters would make itself usefully heard. The great object of the Bill was, however, to satisfy what was a very strong and growing demand on the part of the counties—expressed at every Board of Guardians —that they should know how the county expenditure was managed, and that they should have a voice in that expenditure. He believed that demand to be fair, moderate, and just, and it was his opinion that it would be satisfied by that Bill.


said, that although a member of the Select Committee which sat last session on this subject, he did not intend to enter into the question now; whether this measure ought or ought not to be a part of a general measure on the subject of local taxation, or to offer any opinion on the provisions contained in it at the present stage of the Bill, but he must express his thanks,, and he believed that many other hon. Gentlemen who agreed with him in the views he took on the subject, on his side of the House, would join with him in thanking the Government and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) for bringing forward a measure which seemed to him likely to lead to a satisfactory settlement of the question. He was speaking as one of those who thought that representation and taxation ought to go together in this matter. He rose, however, principally for the purpose of asking the hon. Gentleman—and he did so not only in the interest of those who up to the present time had had the management of county finances, but also in the interest of the rate-payers who were to be admitted by this Bill to a voice in this management—whether, taking into consideration the importance of the subject, he would take steps to have the Bill printed and circulated without delay, and postpone the second reading for three weeks or a month, perhaps till the second week after Whitsuntide, so that the Bill might have the full consideration of those affected by it provisions before it came on for second reading.


said, he hoped that in two or three days the Bill would be in the hands of hon. Members. He proposed to take the second reading on the 3rd of June; but if that interval would not afford sufficient time for consideration, he should have no difficulty in still further postponing the second reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN, Mr. Secretary Bruce, and Mr. ARTHUR PEEL.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 119).]