§ MR. CLARE READ
, in rising to move "That no readjustment of local administration will be satisfactory or complete which does not refer County Business, other than that relating to the administration of justice and the maintenance of order, to a Representative County Board," said: Mr. Speaker: It will doubtless be in the recollection of the House that I placed upon the Paper last year, as an Amendment to the Second Reading of the then Valuation Bill, a Motion very similar to that which now stands in my name. I was informed on that occasion that there were a great many hon. Members who approved both of my Motion and of the Valuation Bill brought in by the Government, and as I did not desire in any way to impede the progress of that measure, and as the Bill has this year been greatly improved, I am glad that I decided on putting down my Motion as a separate question for the consideration of the House. I am now, Sir, prepared to move the terms of the Notice I have given, and in doing so I must crave the 1654 indulgence of the House, as this is a question which is intimately connected with the larger one of local taxation, while I offer a few words with reference to what has lately taken place upon the subject. The House will probably remember that during the last Parliament a celebrated Motion was made by the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes), the effect of which was that certain local charges for the maintenance of the police and lunatics and for the administration of justice should be relieved by subsidies from the national treasury. On that occasion there was a majority of 100 Members of this House in favour of the hon. Baronet's Resolution, and the Members of Her Majesty's Government, who who were then sitting on the front Opposition bench, voted for that Resolution almost to a man. Sir, I am indeed very glad that Her Majesty's Government have not forgotten the pledges they gave when in Opposition, and that they have right loyally and faithfully carried out those pledges since their accession to office. During the period they have been in power they have given us a further augmentation of Treasury allowances for the maintenance and clothing of the police, and they have also given 4s. per head per week towards the maintenance of lunatics. In addition to this they are about, under the Bill of the present Session, to transfer the whole of the gaols from the local authorities to the State; and, Sir, I must be allowed to express my great wonder that any hon. Gentleman who then gave his vote in favour of that Resolution, could have voted against the Prisons Bill, because I consider the prisons to be necessarily included in the more general terms of the "administration of justice." I am of opinion that there are certain charges which are much better undertaken by the State than by the different localities—namely, those in which it is necessary that thorough uniformity and exactness should prevail; and, Sir, I think that the treatment of our prisoners comes under that head. But, at the same time, I do think that there are a great many local charges with which the Government interfere unnecessarily, and towards which they do not give the slightest contribution. I quite agree with what has fallen front hon. Gentlemen who, in speaking upon 1655 this subject last night, argued that the subventions given by the Treasury in aid of local taxation have, in their present shape gone quite far enough. But Her Majesty's Government has done something more than give those subventions in aid of local charges. They have also attempted a reform in the administration of our local burdens. They have passed one Act for the purpose of simplifying and consolidating numerous Acts relating to public health. They have passed another Act relative to the rating of woods and mines, and Government buildings; and a further measure to prevent the pollution of our rivers. They have also undertaken to call attention to our local burdens by means of a local Government Budget; and they have succeeded in passing two or three Acts in relation to loans for local purposes, which are extremely serviceable and beneficial to those Bodies with whose interests they deal. They have also given us a Poor Law Amendment Act, and therefore I say that we, who are local taxation reformers, have no fault to find with Her Majesty's Government under any of those heads. I think we are bound to be, and that we are, very grateful to them for what they have done, and for having so well redeemed those pledges which they made when they were in Opposition. But, Sir, I fail to see how Her Majesty's Government can be expected to go much further in the reform of the administration of local burdens, unless, indeed, they are content to adopt some such Resolution as that before the House. I do not see how, otherwise, they can go on in this direction; and I trust we shall not see much more of that practice which was referred to last night, of "putting the cart before the horse." It maybe in recollection of the House that last year my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell) sketched out in relation to the Valuation Bill of that Session, a proposal for the formation of a County Board which he intended to move in Committee. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) also proposed, on the occasion when he introduced the Highways Bill, the appointment of a County Board for the management of main highways; but, Sir, what I want to see is not a Board for this purpose, and a Board for that, and half-a-dozen other Boards for so 1656 many other purposes; but one really good county authority which should manage all those county matters. And, Sir, if I required any authority, and if I needed any excuse for bringing in this Resolution, I should read to the House the speech made by my right hon. Friend when he recently introduced the Valuation Bill. My right hon. Friend then stated that in addition to the matters dealt with by the Bill then under his consideration, there were certain charges—namely, those relating to lunatics and to in-door poor, which might with very great advantage be spread over a much larger area than that of the Union. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman went on to multiply county charges; but he failed to propose to us any county authority, and the consequence is, that I am endeavouring to supply the omission by this Resolution. Now, Sir, I do not propose to enter at length into the theoretical part of this question; but I must refer to it very briefly, and I promise the House that I will detain it upon this point but a very few moments. There can be no doubt about one of the well-known principles of our Constitution—namely, that representation and taxation should go hand in hand. But when you come to test the operation of that principle with regard to any direct representation upon the county authorities, it will be found that the ratepayers have about as much control over the magistrates, who constitute the chief local authority, as they have over the other House of Parliament. And although it is quite possible for noble Lords in "another place" to administer the taxes of this country as well as we sitting here can do, such a proceeding would, nevertheless, be wholly unconstitutional. If I recollect rightly, Her Majesty, not long since, sent an Ambassador Extraordinary to the Turkish Government, and one of the suggestions he was charged to make to the Porte was, that it should give to its subjects in the disturbed Provinces local self government. But I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, supposing some intelligent Turk had happened to question the noble Lord, who was sent out to Turkey, as to what sort of government we have in the counties of England, that intelligent foreigner would not have been very 1657 greatly surprised to hear that the only county government we have in England is that of the quarter sessions, and that the members composing that administrative body are all nominated by the Crown. I would also bring before the House for their consideration that whereas, with regard to the Imperial Government of the country, the House of Commons seems to be growing more and more powerful as time advances, from the fact of its being elected upon a wider basis, so that the taxpayers of the country have a greater power over the levying of taxes than was formerly the case; on the other hand, the ratepayers of the country are continually being deprived of the power they ought to have over the rates, and that that power is being concentrated more and more in the hands of the paid officials of the Government. The fact is, that Inspectors multiply to such an extent that it seems to me that they will by-and-bye have to inspect each other. The Government Offices are yearly acquiring more and more power, and, in point of fact, if this petty interference be much longer continued, it will, in my opinion, work our salvation, or rather, its own stoppage, by entirely clogging the wheels of the Imperial machine. I think it was my right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) who said that we have now made the Boards of Guardians throughout the country the municipal authorities of the rural districts. It is true that they have not the control of the highways, but I hope they will have. We have certainly given them very great powers. We have not only assigned to them the administration of the Poor Laws, but they also deal with questions of valuation and sanitary matters; and, only lately we have given to them the administration of the Education Act. Well, how do we treat those Bodies; what are the powers we give them, and in what way do we interfere with their action? I will illustrate what I mean by giving the House the result of recent experience. On New Year's Day I attended a meeting of the Forehoe Guardians. That being the day on which the Education Act came into force, we, of course, very naturally discussed it. The Forehoe Board of Guardians happens to be an old incorporation, which has existed pore than 100 years, and we do not have our new Board elected 1658 until next Midsummer, consequently the school attendance committee cannot well act until July. I suggested to the Guardians that although they could not put the law in force at present, nevertheless, as all the pains and disabilities which the Act imposes would otherwise fall upon people who are ignorant of the law, it was our duty as Guardians to make the poor acquainted with the new duties and responsibilities that had been put upon them. I therefore proposed that we should spend a small sum of money—I do not suppose that it would have cost more than a sovereign—in order to issue through the different relieving officers, handbills that might be given to every poor parent in the district, explaining what it was necessary they should be made acquainted with; but knowing that we had no authority to take this step on our own responsibility, we wrote to the Local Government Board for its gracious permission. After keeping us waiting for three weeks—the legal department is generally slew in its movements, and is invariably rather obstructive—we had sent to us a piece of information with which we were well acquainted beforehand — namely, that the duty of issuing those handbills belonged to the school attendance committee and not to the Guardians. Why, Sir, if you impose responsibility and place trust in local authorities, I say, by all means let them be trusted. I contend that the best way to make a man feel his responsibility is to allow him a little latitude when you know that he is really worthy of it. Of one thing I am quite sure—namely, that if this style of interference is continued much longer, it will be useless to expect that the best men of the localities will serve upon the Boards of Guardians, merely to register the decrees of Government officials. Here was a Board presided over by an ex-Cabinet Minister, and attended by the gentry, clergy, and the better portion of the yeomanry and leading tenant-farmers of the district, and yet such a body is not allowed to expend one sovereign out of the rates in aid of an important measure which the Government of this country has recently passed for the purpose of educating the people. I will detain the House but a very few minutes, while I refer to the history of these county authorities. If we go back to the days of Alfred the 1659 Great, we find that a county authority existed during his reign—an authority remarkably like that which I should like to see established. The different parishes sent delegates to the Hundred Courts, and the Hundred Courts sent representatives to the County Courts, and those bodies consisted not only of such deli-gates, but of certain men who by official position or property qualification were made members of the Board. These County Courts or Boards, perished during the Wars of the Roses, and we hear no more of a county authority from that time until the latter end of the reign of William IV. The counties lost all their local authority during that period, and I hope that I shall not be considered offensive to hon. Gentlemen who represent boroughs in this House, when I say that one reason for the increased powers and intelligence which the boroughs possess is to be found in the fact that they have had good municipal authorities, and I think it must be to that cause—namely, the want of efficient local government—that any supposed inferiority of ability on the part of the rural constituencies must be ascribed. In the year 1836 this question came before the House in the shape of a Bill brought in by Mr. Hume, in which he introduced the principle of direct election, and in 1849 Mr. Hume again tried his hand at legislation on the subject by bringing in another Bill. After that Mr. Milner Gibson dealt with the question in 1850 and 1852, and then we had another long spell of rest until the year 1868, when we had the Schools Inquiry Report in favour of the establishment of a County Board for the purpose of managing the educational endowments of the county. Then we had a Bill brought in by Mr. Wyld, followed by the appointment of a Committee of this House, which sat upstairs, and who reported somewhat in favour of direct representation. In 1869 the question passed from the hands of private Members, and became a matter for Government consideration. In that year the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sandwich (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) brought in the first Government Bill on the subject, and in 1871 another Bill was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen). But it appears that previously this agitation was only of a fleet- 1660 ing and fitful character; and I do not wonder at it, because, in my opinion, it was not based on a strong foundation. There was a cry of "County Financial Boards," and that cry was founded entirely on the supposition that there was great extravagance in the administration of the county rates by the magistrates. But I knew to the contrary. From what I had experienced in my own county, and from what I heard from other districts, I was sure that although the magistrates had authority to expend £3,000,000 of the ratepayers' money, and had no official audit, their expenditure would contrast most favourably with the financial management of the best municipal authority in the world. Why, Sir, some people went so far as to say that the county magistrates built gaols like Chinese pagodas, shire-houses like baronial halls, and asylums like mansions. Even supposing there was a little ornamentation put on some of those buildings—admitting that some of the gaols were built even in an expensive style and with good taste, what were they, after all, compared with the palatial mansions built under the authority of the town councils in many of the larger boroughs? Positively nothing. Then, again, there is another fact to be remembered—namely, that the magistrates have really no authority over 80 per cent of their expenditure. This proportion of their expenditure is imposed upon them by law, and although a good deal has been made of this fact—although, perhaps, rather too much stress has been laid upon it—the end was put forward and enacted by Parliament, but the means were left to the discretion of the magistrates—and right well, in my opinion, have they used that discretion. I assert that the way in which the county matters coming under their control have been managed by the local magistrates, constitutes a standing monument, showing how well and assiduously they have done their work. Therefore, in what I have to say I trust the magistrates will give me credit for entertaining the greatest possible respect for their talents and assiduity, and, above all, for their integrity and economy. Having said this I shall of course be asked—"Then why don't you leave well alone." I, of course, admit that that is a good Tory maxim, and it is one that I very often endorse; but, in 1661 this matter, unfortunately, Parliament will not let us alone. We have been constantly passing Act after Act imposing fresh liabilities and burdens on the ratepayers, and also conferring great powers on the Local Government Board and other officers of the Government. Now, Sir, I will just refer very briefly to the authorities in the nature of County Boards that are to be found in other parts of the world. In England we have a county authority, which is composed of persons nominated by the Crown. In Scotland they have Commissioners of Supply, who come there by right of their property, and in Ireland you have gentlemen who are summoned by the Sheriff and who need not be magistrates, but who may be owners or the representatives of owners of land. If we turn to France, where there is said to be so much centralization, we find that they have a general council in each department, and although it is true that the council is presided over by a prefect appointment by the Government—["Hear, hear!"]—yes, hear, hear!—but the representative members of the body are elected by the ratepayers, and they have control over the chief roads, public buildings, railways, asylums, fairs, and markets, and beyond this they actually regulate the proportion of Imperial and local taxation which each commune has to pay. In Belgium and in Russia also, there is a provincial council, and in Prussia a sort of elective county Parliament. Well, Sir, I shall probably be asked—"What more do you want? What Board do you propose? How is it to be constituted?" I, of course, have no authority to say anything for anybody or to speak on behalf of any institution, except the Central and one or two Chambers of Agriculture who support the views I entertain. But before I say what it is I propose to do, I will tell the House what it is I do not wish to do. First of all, then, I do not desire to abolish the existing quarter sessions, 'or to have stipendiary magistrates appointed all over the country. I think that to do this would be a very great misfortune to the country, and as a ratepayer myself I do not wish to pay for justice which I find is exceedingly well administered under the present system gratuitously. And with regard to the paid magistrates, I can only say that from the 1662 recent experience we have had in Norfolk of County Court Judges, I am quite certain that the prayer which would go up from our district on this subject would be—"From second-class barristers, of however long standing, good Lord deliver us!" Well, Sir, I will here say a word on another point. I do not wish to add to the duties or the numbers of the present quarter sessions, as was proposed by the Committee on County Boards. This was the principle of the Bill brought in by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sandwich, and although no doubt it was a good principle in the abstract, I think that the Returns that were moved for in this House by Mr. Corrance showed pretty clearly that it would be almost unworkable in practice. I believe it will be seen from those Returns that in the county of Lancaster there would be nearly 1,000 members of the Board under the proposal of the right hon. Member for Sandwich, and in the county of Norfolk we should have 300 or 400 constituting that body. I think the House will agree with me that it would be impossible for us to have County Boards of these vast dimensions. The Committee of the House of Commons to which I have already referred, also took the same line. They proposed that certain representatives of the ratepayers should be added to the quarter sessions, and that they should sit with the magistrates to transact the county business after the judicial business was over. There seemed to be an idea in the minds of the Committee that there were certain yeomen and tenant-farmers, and other persons of the middle class, who would be anxious to obtain seats at the quarter sessions, under the impression that the position would add a little to their dignity and social standing. Now, Sir, although I do say that a place upon the County Board which I propose ought to be an object of ambition on the part of a good many very excellent and able men among the ratepayers, I have, at the same time, no sympathy with those who merely desire to write certain initial letters after their names without doing any sort of work in return for the privilege. I would say that what we want to see on these Boards, should they be established, are men who will do good service and real work. And there is another thing I do not wish to have. I 1663 do not want to bring about the turmoil and expense of direct annual elections. We should be sure to get a bad Board if we were to resort to that method, and I am quite certain that its expense would very soon make the ratepayers sick of it. Well, now I come to what it is I do propose. I propose that the new County Boards should be composed one-third of magistrates, to be appointed by quarter sessions, and