HC Deb 01 March 1878 vol 238 cc541-59

in rising to move— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the system under which Guardians of the Poor in England and Ireland, and Members of Parochial Boards in Scotland, and Members of Local Boards, are at present elected; and to report whether it is desirable to make any change in the manner of conducting such electione, either by the adoption of the ballot or otherwise; and also, whether it is desirable to extend the term of office for which Guardians and Members of Parochial Boards are now elected, said, that in 1834 the Boards of Guardians had forced upon them the great work of carrying out the new Poor Law, and it would be admitted that they had satisfactorily performed the duties entrusted to them. Since that time a large amount of the administrative work of the rural districts had been cast upon the Guardians. They had been entrusted with the execution of the Sanitary Acts, and a short time ago the education of the rural districts had been placed in their hands. The machinery by which the Guardians were elected was very well suited to quiet times, but it would not stand the pressure of political excitement. They were elected by a system of voting papers on the principle of the cumulative vote. That system had given rise to various abuses of late years. The Clerk of the Union, who was the returning officer, appointed certain persons whenever there was a contest to go round and deliver the voting papers on a certain day. Formerly two days were allowed to elapse between the delivery and collection of the papers; but an order issued by the Local Government Board last year required that the papers should be collected on the day after they were delivered. No doubt this was an improvement; and yet some of the worst of the abuses which had come to his knowledge had occurred since the new order was issued. He would now state some of these abuses. The first place to which he would refer was Oldham, a town which he had the honour to represent. In that town the election of Guardians had, he was sorry to say, become a political matter. Indeed, all through Lancashire, since household suffrage had been established for Parliamentary elections, all other elections were conducted on political grounds. Last year, in one ward at Oldham, the voting papers were distributed on Saturday, the 7th of April, and collected on Monday, the 9th. That gave an additional day. During the interval persons called, desiring to be allowed to fill up the papers. This was allowed in many cases, and it was afterwards found they had filled them up incorrectly. In some cases the people, on finding this out, rather than allow their votes to be given for a candidate to whom they were opposed, burnt the papers; in others they refused to give them up. In other cases persons called at the houses and got possession of the voting papers, under the pretence of some mistake having been made, promising to bring new papers, which, of course, they failed to do. Unauthorized persons also called on voters, and got possession of their voting papers, which they destroyed or withheld from the collectors. The result was that hundreds of voters were disfranchised and had no means of redress. The same practices were carried out in other parts of the country, numerous instances of which had been communicated to him. The Board of Guardians of Nottingham, in a Memorial to the Local Government Board in 1876, stated that at a recent election a wholesale attempt had been made to tamper with the voting papers. In a district numbering 100 houses, no voting papers had been delivered at all. The missing papers were found in other collectors' bags, all filled up for the same candidate and in the same handwriting, and were rejected by the returning officer on the ground that the signatures were forgeries. The Guardians also went on to say that the system of election which had been adopted opened a wide field for bribery and corrupt practices. The same Board of Guardians had written to the Local Government Board this year, pressing upon them the necessity of making an alteration in the mode of election, and the tenure of office. They asked the Local Government Board to authorize the election of Guardians for three years, one-third of the number to retire annually. Nor were complaints on this subject confined to provincial towns; they were heard also in the metropolis. Great abuses had been discovered in the St. George's Union, Westminster, and he believed the Local Government Board had been asked to hold an inquiry. A very good plan was adopted there of engaging the police to deliver the papers; but a man in one district followed the policeman and delivered at the same time another paper in favour of four candidates. A gentleman who saw this done in Ashley Place for some time, and saw the man place the second paper within the voting paper, remonstrated with the policeman; but the policeman said he did not know he was doing anything wrong, because he supposed the man was employed officially. If such an affair could occur even when policemen were employed, he thought they required greater protection in carrying out such elections. He had received statements on the subject from all parts of the country. A gentleman wrote from Prescot to say that he had three times contested the parish, and the result of the election simply depended upon the quantity of beer given away. In a colliery district of Lancashire the manager of one of the collieries compelled all the men to bring their voting papers to the office to be filled up, and sent men back to fetch their papers who came without them. In the autumn of last year he (Mr. Hibbert) presided at a conference of Guardians of Lancashire and Cheshire, and a resolution was then come to, in favour of a revision of the system, and an alteration of the tenure of office. It was then stated that in the West Derby Union, persons employed to deliver papers gave them promiscuously to passers by, and others abstained from discharging their duty at all. It was also stated that in Manchester the delivering officers went round with a bottle of gin in one pocket and a bottle of brandy in the other, and the papers were marked by them in the houses. If such practices were carried on in a great number of places, he thought the House would agree with him that the time had come for a revision of the system. It was