§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. POWELL WILLIAMS (Birmingham, S.)
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the subject was unfortunately a somewhat technical one, and he was afraid that the observations with which he should have to trouble the House would be of a rather dry and uninteresting character. He, however, threw himself upon the indulgence of the House, and promised that he would try to avoid being wearisome. At the time of the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 there were in existence a large number of towns having separate Courts of Quarter Sessions which owed their origin as boroughs to the operation of Charters containing a provision known to lawyers as the Non-Intromittent Clause; that was to say, they contained a clause which prevented the County Justices from entering the borough to exercise jurisdiction or to levy rates. When the Act of 1835 was passed it was seen that there would come into existence under its provisions a large number of boroughs, and the question arose as to the position which these boroughs should occupy in regard to contributing to the county rate. A sort of compromise was effected by which boroughs and towns, all or any part of which had been liable before the 11th of July, 1832, to contribute to the county rate, should continue to be so liable in the event of their incorporation under the new Act. This had given rise to an altogether anomalous and unjust state of things, against which many important towns protested, which it was the object of the Bill to cure, and which the Bill would cure if the House allowed it, as he hoped it would, to pass. There 376 were in existence at the present time in England three classes of towns, two of which enjoyed an exemption from the county rate, which was altogether unfair, and the third was still liable to that rate. The first class comprised towns which, from some cause or other, were not only towns, but counties in themselves, as, for instance, Nottingham and Newcastle, which, being Quarter Sessions towns, paid nothing to the rate of the counties by which they were surrounded. In the second class there were the important towns of Derby and Northampton, both of them having Charters obtained before the 11th of July, 1832, which Charters contained the Non-Intromittent Clause; so that they came under the benefit of Section 150 of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1832. They paid nothing to the counties. Derby paid nothing to Derbyshire, and Nottingham paid nothing to Nottinghamshire. These were two classes both exempt from county rating; and then he came to the third, class, which were brought into existence as boroughs subsequently to the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, and which, under the provisions of Section 152 of the Municipal Corporations Act, were still liable to contribute to the county rate. Conspicuous examples of this were the great town of Leeds, which was so well represented in the House, and the town of Birmingham, a division of which he had the honour to represent. What the promoters of this Bill said was that the two first-named classes were unfairly and improperly exempted from county rating. If boroughs of the third class ought to pay—and they were not exempted—why should one class of town pay and the other class not pay? All the towns he had mentioned offered no peculiarity in regard to geographical position which would entitle them to this exemption; and he said again—and he impressed that respectfully upon the House—that it was unfair to distinguish between them in any way, to say to one "Pay," and to the other "You are not to pay." But the flagrant injustice of the thing became more apparent when regard was had to two facts—first, that upon the body which collected and administered this fund the towns which had to contribute to it had no sort of representation; they had no voice in the expenditure of this fund. A thing like 377 that was contrary to a well-known and well-recognized principle of the House. It was anomalous and unjust. The boroughs to which he referred did not want any representation upon the County Board. They said—"Let the county take care of itself and provide for its own requirements, and we will take care of ourselves and provide for our requirements." But still the fact remained that there was a contribution made to a Governing Authority without any representation being given to the community which contributed. The second point he thought the House would admit was of more force. The very purposes to which this contribution was devoted were purposes which the borough had already provided within its own limits and out of its own resources. Why should the borough pay twice for the same purpose? Take Birmingham, for example. He cited Birmingham because it was the town which he was so fortunate as to know most about. But the town of Birmingham contributed £3,000 a-year as county rate. What did it get in return? It got the noble sum of £45 by way of contribution to the repair of two bridges, which were now contained in the borough, but which, the county people had used almost as much as the people of the borough. They did not mind abandoning that at any moment; but there being five bridges connected with the borough of Birmingham, three of them were repaired, being for the joint convenience of the borough and the county, jointly at the expense of the county and the borough. That was a proper principle to apply; where the expense was incurred for the joint advantage, then let it be borne between the two. What were the objects to which the borough contributed? Before he read a statement he had in his hand perhaps the House would allow him to mention a fact he knew in regard to Leeds. The borough of Leeds contributed £4,000 a-year to similar purposes—to those purposes for which they had already provided out of their own resources. The total contribution was £8,000 a-year; but he believed £4,000 of that was on account of lunacy, which he would speak about in a moment, and which this Bill did not in the least interfere with. What were the purposes to which the contribution of Birmingham 378 was devoted? First of all, it went to the salary of the Clerk of the Peace and Solicitor. Birmingham had its own Clerk of the Peace and Solicitor. The County Auditor? Well, there was no corresponding official in the borough except a person who held an honorary office. The County Surveyor? They had their own Borough Surveyor, and they paid him a heavy salary. The Justices' Clerks' salary? They had their own, and they paid them heavy salaries. And the Treasurer's salary? They had their own, and paid him a considerable sum of money. The next was the Shire Hall. They were about erecting in Birmingham a very costly