the other two-thirds of members to be sent direct by the Boards of Guardians thoughout each county. And, further, I would not limit the choice of the Guardians to ratepayers who are not magistrates. I do not object to a magistrate because he is a magistrate, but because he is not elected. I am sure that the Guardians would send a great number of magistrates to the Board; indeed, it was pointed out during the discussion at the Central Chamber of Agriculture, that it is quite within the bounds of possibility that the whole of the members of a Board may be magistrates, and even if this were the case, so long as the Board is elective I should consider it a mistake, but I should be perfectly content. No doubt I shall be asked—"What do you propose to leave to the quarter sessions?" My reply is, that I would leave to them the entire control of all matters relating to the administration of justice. They should have, as at present the management of the police, all county buildings, the arrangements as to weights and measures, the appointment of analysts, and the supervision of licences. I am aware that the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Cowen) has an idea that the control of the licensing is a power that should be placed in the hands of a representative Board; but I regard it as a matter intimately connected with judicial considerations, as it involves the maintenance of order and the better protection of the Revenue; although I think it very probable that the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) will say it involves the promotion of disorder and legalizes the sale of poison. I think on the whole that the supervision of the licensing is one of the functions that ought to be retained by the magistrates. Well, then I shall be asked—"What would you take away from the magistrates and give to the Board?" My answer is, that there are the lunatics, the bridges, the adminis- 1664 tration of the Cattle Diseases Act, valuation as far as regards the appeals, as was proposed last night by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell), the registration of voters, and the making and levying of the rates. I may also be asked—"Are there any new duties you would impose on the Board?" Well, Sir, they are sure to crop up. Once get your county authority and you will soon find plenty of work for it to do. I will, however, mention one or two things that I think they might do. In addition to what I have stated as to supervising the valuation lists and hearing appeals, they ought to be a main Highway Board, such as my right hon. Friend proposed in his Highway Bill of last year. Again, there are certain sanitary matters that might with advantage be referred to the County Board. By the Act of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), who was good enough to give us a great measure of sanitary reform, we have medical officers of health, appointed sometimes for a whole county, and we have found them to be perfectly unmanageable. There is nothing to bind any two Boards of Guardians to stick to their bargain for more than a year, and the result is, that you cannot get a good man to accept a post as medical officer, because he cannot tell how long he may retain his appointment. I think that a County Board would be very useful on this head. Then there is the question of engineering and sanitary science which might be taken up with great advantage by the Board. This would be extremely helpful to ignorant people in country districts, and the county surveyor might be the person appointed to give advice and sometimes supervise the work. Then the Board might consider questions with regard to the extension of the Poor Law, and upon this subject I would say that we have a great many more workhouses than we really want. But the question is, what are we to do with those that are not required, and who is to arrange the disposal of them? Well, Sir, the Board might consider whether it would not be well to utilize them for different purposes; one might be turned into a reformatory, another into an idiot asylum, and a third into an industrial school, so as to remove from the children the taint of pauperism, 1665 which is sure to stick to them if they are brought up in a small workhouse—a school where they might receive a good and useful industrial education. There is also the question of the permanently sick and infirm, which might engage the attention of the Board, and they might consider whether these afflicted people would not be better treated in some large infirmary than in the sick wards of the different workhouses, where they are now stowed away. Then, again, they might take up such questions as those of arterial drainage and the storage of water, while the supervision of the educational endowments of the country might come very properly under their cognizance. I have suggested that the whole management of the police should remain in the hands of the justices meeting at quarter sessions, and I am told that some hon. Gentlemen think that if this were to be the case there would be a conflict of authority. Some hon. Gentlemen say and I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire (Mr. J. R. Yorke) is of opinion—that we should follow the plan at present carried out in Ireland—namely, that the Government should pay the whole of the charge for the police force; but I have not been able to arrive at the same conclusion myself. Another idea is, that the owners of land, who are supposed to be represented by the magistrates, should pay, as they do in Scotland, all county rates; and a further suggestion is that the police should be removed from the authority of the magistrates at quarter sessions and handed over to the County Board, under the same plan that prevails in boroughs, where the municipal authorities, and not the magistrates, have the management of the police. My own opinion is, however, that this is wrong in principle, and that the magistrates, who have to administer justice, ought to have the management of the police. The Government pay one-half of the charge for the maintenance and clothing of the police, and they will take care that the force is kept in an efficient state, and that there is no unnecessary expenditure or extravagance. Therefore, I should leave the police in the hands of the magistrates with the most perfect confidence, and the way in which the money would be furnished would be something like what happens with respect to the school board, 1666 a precept being made upon the corporation or the Guardians—a similar precept could be issued by quarter sessions—so that there would be no trouble in levying the rate. Another function of the Board would possibly be—I say "possibly," but I hope it may be probable—that they should be the recipients of some Imperial taxes. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) is again in power, he may be inclined to offer the house tax once more to the local ratepayers; and if he does, I hope he will remember that land pays rates as well as houses, and in justice to the rural districts give us the land tax as well. Some hon. Gentlemen, among others my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Thomas Acland), advocate the proposal that some of the assessed taxes should be given in aid of local charges. I believe the Government have it already in contemplation to make the police collect the dog tax, and if so, I hope the localities will stick to it as they do in Ireland. There are several other taxes, locally levied, that might be taken up as the opportunity served, such as the duty on carriages, which ought surely to go in aid of the maintenance of highways. Then there are the licences for guns and also the sporting licences, which may come at some time or other under the disposal of the Board. Again, there is the possibility that if the hon. Baronet the Member for North Wilts (Sir George Jenkinson) should ever be on the Government bench, he may carry out his pet theory of having a local income tax for the relief of the poor, and in that case I think it would be best dispensed by a board of this description. I have now come to the end of my propositions; but, with the permission of the House, I will just refer to one or two objections and criticisms with which I think they are likely to be met. In the first place, I shall be told that if these Boards are established, the magistrates at quarter sessions will have nothing to do. The Home Secretary, it is said, has already taken from them, by the Prisons Bill, the management of the gaols; but, Sir, I really believe that the visiting justices will have quite as much to do as before, and that great responsibilities will still attach to them. I am not aware that what my Resolution would take away from them would be 1667 more than usually occupies the justices assembled in quarter sessions about ten minutes or a quarter of an hour at one sitting, and consequently they will find that they will go on pretty much as they have done. Why, Sir, I remember, in the days of my childhood, hearing the same thing said with regard to the old Poor Law. "Oh," it was argued, "you are going to disestablish the magistrates, because it is they and the overseers who virtually administer the Poor Law." But I ask the House whether, after the experience we have since had, we should like to go back to those old days and abolish the existing Boards of Guardians? I think not. There is no doubt that the magistrates did fairly well what they were able to do under the then bad laws and adverse state of things, and I am quite sure that we are right in obtaining the voluntary services, not only of the magistrates, but also of every intelligent ratepayer in the country; but, on the other hand, I do not think it is the duty of Parliament to find honourable employment for all gentlemen of leisure. The next criticism that may be applied to my Motion is that there will be nothing for the Board to do. Well, I admit that, in the first instance, there will be but little; yet I say that will be a great advantage, as I do not wish to see the Board overworked at the outset. I should rather prefer to see the Board set to work on two or three things at first that would not tax it over-much, and that the duties should only be allowed to expand as time went on. If you have in a county a head and centre that will be thoroughly representative, you may very soon be able to put upon it a good deal of work which you may safely trust it to do well. A great many rural matters are too large to be treated by Unions, and yet not large enough to be sent up to the metropolis and managed by the red-tape of some Government Department. We are also told that the members of the Board will not act. I ask those who say so whether all the magistrates act? I believe that, as a rule, a very large number never attend quarter sessions. I will take the case of my own county. We have about 300 magistrates in Norfolk, and I believe I am right in saying that about 25 or 30 of the most active of this body are the only magistrates usually present at the quarter sessions; and, as these sessions only come 1668 four times a-year, I do not think there would be any necessity for more than that number of meetings of the Board on its first appointment. Furthermore, it is contended that the members of the new Board will not be qualified, either by their education, or position, or the leisure they have at their disposal, to act. Now, Sir, this objection might, perhaps, suggest the inquiry whether every justice of the peace is fully qualified for the position he holds? I will not, however, make the invidious comparison that might be entered upon in answer to so impertinent a suggestion; but I will say this—that if the picked and educated men of the Boards of Guardians are not fit to carry out this business, Parliament has been very wrong in entrusting them with much more responsible duties. If those Boards of Guardians can manage to administer the Poor Laws efficiently, if they can also be safely entrusted with the supervision of sanitary matters, and if in addition to this they are thought qualified to carry out the Education Act, then, I say, they are quite good enough to elect men to look after such matters as cattle diseases, county bridges, and the management of lunatic asylums. Another objection I have to meet is that we shall have no economy — or rather, no more economy under County Boards than we have under the present system. Well, I candidly admit that I do not think we shall. I never in my life knew an elective body that did not spend money pretty freely; and I believe that that is the reason why this movement is not very popular among certain ratepayers. There is a class of ratepayers in this country—and they are a large and a very respectable class—who, if you go to them and say that this or that scheme will not reduce your rates, they will at once reply that they do not like your scheme at all. I confess that I do not think there will be any immediate saving in the establishment of elective Boards; on the contrary, I believe that at first it is possible you may be put to a greater expense than is the case at present; but, on the other hand, you have to set against this the fact that the work will be better done, that it will be done more uniformly and in a more substantial manner, and, therefore, I say, it will, in reality, be cheaper in the end. Another criticism I have to meet is, that the establishment of these Boards will 1669 multiply a whole lot of local officials. But we have clerks of the peace and surveyors, and I apprehend that, as you insist on the clerks to the Boards of Guardians being also clerks to the assessment committees, you will also insist on the clerk of the peace being clerk to the new Board, while, with regard to the county surveyor, he would, as a rule, be found quite competent to perform all the engineering work the Board might require. Well, Sir, I now come to a more serious objection, and that is, that the County Boards would greatly interfere with the action and independence of the small local authorities. I think it was the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert), who said, during the debate of last night on the Valuation Bill, that there are not only some authorities who wish for local self-government, but others who are for no government at all, and who cannot be induced to do the work imposed upon them, except under great pressure. I am sorry to say that I believe there are such bodies, and I do not hesitate to assert that I should like to put a very considerable amount of wholesome pressure upon them. And, Sir, I believe that a pressure of this sort could be better administered by a County Board than by my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board. I think that if a certain number of refractory Bodies were to receive just a letter or two from the County Board they would be induced to mend their ways very rapidly. On the other hand, I believe that County Boards would really have the effect of delivering us from a certain amount of central tyranny. There is an amount of central interference with local administration that must be stopped, and if a local authority like the County Board suggested by my Resolution were to enfore its authority, backed by its representative character, a vast amount of good would be done in this direction. There would, doubtless, be a good many difficulties to encounter in the formation and working of these County Boards; and with the permission of the House, I will refer to one or two of them. Admitting all these difficulties, what I contend is that they would be considerably increased by delay. The House has been told that new areas are constantly being created throughout the country every year, and if you say that those 1670 complications of areas must all be arranged before you can have County Boards, and if nothing is to be done till then, I think it will be a very long time before you will be able to establish them. If, however, you do get County Boards established, there can be no doubt that they will be a great assistance to my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board in carrying out the reforms in contemplation under the Poor Law Amendment Act of last year. I consider that the formation of a competent county authority will help, and certainly will not hinder, the arrangement of those matters. But, I have been asked—"How are you going to provide for the case of municipal boroughs with representatives at the Boards of Guardians?" Well, if they have municipal institutions and in no way contribute towards the county rate, the borough Guardians will retire when the voting comes on for the members of the County Board, in the same way as the Guardians who represent localities that are blessed with local government, now take no part in sanitary questions at the Board. Where there are in a Union two or three parishes that do not belong to the county, the Guardians of those two or three parishes might be empowered to go over to the next Union of their own county, and vote for the representatives they wish to send to the County Boards. Beyond all this, it is said that the Board will be too large for general work; but I believe it is the case that the quarter sessions do the greater portion of their work entirely by means of committees, and I do not see any reason why that course should not be adopted in the case of the County Boards, and should they require to hear appeals against assessments, there is also no reason why a committee should not sit in the different parts of the county whence those appeals originate. There are many other matters of detail into which I will not trouble the House by entering. I have to thank the House most cordially for the kind attention with which it has listened to my very lengthy, and, I am afraid, very dreary story. I am sorry that I have made it so very long; but the fact is that the subject is so complex and so important, that I felt I was justified in detaining the House and inflicting this speech upon it. I shall, no doubt, be asked by hon. Gen- 1671 tlemen on both sides of the House what I am going to do with regard to this Resolution? I received a little slip this morning, signed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Kent (Sir William Hart-Dyke) and on that paper it was stated that a division would certainly take place upon my Motion; but whether Her Majesty's Government are going to support the Motion and divide with me, or whether they are going to oppose it, was not stated. I have the greatest possible respect for, and confidence in, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, and I am sure, from his extensive knowledge of county business, and also from his sound and statesmanlike views on the subject of local taxation, that if the question were left for him to decide, he would be with me and vote in favour of my Motion. But, Sir, I think it a great misfortune that my right hon. Friend is not where I should like to see him—in the Cabinet. In my opinion, the President of the Local Government Board is gradually becoming invested with the portfolio of "Minister of the Interior," while the head of the Home Office is becoming more and more the "Minister of Justice." I think that some very good measures of my right hon. Friend have been pushed aside in order that others should be passed in this House, which I regard as of less importance. I assure the House that this is no Party question. It has not been made a Party question, and I trust it never will be. If Her Majesty's Government intend to oppose this Motion, and if they tell the House that they will not accept it in any form or shape—if they say it is no part of their scheme of local government, and if they will not have any head or centre except the "head centre" in London, then I shall have been appealing to them in vain. But if, on the contrary, they assent to the principle of the Motion, and tell us that in due time they will be prepared to carry out my views, then I trust they will accept my Resolution. I say that this proposal ought to be the foundation of any further measure of reform of local taxation. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will say that it ought to be the coping stone of his building—the capital of his column; but in whatever light ho may regard it, I shall be quite ready to leave it in the hands of the Government; and 1672 especially in those of my right hon. Friend at the head of the Local Government Board. I consider that this Resolution is so just and reasonable that it will be sure, if carried, to strengthen the hands of my right hon. Friend, and it will further be a useful reminder of his promises. We had only one fault to find with the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes), who led us so well and so nobly on this subject when we were in Opposition. The hon. Baronet on one occasion had a Resolution to the effect that the Government deductions from the cost of criminal prosecutions should cease to be made, and the then Home Secretary gave a most ample pledge that the matter should not only receive consideration, but that the deductions should be put an end to. In a fit of kindness and generosity my hon. Friend withdrew his Resolution, and the consequence is that we still have those deductions. I hope that I shall not be placed in a similar position on this occasion and asked to withdraw the Motion, for I shall assuredly decline. I consider that a county authority in the shape of a representative Board is a great necessity, that it is imperatively required, and, what is more, I hold that it is inevitable. I desire to make the local government of the country rather more of a reality and less of a sham than it is at present, and therefore I respectfully ask the House to affirm this Resolution, and to place it upon its records, not I hope by a division, but by acclamation. I beg, Sir, to move the Resolution that stands in my name.