no doubt a good one at the beginning for securing quiet elections, but it was not adapted for populous towns. In country places where there was little excitement it could be carried out very well. He could not avoid drawing attention to the fact, that in many of the local board districts they might have four different systems of election carried out. The members of the local board and the Guardians might be elected by voting papers; if there was a burial board the members would be elected by personal attendance at the vestry room; if a school board election had to be carried out, they had the ballot and the cumulative vote. There was, in fact, a perfect chaos of system. There was an election for the burial board on the 26th of March; on the 5th of April for the local board; and on the 9th of April for Guardians. The voting papers, where there was a contest, were collected by different sets of men; there was a different returning officer in each case; and the ratepayers were, therefore, put to much additional trouble, and the locality to additional expense. If there was but one election for all these purposes on one day, and one nomination paper, it would be a great advantage. Then there was the question of small parishes. There were between 14,000 and 15,000 parishes where an election of Guardians must be held. Many of these parishes were very small indeed. In Northumberland, where the parishes were smallest of all the counties in England, there were 113 parishes with a population in each under 50; 109 parishes with a population between 50 and 10; one parish with a population of only 1; one with a population of 3; two parishes with a population of 4; one with a population of 5; four with a population of 6; three with a population of 7; and three with a population of 9. It was almost absurd to conduct elections of Guardians in these small parishes. In the South-Eastern counties there were 66 parishes, each of which had a population under 50; 181 with a population of between 50 and 100; and 163 with between 100 and 200. He thought the Local Government Board should consider the question of relieving these small parishes from the important duties now imposed on them by law. With regard to the mode of election, hon. Members would of course gather that he was in favour of the ballot. He would, no doubt, be met with the objection that the ballot was expensive; but the number of contests in the country was so small that he did not think it would prove very expensive. In 1873 there were only 601 contests out of 14,000 or 15,000 elections, in 1874 only 681, and in 1875 only 720. He therefore thought the expense should not deter them from the adoption of the ballot. The Guardians were called upon to undertake very important duties, and by the County Government Bill still more important duties were assigned to them, such as the election of members for the county board, and, therefore, the mode of election for Guardians ought to be as pure as possible. By the present system of voting papers they did not obtain the real opinion of the electors. Owing to the intricacy of the voting papers many of them were useless. In the Chorlton Union, Manchester, out of 11,000 voting papers distributed in one township, only 2,531 were returned as good votes; in Aston township, Birmingham, in 1877, out of 32,000 voting papers distributed, only 5,192 were good votes. By the ballot they would get the real opinion of the electors. In proposing to adopt the ballot he entirely disclaimed political views; but he thought it one of the surest and best means of remedying the great abuses of the present system. He now came to the question of the tenure of office. The tenure now was for one year, and he had never yet met with any one who took part in local government who was not in favour of an extension of that time. He did not think the time was long enough to enable Guardians, however clever they might be, to become thoroughly acquainted with their duties. No doubt the Local Government Board had power, with the consent of the majority of the owners of property and the ratepayers of any parish, to extend the term of office from one to a greater number of years; and, he believed, the term had been extended in several instances. He did not think it desirable to add to the chaos which already existed by having Guardians elected in some Unions for only one year, while in others they were elected for three years. Every other board had now to be elected for three years. The members of the metropolitan vestries, the provincial municipalities, the local boards, and the school boards were elected for three years, and in the case of the former, one-third of the members retired annually—a detail which he was inclined to think it would be well to adopt in the case of Guardians rather than to incur the risk of so great a change in a board as would be possible if all members retired at the same time. He knew it might be said there would be a difficulty in the way of this in the case of a small parish returning but one Guardian; but to obviate this difficulty, throe small parishes might be combined for the election of three members, so that one could retire annually. In Ireland there was a strong feeling in favour of the election of Guardians by ballot; indeed, Bills to legalize it had been before the House in former Sessions, and there was one at the present time. He therefore proposed to embrace Ireland in the inquiry. He had, at the request of several Scotch Members, also included the parochial boards of Scotland. And he was told by them, though he could not vouch for it himself, that great abuses had taken place in some of the large towns of Scotland in the carrying out of the system of voting papers. The abuses which occurred in that country were very similar to what occurred here. It seemed to him, besides, that Scotland was in a worse position than England, because nearly every parish in the country elected its managers on a different day, this being fixed in some cases by the boards themselves, and in others by the magistrates, so that, in fact, they had in Scotland elections taking place nearly every day in the year. Every year additional duties and responsibilities were being cast upon Guardians, and it was therefore of increasing importance that their election should be carried out in the best manner possible. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.


