§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to establish County Boards in England, said, that though, as a general rule, remarks upon a proposed measure which was familiar to the House might be dispensed with, yet there were occasions when it was convenient for some observations to be made. He would, therefore, take the opportunity of stating very shortly the reasons which had actuated the Government in framing the measure on somewhat different lines from those of last year. His hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), not many days ago, inquired upon what day it was proposed to bring forward the Bill, and stated that he would move the postponement of the next stage of the Valuation Bill, on the ground that a certain clause in that Bill was inconsistent with pledges already given by the Government in reference to a County Bill. There was a relation between the two Bills, and it was, of course, necessary to provide for the contingency of one or the other of them not receiving the sanction of Parliament; but there was not—and there never had been—on the part of the Government, any intention that one Bill should pass, and that the other should not. The Government had only this to say, as between one Bill and the other—that they had always laid down the principle, to which he himself adhered, that the Valuation Bill was a measure which lay 1200 at the very root of all attempts of reform in local government. He was obliged to detain the House for a few moments by referring to some features of the measure of last year. That measure proceeded upon the principle of a complete fusion between the existing Courts of Quarter Sessions and the County Boards, which were to administer the county business for the future. There were some advantages—many obvious advantages—in the unity which would be arrived at by grafting the County Boards on the Courts of Quarter Sessions. But, with these advantages, there were certain disadvantages, to which he would presently draw attention. Proceeding, however, upon the principle of this complete fusion, it was obvious that the Government could not disregard the claims which the Justices, who had for so many years—he might say centuries—administered county government, might not unreasonably put forward. Accordingly, it was considered necessary that the Justices should have one-half of the representation on the County Board, and that the elective members should constitute the other half of the representation. The great extent to which the Justices were required by the Bill to abdicate their functions made this concession a reasonable one. But what happened in the conduct of that measure before Parliament? The Bill was read a second time by a very considerable majority. Hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House were in favour of the principle of the Bill, and the second reading was carried by a large majority. On going into Committee, a two nights' debate ensued; and he, on the part of the Government, replied to the speeches which had been delivered. At the last moment, an hon. Gentleman below the Gangway on the other side of the House proposed that Progress should be reported, in order that a similar measure with regard to Ireland might be considered at the same time. The House acquiesced in that adjournment, and no time was found for the resumption of the debate before the Easter Recess. After the holidays, it was ascertained that those hon. Gentlemen who were supposed to be the most eager for the passing of a measure of this kind were strongly infavour of proceeding with another measure—the Cattle Diseases 1201 Prevention Act—in which they took a greater interest; and it could not be said that the county Members generally, who were supposed to represent the magistrates on this subject, showed any particular desire to accept the proposed fusion of the two bodies, which was the main feature of the measure of last year. Since the end of last Session, he had received communications from Courts of Quarter Sessions, and also informal communications from magistrates, which led him to suppose that the magistrates, as a body, were not disposed to accept this fusion, and that, on the whole, they would desire to continue to discharge separately their duties connected with the police and the administration of justice. Again, hon. Members on both sides of the House, who had been consistent supporters of a plan of county government, showed a considerable indisposition to accept the plan of equal numbers of Justices, and of representative members. There was, likewise, evinced a considerable jealousy of the magisterial divisions on which the electoral machinery of the County Board was based. Although a very mild form of election was set out in the Bill, there was evinced in debate, and still more in the opinions which reached him, a feeling that the proposed open meeting for the purpose of the election to the Boards would have been unpopular, and that it was not desired by the ratepayers or by the Guardians to whom the election was assigned. All these points had been carefully considered during the Recess; and the measure which he now sought to introduce, though entirely consistent with the plan of last year, had been constructed with regard to the considerations he had just described. The Government had given up the proposal to identify the existing Courts of Quarter Sessions with the new County Boards. It was proposed that the magistrates should continue to exercise separately their functions under the Police Acts, and also those connected with the administration of justice; and that for the purpose of obtaining money for the payment of officers and the other things they were required to do as Justices of the Peace, they should become what was technically called a "precept authority," and should issue their precept to the County Board, which would have the exclusive privilege of levying, ad- 1202 ministrating, and accounting for the county rate. In making this change, the Government gave up the advantage of having one central County Board for all purposes. On the other hand, they gained in simplicity, in the workable character of the measure, and also, according to his judgment, in having proposed a plan which would be more readily