building for the purposes of the Assizes. Another purpose was the Judges' House. They were just providing Judges' Lodgings in Birmingham. Petty Sessions Room? That, of course, was an item which they had long ago provided. County bridges and bridge-masters? Lunatics asylums? They had their own lunatic asylum in Birmingham, which was very ample to accommodate the very few lunatics which were to be found in that borough. The next thing was the industrial school. They had their own industrial school. Not to weary the House, the next point was the registration. There might by some difference of opinion in the minds of hon. Members on the point whether the particular constituency everywhere ought to bear the cost of registering its own electors, wheresoever they might happen to live. It seemed to him the expense of registering county electors ought fairly to lie on the county, and ought not to be charged to the borough. Such was a list of purposes to which he referred, and in almost every case—certainly in every important case—they were purposes which had already been subserved by the borough out of its own resources. He asked the House again why should the community pay twice over to the same object when it derived no possible benefit from so doing? It was quite true that there were some purposes which a borough did not in some cases provide for itself out of its own resources, but which it hired from the county. He had referred to the case of Leeds, which he supposed, not having sufficient accommodation for lunatics within its own precincts, hired that accommodation from the county. That was perfectly reasonable, and a proper state of things. 379 He did not mean to interfere with that by this Bill, which did not touch it in any way. If it was an advantage to any borough to hire any kind of service from the county that was a matter of bargain and sale between them, and need not in any way be disturbed. But that Parliament recognized the principle which he was asserting that boroughs should not pay twice over for the same purpose was clear, even from Section 152, which it was here sought to repeal, because the section expressly said that the borough should not be liable to contribute to the salary and expenses of the Coroner. Why? Because it would be obliged to have him, with his expenses, working within its own limits, and to provide those expenses out of its own resources. What were the objections to the Bill? It was said that the borough derived advantage from appeals to Quarter Sessions. Would the House be surprised to learn—he had it on the authority of the Town Clerk of Leeds—that there had not been a single appeal from the borough of Leeds to the Quarter Sessions of the West Riding since 1883; and as regarded Birmingham, there had been only two appeals during the last five years, and one of those was only nominal, and was disposed of in a moment? Did anybody mean to say that for accommodation such as that a great borough ought to pay £3,000 a-year? It was said that the county rate would be enormously increased if this Bill were passed. Sir George Morrison, the Town Clerk of Leeds, had shown that whereas the total rating of the West Riding was about £167,000 a-year, only about £20,000 of that amount was collected from the Quarter Sessions boroughs, so that the talk about the enormous increase of the rating was not accurate. And suppose there was an increase of the rating, which was best able to bear it—the borough or the county? Sir George Morrison stated that the rating of the West Riding was about 4d. in the pound. The rating of the county of Warwickshire, in which Birmingham was situated, was less than 4d. Everybody knew that unfortunately the rating of the boroughs themselves was very greatly in excess of that sum, and therefore, if there was anything in that argument, the county was quite as well or better able to bear that expenditure than was 380 the borough. It was said that the boroughs had the advantage of the use of the county bridges and roads. But had not the counties the advantage of the use of the borough streets, which they used pretty extensively on market days? And they got the advantage of the paving, watering, lighting, and watching of those streets "free gratis—for nothing." In the borough of Leeds there were 269 miles of streets, and in Birmingham, over 200 miles of streets, and the boroughs did not charge the counties a single halfpenny in respect of these streets, and why should the counties ask the boroughs to pay for their roads? It was said that the county had a vested interest in the payments that were being made. But was not 50 years long enough to have paid? Even if a county had incurred any capital expenditure in respect of the accommodation required by a borough, that capital expenditure either had, or ought to have been, wiped out long ago. But he had no belief in a vested interest in an unjust payment such as he conceived this contribution by a borough to a county to be. The only serious objection he had heard against the Bill was that it did not go far enough. The towns of Halifax and Huddersfield, which were Quarter Sessions boroughs without any Non-Intromittent Clause in their Charters, and were, therefore, liable to make this contribution, complained that they would not be exempt from the contribution under the Bill. They ought to be exempt, so far as they could show that the purposes to which the contribution was being devoted was provided by themselves. He was perfectly willing that a clause should be introduced into the Bill in Committee, which would exempt the boroughs of Huddersfield and Halifax, and other boroughs in a similar position, from the unjust taxation which it was the object of the measure he was recommending to the House to remove. In conclusion, he begged to thank the House for the attention and indulgence with which they had favoured him, and to express an earnest hope that the Bill would commend itself to the sense of justice of the House, and that the House would read it a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Powell Williams.)381
§ MR. HANBURY (Preston)
