HC Deb 23 May 1881 vol 261 cc1084-101

rose, pursuant to Notice, to move— That the annual consideration of the measures imposing taxation should be accompanied by a Ministerial Statement of Local Taxation and Finance, so as to afford the House an opportunity of reviewing as a whole the requisitions made on the Nation for local as well as Imperial purposes. He said, that he had hoped that such a statement as was indicated in the terms of his Notice would have been made on the subject of Local Finance. The question of local expenditure, local receipts, and local indebtedness was really one of national importance when they came to consider the growing figures which it involved, and he thought they ought to have the matter placed before them in as clear and comprehensive a manner as was done yearly in the case of Imperial Taxation and Expenditure. The Returns relating to Local Finance were extremely difficult to analyse, and rather difficult to understand, while the time at which the country received them was not a period when they were likely to command the attention they merited. In 1873 he had himself introduced a Bill into that House to require all local authorities to make a return of their accounts at a stated time; and, further, to provide that a responsible Minister—he thought the President of the Local Government Board—should produce as early in the Session of Parliament as practicable a succinct abstract statement of those accounts. That Bill had in it what he deemed a very useful clause—namely, one providing for an official audit of all the public accounts of local authorities. That proposal met with a most strenuous opposition from the boroughs, and when the Bill came from Committee as amended, that clause was struck out. The Bill reached the stage of the Report; but it excited dissatisfaction among those who administered the affairs of local authorities, and it failed to pass. At the end of that Bill there was a tabular statement, of no great length, setting out the form in which the accounts of local authorities could be rendered in a way which those who ran might read and understand. In 1875 the subject of Local Finance was felt to be of such moment that the then Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement to the House upon it early in the Session in introducing the Public Works Loans Bill. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir Stafford Northcote) then said that the attention of Parliament itself and that of the various local bodies who administered Local Finance ought to be drawn to that subject, and, above all, to the contraction of debts. He quoted from an able pamphlet written by the then hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone), who said— That while the attention of the Nation is annually concentrated on the total amount, and on the items of Imperial Taxation, the particulars of Local Finance are known only to a few statisticians. The vast amounts expended and the extent of the loans contracted by these local bodies could not otherwise have escaped notice. He also remarked that the Government wished to provide some system by which the attention of the Government might be directed to the progress of local income, expenditure, and indebtedness, at a reasonable time. Now, it was on the reasonable time that he desired to in-insist; and the reasonable time, he ventured to submit, was as near as might be to the time when the Statement as to Imperial Finance was laid before the country, so that a comparison might be made between those two kinds of Finance, and that, while they might be congratulating themselves on reductions in the one, they might not overlook the enormous progressive increase in the other. The two subjects were not entirely disconnected. It was obvious that what was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in remissions of taxation did not, of necessity, diminish the need of expenditure or make the expenditure less. What he meant was this—it might be thought right at some not very distant day to reduce the grant from the Imperial Exchequer for, say, Education; and it was obvious that the loss caused by any withdrawal would have to be made by a demand on the public pocket in the form of a rate. In the year 1876, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Hants (Mr. Sclater-Booth), who was then President of the Local Government Board, made a statement on the subject in Committee of Supply; but it was then too late to serve the desired purpose. The following year, much earlier in the Session, the right hon. Gentleman made another statement on a Resolution as to Public Works, which immediately excited the attention of some of the leading Members of the House, and in particular of the right hon. Gentleman the junior Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), who made use of a very remarkable term, and, speaking out of the fulness of his heart, characterized the local authorities, and justified their existence, as "machines for spending money," though he qualified that function by limiting it to spending "wisely." It was as the mouthpiece of a great spending authority that that right hon. Gentleman came to the Government for loans at a low rate of interest, and as the representative of a town that had already borrowed £5,000,000, and wished to increase its loan. For himself, he wished to cast no doubt on the probably remunerative nature of that loan; but it was proverbially true that money come by lightly would also go lightly. The question of local debt was one of such magnitude that an early annual statement ought to be made on the subject, to mark and call attention to its importance. In 