passed into law. When they considered the great future that might be in store for a representative and independent county authority, he felt the plan on which they now proposed to construct it would effectually secure the accession to it of all new business of great importance. Having premised this much, he would now say a few words on the functions to be assigned to the new County Board. Among the functions they proposed to assign to the county governing body last year was one relating to river conservancy; but he might remind hon. Members that a measure already introduced into the House of Lords by his noble Friend the President of the Council took over that subject, and dealt with it in a complete and comprehensive manner. The election of coroners was also dealt with in the measure of last year; but this year he had left it untouched, because there was a Committee of the House already dealing with that question. There was also in the Bill of last year a provision with regard to the power of the county authority to make recommendations as to the local areas of the county. This provision he had not thought it necessary to repeat. The attention of the County Boards would, of necessity, be so directed to the subject of the local areas, that they might safely be trusted to represent to Parliament, or the Government, or the Local Government Board, the changes required in regard to the local areas of the county. It would scarcely be candid if he held out the expectation that any very rapid or important changes could reasonably be expected through the agency of such a Board, or, indeed, by any other means. The main features of this year's measure were the following:—In the first place, they proposed to transfer to the County Board the administration of the Highway Act of last year. Secondly, they proposed to hand over, likewise, the management of the bridges and approaches, which had, from time immemorial, been vested in the magistrates of the different 1203 counties. In the third place, the County Boards would have the very important power of reviewing the workhouse accommodation of each county, and of providing accommodation in the workhouses for imbecile and idiot paupers, whether children or adults, who were not fit inmates for lunatic asylums. He regretted that such a provision had not been made for this class long ago. He did not provide in the Bill for direct control of the lunatic asylums; but the Boards would be empowered to inquire into the lunatic asylums, and to exercise such influence as would keep their future enlargement in check. It was proposed last year to give the County Boards a considerable share of the management of the lunatic asylums; and he had no doubt that before long some plan would be devised by which a large share in their management would be given to the County Boards. But long familiarity with the Pauper Lunatic Acts had convinced him of the very great difficulty of dealing with those Acts by means of a few clauses in a Bill of this kind. It would be unsatisfactory, without an exhaustive review of those Acts, to transfer the administration of the lunatic asylums to the County Boards; for the whole policy of the Acts affecting pauper lunatic asylums proceeded on the assumption that they were quasi-prisons, and that the responsibility with regard to their management should be vested in the Visiting Justices. The last and most important feature of the present Bill was that it placed the levying of the county rates, whatever charges might be put upon them, in the hands of the County Boards. He would now pass on to what would, perhaps, be regarded as the most interesting feature of the Bill—namely, the constitution of the Boards; and he could not refrain from noticing the obvious leaning manifested on both sides of the House last year towards the selection of the Union area as a basis for constituting the County Board. But to represent the Unions as such was both objectionable and impracticable. It was their desire to develop and create a new and real interest in the county on the part of the ratepayers; but to make the Union area the basis of election would introduce antagonistic interests of rival rating areas which would militate against this aim. There was—and had been for many years past—a forgetfulness as to 1204 what the demands of the county really consisted of, owing to the constant and rapid development of the Union as the more important administrative area. The Union authorities spent as much as 2s. 6d. or 3s. 6d. in the pound of the ratepayers' money; whilst on the part of the county very little indeed—in many cases not more than 2d. or 4d. in the pound—had been spent. There was thus a great difference in the practical interest. He was therefore of opinion that in electing the County Board they ought to look to the parishes as the element common to the county, and to all subordinate areas—although they might arrange the parishes in groups according to existing areas—if they wished the members who represented those areas to regard themselves as representing the county as a whole. Another objection to taking Unions, as such, would be the incontestable claim which would then be raised, on the part of highway districts, local boards, and other authorities, to separate representation. But, further, to make the Union area the basis of election was impracticable, even if it had not been objectionable. No one had been more anxious than himself to reduce the Union areas within the areas of the counties; but the local interests, and the rights of the ratepayers, were very strong indeed. Difficulties stood in the way of his wishes, such as hon. Gentlemen had no notion of, unless they had had experience in the administration of Poor Law. There was also another difficulty—namety, that the registration of the country was intimately connected with the Union system, and that to break it up would be to introduce a very inconvenient change. Besides, as he had pointed out on a previous occasion, not only did Unions overlap the county boundaries, but conflicted with the boundaries of many large towns also, from which circumstance much difficulty would be experienced. He should like, moreover, to remind the House that if the ex officio element was taken away from the Boards