in seconding the Motion, said, he advocated inquiry without pledging himself at all as to the views which the terms of the Resolution might be supposed to indicate. He trusted the inquiry would be an open one, and that it would not in any way be limited by the terms of the Reference. He thought the feeling of the House and of the country was in favour of inquiry, not only into the office of Guardian, but also into the mode of election and qualification for other parochial offices. A different qualification was required for a Guardian from that for a member of the highway board, a burial board, or a local board, and in some respects each differed from the other. In fact, the qualifications of the members of the different boards varied almost as much as the modes of electing them. In the election of highway boards a person rated at over £50 had a vote for every additional £25, but for local boards, only one vote for every £50. There was also inconvenience affecting the votes of owners, who, in some instances, lost their votes if they had not formally claimed to be put upon a register. There were further anomalies in regard to plural voting. He thought a good case had been shown for inquiry, if for nothing more. In regard to the proposed election of Guardians for three years, he thought now there was a prospect of the establishment of county boards, there was a reason why the Guardians should hold office for that period. He thought the election should be annual, and preferred that one-third should go out annually than that the whole body should go out at the end of three years.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the system under which Guardians of the Poor in England and Ireland, and Members of Parochial Boards in Scotland, and Members of Local Boards, are at present elected; and to report whether it is desirable to make any change in the manner of conducting such elections, either by the adoption of the ballot or otherwise; and also, whether it is desirable to extend the term of office for which Guardians and Members of Parochial Boards are now elected,"—(Mr. Hibbert,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) had made out so clear a case for a Committee that he did not think the discussion could continue long. One ground, however, which his hon. Friend had passed lightly over seemed to him a strong ground for inquiry, and that was as to the working of the system in purely country parishes. He (Mr. W. E. For-ster) believed the present system worked in the country as they might expect it would work, and that was very badly. He did not think it would be possible —it certainly would not be easy—to form any system of voting which would give so much room for illicit influence as the present. A man received a voting paper on the Monday, say, and it was not returned till the Wednesday, or even later. For the whole of the intervening time until he signed his paper, he was open to influence. In rural districts this influence was openly used; but in most places the effect of the present system was that there was hardly any attempt at any election at all. He thought there was another reason why they should grant the inquiry, and that was the very important position which the Guardians were going to occupy under the Bill which had been brought in by the Go- vernment. He would not stay to discuss the ballot; but he would say that he believed they would have to adopt it for the election of Guardians, as they had already been obliged to do for Members of Parliament and school boards. Very little fault had been found with that mode of election; at any rate, so far as the fairness of election, and the advantage to the constituencies were concerned. There had been some complaint about the expense this would entail upon a parish; but he did not think a large expenditure necessarily attached to election by ballot. He believed an arrangement might be made to obviate it; but he thought the Government must feel that, perhaps, the strongest ground for an inquiry into the election of Guardians was to be found in what they were themselves doing. The most important Bill they had brought before the House had reference to county government; and by this Bill, as had been stated, the Boards of Guardians were made into electoral colleges. He was sorry the Government had framed the new system on the principle of indirect election; but, looking to their own proposals, they must recognize that this was an opportune time to thoroughly consider the way Guardians were elected. If the Committee were granted, the inquiry ought to embrace plurality of voting, the inconsistencies of which had just been pointed out; also cumulative voting, which had been in operation for some time, and the feasibility of grouping together small parishes for the purposes of elections; indeed, the terms of Reference should be wide enough to allow of the inquiry being as complete as possible.


