§ Order for Second Reading read.
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, in 1879 he obtained a Return setting forth in detail the constitution of the various Parochial Boards in Scotland. From that Return it appeared that there were 880 parishes in Scotland; and of these only 11 were burghal parishes, five of these burghal parishes being monopolized by Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Boards of these parishes were incomparably, in point of constitution, the most rational to be found in Scotland, and he should deal with them first. In these 11 Burghal Boards the principle of representation was adopted. They consisted of some 30 members elected by the ratepayers, or a fewer number as might be determined on by the Board of Supervision, and these elected members were elected on a graduated franchise—First, the owner or occupier of property annually of the 530 value of £20 had one vote, the owner of land of the value of £40 had two votes, and so on until they reached the value of over £500 a-year, in which case the ratepayer had six votes. The owner who was at the same time an occupier was allowed to accumulate his votes in the two capacities, provided that he never gave more than six. In addition to those elected representatives, there were at the date of the Return in two of the 11 burghal Parochial Boards eight members representing kirk sessions, and in the others there were four members representing kirk sessions and four representing the magistrates. In the entire 11 there were 80 representatives of kirk sessions and of magistrates, against 180 members elected by the ratepayers. His first business would be to explain how the representatives of kirk sessions came upon these Boards. Prior to 1845, when the Scotch Poor Law Act was passed, the paupers of the country were supported out of the collections made at the doors of the parish churches, dues exacted for the proclamation of banns and burials, mortifications, or bequests to the kirk sessions or the heritors for the be hoof of the poor. In burghs these funds were managed by the kirk sessions and the magistrates, and in the country districts by the kirk sessions and heritors. The church-door collections were devoted by law to the relief of the poor, so much so that if a collection was made for a special purpose it was necessary to set aside the average amount of the ordinary collection for the poor before appropriating the surplus to any other purpose. When these resources failed paupers were giving licence to beg, and when that did not meet the emergency they had a theoretical right of appealing to the Court of Session to obtain an assessment to make good the deficiency; or, as in practice generally occurred, in rural parishes the heritors assessed themselves or the ratepayers generally for the purpose. When the Poor Law Act was passed church-door collections were handed over to the kirk sessions; but the other funds were reserved, or intended to be reserved, for the reduction of rates, and to be administered by the newly-constituted Parochial Boards. This enactment had been almost or entirely evaded; at all events, although his Friend Mr. M'Laren, formerly Mem- 531 ber for Edinburgh and himself had both moved for Returns upon the subject, neither of them had been able to obtain any information regarding any monies handed over by the kirk sessions to Parochial Boards. Nevertheless, in virtue of the transference of those funds which the Legislature intended they should make, kirk sessions were given the right of nominating a certain number of representatives upon the Parochial Boards, and the magistrates who had been associated with them in the administration of these funds in the burghal districts were allowed, in parishes containing burghs, to nominate a certain number of representatives also. The kirk sessions of which he spoke were those exclusively of the Established Church. They consisted of the minister and elders, whom practically the minister, and nominally the congregation, appointed. The elders, who sat as representatives of the kirk session on Parochial Boards, must pay rates; but the minister did not pay any rate. The original terms on which kirk sessions wore allowed representation on Parochial Boards having thus been evaded, he did not see why they should continue to occupy their seats there. Even were the representatives of kirk sessions and magistrates eliminated from Parochial Boards, and only the most legitimate element in their composition allowed to remain—namely, the members elected by the ratepayers—he wished the House to understand precisely what sort of Board that would make; and he proposed to show that, under the very best possible circumstances, it would still constitute the worst Representative Board of which, at the present moment, they were cognizant in Scotland. In Scotland the dates of Town Council elections and other public elections were fixed by law; and in England the same rule held good in the elections of vestrymen and overseers of the poor, which were fixed by law for March and April. But in Scotland Parochial Boards were practically allowed to fix their own date for their elections. The rate papers for poor rates, as well as for other rates, were generally issued about the end of October; but payment of these rates was not in any case enforced till the end of December or the beginning of January. People did not pay rates and taxes in advance, as a rule; especially poor people. The people 532 of Scotland had their rents to pay in November, and they did not care to pay their rates or taxes before they were obliged to. They paid their poor rates towards the end of December, and by so doing they avoided any penalty. They were not aware, in fact, that the rates were due before that date; and their payment then sufficed to put all their names upon the roll of municipal and Parliamentary electors. If the Parochial Board elections took place, as in England, in April, they would be entitled to vote at parochial elections also. In many of the rural parishes in Scotland, and in some burghal parishes, the date of the election was fixed in January, and all the ratepayers had the same chance of being entered on the parochial roll as on the municipal and Parliamentary Roll. But in certain large parishes—in two Glasgow parishes, for instance, which were two of the largest in Scotland—the Parochial Boards had the date of their election fixed in November and the commencement of December; and by this juggle—for he could call it nothing else—the majority of the ratepayers in the parish were disfranchised. He himself, for example, was detained in London last October, in consequence of the Autumn Session. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Gentlemen said "Hear, hear!" and he supposed most of them were in the same predicament. In consequence of being detained in London he did not receive his rate papers until his return North in December. He paid the rates weeks before they were enforceable under a penalty, and in ample time to secure for himself a place on the roll of municipal and Parliamentary voters. But if last year a parochial election had occurred in either of the parishes in Glasgow in which he was entitled to vote, and he had gone down for the express purpose of recording his vote, he should have found that he had gone on a fool's errand, because he had not paid his poor rate a month or six weeks in advance of that time, when they were enforceable under a penalty, and when the vast majority of people considered they first became due. He ventured to say there were many Members in that House who might have found themselves in a similar predicament, and he ventured to think the disfranchisement would have the effect of creating considerable astonishment on 533 their part. They might, therefore, be the better able to conceive the astonishment which filled the minds of the majority of the ratepayers when they knew that they were disfranchised for the first time, on those rare occasions in which parochial elections even went the length of a general contest. What ordinarily occurred in the most favourable circumstances they would find set forth on page 6 of the Report of the Select Committee on Poor Law Guardians, &c, of 1878. In burghal parishes there was a public nomination of candidates. If more candidates were nominated than there were vacancies to be filled up, a meeting was called for a day or hour which the Parochial Board or its Inspector decided upon; and he might venture to say, in passing, that the hour selected was generally one at which men of business and shopkeepers could not attend without considerable inconvenience, and at which it was impossible for workmen to attend at all. Fifteen minutes after the appointed time the doors of the place of meeting were locked, the Inspector recorded the votes, and the candidates who obtained the highest number were forthwith declared elected, unless, indeed, 10 electors protested, and within two hours after the close of the proceedings lodged a formal demand for the issue of voting papers. But generally the public, which took such a lively interest in school board elections, and in municipal and Parliamentary elections, knew nothing about these preliminary mysteries. People had a vague idea that when there was a contested parochial election voting papers would be issued, and they deferred taking any action in the matter until they were signalized of the occurrence of the contest by the issue of those papers. Consequently, contests which went the length of the issue of voting papers were extremely rare. In his evidence before the Committee of 1878, Mr. Walker, of the Board of Supervision, mentioned that in one of the largest parishes of Scotland (St. Cuthbert's, Edinburgh) the contest had never gone the length of voting papers since the parish was made into a combination, and that in Aberdeen voting papers had never been issued at all. The City of Glasgow parish was one of the best contested in Scotland, and last year contests occurred in no fewer than three out of 534 the five wards into which it was divided. In these wards there were 44,500 ratepayers, and out of that number only 1,400 recorded their votes. The election was decided by 3 per cent of those who ought to have been entitled to have voted, and that actually would have been so entitled in the adjoining parish of Govan. This was due to the non-payment of rates, and the preliminary mysteries to which he had just referred. No wonder that the ratepayers were considerably astonished when they learned, for the first time, that they had been disfranchised on an attempt to vote; and no wonder, perhaps, that even the Burghal Parochial Boards should infinitely prefer the snug state of things that presently existed, and regard with unfriendly feelings the humble proposal which he had the honour to bring under the notice of the House. Shoals of deputations had been appointed to come up to oppose it, and in one parish the committee had sent up a deputation in the name of the Board, without even submitting the matter to the Board. He had received a letter from the Secretary of the Bridgeton Temperance Electoral Association in Glasgow, informing him that a meeting had been held, at which a resolution had been passed condemning the speech of Mr. Gibb, one of the representatives of the Barony Board, as one-sided, and altogether opposed to the interests of the people and the district, and protesting against the waste of the ratepayers' money in sending the Law Committee to London to oppose the ratepayers' best interests. But, much as the Boards of the burghal parishes of Scotland needed reform, they were models of perfection as compared with the Boards of the rural parishes. Rural parishes were not at all synonymous with country parishes, for they included such places as Greenock, Paisley, Perth, part of Aberdeen, and, until lately, Dundee. In short, the rural parishes of Scotland did include, at the date of the Return in 1879, all the large towns in Scotland except Edinburgh and Glasgow. Leaving out the non-assessed parishes, and taking the 800 rural parishes that were assessed, the electorate consisted of the occupant ratepayers holding property worth above £20 a-year, and the heritors or proprietors worthless than £20 a-year; and they elected a certain number of members to represent them on the Parochial 535 Boards. The number was fixed by the Board of Supervision, and varied from 24, in the case of Greenock, to 1, which was the number allowed in many rural parishes. But, while the occupant ratepayers and smaller heritors were only allowed to elect representatives, every heritor or owner of property worth more than £20 a-year was allowed himself to sit on the Parochial Board. Thus, in Greenock, 24 elected members represented the interests of the ratepayers. Against that there were 1,104 heritors, who represented each man his own interest, and besides six members of the kirk sessions, who represented the Church's interest in those funds, which the Legislature intended should have been handed over to the Local Board, but which had so mysteriously disappeared. Greenock was not by any means a peculiar case. Its Board could boast of at least 2 per cent of elected members; but in many places that was considered too much by half, and the percentage was reduced to less than I. Thus, in the case of Old Machar, Aberdeen, the Parochial Board consisted of 2,164 heritors and 20 elected members; and in South Leith there were 1,617 heritors against 15 elected members. He would not go into details, because he had taken care that some of the most striking figures should be placed in the hands of Members. He should content himself with saying that the average number of members of these assessed rural parishes was a fraction over 69, composed as follows:—62 heritors, 3½ elected members, 3¾ representatives of the kirk sessions; whilst the fraction was composed of magistrates, and numbered 190 persons in all. In other words, on the average, the Boards of these rural assessed parishes in Scotland were made up to the extent of 90 per cent of heritor members, and the remaining 10 per cent was divided between the elected members, the representatives of the kirk sessions, and the magistrates. When they remembered that the elected members of the Parochial Boards themselves, who numbered only 5 per cent of their composition, represented the smaller class of heritors and also the occupying ratepayers, who alone paid one-half of the rates, the absurdity of the present composition of these Boards was sufficiently demonstrated. But that absurdity was vastly enhanced when they considered the manner in which these 536 elected members were chosen. There was no preliminary nomination; a meeting was held, the day and the hour fixed by the Parochial Board or the Inspector, and the occupant ratepayers, knowing that they were in a hopeless minority, took very little interest in the matter. On many occasions there was not a sufficient number of candidates nominated to fill up the vacancies, and if there was no excess of candidates those nominated were forthwith declared elected. If there was an excess of candidates, provided there were fewer than 100 electors present, a poll was taken in writing by the Inspector, and the candidates who had the largest number of votes were forthwith declared elected; and it was only in the almost hypothetical case of there being not only an excess of candidates over vacancies, and more than 100 electors present, that the contest ever proceeded to the length of issuing voting papers. To show that the word hypothetical was not too strong, he would quote the testimony of Mr. Walker, of the Board of Supervision, who told the Committee of 1878 that in Dundee, which, until recently, had one of these Parochial Boards, and which was the largest rural parish in Scotland, possessing over 85,000 inhabitants, with a Parochial Board numbering 1,844 members, of whom 30 were elected—no contest going the length of the issue of voting papers had taken place between 1872 and 1878. They did come to a contest once in Old Monkland, when party spirit ran rather high, and one or both parties hit on the ingenious device of following the postman who delivered the voting papers, seizing them, and filling them up to suit their own views. The