§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Sclater-Booth.)
§ MR. RYLANDS,
in moving that this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself into the said Committee, said: In moving the rejection of the Bill in its present stage, I am quite alive to the disadvantage in which I am placed in consequence of the second reading having been carried by a large majority. But I think it should be borne in mind that that large majority was accompanied by many expressions of disapproval of the main features of the Bill on both sides of the House. It almost seemed as though the Bill had no real friends, and even the parental affection displayed towards it by the author of its being was somewhat doubtful. There was also a large amount of objection urged against the Bill by the organs of public opinion. Prom every point of the political compass it was assailed with blasts of opposition, in the form of cold criticism from the Conservative Press, which dislikes all departures from the "time-honoured institutions" of the country, and, on the part of the Liberal Press, by warm denunciations of the ob- 894 jectionable and delusive character of the provisions of the Bill. It must also be borne in mind that the large majority in favour of the second reading of the Bill was secured under singular circumstances. My right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) proposed an Amendment on the second reading which attacked the vital parts of the Bill, and supported it in a speech which was delivered with his usual ability. In that speech he denounced the Bill in all its essential characteristics. Having presented to the House an Amendment which was decidedly hostile to the Bill, and having, in support of it, pointed out serious objections to the measure—notwithstanding that, at the last moment my right hon. Friend withdrew his Amendment, and the Opposition on the front bench went into the Lobby in favour of the second reading of the Bill. It strikes me that was a singular mode of proceeding on the part of the Leaders of the Opposition. I regretted their not having voted against the Bill. I think it was undesirable and unfortunate that this course should have been adopted; because, outside the House the large majority in favour of the Bill rather confused public opinion, and a great many people out-of-doors would consider, no doubt, that the Bill was a much better Bill than it really was, and, in consequence, they would be misled. I think there was also another misfortune. My right hon. Friend, judging from his speech, imagined that, by voting for the second reading, he had secured, on the part of the President of the Local Government Board, a favourable consideration of the Amendments he proposed, which affected the entire character of the Bill. If it proves that the large majority in favour of the second reading induced the Government to give way in its main provisions, it would be an unusual result, and contrary to my anticipation. The right hon. Members on the front Opposition bench, who supported the second reading, by giving additional support to the Bill, rendered it less likely, rather than more likely, that the Government would yield any material point in the structure of the Bill. So far as I am concerned, I cannot allow myself to be committed by the course taken by my right hon. Friend on that occasion. I feel, even if I stand alone, that I must act in opposition to 895 this Bill, very much in the same way and on the same grounds that I did last year in opposing the Prisons Bill. I am most anxious in every way to extend and uphold the rights of local administration, and I am also most anxious to see some means of checking centralization, which is increasing to so great an extent in this country. We hear constantly in this House complaints about centralization, and these complaints are not confined to the Members who sit on this side of the House. Were it practicable to put a Resolution on the Paper to the effect that, in the opinion of this House, "centralization had increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished," I think such a Resolution would be supported by a considerable number of Members upon both sides of the House. I want to know what this House is doing to check what we all feel to be an evil and a great danger arising out of the increase of centralization. I venture to say we are doing nothing; and, so far from that, we are increasing the central power, because every year the ratepayers come to this House clamouring for some Government subsidy, and hon. Gentlemen who represent these ratepayers are ready to barter their rights and privileges of local administration in return for grants from the public purse in aid of local rates, which are only a temporary and an illusory mode of relief. Where are we to look for some barrier against the tendency of the central bureaucracy to usurp more and more of the local authority? We certainly cannot look to the county magistrates to check this power. Last Session the county magistrates sold for a mere "mess of pottage" some of their official rights. As to the Boards of Guardians, one cannot suppose them to form a barrier against the acts of centralization; for, owing to our legislation, we have reduced Boards of Guardians to a pitiable state of subserviency under the Local Government Board. I recollect that my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), in the speech he delivered last Session on county administration, gave an amusing instance of the Board of Guardians to which he belongs, having proposed an expenditure of about 20s. for an object of undoubted utility; but they had to go to the Local Government Board for authority to expend the 896 money, and after three weeks' delay in the "circumlocution office," the authority requested was refused. I say, then, that Boards of Guardians, as at present constituted, form no barrier against this centralization. I go further, and say that if you establish county boards on the basis proposed, you will have no authority of weight or influence, and it will not be a barrier against centralization. The more I go into the subject, the more I regret that Her Majesty's Government have not taken a bold and comprehensive course in dealing with this important question. Her Majesty's Government are perfectly consistent, and I do not complain of this Bill as a charge against the Government—they have entirely acted up to their promise of last year in response to the Motion of the hon. Member for South Norfolk. They have, as I say, been consistent; and no one can be surprised that they, having grudgingly accepted the Resolution of last year, and having been driven, so to speak, to come forward with a measure of county administration, should have made it as limited in its operation as possible, as weak in its detail, and—as the President of the Local Government Board had called it—as"quarter-sessional"in its character as possible. [Mr. SCLATER - BOOTH said, he had never stated anything of the kind.] The right hon. Gentleman had said it might be considered of a "quarter sessional" character, and he was quite correct when he said so. We are told that we ought to look at this matter free from Party or political considerations; but I cannot see how we can discuss a question of this kind without its having a political bearing. The great Liberal Party to which I belong have always been in favour of popular enfranchisement; and it is entirely inconsistent in right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Opposition bench to support a measure so completely deficient in the principle of popular representation. One of the arguments urged to justify this Bill is, that it is a step in the right direction. I venture to say that that is entirely a mistake, and from our point of view it is a step in the wrong direction—it is a step backward; and, in point of fact, if any dissatisfaction were expressed hereafter as to the absence of popular representation in county boards, we should be at once 897 met with this new board, which would stand in the way of county reform. I think we ought to consider what we want to do by establishing county boards. If the present system was so bad, so objectionable, so full of abuse, that it was intolerable—then we might say, let us have a change, and that any change would be for the better; but the present system is not so full of abuse, and no one complains of it that it is bad, either economically or otherwise. I have no hesitation in bearing testimony to the full conviction that the county magistrates have fulfilled their duties in a manner highly creditable to themselves and with advantage to the country. There may be differences in the various counties, but as a rule they do their work well. In the county to which I belong the magistrates are distinguished for their ability, and exercise their duties with a great amount of zeal and efficiency. As a magistrate myself, I can say that county business has been conducted with great economy and ability. If this is the case, why wish to change it? Well, Sir, in the debate my hon. and learned Friend— who is now sitting in his proper seat on the Conservative side of the House— the Member for Wexford (Sir George Bowyer) said that the demand for county government is a sentimental grievance; but I venture to tell the hon. and learned Baronet that sentimental feelings are really very powerful, and lie at the root of many popular movements which no wise statesman can disregard. It will, in fact, be found that important principles generally lie at the base of popular sentiments. In this case, the public sentiment is closely connected with those principles upon which rest the greatness of this country and the institutions of which we are all most proud. The people of England desire to govern themselves, or through their chosen Representatives. Their maxim is that taxation and representation should go together. They cannot justify government without representation. It is no answer to say the business of the county is well administered and economically conducted. The same argument might justify a despotism and sap the springs of our civil liberties and political life. The county board, in accordance with the genius of the English character, should fairly represent the county rate- 898 payers. The magistrates in no sense represent the county ratepayers. They are nominally appointed by the Queen; but, in a great many instances, they owe their appointment to political subserviency. I know counties in which the political partizanship of the Lord Lieutenant has become a public scandal; and I say that if that continues—if Lords Lieutenant are allowed to keep out fit and suitable men with a view to gratify political partizanship—then the time has come when this House, in the public interest, and in the public right, should deal with the question, and say whether the power of Lords Lieutenant ought not to be altered or their power taken away. The appointment of these magistrates being tainted at its very source, in consequence of political influence, it is not surprising that dissatisfaction should be expressed, that important county business should be entrusted to men over whose appointment the ratepayers have no control whatever. Such an administrative body is a political anachronism. I received a letter a short time ago from a very active county magistrate, in which that gentleman said that he considered the Bill included every possible fault. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax did not go tot hat extent; but he pointed out that it contained in all its vital provisions very serious errors. With regard to the petty sessional unit, I think it is quite unnecessary to follow the right hon. Gentleman in a matter of that kind; but it seems to me his arguments were perfectly conclusive, and that the position taken by the Government was open to the most serious objection. Upon that matter I venture to say that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board wants more time to built his superstructure on a better foundation, and this is an essential condition before a great many evils can be removed. Then there is the question of the proportion of the justices. The arrangements of the Bill are that practically you include in the county board a large body of magistrates simply under another name. You not only have the magistrates elected by petty sessions, but also many of them would be elected by the Board of Guardians. I believe somebody suggested that the magistrates should be excluded from election by the Board 899 of Guardians. I think that would be most objectionable, as there can be no reason why justices of the peace as such should be excluded; and if my desires were carried out, and we had a popular system of representation of the county, I think a large number of magistrates would find their way to the county board. In addition to its faulty constitution, the board is restricted in its operation, and one of the most important parts of county administration is excluded—namely, the management of the police. Why is that excluded? By leaving out the police you leave out the main item of county expenditure, and reduce the expenditure over which the board will have control to a fraction. It appears to me there is no reason at all why you should restrict their operations. I venture to submit that the two great principles we should aim at in the reform of the county management are these. We ought to give the widest possible interest among the ratepayers in the selection of the members of the county board, and, having got a wide basis of popular representation, I think we ought to give to that county board the greatest possible responsibility in the administration, as far as practicable, of the affairs of the county. We ought to give that board the whole of the county business to do, and place it as far as possible in relation to the county in the same position as a municipal council occupies in relation to the borough. I think by having county boards resting on this wide basis, we might fairly hope to check the system of centralization spreading amongst us, and also from time to time be able to decentralize and impose upon the county board additional duties and additional responsibilities. I have only a few more words to say which have reference to the objections urged against a system of direct representation of county ratepayers. The first objection is that there would be a considerable cost in the election of members of the board. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that at the present time in the election of Boards of Guardians there were very few contests, and seemed to think that was evidence of a satisfactory arrangement in the constitution of an administrative body. I am not prepared to agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and do not think the mere fact of there being no contests is at all evidence that 900 the system works satisfactorily. The carelessness about the public interest involved in the election may sometimes be the reason why no interest is shown in the Board of Guardians, in addition to which they feel they are hampered by the central body. The other objection is the fear of political action. Now, I must say I cannot sympathize with hon. Gentlemen who are afraid of political action. What we want is to stir the dull level uniformity of the rural districts, where there is not the same amount of intellectual life as in towns; and if we can get the people to take an interest in their own affairs, we are giving them political education and training them for political action on a larger scale. It is, I think, a great mistake to seek to withdraw from the people of this country the means of active interest in public life. In fact, to the interest that the people take in their local administration is due, in a great measure, the progress of the country. The true Conservative policy is to throw open, by means of popularly-elected county boards, a new opportunity for the exercise of public rights and the fulfilment of public duties by the inhabitants of our rural parishes; and, by so doing, we shall make the people more fitted to take part in the working of our institutions, and make them value more highly the institutions under which we live. The hon. Member concluded by moving the rejection of the Bill.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL,