1878 there was another early and comprehensive statement made by the then President of the Local Government Board; but that good practice was not continued in the following year, and it totally disappeared, in a satisfactory form, in 1880. That was an exceptional year, on account of the General Election; but hon. Members interested in the subject were then reminded by the President of the Local Government Board that they would be able to get what they wanted from the Local Taxation Returns. Those Returns, however, did not supply the necessary particulars, or, at any rate, did not supply them in a convenient form. They were defective, and, in some particulars, inaccurate and misleading. They were so voluminous as to confuse and baffle all but experts, and even an expert would have to search through 200 pages in order to arrive at facts which might easily have been stated in four folios. He asked the House to consider some of the items of this expenditure. Comparing the accounts of the year 1874, as presented in a tabulated Return for which he had himself moved, with those of 1879, which were the latest he had the material for computing, he found that during that period the expenditure in connection with education had increased from £1,200,000 to £3,354,000; the expense of police, in spite of a Government subvention, had risen from £2,630,000 to £3,035,000, and was still increasing. As to the loans themselves—and it was there, after all, that the danger really lay—they would some day or other have to be met by rates, and were therefore a specially important branch of the question. The total of the loans had risen between June, 1874, and Lady Day, 1879, from £84,000,000 to £128,500,000. The whole National Debt was something under £720,000,000, and would have to be paid off not more imperatively and necessarily than these local loans. Again, the duration of local loans, the periods for which money was borrowed, had to be considered by the House. One great municipal body had borrowed £1,000,000 in perpetuity, as though the prosperity of the town it represented—in which, by the way, murmurs of reciprocity had lately been heard—would last for ever. Long terms, such as 50, 60, or 100 years, were not uncommon; and he had known an important Metropolitan authority borrow money for 60 years in order to effect improvements that could not by any possibility last for half that length of time. He might mention, by way of illustration, that he had in his mind a case in which a number of boilers that had already been repaired had been purchased by money borrowed for the term of 60 years. The effect of refusing or withholding such a statement as he asked for would be to check all reforms in the right direction, to leave reformers with a sense of having blindly to pay more every year than they did the year before, and to excite in their minds a grumbling spirit, without the information essential to an intelligent comprehension of the points towards which reforms should be directed. An idea was still widely prevalent that if you could get an object carried out by means of the rates, you would get it done for nothing; that everybody benefited, and that nobody lost. The prevalence of this idea had a most demoralizing effect. He awaited with much interest the remarks which the right hon. Gentleman would make on this subject, and hoped he would not say that the matter must be postponed until the great question of local government had been settled. In his belief, the accounts could be worked out and presented to Parliament without waiting for the settlement of that very important question. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.


said, he sincerely sympathized with, and cordially supported, the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire. He had on former occasions called the attention of the House and the country to this important subject, and had endeavoured to persuade the House that it was absolutely necessary that an annual Local Budget should be presented to Parliament, and that they should have an annual abstract of Receipts and Expenditure for all money levied from the ratepayers for the different purposes of the different local authorities. His hon. Friend in 1872 had aided and assisted in that object, and he ventured to say that if the proposal and policy were good, then the arguments in favour of it now were much stronger. He ventured on that occasion to draw a distinction between Imperial and Local Taxation, and he said that whilst every expenditure with reference to Imperial Taxation was scanned within that House with the greatest caution, and with great scrupulousness, yet in the question of local Taxation they were indifferent and apathetic to the whole subject. The accounts of the one were clear and ex- plicit; but the accounts of Local Taxation, on the contrary, were obscure and complicated, and almost unintelligible; whereas every item of our Imperial Taxation was under Parliamentary administration, and under the supervision of the Government, with reference to Local Taxation we were comparatively indifferent—he might say supremely apathetic—in respect of the mode and means by which these vast sums extracted from the ratepayers were expended. He had strongly urged that as the Chancellor of the Exchequer was responsible for Imperial Taxation, the President of the Local Government Board should be made equally responsible for Local Taxation Expenditure. His hon. Friend had told the House of the Bill he had introduced in the year 1873, and which, had it passed, would have been a boon to the country. He suggested that there should be an Annual Budget of Local Taxation, and