of Guardians, when engaged in voting for the County Board, they would not, in fact, be exercising that function as a Board at all. He believed that it was most important that the ex officio element should always be recognized in any common action by Boards of Guardians. He had objected to the representation of Unions, as such, on the 1205 County Board; but had never been at all opposed to the use of the Union area when convenient for the purposes of election. In that respect it would be found useful in the Southern and Western counties, and as much less convenient in the Northern and Midland districts. They proposed, therefore, that the county Justices should, in the exercise of their discretion at the Epiphany Sessions of the coming year, divide their counties into wards, for the special purpose of electing representatives for the County Boards. In order to construct these wards, they might take any existing area—such as Unions, or broken Unions, divisions, or polling districts—and the Justices were to assign to the wards some distinguishing name or number by which they should be known. The Guardians of the parishes contained within the ward were to elect the member for the County Board; and as the Guardians were already more or less numerous in proportion to the population of the various parishes, consequently the voting power of the different parishes would be likewise in proportion to their population and value. It was proposed that the qualification for the elected members of the County Board should be the same qualification as was now required for a Guardian within the county. The number of members for each county was set out in the Schedule, and it had been so fixed as to be divisible by three, so that the Justices in Quarter Sessions would elect one-third of the members, and the Guardians of the parishes the remaining two-thirds. The Guardians, elected by the ratepayers at the beginning of April in the next year, would proceed to the election of members for the County Boards. Those elections would be held in June, and the new Board would come into existence in the middle of July. All the members of the Board, whether elective or non-elective, would hold office for three years. As for the mode of election, he thought that the system of voting papers was the best. He knew that it was not popular among politicians; but it was useful for such purposes as the one he had in view. Indeed, it was peculiarly suitable to elections when the number of the electors was small, and where the distances were great. In an average county, for instance, there would be only about 400 1206 voters; but it would be easy enough to collect their papers. He hoped it would not be supposed that the Government wished to shrink from the plain and open voting in separate areas; but he believed that the plan of voting by means of papers would be effective, and would be more convenient than any other. The Clerk of the Peace would be the returning officer, and the mode of election would be found set out in the Schedule to the Bill. Now, it might be said, perhaps, that the functions of the County Boards, as laid down in the Bill, were too few and too unimportant. Last year, however, he thought he recognized in the discussions a general opinion that at the outset the number of the functions to be undertaken should not be too great, and was a matter of secondary importance. The Boards, however, would be charged with the administration of the county rate, and the exclusive enjoyment of this privilege would give them a weight, importance, and standing in the county which would establish them on a firm and satisfactory basis. Besides, their work would gradually grow upon them, and nothing would be able to prevent the development of their growing importance. He should have had no objection to adding to their specific functions if he had not felt that by the provisions of the Bill the new body would have work enough for some time to come. With regard to the Schedule of the Bill and the number of representatives from each county, he could only hope that the House would not be inclined to go into detail on the case of each county, but would assent to the numbers of members specified. They had proceeded by ascertaining the number of Unions, of divisions, and of polling places in each county, had compared these with population, and had on that basis determined how many members should sit on each County Board. It would be seen that the County Boards would consist variously of from 24 to 90 members; but the House would remember that last year it had been proposed to give as many as 130 members to Lancashire—the largest Board. By the present Bill, Lancashire would be on an equality with Middlesex and Surrey, and would have 90 members. That was the outline of the measure, which lay in the very small compass of 36 clauses; and there was no reason why, if the House 1207 gave its attention to the subject, it should not pass into law during the present Session. There was, he believed, nothing to prevent it, as well as the Valuation Bill, from passing into law, if hon. Members would only show a little forbearance towards measures which had been drawn up with great care. If, however, every hon. Member thought he could devise a policy of election, or a variation from the plan proposed, which was, perhaps, suited to his own views and to his own locality, but which might not be suited to the country generally, then, of course, great obstacles might be thrown in the way of the success of those measures, as would also be the case if extraneous matter, not contained within the four corners of the Bills, should be introduced. But let them be only considered as they stood as bonâ fide attempts on the part of the Government to give effect to a wish which had been long entertained and frequently expressed, although never very urgently pressed forward by the country at large, but which every statesman interested in the subject saw must inevitably be carried into execution, and a great step in the direction of the improvement of local government would soon be attained. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to introduce the Bill.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish County Boards in England."—(Mr. Sclater-Booth.)