§ SIR HARCOURT JOHNSTONE
, in seconding the Resolution, said, he regretted he could not speak upon the subject with the same weight and experience as the hon. Gentleman who bad just sat down (Mr. Clare Read); but he could testify to the existence of a strong feeling out-of-doors in favour of the proposal. If it had not been for the independent action of many tenant-farmers of this country we should never have, what he hoped we should soon have, a good representative system of county government. In 1866, when the Highway Act was not so thoroughly understood as it was at present, he recollected that the efforts of the magistrates to carry it out in the North Riding of Yorkshire raised a storm of indignation 1673 such as he never before remembered in his life. Among other things ho was told that no one's life would be safe; and what was more terrible, that every fox in the country would be destroyed. All that had subsided, however, and the tenant-farmers now co-operated with the magistrates in carrying out the provisions of the measure. With regard to representation of farmers and others on County Boards, it was not a question in any way of attempting to secure social equality, although for many years there had been a sense of injustice on the part of the ratepayers, but their consciousness of importance had now been developed to such an extent that they were convinced that it would be no longer possible for any Government to withhold what was their due. He agreed with what had fallen from the hon. Member for South Norfolk, as to the small proportion of the county expenditure which was optional. In his own part of the county, out of £28,000 annual expenditure, only £3,000 was optional; the expenditure of the rest was absolutely obligatory. He had sat with tenant-farmers on every possible Board that could exist, and he could say that he had been struck by their great anxiety to discharge their duty, by their intelligence, and their shrewdness. They were able to hold their own with the magistrates as Poor Law Guardians. He would like to point out certain improvements which might be brought about in our present system of Union administration. He had always regretted that magistrates did not take that active part in the administration of the Poor Law which their position and responsibilities entailed upon them. The fact that they were ex officio Guardians seemed to make them think they might attend or not as they liked. When the Highway Act was carried into operation in south Wales the magistrates elected a certain number whose duty it would be to take the labouring oar in their own districts. He did not say that the magistrates were guilty of extravagance. On the contrary, his experience was that they were rather apt to be penurious; but some change in the present system was absolutely required. He would insist, if he had the power, that the magistrates should elect so many of their number to serve on the committees of the Union. So far as Boards 1674 of Guardians were concerned, there was no ground of complaint as to tenant-farmers. Even when mixed up with the Guardians elected by the boroughs they did their work remarkably well. The greatest blot of the Union administration, however, was in the working of the assessment committees. As a rule, assessment committees were composed of tenant-farmers. They were not strong enough for the job, and they met with difficulties arising from the underletting of the land on account of the game. Land which ought to be let at 30s. was frequently let at 15s. an acre because of the ground game. The consequence was that some tenants did not pay their proper proportion of the rates, and what they wanted in the country was an assessment on the real value. When an appeal was taken it was not taken to a representative body. There was a feeling of jealousy between the two bodies; and if the decision of the assessment committee was reversed, it was said, of course, the county gentlemen were determined to upset it. There should be a more direct representation of owners and occupiers in the Union administration; and such a measure, ho believed, would be received with great favour by all the assessing bodies in the country. Again, if hon. Members looked at the sanitary laws, and at the various committees the formation of which those laws had necessitated, they would find that although the Unions were equally deficient in the constitution of these committees, as they were in the other case, yet, as a rule, those committees worked well—for this reason, the liability to pay for sanitary improvements was imposed by the occupiers, and, of course, discharged by the owners, who therefore ought to be directly represented. In all these matters what it was desirable secure was an adequate and proper representation both of owners and occupiers; and he earnestly trusted that the blots which the present system presented would be removed in any new system of county administration. He confessed he did not think that in an economical point of view anything would be gained by the change. He had sat for the last 20 years on the county committees, and his experience was that if there had been what seemed to be jobs occasionally—such as the raising of salaries— 1675 yet if the ratepayers were to go into an analysis of the various items of outlay, they would find that the money had been wisely and judiciously expended. What was it that had hindered the formation of County Boards up to the present time? A majority of hon. Members on the opposite side of the House appeared to be perfectly prepared for such a change as had been indicated; and, if that were the case, surely there must be some undefined dread and jealousy on the part of the Government in this matter of admitting a new element into the central administration of county management. In his own county there were £8,000,000 of floating capital invested in the cultivation of land, and yet the tenant-farmers were not associated, except on Boards of Guardians, with the financial administration of that county. It might happen that those who might be imported into their county organizations might not be always able to express themselves with the same facility as others, owing to their want of cultivation and education; but he had always found that, however rough or peculiar their language might be, they had endeavoured to do their duty at Boards of Guardians to those to whom they were responsible. The persons to whom he referred might be accused of prejudice and of narrowness; but he maintained that if that were a true description of them, the prejudice and the narrowness had been nurtured entirely by the exclusiveness of the system which had hitherto existed. It would be a wise and conservative measure to admit the occupiers into the county administration, just as in the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society they welcomed the assistance of these men. He did not see why they should not be placed alongside the magnates of the quarter sessions. Although sitting on the Opposition side of the House he laid claim to some little Conservatism, and he said that surely it must be in the interests of the landed gentry themselves, as well as of the whole country, that they should reorganize their county institutions, not in a spirit of innovation, or in order to produce useless change, but to bring about greater harmony and unity in the local administration. By widening the base and deepening the foundation of local administration, they would increase the stability of the social and political fabric, 1676 and would strengthen the local government against the centralizing tendencies of modern days, while at the same time they would do an act of absolute justice. They would dispel existing prejudices, conciliate good will, and secure the cooperation of the most valuable class in our rural community.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no readjustment of local administration will be satisfactory or complete which does not refer County business, other than that relating to the administration of justice and the maintenance of order, to a Representative County Board,"—(Mr. Clare Read,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. SCLATER - BOOTH
said, he must compliment his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clam Read) upon the excellent tone and temper of his speech, and upon the great interest and value of the remarks he had made to the House. But before he proceeded to notice that speech in detail he would take the liberty of saying a few words from his own point of view upon the general question before the House. The question of County Financial Boards occupied a very different position from that which it did 20 or 25 years ago. When he first entered Parliament, now, he was sorry to say, nearly 20 years since, there was undoubtedly throughout the country, principally among tenant-farmers and among ratepayers, a general impression, whether well-founded or otherwise, that an injury, and a growing injury, was being done to them for want of some such organization as that which they desired to create by means of a County Financial Board. Parliament from time to time imposed burdens upon localities for the purpose of improvements with regard to the government of the country, and county justices were authorized by Parliament to carry out those improvements, while the ratepayers had no voice at the quarter sessions. A great deal of feeling was thereby created. Since then, however, many Acts of Parliament had been passed which created new administrative bodies for carrying into effect 1677 union, sanitary, and educational matters. A change of great importance was effected when the area of the Poor Law Union was substituted for the parochial area with regard to the administration of Poor Law relief. In 1872 Boards of Guardians were clothed with entirely new functions. They were constituted sanitary authorities. But, in point of principle, a more important step was taken last year, when the Legislature imposed functions upon them with reference to the enforcement of the Education Act. The function of a Guardian of the poor as an administrator of poor rates still remained extremely important, and as regarded expenditure it was probably the most important of any. These changes had very much prejudiced the question of County Financial Boards. With reference to the sanitary areas, he had stated on a former occasion that those areas had become stereotyped in a way which must be accepted to a great extent, if not as final; and he did not think that any Government or any House of Commons would attempt materially to break down those powers which, in this connection, had been conferred by successive acts of the Legislature. The county boundary was a thing which they all looked upon as sacred; and with respect to the parish boundaries, there was the greatest possible disinclination to interfere with them improperly or unduly. It had always seemed to him that they must look forward to the setting up of the co-ordinate jurisdiction of the magisterial authority over the county, as composed of parishes, side by side with an administrative authority composed of a combination of Unions, and they would have to exercise their functions over the "Union-county" area. The hon. Gentleman had referred to the reticence of the Government during the last three or four years with reference to this subject; but he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had always held, and had stated his opinion, that a greal deal of useful administration might be effected by means of a common fund contributed to by the various Unions of a county, but the difficulty was to fix a time when it would be either expedient or possible to bring forward any plan of that sort, and whether the precise limit of such area should be the county was another question. His hon. Friend (Mr. Clare Read) 1678 had proposed to deal with various matters relating to the administration of the counties; but he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) hoped his hon. Friend would do him the justice to remember that the Government, through him, last year laid upon the Table a proposal to establish County Road Boards with the view of dealing with that portion of the subject. His hon. Friend also alluded to the question of lunatics. The obligation to provide lunatic asylums was an obligation imposed by law upon the magistrates and charged upon the county rates, but the maintenance of lunatics was a very different matter, and was charged upon the various Unions of the county. He apprehended that it would not be worth while to interfere with the subject of lunatics unless they were prepared to deal thoroughly with the whole question. At all events, the Pauper Lunatic Acts were extremely voluminous, and they were settled upon a principle entirely different from that which they were then discussing. The Acts proceeded upon the assumption that the incarceration of the lunatics was a very solemn and serious act, and it was one which had been entrusted by many statutes to the visiting justices of the county asylums, who were by no means identified with the county magistrates, but were clothed with special and separate functions. There was, as was well known, a great difficulty on this subject of county lunatics. There were many classes of lunatics who did not find their places in the county asylums, but who were distributed among the workhouses and elsewhere. In London, as was well known, this class of lunatics was under the control of a Board of Managers, and their maintenance was charged upon the Common Fund of the Metropolis. So to alter the Pauper Lunatic Acts as to bring the system which prevailed in the ' country into harmony with that existing in London, and to identify the position of the imbecile in those asylums with that of lunatics, so declared to be by the decision of a magistrate, would require a very careful examination of the Lunacy Acts, and it could not be undertaken except under the most careful supervision of the Lord Chancellor, of the Commissioners of Lunacy, and of the Secretary of State, or other bodies entrusted by law with very special functions. Ho should certainly be disposed 1679 to say that the maintenance of the lunatics should be charged upon a basis much wider than that of the Union, since there could not and ought not to be any possibility of imposture, and since upon every ground it would be most desirable that the administration for this particular class of people should be in the hands of a small number of county authorities rather than of the Unions who were now obliged to maintain them. Among other advantages would be this — that the repayment which was made by the Government in aid of the maintenance of these lunatics would be made to 50 or 60 bodies rather than to the 600 bodies as now. According to the last account they had of all the charges upon the county rate, it would appear that the whole of the sums levied by the county magistrates, setting aside the amount for the police, amounted to something over 2,000,000 a-year, or, striking out from that the cost of prisons and the repayment of debt, which was a financial operation which did not require any special management, there was not much more than £1,000,000 remaining to be expended by the county magistrates, representing little more than a 2¼d. rate. The items of expenditure, however, now defrayed by the magistrates, except the two last ones to which he had alluded, were of an unimportant character. There were other functions which certainly might very well be discharged by a County Board, but which did not yet exist; but he must ask the House to do him the justice to remember that in passing the Pollution of Rivers Bill through the House he had always reserved to himself the right to re-open the question as to the administration of that Act of Parliament when the proper time arrived for putting that administration into more vigorous operation. He must say that so far as the rivers lay within the county boundaries such bodies as had been suggested would be very proper authorities to put the law into operation, and the proposal of the hon. Member, if adopted, would save the smaller local authorities a good deal of disagreeable labour. He did not, however, say that such a provision would deal with the more difficult and important cases of those large rivers which ran through several counties, and which would require the 1680 management of a Conservancy Board, and he had always contemplated that some measure for facilitating the setting up of Conservancy Boards upon a large scale might hereafter be found necessary. He had frequently alluded to the remarkable success which had attended an Act of Parliament introduced by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goschen), under which a portion of the cost of the in-door maintenance of the poor in the metropolis was charged upon a wider area than the Union. He was disposed to agree with his hon. Friend (Mr. Clare Read) in his views that under the Sanitary Act of 1872 it would have been a preferable plan to have made the medical officer of health a county rather than a Union officer. The inspector of nuisances was the proper agent for dealing with local nuisances, and it always seemed to him that the function of reporting upon disease in a largo area should be assigned to a man who devoted his whole time to the work, and would take into consideration a wider view of all the circumstances with which he had to deal. Therefore, there being only this very limited function of County Board management to be disposed of, and the Government having proposed last year in their Highway Bill to assign that function to a Representative Body, he felt that no charge of neglecting this subject could be laid against the Government. He had rather been led to infer from the observations which had fallen from hon. Members opposite that they desired something much wider, much larger, and more extensive than the moderate and reasonable plan which had been shadowed forth by his hon. Friend. The hon. Members for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) and Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) had frequently alluded to the great mass of debt which had been incurred by the local authorities, but the greater part of that debt was chargeable upon town, and not upon county rates; and if it were desired that the County Boards should, in future, take in charge the municipal as well as the county administration, that was an idea with which he could have no sympathy. Again, a favourite expression had come into vogue among hon. Members opposite, and that was the "municipalities of the counties." He thought he had shown them that they at present had 1681 those municipalities—that was to say, bodies having administrative functions in Union areas — exercising authority over ratepayers in those areas exactly analogous to that of municipal authorities. If there were to be larger bodies representing the county, that might set up a sort of Home Rule for counties. His hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk had referred to the system of local government which prevailed in France, and had referred to the préfets and to the departments. There was no country in the world more highly centralized than France. It was quite true there was some administrative machinery in the several Departments; but, taking into account the vast difference in the area of the two countries, and the difference between the habits of the people of France and of England, his belief was that the latter was too small for a system of departments, and that a system of Home Rule in counties would be extremely unpopular with the people. But his hon. Friend also said that when we had these County Boards we might begin to decentralize and assign to them work now done by the various Departments of the Government. For himself, he could say he should be most happy to decentralize, and so to relieve his overburdened Department of the large mass of work which was continually growing upon them, and entailing more labour than they could supply. He should certainly take every opportunity of furthering so good a cause as decentralization. He must, however, candidly tell his hon. Friend and the House that there would always be great pressure from without to increase the centralizing power of the Government. Let him for a moment illustrate that by what occurred some two or three years ago, when the Act for the Prevention of the Adulteration of Food and Drink passed. That was a measure with which he himself and his hon. Friend had been associated, and he might say in passing that it was working extremely well. Extreme pressure was brought to bear upon him (Mr. Sclater-Booth) from both sides of the House in order to induce him to insert in the Bill a provision that the Chemical department of the Inland Revenue should act as a Supreme Court of Appeal from all the analysts in the country; and that pres- 1682 sure was so urgent that he was reluctantly induced to put that provision in the Bill. On the whole, he could not say that it had worked badly, although he did not altogether approve the principle upon which the proposal was based; but he only mentioned it to show the feeling in favour of a central authority which always displayed itself in the House, and undoubtedly found favour there. Speaking on the general question, he was bound to express his obligation to his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk for the appreciation he had shown of the action taken by Her Majesty's Government since they came into power. His hon. Friend most candidly acknowledged that the Government had neither set aside nor neglected the subjects in which he was himself so much interested, and he admitted further, with satisfaction, that many measures calculated to further his views had, through his (Mr. Sclater-Booth's) agency, been introduced into the House on the part of the present Government, and had passed into law. His hon. Friend had also expressed approval of the scheme of the subventions granted by the Government in aid of local rates, which it was his (Mr. Sclater-Booth's) first duty to propose, and admitted it was one of benefit to the country. In some quarters it was thought at the time that the Government was in too great a hurry to apply the surplus at its disposal in this particular way. His own view, on the other hand, was that the course taken was in perfect accord with the feeling and the position of the country at that particular time. It was a responsibility which few Governments, perhaps, would have undertaken; but he thought experience would show the wisdom of the Government in taking and appropriating as they did the surplus which was then at their disposal. He admitted that in the time of King Alfred there was, perhaps, a more pure system of local government than had prevailed since; but he thought that, comparing the condition of the general body of the people now with what it was then, the balance of advantage could not be said to be all on one side. He would not follow his hon. Friend into the details of the plan before the House. His hon. Friend had stated his subject with so much moderation and consideration for the time and free- 1683 dom of action of the Government, that he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) felt he had very little to say in reply to the particular Motion with which his hon. Friend concluded. There was, of course, always some disadvantage in Parliament laying down abstract Resolutions, and in placing on the Journals of the House a Vote which might be brought up year after year, and thrown in the face of any Government in spite of the inconvenience which it would cause them. His hon. Friend, however, had interpreted the Resolution with so much consideration for the position of the Government and for himself (Mr. Sclater-Booth) — for which he begged to offer his hearty thanks—that he felt he should be doing an ungracious act if he were to ask him to withdraw his Resolution. In the course of his speech his hon. Friend had referred to some observations which fell from him (Mr. Sclater-Booth) in the early part of the present Session. The use of the word "complete" in the Resolution imported into it an idea he had shadowed forth on that occasion. He said that this question could not be dealt with in one comprehensive measure. The Government had given what time it could to measures of this kind. He had stated, and he would now repeat, that he did not think it was his duty to lay down propositions, or to sketch out plans of reform which he had not the means of putting into shape or of bringing before the House in a practical way. He could show that every one of the Acts which had been passed under his guidance, affecting local administration, fitted in with a larger plan of dealing with local areas upon a more comprehensive footing. Ho should be most glad as time went on—if he was permitted to do so—to give effect to those views. He was so little at variance with his hon. Friend, both as regarded the principal suggestions he had made, and as regarded the language of the Resolution, that he must again say he felt he could not ask him to withdraw his Motion. As he understood his hon. Friend, however, he had no wish to press the Government immediately to embody the spirit of his Resolution in a Bill; nor did he wish the Government at once to sketch out a plan of the reforms which would be necessary in order to meet his views. He would only say, therefore, 1684 that the Government would not be unmindful of what had been set forth, and that, as far as the present moment was concerned, they were willing to agree to the Motion which had been brought forward.