in seconding the Motion, said, he opposed the Bill on grounds entirely different from those just advanced, believing that it ought not to have been brought forward at all. It was with extreme regret that he opposed the Government on the most important Bill of the Session, and nothing but the deepest conviction would impel him to take that course. He did not speak on the second reading, because he was anxious to hear the views of more experienced Members on that side of the House, and to ascertain whether there remained any Members of the Tory Party who had objections to raise to the essential principle of the Bill. Apparently, there were none—at least, none who spoke, for those who spoke discussed the Bill on its merits and on its details. The question did not attract the attention it would have done in calmer times, owing, probably, to the 901 absorbing character of the Eastern Question; and, if that did not settle itself soon, he feared domestic legislation was likely to be rather more mischievous than usual. He was anxious to draw the attention of the Tory Party, before it was too late, to the real principles and character of the Bill. He was justified in prolonging the discussion by the remarkable manœuvres of the Government last Session on the Motion of the hon. Member for South Norfolk. He and others viewed those manœuvres with regret; but he had never thought that a pledge so lightly given would be so hastily acted upon. The Bill proposed a complete revolution in government. It proceeded on the essentially democratic principle that taxation and representation should everywhere exactly coincide, and that a man who paid 1s. of taxation had as much right to share in its administration as the man who paid £2,000 or £3,000. This principle had never yet been carried to such a length by the Tory Party. He could not forbear glancing at the principles which had guided the legislation of the Government during the last four years. He had gained the confidence of his constituency in 1874 on the cry of "Defence of our old institutions"—by which the masses enfranchised in 1867 meant beer and the Bible, but others more profound understood the Church, the House of Lords, the rights of property, the sanctity of the wills of pious founders, the law of entail, &c.; and certainly in that programme he should have expected to find county government by quarter sessions. In the first Session of this Parliament a serious blow was given to the Church. As for the House of Lords, the arguments in support of its abolition would be very analogous to those advanced in favour of this Bill for abolishing quarter sessions. Both institutions were of great antiquity, both were anomalous in their constitution, neither were in the technical meaning of the word Representative, both imposed burdens on the people, both contained Members who were not altogether fitted for their duties; yet both, on the whole, worked well, and had gained a strong hold of the confidence of the people. He threw this out as a suggestion, in order that if the Government, for want of something better to do, felt inclined in a Session or two to bring in a Bill to abolish the 902 House of Lords, it might know exactly what arguments to bring forward in its support. As for the rights of property, they had already received a severe blow when the Agricultural Holdings Act declared that the tenant had a right in the soil, which right had to be bought out before he could be disturbed in his possession of the soil. In the Universities Bill of last Session, they sent the pious founder to the right-about in such a way that nobody would ever be insane enough to hold him up for veneration again. Now they had this Bill, which proposed to effect a complete revolution in county government. It abolished one of their most ancient institutions, it attacked the rights of property, it undermined the independence of local self-government, and could only be regarded as a step along the road to the appointment of stipendiary magistrates all over the country. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) last year had said very little was known about county government before William IV.; but the most elementary student of Constitutional History could trace quarter sessions to the time of Edward III. Ever since the time of Elizabeth down to the present day their authority had been extended; and it was reserved for the present Government—a Tory Government—to diminish their power by the Prisons Act of last year, and to extinguish them altogether this Session. Nobody denied that quarter sessions worked extremely well, and there was not a shadow of a shade of a demand for a change. It was brought in in obedience to two Members of the House—the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) and the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell)—who, it was generally supposed, represented the tenant-farmers of the country; but it was an assertion which, if brought to their notice, they would be the first to disclaim-—the fact being that they represented nothing but their own constituents and two or three chattering Chambers of Agriculture. He had said that the Bill attacked the rights of property and would prove it. The magistrates in the commission of the peace comprised the great majority of the landowners of this country, who, as they paid by far the greater proportion of county rates, had the greatest possible interest in managing county affairs with every economy. This Bill 903 took the management of county affairs completely out of their hands. The landowners, in fact, were placed by this Bill in a much worse position than if the elections to the new county board had been made directly by the ratepayers. Then their position, experience, and influence would have secured their return; but now, the Boards of Guardians would return tenant-farmers and tradesmen; the magistrates, of course, magistrates—with the result that there would be on each board two opposing camps, each suspecting the other, which would lead to great divisions, unsound compromises, and, he feared, great extravagance. The hon. Member for South Norfolk on this latter point had admitted that they would have no more economy than at present, and that he never knew an elected body that did not spend money freely. This, he further said, was the reason why the Bill was not popular with the ratepayers. The other day he happened to read in a newspaper a little paragraph giving an account of a meeting held to consider this Bill the newspaper said, "Mr. Rodwell was present at the meeting of the Cambridgeshire Chamber of Agriculture when the County Boards Bill was discussed and condemned on all hands. Mr. Rodwell defended the principle of the Bill." It was quite true, as the hon. Member for South Norfolk said, that this Bill was not popular with the ratepayers. It would either lead to the retirement of the county gentlemen altogether from county affairs, or it would lead to further agitation. If the county gentlemen were continually out-voted, of course they would give up the struggle; and if, on the other hand, the ratepayers were out-voted, it would lead to further discontent and agitation and renewed legislative efforts. He would like to give an illustration of the manner in which this Bill would attack the rights of property. Let the House suppose another outbreak of cattle plague, and just imagine the compensation the delegates of the Boards of Guardians would endeavour to award each other; for it should be remembered that compensation claims fell almost entirely on the landowners. He was unable to find words in which properly to characterize this measure. He had ransacked his whole arsenal of contemptuous and denunciatory epithets, 904 and could find nothing by which he could adequately express his estimation or his want of estimation of it. He could only say that it appeared to him to be just the sort of little dodge and contrivance that would be proposed by a President of the Local Government Board who found himself called upon to legislate on a great question. The reason for bringing in this Bill was said to be that county expenditure had now become so heavy and complicated that it must for the future be administered by a representative elective board.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
No. I said precisely the reverse, that county expenditure had diminished in the hands of the magistrates.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
Well, the right hon. Gentleman would presently have an opportunity of extinguishing him, as he had already extinguished quarter sessions. If the magistrates as magistrates had no right to manage county affairs, how could they have a right as members of the county board, quâ magistrates? Again, to let Guardians elected to manage the affairs of a Union elect members to manage the affairs of a county, was like letting a town council elect Members of Parliament. Even the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), who had the greatest respect for the town council of Birmingham—and brought them into every debate in that House—would not carry his adoration of town councils so far as that. The right hon. Gentleman could not escape from this dilemma. Either the magistrates had the right or they had not the right to manage county affairs. But it was impossible for them to have half a right. But the Bill in its principles abolished the right; yet the Bill put a quantity of magistrates on the new board. It was alleged that the present system of county government was anomalous. Granted that it was so, it had at any rate a prescription of five centuries; but it was now proposed to establish something far more anomalous, which would not have a prescription of five centuries. It was easy in the present day to destroy anomalies; but he defied the Tory Party, with all their majority, to set up anomalies in the place of those which they destroyed, which should have more than an ephemeral existence. The institutions which they set up, if they were to be perma- 905 nent, must be fair and square and logical, and must stand the test of reason and understanding. He did not want to say anything disagreeable about the Bill, but it certainly was not what it pretended to be. The fact of the matter was that it was another of those futile attempts to which they were getting so accustomed—to make that impossible mixture of Radical principles and Conservative precautions. The Government excited hopes in the minds of the ratepayers that they were going to have an elective representative county board, and then proceeded to carry out that promise by manufacturing a board which would not represent the ratepayers more than they were now represented. It was one of those attempts to conciliate the masses by the concession of principles which were in favour with the masses, and which concessions were immediately nullified or minimized by the details of legislation. The Government thought the populace would be deceived, when really they themselves were the only dupes.O infortunati nimium sua si mala nôrint.Oh, if they could only know what a mess they would be in in a few years, and how their legislation would be improved upon before long by hon. Gentlemen opposite! The proposals of this Bill were so remarkable that he could not think they could have been considered by the Cabinet, whom he entirely absolved from responsibility for them. In the present state of Eastern affairs, the House knew that the Cabinet had had all their time taken up by considering how they could possibly get the Fleet into the Dardanelles; and now their whole time was taken up in considering how they could get the Fleet out of the Dardanelles; and, under these agitating circumstances, it would be highly unfair to hold them responsible for the legislative freaks of a minor Colleague. He had no objection to the President of the Local Government Board dealing with amendments to the Poor Law, or with sanitary questions, or with the regulation of the number and the salaries of inspectors of nuisances; but he entertained the strongest objection to the President of the Local Government Board coming down to the House with all the appearance of a great law-giver—to reform according