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, he would not attempt to follow the right hon. Gentleman in the details of the statement just submitted to the House. He was bound, however, to say that he had heard that statement with very considerable apprehension and disappointment. The right hon. Gentleman had altered the Bill in consequence of the criticisms to which the scheme of the Government had been subjected last year; but, as far as it had been changed, it appeared to him to have been altered for the worse. The right hon. Gentleman had disappointed the hopes of those who had criticized the former measure in the proposed constitution of the new County Board, which would not take over the whole of the business of the county, but would retain one-third of the Justices on that Board with diminished functions. It was now proposed to retain for the Justices the 1208 administration of police, justice, reformatories, industrial schools, and, if he had followed the right hon. Gentleman accurately, lunatic asylums. There were other functions, proposed to be given in the Bill of last year, which would be taken away from the county authorities under this measure. The conservancy of rivers was a matter to be disposed of under another Bill; the election of coroners had been put on one side; the power of altering local areas, proposed to be given to county authorities, was now to be taken away. This last alteration obliterated one of the most useful and promising features of the former measure, considered from the point of view of those hon. Members who were interested in the administration of the county. But what was it that the right hon. Gentleman proposed to give the new County Board? The administration of highways, a partial control of workhouses, and, lastly, what the right hon. Gentleman seemed to look upon as the extremely important function of levying the county rates. Now he, for one, failed to see how the mere duty of having to levy a county rate could lead to a great expansion of the power and functions of these Boards in the future. With regard to the constitution of the Board, they could adopt no other course than to take issue with the right hon. Gentleman even more determinedly than they did last Session. Their view distinctly was, that it was most essential for the constitution of a County Board that it should be built upon administrative areas. He did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman, that a county feeling was to be created or fostered by constituting a poverty-stricken County Board with nothing to do but levying rates as the most important part of its business. County feeling, he was ready to admit, was a thing which it was most desirable to create and to foster; but he could not see how a well-considered system of county government could be initiated by such measures as the Bill proposed. The great object of local government reformers had always been the simplification of areas; but the right hon. Gentleman proposed the institution, at the arbitrary discretion of the Justices of each county, of entirely new areas for the purposes of election. The building up of a County Board on administrative areas, he believed, would not lead 1209 to jealousy and rivalry, but, on the contrary, would tend to federate a county feeling which it was desirable to promote. With regard to direct elections, no doubt there was an objection to multiplying them, on account of the cost and trouble; but if members of the Local as well as of the County Boards were to sit for three years instead of one, and their election took place on the same day, there would scarcely be any addition to the trouble and expense, while the power, and consciousness of power, of the bodies concerned would be augmented. We should never succeed in constituting a satisfactory County Board unless we built it up on the administrative area. While desiring to consider this measure from a purely administrative and constructive point of view, he regretted that his first impressions of it compelled him to say that he regarded it as being decidedly inferior to that of last year.
§ MR. GREGORY
considered that the Bill was deserving of support, as a fair and reasonable attempt to deal with a question of a very complicated and difficult nature. He could not agree with the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) in taking exception to the measure, because it did not throw enough burden on the County Boards. On the contrary, it appeared to him to be one of its great recommendations, that it would not overweight these Boards with too many duties at first, as such a course, and requiring attendance of distant members at a considerable sacrifice of time and means, would have a tendency to keep some of the best men away, and allow the management of the Boards and county business to fall into the hands of a few persons resident in the localities where the Boards met. The Bill, as it stood, gave the Board considerable functions. The constitution of the Board appeared to him, as far as he could see at present, a fair and reasonable one; and he thought the measure, as a whole, ought to give general satisfaction, and become law.
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, that without entering into the details of the measure, he must express his regret at its general character. He had always felt that this question could be more effectively dealt with by the Party opposite than by a Liberal Government; but he must say 1210 that the first measure was a most unsatisfactory one. They had begun to build the pyramid from the top instead of from the base. It seemed to him that the only motive for beginning at the County Board instead of with the primary administrative area would be to make the County Board useful in bringing into order the inferior parts of our present confused administrative county system. But the right hon. Gentleman had struck out of his Bill the power of the County Boards to bring the lower administrative county bodies into order. Under these circumstances, it did not seem to him that the new County Boards could accomplish the great and main object which it was so desirable that they should effect. It seemed to him that the Bill must be vitally defective, inasmuch as it did nothing to attain the great end of bringing into order the primary areas of local administration as well as the general government of counties. On these grounds, he must own that it did seem to him to be a hopelessly inefficient Bill, and one not worthy the serious attention of the House.