that that Budget should be made up at one period of the year. His hon. Friend had then been fortunate in one respect; he then got the assistance of a Member of the Government, the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld); he carried that Bill through Committee, but, like other private Members' Bills, it did not advance any further. His right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in 1875, announced in the House that he advocated the principle and proposal in his hon. Friend's Bill, and he then initiated and established a Local Taxation Budget; and for the years 1876–7–8 they had an Annual Budget which was most interesting to that House and to the country. For the next two years it was omitted. But, as he had said before, if it was needful and necessary 10 years ago to have an Annual Statement of Local Taxation, it was far more important that they should have it now, for the rate of local expenditure and local indebtedness was alarmingly on the increase. It would scarcely be credited that 10 years ago local burdens were less than now. Notwithstanding that the late Government had given upwards of £2,000,000 in remissions, the burdens had increased by the imposition of now taxes—education, highway, and sanitary rates—so that positively all the boons granted by the late Government had been absorbed by new taxation for new objects. How was it on reference to their local indebtedness? They were actually increasing their local indebtedness at the rate of £10,000,000 per annum, and at this present moment he thought it would be found that our local indebtedness was £150,000,000, and that was considerably more than the rateable value of the property of the United Kingdom at this present moment. They had been endeavouring of late years very much to decrease the National Debt; yet, at the same time, they had been creating another kind of National Debt, far more rapidly, and at a much greater rate, than they were diminishing the old one. They had been creating a now debt in their local indebtedness. That debt was really amounting, at this moment, to almost the National Debt of many important States. He was one of those who thought that the mode and the means by which they had allowed money to be borrowed by their local authorities from the Public Works Loan Commissioners was radically wrong. We were thus giving undue facilities for borrowing money. He thought it had been an inducement to those local authorities to spend more money, and to spend that money more extravagantly than they otherwise would. He also thought that the mode and means which they had given them of spreading the repayment over such a very lengthened period was also a temptation to borrow money. It was hardly right in them that they should be drawing bills upon posterity for almost every conceivable object, throwing undue responsibilities upon them, and expecting posterity by-and-bye to pay them. It was not improbable that posterity might have many wants and requirements of their own; just as much as we had in the present generation; and he did not think that they would be particularly well pleased to find that we had mortgaged their securities so heavily and so severely as we had already done. We had no right to lighten our burdens and responsibilities by transferring so large a proportion of them to posterity. The system of Government Loans, except under very exceptional circumstances, was bad. Money was particularly plentiful and cheap at the present time, and if the security was good there was no difficulty in any local authority going into the open market and getting as much money as they required. In 1875 the late Government passed a Local Loans Act, and he would like to know why that had been so little utilized? Was it that the Public Works' Loan Commissioners were advancing their money on cheaper terms than it could be got in the open market, or were less particular as to securities? No doubt a certain amount of debt must be contracted by local authorities to carry out the various social and sanitary improvements which the Legislature was continually imposing exceptionally on the owners and occupiers of real property; but if local authorities went into the open market they would be more careful than when, as at present, they could run up large accounts with the Commissioners. It was not to be expected that local authorities should find money for the improvements that were forced upon them out of current revenue; but still Government ought to be much more cautious in sanctioning these debts. Greater care and more stringent regulations should he exercised, and their repayment should not be spread over so lengthened a period. In many instances there was an entire absence of any efficient and independent system of audit with reference to the application of these vast sums. All the accounts of the local authorities should be subjected to the same audit as that of Poor Law authorities and school boards, and be regularly published every year. He seconded the Motion, as ho was perfectly satisfied, if attention was called to our Local Taxation and our local indebtedness by an Annual Budget Statement from a responsible Member of the Government, we should better realize our responsibilities, and be a deal more careful and cautious in incurring them.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the annual consideration of the measures imposing taxation should be accompanied by a Ministerial Statement of Local Taxation and Finance, so as to afford the House an opportunity of reviewing, as a whole, the requisitions made on the Nation for local as well as Imperial purposes,"—(Mr. Pell,)

—instead thereof.