, in rising to move the rejection of the Bill, said, he hoped that if the House agreed to read the Bill a second time at all they would not read it a second time that day. The Bill had been introduced once before, and on that occasion it was only printed on the very day that the second reading was moved, and this time it was only in the hands of Members on Friday last. This would not have mattered so much if the Bill had been a simple Bill, and had stated on the face of it what it purported to be; but in reality it was a highly technical Bill, which referred to past Acts of Parliament, and did not on the face of it state what was the real purport and intention of the Bill. The Bill had a very misleading title. Anybody seeing the Quarter Sessions (Boroughs) Bill would suppose it was a Bill which affected nobody but Quarter Sessions boroughs. In fact, when he first communicated with the authorities of the borough he represented (Preston) the answer he received was that the Bill did not affect them. He, however, advised them to look more closely into the Bill, and he had that morning received an answer from the Town Clerk of Preston saying that the Bill would be most detrimental to the interests of the borough, the actual effect being to increase its contributions to the county, in round figures, by one-third—namely, from £1,666 to £2,539, an increase of £873, equal to about 3s. 4d. in the pound on the rateable value of the borough. The whole question of municipal boroughs was thoroughly gone into by a Committee which sat in 1882; and if Quarter Sessions boroughs had any objection to make they should have made them then, when the law was consolidated into one Act dealing with the whole question and intelligible to everybody. It was also well known that Government contemplated introducing a Bill dealing with the whole question of Local Government; and it would not be right to have the matter complicated by a Bill of this character. There were objections to the Bill being read a second time at the present moment. So far, however, from the Bill being a good Bill, it was a very bad one. The Bill sought to redress grievances, not by curing them, but by shifting the burthen from one shoulder and putting it on another. He always paid great attention 382 to the literary productions of the Birmingham Corporation, because they always stated with unhesitating frankness the real intentions of their Bills. It did not seem to matter to them much, whether the objects sought were just or unjust, if only the members of that particular Corporation could get their own way on a subject. What were the statements boldly made in the statement issued by the Birmingham Corporation? That a considerable number of Corporations had not made the same provision, that Birmingham had made. The result would be that a considerable number of Corporations which had not satisfied the requirements would obtain them at the expense of the county, without making any contribution in return. The Bill was based on a very plausible ground. It was stated that a great many Quarter Sessions boroughs which were in existence before 1832 did not contribute to the county rate; and the promoters of the Bill said—"Why should we contribute any more than they do?" There was no practical reason whatever for the uniformity of exemption which was proposed in the Bill. In the first place, the Quarter Sessions boroughs in existence before 1832 were boroughs which had been long exempt from the contributions to the county, and therefore it was no injustice to the county to allow their continuance; but it was a very different thing to create a new exemption. Then, again, in those days the work done was very different, for a great deal of work had been thrown on the Quarter Sessions in counties which was formerly done by the Quarter Sessions in boroughs, and it would be manifestly unfair that the Quarter Sessions boroughs should be exempt, not only from the old charges, but from new taxes in the benefit of which they had shared. Then there was another reason, which showed the distinction between these boroughs. It was that in a good many cases the old Quarter Sessions boroughs were county towns, and as such were totally distinct from the county, and transacted their own business within their own area. A still further difference was that whereas the old Quarter Sessions boroughs before 1832 were small boroughs, the boroughs which now claimed exemption from the county rates were very different. But there was still another point which was very 383 important. Supposing the Bill passed, and the Quarter Sessions boroughs were not be exempt from contribution to the county rates, what would be the result? The result would be that if they made the boroughs exempt from the county rating, they would indirectly give the Crown the power to interfere with the rates and practically alter the area of rating. He thought that was a very important feature in connection with the measure, and one that ought not to be lost sight of. It did seem to him that large democratic towns appealing to a democratic Parliament like the present, and raising their claim to be exempted from county contribution, had a very much simpler remedy in their own hands that would do justice not only to the boroughs, but to the counties also. What was the principle? The principle, as had been laid down by the hon. Member for Birmingham, was that no place should pay twice over. He perfectly admitted the justice of that principle; but there was a preliminary question ahead of this, and that was, how far was it right to take any town out of the county, and thereby increase the rates in the county? That was a part of a very large question, which demanded very careful attention before it was decided. When the hon. Member for Birmingham said that, because they had a Quarter Sessions in Birmingham, therefore they were doing everything that was done by the Quarter Sessions outside in the county, he must remind him that the Quarter Sessions in Birmingham and that in the county of Warwick had two totally distinct kinds of work to do. Birmingham might have a larger jurisdiction than most other boroughs, but it still depended on the county for its Assize. But the fact was that these Quarter Sessions boroughs, trading on the name of Quarter Sessions, had already a great number of exemptions—certainly two or three of the most material character from the county rates—and which showed no reason whatever for those exemptions. There were the questions of main roads and the administration of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Acts, in respect to which the Quarter Sessions boroughs obtained exemption, and yet what on earth were these to do with having a different Quarter Session? He contended that if there were to be any exemptions at all, they ought to be 384 taken fairly all round, and the ordinary municipal borough ought to be placed on nearly the same footing as the other ones. A great deal of the complaints raised by the Quarter Sessions boroughs were complaints which might be raised by any municipality in the Kingdom. It had been said as a reason why the Bill should pass that those who contributed the rate had no voice in the expenditure of the county. Surely the hon. Member knew enough about county government to know that that remark would apply to every rural district throughout the country. We had not yet got representative government in the counties, and therefore that