to his ideas, and to improve, 906 in his little way, the leading features of the British Constitution. He appealed to the Tory Party, in and out of the House, whether they were prepared to sacrifice an ancient institution, the origin of which was lost in time, which had grown with the nation's growth, which had survived the vicissitudes of revolution and reform, which possessed at the present day, in the highest degree, every element of vitality, and which still retained the diminished confidence of the people—were they prepared, on the invitation of the President of the Local Government Board, to barter away such an institution for such Brummagem trash as this Bill? But on Boards of Guardians and the like, elected principally, as they were, from the middle classes, the Imperial Government could and would exercise a great pressure. They would be awed by an expression of opinion from the Home Secretary or the President of the Local Government Board, especially if the latter, like the right hon. Gentleman, had two surnames. That, at the bottom of the most ordinary document, would terrify them out of their senses; and would suggest horrid visions of Government investigations, mandamuses, the Court of Queen's Bench, the Lord Chief Justice, and contempt of Court. He was sure that the more the standard of the composition of the county board was lowered, the more effectual and consistent would be Government interference. If hon. Members imagined the court of quarter sessions, in its judicial capacity, would continue to exist if this Bill passed they deceived themselves. It would be quite impossible that a body, so mutilated and degraded as it would be, should retain sufficiently the respect and authority which it now enjoyed. It was certain that the Bill was a step along the road to the establishment of a stipendiary magistracy, and he had no doubt that the Government were indulging in blissful dreams of a rich harvest of patronage all over the country. With regard to Lords Lieutenant, whom the hon. Member for Burnley had attacked, he believed they had performed their difficult duties with discretion and magnanimity. Such, then, was this Bill— this precious offspring of the President of the Local Government Board. It had been brought in in obedience to no outcry; it relied on no case of mis- 907 management or shortcoming. It passed his ability to say why this Bill had been brought in. It had been evolved out of the inner self-consciousness of the right hon. Gentleman; or perhaps he attributed to the hon. Member for South Norfolk and the hon. Member for South Leicestershire vast powers which they did not possess; or perhaps the Government, in a fit of good nature, had allowed the right hon. Gentleman to try his hand at legislation on a question which two right hon. Gentlemen opposite had utterly failed to legislate on. It was based, like the rest of recent Tory legislation, upon principles which were purely democratic, and was surrounded by a quantity of ridiculous checks and safeguards, which would be swept away like so many cobwebs by the new Radical broom when hon. Gentlemen opposite came into office, as he supposed they would some day or other. When that Millennium arrived, he could see in his mind's-eye the Orders of the Day running as follows: —"County Government Act Amendment Bill, Government Order; Agricultural Holdings Act Amendment Bill, also a Government Order; Universities (Oxford and Cambridge) Act Amendment Bill, also a Government Order;" and so on. He asked how those who, in the time of their power, had sacrificed their principles, could defend them with any hope of success when they were in Opposition? He had done for the present. He had no doubt that right hon. Gentlemen would answer these arguments with their usual ingenuity, and would persuade themselves and their Party that this was a Bill most Conservative in its instincts and its effects; no amount of ingenuity, however, even though it had all the authority of the Government, would persuade him that black was white. He had relieved himself; he had raised the last wail of the. expiring Tory Party. They had undergone a good deal. They had swallowed an immense amount of nastiness. They had been terribly highly educated. Their banner had been dragged along many a muddy path; it had been slopped in many a filthy puddle, until it was so altered that no politician of the days of Peel or Canning could possibly recognize it. He should cry "No" when this Motion for going into Committee was put from the Chair; and if he could only get any appreciable support—he 908 cared not whence it came, or from what motive it was given—-he should be prepared to offer a sustained opposition to this most Radical and democratic measure—this crowning desertion of Tory principles, this supreme violation of political honesty.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself into the said Committee,"— (Mr. Rylands,) —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
Sir, I have an Amendment on the Paper which, I believe, it is not competent for me to take a division upon. It is—In the opinion of this House, no reform of county government will be permanent or satisfactory which does not entrust the administration of the county business to a Board elected directly by household franchise.As I shall not be permitted to take a division, I shall support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands). There are, of course, many objections which have been taken to the Billbefore the House—most of them, such as the objections to the petty sessional area, and to the functions with which it is proposed to invest this new local authority, rather concern the administrative work of the board, than its practical constitution. But, with regard to this point, I do not propose to make any observation to-night; but I shall confine myself entirely to the points which would have been raised by my Amendment; and my object is to bring before the House, with reference to local affairs, precisely the same issues which a short time ago were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for the Border Boroughs (Mr. Trevelyan) with regard to Parliamentary representation. To hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House who were unable to support my hon. Friend, but who believed that the change which they think to be undesirable, or at least premature, is inevitable, I would urge that it would be wise to pave the way by training those who are likely to be the electors of the future in connection with local affairs for the very duties which they may 909 hereafter be called upon to perform. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London used a phrase which came into vogue some time after the Reform Bill in 1867, which was to the effect "that we ought to educate our masters." I think it would be wiser to educate our masters before, rather than after, they have received power which they are destined to obtain; and it seems to me that it would be a matter of Conservative statesmanship to prepare the way for this inevitable change by counterfeiting the political intelligence of the people, by educating them in civil affairs in connection with local government and local affairs. Upon the hon. Members who found themselves able to support my hon. Friend the Member for the Border Boroughs I think I may make a stronger claim. They will surely support the claim I am. introducing to the House, unless they are prepared to say those persons to whom they are ready to confide the Imperial destiny of the Empire are unfit for the much less important work of local administration. They would have to show that in this matter, at all events, the greater does not include the less, and that men may be qualified for the higher duty of a citizen, and be called upon to perform that duty, and may yet be inapt and disqualified for the administration of local affairs or for taking a share in local government. I suppose that there can be no doubt as to the relative importance of Imperial and local affairs. It has been shown that the effect of the change in the Parliamentary system which has been advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for the Border Boroughs would be enormous, and that, at least, it was possible that the supreme influence in every constituency of the land might be placed in the hands of the poorest class of the constituents. For my own part, I have no fear of such a result, even if it should take place. I think that our experience of a wide franchise in the boroughs, and of every extension in the suffrage, has proved that we have no real cause for the alarm which some hon. Members, no doubt, honestly feel; and that there is no ground for the fear that some of them entertain of a vast combination of the poorer class of the community against the rich, by which the former would seek to provide for their 910 own selfish interests to the detriment of the whole community. But I am bound to admit that experiment would be a very great one; and if we are really taking what was once called "a leap in the dark," we ought to have very much greater confidence in the justice of our conclusions before we take a step in which a mistake might be fatal to the security and welfare of the Empire than in a case like the present, where any error would only lead to more or less economical administration. It seems to me difficult to conceive the position of any hon. Member who could swallow the camel which was presented by my hon. Friend (Mr. Trevelyan), and strain at the very modest gnat in the proposition which I am putting before the House. I have heard an attempt to make a distinction between local government and Imperial legislation. It is said that Imperial legislation has to do with life and personal freedom as well as with property, and that it is legislative as well as administrative, while local government is administrative only; but I do not think, on reflection, that either of these distinctions can be sustained. We have to bear in mind, in the present instance, that the new board which we are creating will, as was said by the President of the Local Government Board, be entrusted with much larger and more various functions than it is likely to enjoy under this Bill. It will probably be a chief sanitary authority for the county, and will probably have some control over education. I see an Amendment on the Paper to give it the management of the police, and I cannot see why a privilege given to every petty borough in the country should be denied to the great authority in the county. It already has the control of business, and it is proposed to give it the election of an important judicial officer. Every one of these things, and many others that might be named, touch personal liberty and freedom directly or indirectly; and it appears to me that an agricultural labourer who will be under this county government board will be much more interested in its interference with his domestic affairs than he can be affected by Imperial legislation by the chance of the House of Parliament passing, for instance, a conscription, or in some 911 other way interfering with his individual liberty. Then there is no local authority which is not invested with the power of making bye-laws which have the force of Acts of Parliament, and new powers are being continually given to authorities, and it is impossible to suppose that they will be denied to the county board. On the other hand, the Imperial Parliament has to deal with property to an extent that any local government which I can name bears no relation whatever. And this Imperial Parliament is administrative as well as legislative; because, acting through the Ministry, which is really only a Committee of the two Houses, it manages with considerable success the great Departments of State. I say, under these circumstances, it seems to me that the arguments which apply in favour of household suffrage in the counties with reference to Parliamentary representation equally apply to household suffrage for the election of county boards. I venture to appeal with some force to hon. Members on this side of the House who supported my hon. Friend the Member for the Border Boroughs (Mr. Trevelyan) to give me their assistance when I have the opportunity, at a subsequent stage, of taking a division on the Amendment which I have placed on the Paper. Now, I am desirous of urging my Amendment on the House, because it frankly accepts the principle of representation, which is, after all, the only serious ground upon which this Bill is based at all. It is quite true that the farmers, who seem to think that representation is a desirable thing in their own case, do not entertain a very high opinion of it when it is proposed to give it to their labourers; and if my hon. Friend the Member for the Border Boroughs wanted an additional argument for his proposition, I think he would find it in the fact that during the whole of the debate the interests of agricultural labourers have been persistently ignored. They have no Representative in the House. The interests of the farmers and the magistrates, and the rights of property, have always numerous and eloquent Representatives; but no one has had anything to say for the agricultural labourers, who have a direct interest, and ought to have a great share, in local government. But even the farmers, who are not prepared to extend 912 the representation to the labourers, are nevertheless dissatisfied with this Bill, and are claiming that at least two-thirds of these boards shall be elective and representative. I would appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite — to those especially who are interested in the influence of the magistracy—whether, if this concession is to be made, and the majority is given to the representative element, whether it would not be better to be generous at once, and more wise and more permanently satisfactory, to concede the whole point, and make the whole board representative? If hon. Members are not' prepared to go so far as that, I hope that they will not accept the constitution that is proposed in this Bill. We find that the board suggested is a mere thing of shreds and patches. I remember hearing of a great physician, who was prescribing for a patient, and he said, half in joke—"I have put down a little of