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, he had listened most attentively to the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Sclater-Booth), but he had failed to hear anything satisfactory as to what sort of County Board would be established, and when. What was to be the constitution of the new Board, and what were to be its functions? That was really the point they had now to consider. The right hon. Gentleman had gone so far as to call the proposal before the House a moderate proposal, and he had expressed his agreement with nearly all the points which the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) had brought forward. If the Government would go so far as that, they certainly would not find in him (Mr. Whitbread) one to complain that they had brought in an incomplete measure. Now, since the speech of the hon. Member for South Norfolk, and the reply of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth), this question might be said to have taken an entirely new starting-point. The old idea of a County Board was dead from that night. This question used to be raised at a time when the expenditure in the counties for public purposes was, with the exception of poor relief, mainly in the hands of the justices at quarter sessions. It had a meaning then, and was capable of easy interpretation. The notion, then, was to find some means of electing a few men to act with the justices, so as to save the principle that there should be no taxation without representation; and although these men, when they were elected, would find that nearly the whole of the county expenditure was expenditure which they could not possibly control, and the margin where any saving could be effected was very small; yet their appointment would satisfy the ratepayers, and take away a source of discontent which had some foundation. Whilst admitting the principle, he (Mr. Whitbread) had always looked upon a County Board of this kind as a theoretical rather than a practical matter, and had sometimes regretted that it was dragged in between Parliament and other more important mea- 1685 sures affecting local government. Whatever force there might have been in the demand for a County Board limited to the transaction of county business other than the administration of justice and the maintenance of order, that force had certainly not been increased by recent legislation, and even bade fair to be further diminished. The increase in Treasury grants for police, the prisons taken over by the central authority, rendered it hardly too much to say that by the time such a County Board could be brought into existence the work which it was to perform would have been entrusted to other hands. But, whilst the matters over which the county justices had control, other than the administration of justice and preservation of order, had, been rapidly encroached upon by the central government, Parliament had created new authorities for special purposes of local government, and had now established those authorities—namely, the sanitary authorities—in every part of the land. They were authorities endowed with vast powers of taxation. They had committed to their charge various and most important duties. Their expenditure, unlike that of the county justices, was for the most part, governed only by their judgment and discretion, and was not marked out for them by legislation. For many purposes those authorities each in their separate areas could act singly and well. For other purposes it would tend often to economy and efficiency that a combination for special purposes should take place between two or more of them—for example, in the case of works for sewerage, drainage, or water supply. For all purposes it would be desirable that representatives from those primary areas of local government should have the opportunity of meeting together for consultation and mutual information at one Board. It was clear, then, that Parliament could not now be asked to establish a county representative Board to deal with the fragments which had been left to quarter sessions, and at the same time to give this Board no relations with those new authorities within the county who for nearly all the purposes of local government, except the administration of justice and the maintenance of order, were the real powers—the powers who could tax, expend, and administer. If, however, the now County Board was to 1686 be placed in relation with the local sanitary authorities, as well as with the county justices, we were brought face to face at once with the question of the areas of local government. The county proper to which the jurisdiction of the justices was confined was not the same thing, or nearly the same thing, as the union county, over which the sanitary authorities bore sway, and in some cases they differed widely. Without going further into detail, it seemed that this necessity of bringing the boundary of the union county to agree with the boundary of the county proper must alone open up the question of the areas of local government; and he (Mr. Whitbread) confessed that one of the strongest motives he had for supporting the Motion was that he was firmly convinced that whoever now took up the formation of a County Board would be met with this question of the complicated and overlapping areas of local government, and would have to go deeper down and start by simplifying his areas before he could construct his County Board. The complication of the areas gave occasion for the multiplicity of authorities; and if the effort to create a County Board necessitated the rectification of areas, they would have advanced a long way towards that goal which many desired to reach—a goal which must undoubtedly be reached by stages, and not at one bound, when for all purposes of local government, as far as might be possible, they would have but one area, one authority, one election, one budget of annual receipt and expenditure, one rate, and one debt. Until they had made some approximation to that state of things it would be impossible to convoy to the ratepayer a clear perception of the state of affairs of the locality in which he lived, or to enable him to make his voice heard with due effect in their management. Then there was a larger subject connected with local debt, upon which he preferred to rest his case for urgency in the matter, and he could prove it from Returns which had been already presented to the House. There was, it was true, some difficulty of getting at a correct idea from these Returns, because many of them were in arrear, and few were calculated to the same period of the year, yet there was a possibility of getting a notion of the existence of a 1687 startling state of things. But, taking the whole of England and Wales, and including the metropolis, he would state the result of a comparison between value and indebtedness between 1871 and 1875. In the first-named year, the rateable value, excluding items rather belonging to property than to rates, such, for example, as harbour works, tolls, and so on, was £107,000,000, and in 1874–5, £120,000,000, or an increase of 12 per cent. That increase, however, was not so much an increase of value as of valuation, and it was in great measure accounted for by the fact that the valuations had been screwed up. The outstanding local debt in 1870–1 was £38,000,000; and in 1874–5 it had risen to £64,000,000, or an increase of 69 per cent; but, as some necessary reductions must be made for amounts included in the Return for the latter year which did not appear in the former year, he calculated that the net increase had not been less than 53 per cent. If they turned to the urban districts, they would find a more startling state of things. The rateable value of urban districts, exclusive of London, between 1871 and 1875, increased 10 per cent; but the rates in the same period increased 103 per cent, and the charge for debts no less than 165 per cent. These figures, he thought, showed what he had called a startling state of things, and should not be treated in the light and airy manner which the right hon. Gentleman opposite had adopted. In July of last year his right hon. Friend opposite, comparing the local debt with the National Debt, said that the Public Debt was, in round numbers, £750,000,000, or a ratio of 10 to 1 as compared with the annual revenue of the country, while the local debt charged on the rates was £60,000,000, or only 3 to 1 as compared with the amount of the rates. But this involved fallacies, for his right hon. Friend, in estimating the income from the rates, lumped together the urban and the rural districts, whereas the debt was almost entirely saddled on the urban districts. The comparison should have been made between the debt and the value upon which it was saddled, and, roughly speaking, while the charge of the National Debt, as compared with the national income, was less than as 30 to 75, that of the local debt, as compared with the rates, was as 40 to 75. 1688 In fact, while the National Debt was stationary or diminishing, the local debt was increasing with giant strides. He might be told that it was being paid off. [Mr. SCLATER - BOOTH: Hear, hear!] Yes; but it was being put on more heavily with another hand. It was quite true that a great deal of the local debt was incurred for useful, permanent, and remunerative public works, especially in and around large towns, and ho had no great fear of this species of increasing burden. What he did fear, however, was the debt now being created in the smaller districts. In large towns the works were undertaken under the supervision of competent engineers, carried out with every regard to economy, and on the most approved scientific principles; but those in small rural districts were sometimes undertaken without any such precautions, without concert, and often completed at a cost greatly in excess of their value. That was especially the case among small rural authorities who were in the habit of undertaking works, which could be carried out as cheaply again by two or more uniting. They had not hitherto borrowed very largely, but they had not long possessed these powers. Villages were not now content with the water supply of their ancestors, or with their systems of drainage. The probability was that these authorities for one object and another would begin before long to spend very largely. County Boards were wanted to be a link in the chain, but it was not county finances, but Union finances, and sanitary finances, where they would find the difficulty to be faced in the future. It was necessary to provide some proper machinery for regulating these charges, and he considered that the present time was most opportune for taking some step of that kind. Many domestic questions were arising, and the longer some remedy was delayed the greater would be the difficulty of adjusting the charges. He did not deny that during the life of the generation which was now passing away there had been necessity for some centralization, in order to get the new ideas of public provision for the health and comfort of the people carried into effect. Thirty years ago those were the ideas of a few thoughtful men, but their words found an echo in Parliament, and their teaching had been accepted, and had 1689 taken deep root in the country. It was now time to reverse the process, and to take power from the centre and give it to the locality. A good deal had been said respecting the dignity of local government, but he did not see how that dignity could be maintained by simply creating a local Board with a high-sounding title. The only way to give dignity was to provide additional work, and grant means of executing it. There was plenty of work to do, and plenty of men willing to do it; it remained only for Parliament to mark out and allot the task.
§ MR. J. R. YORKE
said, he quite agreed with the last speaker that plenty of work was necessary, and there certainly would be plenty of work found for this body. There would naturally be an accretion round it of all those subjects which at present were imperfectly administered by the local Bodies, and in that respect it would be found a most valuable addition to the system of government by planting itself between these smaller Bodies and the influence of the central Board. He therefore thought it most desirable that a good understanding should be established between those Bodies and the Board. The hon. Gentleman had said that the question used not to be a practical one. No doubt, it was not, in the days of the first agitation on the subject, for that agitation had its origin in ignorance. The local taxpayer was only aware that for some reason or other the burden he had to bear was too heavy for his powers, and, further, that it increased year by year. He wasAn infant crying for the light,And only in the language of a cry.It was not until the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes) had succeeded in eliciting figures which enlightened him, that he understood how little it would avail him to have such a Board as it was now intended to constitute if 80 per cent of the revenue was administered under statutory and Ministerial direction. It appeared that instead of there being any conflict of opinion between the two sides of the House on this question, on the other hand, now that they had found a subject upon which they could agree, their "unanimity was wonderful." Not only could they concur that it was de- 1690 sirable to constitute a Board, but that the time was particularly opportune for doing so, and that the difficulties which might have existed were being smoothed away. In 1872 the position of this question was by no means encouraging, and the country might now well congratulate itself upon the change of Government which took place in the spring of 1874. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) said, in 1872, that the first thing which he would introduce would be the representative principle wherever it did not already exist, and therefore he would be beginning where they were now, omitting all the intermediate benefits which the country had received. The representative system was the Alpha and Omega of what that right hon. Gentleman proposed. The scheme of his right hon. Friend behind him bore a strong resemblance to the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London; but the difference between the scheme now submitted and that of the right hon. Gentleman was that he proposed, if it were possible, to galvanize the parish into vitality, ignoring the Union, which was a more important unit of local self-government. The course, however, of recent legislation by the Government had smoothed the way to the measure indicated by his hon. Friend, to which ho understood that the Government was now ready to agree. There was the Poor Law Amendment Act of last Session, which removed the objection that the Unions often overlapped the boundaries of the counties. Then the Prisons Bill would remove another difficulty, and, while relieving magistrates of duties that were of a national, rather than of a local, character, it would make it easier to distinguish between what was local and what Imperial—what should be entrusted to the magistrates, and what to the representative Boards. Then there had been largo sanitary and educational powers confided to the Boards of Guardians. He did not see any tendency to extravagant expenditure on the part of rural sanitary authorities; on the contrary, it often required the pressure of the ex officio element to induce them to do anything at all. The concentration of certain elementary duties in County Boards would be far preferable to the chaos of jurisdictions and authorities now exist- 1691 ing, and the infusion of the elective element would allow such Boards to act with a confidence rarely manifested by a body of nominees. A place in such an assembly would be valued be valued by young men of ability and ambition, and the assembly would be able to show a bolder front to the Local Government Board than Boards of Guardians and the present sanitary authorities could show. They had on his side of the House often been taunted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London with the reckless way in which they accepted measures of centralization, and the Local Taxation Committee seemed to be greatly dreaded by the right hon. Gentleman; but the fact was, that while they did not deprecate centralization when it was accompanied by other advantages, they could not help welcoming the opportunity of obtaining a good provincial authority composed of the right sort of men. His hon. Friend near him (Mr. Clare Read) would gain credit not for renewing what was formerly an unpractical proposal, but for originating at the proper time a measure which contained the germs of great future usefulness, and which would before long be adopted by the House.
§ MR. WHITWELL
congratulated the House and his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Clare Read) on the course which had been taken by the Government. There was one thing which it was necessary to keep in mind—the importance of keeping the administration of justice separate from local government; but the position of the House in relation to the whole subject was altered by the acceptance on the part of the Government of both the speech and the Resolution of the hon. Member for Norfolk. They wanted a great county administration, which would be very different from the present one by magistrates. Very large duties had in recent years been thrown upon the Boards of Guardians and on the Unions, and they would require considerable assistance, if those duties were to be carried out properly. Then, again, there was the question of water supply, and how best to store the rains of winter for summer use. It was a matter of political economy to preserve water not only for their manufacturing establishments and for farm lands, but for domestic use; and these were matters for County Boards to deal with. He might 1692 also refer to the Valuation Bill of last night, which, if carried into law, would in its operation be greatly facilitated by these Boards. The assessment committees had been very useful, but what they wanted were persons on them who had greater local knowledge, as there was great difficulty in properly assessing lands which were occupied by their owners. The time had come, in his opinion, when the expenditure of moneys in the counties should be controlled by those who were elected, and he would prefer that the whole of the Boards should be elected rather than have official members upon them.
regretted that that abstract Resolution had been so readily assented to by the Government—first, because ho was not very fond of abstract Resolutions in general, and next, because by so quickly accepting that one in particular the Government had taken the heart out of that debate, which might otherwise have been, as from the great importance of the subject it well deserved to be, a full and complete discussion. Those empty benches spoke in eloquent terms, which made it impossible for them now to have a satisfactory or a vigorous debate on a matter which he deemed to be one of no ordinary magnitude, involving, in fact, no less a question than a great local Reform Bill. The hon. Member for Bedford seemed to think that the increase of the debt created by municipal bodies was so rapid that they wanted some central Board to control those local authorities; but it could not be imagined that the central Board which it was the object of that Resolution to establish could have any control over those municipal institutions which were responsible for the heavy and fast-growing debt to which that hon. Gentleman had alluded. This abstract Resolution contained the germs of new ideas which might become the foundations of other arrangements in the counties.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
, resuming, observed that the circumstance of the count being made was in itself a proof of the calmness which had settled down upon the subject. There was no thunder at the doors of Westminster—nothing to dis- 1693 turb the tranquillity of the discussion. He would do what he could to strengthen the local authority. He regarded the parish as the home of local energy, and he would rather strengthen it than blot it out by Union administration. No doubt the Union must be a large unit of any complete system of local self-government; but what he protested against was any falling down and worshipping this Union, as it would destroy what was far more essential, the unit of the parish. However, he felt bound to admit that he concurred in a great deal of what had been so admirably said by his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read). If there was any part of his statement to which he might take exception, it was that in which he spoke of the stupidity of rural authorities. His (Mr. Paget's) experience was that they were not more stupid than their neighbours. There were many matters which might very properly be entrusted to a central body existing side by side with the quarter sessions. With regard to the suggestion that the management of lunatic asylums might be intrusted to the proposed Board, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth) in thinking that point required further consideration. For his part, he thought a good deal of legislation would be necessary before that could be done. Why a mixed Board composed of magistrates and elected ratepayers should not be expected to work perfectly well, ho for one could not see. The Contagious Diseases Acts were practically worked by a mixed Board, and in that and some other cases of the kind they had evidence that there was nothing whatever in the bugbear which had been raised on this point. He was glad to find that the Motion, interpreted as it had been by the speech of the hon. Member for South Norfolk, was one which he could accept. At the same time, he wished to hold himself perfectly free as to any detail of the plan which the hon. Member proposed.