Sheriff, however, did not enter into the joke, and disallowed the election in consequence. That was the only election in a rural parish which he (Dr. Cameron) could call to mind which had gone to the length of issuing voting papers. To show the practical working of the system he would quote some particulars of the last election at Largs, in Ayrshire, where the parish consisted of 4,000 inhabitants, rejoicing in a Parochial Board composed of 270 heritors, five elected members, and five representatives of the kirk sessions. The election took place on the 12th of February, there being five vacancies, and what occurred he would 537 tell in the language of one of the gentlemen who was elected. He wrote—There was only one candidate besides myself present, the others being there for the purpose of voting; and the consequence was that three out of the number were, much to their astonishment, proposed, and returned members of the Board.This gentleman must have been somewhat of an enthusiast, otherwise he would not have taken so much trouble to get upon a Board where, even if he could carry all but the heritors with him, he must always have been in a minority of 10 to 270; but his artless enthusiasm was very soon checkmated. In that parish it was customary to appoint a Committee of Management, and a meeting was held on the 16th February, the five elected members being present, together with a gentleman who was not a member of the Board. The letter continued—This gentleman rose, and from a paper which he held in his hand read a list of names, 18 in number, which he moved should form the Proprietors' Committee, and he afterwards moved that two of the elected members should form the Ratepayers' Committee, and he produced 24 mandates or proxies from his pocket. One member moved that Mr. Hughes should be added; but this the gentleman opposed, and, there being only six persons present, the amendment was negatived by a largo majority of proxies.Another correspondent, a magistrate of Largs, and Chairman of the School Board, confirmed this account, and had sent him some details. From these it appeared that another gentleman, a Mr. Patrick, writer, who proposed the Committee, was himself a mandatory, not even a member of the Board; and he was obliged to propose the Committee with one mandate, second it with another, and, by producing other 22mandates, his motion had 24 votes. What added to the injustice of the proceeding was the fact that, according to his informant, these mandates had been granted to Mr. Patrick for quite other purposes many years before, and had already done him good service. The worthy magistrate wont on to relate that Mr. Patrick had dismissed a salaried clerk of the Board and had installed himself in his place; and he stated that no notice was given of what was going to be done. Twelve members of the Board were present, of whom 11 voted against him; but Mr. Patrick produced his bundle of man- 538 dates and beat them. To complete the absurdity, Mr. Patrick was the law agent of the Board. So, in this case, they had a Committee proposed, seconded, and carried by an officer of the Board, whom the Committee was appointed to control. That, he thought, was a sufficient indication of the absurdity of the mandate system, and the utter unreality of the popular representation at present enjoyed by the occupants and ratepayers in the rural parishes of Scotland. He need only add that, although the Board of Supervision allowed one elected member to act on every Board, there was no elected member on 61 of these Committees of Management, where alone an elected member would have any chance of making his influence felt. The average composition of the Committees of Management in Scotland, as shown by the Return, was 60 per cent heritor members, 24 per cent elected members, 14 per cent representatives of the kirk sessions, and 2 per cent magistrates. Twenty-six of these Committees consisted entirely of heritor members. That was the case with Kelso, with 5,000 inhabitants; Burntisland, with 4,000 inhabitants; North Berwick, Cambuslang, and various other places. In four instances the Committee was composed entirely of representatives of kirk sessions; but they were unimportant parishes. Only in one instance did he find, a Committee of Management consisting entirely of elected members. This was the case of Collace, in Perthshire, where, from some cause with which he was unacquainted, in a Parochial Board of six there were four elected members against only one heritor and one representative of the kirk session, and where the elected members, finding themselves for once in a majority, apparently thought themselves justified in following the usual custom, and bundling out the minority. Turning to the kirk sessions, he found that in 47 parishes, at the date of the Return, the kirk session element was entirely wanting; but in 38 others the kirk session element outnumbered the elected members and the heritors combined. The minister appointed the elders, who, with him, formed the kirk session. [Sir HERBERT MAXWELL: No, no!] "Well, practically. ["No!"] He thought he might say practically. ["No!"] Well, it was a very minor point, and he adhered to the substantial correctness of 539 what he had stated. The kirk sessions was allowed to send six representatives to all the Boards, while the proportion of elected members was fixed by the Board of Supervision. In one case referred to in the Evidence before the Committee of 1869, that of Cromdale and Inverallen, parties were pretty evenly balanced; and on the ratepayers succeeding in returning five elected members, whereas there were only three representatives of the kirk session, the minister appointed two other elders, and in this way outflanked the ratepayers. He came now to the case of unassessed parishes, and he should only require to deal briefly with them. In these parishes paupers continued to be supported out of the collections at the church doors, the fees for the publication of banns, and other dues, and the revenues of mortifications or bequests made on their behalf. In these parishes there were no elected members. At the time when the Poor Law (Scotland) Act was passed they constituted the vast majority of the Parochial Boards of Scotland; but from 650 in 1845 they had declined to 63 in 1882; and, judging from the state of things which the Royal Commission of 1844 found to exist in the parishes of Scotland, he thought the sooner the remnant was merged into the general system the better it would be for all parties. He thought he had said enough to prove the absurdity of the constitution of the Parochial Boards in rural parishes. In the assessed parishes the large holders paid less than one-half of the rates, and yet they possessed 18 times the representation of the ratepayers on the Parochial Boards. The ratepayers' representatives were in a hopeless minority; and, knowing that if they asserted themselves they were certain to be turned out at the next election of the committee, they took little interest in the proceedings. In 58 parishes the kirk session was supreme, and the minister, who paid no rates, had the chief say in the appointment of the members of the kirk session. It was said that the minister was a most valuable member of the Board; but, if so, there were 47 parishes in which he was not an ex officio member at all, and, not being a ratepayer, he was ineligible for election. Again, if it were said that landowners should be represented, he had to remind them that there were 30 540 parishes in which there was only one heritor, and twice that number where there were only two or three, and where the kirk session could at present outvote them. Everything depended on the caprice of the predominant section; and the only section that was never predominant was that of the elected members, who, in burghal parishes, formed the chief portion of the Board. It was said that, however anomalous the composition of the Boards was, the system in practice worked well. He altogether denied that it did work well. He would give his reasons. The 52nd section of the Poor Law Act of Scotland laid down the proposition that property vested in the hands of the kirk sessions and heritors, as trustees for the poor, should be handed over to the Parochial Boards constituted under that Act; but by a legal quibble that enactment was evaded, and the property in the hands of the kirk session had never been handed over. The value of this property was estimated at from £300,000 to £500,000. Did anyone imagine that if the kirk session had not had such a predominant influence an attempt would not have been made by litigation to get rid of that quibble, or, if it was impossible by litigation, to enforce by legislation what was evidently the intention of Parliament. Again, under Section 49 it was enacted that ministers should be rated for the relief of the poor on their stipend; but when assessments on means and substances wore abolished as invidious and unpopular in favour of assessments based on the value of lands and heritages, a decision was given that under the Poor Law Act a minister could not be assessed for the relief of the poor in respect of their glebes and manses, and since 1852 they had not been assessed at all. Lord Fraser, who gave evidence before the Committee of 1869, pointed out that the enactment in the Poor Law Act on that point was direct, imperative, and absolute—or, in other words, Lord Eraser, one of the most eminent authorities on the subject in Scotland, laid down that ministers were, and still continued to be, liable for assessment for the relief of the poor on their stipends, and yet ministers were not assessed. Did anyone imagine that if the kirk session had not such an influence, owing to its representation on the Parochial Boards, steps would not 541 have been taken in the public interest to test the validity of that opinion. Again, Lord Fraser told the Committee that the poor rate was in principle a personal tax, not a tax on property, but on income; and he went on to point out that when assessments on means and substances were abolished, they were abolished simply because they were too inquisitorial, and could not be fairly worked out, and the assessments on property were substituted for them without any change in the principle of the law. In order that the principle might remain unchanged the Board of Supervision drew up a scheme of classification, and Lord Fraser pointed out that in this order the principle was adhered to. As an authority on these points, Lord Fraser was admitted to have no peer in Scotland. But though the Board of Supervision might recommend classifications it could not enforce them. Now, when, as was very frequently the case, the residential feuars had the entire control of the Board, did anyone imagine that they would adopt any classification based upon the proper principle of Scotch law which would relieve, at their expense, farmers and shopkeepers? Was it not much more certain that they would oppose anything of the sort by every means in their power? For years past the Board of Supervision had brought this subject under the notice of the Parochial Boards; but it had been adopted by only 189. The same argument applied equally to deductions under the 37th section of the Act. He must ask this further question—Did anyone imagine that human nature in Scotland was so immaculate that on Boards thus irresponsible, managed in towns by cliques, and in country districts by agents with sheafs of old mandates, conducting their business by committees meeting in private, without any check in the shape of an effective audit of their accounts—did anyone imagine that, under such circumstances, an immense amount of jobbery did not occur? Were the interests of the poor and the interests of the ratepayers the only interests upon which these men fixed their eyes? The fact that 130 parishes in Scotland did not participate in the grant in aid of medical relief, simply because they did not choose to comply with the very meagre provisions which the Board of Supervision had laid 542 down to insure that in the cases of the recipient something like proper medical relief should be afforded, seemed sufficient to demonstrate that in a large section of the Parochial Boards of Scotland the welfare of the poor was not the primary object kept in view. For these Boards, then, he proposed, in the present Bill, to substitute Boards elected after the manner of Town Councils. There was nothing very revolutionary in that proposal. For many years past these Town Councils had administered funds of greater amount than those administered by Parochial Boards; and in former years, in burghs, the poor rates were administered by precisely this class of men. But the fact was almost forgotten that previous to 1844, in parishes which contained burghs or parts of burghs, the management of the poor in the urban and in the landward district was distinct. The urban poor were maintained by rates managed by urban magistrates, who were popularly elected, and the poor of the landward district were managed separately. But in 1844 a decision was given, according to which these parishes must, for all purposes, be considered as one. In 1844, for the first time in burghs generally in Scotland, the management of the poor and the levying of the poor rates had been taken out of the hands of the magistrates, and there was instituted the present anomalous, unfair, and unsatisfactory state of things. The strong objection to the Bill was that it would abolish graduated voting. It was intended to abolish graduated voting, which was utterly absurd. As Lord Fraser had pointed out, poor rates were in principle a tax upon income and not upon property. If they took them in that light, how could they defend graduated voting as at present carried out? If they wanted to have any rational system of graduated voting they should let a man have votes in proportion to the rates he paid. But at present the ratepayer on a dwelling-house, the rent of which was £100, paid rates in full upon that £100, while the ratepayer on a shop worth £100 might be allowed a deduction of one-third upon the rates he paid, and a farmer on a similar rental was probably allowed a deduction of two-thirds or three-fourths. Nevertheless, the farmer, the shopkeeper, and the householder, who each paid different rates, had the same number of votes, 543 according to the present graduated scale. It had been suggested that this Bill would affect the representation of property. The poor tax was not a tax upon property; but, assuming it was, the present graduated system would still be an absurdity, for it left the owner or occupier who was rated at £600 a-year with the same power as the owner who paid rates on £60,000 a-year. The ratepayer, in a property worth more than £500 a-year, had the maximum number of votes; and a Railway Company, which might pay rates on 50 times as much property, had only the same number. As he had said, in very many parishes the heritor members were at present in a hopeless minority; and he had no hesitation in saying that with properly constituted, popularly elected Boards, in parishes where there was only one proprietor, his influence in the constitution of the Board would be greater than at present. Various objections had been raised to his adoption of the municipal franchise. He had selected the municipal franchise because it was thoroughly well understood, and had worked satisfactorily in Scotland. It seemed to him to be a better and more reasonable franchise than the school board. Various objections on points of detail had been raised against it. It had been said that it would disfranchise proprietors who did not live within seven miles of the parish. But, he asked, did these proprietors vote at present? They happened to be excluded under the Municipal Franchise Acts; but he saw no reason why they and every ratepayer under these Acts should not have a single vote. This morning he received a "whip" from the Barony Parochial Board, which set forth some figures which Members might attach some importance to. It pointed out that his Bill would have the effect in the barony parish of disfranchising the representatives of nearly £1,000,000 of rental, and a table was added. He looked at this table, and, if anything were wanted to show the absurdity of the present system, it was to be found