§ Application of Act to Counties.
§ Clause 30 (Certain large quarter sessions boroughs named in the schedule to be treated as counties).
THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE) (Tower Hamlets, St. George's) moved, to leave out from the word "Act" to the word "shall," and insert—
Being a borough which on the first day of June one thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight, either had a population of not less than fifty thousand, or was a county of itself.
In page 35, line 13, to leave out from the word "Act" to the word "shall," and insert the words "being a borough which on the first day of June one thousand eight hundred and eighty eight, either had a population of not
less than fifty thousand, or was a county of itself."—(Mr. Ritchie.)
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.
That the words 'being a borough which on the first day of June one thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight, either had a population of not less than fifty thousand, or was a county of itself,' be there inserted.
§ MR. ROWNTREE (Scarborough), in moving to amend the Amendment by striking out "fifty" and inserting "twenty-five," said, he very greatly regretted that the hon. and learned Member for Carlisle (Mr. Gully) was not in his place to move the Amendment; but he (Mr. Rowntree) trusted that the Committee would give careful consideration upon the ruin which it was sought to bring about in certain municipal boroughs for the gratification of County Councils. The Amendment which stood in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Carlisle would include 29 boroughs in the Schedule List of exempted towns, every one of which had a larger population than the City of Canterbury, which it was already understood the Government was willing to add to the Schedule. Now, it might fairly be asked why these boroughs should wish to be exempted, and he would ask the Committee to look at the position in which they now stood in this matter. As the Bill was originally placed before the House there were two strong pleas in its favour. First, that it would assist in the devolution of some of the Business which now crowded on this House to the County Councils to be formed under the Bill, and in regard to which boroughs as well as urban districts of counties must continually look to the County Councils. Speaking as a Representative of a Quarter Sessions borough, he freely acknowledged that if it was suggested that if they had to look to the county of York for those things to which they now looked to the Local Government Board in that House they would not have accepted the proposal for a moment. But what happened? The Quarter Sessions boroughs, and many of the old historical boroughs, which for centuries had exercised the right of self-government, and which had obtained those rights in many in- 840 stances at very considerable cost, were asked to place themselves under the jurisdiction, to some extent, of the County Authorities from which the large towns having great urban populations were, first of all, eliminated. In the case of the borough he had the honour to represent they would have some six representatives out of 72 taken from the surrounding rural district, and there were other boroughs in just the same position. Take the borough of Cambridge and many others which would stand alone amidst large rural populations. He submitted to the Committee that that was a very undesirable position in which a self-governing body should be placed. Why should this committee take away some of the freedom of self-government which Corporations had so long enjoyed? Why should this be a disabling Statute to so many Corporations? One of the strongest arguments for this Bill was the good use Corporations made of the powers which had been intrusted to them, and he urged strongly upon the Committee that whilst he did not wish to say a single word in dispraise of the way in which the large cities and boroughs had governed themselves, the self-government of the smaller boroughs had really been unassailed—that the self-government of the smaller boroughs would compare most favourably in very many respects with the self-government of the largest boroughs and the largest cities. He believed that if careful comparison were wanted in respect of certain questions of administration—in respect of police and so forth—it would be found that the smaller boroughs came out even the better of the two. The chief object of this Bill surely was to supply self-government to those districts of the counties which had not enjoyed it hitherto, and he was sure that no Representative of any borough wished for a moment to interfere with that object or to do otherwise than to assist it to the fullest possible extent. He thought the Committee ought to consider very carefully now whether they should place this disability on the 29 boroughs to which this Amendment applied. He did not wish to go into the details of the financial question, but he must put the broad statement before the Committee, because it appeared to him to be a very strong one 841 indeed. They had frequently heard that a Commission was to be appointed to regulate and adjust the financial relationship of the exempted boroughs and cities and the counties from which they were taken. It would be seen that the basis of that settlement would be the present money relationship of the two, and what he wanted to submit to the Committee was that they were going to place a new financial liability for all the future on the smaller boroughs, which were less able to bear any additional strain than the larger boroughs and cities they were proposing to exempt. The Committee had heard on many occasions that it was the hope of the Government, and no doubt it was the hope of the Committee, that additional powers would in future be conferred