§ CAPTAIN NOLAN
expressed his regret that the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland was not now in his place, because the question was one in which the people of that country took much interest. Two Bills dealing with the subject as regarded Ireland had been introduced last Session, one by himself (Captain Nolan) and the other 1694 by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt), and the one that was pressed to a division on its second reading was only rejected by a majority much smaller than the Government usually commanded—namely, 28. As the Ministers had accepted the Resolution of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), he inferred that they were not going to exclude Ireland. from the benefit of the proposed reform; but if they included Ireland in the Bill which they promised to introduce, there would be inconsistency in the course they adopted last Session, and that which they had adopted that evening, inasmuch as they suggested that in Ireland some 16 or 17 little representative Boards might be established in each county, but that there should be no representation on the great central Board, which the Grand Jury might very well be called. It was clear, however, that those small Boards would be powerless for various reasons against the larger body; but no hope had, notwithstanding, been held out by the Government that a County Board would be created in Ireland on any representative or elective plan. The terms of the Motion were such as would lead many of the people of Ireland to hope that that country would be included in this, which ho would call a small Reform Bill. The Representatives of Ireland would be very much wanting in energy and almost in good faith to their constituents if they did not press this proposal on every occasion, and he, in those circumstances, would like to hoar from the Government whether that country would be included under the provisions of the Bill which would be brought in to give effect to the views embodied in the Resolution of the hon. Member for South Norfolk. Although the Irish Members might not be satisfied with it in every respect, they would be hard to please if they did not regard it as much better than the system now in operation. England was behind every other country in Europe, not even excepting Russia, in the matter of representation exercised by the ratepayers as concerning local expenditure; but Ireland was much behind England. That was not the fault of the Irish Members, who were anxious to alter the system by which the sheriff selected the 23 gentlemen who were charged with transacting the county 1695 business, a system which was literally created by chance, because 200 years ago there was no one to undertake the duties now proposed to be given to County Boards but the Grand Juries. The cesspayers of Ireland would not, however, be satisfied with any measure that did not give them fair representation in a central Body, where the real power was always to be found.
said, he was glad that the Government had accepted the Resolution of his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk, and that they intended to bring in a Bill to carry out his views. He was in favour of the principle of the Resolution, but did not agree with all the details of his hon. Friend's proposal. Thus, instead of the magistrates constituting one-third of the central Board, he thought they should comprise at least one-half of it. He also considered that if a really good central Board were established, there would be small work left for the quarter sessions, and it would be better then to hand over the police and the county buildings to a well-constituted County Board. The care of lunatics was an important matter connected with the ratepayers, and it was but right that they should have some voice in the management and maintenance of the asylums, and it was his opinion that they should be handed over to County Boards. Generally speaking, he was very much in accord with the Select Committee of 1868—that direct representation in county finance was just and reasonable and ought to be granted. He could not see why county ratepayers should not have a voice in the expenditure of the rates as well as borough ratepayers, although he agreed with his hon. Friend (Mr. Clare Read) that the existing administration of the funds by the magistrates was deserving of all praise. Since the establishment of Chambers of Agriculture the expenditure of counties had been fully discussed, and it was generally understood that very little discretion was left the magistrates in the matter, so that there was not such a cry now as there was 10 years ago for County Boards, but still there was a strong desire that they should be established, and that the ratepayers should be represented on them. If the Motion had proposed that the Boards should be wholly elective, he could not have supported it, 1696 but reserving to himself the fullest liberty with regard to details hereafter, he had much pleasure in supporting the Motion.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, the Resolution was one of a very plausible character, and had been brought forward in a very able speech. His hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) had stated distinctly his views and his opinions upon the question, and he had laid down clearly and definitely what this Board ought to be. He had placed it in as fair a point of view as anyone could have wished it to have been placed; but he had failed, as every hon. Member must do in bringing forward such a Motion, to give any guarantee that those views and those opinions which he had enunciated would be carried out. After all, however, it was only a bald and naked proposal to do something with regard to establishing a County Board. It was, in fact, only one of those abstract Resolutions which might sometimes have done good service in that House, but which it was generally a most unwise course to pursue, as had been repeatedly admitted by both front benches. He thanked his hon. Friend for the manner in which he had spoken of the magistrates, but whatever his hon. Friend might say, or had said, he must point out that the Resolution was another kick against that humble body which, after all that had been admitted by both sides of that House, had not done bad service to the country. Ho agreed with the premises of his right hon. Friend's speech, but was at a less to arrive at his conclusions. The proposal of his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk had as yet met with universal assent. It was, of course, very easy to assent to a thing in an indefinite shape; but, for his own part, he (Sir Walter Barttelot) liked to see what he was going to vote, and to be able to discuss fairly all the provisions which ought to be contained in a Resolution of this kind, and which he should have liked to have seen embodied in a Bill. His ' hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk had, as he had said, brought his Resolution before the House in a most able speech; but he had put forward three great defects that would arise should his proposal be carried out. His hon. Friend had said—"Only es- 1697 tablish this Board, and then we will find it plenty of work to do." That, however, was an objectionable course to pursue, and in his (Sir Walter Barttelot's) own humble opinion, they ought to have the work to do first, and then to establish the Board after. The hon. Member, in the second place, said that he would not deny that the working of these Boards would be more expensive than the present system, and if that be so, he (Sir Walter Barttelot) wanted to know how his hon. Friends the Member for South Norfolk and the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell), who had so long and so earnestly and rightly endeavoured on all occasions to put an impediment in the way of increasing local taxation, could reconcile the establishment of County Boards, which would entail increased local cost, with their former conduct in reference to local taxation. His hon. Friend had admitted also that the magistrates had done their duty, even to parsimony, with a view to secure the best work at the least possible expense, and there could be no doubt but that the compliment was fully merited; but had he calculated what would happen when hon. Gentlemen opposite came into office? The representative Boards and the county magistrates would then be much like two cock-sparrows sitting in one bush. They would fight for the control of the county rates, till the stronger of the two would prevail, and the existence of two such Bodies would be a strong argument that one authority should have the expenditure of the whole of the rates. There were several urgent reasons why the House should not rush rashly into a Resolution of this kind, and he was rather surprised at the course which his right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had taken that evening in accepting its principle. When he met his right hon. Friend, whom he considered his besom Friend upon this question, that morning he was led to believe that a very different course would be pursued by the Government; for his right hon. Friend said to him—"I hope somebody will think of the poor magistrates," or words to that effect. Yet now, after showing, step by step, how the necessity for any such measure had vanished, he said, at the end of his speech, that he hoped at a convenient time the Government would be able to do something in the same 1698 direction. The course of the Government must have been altered since the morning; otherwise he had been brought down under false pretences, for he had received an urgent summons from the Government Whip on this question, stating—"A division will certainly be taken, and your attendance is most earnestly and particularly requested." Now, when action was invited in a case of that kind it was generally supposed to be against the Resolution. Such was the state of things in the morning, but a change had come over the spirit of the dream, and there seemed to have been an instance of sudden conversion of the Ministry. Nor would one have expected the right hon. Gentleman to take such a course after what he said in connection with the Highway Bill last year. The House would remember the two proposals contained in the Bill—one with regard to where there were highway districts; the other, where the parishes maintained the roads. In the latter case, the magistrates alone were to decide what roads should be paid for partly by the county and partly by the parish; while, in the former case, magistrates and members elected from the Highway Boards were to be the authorities to decide. His right hon. Friend had not ventured to place in the Bill that there were to be highway districts all over England, knowing that it would have been impossible to carry out such a system against the feeling of the country. Now, he should be glad, if a necessity occurred, and the thing could be done fairly and properly, to have associated with him men whom magistrates were accustomed to meet on Boards of Guardians and elsewhere, for you could not meet them without receiving great instruction from such men. But he thought it would have been far better if his right hon. Friend had said—"I have great sympathy with your Resolution; I am not, however, at this moment prepared to say that we can carry out such a proposal, but we will give it fair and reasonable consideration." Not a bit of it. The Government had accepted the proposal; it would be placed on record; and he feared it would be one of the greatest scourges they had prepared for themselves for a long time, and to his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board in particular, because he (Sir 1699 Walter Barttelot) knew full well that he was neither able nor wishful to carry out the Resolution. But his hon. Friend (Mr. Clare Read) would never let them alone till they had carried it out. If, indeed, the result of adopting it were decentralization, he should be more favourable to such a proposal, but he knew that when a Government Department got hold of anything, a terrible wrench was necessary to tear it away, and he despaired of any such result here. No doubt, if you could combine authorities, it would be better, but the difficulty was to make them combine. He knew there was a class of men in the country whose ambition it was to get one central authority, not in the interest of the locality so much, as in the hope of being heard there at any length. He hoped that when this central authority was established, as much time might not be wasted in talking as in that House. He had always thought it a great thing to have a broad, a solid, and a sound foundation. But what had they got now? They were going on a castle in the air to put a tremendous coping-stone. He agreed with the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) that we had first to re-arrange, re-organize, and settle all those small local authorities with which we had to deal. No doubt we had gone a long way in making the Boards of Guardians our model, but there was a great deal more to be done before we could put the coping-stone on. He did not mean to say, when we had got the foundation, that something like his hon. Friend's Resolution might not be necessary to give to local people and local authorities an interest in all that concerned them. Up to the present, however, he must say he had never heard a single complaint against the administration of the funds now entrusted into the hands of the magistrates. But before we could settle this great knotty county question, we must first of all establish that which would give stability to our local institutions and give an interest in them to men of all classes and conditions, and then, when we had cut out the work and seen what was to be done, we might put on the coping-stone—not, perhaps, altogether in the way his hon. Friend would wish, but by the establishment of an authority which would be respected throughout the length and breadth of the land.
§ MR. RATHBONE
confessed that the speeches he had lately heard left him in a complete state of uncertainty and. mystification as to where they were, and he was more especially so after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman had accepted—and he (Mr. Rathbone) was certainly astonished in no slight degree to hear him say so—as most moderate, a proposal which, if coming from that (the Opposition) side of the House, would be regarded as most Radical, sweeping, and. dangerous. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) proposed a central Board whose business it would be to grasp in its own hands functions from the various local bodies. A County Board would be necessary for combining the working primary local bodies of a county, but by itself it would do nothing to diminish the burden or inequalities of taxation or remove the anomalies of which we complained, and his own opinion was, that while admitting the proposal would very much save the pockets of the ratepayers in regard to highways and lunatic asylums, the reform of local institutions should be dealt with in a more comprehensive measure. The attention of Parliament ought first to be directed to improving the primary local areas, or at least the matter ought to be dealt with as a whole, nor should the difference between urban and rural authorities be altogether forgotten. They undoubtedly required in any scheme of improvement to endeavour to utilize the present machinery, and in addition to that there should be an amalgamation and strengthening of the local bodies if local Boards were to be successfully improved. By delaying reform in that direction, they were putting fresh difficulties in the way of the final accomplishment of the great object they had in view. Their first point should be the simplification of areas and the establishment of a satisfactory constituency for the County Boards. The case of Liverpool was a remarkable instance of this want of simplification of areas. The town included or extended into three Poor Law areas. Those areas included two municipal boroughs and 11 local beard districts, and are under the management of no less than 21 different Governing Bodies. Enormous powers for raising and 1701 expending money had already been conferred on these primary local authorities. By one Act they had given to the sanitary authorities not only powers of unlimited taxation, but power to borrow millions of money without coming to Parliament. Nor were those bodies slow to avail themselves of these enormous powers. Owing to the present confused areas and the multiplication of spending authorities, it was impossible for the ratepayers to exercise proper vigilance to check the expenditure, and he ventured to assert that if the country knew the great sums of money they expended, and the enormous increase in the rates, they would unanimously call on the Government to put an end at once to the system. The expenditure would be less in amount but probably felt to be quite as burdensome in rural as in small urban districts. The longer they put off the simplification and reform of these areas, the more difficult would the work become, and it was absurd to attempt to guard against the imperfections of our local authorities by the impotent and irritating control of a central authority; and yet every measure the Government introduced displayed a tendency to centralization, and to impair the real vitality of local administration. His strong convictions on this subject had been forced on him year by year in his attempt to find practical remedies for practical evils. He thought they should lose no time, and not be actuated by the calm optimism of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, but set to work at once and endeavour to remedy an evil which was every day getting worse and worse, and growing stronger and stronger. This policy should not be persisted in, and steps ought at once to be taken to give ratepayers in counties some power of controlling expenditure.