everything, in the hope that something or other will do you good." I can almost imagine the right hon. Gentleman proceeding upon that principle in forming this Bill. The representative principle, which is almost conspicuous by its absence, is diluted by the ex-officio elements filtered through intermediate bodies; it is impeded by voting papers, it is nullified by property qualification, and it is minimized by the system of plural voting. There is only one thing wanting to complete these numerous ingredients—almost as many as those which composed the witches' cauldron in Macbeth—and that is one which I have no doubt the hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. Blennerhassett) will be happy to supply, and then the broth will be complete. The only ingredient wanting is cumulative voting, or three-cornered representation, or some one or other of the numerous devices for securing the misrepresentation of majorities. I do not dispute for a moment that, curious as is the constitution of this board, it has been devised with the best intentions, and I am ready to accept the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that his object was to secure the best possible governing body; but I beg respectfully to submit one or two reasons why I think he will fail in this object. Let me point out how curious a change has come over public opinion, or, at all events, opinion in this House, with reference to these matters during the last 913 generation. In 1832, when the Reform Bill was passed, the principle of representation was, at all events, frankly and fully accepted up to a certain limit. Since that time there never has been any further extension of the franchise which has not been accompanied by some complicated system of checks and balances by which the principle of representation has been more or less infringed while its acceptance has been simulated. There are a great number of persons inside and outside of this House who seem to be very willing in theory to accept the principle of representation; but, after all, they do not feel any confidence in the people, in their common sense, their intelligence, or their patriotism, and strive to stem the tide of democracy by all these ingenious devices which the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock said would some day be swept away like a cobweb; but which, in the meantime, prevent us from obtaining the full advantage of representation, while they stimulate sectarianism and Party bigotry, and multiply the system of organism and caucus, and Party tickets, which Gentlemen opposite so honestly deprecate when it conduces to Liberal successes, but which I find Conservatives in the country are very ready to imitate when their own purposes can be served. I do not propose to defend now the system of organization which the hon. Member for West Gloucestershire (Mr. P. Plunkett) called rather unfairly the omnipotent caucus. Some day or another I may have an opportunity of saying something on that subject. But, assume it to be as bad as Gentlemen who are most opposed to it believe it to be, I want to point out that it is precisely this system that they are securing by these complicated checks. Look at double elections. The whole Party system in the United States is due to the existence of this system of double election in connection with the election of the President of the Senate and of many other officers. It is in consequence of that system that the strictest Party organization and discipline has to be maintained, in order to secure secondary electors pledged to Party ticket. This is not all. The same system leads to the prevalence of bribery and intimidation, because the more limited the constituency the more easy it is to bring pressure and intimidation 914 to bear upon it. I think it is rather a singular thing that the nearest approach to the constitution of the new authority which the right hon. Gentleman is proposing to found is to be discovered in connection with the local institutions of the Empire of Russia. In Russia you have precisely this system of election—half by peasants and half by landlords—and also the system of double election. It would be interesting to know how far the corruption which prevails in local and public business in Russia may be traceable to these institutions, which I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman opposite would not have been anxious to introduce into this country. The object of the Government is no doubt to obtain the best possible governing body. I will quote an article on the subject in The Times.It is better for the people to be indifferently ruled by itself than to be governed with scientific precision by a despot, or an oligarchy, or a club of cultivated men.That is a truth very often forgotten by those on this side of the House as by Members of the Conservative Party. I quite agree with the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) that the result of indirect election would be pregnant with disadvantage to the landed gentry. I believe that they will be prejudiced, in consequence of there being a strict line of demarcation between elected members, on the one hand, and ex-officio members on the other hand. If you devise a particular channel by which men may be elected to an office, they will be relegated to that channel alone. On the other hand, if country gentlemen avail themselves of the same channel of election, I am quite convinced they would have, as they deserve, the preference which would be due to their superior education, their local influence, their intelligence, and their knowledge of public affairs. It must not be thought we have any desire to exclude them from their just influence; but we wish that they should sit at the boards responsible to public opinion, and representative of public feeling, and not merely in the invidious position of ex-officio members forced into the board as representatives of land and property. I should have thought this a matter upon which extremes might meet, and that Conservatives and Radicals might unite to secure 915 a system by which these gentlemen might preserve their influence, instead of the proposal made by the right hon. Gentleman, which is an attempt to secure for county magistrates reserved seats on the county boards. So long as the principle of direct representation is not acknowledged in the Bill, I have no alternative but to oppose its continued progress. It is a retrograde measure, and false to those principles which it has been the ambition of the Liberal Party to embody in legislation during the last half-century.
§ MR. RODWELL
said, that, after the full debate on the second reading, he thought the House might have been spared another discussion. The Bill had been received with great unanimity by a large majority of the Members of that House, and he wished to offer some reason why he thought its principle ought to be accepted. The objections which had been raised to the Bill resolved themselves into two questions. First, was it right to supersede the magistrates; and, secondly, was the board to be appointed in the manner proposed by the Bill, or by direct representation? With regard to the first point, he thought the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), who dealt so lavishly in unfriendly criticisms on the Bill, had gone out of his way in studiously finding fault with the proposal of the Government, and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board in particular; but the noble Lord could hardly have given sufficient attention to the provisions of the measure. The Bill was not intended to supersede the justices at all, and it was rather remarkable that the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), after speaking so highly of the magistrates, should wish to get rid of their services. But the Bill did not propose to get rid of them. The duties of the board must be discharged by somebody. The Bill proposed to take that body which had so well deserved the confidence of the country and the Guardians, and to fuse their respective duties, and form a strong board, so as to ensure the satisfactory discharge of the duties which would devolve upon them; and he considered that a far better proposal than that recommended by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain). He believed that the country would 916 be satisfied with the constitution of the board, and that its members would discharge their duties well and effectually. Some hon. Gentlemen seemed to think that it would be a good thing if political agitation were introduced into every village, and that the election of members for county boards should afford an opportunity for the discussion of political matters. Now, he protested against any such use being made of the rural districts, and objected to their being exposed to the turmoil of contested elections. Those who knew the counties best were not in favour of a system of continued electioneering, which would revolutionize the rural districts. Extremes had met on this occasion in a remarkable way, for the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock and the hon. Member for Burnley opposed the Bill because they thought it would lead to centralization, and throw too much power into the hands of the Local Government Board. He (Mr. Rodwell), on the contrary, thought county boards would be a strong barrier against encroachments by the Local Government Board. Nobody could dread more than he did that the country should be Inspector-ridden; but he thought this measure, so far from producing that result, would furnish the best means of combating the evils dreaded by the two hon. Members. It was true, there was no excitement out-of-doors about this Bill; but a great many reflecting and rightly-judging men in the country thought that the time had come when this question should be dealt with; and, if the Chambers of Agriculture were to be taken as representing the opinions of the agriculturists of the country, it would be found that they were ready to accept this Bill, and they believed it would be extremely advantageous. With regard to the proportion of magistrates to be on the boards, and choice between Union and sessional areas, those were matters of detail, which could be discussed in the clauses. He might, however, say, in passing, that since he introduced a series of Amendments in the Valuation Bill, dealing with that subject, he had given it great attention; and he had found the difficulties in the way of Union areas to be almost insurmountable, as the hon. Member for East Gloucestershire (Mr. Yorke), who had 917 some Amendments on the Paper, would find, if he tried, to carry out his ideas by putting them into legal phraseology. After all, they would, under either system, get the same class of men, both as electors and elected, and the balance of convenience was greatly in favour of petty sessional areas. He, therefore, trusted the House would, without further delay, consent to go into Committee on the Bill.
§ MR. BRISTOWE
said, that, while he desired to see county boards established throughout the Kingdom, he did not approve of the lines upon which the present measure was drawn. It seemed to him that the Bill contained several provisions which were of a novel character in legislation, and which would not constitute good precedents for the future. One remarkable feature in connection with the present measure was that those who might be elected as Guardians of the poor were to have the power, not only of nominating gentlemen from among their own body to seats on the boards to be established under the Bill, but other gentlemen as well, provided they were qualified to be Guardians, thus giving a representative body the power to elect others to sit on a representative board. It had also surprised him that in a measure which proposed to constitute such boards it should have been thought necessary to divide the functions of quarter sessions into "judicial" and "administrative," and thus to set up a sort of dual government in connection with them, which might lead to considerable difficulty. But the Bill contained another feature to which he wished to draw particular attention. It was provided that, if any question arose as to whether any business was or was not within the jurisdiction of the county board, such question should be determined by one of Her Majesty's Secretaries of State, whose decision should be final. This, he contended, was giving to the Secretary of State legislative power such as he never before had. He thought the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would find a large crop of Amendments to deal with in Committee; and he doubted whether the Bill, as it now stood, would pass. It provided for the unsatisfactory novelty of indirect representation, and it was not at all the sort of Bill he should wish 918 to see passed. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see his way, before they went into Committee, to announce his intention of relinquishing some of the more objectionable of its features.
§ COLONEL BRISE
said, he desired to express his strong feeling that the Union was preferable to the petty sessional area. There were many inconveniences arising from the adoption of the latter, which, it seemed to him, the former was free from. The Guardians had already been entrusted with educational and sanitary administration, and with other works of immense importance; and he thought it was a slur upon them that they should not have the power of electing representatives to the county board. The Union business was the most highly important of any transacted in the county. He highly approved the proposal which the Bill contained to reestablish in some slight degree the turnpike system. He believed the old principle that those who used the roads should pay for them was the right one, and he did not think it should be given up altogether. There had been a great deal of unnecessary enthusiasm about the abolition of turnpikes. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to meet them in some way with regard to the area. He much preferred the Union, on account of its being in the Unions that the most important business in each county was transacted; but still, much as he appreciated the Union as the unit of area, he would rather give it up than not see the Bill pass.