desired that the inquiry should also be extended to the case of town councils which were nothing more, in many instances, than local boards; indeed, often far more so, and exercising far greater powers than many of the smaller local boards. The inquiry was more peremptorily needed in the case of corporations than in any other class of so-called local boards; and he ventured to assert that no inquiry could be either exhaustive or complete in which town councils were not included. There was another matter to which he desired to call attention—namely, that in the course of such an investigation as that now proposed, it would be well to consider how far it was practicable to change the season of the year for holding all these smaller fixed elections, so as to have them, on some day or days during the summer months, instead of, as was now the case, holding many of them in autumn or mid-winter. Take, forinstanee, the municipal elections to which he had referred. These being fixed by statute for the 1st of November, they were necessarily brought to a close in the gloaming of a winter's afternoon, whereas it was, on every account, desirable that, if possible, everything connected with elections should take place in daylight, an advantage which could be secured only by changing the day of election to one of the summer months.


also trusted that the Committee would consider the advisability of grouping thinly-populated rural parishes for electoral purposes, and the dividing of Unions and highway districts in the best manner for the collection of votes.


said, he was not going to oppose the Motion, though he could not say that he regarded it with any particular satisfaction; he thought they had had enough inquiries already, and that it was better to finish what they had before embarking on fresh ones. At the same time he was ready to admit that the hon. Gentleman had made out a tolerable primâ facie case for what he now asked. His neutrality was, however, only conditional on the words about the ballot being withdrawn. Indeed, if the ballot was retained he should not only not support it, but he should most decidedly oppose it. He had no love for the ballot in any form; but he believed that if it was adopted here it would be fatal to plurality of voting, for the voter by ballot could give only one vote, and that would do away with all representation of property, which was the characteristic of these elections. It would throw the control of the representation into the hands of the class amongst whom were now the recipients of out-door relief, and when they came to consider the question of whether out-door relief should be continued—which they would have to do shortly—there was no doubt as to which way this class would give their votes. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford appeared to object to the leaving of voting papers, on the ground that it subjected the vote to undue influence; but he would point out that there was such a thing as "due influence." He thought a voter was very often in a better position to give a conscientious vote on the second than on the first day: he had had an opportunity of talking the matter over with his wife and family and friends. The House must remember that it was not a question of aye or no on a particular point, but it was a matter of selecting two or three from a list of perhaps a dozen submitted to him. If the hon. Gentleman was anxious for a Select Committee he did not wish to grudge him the opportunity of inquiry.