here. In another page of the "whip" they found it stated that the yearly assessment for relief of the poor in the parish was £59,000, and that the yearly rental of the parish was £1,500,000. If the class of ratepayers enumerated on the first table were compared with the second table, they would find that they 544 should pay nearly £40,000a-yearof rates. Owning two thirds of the property, they should pay two-thirds of the rates. But if they referred to the table they would see that they paid only one-third of the rates. It had also been said that a number of classes would also be disfranchised. Under the municipal franchise, representatives of companies had no votes, and representatives of partnerships had only votes in exceptional cases. That was the case with school board and municipal elections, and he did not see why it should be fatal to his proposal. He was entirely in favour of the franchise being as wide as possible, and of doing away with these disabilities. He did not see why they should not allow Corporations and Railway Companies to give a mandate to one person to go and give one vote on such elections. It was further urged against the Bill that it would allow persons not ratepayers to have seats on Parochial Boards. Had they nothing of that kind at present? He would remind them of the person at Largs who happened, by accident, to be a ratepayer, but who, without being a ratepayer might have acted as he did, and might have controlled the Board by the production of ten-year-old proxies. It was objected that the Bill proposed to deal with only one branch of Poor Law Reform. That was perfectly true. It dealt only with the constitution and election of Parochial Boards and their mode of conducting business; but this was a branch which must be dealt with first, and it proposed to deal with it thoroughly and intelligently. That was more than could be said of any of those tinkering compromises which had been previously introduced. He was quite aware there were many other branches of Poor Law Reform which urgently demanded alteration. There was the question of audit, of medical relief, of assessment, and a whole host of others. But to deal with these, and entrust the administration of a reformed Poor Law to the present Boards, would be like pouring new wine into old bottles; while any attempt to patch and cobble the existing Boards into harmony with modern ideas would be like mending old garments with new cloth. In the first place, they must reform their Boards, and after that reform the law which they were to administer. If he might venture to suggest, he should say that, whoever undertook the task of 545 reforming their Poor Law, instead of introducing an omnibus Bill dealing in a fragmentary manner with a host of distinct subjects—a Bill which it would take half a Session to get through, and such as had always hitherto resulted in the waste of so many Government nights and Saturdays, and the accomplishment of nothing—ho would have a much better chance of success if he took up one subject at a time, and dealt with it thoroughly. He had thought that the theory that popularly elected Boards conduced to extravagance was now-a-days exploded: but he found it was revived in regard to this Bill, and he also found the story revived of certain elected members of Parochial Boards being of such a low class that they placed their relatives upon the parish rather than maintain them at their own expense. Lord Fraser, in his evidence before the Committee, said—and he quoted him simply because he had a very large experience in connection with the Board of Supervision, and was not a person who indulged in vague statements, but was a man of exact ideas, who stated exactly what he meant—in his evidence, Lord Fraser read a long list of cases, which he considered illustrated various abuses of then-Poor Law system. Among them he found one single case in which an elected member—a member elected under the present hole-and-corner system—had allowed his mother to come upon the parochial rates. As a set off to this, he found a minister of the Established Church, and, as such, probably the head of his kirk session, who had allowed his widowed sister and children to go upon the rates. He wished to call attention to another case, the conduct in which was, at least, as bad and reprehensible as any case which might be quoted against him. It was communicated to him by Mr. Macfie, who formerly represented the Leith Burghs in that House. That Gentleman was now resident at Colinton, and was a member of the Colinton Parochial Board. In that parish the City of Edinburgh parish had erected a poor-house, and to that poor-house it sent down female paupers who expected to become mothers. Well, recently a decision was given by the Scottish Courts by which it was decided that children born in that poor-house had their settlement in the parish of Colinton, so that if at any sub-sequent period they became paupers they 546 might be chargeable upon the parish of Colinton. Legal opinion was largely divided as to the soundness of the decision, and another parish, the barony parish, was also affected by it. According to Mr. Macfie, the barony parish agreed to pay half the cost of an appeal. He brought forward a motion in the Colinton Parochial Board to the effect that a joint action should be taken for the purpose of re-opening the case on appeal. But the City of Edinburgh parish, as proprietor of the poor-house, was a heritor in Colinton; and as such it had, of course, a seat by proxy at the Colinton Parochial Board. Mr. Macfie's motion was evidently for the interest of the parish of Colinton; but, notwithstanding this, the City parish "whipped up, and, by the help of mandates, prevented an appeal." The other two cases he had mentioned were outmatched by this one, in which the gigantic Board of Edinburgh, like a great parochial cuckoo, saddled the maintenance of its orphan progeny upon a little parish like Colinton. It had been said that this was a subject with which Government alone should deal, and which no private Member should seek to touch. But it had been left to successive Governments for a score of years, and had not been advanced at all. In 1870 a Select Committee had inquired at great length, and had issued a Report. That Report had practically remained a dead letter. To him it seemed that, in the present state of Public Business, there were many important reforms urgently demanding consideration which would run the risk of being overlooked altogether unless private Members brought them forward. If this Bill met with the approval of Parliament, he was convinced that an important step would have been taken in the right direction. If, unfortunately, it did not, he should, at least, feel he had not altogether wasted the time of the House in endeavouring to call public attention to a state of things in connection with an important department of local administration in Scotland which he thought he had proved to stand at least as much in need of some thorough and sweeping reform as anything of a comparable nature that could be pointed to within the British Islands.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Dr. Cameron.)547
§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL
, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, that the address to which, the House had just listened was remarkable, if not for its accuracy, at all events for the variety and gravity of the charges the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) had brought against a system of administration which would compare favourably, in its record of sustained and praiseworthy effort, with any other administration in the Kingdom. It would be necessary for him first, before he entered into a defence of the system which the hon. Member for Glasgow objected to, to notice more than one point in which it seemed to him he had not a little transgressed the limit of ascertained fact. In the first place, in referring to the ex officio members of Parochial Boards in Scotland, he had spoken of the elders as appointed by the minister; whereas, as a matter of fact, they were elected by the congregation. ["No, no!"] He was in no danger of the statement being effectively contradicted. That was the constitution of the Scotch Church, of which he was a member. The second point in which it seemed to him he had strangely misrepresented facts was in his statement as to the mode of fixing the day of election. He had said that the election of the Parochial Boards was fixed by the Inspectors of the different parishes.
§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL
said, he accepted the hon. Member's correction; but, as a matter of fact, the date of a contested election was not fixed by the Board, but by the Board of Supervision.
said, that, in Question 3542 of the Report of 1878, Mr. Walker said the Board of Supervision in fixing the date of election, invariably consulted the convenience of the parish.
§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL
said, it was practically this—that it was in the power of the ratepayers to cause a contest if there was any desire for it in the public mind, and the day of the contested election was fixed by the Board of Supervision. If there was any feeling on the part of the ratepayers against the existing elected members, or a desire that they should be otherwise represented, it was perfectly within their 548 power to have an election. He thought a reference to the Report of the Board of Supervision for 18S2 would show that in two, if not three, instances the date of an election of a Parochial Body was settled during 1882 by the Board of Supervision. He (Sir Herbert Maxwell) thought that the absence of interest on the part of the electors was not to be accounted for by any uncertainty as to the date of the election or dissatisfaction with the mode of fixing it, but to a generally satisfied feeling that parochial affairs were carried on in a satisfactory and efficient manner. There was another point in regard to which the hon. Member for Glasgow seemed to have overlooked the existing state of things. Perhaps he was ignorant of the present mode of election to the Glasgow Board. There was now, he (Sir Herbert Maxwell) was informed, a public poll between the hours of 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.
§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL
said, he was informed, on undoubted authority, that that was the present state of the law, and the hon. Member's objection that workmen and tradesmen could not attend to vote seemed, therefore, to be unfounded; but he proposed to found his objection to the Bill on the revolution it would effect in every parish in Scotland, and, further, on the satisfactory nature of the work which had been done by the Parochial Boards. It was a vast and sweeping change that the hon. Member for Glasgow proposed. Had he made out a case for a change in the law, or if the state of the poor, or other matters which the Parochial Boards had to administer, justified it, he (Sir Herbert Maxwell) should be the last to complain that the hon. Member for Glasgow, as a private Member, had brought in this Bill, for he considered it to be the duty of private Members to bring matters requiring reform before the Government and the House; but he must say that he considered it was incumbent upon Her Majesty's Government to offer to the proposals of the hon. Member a distinct and emphatic negative, and he trusted that, before the debate closed, the House would hear some statement to that effect. He based his opposition to the Bill mainly on the ground that the present system 549 had worked harmoniously, effectively, and economically, though he did not deny that improvement might be necessary. The hon. Member for Glasgow said his Bill would put representation on a wider basis; but it seemed to be, in reality, a vast measure of disfranchisement. It would be seen, from the statement which had been circulated amongst Scottish Members, that the total valuation of burghal parishes was £1,500,000 in round numbers. If the proposals of the hon. Member became law, the following properties in one parish alono—the barony parish of Glasgow—would be absolutely without representation:—Properties belonging to trustees, &c, to the amount of £191,600, now annually assessed to the amount of £5,000; properties belonging to persons resident more than seven miles beyond the parish, who had a place of business in the parish, to the amount of £71,480, and assessed to the extent of £1,861; and, lastly, properties belonging to Companies—Railway, Insurance, &c.—to the amount of £500,000, rated now at the annual amount of £110,000. The total that would be disfranchised in this parish alone, out of a gross valuation of £1,500,000, would be £918,005—very nearly £1,000,000 sterling. That, certainly, did not seem like extending the basis of representation. The hon. Member said that property was not the basis of representation; but was the House to understand that these Companies, Trustees, and others, were to be left without representation simply because they did not come within the provisions of the Municipal Election Act? But the aspect in which he (Sir Herbert Maxwell) viewed this Bill with the gravest apprehension was as it would affect the rural parishes of Scotland, which, of course, were much more numerous than the burghal parishes, and he spoke from several years' experience of the active administration of the Poor Law in rural parishes. It was provided by the Bill that parishes of a population of 5,000 and under should have no more than six members on the Parochial Board. Now, by far the greater number of parishes in Scotland had a much smaller population than 5,000. In his own county there was only one parish which exceeded 5,000 in population. The effect would be that nearly every 550 rural Parochial Board in Scotland would consist of six members, and no more. What would be the result? There were many parishes in Scotland which greatly exceeded in area the whole of London; and, however easy it might be to get from South Kensington to Fleet Street, or from Regent's Park to Southwark. The means of communication in the rural districts of Scotland were very deficient. Bad roads and long distances combined would result in this—that farmers and others wishing to attend meetings of Parochial Boards would frequently have to sacrifice nearly an entire working day. The difficulty of obtaining a quorum would, in consequence, be enormously enhanced. It was difficult enough now to obtain a quorum at meetings of the Parochial Boards; but it would be infinitely more difficult, if not impossible, under this Bill. The hon. Member instanced school boards; but had he had any acquaintance with the working of the Education Act in rural parishes? If so, he must surely be aware that grave difficulties presented themselves in securing the attendance of members. In a school board of which he (Sir Herbert Maxwell) was the Chairman until the last election, he had to intimate to one member that in consequence of his non-attendance for more than a year his place must be filled up, and he was accordingly removed from the board. With experiences of that sort of the difficulty of obtaining attendances at numerically small boards, he deprecated most strongly the proposal to reduce Parochial Boards to the extent provided for in the Bill. There was another point which seemed to have escaped the notice of the hon. Member. If there was a tolerably numerous attendance at a Parochial Board the local knowledge possessed by some of the members was of the greatest possible value in considering the relative merits and circumstances of the cases of paupers which had to be decided upon. In some cases members were able to supply, from personal acquaintance with particular cases, information which it was impossible to obtain even from the Inspector himself. There was a statement in the Circular which had been handed to Scotch Members, and from which the hon. Member for Glasgow had quoted, which surely the hon. Member did not mean to inform the House described a 551 case that was of ordinary, or even probable, occurrence—namely, that one member on a Board, or the delegate of a member, arriving with a pocketful of proxies, might do, or often did, exactly as he chose in the name of the Board.