argument was a very good one in favour of County Boards; but it was no argument whatever in favour of exempting Quarter Sessions boroughs from contribution to the county rates. A great deal had been said about these boroughs extending their bounds and erecting public buildings, &c.; but that was equally the case with other municipal towns. The curious fact about the Bill was that while Quarter Sessions boroughs were already unduly exempt from county rates, with the result that the rates they ought to pay fell on the ordinary municipalities, they were not content with that exemption, but wanted to go a great deal further, and the result would be that, if the Bill was passed into law, it would mean an addition of ¾d. in the pound to the rates on all the other towns, which would be, in his opinion, a great hardship. Let them take the question of asylums. That question was touched very delicately in the Bill, because it was a very weak part of the case. That question, however, was a very important one, and he thought they ought to know definitely and distinctly whether the promoters of the Bill intended to exclude lunatic asylums or not, because the effect in Lancashire, if they were excluded, would be very serious. The rateable value of four of the large Quarter Sessions boroughs was £6,500,000 out of £18,500,000 for the whole county; and whereas the boroughs sent 2,000 lunatics to the asylums out of a total of 4,000, they only paid £19,000 out of a total of £57,000. In fact, the boroughs only paid a third of the cost, while they sent half the lunatics. That was bad enough under the present system, but it would be much worse if that Bill were allowed 385 to pass. Then let them take the question of bridges. He wanted to know who were to undertake the bridges if it was not the Quarter Sessions boroughs? In Manchester and Bolton there were six county and 16 borough bridges; and if that Bill were to pass, although there were those 22 bridges, the towns would only have to contribute one-fourth of the expense. Taking the case of vagrant lunatics, in the year ending on the 31st of May, in the county of Lancaster 53 out of 82 vagrant lunatics were from Manchester and Liverpool alone, and out of a total of 494, 369 were admitted from those two boroughs. Therefore, they contributed three-fourths of the lunatics, and only contributed one-half of the expense. Let them take another question—that of registration. The hon. Member for Birmingham said that they had their own register of voters in Birmingham. But the hon. Member seemed to forget that in Birmingham there were a large number of county voters; and why should not Birmingham, therefore, be called in to pay its share of the expense? Then there was the Militia, but he should like to know what that had to do with the fact of having separate Quarter Sessions? Then the hon. Member had brought forward the case of county buildings, which he seemed to think was a special grievance, and he said that Birmingham had built a great Shire Hall where the Assizes were held. But that had nothing to do with Birmingham as a Quarter Sessions borough. If Birmingham liked to build a Shire Hall for the glorification of Birmingham then let it do so; but that was no reason why it should cease to continue to contribute to the county rate. It was the more reason rather for bringing it more closely into connection with the county. The greatest grievance of all seemed to be with reference to the Clerk of the Peace. The hon. Member said that Birmingham had a Clerk of the Peace of its own, and asked, therefore, why it should be called in to contribute to the Clerk of the Peace for the county? Well, he admitted that, to a certain extent, there was justice in that complaint; but the hon. Member must recollect that the boroughs were not altogether independent of the Clerk of the Peace of the county, because, as he had said, certain appeals of their own Justices were brought before the Judges 386 of Assize by those by whom the Clerk of the Peace was employed. Therefore, to some extent, they were entitled to the services of the latter, and ought to contribute their share of the expense. With regard to the Clerks to the Justices, he contended that there was no grievance at all, because the fees received covered, and more than covered, the Clerks' salaries. On all these grounds, and because, moreover, the Bill had been printed so late that the great majority of Members had been unable to master its provisions, he moved that it be read a second time on that day six months.
§ COLONEL GUNTER (Yorkshire, W.R., Barkston Ash)
, in seconding the Amendment, said, the hon. Gentleman who moved the second reading of the Bill was more or less in error in the figures which he gave as to the rateable value of the West Riding of Yorkshire. The hon. Gentleman gave the rateable value of the Riding as £16,000,000; but if he would refer to the statement of the Treasurer of the Riding he would find that the rateable value was only £10,484,509.
§ COLONEL GUNTER
, continuing, said, that why he had interposed in the debate was that the constituency which he had the honour to represent ran up to the town of Leeds, more or less surrounded it, and, consequently, would be very greatly affected if the Bill became law. The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) had, in moving the rejection of the Bill, gone into the general features of the question; so that he (Colonel Gunter), with the permission of the House, would only mention one or two particulars in which the measure would affect the West Riding. The West Riding contained five large boroughs, probably the largest, and most known of which, was the town of Leeds. The present rateable value of the Riding was about £10,500,000; but if the Bill passed it would be reduced to under £7,000,000 sterling, a reduction of about one-third of the whole. The Bill would affect the county constituencies to the extent of about £20,000 a-year. The Mover of the Bill had said that the contribution from the boroughs was only ¾d. in the pound. It might be taken, therefore, that the sum contributed by the large boroughs, such as Birming- 387 ham and the large places in Yorkshire and Lancashire, would be very small. But by the Municipal Acts of 1835 and 1882, it was never in the slightest degree intended that the large towns should be taken out of the counties, so far as contributions to county rates were concerned. The Charters were granted to the large towns as Municipal Bodies, and not as Quarter Sessions boroughs. Now, the West Riding of Yorkshire would be very seriously affected if the large sums contributed by the Quarter Sessions boroughs of Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, and boroughs of the same kind were dropped, and municipal boroughs, such as