§ MR. STORER
said, he supported the Bill, because he thought it calculated to meet all the circumstances of the case. The country generally had received the Bill with satisfaction, and the difference of opinion which existed in regard to it was only on minor points. He thought opinion was about equally divided upon the question of the area. Some Chambers of Agriculture preferred the Union; others, like the one with which he was connected, the petty sessional division. In regard to the proposal of the hon. Member for Birmingham, he protested against the idea that the agricultural labourers were not represented in the House. He, as a county Member, should think he had disgraced his trust if he did not act just as much in the interests of the labourers as of their employers. He did not think a participation in the 919 election of members of county boards would be any advantage to the agricultural labourers. With regard to the constitution of the boards, he thought it was only fair to have an equal proportion of magistrates and elected members; because, if a preponderance was given to the last-named class, they would practically have placed in their hands the power to inflict a permanent mortgage upon the estates of the landlords by means of the imposition of rates. The magistrates might also be out-voted by the elective element, in which case they would probably retire altogether from the management of county affairs.
§ MR. HOPWOOD
said, the tenant-farmers were about to be again bamboozled by the Bill. Could it be a matter of surprise that Gentlemen on this side of the House did not like the Bill? Its object was to delay an effectual remedy for the evils which were complained of; and it was, in fact, a mockery, a delusion, and a snare. The Game Laws and their prosecutions interposed an impassable gulf between the labourers and the magistracy. The country was much dissatisfied with the way in which magistrates were elected. One side was just as bad as another, for if they knew the politics of a Lord Lieutenant, they would know from which Party he would select his magistrates. The fact was, it was a political scandal. If county boards were to add a permanent check to the controlling influence of centralization, they must be chosen by a free and independent constituency. The clear object of the Bill was, while keeping to the ear the word of promise of reform, to break it to the hope.
said, he could not support any of the Amendments which had been placed upon the Paper in reference to this measure. Hon. Members who had objected to the Bill had done so on grounds of a most various and conflicting character. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) opposed the Bill because it did not go half far enough; while the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) denounced it because it went too far. The speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) was distinguished by fairness and moderation of tone, and presented a singular and striking contrast to the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Wood- 920 stock. He was somewhat surprised at the speech of the noble Lord, and still more at its tone. The noble Lord spoke as if the feelings of virtuous indignation at the. conduct which had been pursued by the Government were almost too great for him to bear; and, that being the case, it was with feelings of astonishment that he (Mr. Chaplin) remembered that on the second reading of this Bill, not three weeks ago, the noble Lord was content to sit silent and acquiesce without a word of protest on that occasion. If the noble Lord meant what he stated when he told the House that he was uttering the expiring wail of the Tory Party, because of the manner in which the banner of the Tory Party had been dragged through muddy paths—if the noble Lord believed that the Tory Party were pursuing a policy of surrendering their principles and opinions, and that by so doing they were acting in violation of political honesty, the noble Lord should lose not a moment in going over to the other side of the House. He, however, did not believe that the noble Lord did. in reality entertain such feelings. He believed rather that he was indulging in practical joking, and was experimenting upon the feelings of the House, and therefore he need pay no further attention to what the noble Lord had said. He, however, agreed with the noble Lord in thinking that no real necessity had been shown for setting up these new county boards, and that the duties hitherto cast upon the magistrates in quarter sessions had been discharged in the most efficient manner. The Bill might be looked upon as creating—first, new county authorities; and, secondly, new duties and powers to be conferred upon those authorities. What he valued the measure for chiefly was the new duties and powers it proposed to create, which, in his judgment, would be quite as efficiently carried out by the existing as by the proposed new authorities. The reason he did not oppose the Bill on the ground that it proposed to create these new authorities was because he believed that the question had been finally settled by the decision of the House on the second reading of this Bill, and by its decision on the Motion of the hon. Member for South Norfolk last year. Believing, therefore, that we were to have these new county boards, he confessed he was more in favour of the 921 Government measure, as it stood, rather than as it would be, if altered in the way proposed by the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain). The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that a household suffrage in counties was a matter of certainty within the next few years; but there were hon. Members in the House who held a different opinion, and he certainly considered that the form of representation for these county boards should not be placed on a basis of household suffrage till the principle was generally adopted with reference to Parliamentary Elections. He was, however, certain that a county board elected by household suffrage would be productive of so much confusion and turmoil, and would give rise to so much expense to the ratepayers, that they would be the very first to cry out against it. He trusted that Her Majesty's Government would strictly adhere to the mode of election proposed by the Bill, to their area of election, and to the proportion named in the measure between the magistrates and the other members of the county board. There were one or two other points, which, however, he thought had better be dealt with in Committee.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, if he believed, and he should be sorry to do so, that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down spoke the sentiments of Her Majesty's Government, he would be compelled to vote with the hon. Member for Birmingham. That hon. Gentleman had stated that, although he saw no reason for the measure, he was prepared to support it on two conditions—that Her Majesty's Government would adhere to the petty sessional division and the proportion of magistrates mentioned in the Bill.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, he was not prepared to support the Bill if the Government did adhere to those provisions; but the Government had not said that they would do so. On the contrary, they had said that the questions referred to could be very fairly discussed in Committee, and the Government could deal with them after the discussion in the House. He would not be able to vote with the hon. Member for Burnley 922 (Mr. Rylands), because it would not be consistent with the course he had already taken in reference to the Bill. He was of opinion that the Bill was an important one. It was the first step in the direction of local government reform for the counties, and he was not prepared to take the responsibility of rejecting the measure. What he proposed was in the shape of an Amendment on the second reading to propound in some sense a counter-view, and to reserve the right to carry that out in Amendments in Committee. Of those Amendments he had given Notice, and he desired to go into Committee to discuss them. The hon. Member for Burnley had said that in voting for the second reading of the Bill he (Mr. Stansfeld) had confused public opinion, and that it was inconsistent with his own criticisms on the clauses of the Bill. That was a fair argument; but he was not prepared to admit its justice or its accuracy. He had made certain objections to certain clauses—as to the area of election, advocating the Union as against the petty sessional district; and again, as to the number of magistrates to form part of the board; and he had been fairly met by his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board. He understood his right hon. Friend to say that these were matters for the House to consider in Committee; and, further, that if a majority of the House from both sides of it expressed a strong opinion in reference to them, the Government might yield to that expression of opinion. They were questions which he intended to raise in Committee, and to take a division upon. He was sure that the magistrates would be in a better position if they were in a minority on the county board than if their number was equal to that of the elected members. In the latter case antagonism would be likely to arise as between the ex-officio and the elected element; while, in the former, the magistrates, from their leisure, education, wealth, and position, would, if they played their part, make their influence felt in the management of county affairs. The hon. Member for Burnley laid down two principles, and the first was that it was essential to enlist the widest possible interest of the ratepayers by a system of direct election. So far as that was concerned he was with him. The difficulty of expense might be met by having a 923 simultaneous election for several boards. Popular election and popular representation would, he believed, strengthen county government. The second principle he laid down was that the county board ought to become the municipality of the county. He did not exactly agree on that point with the hon. Member for Burnley. The principle for which he contended was that the future county government should be built up on the administrative unit—that they should give to the smallest only those functions which they were competent to discharge, and confer more extensive powers on the larger areas. He held that the rural sanitary district was one that should continue, and should not be dispensed with. He desired that the county board of the future should be built up on the subordinate rural sanitary districts, and that it should be left to the future to determine what functions should be assigned to the county board and to the smaller districts. He should not dwell on the subject of direct representation; he attached as much value to it as his hon. Friends near him, but he thought it not unreasonable that a certain number of justices should be ex-officio members of the board at its first institution. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board to be content, on the present occasion, with going into Committee and reporting Progress, seeing that two Returns had been laid upon the Table which had not been printed, and which were essential to the consideration of the Amendments of which he had given Notice. He thought the right hon. Gentleman would make the best progress by giving the House the fullest opportunity of discussing every clause and every Amendment.