I meant that to be a general statement; and I made the statement on the faith of evidence on the point given before the Committee of 1869.
§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL
said, that if the hon. Gentleman meant to tell the House that that was his idea of the sort of thing that went on in Parochial Boards, all he could say was that in his own experience, which extended over 16 or 18 years, such a case as that never came before him. Those who took the strongest interest in the administration of the Poor Law in Scotland would be found amongst the strongest objectors to the proposed change. Burghal parishes were already elective; therefore he should confine himself to the case of rural parishes, and he thought he might claim that their objections were entirely unselfish. The duties which fell upon members of Parochial Boards were irksome and thankless, and none called for the exercise of the judicial faculties and discrimination of country gentlemen so much as the administration of the Poor Law. They could not, therefore, be suspected of wishing to retain those duties from a selfish point of view; but they were convinced that it would not be for the good of the country districts if those who enjoyed the privileges and incurred the responsibilities of property were deprived, as they would be to a great extent by this measure, of the interest which they were at present inclined to take in the welfare of the people around them. The first objection they had to the Bill was as to the undue multiplication of elections in rural and in municipal districts also. In rural and in municipal districts there were surely enough elections already. They had already Parliamentary elections and school board elections recurring; and since the abolition of patronage they had in every parish, recurring at uncertain intervals, elections of the ministers of the parishes. The social results of these elections were not such as to make them wish to increase their number. Not only did this Bill provide that the election should be triennial; but the case was aggra- 552 vated by a provision in a sub-section to Clause 8, that one-third of the members who polled the lowest number of votes should continue to be members of the Board only for one year; the third of the members who polled the next lowest numbers should continue members for two years only. Of all the proposals ever made for keeping a parish in a constant state of irritation and ferment none had exceeded this. He (Sir Herbert Maxwell) held in his hand a letter from a gentleman who was chamberlain to a large landed proprietor and the Chairman of several Parochial Boards in the South of Scotland, which stated what had been his own experience so plainly that he was tempted to read a few sentences from it. This gentleman said—In all the parishes with, which I am connected the election has become very much a farce. The ratepayers take no interest in it, and the general result is that the Inspector has to call a meeting of ratepayers for the election.Did that show any grounds for dissatisfaction with the existing system? The letter went on to say that—The present Boards do their duty very well. The leading proprietors take great interest in the administration of the Poor Law. They give careful attention to finance, and, while exercising every reasonable economy, they are actuated by a desire to make the poor people as comfortable as the circumstances of each will permit. Any alteration such as the present Bill proposes will be no improvement, but simply lead to a great increase of expenditure.Well, they might put up with the inconveniences of the election if they were assured of the advantages they were told would follow. He could not believe, however, that these advantages would follow. He feared that, if the principle of election were adopted, it would be found that persons of position, of education, and of self-respect would not offer themselves triennially, or at any interval of time, at these two-penny-halfpenny elections. Perhaps the hon. Member would not object to that, because these persons "toil not, neither do they spin;" but, at all events, while they had kept up a respectable position in the country, and had endeavoured to discharge their duties faithfully, it could not be expected that they would submit themselves to rejection by a class of voters many of whom were themselves on the verge of pauperism. The people who would be elected under this Bill would 553 be the village politician, the gossip, the busybody, the man with a religions crotchet or a social fad—in short, the people who would get elected would be not the persons who were best qualified to discharge the duties, but the people who canvassed hardest. Then, on what grounds was the election to be decided? The hon. Member had quoted one case of an election at Glasgow in which the Temperance Association was concerned; but temperance was not a question on which elections by administrative bodies in the country should be decided. Would not the religious element be brought in? Those who knew Scotland best recognized most clearly and lamented most the bitterness and acrimony which was inseparable from religious differences, which was imported into every election, school board or Parliamentary, and which would, undoubtedly, form an important motive in the decision of these new elections. There was an important matter which the hon. Member entirely omitted from his description of Parochial Boards, and that was that these Boards were now entrusted with much wider functions than when they were first constituted. The Public Health Act now fell under their administration, and it formed a very important part of the duty they had to perform. In that matter, as in the other of poor relief, he feared that the change proposed would imperil the interests of the ratepayers. It was proposed to place those interests in the hands of the very lowest of those who had votes. The owners of property and those who were most largely taxed would be absolutely swamped by the proposed new electorate. Then the work of the administration of the Poor Law and of the Public Health Act had to be learned. They had at present a trained body of administrators, which had led to a continuity of policy; but there would be an end to the continuity of that administrative policy which the training, the practical experience, and judicial discrimination of those who now administered the law had established. The parochial work of Scotland had been carried on with certain ends in view under the advice, control, and direction of the Board of Supervision. The principal end in view had been the substitution of indoor for outdoor relief. In 1859 the number of paupers of all classes who 554 were in receipt of relief on the 14th of May was 122,000; in 1868 it had risen to 136,000; but since that time, when the Parochial Boards first became aware of the necessity of controlling outdoor relief, it had steadily declined, until, last year, it was only 99,340. In short, allowing for the increase in population, in 1868 pauperism was 4.1 per cent of the population, whereas it now formed only 2.1 per cent. Then, while outdoor relief had declined in that ratio, as to indoor relief it showed only a slight increase from 7,250 in 1864, and 8,794 in 1868, to 8,964 in 1882, an increase by no means in the same ratio as the increase of population. The policy which had been so successfully pursued by the Parochial Boards would be utterly smashed and knocked on the head under this new system. How could they expect that those who would be elected to Parochial Boards under this system would have any practice or knowledge of that which the present administrators had learned with so much difficulty? The question which it involved would be re-opened at every election, a question which ought to be considered as finally closed. He would quote a case out of hundreds which he could cite if necessary. There was an immense pauper rate in one of the Glasgow parishes, and it was found that numerous persons were receiving relief who were no more entitled to it than Members of that House. On the Inspector being questioned, he said that his repeated protests were overruled by the votes of small traders, the elected members on the Board.