Harrogate and Ripon, would suffer in proportion. He trusted the House would agree with him that this Bill was a most unfair Bill. It was said that Municipalities had a twofold expenditure; but he pointed out that the second expenditure they made was made in their municipal capacities, and not in the capacities of Quarter Sessions towns. Municipalities expended large sums in sanitary works, in gas and water, and so forth; but surely municipal towns would expend money upon such things whether there were any Quarter Sessions held in the towns or not. Then, of course, Quarter Sessions boroughs had only jurisdiction over criminal business; but there was a great deal of civil work carried on in Quarter Sessions boroughs. It could not be concluded for a moment that the boroughs ought not to be called upon to contribute towards the expenses of the various offices necessary for the carrying on of civil business. The Assize business enters very largely into the calculation; and when it was said that the people of the West Riding of Yorkshire had nothing to do with the buildings, let him point out that towards the Assize buildings and the county offices, where the Quarter Sessions were held at Leeds, the Riding originally contributed £4,000. Again, the main roads formed a large and important element of the question. It was well known that the greatest traffic on main roads was principally between large towns; and the roads were, therefore, more cut up by the heavy carts of brewers and others from the Quarter Session towns than by any countrymen who went into town for market purposes. Most of the large towns in the West Riding had Quarter Sessions. The large towns, therefore, caused the greater 388 wear and tear of the roads. Personally, he much regretted that the turnpike system had been abolished. He should be very glad to see it restored, because he considered it the very fairest means of maintaining the country roads. Again, as to bridges. In the borough of Leeds one bridge was entirely repaired by the county, and towards another bridge the county contributed £2,000—a sum which, if capitalized, would give a very good amount per annum towards the maintenance of the bridges. Another, and to him as a county Member much more important matter, was the bearing of the Bill upon the suppression of disease amongst animals. In Leeds and Wakefield there were held large cattle markets. To those markets a large number of cattle, both Irish and foriegn, was taken, and it was a well-known fact that much of the disease disseminated in the West Riding sprung from those places. Why should the people of Leeds and Wakefield object to carry out the law by stamping out such disease, or to pay a fair proportion of the expense caused by their having scattered it throughout the county? The boroughs had by law always been considered part of the counties in which they were situated; and he trusted the House would think that it was only just and fair they should still be considered so. Mr. Justice Blackburn, when speaking of the Act of 1835 in the case Regina against the inhabitants of Windsor, which was heard in 1875, said—"This seems to be just legislation." Such he (Colonel Gunter) considered it, and he hoped the House would entertain the same view, and that, therefore, they would defer the second reading of the Bill for six months, as the hon. Member for Preston had proposed.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Hanbury.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. MILNES GASKELL (York, W.R., Morley)
remarked that he held in his hand a great deal of information upon this subject; but he was bound to say that nearly the whole of it had already been presented to the House by the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, and therefore he thought that if 389 he wished to have the indulgence of the House on any other occasion, he had better not trouble it now with a recapitulation of the arguments which it had just heard. As the hon. Member for Birmingham had said, the measure was of a technical character. A friend of his asked him whether or not the object of the Bill was not to charge Quarter Sessions boroughs with some of the expense of the county rates, and that was an indication of how much this subject had been appreciated by the House. In the West Biding they were very proud of their five Quarter Sessions boroughs, and of their rateable values, amounting to more than £3,500,000. He would like to know from what quarter the Bill emanated? It did not emanate from the Quarter Sessions boroughs themselves, for there were many of these boroughs, some of them in Yorkshire, which knew nothing about it, and did not care two straws about the matter. His belief was that it emanated wholly and entirely from the Town Clerks of Leeds and Birmingham; and his explanation of it was that whereas a title was given lately to the Town Clerk of Leeds, the Town Clerk of Birmingham was under the impression that whichever Government was in Office he would get a Peerage for the part he had taken with this Bill. The hon. Member for Birmingham had said that the Bill would not interfere with lunatics; but it had been shown by the Mover of the Amendment that it would. By Section 150 of the Act of 1835, it was provided that no borough which had a separate Quarter Sessions should contribute towards any county rate except as specially provided. In a very short time they hoped to have a general measure of local government; and it was hardly reasonable now to discuss, in an Afternoon Sitting, a matter which was wholly and solely a question for experts, on the eve of getting such a Bill. It was exactly the same thing as if the House was asked to confer a fancy franchise just before a great measure of enfranchisement for the whole Kingdom. He hoped the House would see the advisability of throwing out the Bill, and that the Government would also see the necessity of a similar course, and speak with no uncertain voice on the subject. This was a mine sprung upon the counties, which did not want their county life broken in 390 upon by such an insidious Bill. He knew that in the last century Englishmen—according to one of the greatest writers—were said to boast one against the other of the sums they paid to the public Revenue; and a French writer said that one man, who paid 5,000 guineas to the Revenue, was prouder of his contribution than the man who paid 4,000 guineas. He did not suppose that we should see that golden age again in this century of repudiation; but they might expect that rich and important boroughs, 17 in all, should not attempt to shirk the contribution that they were properly liable to, and which certainly ought to be continued until the Local Government Bill was presented to the House.
§ MR. DAWSON (Leeds, E.)