§ MR. FLOYER
observed that, as a large majority of hon. Members approved of the principle of the Bill, he trusted the House would agree to the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair. As he understood it, the gist of the Bill was that in consequence of the progress made by many classes of persons, they should be associated with the magistrates in the conduct of county business. The right hon. Gentleman had apparently dissented, not from the principle of the Bill, but from the way in which it was proposed to give it effect; and, in particular, he had taken 924 another view of administrative areas and of the number of magistrates desirable. He did not participate in the fear which had been expressed that there would be a rivalry between the magistrates and the elected representatives of the county board. When a number of gentlemen were brought together to discuss administrative matters they would soon appreciate each other, and work together harmoniously. He thought it was of the greatest importance that the number of magistrates should not be reduced. It was admitted on all sides that they had conducted the county business with very great success, and they would be the only body on the board who had had any real practical experience of county matters. Some of the duties at present discharged by them were of a very difficult character, requiring large experience—such, for instance, as that of the management of lunatic asylums. Considering the size of the counties, and the great distances which the members of the county government board would have to travel, in order to serve upon committees at least once a month, he believed the effect of the proposed arrangement would be that the magistrates residing in the immediate neighbourhood of the county institutions would, for the most part, transact the business of those committees. He did not think that the number of magistrates who were to perform those duties should be cut down to so low a point as had been proposed, because if it were, it would be extremely difficult to get a sufficient number to transact the business. With regard to the Union being the electoral district for the choice of magistrates and guardians, he remembered that the Committee of 1873, over which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Stansfeld) presided, and which had to consider the question of rectifying the boundaries of Unions and counties, took a great deal of evidence, but did not make a Report, because of the impossibility of coming to any conclusion on that subject. The right hon. Member opposite was strongly in favour of modifying the boundaries of Unions and counties; but he had not seen his way to carry that out. There were many counties in which more Unions sat astride—if he might so speak—of county boundaries than those which 925 were entirely contained in the county. ["No!"] As his assertion was disputed he would quote a few figures in its support. In Bedford there were four Unions wholly in the county, and five Unions not wholly contained in the county; in Berkshire only four Unions contained in the county, while no less than 11 Unions passed into two counties. In Cambridge, a stronger case still, there were three Unions wholly contained in the county, while 11 passed into other counties. It was all very well to say that the Union was preferable as a unit; but the practical question was, how were they going to carry it out? It was a difficult matter when a Union passed into two counties; but it was still more so when it passed into three or more counties. In the former case, with two representatives, one might be given to each county; but, in the latter, they could not proportion the representation, as magistrates could not be divided into decimal fractions. The advantage of the plan proposed in the Bill was that it was practicable. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) certainly was guilty of great inconsistency in his speech; for while he disparaged county magistrates, and certainly did not praise Lords Lieutenant, and said that to be the son of a lord was a passport to the magistracy, and drew a picture the reverse of complimentary, he wound up by affirming that this body, so badly appointed and so ill selected, conducted their business in a manner which was the admiration of the whole country. He (Mr. Floyer) supposed they became qualified by becoming magistrates, just as there were Members of that House who thought they became good Members by vigilance of small faults and by criticizing everything, although they probably before knew nothing about it, As an old magistrate, he regretted the necessity for the change proposed; but, at the same time, he could not shut his eyes to the fact that there had grown up in the counties an intelligent body of men who were fully competent to take part in the management of the county business. Those men were anxious to take their part in such management, and to devote their time and abilities for the purpose of assisting the magistrates in that business which it was admitted they had hitherto transacted so well. Looking at the political state of this country, it was wise—as far 926 as could be done without danger—not to exclude any such body from any position or privilege. He, therefore, cordially supported the further progress of the Bill.
§ MR. W. M. TORRENS
said, this was a most disappointing discussion. Hon. Members had come to the House to have a measure of great importance explained to them, and to be encouraged to adapt old institutions to the necessities of the time like practical and reasonable men. He could say, without the slightest affectation on his part, and he believed he could say the same for many on the Opposition side of the House, that the last thing they desired was to see the country gentlemen of England displaced from their natural position of taking part in the local government of the country. With the exception of the two sets of right hon. Gentlemen who had performed a political minuet upon this occasion, he did not know of anyone who was thoroughly satisfied with the position in which the House now stood regarding this Bill. It was a miserable Bill. It was a pitiable Bill. After all the alluring and enticing held out by the right hon. Gentleman the ex-President of the Local Government Board to his successor, to do something vigorous and good, they had the veriest minimum of reform, with the disheartening assurance that nothing further was intended. It was a perfect delusion to say to those on that side of the House—the Opposition—who were not in the secret, that any pledge whatever had been given by the right hon. Gentleman opposite that he would adopt any of the suggestions which, as Amendments, had been thrown out. Not one of them, as far as he knew, was yet accepted; and if they agreed to read the Bill a second time, it would go into Committee with all its present sins of infirmity upon its head just as they were now. The debate reminded him of the famous story of the late Lord Grey, who, when he was raised to the Upper House, said it was like discussing questions in a chamber of the dead—and certainly some very curious spectres had been raised to-night. One hon. Gentleman opposite gave as his reason for supporting the Bill that he expected that it would "restore turnpikes."[Laughter.] That was the very ritualism of local government—the very acme of exploded 927 and objectionable measures which they expected they had got rid of for ever. It was, however, too serious a matter for levity. His reason for asking the attention of the House for a few moments to-night was not because he differed from the extraordinary position laid down by the right hon. Member for, Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) as to the great object of local government reform, or to debate the after-thoughts of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who would vote for their Friends' Bill when in their hearts they did not like it. His object was a different one. He entreated the attention of the House—not the two Front Benches, for they were, perhaps, impenetrable to unofficial views—but of every independent Member, to one consideration, and it was an important one. For 25 years he had watched with disappointment and regret the wayward course of legislation in one particular. Whenever there was anything like an opportunity of taking common ground and making a common law for the United Kingdom, it was neglected and thrown away. But if ever there was an opportunity sent as a God-send to this House it was this Session, when, by a fortuitous concourse of circumstances, both the local government system of Ireland and the local government system of England were admitted to require reform—and thus they had a golden opportunity of getting rid of that discontent and jealousy which was the bane of the Empire. But the opportunity of bridging over the gulf of difference between the two countries was about to be lost by official imbecility. He was not to be answered by the flippant excuse that it was difficult to adjust to one single system the local government of both countries. Difficult! He never heard of anything that was worth doing that was not difficult. The business of the House was to overcome difficulties, and not to succumb to them, yielding to the indolence of right hon. Gentlemen. He told the right hon. Gentleman opposite that his duty was not to let the Session pass without showing discontented Ireland that the Government were anxious to embrace the opportunity of passing some law which would apply to both countries alike. If the Government were to send this Bill, and the Irish Grand Jury Bill, which had been kicked almost to death by the opprobrium of both 928 sections of Irish Members, to a Select Committee, would it be possible for anything to come back to the House like the wretched, paltering, helpless Bill they had now before them? The Grand. Jury Bill pleased nobody in Ireland, and the supporters of the County Boards Bill were at their wits' end to explain why they would vote for it when they did not like it. Nothing but the direst necessity would induce them to accept it, but some future explanations would be given. What that "but," or that explanation might be, the House did not yet know; but they might depend upon it it would be no better than the reason given for the Irish Grand Jury Bill—that tottering remnant of old sectarian jobbery; and, having made local government in England his study, he knew it to be distrusted by the mass of the rate paying population. It was deplorable, that, having no great measure on foot, and happily no War Estimates to provide for, they did not attack that great anomaly, and crush it, and show themselves for once to be in earnest in attempting to solidify the Empire. Did any hon. Gentleman on either side of the House really remember that they were now 78 years after the inception of Incorporate Union? What was an incorporate union, if it was not an identification and a fusion of the chief functions of life? Was that found in these two Bills? Could they find any man— farmer, bailiff, or overseer—who would know where he was if he was told that these Bills were the same in principle? They had—he did not say opposite—but discordant and unlike systems, which gave plausibility to the statement that Parliament was determined not to assimilate the law of the two portions of the Empire; and, until that was done, they could not expect the discontented people of Ireland to believe their protestations. If the Government were wise, they would refer the Bill to a Committee upstairs. Was it not possible, after 78 years of broken promises, to begin to make the same laws for the whole of the Empire? He was not such a pedant as to ask, and he had seen too much of the difficulty of legislation in that House to suppose it possible, that in matters of religion and education they could make one law for both countries; but, if it was impossible to assimilate the laws in respect to religion and 929 education, it was a duty to legislate upon those things respecting which the feelings of the two countries were not materially different. Was there any reason why the same law should not he adopted respecting roads and bridges? Out of 100 magistrates in Ireland 23 were nominated by the sheriff, and those 23 alone represented the interests of the gentry in the making of roads and bridges. That was a distinction for the worse in the case of Ireland. Yesterday the Government had only escaped by a majority of 5 having a vote recorded in favour of the same municipal franchise in the two countries. Seventy-eight years after what was called a Union, but which was legislatively only the farce of a Union, such a division was taken. He entered the House yesterday without any intention of taking part in the Business, and he would not forget soon the spectacle which met his eyes. ["Question!"] They were dealing with the question of local government in counties, and he was citing, by way of illustration and analogy, their mode of dealing with the local government of towns. Not only were the opposite benches empty, but there was not a single Cabinet Minister present. On the morning of such a notable and significant exhibition they were asked to pass this Bill, which deliberately began by excluding that portion of the Empire which most needed reform. From this point of view this was a miserable Bill, because it was faulty in conception; and, not being a general Bill, it would prove an abortive measure, and would meet with the disapprobation of both sides of the House.