§ MR. PELL
said, the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) began his address by describing the confusion in which the House had been left by the speech of his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, but he (Mr. Pell) thought the confusion had been worse confounded by what the hon. Member had himself contributed to the debate. It was impossible to say whether or not the hon. Member desired to see the Motion his (Mr. Pell's) hon. 1702 Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) had so ably moved carried into effect, or whether he wished to introduce some plan of his own applicable to boroughs, not to counties, less definite and precise than that now before the House. Be that as it might, they could see that the hon. Member's speech was more in favour of the Motion than against it. If that was so, a remarkable interest had been given to the debate by the speech of his hon. and gallant Friend behind him (Sir Walter Barttelot). That speech was delivered with all the boldness, precision, and determination which they generally found his hon. and gallant Friend so eminently displayed when he, so to speak, headed a forlorn hope, but it was the only speech already delivered distinctly in opposition to the Motion now under consideration. But he did not think his hon. and gallant Friend had raised any very serious objection, or suggested any very great difficulty in carrying out the proposal which had been introduced by his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk. He had talked about "two birds sitting in one bush," and what came of it in the way of quarrelling. But he would remind his hon. and gallant Friend of another proverb—"Birds in their little nests agree." He confessed that the objection suggested by his hon. and gallant Friend of the incompatibility of two such authorities as the justices and the new Board agreeing upon the money question seemed a weak one. Nothing was more easily adjusted than the money question. The magistrates had left to them great and important functions, in the exercise of which money would be wanting; but they had not now their own rate collector, they only issued their precept, and would continue to do so, which he (Mr. Pell) ventured to say would be obeyed, and all would be carried out as readily as before. His hon. and gallant Friend talked of his objection to local Parliaments and local orators. It was certainly sometimes disagreeable to listen to the oratory of local Parliaments; but it was also sometimes irksome to listen to the oratory of other Parliaments. For instance, it was very irksome to listen to many of the speeches delivered in that House, but how could a man better prepare himself for an Assembly like that than by beginning to address his fellow-citizens in 1703 the district to which he belonged on subjects of local interest? The Motion, if adopted, would give new duties, new ambitions, to a class of men who had had very little opportunity of doing such services as they were qualified for. These who considered how the Boards of Guardians had had to perform very difficult duties since 1834—to check pauperism, for instance—would understand that it was not desirable to overweight them by imposing on them other duties discharged by local Board. That, he thought, was one of the principal arguments in favour of this Motion. He thought his hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) and the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Captain Nolan) would have done well if they had been on the Local Taxation Committee. If they had done so, they would have known—at all events, the hon. Member for Bedford would have known—that in 1873, he (Mr. Pell) introduced a Bill for the purpose of compelling an annual Return to be made of local expenditure up to a certain day. He carried that Bill to Committee, but he had to encounter opposition from the Manchester authorities—not so far from Liverpool—who declined having their accounts reduced to anything like order and uniformity. With regard to an observation of the right hon. Gentleman as to the difficulty connected with the management of lunatic asylums, this fact might be mentioned that the Metropolitan Asylum Board had under their direction 4,000 lunatics, and that there were very few magistrates on the Board. The new Board would be of enormous advantage in sanitary matters. Out of the vast sums already expended, too much had been spent in drugs and medical matters, and too little on drain pipes, cleanliness, and structural reforms; but a great County Board would put a stop to that sort of thing; commanding engineering and surveying ability, with the cheapness consequent on the employment of officers for a large district. They had at present a sanitary authority and a highway authority. It would be better to relegate all such matters to a county authority, and deal with that vast question, the highway districts, about which he thought there was a vast waste of money. This might be checked, and the necessary grants, if any, made from a county rate given on efficient 1704 local administration. The tramway system, again, was endeavouring to stretch into the country, and here again the Board might be useful, for railroads had done little for agriculturists quâ agriculturists, either by bringing the town refuse into the country, or by taking the country produce to the towns. The question of cattle disease might be passed over without any remarks from him, but he thought that there was a little friend called the Colorado beetle who was uncomfortably near us, and who was likely to prove a mischievous fellow, whose movements might, perhaps, quicken those of the right hon. Gentleman. In case of his arrival no authority was so likely to deal effectually with this little friend as the proposed county Boards. The subject of the registration of voters he would also pass over, but he could not sit down without mentioning the question of education. In reference to that subject, he could not forget that one of the recommendations of the Duke of Newcastle's Commission was, that Provincial Boards should be established to deal with endowed charities. That proposal, which had not been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, proceeded to sketch out what the constitution of the Board should be for dealing with that subject. It must be recollected that the smaller these charities were, the more waspish and the more difficult they were to deal with. People who had the management of such charities and had a hand as well in the distribution of a certain number of blankets and other comforts did not like to have their power stolen from them by those who they looked upon as midnight thieves from Whitehall; but, if the control or supervision of the charities were given to their neighbours and friends sitting on these Boards, they would have less objection to such interference. This change might be very well accompanied by the appointment of county auditors, who might also audit the county voluntary charities. In that way the whole of those affairs might be managed by county people and by county pay. He was afraid to touch upon the question of the Poor Law, otherwise he should have to keep on talking all night; but a small Return from his own county satisfied him that upon no point would the Motion of the hon. Member be more bene- 1705 ficial than upon reform in reference to the subject of in-door relief in counties. The condition of poor sick persons in one of the well-managed workhouses in London or in the district infirmaries was very different from that of the same class in country workhouses. It was, however, impossible that they could afford for a few sick and imbecile persons in country workhouses the same advantages that could be given to the numerous inmates of larger institutions. At the same time, there would be no occasion to build houses for their reception, in the event of a change such as he contemplated being carried into effect, inasmuch as there was a vast amount of brick and mortar lying idle at the present moment which might well be put to good use. In the rural parts of the county of Leicester there were 11 Unions, affording in-door accommodation for 3,415 paupers, while the average number of inmates in them for the year 1875 was only 1,477; the maximum number of inmates on the 1st of January in the years 1850, 1860, 1870, 1874, and 1875 being 2,122, thus leaving empty beds, empty wards, unoccupied servants and attendants for about 1,300 persons, and he thought this spare room ought to be occupied in some way. If a County Board were established for his county, they would be able to put these premises to some better use, the people would receive better treatment, the children would get better schooling, and the sick would be better nursed than at present. Turning to the question of the saving of expense, he found that at present there was an expenditure in salaries alone in Leicester for the different Boards of £14,233, and he thought he saw his way to considerable economy in that direction. No doubt, vested interests would have in the first place to be considered, but there ought not to be an expenditure of so large a sum in the distribution of £141,000. If he might make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board it would be that he should lay a Bill on the subject on the Table of the House before next August, not with the view of its passing during the present Session of Parliament, but in order that it might be carefully considered and discussed during the Recess. In conclusion he could hold out the hope to the Chan- 1706 cellor of the Exchequer that if these County Boards were established, as he hoped they would be, the Local Taxation Committee, which now sat in a melancholy room overlooking the Embankment, might possibly be dissolved, and he should in that case cheerfully and thankfully exchange his honourable position as Chairman of that Committee for the more humble one of a member of the County Board for the county of Leicester.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, he cordially agreed with one remark which had been made in the course of the debate by the hon. Member for Mid-Somerset (Mr. Paget)—namely, that it was somewhat a disadvantage that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board should have spoken so early in the discussion. The right hon. Gentleman had certainly expressed the intention of the Government to accept the Motion of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read); but the disadvantage which had been spoken of had been somewhat aggravated and intensified by the uncertain tone of the earlier part of the right hon. Gentleman's address. He must, as his first duty, tender his thanks to and congratulate the hon. Member for South Norfolk for having brought the subject forward. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had called the hon. Member's proposal a moderate one. He had been delighted to hear that expression of opinion on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, as representing Her Majesty's Government; and, so far as those who sat on the Opposition benches were concerned, he could assure the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, that they regarded that proposal as not only moderate, but as comprehensive, and that hon. Gentlemen opposite were mistaken and laboured under unnecessary fear if they thought that those on his side of the House had more revolutionary, but less practical schemes, to bring forward on the subject. He would now address himself for a few moments to the remarks which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman. In the first place, he could not entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman's historical review of the question. The right hon. Gentleman had commenced his observations by referring to the proposals made some 25 years ago, and even before that date, for the 1707 establishment of County Financial Boards for the conduct and management of the financial business of the various counties. The right hon. Gentleman said that since the time to which ho was referring a great number of events had occurred in the course of legislation—and among others the institution of Unions, the Sanitary Acts of 1872, and the Education Act of last Session—to prejudice the question of the institution of County Boards. With regard to the last point, the right hon. Gentleman expressed regret that under it educational functions had been conferred on the sanitary authorities.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
I expressed surprise that the very important principle involved did not attract more attention in the House.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, that the Education Act was, at all events, one of the category of legislative events, which had combined to prejudice the County Boards question. His (Mr. Stansfeld's) view of the matter, however, was entirely the reverse of that which had been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. The agitation was first started for purely financial Boards; but it was started under a mistake, and he believed that the course of time and the progress of legislation—and, especially, the concentrating upon Unions and upon Boards of Guardians of all the various functions which had been described, down to and including the educational powers conferred upon them by the Act of last year—pointed to the necessity for the creation of a comprehensive scheme of local government by County Boards, as was suggested by the hon. Member. He was convinced that, upon both sides of the House, and throughout the country generally, every man with any knowledge of the subject would now be prepared to admit that the administration of the common funds by the magistracy had been an economical administration; and it was not in the interest of economy, but in the interest of something which, though not antagonistic, was, at any rate, different—in the interest of local government and administration; in the interest of efficiency; and, he would add, in the interest of decentralization—that it had now become important to create County Boards. So far from the question of the establishment of such Boards having been prejudiced, it had, in his opinion, 1708 been magnified by the course of time and the progress of legislation. The modern conception of County Boards was that they were no longer to be merely financial, but administrative as well, and that that body would by degrees and in time grow and attract to itself other functions. That was the modern idea of these Boards, and it was hoped that they would become the federating bend of those other Boards which could not stand by themselves against the centralizing tendencies of the day. We wanted to crown the edifice of local self-government which had already been built. What was the history of the matter? He would not in answer to that question go back further than 1871. In that year two proposals were made by his right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) respecting which the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Norfolk had told the House they were limited to the notion of having financial Boards, but that was an entire misconception. The fundamental idea of the measure of 1871 was that there was a necessity for a different re-organization from the parish upwards, and for not merely financial Boards, but for County Boards in the modern and greater sense.
§ MR. CLARE READ
explained that what he said was that the question had passed out of the hands of private Members into those of the Government.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, he was merely showing, as an act of justice to the late Government, that the modern idea was exhibited in their measure of 1871. He followed his right hon. Friend, and began by introducing a Bill to constitute the Local Government Board. He only referred to this to show the policy which was indicated at that time, though it could not be fully carried out. That policy was to unite in one Government Department the Poor Law Board and a Board for all sanitary matters. Well, in 1872, he introduced the Public Health Bill to constitute, as the units of government throughout the country, rural and urban sanitary authorities, and those were the units of local government which his right hon. Friend expected to work upon. He (Mr. Stansfeld) had always maintained that these were the future units of local self-government, and that they had to build up through them and the Unions, the county government which 1709 the hon. Member contemplated. In 1873, which was not a favourable Session for legislation on the subject, the Government began with the Irish University Bill; but, that Bill having been withdrawn about Easter, he laid on the Table three Bills—for Rating, Valuation, and Consolidated Rating—and he moved for a Committee upon the boundaries of parishes and counties. Well, what had happened since? His right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth), coming into office in 1874, took up the Rating Bill, which he (Mr. Stansfeld) did not pass through Parliament, because it was rejected by the House of Lords. In 1876 his right hon. Friend brought in a Valuation Bill—the second of the Bills of 1873; but the Consolidated Rating Bill they had not yet seen, though he (Mr. Stansfeld) did not despair of its being introduced by the present Government. These Bills, however, his right hon. Friend treated as merely being the fringe of the question of local organization throughout the country, and indeed he (Mr. Stansfeld) remembered in introducing them himself he so described them, and the word stuck to him for the whole of the Session. He might safely refer to it, for even now, after an interval of four years, the right hon. Gentleman was still engaged upon it, and had it not been for the Resolution of the hon. Member for South Norfolk that evening he thought there would have been a very poor prospect of his getting beyond the fringe. In due time now, however, the hon. Member for South Norfolk would get the body and bulk of the work. In regard to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman he (Mr. Stansfeld) was bound to admit that he thought there was an uncertainty in his tone, and that he threw cold water upon the Resolution of the hon. Member; and he further confessed that it was with no little surprise to himself and the House also, that he found that the right hon. Gentleman at its conclusion accepted in its entirety the Resolution as interpreted by the speech, which he called a moderate speech, and embodying a moderate proposal. The right hon. Gentleman, however, evidently felt the difficulty of preparing a comprehensive measure which should solve the question in one Session, and he, for one, quite acknowledged the difficulty. It was impossible to suppose the right hon. Gentleman did 1710 not look forward to the fulfilment of the promise of his speech, or that he had given anything like a doubtful or halfhearted assent to the Resolution upon which he had declined to divide the House, and he (Mr. Stansfeld) was bound to suppose that the consent of the Government had been given not to a mere financial Board, but to an administrative Board, for the hon. Member for South Norfolk had said he would give to the Board everything except that which ought to be left with the justices—namely, the administration of justice. He proposed to hand over to the County Boards the management of lunatic asylums, cattle disease, bridges, county rates, valuations, the appointment of medical officers, highways, roads, sanitary engineering, and the classification of workhouses, arterial drainage, the storage of water, and the management of educational endowments and charities. Now, that he (Mr. Stansfeld) called a comprehensive, and not merely a moderate proposition. He would be perfectly frank with the right hon. Gentleman; and as it was believed that on that side of the House they entertained views much more extravagant than had been expressed by the hon. Member for South Norfolk, he would state generally the terms and what he believed was the problem to be solved. The problem was to organize the local government of the country, and that was a problem to be solved by the creation of the County Boards. The tendency to centralization was one of the strongest tendencies of the ago in which we lived. He was not entirely satisfied to yield to it; but at the same time he was not so unwise as to regard this tendency as something altogether evil. It had a justification in the altered conditions of our social life and the rapid means of transit. All this created a demand for more legislation, more administration, and for more government. All this, of course, inevitably tended to centralize the administration. It had, however, one injurious consequence—it tended to sap and undermine the vitality of local government and local life. It destroyed its dignity and independence, and it made it more and more difficult to get the best and fittest men to give their time and labour for the purpose. That was a great evil, which, if possible, they ought to remedy; and they could do so in only one way, and that was, as 1711 the hon. Member for South Norfolk suggested, to enlarge and strengthen, to consolidate and dignify, the conditions and functions of local government throughout the country. How could they enlarge, dignify, and consolidate the system of local government? They could do it first by simplifying local government. That should be the object and aim of the work, and it appeared to him that the principle upon which they should seek to simplify it was clear. He did not say they could adopt the principle all at once, but the principle was this—to concentrate, as far as it was practicable to do so, all the functions of local government upon a single Governing Body in a single area, supposing that area was fit for the performance of its functions. He. for one, made no objection to the legislation of last Session, which placed the responsibility of carrying out the Education Act upon Boards of Guardians; and in the future local government of the country the tendency in men's minds would be to aggregate all the functions in one body and in one area. If they were desirous of fortifying and defending the system of local self-government they should build it up from the sanitary unit, through the Unions of the county, and make the county the federative bond of those minor authorities. They would then give a strength to local government which would enable it to hold its own against the centralization of the times which no defence of parochialism could give. That was his conception of the future of local government, and he believed that the institution of County Boards would greatly help the attainment of the object in view. He thought it was a matter of urgency that a County Board should be created, because the determination to create such a body would cause them to view more largely the whole problem of the organization of local government, and would influence all future legislation bearing upon that problem. To sum up in one word his argument, he would say, having established County Boards, let them grow, and they would tend, both in administration and in legislation, to redress the unequal balance of Imperial and local interests, and would, so to speak, change the centre of gravity of that unequal balance, and change it in favor of local institutions, local liberty, local management, local independence, and local life.