on the County Councils. What did that really mean? If hon. Members would carry their minds back to the Municipal Corporations Act, and compare the powers which were now intrusted to Corporations with the powers intrusted to them then, they would get some idea of the way in which the machinery of the Corporations had been enlarged, and of the reasons which had led to additional expenditure by Corporations. If, as was most likely, precisely the same course was taken with regard to the County Councils, that meant that the county rate to which the self-governing boroughs were to be made liable, in addition to their own rate and expenditure, must, in all probability, be increased from year to year. Now, he asked the Committee, why should the smaller boroughs with less than 50,000 inhabitants be liable in the future for their fair share of Imperial taxation, for the full share of the taxation within their own borders, and also for a share of the county expenditure, while in the future the large cities and boroughs were to be only liable for their share of the National Expenditure, for their own expenditure within their borders, and for whatever contribution they had in part given to the counties? It meant a future additional expenditure for the new machinery. The new powers which would be given to the County Councils were to be shared by the smaller boroughs, who had all their own expenditure upon their shoulders at the present time. He submitted that that was not a fair position in which to put these 842 Corporations. As he said at the commencement, the Government proposed to exempt the City of Canterbury, which had a population of 20,000. Every borough which would come under the scope of his Amendment had a larger population than that. Very many of them had historical claims which he thought would vie even with the claims of the City of Canterbury. The borough he represented was as entirely independent of the county as any of the boroughs or cities which were counties in their own right. They paid nothing to the county; they got nothing from the county; they paid fee farm rents now as the price of the old Charter which first gave them their liberty; they claimed that they had done nothing to forfeit that privilege; they asked nothing but to be allowed to continue in the full and undisputed right of self-government which they had enjoyed hitherto, and that they should not be asked to share in the future expenditure of machinery of the county outside, to which, he was sorry to say, on account of its purely rural character, having little or nothing in sympathy with the urban population, they could not look for any help or assistance. He earnestly hoped the Government, who had been lowering the line of exempted towns from the time the Bill was first introduced, would, at any rate, now carry the matter out to what he thought was a more logical sequence, and leave the boroughs which had the control of their own police, which had their own Quarter Sessions, and which had full powers of self-government, free from any control and liability to the new County Councils.
§ Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, to leave out the word "fifty," and insert the words "twentyfive."—(Mr. Rowntree.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'fifty' stand part of the said proposed Amendment."
§ SIR JOHN SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
said, he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, whether this Amendment referred to all cities and boroughs which were now counties in themselves—would it, for instance, include the City of Lichfield? The words of the Amendment were, "either had a 843 a population of not less than 50,000, or was a county in itself." The City of Lichfield had always been a county in itself. It had its own Quarter Sessions, its own Sheriff, its own police, and was managed entirely as a separate county.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, that the Amendment, taken by itself, perhaps, bore the interpretation the hon. Member seemed to fear; but the Amendment, taken with the clause and the other Amendments of the Government, showed that the city in which the hon. Baronet was so interested would be included in the Schedule. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment (Mr. Rowntree) had dealt with the question from two points of view, one from what he would call a Local Government point of view, and the other from a financial point of view. With reference to the financial question, the hon. Gentleman had said that the borough which he represented was a borough which had never contributed anything to the county rate. By the Bill Scarborough would not have to contribute anything to the county rate which it had not hitherto contributed. No doubt, that borough, along with all boroughs in the county, would have to bear its share of any rate which might be entailed in consequence of any of the new powers which were given under the Bill, or might in future be given. But the hon. Member must know that so far as that particular contribution was concerned it must be of an extremely limited character. The hon. Gentleman said that in consequence of the Government having reduced the limit of population which they originally proposed in the Bill, boroughs which were under the limit of 50,000 would be placed at a disadvantage. He (Mr. Ritchie) had more than once had occasion to say that so far as the Government were concerned—certainly so far as he personally was concerned—they greatly regretted that they had seen reason to lower the limit of population below that which was originally fixed. There was no question in his mind at all that if the Government had been able to adhere to the limit of population they originally fixed upon, the County Council, under the Bill, would have been a greater and more powerful