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, that he had been charged by hon. Members on both sides of the House with many sins of commission and of omission; but he scarcely expected to have been charged with neglect in not having extended the operation of this measure to Ireland. He was willing to do anything that was practical; but nothing could be more impracticable than to attempt to deal in the same Bill with a subject of this character for both England and Ireland. This was a very difficult subject to deal with comprehensively, not merely as regarded the three Kingdoms, but so to allay the jealousies of various bodies; and to keep in view the varying circumstances of the counties and of the metro- 930 polis, as to combine them in one measure applicable to all alike. No one who had not tried it had a conception of the difficulty there was in framing measures of this nature. He thanked the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) for his speech, and he sympathized with him in his regret that the time should have arrived when, in his own opinion, and that of the Government, it was necessary to make a serious change in the system of county government. He himself, and most of the 12 Members of the Cabinet, had for many years been magistrates and chairmen of quarter sessions; and, therefore, it was monstrous to suppose that they were insensible to the difficulties they would have to encounter, nor that they would be otherwise than reluctant in asking the House to make a fundamental change in the constitution of those courts. The principle of the Bill was, that the county ratepayers, as well as the owners of property in the counties, should have a voice in the management of the county funds. There were two causes—to speak as a logician —which had called this Bill into existence, an efficient cause and a final cause. Last year the House had resolved, on the Motion of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), that the time had come for its introduction, and hon. Gentlemen on that—the Government— side of the House were emphatically responsible for the decision arrived at on that occasion. This was the efficient cause; but there had been a final cause —namely, not only to give expression to the long-entertained although but faintly-expressed wish, on the part of county ratepayers, that they should have a voice in the administration of county funds, but also to bring forward new powers and functions for county administration, and that was impossible without a simultaneous change in the constitution of quarter sessions. The object in view was to give something like unity of representation to the rural districts of counties, and enable them to hold their own not only against the centralizing powers of the Government, but also against the domineering powers of some great towns; and also to check, to some extent, the centralizing tendency of Parliament itself. It had been repeated over and over again that for want of a change 931 in the constitution of the county authorities, functions and duties had been heaped upon the Boards of Guardians until the latter had nearly broken down under the weight imposed upon them. He had been much surprised to hear the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) object to the Bill on the ground that it would tend in the direction of centralization. The measure certainly contained no clauses to enact that centralization should cease; but he could scarcely understand any hon. Member who had taken the trouble to study the question failing to see that its whole tendency was in the contrary direction. If the Union area, for instance, had been adopted for the purposes of election, then the charge might have lain; because, in that case, the Local Government Board would have been more or less the central authority. But this had not been done. The area that had been adopted was one which would give to the boards an almost perfect independence of any central authority. With regard to the adoption of the Union area as the elective unit for the construction of county boards, he quite understood the point of view from which hon. Gentlemen opposite approached that subject. He had before, in speaking on this matter, stated that he had no rooted objection to Union areas. On the contrary, his intention and desire, in the first conception of the Bill, had been to found the county boards upon such areas; but when he came to examine thoroughly into the question, he found not simply that there were difficulties, which he should have been happy to endeavour to meet, in the way of devising means by which those areas might be turned into electoral bodies for county boards, but that no proposition of this nature could be of equal and invariable operation throughout the country. On the Boards of Guardians there were ex-officio members who, in many instances, were the life and soul of the boards; but if the Guardians were to elect the county boards, those ex-officio members must, for that particular purpose, be ousted from their functions, so that the decision would not, in fact, be the decision of the complete Board of Guardians. To show the House to what extent it would be necessary to provide special means for special representation in regard to the divided portions of the Unions, he would mention that there 932 were in England 647 Unions, 465 of which were wholly within one county, 147 in two counties, 31 in three, and four in four. There would thus be many broken portions to be provided for. The difficulties in the way of bringing the Unions within the county boundaries were immense. More than 3,000,000 acres of land would require to be dealt with, and in each case the question would arise whether a particular owner would have to pay a larger or a smaller sum in the shape of rates on the transfer of his property from one Union to another. He had a list of the boroughs of the Kingdom, and would mention a few cases to illustrate the further difficulties that arose from the exceptional position of the quarter sessions boroughs. In Devon there were 11 quarter sessions boroughs, in Norfolk four, in Shropshire five, in the West Riding four, and in Hants five. Another remarkable county was Durham. In the Durham Union there were 28 parishes, of which six were wholly in the quarter sessions borough, and four partly so, while 18 were outside the borough; in Sunderland, of the 11 parishes in the Union, seven were wholly, and four partly in the quarter sessions borough. In all of these cases, and there were 90 of them, the Guardians would be unable to vote as a united body for the election of a member to serve on the county board; and it would be quite a farce to regard such an election as a representation of the Board of Guardians. It had been asked what virtue there was in the petty sessional area, and he could say at once that there was no virtue in it at all; but that it was, for many reasons, a very convenient division, and the real division or unit under this Bill was the parish. That might be a good or a bad arrangement, but no one could say that the petty sessional area could be jobbed; these areas were convenient groups of parishes, and on that account alone they had been adopted by the Government. A question had been asked, why, if these administrative duties were to be assigned to county boards, the boards were not also to have the management of the police? He thought it would be sufficient to say, in reply, that if Government had placed the management of the police in the hands of the county boards, they would have been flying in the face of the unanimous Resolution of 933 the House of Commons of last year. He admitted that the establishment and management of the police was a municipal affair in the larger urban districts; but the police, during the last four years, had been paid to such a large extent out of the National Exchequer, that there seemed to be sufficient reason why they should be left under the control of the magistrates. It was an easy thing to leave the police rate with the magistrates just now, and no conflict would arise on that score. He did not know whether he need notice the speech of the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill), who had seconded the Amendment. That speech had given him much pain; and he did not know what he himself had done, or what the Government had done, to deserve the sneers and sarcasms which had been bestowed upon them. For his own part, he felt entirely guiltless, and had heard the noble Lord's speech with no feeling but regret. As for the criticisms of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), he would ask, was it a reasonable thing to call upon the people of this country to submit to elections, political contests, and disturbances of that kind, which they had never asked for, and which the Government had every reason to believe would be thoroughly unpopular? Not only was there no evidence that the people had any desire for such elections, but the Government were even said by some to have gone out of their way in bringing forward so much of an electioneering arrangement as was to be found in this measure. The object of the Bill was a very humble one; it was to satisfy the reasonable demand which had been made to provide a body to which could be entrusted some very important new functions, and there was no intention whatever to secure, as the hon. Gentleman said, "government by superior persons." The hon. Gentleman also complained that Her Majesty's Government desired to secure "reserved seats" for the magistrates on the board. They desired no such thing. What they desired was that the justices should have a reasonable number on the board to carry on the work which they already so well performed. He did not anticipate any friction between the two sections of the board, and he believed that the representatives and the magistrates would work harmoniously together. With re- 934 gard to the Amendments, he recognized in them fair subjects of discussion. He could not say how far, without breaking down the scheme of the Bill, he could incorporate in it any of the proposals which were on the Notice Paper; but he could assure hon. Members that those Amendments should have the best consideration of himself and the Government.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
(who spoke amid cries of "Divide!") said, he perceived a desire on the part of the Government to shorten the discussion. That desire was not unnatural, for the more that was said about the measure the less lovely it looked; but he wished, as an Irish Member, interested in the measure of local self-government to be obtained for his own country, to support the Amendment. The Bill, in his opinion, combined the worst faults of bad Toryism with maudlin Liberalism, and ought to be thrown out by both sides. It was part of a general system of sham legislation for which the present Ministry was distinguished. This was not a Tory Bill of the good old time; it was a Bill of the new sham Tory time, and both Tories and Liberals ought to oppose it. This system of legislation by muddle, as he might call it, tended to produce in the minds of the people a habit of leaning on the central authority. It would not have the effect of educating the county constituencies for the performance of a single one of their functions before they were called on to take their part in Imperial legislation; but it would lower most decidedly the prestige of the governing authorities of the counties. This was an untenable attempt to carry out the appearance of a Liberal reform, while at the same time soothing the fears of ardent Tories by a number of restrictions intended to neutralize anything like popular power in county institutions. His belief, there fore, was that the measure, instead of providing necessary reform, would introduce confusion, recklessness, and carelessness into the present administration. The Bill was, in fact, a sham. It hold out expectations which it was not designed to carry out, and, in fact, kept the word of promise to the ear, and broke it to the hope. The Liberals ought to oppose the Bill, because it tended to bring the whole state of county government into confusion, and would really increase the 935 tendency to centralization. He protested against the unreal character of the Bill, and said that it was only an attempt to "dodge" the great questions at issue.
moved that the debate be adjourned. He said, that at the commencement of the Session the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer invited the Irish Members to take part in the General Business of the House, whether Irish or Imperial. They had endeavoured to do so, without much success, as was seen by the reception hon. Members got in tonight's debate. The reason why they claimed a hearing now was that the character of this Bill would determine the character of legislation for Ireland. It could not be supposed that Irish Members would allow this Bill to be passed without opposition for England, and then to be applied in a still more restricted manner to Ireland; for they knew by experience more was never given to Ireland than was given to England.