§ MR. FLOYER
observed, that the principle of the Bill, which appeared to him to be a right one, was to make the County Board a county institution. Having been a member of the Committee which sat last year, he could assure the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) that the attempt to readjust the Poor Law Unions had met with the greatest difficulty. He agreed with the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) that in constituting County Boards it was desirable, in the first instance, that these County Boards should not be over-weighted with business. The difficulty of getting members to attend from remote parts of the county would be very great, and care should be taken to prevent the business from falling into the hands of a few who happened to live near the place where the Board would meet. At present the magistrates managed the county business. They came from all parts of the county; but only four times a year to the Quarter Sessions. It would be a serious tax upon the time of the tenant farmers, the mercantile men, and the tradesmen who were elected to serve on these Boards, to ask them to come frequently from, distant parts of the county to take part in their proceedings. He did not 1211 see that the business proposed to be allotted to the County Boards was much less now than it was last year. He did not quite follow the proposed arrangement for placing chronic imbeciles in the charge of the County Board; and he objected to drawing a broad line of demarcation between different classes of lunatics, such as curables and incurables, because he did not see on what principle one class was to be treated differently from another. Taking the whole of the Bill together, he rather liked it, for the reason that others disliked it. He liked the Bill, because it did not do too much. There was nothing sensational about it, that was quite clear; still it aimed at carrying out the wish of a good many people that the ratepayers, directly or indirectly, should have a voice in the administration of the county funds, which, after all, were of very moderate dimensions. The county rates were 1½d. or 2d. in the pound yearly, while the poor rates were 2s. or 3s. He was glad that the old divisions of the counties and the parishes were to be respected. It was not necessary to upset existing institutions for the sake of attaining the end desired; and therefore it was well to abide by the parochial divisions which had answered well for centuries. No doubt the Bill would require some amendment in Committee; but, so far as he was concerned, he would be happy to give his assistance in passing it through the House.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
remarked, that the hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Floyer) had spoken of curable and incurable cases. His own opinion of that Bill was that it was an incurable case. He could not have imagined that he should ever have felt any regret at having moved the rejection of the County Government Bill of last year; but when he heard the description given of the County Government Bill of this year, he confessed that he shed an inward tear over the former measure. He could not have conceived it possible that the fertile resources of the Local Government Board could produce a Bill so bad as the one now being brought in; and, so far as he could gather from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth), he saw nothing to induce him to refrain from pursuing the same course as he took last Session. The principle of this Bill, so far as it 1212 contained any, and also its details, offended against all those views on the reform of local and county government which were popular on that (the Opposition) side of the House generally. The Bill of last year made only a nominal attempt to meet all the evils of those confused and overlapping areas which were a pest and a nuisance to every person having to do with the details of local government; while, moreover, the principle of direct election, which had worked so well in the municipal corporations of the great towns, was not in any degree applied to the body which the Bill proposed to create. Those great evils remained absolutely unredressed in the present Bill, and were in some measure even increased. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sclater-Booth) proposed to break up that unity of county government which had been one of its most admirable features—covering, in fact, not a few of its defects—because he would leave the police, the reformatories, the industrial schools, and the lunatic asylums to the magistrates; while he would hand over the roads, the bridges, and the financial business to the new County Board—that was to say, two authorities were to be set up where there was one before. In the next place, it was proposed to add to the large and confused number of existing areas a new one, to be called into existence at the discretion of the present Court of Quarter Sessions. One of the most important functions of the great municipal bodies was the control of the police arrangements of their several towns and cities. Why were they to extend to the smallest municipality in England a confidence which they denied to the great representative and elective body in a county? The hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Floyer) praised the measure, because it adhered to the ancient county division which had existed for centuries; but it really abandoned that ancient division, and what hon. Gentlemen on his side had always contended for was that the old county boundary should be preserved, and that the administrative area should be brought within it and consolidated. This Bill, however, set up a County Board with duties so absurdly small that he believed it would meet with one loud peal of laughter, which was all that it deserved. Almost everyone on his side of the 1213 House would give it the most strenuous opposition, and their disapproval of it would, he thought, he shared by the magistrates as well as by the ratepayers of the country. Under these circumstances, he was persuaded the Bill would never become law.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