said, that the Bill greatly affected the town which he had the honour to represent. Hopes had been held out that at an early day there would be brought before the House of Commons a large measure of local government. That argument had been used many times during the last 15 or 16 years when any reform had been proposed that would come within the purview of that measure; and it was quite possible that other matters of importance, and other reforms which were necessary in the interests of justice, might cause a further postponement of the large measure of local government. Those who supported the Bill were also told that if this was an injustice and a wrong to a limited number of boroughs, the matter ought to have been entered into and a reform brought about when the law was being arranged in 1882; but the Act of 1882 was purely a measure for the consolidation of previous Acts; and he was told that in these purely Consolidation Acts it was contrary to usage and convenience that any debateable or contentious matter should be imported into its consideration. That was the only reason why this injustice, which was recognized as such in 1882, was not then removed. The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) entreated the House not, by passing this Bill, to introduce further complication into an already complicated matter; but might he point out to the hon. Member that the complication existed at the present time, and that it was sought to remove it? The complication that existed was that certain Quarter Sessions boroughs were exempted from paying county 391 rates, while certain other Quarter Sessions boroughs were liable to be rated for county purposes. They had heard a great deal about the injustice of saying that Municipal Corporations should be exempt from paying county rates; but the vast majority of Quarter Sessions boroughs were already exempt. It had been enunciated by the Legislature of this country that it was an act of great injustice to ask Quarter Sessions boroughs to contribute to the county rate; and all that the Bill asked was that this principle should be carried to its logical issue by the exemption of all Quarter Sessions boroughs from such a contribution. The hon. Member for Morley (Mr. Milnes Gaskell) made a pathetic appeal to the House not to perpetrate an act of Vandalism by tearing away the boroughs from the county life; but there was no proposal in the Bill which would have such an effect. The boroughs were willing to remain part of the county life if they were not compelled by law to contribute to the borough life, to which the county life paid nothing. The town of Leeds contributed something like £8,000 a-year to the county rate. The hon. Member for Preston had said that it was absolutely necessary that someone interested in the Bill should make a clear and distinct statement as to the effect it would have on the contributions paid by these Quarter Sessions boroughs for the maintenance of lunatics. It was not within the scope of the Bill, and it was not the desire of Quarter Sessions boroughs, to refuse to contribute towards the maintenance of lunatics. Birmingham was in the happy position of having far more accommodation for its lunatics than it wanted. Leeds was in a still happier position, for it had not had any occasion to erect a lunatic asylum. But accidents did sometimes happen in the best regulated families; and if there was in Leeds a lusus natuœ in the form of a lunatic, then he was sent to the county asylum and paid for by the town of Leeds, which paid £4,000 a-year to the county for that purpose. Therefore the sum, the justice of which Leeds disputed at the present moment, was £4,000 a-year which she contributed towards the maintenance of institutions which she had already provided for herself. At Leeds there was a Court House, but that town had also to pay 392 for the Shire Hall, for Court Houses, and other buildings at Todmorden and Holmfirth, which were far distant from Leeds, and could be of no use to the town. There were also handsome Judges' lodgings provided by the borough of Leeds; and why, in addition to paying for the entertainment of Judges there, they should also pay for the entertainment of Judges at York simply passed his comprehension. Then there were the smaller matters of the county officials whom Leeds had to pay for. Then there were the Borough Clerk of the Peace, the Borough Treasurer, the Borough Solicitor, and the Borough Auditor. Those were paid for as similar offices which were paid for in the county; but in the case of magistrates' clerks Leeds provided its own magistrates. There was one thing which had not been alluded to in the course of the debate, the question of juvenile offenders. The town of Leeds, it had been said, should provide for the maintenance of its own juvenile offenders; but it did so, and it was maintaining its own reformatory for juvenile offenders, while, at the same time, it had to pay for that of the West Riding of Yorkshire. There was another point. They were told after all that the Clerk of the Peace acted for Leeds as well as for the county. But there were two prisons which were not far from Leeds—one was Armley, to which the Leeds prisoners were sent. The town of Leeds had to pay the pensions and contribute towards the officers at Armley Prison. But there was another at Wakefield where no Leeds prisoners went, and yet Leeds had to contribute to the pensions of officials at Wakefield as well as Armley. Now, that was certainly unjust. The hon. Member for Preston said that, after all, the town of Leeds was never averse to have these, and gave the House to understand that magistrates' clerks and all these officials were mere articles of luxury.
§ MR. DAWSON
said, that one would think they were kept for their own glorification; but he maintained that all these officials he had named were officials whom the town of Leeds must maintain by law; and that being so, it was unjust to compel them to maintain 393 one set of officials of their own and another set of officials who were of no use to them. They were told that appeals were made to the Quarter Sessions at Wakefield; but the hon. Member for Birmingham had shown that since 1883 there had been only one appeal from Wakefield and only one from Birmingham, and one was merely formal. He did not doubt that when we had county government we should not have this anomaly. It would be swept away, and the apparent excuse for the anomaly would also be taken away. One word with regard to bridges. The hon. Member for Preston said the borough was compelled to contribute to county bridges, and therefore he did not see why they should not contribute to the expenses of the county surveyor. He would give one instance. A fortnight ago there was in the town of Leeds a county rate for the bridge which was entirely inadequate for the purpose. The county were asked to repair the bridge; they refused; but they politely and kindly allowed the town to make a new bridge at its own expense. Here they had a county bridge in the borough of Leeds which for years and years had been contributed to by the county rate. That county rate was inadequate to the wants of the borough; and now the county compelled the borough to build a bridge at its own expense, and yet the county would for the next 100 years come and claim a quota from Leeds for the county bridge. That was a fair instance; and he thought something ought to be done to remedy that. The hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Gunter) said it would add £20,000 to the rates of the West Riding. Not at all; it would add £10,000, or only one-half. Those contributions would not be affected by this Bill at all; and the actual increase to the rates of the West Riding would not be the whole of the £20,000, but £10,000, which would be left after the boroughs had paid the rates they were liable for. He wished to say one word about the Quarter Sessions boroughs, which, it was said, did not claim that all these charges should be taken away at once, but only that they should be obliged to pay for objects in which they had an interest. He had a letter from the Town Clerk of Leeds last night, in which that gentleman said there were one or two small matters, such as regis- 394 tration, town, clerks, voters, and one or two other small matters, which they did not object to pay, if Parliament thought proper to impose the liability upon them. If the county Members said it was unfair that these Quarter Sessions boroughs to which this referred should be exempted from their contribution to the local rates, he entreated them to be consistent, and to bring in a Bill to impose the necessity on all boroughs to contribute to county rates. But if they said it was unjust that these 15 or 16 Quarter Sessions boroughs should be exempted, he asked them how they could sit in their places and allow such enormous injustice to remain unredressed as 50 or 60 of these boroughs not to pay anything at all? The Quarter Sessions boroughs did not want to pay for what they provided for themselves; and he hoped that, notwithstanding what had been said about tearing the boroughs out of the county map, and in spite of the intention said to be entertained of bringing in a Local Government Bill at some period in the dim and distant future, the House would see its way to perform what was a simple act of justice, and say that the 15 Quarter Sessions boroughs to which the Bill applied should be placed on the same footing as other Quarter Sessions boroughs which were exempt from contributing to the county rate.