§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL
said, they were of the class in whose interest the hon. Member had spoken in such a feeling way, and for whose sake he understood the hon. Gentleman had brought forward his Bill. In another gross case a family of three generations of women of ill fame, living under one roof, were only removed from the outdoor relief list by the intervention of the Board of Supervision, after the Chairman's proposals had been repeatedly overruled by the elected members. These questions would be continually recurring if the personnel of the Boards were changed by the adoption of the elective system. Now, be wished 555 to ask, upon whom Lad the great strain of the administration of the present law fallen? It had fallen upon the Inspector. There was no class of officials in the country who were more deserving of the thanks of the community than the Inspectors of Poor. Their duties were most arduous and frequently distasteful, and they were often open to the petty spite of their neighbours. They were frequently accused of favouritism in the representations they made to the Board, and he had not the slightest doubt that many elections in rural parishes, under this Bill, would be conducted solely for or against the interests of certain officials of the Board. If it were for this reason alone, that they should uphold the Inspectors of the Poor in Scotland in the discharge of their most difficult and arduous functions, he would urge the House to reject the proposal of the hon. Member for Glasgow. At present the Inspectors were supported by the confidence that was reposed in them by the Boards. Another objection entertained by those in whose interest he was speaking had been altogether overlooked—namely, the question of expense. They knew to their cost that the administration of the Poor Law in Scotland was expensive enough at present in many districts; and it was now proposed to add to the existing expense that of preparing for elections, and the machinery of ballot officers, returning officers, &c. He had listened with interest to what the hon. Member for Glasgow had stated in favour of his Bill. He had, he supposed, said all he could in favour of it; but he had listened in vain for any real purpose of helping, or any real proposal to assist in the administration of the law, or for any bent fit that would be likely to accrue to the distressed districts in Scotland. He could tell the House that unless they had from the Government an emphatic and clear repudiation of any sympathy with the Bill, they would create in every parish in Scotland a feeling of distrust and dissatisfaction which it would be very difficult indeed to overcome. The people of Scotland were satisfied with the present administration of the law. [Cries of "No, no!"] Without fear of contradiction, he would assert that there was no evidence to the contrary. Where were the Petitions which ought to be piled on the Table in support of the 556 Bill? He had not seen a single Petition. The hon. Member might, perhaps, have presented one or two; but he had not seen a notice of them. At all events, there was an absolute absence of evidence of popular feeling on the subject. For himself, he was not very much surprised, considering the quarter of the House from which it came, that the Bill was based on grounds altogether visionary. It promised results which were illusory, and had been supported by statements which were, at least, highly coloured. He looked upon it as a thinly veiled attack on the class of persons which, above all others at present, existed the opposition and envy of hon. Members below the Gangway. It was proposed in the Bill to deprive the propertied classes of Scotland—and the charge of the poor was a charge upon property—of the powers which they had hitherto exerted for the good of all classes in Scotland. He believed that the law had been properly and effectively administered; and he therefore trusted they would hear from some responsible Minister of the Crown that the Bill would not be allowed to proceed further.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Sir Herbert Maxwell.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
said, that the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) had brought forward a subject well worthy the attention of the House, and with many of the statements that had been made he entirely agreed. The question had now been for many years before the public, and the defects of the system of the constitution of the Boards of Management in Scotland had been fully acknowledged. The hon. Member for Glasgow would deserve the gratitude of his constituency and of Scotland if he roused the Government to exertions, to introduce some salutary reform. He thought, however, the statement of the hon. Gentleman was, on the whole, a little exaggerated, and gave those who were not acquainted with the administration of the Scotch Poor Law a very false idea of the system. He was sure that if there was one-tenth of the grievances stated there would not 557 have been the indolence indicated by Scotch Members on the present occasion. Nor would 13 years have elapsed, since the Report of the Committee referred to, without some effort on the part of the Scotch Members being made to influence the Government to introduce some reform. The hon. Member in his Bill proposed to deal with only one corner of the question, and if the Government wished to do so he could not quarrel with him on that account. That might be dealt with apart from any other matter; but, at the same time, other questions of a wide character were connected, and would have to be dealt with before any satisfactory reform could be inaugurated. The main point to be considered was, what were the evils with which they had to deal? Were the Parochial Boards "nests of jobbery," as they had been described, or were they, on the whole, Boards which deserved the gratitude of the community for the manner in which they had done their duty? He thought, on the whole, the truth lay something between the two, but largely preponderated in favour of the Boards. He could with confidence say that if they looked back to the history of the administration of the Poor Law of Scotland during the last 38 years, since the Poor Law Act was passed, the system had worked smoothly, expeditiously, and honestly. It had, on the whole, been a very efficient one, and was very desirable in many respects. The hon. Member who moved the second reading adverted to the Report of the Committee; but he thought he might have studied it a little more sedulously than he did. There was an admission in the Report that there had been a great laxity in the administration of the law, and that something must be done. The laxity was not in the law, but in the administration. If they were to trust to an elected Board only, they would have a system which would compel a much larger interference on the part of the Central Authority, similar to that which existed in England, and it would not be long before they would look for some other checks for the purpose of carrying on effective administration. He wished to correct what his hon. Friend had said with regard to the rate being raised from income.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
admitted that Lord Fraser was a great authority, and assumed that the hon. Member adopted Lord Fraser's view. He contended there was a higher authority, and that was the Act itself, which, in Section 35, laid down the principle that half the assessment might be upon the proprietors, and half upon the tenants or occupants, or the occupants might be assessed on a graduated scale; but that principle had only been carried out to a limited extent in some 159 parishes altogether. That was not the fault of the Board, but in the nature of the case. In the Committee on which he had the honour to sit this question, was fully discussed. They came to the conclusion that the mode of assessment on the occupant ought to be carried out by Parliament. The broad fact remained that one-half of the assessment rested upon the proprietor; and he thought that not merely would there be a great injustice if the proprietor were by this Bill altogether excluded from the administration, but also a great evil would arise in the administration of the law, if both interests represented in the taxation were not equally represented in the administration. Those were the lines upon which he thought it was desirable that legislation should be based; but the proposal of his hon. Friend was so wild that it could not be entertained for a moment by Parliament. The only advantage derived from it would be that it might elicit from the Government something more than a hope that something might be done to carry out reforms on this question, and some assurance from Scottish Members that they would do something to support the Government in carrying out these reforms. In saying this he did not wish to utter one word in disparagement of the elected members of the Boards. He held that the elected members of the Boards in all parts of the Kingdom were the most valuable elements in the administration of the Poor Law. He had taken part in its administration in Scotland and in England. He had been an ex officio member of the Parochial Boards in Scotland, and Boards of Guardians in England, and he found that the real work devolved on the elected members. He would gladly strengthen that body, and bring the proportions of the two classes more nearly to an equality than they 559 were at present, when so many of the other class were able to come and swamp the elected members. That reform might be carried out without injuring the proprietary element, which might still continue to be adequately represented; and if the Government saw their way to move in the direction of these lines, there would be a fair chance of having a Bill passed. But, as to the Bill before the House, it contained an entirely new principle. There was, no doubt, a very languid interest in the country in the administration of the Poor Law, and that was rather a testimony to the soundness of the existing system. The rates were not high, and the work was carried on largely by a useful body of men, of whom the hon. Baronet had spoken, who moved the rejection of the Bill—namely, the Inspectors. A great deal of the efficiency of a Board depended upon them. By strengthening that principle a more effective system of administration of the Poor Law in Scotland would be arrived at. If the hon. Member pressed his Bill to a division he (Sir Edward Colebrooke) would be compelled to vote against it. He hoped, however, that the hon. Member might be content with having tabled the Bill, and would leave to the more effective hands of the Government, supported by the House of Commons, to carry through the reforms which, he admitted with most Members, were very urgently required in the administration of the Poor Law in Scotland.
§ MR. ORR EWING
said, he was somewhat at a loss to understand what could have induced the hon. Member for Glasgow to introduce this Bill, which was more revolutionary than any that had before been brought in, or suggested. He could not say that, after listening to the hon. Member's speech, he was in any way more enlightened upon what his real intentions were. He was, however, rather surprised at some of the hon. Member's statements, which seemed to him misleading, while others the hon. Member himself, if he had given a little thought to them, would have known were incorrect. In fact, to anyone familiar with the working of the Poor Law in country districts, his whole speech seemed to be a caricature of the working of the Parochial Boards, which had been so usefully and so economically managed us to be examples for almost every Board of Management 560 whether in Scotland or England. For instance, the hon. Gentleman said the ratepayers had to pay a much larger proportion of the money for the support of the poor than the owners. If he had reflected for a moment what the law was, he would have remembered that the owners of property paid one-half of the total amount required, and again, as ratepayers, if they occupied the property they owned. How, therefore, could the ratepayers pay more than the owners?
said the hon. Member had misapprehended what he said, which was that the smaller heritors and ratepayers combined, paid in proportion a much larger sum than the owners.
§ MR. ORR EWING
said, it was just that statement that was so misleading, because it took away a portion of the owners who had a right to sit on the Boards by reason of their valuation. Then the hon. Gentleman said, when a meeting was called for electing the representatives of the ratepayers, it was badly attended, because the ratepayers felt they were overborne by the proprietors. What was the fact? Why, that no person with a rental above £20 could attend the meeting at all. So the fear and dread of the ratepayers being overborne by the owners was a matter that existed only in the hon. Member's imagination. He also represented the hardship of there being some parishes, amounting to about 100, where there was no assessment at all. The complaint was that there were no ratepayers. But why was that? Simply because a voluntary assessment was made on the land, and the heritors managed the administration of the Poor Law themselves, without charging the public anything at all. In the parish of Killearn, in which he resided and owned some property, the owners of land paid the whole of the assessment, and managed it with the able assistance of the parish minister and kirk session. No person who was merely the occupier or owner of a house in the parish paid a farthing to the poor fund. But by this Bill all that generous way of dealing with the rate paying class in those parishes was swept away; and in all those parishes the poor would have to be supported by rates. He (Mr. Orr Ewing) questioned whether anyone, at least in those parishes, would give any countenance to 561 the hon. Gentleman's proposal. The hon. Gentleman also made a remarkable statement when he said the assessment for the poor in Scotland was a personal tax and not a rate. He (Mr. Orr Ewing) could not understand by what ingenuity the hon. Gentleman could twist the language of the Act of Parliament into such a contention. The assessment was made on the rental and occupation of property, though, no doubt, abatements were made for one kind of property over another—and very justly—such as public works, farms, and shops, in order not to assess a man too heavily who was following an industry. These were all the remarks he had to make in reference to the speech of the hon. Member. He had an idea that perhaps the reason which had induced the hon. Member to introduce this Bill was that, having been somewhat successful in passing some small and useful measures for Scotland, and having no other question before him this Session, he wanted this to keep his hand in. He must give both the senior Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) and the Mover of this Bill great credit for these measures. But, after the fate of his Bill last Session to abolish civil imprisonment in cases of affiliation, he would have thought that the hon. Member would have been deterred from further attempts at legislation.
asked whether the hon. Member was in Order? He was now referring to a measure that passed last year, and had nothing to do with this Bill.
§ MR. ORR EWING
, continuing, said, he was only giving an illustration of the manner in which the hon. Member dealt with important questions; and he doubted whether questions of that kind should be sent upstairs, when it was necessary to entirely change the Bill so that even the hon. Member could hardly have known it himself. The hon. Member was more ambitious now; but he thought the hon. Member had not treated the Lord Advocate very well by introducing this Bill, which dealt with only the fringe of a great question, which must be dealt with as a whole by the Government; and why the Government should have permitted (his attempt at piecemeal legislation he could not understand. This was not a new question. It had been before Parliament for 14 years, and had been dealt with both by the Government 562 of 1868 and the Government of 1880. In 1869 a Committee was appointed, and sat during three years. The then hon. Member for the Ayr Burghs (Mr. Craufurd) was Chairman, and on the Committee was the then Lord Advocate, now Lord Young; and the Report of that Committee was the very reverse of the provisions of this Bill affecting the constitution of Parochial Boards. The Committee reported, in 1871, that the proposed constitution of Parochial Boards was not such as to secure any effective check against the increased expenditure. With reference to the qualifications for a seat at the Board, the Report spoke of the impropriety of allowing persons to sit at the Board of such a class that they might be related to paupers, and might prefer to cast their relatives on the ratepayers rather than maintain them themselves. The present Bill entirely threw overboard the principle the Committee recommended—that the qualifications of owners sitting at Parochial Boards should be raised; that occupiers should be qualified to sit at such Boards without election on receiving qualification as proprietors; that all ratepayers who were not members of the Parochial Board should elect representatives, the number to be fixed by the Board of Supervision; and that no one should be elected who did not pay poor rates. The hon. Member would, however, admit everyone to election whether he paid rates or not. The Committee also recommended many other things relating to the constitution of Parochial Boards in rural parishes, and in parishes partly urban and partly rural, relating to the audit of the accounts, poor-houses, the relief of the poor, medical relief, the boarding out of children, and settlement. These were the most important recommendations; but the hon. Member put them all aside, and sought to deprive large owners of property of the power of sitting on Parochial Boards, and to place the power in the hands of the smallest ratepayers—a class, perhaps, bordering on that of the pauper. The effect of that would be to entirely revolutionize the system of management of the poor; and, in fact, in every rural parish where there was a village, the farmers and owners would be outvoted by the inhabitants of the village, who were, perhaps, closely connected with the paupers. Besides the inquiry of the Select Committee, which 563 took a vast amount of evidence from all parts of Scotland, the late Lord Advocate (now Lord M'Laren) introduced a Bill, on the back of which also appeared the name of the present Lord Advocate, who was then Solicitor General for Scotland. That Bill was sent to a Select Committee, who amended it; but the measure was allowed to be dropped in consequence of the Lord Advocate's resignation; but Section 4 proposed that the Parochial Boards in burghal parishes and combinations should consist of owners—members being owners of heritages within the parishes or combinations of the annual value of not less than £300, according to the valuation. That £300 was, in the original Bill, £500; but he had proposed to reduce it to £300 and carried his Amendment by a majority of 1 to 2 of the Committee on the Bill. In the parishes with which he had anything to do, the Committee of Management appointed for the conduct of the whole business of the year was generally nearly half-and-half ratepayers and owners. He had to ask what had happened since this question was first introduced by Lord Advocate M'Laren that such a Bill as this should be brought into the House at all? How was it that the Lord Advocate had not at once told the hon. Member for Glasgow that it would meet with the most strenuous opposition of the Government? He must be ignorant of the feeling of Scotland if he thought the Bill was popular in that country. All the Petitions that had been presented and all the deputations that were in town seemed to be against the Bill. He had presented several Petitions himself; and only to-day he had received a telegram from the Chairman of the Dumbarton Parochial Board saying that there was no time to prepare Petitions, but that they were against it. Why was it that this Bill should be supported as it was by the Lord Advocate, when it was unlike the Bill which had the hon. and learned Gentleman's name on its back in 1881? Had the people of Scotland been calling out for such a radical change? Had there been a single Petition indicating that they were discontented with the present management of parochial affairs? Was there any single thing indicative of the desire of the people of Scotland for this revolutionary measure? Not one. But there had been since then a great change 564 in the position of the Lord Advocate of Scotland. That change had been very great, and they were now suffering from the effects of a dual Government. The Lord Advocate no longer held the high independent position of his Predecessors. Had an independent Member ventured to introduce such a Bill when Colonsay, Inglis, Moncreiff, or Young was Lord Advocate, he would have been told at once that he would have the Government's hearty opposition, and they would not have wasted this Wednesday in discussing a Bill that was so obnoxious to everyone interested in the parochial affairs of Scotland. This Bill dealt with only a fragment of the questions on which the Lord Advocate must intend to legislate very soon. But the Lord Advocate of to-day was enervated by this divided authority. He felt his action cramped and crippled. He felt a man at his back—an irresponsible Minister of high position, of great talent, who looked upon every question connected with Scotland through political spectacles, so that he was no longer able to act in the independent manner that his Predecessors had done. Lord M'Laren resigned the high Office which he held as Lord Advocate rather than submit himself to this humiliating position. It was not the interest of Scotland that this dual authority should exist. The ancient and high position of the Lord Advocate should either be restored, or a responsible Minister be re-appointed to conduct Scotch Business, and that Minister must be a Member of the House of Commons.