said, he wished to remark, as one who had introduced a Bill upon the subject with reference to Ireland, that the adoption of the ballot would not necessarily abolish the plural vote. In his Bill it was provided that every elector should receive a paper for each vote to which he was entitled—that was to say he would get four, five or six papers instead of one, and he could accumulate his votes or distribute them as he pleased. Reference had been made to the question of due and undue influence; and certainly there were influences of both kinds, and due influence could be exercised between the day of nomination and the polling—and influence brought to bear after the voter had received his paper was undue influence. But all he wished to say was, that as regarded Ireland, in no part of the United Kingdom was reform in the election of Guardians more required. Since he had taken in hand the Bill to which he had alluded he had received quite a number of letters giving accounts of undue influence exercised upon voters in Ireland, more especially in the rural districts. All these correspondents requested their names not to be mentioned. One of these letters was from a gentleman who was a candidate in 1866, and he described the opposition made by his opponents. Two bailiffs were employed to stand at the door as the people came out of chapel and speak to them about the election; another letter detailed the hostility exercised towards him by which he was several times defeated through the influence of the law officers, the officers of the Union, and the land agents, because he had put the law in force in sanitary matters. Another correspondent mentioned cases in which poor voters'-after an election of Guardians were de prived, in consequence of the way in which they had voted, of the right of pasturage for their sheep and of cutting turf, as well as other privileges. The agents assigned some other cause for their action; the people dreaded such treatment, and feared to give information of particulars. Other letters were written in the same strain, but he would not trouble the House with repetitions. One case, however, he might mention. A landlord opposed a particular candidate, and for several elections that candidate was defeated. At last, however, he was successful; but the landlord put such pressure upon his tenants that, out of pity for them, the successful candidate resigned his seat rather than see his supporters suffer for having exercised their franchise too freely. It was possible that some of these cases were not quite true, or were exaggerated; but where this opinion existed, it showed that it was time some reform was introduced in the mode of election, and he trusted the Government would accede to the Motion for a Committee, and he should be quite willing to refer his Bill to that Committee for consideration. He had had some experience of these local elections, and was led to believe that a yearly election was undesirable. Election for a longer period was to be preferred, say for three years; but a system of partial yearly election brought about a state of stagnation in the elected body upon which it was difficult to bring public opinion to bear its part. Hon. Members on both sides must agree that this feeling of stagnation was one of the greatest evils of local bodies, and it generally happened that when a man once got in he kept there until he died or resigned. There was a chance of removing the evil by the election every year; but by a system of partial election that reform would never be introduced. He was strongly in favour of election every three years, and he hoped the Motion would be assented to, and a full inquiry show where reforms were necessary.


said, he hoped the Government would assent to the Motion for inquiry; but, at the same time, he trusted that they would not be driven to assent to it except on the condition that the question of the ballot was not to be admitted into it. He had been returned to support the introduction of the ballot in Parliamentary Elections; but it seemed to him that there was a real distinction between the best mode of Parliamentary Election and the system most advisable in the case of Boards of Guardians. The distinction, of course, lay in the very different questions with which the two bodies had respectively to deal. Whether a man was a mechanic or a scholar, he could not possible understand the immense number of questions which Parliament had to decide, nor did even the candidate himself pretend to be able to do so. The necessary result was, that both inside of the House and outside, parties grew up by the adoption of general and divergent lines of policy; and a man had to bear the odium and inconvenience of belonging to one party or another—often, perhaps, paying the price of his vote by the loss of friends or of work. Certainly a great reform was carried when a man was able, for the first time, to give his vote on great questions without fear, though it was impossible to help feeling that the advantage had been obtained at the cost of manliness and frankness— the two best elements of our public life. But, passing to the election of Local Boards, the case was wholly different; questions of theory or of high politics were not involved, and all that was necessary was to elect plain men of business. The borough of Birmingham afforded a striking example of the ill-effects of introducing politics into business matters. In that place every one, from the Mayor to the chimney-sweepers, was a Party man, and the system of bribery was carried on in the most open fashion, the result being that when administrators had to be chosen the borough lost the services of one-half of the community. Party spirit was necessary only where a multiplicity of questions had to be decided, and was no more beneficial on a local board than on a board of railway directors. If that were so, all the hatred and risk sometimes incurred would disappear, and everyone would be free to vote without danger, as there would be no permanent division of opinion as in politics, and no great principle would be involved in the act of voting. Of course, the question was one of degree; yet all these considerations had influenced, his mind, and though he would screen and protect a man who had to vote on a great principle, he would not sacrifice so good a characteristic of our political life as the practice of open voting for the sake of persons dealing merely with petty details. As for the pressure brought to bear on the voters, he believed that it was exercised less by the masters themselves than by the trade union. Before the ballot was granted in Parliamentary Elections, he was bound to admit there was a considerable demand for it, and the feeling of the country was to a large extent in favour of it. But had they any kind of a demand for the ballot in elections for Boards of Guardians? So far from there being a demand for the ballot in the exercise of the vote in the elections of Guardians, they found that hardly 1 per cent of of the ratepayers throughout the country exercised their right of voting at these elections, and it could hardly be supposed that those who did not vote abstained because they could not vote by ballot. He could not understand how it could be possible for the Government to yield on this point, which he considered was quite uncalled for; and he hoped they would strike out that portion of the Motion which applied to the mode of conducting the elections.