said, it was a common fallacy to argue that because towns elected bodies in a popular manner to govern the police and exercise other functions of administration, the same privilege should be allowed to counties. The institutions of all European countries made distinctions between municipalities and agrarian provinces, and for an obvious reason. In towns people were close together, they were neighbours, communicated daily with one another, and could easily elect a body to represent their wants and wishes. But in rural areas the business of the people did not bring them into contact with any but their immediate neighbours; they lived at a distance from one another, and popular election became difficult. Hon. Gentlemen opposite might, perhaps, like to see a body influenced by political passions constituted in each county, one that would take part in the election of Members of Parliament and in political struggles. He did not wish for any such thing. He thought the present Bill a great improvement on the Bill of last year, which took a large step towards the abolition of the Quarter Sessions, against which no valid complaint of having administered the county in a wasteful or extravagant manner had been made. On the contrary, the administration of the Quarter Sessions had been highly satisfactory. The members of Quarter Sessions were the largest ratepayers, they lived in the county, and if anything went wrong there they would feel it more than anyone else. The changes proposed in this Bill were less mischievous than those which the Bill of last year contained, and would probably work well. He would support the Bill.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, this question of local self-government had been for a quarter of a century at different times under the consideration of Parliament, and the outcome of it all was a Bill which would create a new County Board, and assign to it one duty—namely, the care of pauper imbeciles. The direction of the views of those who supported this Bill seemed to be this— 1214 "Don't give these county gentlemen too much to do, because, if you do, they won't do it." What relation would the new Board have to Poor Law or sanitary expenditure? Yet these were the very matters upon which county expenditure turned. This measure might, perhaps, be passed by the Government if they devoted the whole of their strength to the task for the remainder of the Session, and if we did not have more than one or two additional wars to distract our attention in the meantime; but it would not settle any one of the demands which local government reformers were making. It was a tinkering measure, and would only add one more stumbling block in the way of sanitary reform.
MR. J. COWEN
said, he was disposed to think that this proposal was one of the feeblest and least liberal of the attempts to solve the question of county government that had been submitted to Parliament during the last quarter of a century. The Bill of last year had been too liberal for hon. Gentlemen opposite; but this Bill would not settle anything at all. Any attempt to peddle with the question, instead of mending matters, would only make matters worse. The question should be dealt with in a broad and comprehensive spirit. The cardinal defect of the Bill was this. All the efforts of county government reformers were to lessen the number of Boards, to simplify the rating, and to bring the administration of the county into a more compact and simple form. This Bill, however, did exactly the reverse. Moreover, the principle of the Bill was unsound and unsatisfactory, and it must be met with the steady resistance of hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Opposition side of the House.
§ MR. HICK
said, he thought the Bill was entitled to the support of the House. In his opinion, the measure of last year was too ambitious. It was open to objection on account of its provisions as to the proposed new Board, and also because it would have taken from the magistrates their functions with regard to the police and the management of county buildings connected with the administration of justice. Those evils were avoided in this Bill. The duties which really belonged to the magistrates were retained to them, and duties which belonged to the Guardians, as representatives of the ratepayers, were continued 1215 to them. Those duties, it was said, were I not very large; but this was a tentative I measure, and by degrees they might be capable of doing a greater amount of work. At present the amount of a county rate rarely exceeded 2d. in the pound, while the new duties of this Board would cover at least 1s in the pound. He gave his cordial support to the Bill.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, that having spoken very strongly against the proposal of the Bill of last year, to make the administrative area a part of the sessional area, he could not help expressing his great regret, in addition to what had been explained by his hon. and right hon. Friends near him, at the proposal made that night. While they had heard such strong opinions expressed against the Bill, he could not help thinking the support given to the measure had been very poor. He would have been better pleased if they could have heard the opinion of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), who brought on a Motion upon this subject last Session, and carried the whole House with him. He should have liked to have heard also the opinion of the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell), and to have known whether he was satisfied with the propositions of the Government. He thought that the propositions made by his hon. Friend as to the area were even worse than the propositions of last year—for the reason that they might have the magistrates for the different counties acting in different ways as to the kind of wards they proposed to make. This Bill did not declare what those wards were to contain as to population or rateable value, but left the whole matter to the magistrates to decide. Why could not his right hon. Friend at once agree to take the Union as the basis, and let the Quarter Sessions deal with the overlapping parishes? He did not hear his right hon. Friend's speech; but still he had heard from hon. Friends near him what the propositions were; and he thought it would be far better to defer the whole question than to let it be dealt with in this way. He could not understand why, if such duties as the management of the rates were to be thrown upon the administrators of the new County Bill, other duties at present left to the magistrates might not be added to them? If they were to have the care of the im- 1216 becile poor, why could not they give them the care of the lunatic asylums? The Guardians were already entrusted with the lunatics in the workhouses; and to him it seemed that the representatives at the County Boards would be just as able to manage the lunatics of the county as a new establishment built for the imbeciles of the various counties. He could not understand why a difference should be