§ MR. COBB (Warwick, S.E., Rugby)
said, he thought the House was very much indebted to the hon. Member for Preston for having exposed the injustice that would be done if Quarter Sessions boroughs were to be favoured at the expense of those which did not happen to be Quarter Sessions boroughs, and of the rural districts generally. He wished to refer to one item which had not been mentioned in the course of the debate—namely, the cost of the Militia. During the last half-year Birmingham paid £238 towards the county rate of Warwick with respect to the Militia. If the Militia was useful it was just as useful to Birmingham as to the whole county. The objection of the 15 Quarter Sessions boroughs was that the remaining Quarter Sessions boroughs were placed in a better position than they were themselves. If it were an injustice to have these excepted boroughs, then the most proper thing for the 15 boroughs to do was not to place them- 395 selves in a similarly unjust position, but to go in for making these excepted boroughs pay what they did not pay. He had no doubt it was the opinion of those who brought in this Bill that both the county and the borough should equitably bear their respective burdens; but it did not seem to him that, as the Bill stood, it would carry out that object, and therefore if the House went to a division he would vote with the hon. Member for Preston.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS (Lancashire, S.W., Newton)
said, that when he was Secretary of State for the Home Department two deputations waited upon him, one from the boroughs and one from the counties, with reference to this particular subject; and it seemed right that he should tell the House the conclusion at which he had arrived about it. If the Bill passed as it stood it certainly seemed to him that no contribution could be levied from the boroughs for any county purpose whatever, even for lunatic and asylum purposes. Let them see how that would, work. Taking his own county of Lancashire, he found that that county had spent no less than £250,000 in enlarging the lunatic asylums to which all lunatics from Liverpool could be sent. That being so, it would be extremely hard to saddle the county with the whole of that charge when Liverpool obtained so great an advantage, and yet under this Bill would not contribute a single farthing. Again, as regarded vagrant lunatics, he found that out of 500 cases 267 cases came from Liverpool and 102 from Manchester. If the boroughs were not to pay anything in connection with these vagrant lunatics, it would be an extreme hardship upon the county. As far as the Bill stood, therefore, he must decidedly and absolutely oppose it. But he would go further. He maintained that property had been owned, bought, and sold in municipal boroughs subject to county rates. Therefore, if this Bill passed as it stood it would take a large sum of money, not out of the county alone, but out of all boroughs in Lancashire which did not happen to be Quarter Session boroughs, in order to put it into the hands of the owners of property who happened to be living in those boroughs at the particular time. The hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Dawson) had referred to the Assize Courts at Leeds; 396 but if the people of Leeds, in respect for having built the Court Houses there free of any charge to the county, as they undertook to do when the Assizes were transferred from York, were now to claim exemption from rates for the Court House buildings at York it would be a gross breach of faith. As to county bridges, there were six of these bridges repaired by the county of Lancashire, and 16 which were repaired by the various hundreds which were actually within the area of these Quarter Sessions boroughs; and if the Bill were to pass the effect would be that where these bridges were in the middle of the towns the inhabitants of those towns would not be called upon to pay anything towards their repair, the expense falling upon the county and other boroughs. Nothing could be more unjust than a provision of this kind. He was surprised that the hon. Member for Leeds had gone into this matter of county bridges. The real fact regarding the bridge at Leeds was that it was a county bridge, rebuilt in 1825, £15,000 being raised by public subscription, and £9,000 being contributed by the county. The Leeds Corporation in 1871 went in for a Municipal Improvement Bill; and, among other things, proposed to enlarge the bridge. The county, very properly, refused to saddle itself with the expense of building a larger bridge, and the Leeds Corporation did the work at their own cost. But when the Private Bill passed the county made a calculation of what the sum was that they had been in the habit of paying for keeping the old bridge in repair, and, capitalizing the sum, actually paid down to the Corporation of Leeds no less than £2,000 in lieu of further payment for the future repair of the bridge. Under these circumstances, it could hardly be said that the county had contributed nothing towards the rebuilding of the bridge. He was not prepared to say that there were not certain small matters in which the boroughs had a right to ask for relief; but he objected to the Bill because it was an actual transfer of property from one pocket to another. He would like the Government to state what course they intended to pursue. His opinion was that the small matters which had to be remedied were things which could well stand over. Both sides of the House had promised a large scheme for the 397 purpose of regulating county government; but if they were to pass this Bill the difficulties in the way of carrying any such scheme through Parliament would be very much intensified. He hoped hon. Members would agree to allow the subject under discussion to stand over until the county scheme came before the House.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. HIBBERT) (Oldham)