said, he thought the House must have made up its mind that an inquiry into this subject was desirable. The hon. Member for Oldham might very well meet the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite who were so much opposed to the ballot by omitting from his Motion the reference to that mode of election, and leaving the Committee to consider the whole question He hoped, however, it would be understood that they had perfect freedom to consider the question of the ballot, and any other question affecting these elections. His object in addressing the House was to suggest to the hon. Member for Oldham that, so far as Scotland was concerned, it might be desirable to extend the scope of the inquiry to the constitution of parochial boards. He ventured to make this suggestion, because Her Majesty's Ministers in the course of the present Parliament had on more than one occasion laid before the House plans for modifying the existing law, and had introduced Bills for altering the existing constitution of local boards. These Bills did not pass through Parliament in consequence of the oppo- sition raised to them. The opposition to these measures was so great that they were ultimately withdrawn; but he thought it would be an advantage now if the Government would authorize the proposed Committee to inquire and consider the expediency of making a change. He had no preconceived view as to what change should be made; but he thought it would be well for the Committee to consider whether a change in the constitution of the boards was desirable. He trusted the hon. Member for Oldham would accept the suggestion of the Government.


said, the House seemed tolerably unanimous in its wish that this Committee should be appointed, and he must say that the Government never had any other feeling on the subject than to acquiesce in the Motion of his hon. Friend. It was on the Paper for many weeks last year, and an intimation was then made that the Government would not be indisposed to consent to this inquiry as a thing desirable to have. He was glad that his hon. Friend had drawn attention to the provisions of the existing mode of election as applicable to rural as well as to urban districts. They had found that a mode of election which had been in existence for many years was tolerably well calculated to meet the requirements, and had worked with good results in the rural districts. But as regarded the people of the populous parts and places of the Kingdom, it was understood that there was need for inquiry, if not for change. He might refer to the remarkable figures—that, of the 15,000 parishes into which the country was divided, the average number in which contests occurred amounted only to between 600 and 700. But if they analyzed the circumstances of these contests, they would find that they happened chiefly in populous parts of the country, and that in many of the places the elections were mixed up with political feelings. Nobody disputed that, and he need not shrink from stating it. He was quite willing that the question of voting papers should be considered. As to "the manner of conducting the elections, either by the adoption of the ballot or otherwise," his course was not so clear. Of course, he did not mean to say that the Committee should be excluded from entering into the question of ballot or no ballot. It would be absurd at this time of day to exclude it. If there were any means by which the ballot could be combined with the system of voting papers, and with plural and proxy voting, he, for his part, should not be afraid of it, provided only that the recommendation was not made use of to vivify local life in any particular form, or to excite contests and produce differences in those parts of the country where there was no occasion for any interference. But he would point out to the House that it was not a simple question whether the ballot should or should not be applied to these elections. It was a complex question. The election of Guardians of the Poor had been fenced round with an as triplex —namely, voting papers, vote of owners by proxy, and the plural vote. He did not pretend to say that these safeguards were incapable of modification. It should never be assumed that what was laid down in the Act of 1835 was to be stereotyped for ever; but he hoped his hon. Friend would consent to these particular words being excluded, and take the Committee, as it was the obvious intention of the House it should be taken. He would just remind the House of the great importance of the subjects which from time to time might be put to the ratepayers in elections of Guardians. In times of strikes, or of great local distress, the question of out-door relief would be a most dangerous thing to submit to the vote without any restrictions. It was quite evident that, when they came to a question like out-door relief, they must be extremely careful. The number of cases in which complaints of improper proceedings at the election of Guardians were brought to the test of judicial inquiry was very few indeed. There was a power vested in the Local Government Board to order a judicial inquiry; but many of the complaints were settled by a sort of arbitration or by written communications, and a great many others were dropped on different grounds. Still, it must be admitted that after each annual election, a large number of complaints were received from places where contests had occurred, and that fact gave the impression that there was good reason for instituting an inquiry as to whether the present mode of voting worked satisfactorily or not. It had been suggested that the question of simultaneous elec- tions might also receive consideration, and that Scotland and Ireland should be dealt with by the