§ MR. MELDON,
in seconding the Motion, said, that he was not one of those who ever attempted to impede the Business of the House or unduly to protract discussion; but, on the present occasion, he earnestly entreated the Government to accede to the reasonable request for an adjournment, put forward by Members from Ireland. When the second reading of the Bill was being discussed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer consented to postpone the next stage until after the introduction of the Grand Jury Amendment (Ireland) Bill. That had now been done, and the state of affairs the Irish Members anticipated had come to pass. A Bill was introduced for Ireland quite different in principle from the Bill now being considered. Irish Representatives had fully made up their minds to resist to the utmost of their power all attempts at legislation for Ireland different in principle from England; and, on the present occasion, they wished to point out that a more popular measure of local government was proposed for England than for Ireland, and by taking the opportunity of discussing this question on the English Bill, they wished to secure equal legislation for Ireland. It was no answer to say, pass the English measure first, and then try and make the Irish Bill similar; because experience proved that once a 936 measure was passed for England, Irish Members would not be successful in obtaining similar legislation for Ireland. Look at borough and municipal franchises. Session after Session, Parliament was asked to assimilate the laws in the two countries; but, because England had what she wanted, Ireland was ignored. The number of English Members who wanted to speak in the present debate had been so large, that Irish Members had not been able to secure a hearing, and they were determined to oppose the further progress of the Bill, unless an assurance was given by the Government that the Irish Grand Jury Bill would be based on at least as popular a principle as the English. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would consent to the adjournment.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Mitchell Henry.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, I can assure hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite that there is no desire on the part of the Government to prevent them from taking part in this debate. My right hon. Friend who has charge of the Bill would have been most anxious to answer any observations that might have been made by the Irish Members before he himself rose.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
(rising amid great interruption and cries of" Order!") said, an hon. Member behind him had addressed the House, but had failed to obtain a hearing.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I am quite sure that there has been no indisposition to hear Irish Gentlemen speak on the Bill, and, as far as it was possible, we endeavoured to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell); but I am bound to say, that after we had heard some of the hon. Gentleman's remarks three or four times over, and when he seemed to have little intention to discuss the merits of the Bill, but only to refer to it in general terms, the House did not appear disposed to give him so much attention. But we are perfectly ready now—it is not very late—to listen to any speech on the merits of the Bill, if hon. Members opposite feel disposed to address us. I would point out to the hon. Member who proposed, and the 937 hon. and learned Member who has seconded, the Motion for adjournment, that what they have proposed to do is hardly reasonable, and I hope they will not persist in that course. In the first place, as regards Irish legislation on the subject, a Bill has been introduced, and is before the House. That Bill will be proceeded with, and the sooner we are able to make progress with the present Bill, the sooner shall we be able to get on with the Irish measure, and take an opportunity of discussing it on its merits. There is no desire to prevent hon. Gentlemen opposite discussing this Bill; it is fair and prudent that they should have an opportunity of doing so; and if they will allow us to go on and vote the Speaker out of the Chair, Progress shall be at once reported, and we shall be happy, on the occasion of any discussion that may arise on the details of the Bill in Committee, to have the advantage of any remarks hon. Members from Ireland may wish to make. I believe that one of the first Amendments down on the Paper for consideration in Committee raises the question whether the Bill is or is not to affect Ireland, and a discussion upon that point might be conveniently taken then. I trust that the Motion for adjournment will be withdrawn.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: —Ayes 44; Noes 244: Majority 200.—(Div. List, No. 45.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. PARNELL
said, he wished to direct the attention of the House to the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he was always willing to give Irish Members the opportunity of taking part in debates on English Bills, while he deliberately refused that opportunity when they had asked for it on several occasions. To repeat such a statement in face of his action was little less than a mockery. If such conduct was to go on, he did not know what it would lead to. They had been told that they were to have a County Government Bill for Ireland, which was to be on the same footing as the English Bill; but when the measure was introduced, they found that that also was a mockery, 938 neither fulfilling the anticipations of its promoters, nor the statements of those who were responsible for it. The Grand Jury Law Amendment Bill was said to be framed on the same lines as the English Bill; but they found, on examining it, that it took away the very privileges which the English Bill conferred, and substituted others entirely different, and of a far more autocratic character. As an Irish Member, he felt an interest in this Bill; and when he moved the adjournment of the debate on the second reading, he was told that opportunity would be given for discussion on going into Committee. Yet they had not had it. It was said the Irish Members did not rise to speak. The hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) did rise repeatedly; and, in the face of that, the President of the Local Government Board rose at 11 o'clock to wind up the debate, refusing to Irish Members the privilege which had been enjoyed by Englishmen. It was absurd to offer them, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer did, the opportunity of taking part in a debate at a quarter to 1. How could their constituents know their sentiments, when it was utterly impossible that anything done at that hour could be reported in the Irish papers. They spoke in that House under a great sense of responsibility, for the people they represented suffered under laws which had been forced upon them, and were maintained by that House against their will. They could do but little for people in this defenceless state, strive as they would; and it was, therefore, right that they should do all in their power, and leave no stone unturned to obtain for Ireland the same measure of justice that was now offered by the Government to England. As to the Grand Jury Law Amendment Bill, that miserable parody of legislation, he could not find in Parliamentary language terms sufficiently strong to characterize it. It was such a miserable substitute, such a wretched pretence to offer to people who were thirsting for benevolent legislation— people who did not believe in either the will or the desire of the House to legislate beneficially for them; but who, notwithstanding all discouragements and the rebuffs that House insisted upon administering to them on every possible occasion, still came asking for redress of 939 their grievances—still came appealing to that House not to close the doors of the Constitution in their face. He moved the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— —(Mr. Parnell.)
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Moldon) had expressed his intention of discussing the provisions of the Grand Jury Bill. During the debate in Committee on the Bill then before the House, opportunity would be given for that discussion when the Irish Bill was legitimately before the House, and it appeared to him that it would be a violation of the rules of debate for the hon. and learned Member to take such a course. He had not observed that any Irish Members had been denied the opportunity of speaking in that debate; while, as to the other demand that all Irish measures should be the same in their details as the Bills brought forward for England, where, on such a principle, would be the Home Rule Party? He was not in favour of any change in county government; but the Government were pledged to do something, and that being so, having had some experience of county administration for England, he thought the measure a beneficial one. At the same time, he could not help wishing that it had not been found necessary to introduce it at all. He trusted hon. Members from Ireland would not persist in attempting to discuss the Grand Jury Bill at this time; but that they would adhere, at all events, to the rules of debate, and offer no unfair interference with proposals relating solely to England.
said, the hon. Member who had last spoken questioned the right of Irish Members to debate an Irish Bill on a discussion of an English measure, and he treated them to a speech on the tactics of the Home Rule Party upon a Motion for adjournment. He was thus as much out of Order as the hon. and learned Member for Kildare, whom he condemned. It was said that no Irish Members had spoken in that debate; but if the Speaker, in the exercise of that model impartiality which they all acknowledged, had called upon an Irish Member 940 during that evening, the result would have been to exclude some English Member from the debate—and who, of all those that had spoken, did they think ought to have been shut out? The English Members who had spoken deserved to be heard, and the Irish Members did not wish to interrupt them. There was time enough for all, and it was right that the English Members should have full and free scope. He would admit, however, that the desire of Irish Members to speak upon this subject had been quickened by their irritation at discovering the sort of Bill which the Government intended to bring in for Ireland. There was no disguising the fact, that since they had discovered the nature of the measure, they had girded up their loins for a real struggle upon this English Bill. They could call the proposal of the Government for Ireland nothing but a mockery, a delusion, and a snare. Her Majesty's Government had lost a magnificent opportunity for dealing in a bold and comprehensive way with this question of local legislation. Even hon. Gentlemen who did not believe in Home Rule, at least believed in the wisdom and sound policy of relegating to the counties such local administration as would lighten, to a great extent, the burdens of that House; and this Bill might have constituted local parliaments in the shires and counties that would have laid broad and deep foundations for such a reform as this country had not seen for 50 years. They must constitute these boards on a far wider scope than that in the Bill, and he fully agreed with the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) and his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) in their criticisms on this point. He hoped, therefore, that the Government would take time for reflection, and see if they could not broaden the scope and extend the area of this measure. Forty years ago the Irish Poor Law system was introduced; but the boards, then created for merely pauper purposes, had now control of schools, cattle disease, sanitation, and other functions never dreamed of 40 years ago. They had worked their way up from the very small and inadequate foundation of Poor Law boards to the position of local parliaments. Why should not the Government bring together 941 these different purposes in England into one general Bill, and put them under the control of one local county parliament? They were throwing away an opportunity in retaining all these jarring and conflicting boards, interests, and rights, instead of bringing them all into one body. He begged the House to consent to the adjournment, on the ground that a broader view would be taken of this opportunity, and a nobler use made of it, after further discussion of the question.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, he wished to refer to some remarks which he understood the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made respecting him during his absence from the House. The right hon. Gentleman was under a misapprehension in saying that he had not endeavoured to take part in the debate at an earlier stage than he had done. He had attempted to address the House—when the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Torrens), and other hon. Gentlemen, rose; and, while he was himself desirous of taking part in the discussion, he did not like unnecessarily, at so early a stage, to prevent English Members on either side from speaking upon a measure which related to England. Although he was perfectly resolved to exercise his full privilege to speak on all English, as well as on all Irish, Bills, he should invariably, with regard to the former, let English Members lead. But he was surprised to hoar that the right hon. Gentleman had described his remarks that evening as consisting, for the most part, of repetitions; for he had a distinct recollection of having arranged his observations under different heads; and if he had repeated anything it was in consequence of the buzz of conversation that had prevailed on the benches opposite. The sin of repetition, if it was a sin, had been committed on the Ministerial bench itself; for the right hon. Gentleman had repeatedly promised to listen to hon. Members from Ireland, and to give every consideration to the views they might express in that House, and yet had denied them the opportunity he had so frequently promised them. With regard to the Motion for adjournment, he hoped that the House would consent to it, as there was a large number of Irish Members desirous of taking part in the discussion upon this important Bill. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire 942 (Mr. Newdegate) was wrong in supposing that they wanted to discuss the details of the Irish Bill while this one for England was before the House. Their earnest desire was to improve the character of English county administration; because they knew that that was their only chance of securing for Ireland a passable ideal of county administration, recognized and applied in that country.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he was certainly not able altogether to understand the grounds upon which the adjournment of the House had been moved and pressed. If it was the opinion of the hon. Members from Ireland that the English County Government Bill ought to form a model for the Irish Bill, then he thought the best course would be to allow the former to proceed as speedily as possible, and thus ascertain what shape the Bill was finally to take before they adopted it as a model for legislation with regard to Ireland. If, on the other hand, hon. Members for Ireland thought the English Bill, in whatever shape its provisions might be, should be extended to their own country, they would have an early opportunity, in Committee, of moving that it be extended to Ireland. They could adopt it, in that way, either with or without amendment. Although the demand now made was one which was not altogether easy to be understood, still it appeared to him that the Government would do well, at that stage, not to indulge in one of those contests which marked, with not much credit to the House, the close of the proceedings of last Session. If the debate were adjourned, it could not be said that much time would be lost at that period of the Session. An hour or two more might be occupied in discussion, and then Progress could be made in Committee, which, at that advanced hour, could not be made that night. It would tax the ingenuity of the Members for Ireland to show how the cause of better government for their own country would be promoted by the obstruction of a County Government Bill for England.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the advice of the noble Lord who had just sat down was, no doubt, founded upon experience. Seeing what the feeling appeared to be in a certain part of the House, he thought that the Government would do well, under the circumstances, to accept it. He, there- 943 fore, would be willing, if the Motion for the adjournment of the House were withdrawn, to consent to the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY,
before the Motion was withdrawn, wished to explain to the House that hon. Gentlemen were entirely in error when they supposed that Irish Members had any intontion to obstruct this measure. On the contrary, they had respectfully listened to everything said by English Members; and their only desire now was to explain fully their views on this and all other important questions.
§ MR. PARNELL
confirmed the assurance of his hon. Friend (Mr. Mitchell Henry) that nothing was farther from his intention than to obstruct the progress of this Bill, or of any that had been introduced that Session
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday next.