made between the two. If it was desirable to give the County Board the care of the imbeciles, it might be desirable to give them the care of the lunatics also. As to to the question of transferring the police, that was not a proposition in the Bill of last year; and he must add that it was a great question whether it would be desirable, at first, to transfer so important a matter as the control of the police into the hands of County Boards. But he could not help saying that if the matter was worth doing at all, it was worth doing in a much better and more extensive manner than that proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. If he expected to get gentlemen to undertake the duty of representing the districts on County Boards, he must give them more work to do. The less important their work, and the more they curtailed it and made it appear to be of no importance, the less likely were they to get the really important men in the counties to undertake it. There was one improvement in the Bill, certainly—the reduction in the number of the magistrates who were to sit at the Board, and the increase in the number of the representatives, making the proposition two-thirds to one-third; but generally, with respect to the Bill, he did not think it was a measure with which the House would be satisfied.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he must congratulate his hon. and right hon. Friends opposite upon the unanimity and alacrity with which they had arrived at the conclusion that they could give no support to the Bill; and he must compliment his hon. Friend (Mr. Hibbert) on the precision with which he had criticized the measure without having heard his own speech in introducing it to the House. Had his hon. Friend heard the speech he would have avoided falling into many grievous mistakes which he would discover he had made when he read it. The hon. Member for 1217 South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) might find this Bill much on all fours with what he wanted than that of last year; because, according to his view, the magistrates ought to have reserved to them the control of the police and the administration of justice. The debate had been really a long one, considering that hon. Gentlemen had not had an opportunity of reading the Bill; and therefore he would not say more than he could help in reply to the various remarks which had been made. At the same time, he must notice some observations which had fallen from hon. Members. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Stansfeld), and others also on that side of the House, had spoken of the powers of the magistrates to create wards. What he had done was to provide that the Union areas might become areas for the election of County Boards where they were convenient for the purpose; but he did object to the Union, as such, being supposed to be the constituent area of the County Board in future. The right hon. Gentleman, in speaking of putting broken portions of Unions into another Union, had entirely lost sight of the supposed advantage of constituting County Boards out of the Union area. He had already gone into this point, but he must say again that it was far more easy to destroy the county boundaries than Union boundaries; and if a Royal Commission were to be appointed to make administrative areas, it would certainly be the county boundaries and not the Union boundaries which would have to give way. The Union areas had so long been used for local government, and so many administrative duties had been placed on them, that he would defy any Government to break them up. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) asked what these County Boards were to do? Well, they were to have the control of all the county money. They would see that the Poor Law expenses also were properly administered. The sanitary work was not given into their control, and why? Because the people would not be governed for such purposes by a County Board, but would have their own local self-government. When they grew to want self-government, they would have self-government, and no community would have its roads, drainage, and streets governed by a 1218 Union authority, much less by a County Body. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) complained because he had struck out the power of making recommendations as to areas; but these powers were already inherent in County Boards, and he withdrew the mention of them because he thought that the authority would be able to do all that was necessary in this respect without taking from Parliament power to deal with these matters. The hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Floyer) seemed to be doubtful as to the more important portions of the Bill—the power to make use of workhouse accommodation for a certain class of imbecile poor. His hon. Friend did not understand how he proposed to discriminate between one and another class of lunatics. But he would find that it was not only easy to do so, but that it had been done with very great success in the neighbourhood of London. The definition of imbeciles, who were to be dealt with under this Bill, was "persons who might be lawfully detained in workhouses;" and they knew that in the Metropolis 5,000 people already had been cared for, much to their own benefit, at a cost of one-third less in this way than if they had been detained as lunatics in asylums—not because they were worse treated or worse fed, but because they could be maintained at a far less cost for management and with a far less proportion of attendants than was required for lunatics. His hon. Friend opposite had been very severe on him for not having given the lunatic asylums to the County Boards; but he had stated his reasons at very great length in introducing the Bill why he felt it Was not convenient to hand over by a clause or two to the County Boards the powers and duties which were spread over a number of complicated Acts of Parliament. He hoped also to see the in-door poor treated in a more satisfactory way by-and-bye, so as eventually to reduce the burden of the pauper on the ratepayers. He was asked why the police were not to be handed over to the County Board; but that had never been suggested before as a part of county government, so far as he was aware. No doubt, the towns managed their own police, but it was very doubtful whether that was a desirable power for them to possess; and he believed that when small munici- 1219 palities once surrendered their police, they were never able to get the management of them again. Besides, when the State paid one-half of the cost of the police, he