said, he thought that the hon. Member for Birmingham introduced the Bill in a fair, clear, and able speech. At the same time, he was bound to say that the measure was one of a very crude kind. It was a rough-and-ready proposal for remedying the injustice complained of. He did not deny that an injustice was done in respect of Quarter Sessional boroughs in the matter of certain charges; but if the Bill passed into law in its present form, more injustice would be done to other boroughs and portions of the counties than would be removed. He ventured, therefore, on the part of the Government, to make au appeal to the hon. Member for Birmingham that he should not press the Bill to a division. If he did, the Government would be bound to vote against it. He could promise the hon. Member that the matter should have consideration; and his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary desired him to say that he considered it was a question which had so many anomalies and difficulties connected with it that he wished to make inquiries with regard to it over all parts of the country by sending a Commissioner to the various Quarter Sessional boroughs, or by some other method of obtaining information. Scarcely two Quarter Sessional boroughs could be brought forward in which the grievance complained of was the same, or in which the payments were made on the same principle. Some were exempted under the Municipal Act and some were not. Thus, the greatest anomalies existed. With regard to lunatic asylums the difficulty was very great. There were three classes of Quarter Sessional boroughs when they came to deal with lunatic asylums—those with separate lunacy areas, those annexed to the county for lunacy purposes, and those which were contributory. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary that there was a very 398 great doubt as to whether, if the Bill became law in its present form, the boroughs which would be exempted under it would not become exempt from contribution for lunacy purposes. That would be doing a great injustice. The Bill would affect the various boroughs in Lancashire, which were not Quarter Sessional boroughs, very seriously. Some of these boroughs were almost as large, and in some cases larger, than certain of the Quarter Sessional boroughs. They had such towns as Preston, Oldham, Ashton, and Bolton—he rather thought the last town was a Quarter Sessions borough—but the cost in four of the large Quarter Sessions boroughs in Lancashire for lunacy, roads, and general purposes was £26,400 per annum; and, supposing the Bill passed, all that amount would be thrown on the remainder of the county, and the other boroughs in the county would suffer a serious injustice. It would be impossible to pass the Bill in its present form. It would require very great alteration, and the matter would, perhaps, have to be considered by a Committee. Then there was the further fact that Her Majesty's Government had in preparation—he might say that it was prepared—a large Bill dealing with county government reform. This subject of county government reform had been dealt with on two previous occasions; but he did not think any Bill had been brought in by the Liberal side of the House. He trusted that they might shortly have an opportunity of bringing in a measure dealing with the question. If they had such an opportunity, that would be the strongest argument in favour of the Bill now under discussion either being withdrawn, or not being allowed to pass on the present occasion. A great deal had been said on the various details of the Bill; but he would not go into them further, as he thought the subject had been sufficiently thrashed out. He put it to the hon. Member for Birmingham that, as the matter was one really for inquiry, he would effect his purpose in a much better way if he withdrew his Bill, and allowed the inquiry which the Home Secretary proposed to take place, than by pressing it to a division.
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR (Leeds, Central)
said, after what had fallen from the Secretary to the Admiralty he would 399 not detain the House long. Whatever might be said against the Bill as it stood, it was an attempt to deal with a grievance which was a real one. Those who supported the measure had two strong arguments in its favour. First, there was a great inequality of treatment as between different classes of Quarter Sessions boroughs; and, secondly, it could not be denied that it was an injustice to any borough to be called upon to pay twice over for the same thing. What the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Powell Williams) proposed was to place all Quarter Sessions boroughs on the same footing. At present there was a distinction between them; but he did not know what reason there was for the distinction. It seemed to him clearly made out that there was a large number of matters in respect of which Quarter Sessions boroughs now had to contribute to the county rate, while they themselves had to provide and to pay for similar arrangements within the borough. In Birmingham he understood that only a very small fraction of the contribution made to the county rate was spent on objects from which the borough derived advantage; and the same might be said of Leeds, the borough which he had the honour to represent. It had been said that a great deal of property had been bought and sold in the last few years; and, therefore, the effect of such a Bill as that would be to transfer property from one set of persons to another. But he did not believe that the principle would be recognized that any part of the community had a vested right to the taxes imposed on another part of the community. He did not deny that a good many of the arguments brought against the Bill as it stood were sound. He thought in some cases the Bill, if it was passed as it stood, might create injustice and hardship; but the point on which they ought to fix their attention was this. An enormous change had taken place during the last 50 or more years in the position of the great Quarter Sessions boroughs. They had really become gigantic self-supporting communities, and what was really asked for in the Bill was that they should be completely autonomous. If things were allowed to continue as they were, the practical effect would be that the county would have a kind of vested right 400 to the increased and increasing rateable property in the largo boroughs, and that the boroughs would have the privilege not merely of paying for what they provided for themselves, but also would be mulcted in an annual sum because certain expenditure had been incurred by the county in their behalf 50 years ago. That was a state of things which involved a real hardship; and, therefore, he should support the Bill if pressed to a division.
§ MR. POWELL WILLIAMS (Birmingham, S.)
said, that after the statement made by the Secretary to the Admiralty he should ask permission to withdraw the Bill, the understanding being that there would be an immediate inquiry on the part of the Government, either by a Commission or otherwise, and that the result of such inquiry would be communicated to Parliament without delay.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.