§ MR. WEBSTER
said, he rose to give not merely his own opinion, but what he thought was the opinion of the part of Scotland with which he was connected. He wished, as far as possible, to refrain from any argument. He felt that argument was uncalled for and unnecessary. No doubt it was difficult for any man to purge from himself all feeling of partizanship; but, doing so as far as possible, he said the feeling in his part of the country was that the present system of election of Parochial Boards and the constitution of those Boards was bad and altogether indefensible; that the preponderance given to large owners made any representation of ordinary ratepayers impossible; and that it was the consciousness of the latter that they were completely swamped that produced the apparent indifference to which reference 565 had been made. But when a system was so completely bad and untenable it was not safe to trust to any appearance of apathy; and he believed it would be a very easy thing to get up an agitation that would satisfy the House what was the conviction of those entitled to judge of the actual merits of the case. He thought it was better that they should proceed to look at this question while they could still do so calmly. His own opinion was that no system which brought about the results that had been described could by any possibility be sound. It was more like a farce. From his own experience he could assure the House that, in the large burghs and parishes, there was not the least apprehension that popular election would deteriorate Boards; on the contrary, he knew from the testimony of those who held office in the Parochial Board of Aberdeen, and from his own personal experience as a former member of that Board, that nothing could be more satisfactory than the working of such bodies in the largo parishes. The elected members of the Parochial Board of Aberdeen were so elected by the Town Council, and there were no more wise or economical administrators of the funds of the parish than those gentlemen, who held no qualification whatever. He knew from experience that nothing could be more satisfactory than the position of a Parochial Board in a large city parish popularly elected; and he could testify that gentlemen of position, so far from shrinking from holding office in such circumstances, had occupied, and still occupied, positions on Parochial Boards. In regard to the representation of kirk sessions, he thought the recent powerful statement of the hon. Member for Glasgow, and the fact that it was made amidst the silence of Members opposite, must lead them to conclude that no argument could be adduced in favour of the present arrangement. While condemning the present system, he was bound to admit that the common sentiment on this question was that it was one which it would be well for the Government to take charge of. He should be prepared to vote for the second reading, in order to show his sense that a change was absolutely indispensable, and that it would be well to have the system placed on a proper basis quickly. On the other hand, 566 there were some of the details in regard to which he was by no moans sure. He was not prepared to admit that the entire system which prevailed in connection with municipal elections ought to be slavishly followed in the case of elections to such peculiar Boards as those which administered the Poor Laws. The present Parochial Boards had besides a dangerous power of making distinctions between different classes of ratepayers, and of fixing accordingly different scales of rates on the tenants or owners in each class. There was another important question which he thought ought to receive attention, and that was that Corporations and Trustees ought to have some representation in the election of Poor Law members for the borough, or city, or parish. He hoped the Government would assent to the second reading of the Bill, with the view probably of then undertaking the charge of a measure of a more general kind.
§ MR. COCHRAN-PATRICK
said, he thought the Bill before the House deserved consideration from two very different points of view. These were the theoretical and practical points of view. In the theoretical aspect it might be considered as a demonstration in favour of the principle of representation in the administration of local affairs. In the practical aspect it involved very large and considerable changes in the present system, and must be judged by its effect on existing circumstances—whether its tendency would be to promote greater efficiency or greater economy, and, if so, to be ranked as a real reform, or whether it would be simply a disturbing influence, without the compensating advantages that rendered a real improvement both necessary and desirable. With regard to its theoretical aspect, no Member could be more in favour than he was of every development of local government. Loral government had not only inherent merits; but, at the present day, it was of the greatest importance that the largest possible body of people should be trained to feel interested in public matters, in order that when important questions came before them they might be able to look at them in a sensible and practical way. He went further, and said that, under the circumstances in which they were, considering the growth of population with which they had to deal, the method of representation was 567 the only practical way by which popular interest could be manifested in public affairs. It was the only sound, sensible, and statesmanlike method. But that made it of all the more importance that they should have a clear perception of what representation was and what it aimed at, because if they had only vague and indistinct ideas of representation, centred chiefly in the word and not in the thing, an article of sound political faith might become a mere matter of political superstition. After all, they must remember that representation was only the shadow of a substance, the reflex of a reality. At its best it was but an imperfect and indirect way of attaining that direct and personal intervention in common affairs which was the right and the duty of every member of a community. The question they had to consider was, whether the proposed scheme of representation was really more representative than the scheme at present in operation; and they were called on to decide between two systems, both of which were representative, and determine which was the best. If the system laid before the House was really and truly a perfectly representative institution, it should represent all the interests concerned. If, on the other hand, it failed to represent any of these interests, or if it inadequately represented them, then, in so much as it failed, it was open to the objection of want of perfection. To apply these observations to the particular case before the House, he might remind them that they were not here dealing with the case of representation as regarded Parochial Boards for the first time. They had already a principle of representation which had been in operation for a considerable period—long enough to give experience of it. They were presented now with another system of representation; and the practical question was, not whether they were to recommend representation abstractly, but whether the system of representation in the Bill would be better in its practical results than the system at present in use. He need not enter into details as to the present system, as all Scotch Members were acquainted with it. But he would say this—that one test of its efficiency or non-efficiency was to be found in the feeling which was entertained by the public as to its practical results. The hon. Member for Aberdeen 568 (Mr. Webster) said that in his district there was a strong feeling of dissatisfaction. Well, they had not had an opportunity of knowing that from any other source. But Scotch Members knew very well that if any measure affected the people of Scotland, either for good or for evil, they would not remain silent. If there had been any strong feeling against the present system the bag at the Table would have been full of Petitions in favour of the Bill. But any feeling that had been manifested by Petition seemed to be adverse to the proposal of his hon. Friend rather than otherwise. In a matter of this kind the people generally were anxious that all the modifications and alterations which the experience of nearly 40 years showed to be necessary should be introduced into the Poor Law administration. They would be glad to look on any proposal which would have this effect in a most favourable spirit; but he ventured to hope that the Government would not consent to the second reading of this Bill, because, by so doing, they would assent to the principle of the measure, and it was not a principle of representation as opposed to any other principle, but of a particular system, of representation, the practical effect of which was still in the dark. Many of the provisions of the Bill were practically unworkable, and many interests would be left absolutely unrepresented. He hoped, while not assenting to the Bill, the Lord Advocate would be prepared, when the proper time came, to introduce a measure embodying the reforms which they all regarded as necessary in the administration of the Poor Law system in Scotland.
§ MR. M'LAGAN
said, that the evils complained of by the hon. Member who introduced the Bill were certainly very great, and his surprise was that they had not been remedied before now, seeing that a Commission reported on the question about 12 years ago. It might be stated that the evils were three—first, that the ratepayers were not adequately represented at the Parochial Boards; secondly, that the kirk session and the ministers ought not to have seats as ex officio members; and, thirdly, that mandates were improperly used.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,569
§ MR. M'LAGAN
said, at the time he was interrupted he was referring to the statements that were made as to the in-adequate representation of the ratepayers upon the Parochial Boards; and he might remind the House that several Bills had been introduced into Parliament for the purpose of giving a more adequate representation, but those Bills had never mot with any success. In 1881, however, a Bill was introduced into the House, which was endorsed by the Lord Advocate of the day and the Solicitor General, now the present Lord Advocate; so that the Bill had the approval of the Government. That being the case, he could not conceive for one instant that the Government, which was pledged at that time as to the constitution of the Boards, would give their consent to the present Bill, which provided for a revolutionary system altogether, and he could not believe that his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate would rise and say that he would vote for the second reading of the Bill. So far as he was concerned, however, he thanked his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) for having introduced the Bill, and he took this opportunity of making a protest against the present system. He hoped that the result of the introduction of this Bill would be to induce the Government to thoroughly take up the question and bring in a Bill next year that would remove the anomalies still existing. The hon. Member for Glasgow asked several times what had become of the funds of the kirk sessions who were represented on the Boards by the ex officio members. He could explain that what was done at the Board with which he was connected was to pass a resolution recommending the kirk session collection to be given to the minister of the parish, and distributed to those poor people who were not indoor. That had been regularly done, and the money had been used for sick people who were not indoor.
said, the hon. Member had misapprehended what he said, which was that the church collections had been, by the Act of 1845, given over to the kirk session. What he wished to know about was, what had become of the mortifications and other funds administered by kirk sessions as trustees for the poor?
§ MR. M'LAGAN
said, he was under the impression that the hon. Member had asked that question. However, he was at a loss to know why his hon. Friend had introduced this Bill, because in Scotland they heard nothing about the objections to the Parochial Boards; on the contrary, they found that there was such indifference among the electoral members that it was difficult to get a sufficient number of the ratepayers to elect representatives, and if this Bill were passed he failed to see how it bettered that position. His principal object in rising was to draw the attention of the Lord Advocate to the fact that he was already pledged, and through him the Government, to a different principle of constitution from that contained in this Bill; therefore, he would ask his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow to withdraw the Bill and not press it to a division, because, by pressing it to a division, he might place the Government in some embarrassment, seeing they were pledged to bring forward a Bill on Local Government; and this question would be treated, amongst others, he had no doubt, in that measure. It would be as well, instead of tying the hands of the Government by getting them to give their consent to the principle of this Bill, to leave them free, both as regards the constitution of these Boards, and of any other Boards which might be connected with local government. While he protested against the existing system, he could not vote for the Bill as it was at present, because he heartily disapproved of the principle.