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


said, he could not help thinking that it was not necessary to argue the Motion. They were all agreed that the whole subject of Local Expenditure should annually be brought before the attention of Parliament; and the only question was how that could be best accomplished. His work in this matter had been the humble one of collecting information; and in the course of his inquiries it appeared to him that the only chance of our local government being efficient, and our Local Taxation being moderate, was to have the whole subject placed on such a footing that the ratepayers should know what they were spending, and for what purpose the money was spent. To do that they must begin at the beginning, and not at the end—they must begin in the localities themselves. He thought they ought to have in every locality, in place of the present chaotic system, one local and spending authority. When that was accomplished they could then know for what they were being taxed and what they were paying. How was it possible to know that at present? In the district in which he lived, within a radius of a few miles, there were 35 taxing and spending authorities. He defied any man in that area to say where one must look for a check upon abuse or mismanagement. His proposal was not only desirable, but it was practicable. In speaking a few years ago with the present Lord Reay, then a Member of the Dutch Government, that gentleman said that Holland was perfectly satisfied with its local government. He (Mr. Rathbone) then said that that was the only country which he ever knew was satisfied with its local government, and he wished Lord Reay would undertake to get a statement of how they managed there to content the people with the local government. That statement had been obtained; and really the whole success lay in the principle which he had mentioned. The Dutch, he believed, originally derived their system of local government from this country; but, instead of letting it grow up, they took care to put it upon a regular system, and their system was the having one primary local government doing all the work for the district. The local authority brought in a Local Budget on the 30th September every year. The Budget lay on the Table until the following 1st January. It was sent up to what we should call our County Boards, and also to the Central Government; and if either of those bodies found that anything had been done which trenched upon their management, or was contrary to the powers and the duties of the local board, they had the right to object; but if no objection was made, the Budget became law on the 18th of January every year. It would be apparent to the House that if we had such a system in this country there would be no difficulty in the way of the President of the Local Government Board annually laying before the country a statement of Local Administration, Taxation, and Finance. It would be also evident that this Budget coming once a year before the locality in general debate, which brought everything that was interesting to any portion of the ratepayers before them, would meet with general attention and criticism. The consequence in Holland was that enormous powers had been given to the local authority. The primary local authority in Holland could levy any tax which was not levied by the Central Government; but yet those large powers were kept in check, and the local authorities there were economical and efficient.


thought there could be no doubt that the Resolution, if acted upon, would have a very material effect in reducing the powers of local bodies in reference to borrowing money. It was a great mistake that the House did not lay down in broad principles that each generation for local purposes should pay its own debts, and that no borrowing powers should be given to local authorities extending over a period of more than 30 years. Anyone who had experience of local authorities knew that they preferred to borrow at 4 per cent if they could throw the loan over 50 years, rather than borrow at 3½ per cent if the loan had to be paid off in 30 years. The question always was—"Over how many years can we throw this debt, and how little can we pay year by year?" Unfortunately, the interests of owners and occupiers were at variance in that respect. The latter wore only anxious to borrow as much money as possible, and enter upon as large an outlay as they could, because it brought them immediate benefit. Owners naturally took a different view. He hoped, therefore, that Parliament would lay down the principle that each generation should pay the cost of its own fancies, instead of throwing its debts over 50, 60, or 100 years. He would also say a word as to the unfair incidence of burdens according as property was freehold or leasehold. At present, if there was a number of leasehold houses on one side of a street, and a number of freehold on the other, the one paid 3 per cent Probate Duty, and the other nothing, or next to nothing. It was a perfect scandal, and could be supported by neither rhyme nor reason. There should be no such distinction. Property should be divided into rateable and non-rateable, and the Probate Duty should be levied at different rates accordingly. Of course, the manner in which it was dealt with in the present Bill could only be regarded as fragmentary, and he hoped at a future time the subject would be grasped in a more general manner.