Committee. He would, however, advise the hon. Member to be careful not to extend the inquiry unduly. By the terms of the Reference the Scotch and Irish modes of electing Guardians would come under the notice of the Committee; but he thought that the constitution of parochial boards in Scotland almost went beyond its proper scope. It had been proposed that some power should be given to the Committee as to the grouping of small parishes for the election of Guardians; but he doubted whether it would be desirable for the Committee to enter into that subject. The Local Government Board now had an absolute authority to group small parishes, and within the last few days he had issued an order having reference to a certain Union in the county of Northumberland, to which reference had been made, which would have the effect of extinguishing, as regarded the election of Guardians, a number of such parishes. At the same time, when the House was disposed to look with favour on every element of local representation and independence, one could not but feel a reluctance in extinguishing that important function in any parish entitled to be represented in a Board of Guardians. With respect to the annual elections, as now conducted, there was no doubt much to be said both for and against that system. On that point he could only repeat what he had said the other night, that the question was, with him, a perfectly open one—that he did not wish in the least to prejudge it. At the present moment the desire for triennial elections, strange to say, proceeded from those populous places where it might be supposed that nothing was so much delighted in as contested elections. Complaints had come from Oldham and Bethnal Green as to the trouble, annoyance, and expense of annual elections, and a wish had been expressed to have the elections held once in three years. He was bound to say that those complaints came not from the ratepayers, but from Guardians themselves. He had no objection to those triennial elections, and at that moment an order had gone down to Nottingham, Coventry, and several other places, with a view to facilitate the trying of the experi- ment. It was reasonable that three years should be given to Guardians, in order that they might become experienced in their duties, and that was a matter which might be fairly considered by a Select Committee. The question as to one-third of the Guardians going out every year was one on which he would not trouble the House; but there were objections to introducing that principle into the Unions, because it would not remove the turmoil and other disadvantages connected with annual elections. There could be no doubt that Guardians might be chosen for three years as members of school boards and other local bodies were now. That discussion had been satisfactory as exhibiting a remarkable unanimity on both sides of the House. Nobody could doubt that they had arrived at an important point in regard to the functions of Guardians in relation to local government. He would ask the hon. Member to withdraw his Motion at that moment and put it on the Paper for as early a future day as he thought proper, when the Government would be quite willing to consent to its being again moved without further opposition or debate. He made that request because suggestions had been thrown out from various quarters which deserved to be more carefully considered than they now could be, and also because it would be well to eliminate from the Motion the alternative as to the ballot, which might be misleading as it now stood. It was, moreover, important that proposals of that kind should not be carried in the inconvenient form of Amendments on the Motion for going into Supply.


trusted the hon. Member would not allow his inquiry to be encumbered by acting on the suggestion of the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay). It was desirable, in his opinion, that an inquiry should be carried on separately for Scotland. There were great reasons, on the other hand, why the inquiry should be a general one, and should consist of Members representing the United Kingdom. It would not, however, carry any weight in Scotland, unless Scotland was adequately represented; and if it was proposed to extend the inquiry to Scotland, there should be at least two Members connected with the urban and two with the landed districts— the two being distinctly interested; and he did not think the inquiry could be adequately conducted without these. No doubt a demand would be made on the part of Ireland. It would be for the hon. Member to consider whether there would be space enough for these Members without making the Committee too large. If it was to be a united Committee, information from Scotland and Ireland must be brought to bear on the whole of the United Kingdom. He admitted the great advantage and simplicity of carrying on several elections at the same time; but, with reference to school board elections, there were questions of Church feeling, and he should be rather afraid, if they had simultaneous elections, that the same feeling might be introduced into the election of Guardians.


in reply, expressed his thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he had dealt with the subject. He should be very glad to assent to the right hon. Gentleman's proposal as to an alteration of the terms of the Motion—as to the exact terms of which alteration he must confer with the right hon. Gentleman—on the understanding, of course, that the Committee would be allowed to enter upon the question of the ballot and the other questions which had been raised. On that understanding, he should be glad to withdraw the Motion for the present.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.