thought it was very doubtful whether the control of the force ought to be placed under the County Board. He could only say that he had studied this question of local administration for a great many years, and he hoped the Bill that he had now introduced would turn out to be satisfactory to the House. It was constantly said that local administration was in a most chaotic condition. It was only chaotic to lookers on. The people themselves generally knew who governed them, how they were governed, and what money was spent on their behalf. The Bill aimed at obtaining uniformity of management and administration, and the very power it gave to magistrates to select Union areas if they pleased really left the option in a competent local authority to divide the county in the way they might find was most convenient. In that way every county would regulate the election to the County Board in the way it found best; and he believed that the Bill would in this respect be found both practicable and desirable. He believed that Union areas would be tried in his own county, and also in that of his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk. The question was one the practicability of which might fairly be left to the discretion and experience of magistrates; and, in his opinion, it would be a great detriment to the Bill, if they endeavoured accurately to settle the areas of each county separately.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he would not follow the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill (Mr. Sclater-Booth) into criticism of its details, nor would he dwell upon the somewhat extraordinary speech to which they had just listened, in which the right hon. Gentleman had put forward some of the views which underlaid his own opinions on the reform of local government. He said he had left these matters to the counties to be dealt with, whether practicable or not. He did not think it was any great compliment to the magistrates to leave the matter in their hands in this way, with the doubt existing as to whether the reforms he was introducing were practicable or not.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, not two minutes ago, the right hon. Gentleman stated he would not say whether these arrangements were practicable or not; but he would leave them to the discretion and experience of the magistrates in each county. Those were the very words he used.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, what he did contend for was that the magisstrates should settle the areas, and should deal with the Unions and broken parts of Unions, so as to make practicable arrangements.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
, in reply, said, that in his own county, and in Norfolk, he had no doubt this plan would be adopted by the magistrates; while he thought that in others the magistrates might or might not adopt it.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he would not follow the right hon. Gentleman further into the discussion on that point, nor would he follow him into a discussion as to the objects which he seemed to be aiming at, nor into the points which were not merely matters mentioned in the Bill, but which were matters which were to follow the passing of the Bill, such as the classification of Poor Law relief, and various other matters. These subjects were not dealt with in the Bill. He presumed the right hon. Gentleman, seeing the reception which his measure had met with, was anxious to point out the results which might follow from its passing, in order to make it appear a little more important than it was at present. The right hon. Gentleman had, indeed, tried to rise two or three times before he did; and, seeing that hon. Member after hon. Member get up to express his great disappointment at the most impracticable character of the Bill, he was not surprised at the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety to terminate the discussion. The point, however, to which he wished particularly to call attention was that the support which this Bill had received had been derived almost exclusively from magisterial sources, and there was an extraordinary silence on the Conservative side of the House amongst those able Representatives of the tenant-farmers, who took so great an interest in this subject. His hon. Friend who sat 1221 beside him (Mr. Hibbert) had challenged the ton. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell), and the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), upon this matter. Yet they had preserved a most ominous and significant silence. The House, indeed, was consoled for the silence of those hon. Gentlemen by the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that the hon. Member for Norfolk would be more contented with this Bill than with that introduced last year, because it ran on all fours with the opinion which he himself had expressed two years previously. It would be more satisfactory, however, to have that assurance from the lips of the hon. Member himself. He did not know whether these hon. Gentlemen intended, even now, to favour the House with their opinions; but, at all events, he trusted it would be noted by the public outside, who watched with much attention for the introduction of this Bill, that the Representatives of the tenant-farmers on the other side of the House had no single word to say in defence of this Bill—notwithstanding the manner in which it had been received on the Liberal side. Perhaps these hon. Gentlemen were reserving themselves for the second reading. He hoped they had a conviction that the Bill would reach a second reading, because the manner in which it had been generally received was not very encouraging in regard to its prospects in that respect. It was for that reason that he so sincerely regretted the silence that those Gentlemen had thought it right and proper to observe on this occasion. He entirely agreed with the disappointment and the general regret which had been expressed as to the provisions of this Bill. It was really not a measure to reform local government at all. It fell short even of the modicum which they were offered last year. Unless those hon. Gentlemen opposite repudiated the idea, he thought that the House and the country would be entitled to assume that the silence with which they had treated the introduction of this measure was significant of the indifference with which it would be viewed by everyone interested in local government.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. SCLATER-BOOTH, Mr. Secretary Cross, and Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 105.]