§ MR. HUNT
said, he thought the question brought forward by his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), had made a great advance in the discussion that evening. For the first time in his recollection of the history of the question, the two sides of the House had been brought very nearly together with respect to the principles that ought to be adopted with respect to local legislation. His hon. Friend might, he thought, be very well satisfied with the fact that both the present and the late President of the Local Government Board had vied with one another in complimentary epithets as to the proposals his hon. Friend had made. If they had not selected the same epithets, they had made their selections each from his own point of view. His right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board described the proposals of his hon. Friend as moderate. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Stansfeld) had described them as comprehensive; and for his part he (Mr. Hunt) thought they might be described as both. They were comprehensive in their scope, and upon that ground he made no objection to them; and, on the other hand, they were moderate, for they suggested no violent method of dealing with the subject, but recommended that it should be treated gradually and according to circumstances, and his hon. Friend did not urge the Government to undertake to settle the matter in a single Session. The right hon. Gentleman opposite seemed to have somewhat misunderstood the President of the Local Government Board in what he said as to the old proposal of a County Financial Board having been prejudiced by the recent legislation. What he (Mr. Hunt) understood his right hon. Friend to mean, was not that the recent legislation with regard to Poor Law and sanitary matters had made the establishment of a higher local authority less desirable, but that it had changed rather the form which the proposal should take, and the duties with which County Boards should be entrusted; and that the field of legislative labour having been enlarged, he saw an opportunity of creating a local authority with different functions from those in the hands of the county justices. While not unwilling to give the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld) due credit for the proposals he had made, he 1713 (Mr. Hunt) might lay claim to some consistency in supporting the proposal of his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk, because in 1867, when filling the office of Secretary to the Treasury, he brought in a Valuation and Property Bill which was, he might say, the parent of all the Bills since proposed for the establishment of a County Valuation Board. Under that Bill the assessment committee were to elect a body partly consisting of justices and partly of other members of the committee, and there was also a provision enabling the Town Councils of boroughs to elect members to that County Board. That Board was to deal with the question of the scale of deductions in the matter of assessments, and it had also to appoint the person who was to decide appeals with regard to such assessments. That proposal embraced some of the most important points contemplated by his hon. Friend (Mr. Clare Read); but this proposal of a Valuation Bill met an untimely fate from the Select Committee to which it was referred. That Committee, presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), refused to recognize the Valuation Board as a permanent body. They would only allow it to be appointed for a temporary purpose, and they ordered its existence to cease as soon as the valuation had been done. That was a fatal blow to his proposal. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had not thought it necessary to propose a County Board for the purposes for which he (Mr. Hunt) had proposed the Valuation Board—namely, to settle the scale of deductions from gross value in order to arrive at the rateable value, because the subject had been since so much discussed that a clear understanding had been come to on the subject, and he had found it possible to prescribe a scale of deductions in his Bill, and that accounted for the non-revival of the proposal of 1867. His hon. Friend (Mr. Clare Read) thought it necessary that a certain supervision should be exercised over local sanitary authorities. Now, he would remind the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld) that when he introduced his Bill in 1872, he (Mr. Hunt) urged upon him the necessity of giving to some county authority or to some larger area than that contemplated in the Bill the nomination or selection of a sanitary officer for the 1714 district. The right hon. Gentleman did not accept his proposal; but he (Mr. Hunt) was so convinced of its expediency that he prevailed upon his locality to carry it into effect by voluntary efforts. The result was, that nearly the whole of the parishes in his county (Northamptonshire) united in electing a medical man as sanitary officer for the whole district. This showed what could be done if greater facilities were given to such an extension of area by legislation. His hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk was also of opinion that the highways and bridges might be placed under the supervision of an authority having jurisdiction over a larger area. That was to a certain extent a new subject. It was not the opinion a few years ago that the highways and bridges should be thrown upon the common fund, and it was only of late years that an opinion had been expressed that some portion of this expenditure might be thus defrayed. This question might very well be taken up as a fresh subject, which had not been prejudged by anything which had previously occurred. While there were many other subjects to which his hon. Friend had referred, the Members of the Government had not bound themselves to accept every proposal made by his hon. Friend, and he (Mr. Hunt) thought his hon. Friend had not understood them to do so. They shared in his general views, but as to the exact area, or the particular functions to be given to the new body, they declined to be bound; and, indeed, he believed that his hon. Friend would be satisfied to leave these matters for further consideration. His hon. Friend might have a scheme in his own mind as to the functions which might at seine future time be given to these local authorities. The Government, however, could only look to the immediate future, and, so far as that was concerned, they saw their way to a great extent in marching with the views of his hon. Friend. It was not always that he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Stansfeld); but he thought he had laid down some sound propositions with regard to the propriety of elevating local government in order to counteract the centralizing influences which had prevailed in recent years. He believed that such centralizing influences had arisen from the fact that there had been 1715 a want of sufficient authority to conduct the business, which had therefore been entrusted to the higher sanitary authority. He quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that if they could only mix the character of these local authorities, the central authority would be only too glad to give them the supervision over some of those local matters which now were obliged to be dealt with by the Local Government Board. He would end, as he began, by saying that the Government concurred generally in the principle of the Resolution, and the details could be settled as they arose on future occasions.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
said, he could not concur in the Resolution, because he thought the business of counties ought to be conducted as cheaply and economically as possible, and he did not think it would be under the system to which the Resolution pointed. Her Majesty's Ministers, however, had accepted it, and he wished them joy of it. It would give them a great deal more trouble than they bargained for when they tried to carry it out. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) entered into various explanations, but the House was not going to vote upon his speech, but upon his Resolution. What was a representative Board? Who were to be represented by a County Board, and how was it to represent them? Was it to represent those who elected Members of Parliament or the ratepayers in the counties? If it represented the Parliamentary electors, every election for the County Board would necessarily be a trial of Party strength, and the result would be the return of men as exponents of political opinions, and not of the men best fitted to manage the affairs of the counties. Nothing could be more disastrous to the real interests of the country than such contests. He disliked centralization; but he would rather see the whole nomination in the hands of a Government than these Party contentions. He denied that the magistrates were an aristocratic or exclusive body, because it was easy for a small landowner to get into the commission of the peace, and when he had done so, his vote at the sessions was as good as that of a Duke. The magistrates, without election, represented the ratepayers, because they were themselves payers of rates, and interested in the economical 1716 management of the county business; and for that reason the quarter sessions was a safe body to be entrusted with it. However that might be, he considered that the theoretical Resolution presented to the House was of a dangerous character. Such Resolutions might be very good for debating societies, but they were altogether out of place in the House of Commons. No case had been made out to show that the magistrates of the different counties of England, who were themselves the greatest ratepayers, had wasted the money of those counties; and he asked how many Petitions had been sent to that House against the present system of county administration. Therefore, until he found a specific plan placed before them which would introduce a better and more complete system than they had now, he must vote against a Resolution of that description.
§ MR. DODSON
congratulated the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) on the progress which that question had made in the short space of that day. From what fell from that hon. Member and from other speakers early in that debate he understood it was expected that morning that the Government would oppose that Resolution; but early in the evening that fear vanished away, and they had from the President of the Local Government Board a speech on the singular dexterity of which he must compliment and congratulate that right hon. Gentleman. In the course of that speech he had raised objections to the proposition of the lion. Member for South Norfolk—objections, for example, as to the difficulty of dealing with lunatics and with asylums; he had minimized the advantages of the proposal from a financial point of view; he had also suggested sundry propositions of his own, inconsistent with the proposal of the hon. Member for South Norfolk, and he concluded by neither exactly adopting, nor exactly rejecting, that proposal. In fact, he had accepted it virtually, with a proviso that nothing should follow from it. Moreover, he based his acceptance on the new doctrine that he accepted it, not on its merits, but in consequence of the language of the speech by which it had been introduced. Since then they had a speech from the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, which was more decided in its accept- 1717 ance of the Resolution than that delivered at an earlier hour by his Colleague. Before that debate closed, however, he did not despair of being able to congratulate the hon. Member for South Norfolk on still further progress, because he hoped that hon. Members would have the advantage of a speech from the Leader of the House, stating what the intentions of the Government really were with respect to the Resolution. In accepting that Resolution, did the Government mean business, or did it not? Was it intended that the Resolution should remain an empty and barren one upon the Books of the House; or did the Government intend to take it up, and endeavour in the present or in a future Session to give effect to its object? The general acceptance of the principle embodied in the Resolution was important, as regarded both the present and the future—important, both as a practical matter and as a matter of principle. Hon. Members had heard from the Government as yet but two doubtful voices, and it was to be hoped they would now have from the Leader of the House a plain declaration as to what the views and intentions of the Government really were. Both the Members of the Government who had already spoken were very shy in saying anything as to the rectification of areas, or the simplification of authorities; and yet the multiplicity of authorities to which the ratepayer was subject caused great trouble and annoyance and rendered very difficult any check on the amount of local expenditure. If each Department of the State were separately to levy the money it required for its own expenditure, they would have some faint analogy to the complication and confusion now existing in regard to their system of local government and local taxation. The rectification of areas was the first step towards the simplification and reduction of authorities. He looked upon the Resolution as a most important one. It was the first step in county reform; it was the withdrawal of the power of the purse from the rural House of Lords. It would restore to the counties their old representative institutions, and fit them to become what they originally were, and what they ought again to be—the principal unit in our provincial system.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the right hon. Gentleman 1718 who had just sat down (Mr. Dodson) had put to him, in a very pointed way, the question whether the Government meant business. His answer to that was exceedingly simple—the Government did mean business. And he would give him a proof of it, in declining to do so un-business-like a thing as to discuss a measure which was not before the House. The right hon. Gentleman and others who had sat any considerable time in that House, were no doubt perfectly aware of the great inconvenience which generally, and certainly very often, resulted from the discussion and adoption of abstract Resolutions. He did not say there were not occasions on which such a course was both proper and desirable, and he would frankly admit that in the present instance the adoption of the Resolution moved by his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) was in his opinion a reasonable and proper step for the House to take. He would explain why it was he made that exception to a sound general rule. What he considered was objectionable in abstract Resolutions generally was, that they led the House to commit itself to principles which were not explained with sufficient clearness, and which might, at different times, be brought up and receive constructions which were not those which had been intended to be placed on the Resolution at the time it was adopted. But, on the other hand, an abstract Resolution might be very easily adopted which seemed to embody some excellent principle which could not be denied; and yet, when they tried to give it a practical application, they found themselves unable to give it practical effect. It was, therefore, imprudent for a Government, as a general rule, to adopt abstract Resolutions, unless they saw their way to carry them out in the sense intended by their Movers and by the House. Now, there appeared that day on the Notice Paper a Resolution from his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk. The Government could not but feel sure that it would be handled with ability, and would afford interesting matter for discussion; but whether it would be right and proper for the Government to accept that Resolution, it was impossible for them to decide until they had ascertained from the speech of his hon. Friend what meaning he attached to it, and whether they would be 1719 able to carry it into effect. His hon. Friend had, as was to he expected, made an able speech, which they might say was at once comprehensive, bold, and moderate; and seeing that he laid down principles which the Government saw their way to give practical effect to, they felt no difficulty in accepting his Resolution. Already a very excellent result had accrued from his hon. Friend having brought forward his Resolution, and given rise to the discussion. Although they had gone a little too much into the discussion, as it were, of the clauses of a Bill which still existed in the clouds, but which might before long assume a more tangible shape—although they had gone a little too much into details which were not yet before them—they had, at all events, derived this advantage from the debate, that they had elicited from hon. Members on both sides of the House, and hon. Members who held very different views upon questions of this kind, opinions which appeared to show a very much greater prospect of the Government being able to frame a measure that would command, he would not say universal, but general assent than he, for one, had thought probable some time ago. He confessed that what had always been with him a great cause of uneasiness and uncertainty in considering this question of local government and of an alteration of our county administrative system had been the fear that there were hon. Gentlemen desirous of rooting up our old system from the ground and planting something entirely new. He had been alarmed by expressions which had been heard from those who had a right to speak upon these subjects, and which appeared to show that they wanted something like provincial assemblies, or local Parliaments, or some other such bodies unknown at present to the Constitution, and which he thought would cause a very great deal of embarrassment, and might be productive of very serious mischief in the country. But when they found that what was in the contemplation of his hon. Friend and what appeared to be in the contemplation of other hon. Gentlemen, was only to carry further that which already existed, and to do that by the introduction of a Board which would gather up certain of the functions that were now assigned to different local Boards already 1720 in existence, and which might be prepared to undertake certain other functions that were obviously to be assigned to some kind of provincial authority to be presently constituted, it did appear to him and his Colleagues that such a Board might be wrought into a shape which would be at once Conservative and progressive. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen laughed as if those two terms were inconsistent. If hon. Gentlemen did not believe that true Conservatism required that they should make provision for the increasing and newly-developing wants of the country, they must have a very low idea of the meaning of that term. They could not have a better illustration of the feelings which animated them at the present time, and of the circumstances under which they stood, than by glancing once more at that which had been several times referred to in the course of the debate—he meant the difference between the mode in which this proposal was discussed and the mode in which the old proposals with regard to County Financial Boards had been discussed. County Financial Boards, which were at one time a great nostrum among a certain class of financial Reformers, never made a real impression upon Parliament, because, after all, the agitation for them was of a theoretical character. There was a certain theoretical case made out as to taxation and representation going together, and as to the propriety of consulting the ratepayers and giving them a voice in the expenditure of their money, and so forth, all which was put plausibly forward and was no doubt more or less difficult to answer in argument; but, as he had said, it never made an impression on the House or the country, because there was no real necessity for that which was asked. But since those days a very different state of things had arisen. New functions had been created, new burdens had been imposed, legislation had gone on very extensively, and a practical necessity for re-modelling to some extent our system of local administration could not but be recognized. All the recent sanitary and educational legislation, and other matters to which reference had been made, rendered it necessary to consider how and in what way they could best enable the country to give effect to those enactments. Now, what 1721 had brought this question to a practical bearing was this—that in consequence of a great deal of legislation of an improving character, carried into effect by means of rates locally levied, the burden imposed on the ratepayers had become very oppressive, and a claim had been put forward by the ratepayers for some relief. By the present and also by former Governments that claim had been taken into consideration, and there had been a general acquiescence, he believed on both sides of the House, in certain principles which had been put forward, sometimes on one side of the House and sometimes on the other, and which he thought all came to this—that aid ought to be given, to a certain extent and in certain cases, from the Treasury towards local expenditure; that anomalies of rating and machinery ought as far as possible to be corrected; and that what could be done ought to be done, in order to strengthen the local machinery. In doing that, they were anxious, not to centralize authority, but only to enable the local and central authorities to work together. At the same time—and he regretted to hear the observations which had been made upon the point—it seemed to him there had been too much condemnation of centralization. They ought not, it appeared to him, in their zeal for local self-government and the strengthening of local administration, to forget the advantages that were derived from a good central administration. Assistance might be got from a well-constituted and well-worked central Department which would be of the greatest possible advantage to the local authorities, and an inspection by a central authority might be a very great safeguard against abuses. They did desire, however, to see the local authorities themselves strengthened, and he believed that in the plan shadowed forth, or more than shadowed forth, in the speech of the hon. Member for South Norfolk there were the germs of a system which might be worked into shape, so as to be presented to Parliament, discussed, and he hoped accepted. In fact, he believed the time had nearly now arrived when the Government ought to feel themselves in a position to make some proposal on the subject to the House. He did not, however, mean to say that they would be prepared to do so during the present Session, but the time was very near at hand when they would 1722 be prepared to come forward with some proposal. The reason why they were not ready to do so at the present moment was that, since the present Government had been in power, they had not been proceeding so that they might by a grand sweep be able to set up a new system, but had been endeavouring to work up to the proposed legislation, which was one of the great objects they had in view. They had to pass a Valuation Bill which was an important step in the direction of local administration before attempting the further step which his hon. Friend invited them to take. His hon. Friend himself—and he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was sorry to have to address him on the past—had borne a very useful and honourable part in some of the measures which had been passed by the present Government, and he begged to thank him cordially for the generous manner in which he had spoken of the action of the Government in those respects. But he knew his hon. Friend as well as others would have confidence in the Government, and would give them credit for not wishing to shuffle out of the question or to find excuses for not doing anything. They had, he could assure him, seriously in view the object of being able to introduce a measure on lines similar to those which he had pointed out, and it would, he thought, be exceedingly wrong and exceedingly unbusinesslike if he were at that moment to enter into the details of such a measure. It might be very useful that opinions should be expressed on the subject on both sides of the House, but it would not be until the plan of the Government had actually been laid on the Table that matters of detail could be advantageously or properly discussed. He hoped he had now answered the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The Government accepted the proposal of his hon. Friend as illustrated in his speech, but they did not bind themselves to every detail—nor did his hon. Friend ask them to do so. They accepted his proposal in the spirit in which it was made to the House, and he hoped a long time would not elapse before they would be able to introduce a measure which they hoped would meet with the approval of the House and the country.