Sir, I think there is great force in the statement made by the hon. Gentleman from the other side of the House with respect to the question of Probate Duty. There is no doubt whatever that that is a subject which must be taken into very serious consideration by Parliament. This much I said on a recent occasion, and I also pointed out that until the House had determined what it would endeavour to give to the Statute Law and other matters, it was not possible to legislate upon the subject of both duties. I pass from that, because I think it is understood this debate should have for its main object to deal with the subject raised by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell). With the spirit and aim of his speech I entirely sympathize, as I do with the speeches made since the hon. Gentleman sat down. I am very glad we are not placed in conflict with the terms of the Resolution; because, although some little objection might be taken on the score of ambiguity, I should be sorry to seem to be in opposition to him. This question is so large and complex that it is difficult to give a full view of it except in lengthened debate; and, therefore, I must beg the indulgence of the House if I do not at present take a full view of it. I have already expressed my thorough sympathy with the speech made by the hon. Member. The hon. Member has spoken most properly of the presentation of ac- counts of Local Expenditure, as one of the first objects to which we should look, and an object which may be prosecuted without making it dependent altogether upon the settlement of other questions, however important and however difficult. I entirely agree with him in that matter; but I would at the same time point out that we must not expect, I am afraid, to do all that is to be done in this respect at a single stroke. In the first place, some progress has been made, and, of course, it is the duty and the aim of the Local Government Board, under whatever Government, to keep this subject still in view, and lay the foundation of a good system of local account, with the view of enabling Parliament to obtain a clear knowledge, and, if necessary, sufficient control over Local Expenditure. It is right to point out that in this matter we are dealing not only with England, but with Scotland and Ireland as well, and that, as regards the presentation of accounts for those countries—and Scotland in particular—we are, I believe, less advanced than with regard to England. The subject must and ought to be prosecuted for the three countries, because unless you do so you cannot either consider duly the relation between Local and Imperial Expenditure, or obtain that aggregate view which the hon. Member is most desirous to obtain of the total Expenditure of the country, whether Imperial or local. The Resolution of the hon. Member states— That the annual consideration of the measures imposing taxation should be accompanied by a Ministerial Statement of Local Taxation and Finance, so as to afford the House an opportunity of reviewing, as a whole, the requisitions made on the nation for local as well as Imperial purposes. I am sure that the hon. Member does not mean that the Local and Imperial Budget should be comprised in a speech embracing both subjects, because they are in the Department of two Ministers; and, in the second place, everyone knows, especially in the case of the larger and complex Budgets, it could have no effect except to confuse, if subjects so wide and diversified were combined. What I take to be the general object of the Motion is that there should be a Ministerial Statement on the subject in the course of the Session, and that it should be as closely following in point of time the Financial Statement as possible. We are indebted to my right hon. Friend opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote), who, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, took notice of the rapid growth of Local Taxation and Local Loans, and laid down officially in this House the proposition that this Annual Statement ought to be made. This deserves very serious consideration; because, unquestionably, the subject of Local Loans is formidable from two points of view—first of all as indicating a vast increase in the scale of local expenditure and the dangerous tendencies to enlarge and increase it; and, secondly, as constituting a new drain upon the credit of the nation, which threatens to become serious, and which under given circumstances of time, for great Imperial purposes, may be a great public evil. There is, therefore, not only a local, but also a central interest to the nation and the Exchequer in the due presentation of this subject. With regard to the loans likely to be required from the Exchequer for public purposes, that has become a regular part of our system. But there is some difficulty in laying down the proposition that the statement shall always be presented at the same period of the Session as the Financial Statement, because it may happen—and it may happen this year—that the amount which may be required in the course of the year depends very essentially upon legislation that is actually under consideration of the House, and which the House may not be able to dispose of until a more advanced period of the Session. However, this Statement, however desirable, is only a part of the question, because it does not include loans obtained by local authorities from sources other than Imperial, and I am very glad the local authorities should borrow on their own credit. I am quite certain that that will confer a much stronger sense of responsibility, and secure a much closer attention than would be the case under the slippery and perilous idea that they could go to a central source to