MR. PRESTON BRUCE
said, he did not see how a Bill which proposed to put the administration of Poor Law affairs in Scotland in the hands of a strictly representative body, similar to that which now managed their educational affairs, could be properly described as revolutionary. He had heard with much pleasure the remarks of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Cochran-Patrick), who spoke of the great importance of developing local government in Scotland, and who also said that the representative system was the only sound and safe system which they could adopt. It was because he found these principles in the measure before the House that he was prepared to vote for the second reading of the Bill. He could not admit that it accorded with his experience that there 571 was no dissatisfaction in Scotland with regard to the present constitution of Parochial Boards. Complaints on the subject had frequently been brought to his notice, both in connection with the position of kirk sessions on these Boards and with respect to the limited number of elected members. In voting for the second reading he merely declared himself in favour of the substitution for the present Parochial Board of one that should be representative. He should leave himself free to consider afterwards many important matters of detail in carrying out that principle. There was one subject connected with the amendment of their Poor Law administration which had not yet been mentioned, and upon which he should like to say a word; and that was whether, when they came to institute a new system, they ought not to consider the question of the present areas of parishes. There was a most extraordinary diversity in the present areas, whether they regarded it as a question of acres or a question of population. He found that the smallest parish in Scotland extended to 11 acres, and the largest to 182,000 acres. He believed the difference in population was almost as remarkable. He knew that in his own county (Fife-shire) the largest parish had a population of 26,000, while the smallest had a population of 140. It was worthwhile considering whether it would be possible to institute a satisfactory representative Board in these very small parishes. He thought, in instituting a representative Board, that they ought to take an area sufficient to secure a sufficient number of men likely to be able to conduct the Poor Law affairs without too much influence being given to petty and personal considerations. Again, he would not attempt to enter into the large question of plural voting, further than to say that he viewed with some suspicion and dislike the proposal to continue that system. In conclusion, he said he hoped that the Government would be prepared to show, by consenting to the second reading of this Bill, their desire to institute in Scotland a properly organized representative Board for the management of parochial affairs.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
said, he had very great pleasure in supporting the second reading of the Bill, which he thought a step in the right direction. 572 It did not propose to deal with all the anomalies or defects in the Poor Law system in Scotland; but it proposed to remedy, upon a sound principle, the present constitution of Parochial Boards. They had heard a great deal as to the feeling of the people of Scotland with regard to the present system. He was able to say, from his own experience, that there was a very considerable amount of dissatisfaction with the present constitution of Parochial Boards in the rural districts. The practical effect of the present system was to place, subject to certain limits, the administration of the Board's funds in the hands of the parish minister; and the fact of the minister of the Established Church having the practical control of the funds was a source of great jealousy and dissatisfaction amongst ratepayers. It would be a very great advantage to the Established Church of Scotland if the present system were abolished, for its abolition would remove, not only one of the great sources of jealousy among the various sects, but also one of the great arguments against Disestablishment. In this view he should have hoped that the Bill now before the House would have been supported by hon. Members opposite. The Chairmen of the Parochial Boards in Scotland were generally ministers of the Established Church, who did not contribute a farthing to the Poor Law funds. How could such a Chairman be acceptable to the ratepayers, and how was it possible that the funds could be administered so economically as they would be if under the immediate control of the ratepayers? He hoped the Government would introduce a Bill dealing with the question of County Government upon a broad basis. It might be an open question whether, under the new system proposed in this Bill, there should not be an equal number of representatives of proprietors, and an equal number of representatives of occupiers. This system had been partially introduced in the administration of the roads in Scotland, and so far it had worked satisfactorily, and there might be a good deal to say for such a proposition if occupiers were to pay one-half of the rates and the owners the other. It had, however, to be admitted that the system of raising funds for education in Scotland had also worked very satisfactorily, and he did not understand 573 that there was any reason for being alarmed at the proposals of this Bill, since school boards in Scotland were elected by similar constituencies, and had the control and administration of probably as large an amount of funds as the Parochial Boards. He admitted that the present Bill was capable of improvement in Committee; and, in voting for the second reading of the Bill, he voted for the principle that the administration of the funds should be in the bands of those who contributed them, and that those who had the administration of the funds should be popularly elected. He hoped the Government, if they were not prepared to deal with the question of County Government, with regard to which it had held out hopes to them for two or three Sessions past, would support the second reading of this Bill, not with the prospect of its being passed into law, but in order to indicate the approval by the Government of the principle therein embodied.
§ SIR ALEXANDER GORDON
said, it was with regret that he differed from the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron); but he was compelled to disagree with him upon this occasion. The hon. Member was more conversant with the working of the urban parishes than with the rural ones; but he (Sir Alexander Gordon) found that out of 1,200 parishes in Scotland there were only 12 burghal and combination parishes—at least, there was only that number in 1871—all the rest being rural parishes. Consequently, the Bill chiefly dealt with the enormous number of rural parishes, and not with the urban parishes. The hon. Member also referred to the non-assessed parishes, and he found there were 63 of those, and there were only 13 which had a population over 1,000. The Bill provided a graduated scale of representation according to the amount of population. The lowest scale was a population of 5,000, which was to have a representation of six members; but the Bill made no special provision for the large number of parishes with populations under 5,000—many of them were, in fact, under 200—and that appeared to him a serious defect in the Bill, and was one of the reasons why he could not support it. Out of the 1,200 parishes he also found there were only 119 with a population of over 5,000; therefore the Bill seemed to have more special 574 reference to these 119 parishes out of the 1.200 that Scotland was divided into. On that point, therefore, the Bill required further amplification. Then, again, the tendency of the Bill would be to enable ratepayers not only to assess themselves, but to assess others, and the provision with respect to that was not adequately made by the Bill. Another thing that was important to notice in considering this question was the absence of Petitions, or rather the small number of them; and all the communications he had received from his part of the country, which was a large agricultural county, were against the Bill. In Scotland they had an Institution called the Convention of Royal Burghs, which was a very ancient Institution, of some 500 years' standing, and that represented the most Liberal feelings of the country. All their tendencies and actions were in favour of the most advanced views on political questions; and they, he found, had not been able to petition in favour of this Bill, but had petitioned in favour of extensive alterations. This should be borne in mind by Her Majesty's Government before they thought of adopting this Bill as it now stood. The Bill certainly contained principles of great value; and he believed there was no difference of opinion on either side with regard to kirk session members of Parochial Boards. ["No, no!"] One or two might object; but, speaking from some knowledge upon the matter, and of the ministers of the Church of Scotland, he knew they were not in favour of being exempted from the payment of rates. With regard to the division of parishes, that was a subject on which they should proceed cautiously. He had himself gone into it a good deal, and it was far more difficult to settle than those who had not studied it might be aware of. Indeed, it was a question which might require to be dealt with in a Bill by itself. If the hon. Member for Fife-shire (Mr. Preston Bruce) could tell him the origin of parishes he should be very much obliged to him. He agreed entirely with what had been said by the hon. Member for Glasgow in regard to mandatories, because that was a subject which required change; but he could not, on the other hand, approve of the sweeping clause which proposed to place rural parishes on the same footing as municipal districts in towns, in- 575 as much as what might be applicable to cities was not at all applicable to rural parishes.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
said, he hoped the Government would agree to the second reading of the Bill—not that it should commit itself to all the details, but that it should accept the principle of the Bill. There had been a certain amount of doubt as to what the principle of the Bill really was. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire (Mr. Cochran-Patrick) had dealt with that subject, and had laid down a certain theory of representation. He would not go into that; but what seemed to him the principle of the Bill, and why he supported it, was that it was simply an extension of the representative principle to the Parochial Boards of Scotland—the extension of the same principle that they had applied to Echool boards and other local boards in Scotland. The hon. and gallant Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir Alexander Gordon) had objected to the intention to create small Boards where the population was sparse. That was no innovation. Under the present Education Act the number of members of Boards for the small rural districts was five. The smallest Parochial Board contemplated by this Bill was six. There was official evidence bearing on the demand for reform which had not yet been referred to. It was the Report of a Select Committee appointed to inquire into the mode of election of Poor Law Guardians in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and was presented in 1878. Only two Scotch Members were on that Committee; but the Report regarding Scotland was strongly in favour of reform. The Report contained this statement, that dissatisfaction with the present system was expressed by all the witnesses, with one exception. There was a consensus of opinion to the effect that both, the mode of election and the constitution of Parochial Boards required alteration, particularly as respected the representation. He should certainly support the hon. Member for Glasgow, and hoped the Government would agree to the second reading of the Bill, on the ground that they would thereby give their consent to the principle of the desirableness of a large extension of the representative element on the Parochial Boards.
§ MR. C. S. PARKER
said, it was evident from the debate that there was con- 576 siderable diversity of opinion as to the merits of the Bill. Even his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) and his hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay), whoso names were on the back of the Bill, were willing to drop some of its clauses—especially those of a disfranchising character. Indeed, an important body in the constituency of the hon. Member for Glasgow—the Glasgow Landlords' Association—had made strong objection to the way in which, in their burghal parish, they would be disfranchised. But he would not now dwell on clauses. What they ought now to consider was the principle to which they would be committed by the second reading. The hon. Member who had just spoken had said that the purpose of the Bill was to apply to the government of parishes in the elections of Parochial Boards the representative principle in the same way as in electing school boards. That could not be said exactly; but the Bill, as actually drawn, did propose to place the representation exactly on the same footing as in municipal elections. Now, if the Government were disposed to assent to the second reading of the Bill, he hoped they would not do so in the narrow sense of assimilating the elections precisely to those either of school boards or of Town Councils. There was a system of representation already existing for Parochial Boards; and before they parted with it they ought to consider carefully whether the new proposal would provide for all the interests at stake. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire (Mr. Cochran-Patrick) touched the central principle of the Bill when he said they were all agreed that representation was necessary. But there was representation and representation. In common with many hon. Members, he was in this position, that he did not like the existing representation, nor did he like the proposed representation. The representation of kirk sessions was given up by most hon. Members, and he was sure the feeling of the House was in favour of restricting the use of mandates. If the hon. Member for North Ayrshire had happened to be in the House in the earlier part of the day he would have heard that among his own constituents at Largs was, perhaps, the most extraordinary case that had been quoted in regard to mandates. These points were 577 universally given up; but he did not think the Scotch Members generally would be disposed to go so far as to assimilate the Parochial Board elections with those of the School Boards on the one hand, or with those of Town Councils on the other. The interests involved wore somewhat different. Hitherto the principle had been admitted that there should be representation of all who paid largely towards the rates, and he thought they would not be disposed to throw away entirely the old principle of regard to to the interests of property. The course he proposed to take was this. If there could be a clear understanding that the second reading committed the House only to the principle that the representation should be much improved and enlarged, he should vote for it; but not if it was understood that this Bill, differing as it did from the Bill brought in by the late and by the present Lord Advocate, in any way superseded that Bill. The two Bills should stand equally for consideration. Probably, this Bill would not make further progress. In that case the Government might consider it at leisure together with their own former Bill, and with the general question of local government in Scotland.
THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR)
Sir, I should be very glad if my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) saw his way, after the discussion which has taken place, to rest satisfied without pressing the Bill to a division. I think, on the whole, the discussion has been eminently satisfactory. I may, however, venture one exception to that remark. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Orr-Ewing), while charging that there had been certain inaccuracies of a very trifling character in some of the statements of the hon. Member for Glasgow, went out of his way to be guilty of a much larger and much graver inaccuracy than almost any, I think, I have heard given utterance to in this House. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire, for some reason best known to himself, made what I cannot regard in any other light than an attack upon my Colleagues and myself, and I am quite willing to leave to the judgment of this House whether that attack was merited or not. He seemed to suggest—almost to say—that in some manner or other I was hampered 578 or impeded by the action of my Colleagues in performing the duties of my Office—a suggestion which I need not say in this House is absolutely and entirely without foundation. ["Cheers."] After the way in which that statement is received I need make no further allusion to that topic. The one main reason why I venture to suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow that he should not press the Bill further is that the whole subject of local government has been and is under the careful consideration of the Government, and undoubtedly the administration of the Poor Law is an important branch of that great subject. Therefore, it is and will be the duty of the Government to consider that matter, and to deal with it, whether in the same measure which they propose to submit when the opportunity offers or in a separate measure, will be a question afterwards to be determined. But I think it has been admitted on all sides of the House in the course of this discussion that the present condition of the Poor Law relative to the constitution of Parochial Boards in Scotland is very far from being satisfactory. I think there is what I may call a consensus of opinion upon that matter, and the discussion has been by no means thrown away if it has brought that fact more prominently before the minds of those who ought to have been aware of it before, or who may have allowed it to fall to a certain extent out of notice. There seems to be no doubt at all that certain parts of the constitution of Parochial Boards are scarcely defended, and, I might add, are scarcely defensible, and the point in this Bill most deserving the recognition of the House is that it proceeds upon the view that there ought, at all events, to be a very much larger introduction of the elective or representative element into these Boards than has hitherto existed in them. That, I think, was very well put by some hon. Members, who accept that as the leading principle of the Bill. Undoubtedly it is. There is a good deal in the machinery of the Bill to which I should certainly find it very difficult to assent; and I may add, moreover, that I do not think it would be wise to commit ourselves at all to the idea—at all events, finally—that there should not be any other element at those Boards than that to which the sole prominence is given in 579 this Bill. Reference has been made to a Bill introduced two years ago, and to the Report of a Select Committee on that Bill, and in the very few remarks I shall offer on this Bill I should desire that it be distinctly understood that the Government would hold themselves absolutely and entirely free to consider in the future, as they have in the past, in what way and to what extent property should be represented on those Boards. The one mode of effecting that object suggested in the last Bill and in the Report of the Select Committee was by giving direct representation, if I may so call it, by actual seats on the Boards to persons possessing a certain amount of property. Another mode, suggested sometimes, has been to allow proprietors distinguished from tenant ratepayers to elect certain members. These and other suggestions have been made, and they are all well deserving of careful consideration. I think it would be unfortunate if anything that passed today would prejudice the full and fair consideration of these questions. But what appears to me to be the main value of the discussion which has been initiated by the hon. Member for Glasgow is that it has elicited a very large—I think I might say unanimous—opinion in favour of obtaining an exclusive, or, at all events, a very much amplified, presence of the elective element. That is certainly quite in accordance with the whole current of idea at this time; but I venture to suggest to my hon. Friend that the particular mode in which that ought to be carried out will deserve further and fuller consideration. I would further venture to put it to him and to the House whether it would, on the whole, be better that he should not proceed further with the Bill in consideration that the Government might deal with it in the manner I have indicated, either as part of a general measure of local government, or by way of a separate enactment dealing, not only with the constitution of Parochial Boards, but with a variety of other matters connected with the Poor Law which undoubtedly stand in need of amendment. I submit to my hon. Friend that that would be a wise course to follow in this case; but, at the same time, if the hon. Member should press the Bill to a division, I should not, having distinctly stated that we recognize in. the Bill as 580 the principle that mainly underlies it, a fuller and ampler infusion of the representative element, be disposed to resist the second reading, although I should very strongly counsel him not to press the second reading. At the same time, I couple with that non-resistance a very distinct and explicit reiteration of what I have already said—that the Government and those Members who may think fit to take a like course should not be precluded from considering all those other questions touching the constitution of the Boards which have been largely referred to to-day, and, in particular, the question whether there should not be some direct or indirect representation of property as distinguished from occupancy on the Boards. There was a part of my hon. Friend's speech in which he raised a question, which I rather think is a somewhat vexed one, as to the true nature of the Poor Law rate. I know it has been a controverted question whether that is a personal tax or whether it is a tax upon property. That, after all, I daresay, resolves itself very much into the question whether you put it to a man that he is to pay a particular amount for his means of subsistence, or whether you put it to him to say—"Because you own a particular piece of heritable property you must pay." That, in substance, is a tax; but I merely wish to put in a caveat that, though it has been referred to by my hon. Friend as a personal tax, I rather think for the purposes of discussion that it may be a tax upon property. As the matter in all its bearings has been so fully gone into on all sides, I think it would be superfluous for me to go into them again, or to repeat any of those criticisms which I think might very justly be made against the Bill. But eliminating from those particulars the general principle of the Bill, I should not, as I have said, be prepared to resist its second reading, although I should once more appeal to my hon. Friend whether, in the whole circumstances, he should press the matter to a division.
§ MR. DALRYMPLE
said, that the Lord Advocate, in one part of his speech, had urged the withdrawal of the Bill, and in another, while stating that if the hon. Member for Glasgow pressed the Bill to a division he would not resist the second reading, guarded himself by saying that he would not be 581 bound by the effect of the vote. He (Mr. Dalrymple) had been very much reminded of old times by this debate. He remembered the Parliament of 1868, when, as now, a few Scotch Representatives sat on that side of the House, and a great many on the other. Bills used to be introduced on the other side. There were sometimes the greatest differences of opinion on the other side, and they waited with the greatest interest to hear the opinion of the Government of the day. He remembered when Lord Young was Lord Advocate, if he disapproved of a Bill—if he thought the propositions mischievous—he said that he disapproved of it, and he opposed the Bill. But that was not the principle nowadays. The principle was now to say—"I do not approve of your Bill, but I shall not resist the second reading, and yet I must not be bound by the vote which I give." He had with some astonishment observed that hardly any speech had been made in favour of the Bill. With the exception of the speech by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) and the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay), whoso names appeared on the back of the Bill, there had not been an out-and-out speech in favour of the Bill. He had heard with much interestthe speech of the hon. Member for Fife (Mr. Preston Bruce), who had addressed himself to the extension of the representative system of Parochial Boards; but his hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire (Mr. Cochran-Patrick) had also spoken from the Conservative side in favour of this extension. But then the hon. Member for Fife dwelt upon everything except the Bill. The hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Webster) spoke strongly in favour of the extension of the representative system, but also informed them that the present system worked admirably at Aberdeen. It had been an interesting discussion in regard to everything but the Bill. He observed that when the feeling of Scotland was alluded to it was in reference to a change from the present system, but never in favour of the present Bill. He had not seen any representation made in favour of the Bill. All the communications they had received—and they had received many—had been against the Bill; but there was a feeling in favour of a change in the present system, and that nobody denied. He 582 had observed that, when it was convenient, the greatest possible importance was attached to deputations, and still greater importance to Petitions; but, on the present occasion, as there had neither been deputations nor Petitions in favour of the Bill, there had been a great deal of sneering at both. There had been no Petition from the Convention of Royal Burghs, whose decisions were occasionally deemed of such importance as to be spoken of with bated breath. The Convention was against the present Bill.
said, the Convention sitting in Glasgow bad passed a resolution directly in favour of the Bill without any objection. If there was a Petition, it must have been drafted by some Committee, and not by the Convention.
§ MR. DALRYMPLE
said, he stood corrected; but the hon. and gallant Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir Alexander Gordon) asserted that he had received a Petition from the Convention against the Bill.
§ SIR ALEXANDER GORDON
explained that he had not received a Petition, but that a Petition was on its way asking for extensive alterations of the Bill.
§ MR. DALRYMPLE
said, he withdrew what he had said, except that when the Convention was in favour of a measure a great deal was made of that opinion. The general feeling in the country and the House was in favour of the extension of the representative principle, and he had only heard one speech against it. Wonder had been expressed why those who were favourable to the Church of Scotland in this House did not wish the removal of the privileges of the Church in reference to these Boards. He was not aware that anybody had mentioned the privileges of the Church of Scotland as particularly desirable, or had expressed a desire that they should he maintained. He confessed he should be very far from objecting to the removal of these special privileges, and, as a warm friend of the Church of Scotland, he could only say that that was his opinion. He must put in a word of caveat in regard to what had been said as to Kirk Sessions, as if theirs was a sort of tyrannical influence which was prejudicial to the districts in which they worked. In regard to Kirk Sessions, after all, they were ratepayers, and 583 would represent the feeling of the rate-paying people in the district. He must refer to what had been said by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) as to jugglery and jobbery. He called everything he did not understand juggling, and everything he did not see jobbery; but it did not appear that all that the hon. Member for Glasgow failed to understand or was not permitted to see was necessarily michievous, and certainly the allegation was new that there was any misappropriation of public funds by Parochial Boards. In concluding, he returned to the point at which he began. He thought it a most unfortunate thing, in a Parliamentary sense, that, after a discussion of considerable length and interest, which had brought out a great variety of opinion, in which there had been so very little defence of the Bill before the House, Her Majesty's Government should not stand to their guns and say this—"We are in favour of a change in reference to the Parochial Boards, and are prepared to deal with the question; but we do not approve of the measure now before the House, and we consider that in affirming a wrong principle in this Bill we should be misleading the House. We, therefore, should oppose the Bill." He ventured to think that if they did this no one would misunderstand the action of Her Majesty's Government. Only last night Her Majesty's Government had resisted a proposal on the ground that they were going to deal hereafter with a larger question which would include the smaller; but to-day, when they were considering a question in exactly the same position, they were going to vote for the proposal.
§ MR. BOLTON
said, he agreed with the hon. Member who had just spoken, that no one was opposed to an extension of the elective principle; but he would urge the hon. Member to withdraw the Bill, for while that Bill would remove a few anomalies, it would create a greater number. The Bill would actually disfranchise the ratepayers who paid the largest proportion of the rates. If the hon. Member (Dr. Cameron) would withdraw the Bill, he would, by the discussion, have done great service to Scotland, and would thereby promote the object he had in view. It was news to him to hear that the Parochial Boards were ruled by the Established Church 584 ministers. He had known of a minister of the Church being a member or a chairman of a Parochial Board, but that was the exception, and certainly not the rule. He repeated his appeal to the hon. Member for Glasgow to rest satisfied with the discussion, and not go to a division.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, that to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Bute (Mr. Dalrymple), one would suppose that the Government had taken an unusual course in assenting to the second reading while objecting to many of the details. On the contrary, it was the most usual course. It was exactly what Lord Young, amongst others, used to do. He himself had passed Bills in this way. Lord Young agreed to the second reading, trusting to have modifications and alterations introduced in Committee, and he usually took care to have them introduced. Instead, therefore, of the present course being unusual, it was something very usual for the Government, if they approved of the main principle, to vote for the second reading. Even the hon. Member for Bute himself was to some extent committed to the principle of the Bill, and therefore he also ought to vote for the second reading. The principle of the Bill had been very clearly stated, and the scandal of the present system was so great, and it had been condemned so often, that he was not going to say one word about it, but would simply recommend his hon. Friend to take a division, and so let it be seen who were in favour of a real representative system and who were not.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 107; Noes 103: Majority 4.—(Div. List, No. 63.)
§ Main Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 91; Noes 83: Majority 8.—(Div. List, No. G4.)
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
rose to Order. He was down stairs when the Bell was rung for the second division. The Bell was only rung once, and when he got up into the Lobby he found the door closed. He, and a whole number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, were then locked out. He understood that the Division Bell should 585 be rung four distinct times, and in consequence of the Bell only being rung once a great number of Members were prevented from attending the division. He wished to know whether, under the circumstances, the division could stand?
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday next.