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he cordially agreed with the right hon. Gentleman opposite (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) in thinking that ad- 1723 vantage would arise from the discussion that evening. In fact, he did not think that a question of such vast importance, and, at the same time so imperfectly understood by the country, could be discussed throughout the whole of the evening without some considerable advantage. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that the Government had accepted the Resolution of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), but he declined, in answer to the challenge of his (the Marquess of Hartington's) right hon. Friend (Mr. Dodson), to state in any way what he meant by the businesslike manner in which the hon. Member introduced the proposal. The businesslike character of the intentions of the Government had only been exhibited by the right hon. Gentleman in an extremely negative manner when he declined to go into details which he considered to be of an un-business-like character. But what the Government did mean by accepting the Resolution, the House was left to gather as well as it could from the speeches of the right hon. Gentlemen the President of the Local Government Board and the First Lord of the Admiralty. The right hon. Gentleman said that there was frequently considerable inconvenience arising from the acceptance of abstract Resolutions, and gave some ingenious reasons why he thought the abstract Resolution before the House seemed to him not to be open to those objections. He (the Marquess of Hartington) could not, however, help thinking that there was considerable inconvenience in the course which had been taken by the Government that evening, for they knew from excellent authority, that up to a very late period of the evening the Government had not determined upon the course they should take in reference to the subject, or if they had come to any resolution at all, it was one that appeared to him precisely opposite to that at which they at the last moment arrived. It was well known that the supporters of the Government had received an intimation that a division was most certainly expected on the Motion, and it might, he thought, after that knowledge, be fairly said that the Government intended to oppose the Motion. As to the observation of the right hon. Gentleman, that the acceptance of the Resolution must, to a great extent, 1724 have depended on the speech of the hon. Member for South Norfolk, it seemed to him to be one of the most extraordinary statements he had ever heard made by a Minister in that House. The Resolution was one which would remain on the Journals of the House, and which would be quoted in subsequent debates on the important subject before the House; and was it to be supposed that the acceptance of it by the Government was to be hampered by every qualification which might be contained in the moderate and comprehensive speech of the hon. Member for South Norfolk, or by every qualification and objection which was stated in the still more moderate but less comprehensive speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board? Throughout the greater part of his speech the right hon. Gentleman had argued most steadily against the proposal of the hon. Member, and had told the House that the case with respect to the establishment of County Boards had greatly altered during the last 25 years, and that it had been greatly prejudiced by the legislation that had taken place during that period. Did he mean by prejudiced, strengthened? He thought, on the contrary, the meaning of the right hon. Gentleman was that, whereas there was considerable necessity for their establishment 25 years since, that necessity was now greatly diminished. He went on to tell them that they had converted the Poor Law Union into a quasi-municipal body; that it was impossible to interfere with that quasi-municipal body which they had created; and that therefore, with the exception of the administration of a Common Fund, which possibly some day or other might be raised in the various Unions situated in the county, there was nothing whatever for a County Board to do. He must say that he felt somewhat sorry for the right hon. Gentleman during the greater part of his speech. He felt that the right hon. Gentleman was obliged to argue with some hesitation against the proposal, lest he should expose the Government to almost certain defeat by arguing too strongly against a Resolution brought forward by one of its own Supporters. But when the right hon. Gentleman ended by saying that he was prepared to accept the proposal for the creation of County Boards, he confessed 1725 he was astonished at the conclusion at which the right hon. Gentleman had arrived. It seem from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the speech of the hon. Member for South Norfolk had given to the Government some new ideas. According to the speech of the President of the Local Government Board, the Government could not see there was anything whatever for a County Board to do, but now it appeared they saw their way to certain functions which, in course of time, might be arrogated to the County Board; and they thought that in some reasonable time, perhaps next Session, possibly not, work might be found for the County Board to do. These functions were defined with the accuracy for which the speeches of right hon. Gentlemen opposite were always remarkable, and they were at once Conservative and progressive. Well, they must obtain what satisfaction they could from the speeches delivered by Members of the Government that evening; but for his own part, after listening to those speeches, he did not feel clear either as to their own intentions in regard to the Resolution for establishing County Boards, or as to what their ideas were respecting the duties to be performed by those Boards. He admitted, however, that he had derived much greater satisfaction from the Resolution itself, which they were about to pass, than from the speeches delivered on the opposite side. The House was about to assert that no re-adjustment of Local Administration would be satisfactory or complete which did not refer the business, with certain exceptions, to a Representive County Board. His hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) had pointed out reasons, which, if the House did not now deem conclusive, it would soon see to be conclusive, why the re-adjustment of local administration could not be very long delayed. The amount of the local rates had been enormously increasing during the last few years, and the Local Taxation Reformers had passed by the growing expenditure from sources which could never be the subject of Imperial assistance. He thought the case made out by his hon. Friend the Member for Bedford showed that the time could not long be delayed when the country would call loudly for the reform of local administration, He did not say that all the 1726 money had been wasted, but could the President of the Local Government Board give the House an assurance that it had been economically administered and judiciously expended? He did not think it possible, in the state of confusion and anarchy in which our local accounts and local administration now were, that any hon. Gentleman could get up and say he was satisfied in that respect. If, then, the ease was becoming stronger which called for the re-adjustment of local administration, they would now, by the unanimous or nearly unanimous vote of that House, have decided on the principle at least on which that re-adjustment was to be based. Notwithstanding the speeches from the opposite side, and the qualifications with which the present proposal had been received by the House, they were about to assert, he believed for the first time, that no measure of local administrative reform would be satisfactory which did not contain the principle of a Representative County Board. Many hon. Members had pointed out what work there was already, and what further work there was to be done by such a Board. He believed that the Board, when once constituted, would find ample work to do, and that it would not be possible, when the Government introduced their measure for the establishment of such a Board, to establish it without going to the root of the whole matter by dealing with the questions incidentally touched upon that evening of the simplification of the area of local administration and the simplification of local authorities. For these reasons he believed the gain accomplished that evening in passing the Resolution of the hon. Member for South Norfolk would be a substantial one, although, at the same time, he must regret the language of the Government in accepting that Resolution as being so unsatisfactory and so hesitating.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
explained that in referring to "prejudices," he merely meant to say that the action of Parliament during the last 20 or 25 years had removed certain prejudices, and that the question had now assumed an entirely different shape.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
Sir, I recently found myself in a rather difficult position, in consequence of my having voted for the Resolution of the hon. Baronet 1727 the Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes) in 1872, without having heard great part of the hon. Baronet's statement, which Members of the present Government seem to now imply committed them to bring in the Prisons Bill, to which I am opposed. I have now heard the speech of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), and I ask the House to allow me to state very briefly the view I take of the exposition which has been given us by the author of the Resolution now before the House. The hon. Member for South Norfolk has virtually stated, that he at once gives up the idea of any further relief from local taxation, by the transfer of what he has called "Imperial charges" to the general taxation of the country. It has been admitted by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board that the provision for lunatics, which is one of those charges, stands upon a footing very different from the other objects for which a county rate is levied. I fully appreciate that fact; and, in consequence, I looked forward to the period when the counties would probably be relieved from that £1,000,000 of charge. The fact that there is no surplus has, no doubt, rendered it very convenient to Her Majesty's Ministers to forget that portion of their obligations of 1872. We have heard a great deal about the prospect of economy; but what is the tendency of the proposal of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Norfolk? It would very greatly curtail the jurisdiction of the only important local Body which the hon. Member himself admits to have been successfully economical in the administration of local funds. The hon. Member said, that by their conduct in quarter sessions, especially as to economy, the justices of the peace had reared a standing monument to their honour; but by the statement of his present intentions, what does he propose? He does not propose to continue to this Body, which has been so economical, even the share of county administration that was recommended by the Select Committee of 1868, who recommended that the County Board should consist of one-half justices of the peace, and of one-half the representatives of the Guardians; but the hon. Member tells us he would provide that the new Board he contemplates creating shall 1728 contain no more than one-third of this economical element. The proportions of his new Board, which the hon. Member mentioned, were, one-third of justices to be nominated by the court of quarter sessions, and the remaining two-thirds to consist of members to be nominated by the Guardians of the Unions. I do not see, Sir, how we can hope for economy as the result of such a measure. The hon. Member himself gave up the idea, for he told us—"I do not say that the new Board will be so economical as the justices in quarter sessions have been." All our experience proves this anticipation likely to be true. For, of all the new local Bodies, which Parliament has from time to time created, not one has been nearly so economical as the quarter sessions. Look, for instance, at the large expenditure for educational objects under the school beards. Then, again, with regard to the Poor Law, you are obliged to keep the Guardians under the constant supervision of a central authority, in order, as you say, to secure economy; whilst the only accusations of extravagance ever directed against quarter sessions have been falsified by proof of the fact, that what was deemed excessive expenditure on their part, had been forced upon them by statutes which had been sanctioned by this House. I say, then, that this plea of economy has vanished; and that the Government now appear to find it convenient to abandon one portion at least of the pledges which they gave in 1872. One portion of the pledges for relief which they then gave was that relief should be given as to the maintenance of the gaol; but another portion of their pledge, with regard to the remission of local taxation, related to a far larger item of county expenditure and burthen, to that which might be most constitutionally transferred for payment to the Consolidated Fund; the provision for pauper lunatics, the care of whom and whose discipline are already entrusted to two Commissions, and this annual charge of £1,000,000, we are now told is still to remain saddled on the county rates. We are told this by an hon. Member whose proposal for the creation of County Boards, he had the frankness to admit, was not a proposal made in the cause of economy—and this proposal is now adopted by the Government. I wish that I could hope that the 1729 anticipations of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) would be realized; but I fear that these Boards will be so formed that their sense of responsibility will, by the multiplicity of their avocations, be dissipated. I would fain hope, but I can scarcely expect, that they will become really economical. My hope for economy was further dissipated by what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. The right hon. Gentleman said—"Do not anticipate or expect that the supervision and control of the central authority will be withdrawn." Where, then, am I to look for the responsibility of these new County Boards, which you are about to create when, according to the declaration of the Leader of the House, their administration will be conducted under the direction of the central authority, and under the system of central inspection, of which quarter sessions have had ample experience. I am sorry, Sir, to appear as a dissentient from the right hon. Gentlemen who, during the latter part of this debate, have been congratulating each other on the progress towards apparent unanimity which they seem to have made — progress, as we were told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), towards decentralization. It is strange that it should be so; but it seems that in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman there is no connection between concentration and centralization. The right hon. Gentleman has a system, and his whole system which he has propounded to this House and had formerly embodied in a measure, consists in this—that the Legislature should concentrate all county administration. The right hon. Gentleman would concentrate the whole of the local administration in County Boards. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House says" Do not hope by that means to escape from centralization, for where you concentrate we shall centralize." What, then, is this House asked to do? It is asked to contravene the principles of local government, which have preserved the freedom of this country, and formed a great variety of schools in which men have prepared themselves for public life, for administrative and legislative duties. Under this system of diffused local government, the discharge of various functions and the provision of various wants 1730 were entrusted to different local bodies. Under this system the responsibility was real, because responsibility was not evaded on account of the multiplicity of the avocations of those who undertook it. I should deeply regret the country being deprived of this system of local self-government. Instead of blaming, I give the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Local Government Board credit for having hesitated in giving a qualified assent to the abolition of that system; because it is easy to see that by destroying it, we should be advancing in the direction of centralization, for concentration will render the imposition of centralization more easy and more certain. Understanding, then, that I might be to a certain degree, bound by the views propounded in the speech of the hon. Member for South Norfolk if I voted for his Resolution, and feeling that the principles which he has enunciated may be perverted to an extension of the system of centralization to which I object; knowing, also, from the history of France that the local Parliaments of France, by concentrating within themselves too many functions, excited the jealousy of the Central Government, and thus brought upon themselves centralization and the loss of their independence; believing that the system of centralization would be promoted by the carrying out this Resolution, in the sense and according to the speech of the hon. Member for South Norfolk—although I might have voted for the Resolution had it not been explained as it has been by its Proposer, by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, and by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of this House — I shall, before the Question is put, feel it my duty to leave the House and take no part in the division.
§ MR. BUTT
supported the Resolution, because he regarded it not as an interference with the principle of local self-government, but as strengthening that principle by placing it under popular control. He agreed with the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) that it was not by any speeches which had been made in the course of the debate that the House would be bound if the Resolution were adopted, but by the terms of the Resolution itself. He regarded the. Resolution as perfectly plain in itself; it assumed that there was 1731 such a thing as county business, and it affirmed that this business ought to be transacted by boards or councils elected by the inhabitants of the counties. It pledged the House to the establishment of elective County Boards. He (Mr. Butt) was voting for that Resolution and not for the speech in which the hon. Member for South Norfolk had introduced it. He (Mr. Butt) had no reason to quarrel with that speech. It proposed for England a plan very nearly identical with the provisions of a Bill which he (Mr. Butt) had proposed for Ireland last Session. That Bill, he might perhaps remind the House, had been opposed by the Ministry. It had not been supported by those who sat on the Opposition front bench, and yet the second reading was defeated in a full House only by the narrow majority of 28. Opposed by the Leaders of one Party, and deserted by the Leaders of the other, they obtained for the measure 153 votes; its opponents were 181. If, then, the speech of the hon. Member could be put to the vote, he (Mr. Butt) would certainly vote for it. But it was not the speech, it was the Resolution upon which they would be asked to vote. What he understood by the Government supporting the Resolution was, that they would bring in a measure constituting County Boards and transferring to them county business. They were not discussing local administration, nor local business, but the establishment of representative County Boards. He (Mr. Butt) hoped that when a similar proposal was again submitted for Ireland it would receive the support of English Members. He had intended originally to move an Amendment to the Resolution, to the effect that if the principle which it affirmed was necessary for England, it was far more necessary for Ireland; but as he feared that mixing the Resolution with the Irish case might interfere with the passing of it, he determined not to move such an Amendment. However, if he had so forborne, he had done so in the confidence he had that there was a disposition in this Parliament to extend to Ireland the same principles of local government that were adopted for England.
§ MR. FAWCETT
, as an independent Member, wished to enter his emphatic protest against the doctrine laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman said the Govern- 1732 ment, having heard the speech of the hon. Member for South Norfolk, accepted the Resolution. The Resolution was supported, because it would be the basis of an important measure at a future day; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer had introduced a reservation, but that would not bind the Members of that House. Some of the Members of the House accepted the Resolution, but they did not accept the speech of the hon. Member for South Norfolk. He, for one, accepted cordially the principle of county representation, but he did not accept the scheme of indirect representation as propounded by the hon. Member. In agreeing to the Resolution, what he understood the House to accept was, that the Government should, with the least delay possible, introduce a measure which would give the ratepayers, not an indirect representation, but a direct representation with respect to the rates which were levied upon them.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Fawcett) had very fairly stated what was his interpretation of the Resolution, and the Government had done the same thing. If the hon. Member had moved the Resolution and put upon it that interpretation, then the Government might feel themselves obliged to take a very different view of it from that which they took of the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk. For his own part, he had long been of opinion, and so, he believed, had all his Colleagues, that the Resolution of his hon. Friend was one which might very properly be adopted. It would be a very different matter, indeed, if it had been forced on the Government in the terms of the hon. Member for Hackney; but his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk had put upon it an interpretation which the Government thought just. They put upon it the same interpretation, they accepted it in a bonâ fide spirit, and with the full intention of giving effect to it in the sense in which they understood it, and not in the sense adopted by the hon. Member for Hackney.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
Main Question, as amended, put.
Resolved, That no readjustment of local administration will be satisfactory or complete which
does not refer County business, other than that relating to the administration of justice and the maintenance of order, to a Representative County Board.