borrow and draw upon the nation. I believe the doctrine laid down to be thoroughly sound, and I hope it will receive assent from all quarters. I need not say that it is the intention of the President of the Local Government Board to make a Statement of the kind to which the hon. Member alluded, and at as early a period as he can. The hon. Member knows the exceedingly abnormal circumstances of the present Session, and he knows under what difficulties the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sclater-Booth), in the time of the late Government, laboured with regard to the fulfilment of their intentions in this respect. The hon. Member said that he hoped I would not say that this was a matter which must await the settlement of the great question of local government. I shall not say that. I do not think it is necessary that all progress in this important business should be postponed until the question of local government has been settled. At the same time, having said that I fully believe that great good will arise from an endeavour to improve the system of local accounts and accelerate the presentation of local accounts, and bring their presentation to a convenient period of the year—while believing that great good will arise from that, and also from the simple fact of an authentic official Statement in this House and a discussion by the House upon it—I am bound to say that I do not think it would be possible for us to cope with all the difficulties of the case without taking into consideration the serious difficulty we stand in as to the general despatch of our Business. Let us take the Indian Financial Statement. That is a question of a very formidable nature indeed, loss directly relating to our own pockets; but it is a great Imperial question, and may have some possible relation to the Expenditure of the country. It was the full desire that that Statement should be made from year to year, at a period of the Session when it would be in their power to secure for it full attention; but notwithstanding that, under all Governments alike, it has been found impossible to draw the attention of the House until the year is exhausted. Sir, I feel convinced of this—we shall make no effectual provision for the satisfactory general discharge of our public duties until we recognize these two facts—fundamental facts—first of all, that we are in a great arrear of Public Business; and, secondly, that the system under which we live involves us almost daily in the very large waste of Parliamentary time. Under these circumstances, the enormous arrears of Business, and the enormous waste of time make a most formidable combination. submit to the judgment of the House an idea which may lead to something useful. We have a very valuable Committee sitting annually upon Public Accounts, and the effect of that Committee is to speak with great authority upon a difficult and intricate subject, which would not command much general interest in Parliament if it were made the subject of debate, and yet which it is of very great importance to examine. I am by no means sure that it is not worthy the consideration of the Gentlemen who are interested in local expenditure whether we might not be able to effect something useful by establishing a Committee of weight and authority which should have for its duty the regular review of Local Expenditure and Accounts, and the presentation to the House from time to time of the results of their employment. I do not venture to give on that subject any positive opinion; but I think it a hopeful matter to prosecute, and one worth examination. As regards the general question of Local Expenditure, it is, perhaps, of such magnitude that we cannot satisfactorily dispose of it now. I hope, however, we are approaching the time when these matters will no longer be dealt with as questions of rival interest between the Local and Imperial Exchequers. As long as they are so dealt with, in my opinion, we shall do nothing but mischief. There is, undoubtedly, a fatal tendency in the system of what are called "Grants in Aid" both to relax the principles of economy in the country and to increase the country's aggregate expenditure. What we have to do is to strive honestly and impartially to keep down the aggregate total expenditure of the country. Whether it be local expenditure or Imperial, that is the interest, and that is the duty of Parliament. Next to keeping down the total expenditure, our duty is to see that the taxation by which it is to be met is freely and fairly apportioned; and in apportioning taxation what we have to do is to make a double examination—first of all of the way in which the taxation falls as between property and labour; and, secondly, of the way in which it falls as between real property and personal property. These two questions are totally distinct one from the other, as to the allocation between the two kinds of property; but as long as these questions are debated simply as questions of rivalry between the local and the Central Ex- chequer, we lose sight entirely of that. I only say that I do not believe those great questions can be satisfactorily disposed of until the question of local government has been thoroughly dealt with. The questions of improving the local accounts, and the Parliamentary supervision and moral influence to be brought to bear on the local expenditure, I hope, will go forth quite independently of the settlement of these greater questions, desirable as that settlement may in itself be. I think we all must feel that those who, like the hon. Member who proposed the Motion, and who spoke in this House in the interests of general economy and thrift in Local Expenditure, are really rendering a valuable and important service to the State.


said, he must congratulate his hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) on the encouragement he had received from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was very glad that the right hon. Gentleman had it in contemplation to continue the practice of making an Annual Statement to the House on subjects such as they now had before them. By the Local Loans Act, the Local Taxation Returns Act, and the Auditing Act—three Acts passed by the late Government—the foundation had been laid for a useful series of measures on the questions under consideration. He deprecated many of the remarks that had been made as to the tendency of local authorities generally to get into debt; but the best way at present to check the tendency would be by paying careful attention to the Private Bill legislation. It was by no means the case that all the local authorities were running a race to get into debt. Of £120,000,000, by far the greater part had been raised by half-a-dozen great towns, in whose case there was no cause for alarm, as their rateable value was quite sufficient to meet any pressure. The House and the country were very much indebted to his right hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) for the earnestness and ability with which he pressed forward the principles of the Local Loans Act; and he hoped his right hon. Friend opposite, when he came to make his Annual Statement, would make it under more favourable circumstances than had fallen to his own lot when at the head of the Local Government Board. The suggestion that a strong Committee, having power to review these questions, should be appointed, was an important one; and his hope was that such a Committee, when formed, would have more attention paid to it than the Committee on Public Accounts, which received less recognition in the House and the country than its merits deserved.


said, he thought that the hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution ought to be satisfied with the Prime Minister's speech, which he thought would strengthen the hands of those local authorities who desired to economize.


said, he hoped that in future, as the persons who paid the rates and taxes were, for the most part, the same, the two Budgets would be laid before the House as nearly as possible at the same period of the Session. It was a very rudimentary condition of finance which omitted from calculation the money required for the Public Services, because that money was derived from special burdens on a special class of property. When, for instance, £1,500,000 was paid for national education out of the rates, that sum should be stated, together with the sum which the Chancellor of the Exchequer demanded for national education out of the taxes. So with the expenditure on the administration of justice, and all these other heads of Local Expenditure, which were partly defrayed by the Imperial, partly by the Local Exchequer. Otherwise the public were but partially informed of their liabilities. No proposal could be more disastrous than to relegate Local Taxation to a Grand Committee. For Local Taxation reformers desired that some Minister of first rank should be held personally responsible for burdens imposed on the ratepayers through the agency of the Government. They did not care for the irresponsibility of a Committee. The local expenses, of which complaint was made, were almost entirely due to the interference of the Imperial Government. In Shropshire they were now paying for police, highways, and other purposes, £40,000 a-year more than was paid in 1870. It was the same in every other county. Too much had been made in that debate of debts of local authorities for purely local purposes, such as towns' improvements. That source of expenditure, though deserving of the closest attention, was of a different character and origin to the expenditure for purely national purposes. It was to the latter department they wished to direct attention. The speech of the Prime Minister meant delay and procrastination, and, therefore, was not satisfactory to him.


said, that, speaking from his own experience, he must characterize the charge of extravagance which had been brought against the local authorities in dealing with subventions as not being well founded. The enormous amount of Local Loans of which they sometimes heard had, for the most part, been incurred for sanitary improvements under the direction of the Local Government Board. It was true that local self-government tended to develop great diversity of views among local authorities; but, on the whole, it was much to be preferred to centralization.

Question put, and agreed to.