Body than the Body they were now setting up. But right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House knew that very strong arguments 844 were brought to bear in order to obtain a reduction of the limit of population—arguments not only from the borough point of view, but also from the county point of view; and both from the county and from the borough standpoint the Government were pressed, and pressed very strongly and very continuously, to reduce the limit of population to 50,000. He was sure that no one knew better than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) how strong were the arguments which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen were able to use in order to induce the Government to accept the proposal which they made. But although the Government reluctantly assented to the reduction of the limit of the population, he was very far indeed from admitting that by the limit they had now fixed upon they would secure a powerless County Council. On the contrary, he believed that although the County Council, if the Government had been able to adhere to the original proposal, would undoubtedly have been more powerful and more important than it was now, yet the retention of all boroughs under 50,000 would secure for the County Council certainly as much power and efficiency and urban element as would secure that the County Council which was being set up would be a large and powerful organization. If they were to accept the proposal of the hon. Gentleman and reduce the limit to 25,000, he was satisfied they would enormously damage the power and prestige of the County Councils. It was impossible to contemplate a County Council of any great power and influence which was mainly founded on the representation of the rural element, and that was what would very largely follow if they were to accept the proposal of the hon. Gentleman. His firm conviction was that as time went by those boroughs which were still retained in the county would have no reason whatever to regret their retention within the county. The hon. Gentleman seemed to suppose that there would be a considerable interference with local Governing Bodies within the borough areas. He did not agree with the hon. Member. On the contrary, he considered that by forming these boroughs and rural areas into one County Council, they would give an amount of independence and life and 845 vigour to county administration which it would be impossible to secure otherwise. These boroughs would exercise a very powerful and large influence in the decisions arrived at by the County Council of which they were members. The hon. Gentleman also seemed to think that with the exception of that of the boroughs in the counties the population represented by the County Council would be entirely rural. That would not be the case, because the hon. Gentleman knew quite well that, in addition to the boroughs, there were many urban districts throughout the country which partook very largely, if not entirely, of the same element of population as boroughs, and these would be included in the counties. If the hon. Gentleman would point out in what way he thought the municipal self-government of the boroughs included in the Amendment would be interfered with, he would be very glad to give full consideration to what he had to say. To go back to the question of the financial relations, he entirely admitted that if the county boroughs were to be treated as counties in themselves, and if there was not some re-adjustment of the financial relations between them and the counties, the boroughs which remained in the counties, and the urban districts, and the rural districts, might have just cause of complaint. The Government believed that by the proposals they had to make all cause of complaint would be removed. They believed that neither from a sentimental, nor administrative, nor financial point of view would the boroughs which remained in the counties be in any way injured. They acknowledged at once that they would have been glad to have retained in the counties boroughs with under 150,000 inhabitants. They now took 50,000 as a very fair limit below which it was not possible for them to go. He believed that when the smaller boroughs came to have experience of county government, they would have no cause to regret being included in the counties; indeed, his conviction was that before long some of the boroughs which were to be treated as counties would be glad to come back to the counties and form part of the great administrative machine which would, in the future, have committed to their care matters of a much larger and more weighty character than anything now transferred to them.
MR. STAVELEY HILL (Staffordshire, Kingswinford)
said, he regretted that the Government ever departed from their original intention to fix the limit at the 10 boroughs named in the 4th Schedule. When they lowered the limit to 50,000, they raised powers in the county which would be antagonistic to the County Council, and were to that extent taking away from the value of the Council and depreciating its work. To take an example from one of these boroughs, he felt sure that, by making Wolverhampton a county in itself, they were lowering the position and influence of the County Council in Staffordshire. Knowing the town even better than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler), he considered that the right hon. Gentleman had done no good work for the town by being instrumental, with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James), in getting the limit reduced. He was convinced that if Wolverhampton were included in the county, it would improve its own position and influence, and would add additional weight and authority to the County Councils, and be of more service to the county as a whole, than if it remained separate.
§ MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
said, he felt considerable difficulty in deciding what course to take with respect to this Amendment. He should certainly have supported the Government had they stood by their original proposal, and he regretted they ever reduced the limit below 100,000. Boroughs of those dimensions ought to be excluded from the County Council; but when they got down to 50,000, a large number of additional considerations with regard to the particular interests of the boroughs arose which must be taken into view. He had presented a Memorial from Great Grimsby, praying that that borough should be included in the Fourth Schedule. Within the old limits of the borough there were not 50,000 people, but the town itself had a population of 56,000. Great Grimsby was entirely distinct in all its interests from the county. It was the first fishing port in the Kingdom, and it was the sixth shipping port in the Kingdom. It had no community of interest with the county, and yet it was to be included in the county for purposes of government. The cases of 847 Grimsby and Leicester were very hard, simply because they had not taken steps to extend their limits. If this Amendment was not accepted by the Government, he would propose to add to the clause the words—A borough which shall obtain a population of fifty thousand, by incorporation or otherwise, shall, after inquiry by the Local Government Board, be a county in itself.Unless he could get an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that the claims of such places as Grimsby to separate government would be favourably considered, he should certainly, in the interests of the borough he represented, vote for the present Amendment.
§ MR. WHARTON (York, W. R., Ripon)
said, he thought the Government were quite right in excluding boroughs of 50,000 inhabitants from the county. If all the large towns had been kept in the county of Durham, the result would have been that the Council would have been composed of 31 rural members and 46 urban members. The rural members would thus have been entirely swamped by the representatives of the urban districts.
§ MR. WOODALL (Hanley)
said, it was evident the general sense of the Committee was that the great ideal County Authority this Bill intended to set up had been seriously marred by the alterations which had from time to time been made. He sympathized with the right hon. Gentleman in the very candid expression of regret that he had had to bow to the representations of the large boroughs. But the right hon. Gentleman would be surprised to learn, from the observations of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Wharton), that there was some justification for the course he had taken. He (Mr. Woodall) could not follow his hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Rowntree) into the Lobby, because he thought that, under the circumstances, it would be better for them to take the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board at his word, and endeavour, during the further progress of the Bill, to fairly arrange the relations between the urban and rural districts, and to minimize as far as possible the encroachments which the Bill would make upon the various Corporations.
§ MR. WATSON (Shrewsbury)
said, that a very strong feeling had manifested itself in the borough which he represented against the town being thrown into the county. For centuries the town had managed its own affairs, and managed them to the complete satisfaction of the ratepayers, and it resented the proposed change.
§ MR. ROWNTREE
said, he must again ask why the smaller towns under 50,000 inhabitants should be called upon to pay a share of the new charges in the county, while the larger and wealthier towns should be exempt? He trusted that the Committee would agree to leave the boroughs which had so long enjoyed the privilege of self-government in possession of that privilege.
§ SIR JOHN SWINBURNE
said, that in introducing the Bill the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board declared that there was no intention to take away the rights or privileges of any borough or city. But now they found the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to take away the rights of municipal government from a city which had had the control of its own affairs for centuries; a city which had its own Quarter Sessions, and which appointed its own Sheriff. If the English language meant anything—
The Question now before the Committee is, whether "fifty" or "twenty five" be the figure? The subsequent words are not under discussion.
§ MR. HENEAGE
asked, whether the boroughs now included in the Fourth Schedule were to be the only boroughs to be included in the Schedule; whether there would be provision made in the Bill to enable boroughs who might attain the required population to be counties in themselves?
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, that power would be taken to enable boroughs to apply to be constituted counties under the Bill.
§ MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)
asked the right hon. Gentleman to tell the Committee what boroughs would be included in the Fourth Schedule?
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, it was not possible for him to give the names of the 849 boroughs, because, as the Committee knew, he had undertaken that boroughs who could give satisfactory proof that they had a population of 50,000 should be included in the schedule.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
asked, how the right hon. Gentleman hoped to ascertain the population?
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, the population could be easily arrived at. If they ascertained what was the increase in the number of inhabited houses they could form a pretty correct estimate of the population.
§ DR. TANNER
said, that in order to give the hon. Gentleman time to make inquiries he begged to move that the Chairman do now report Progress.
In the exercise of the power vested in me, I think I ought to refuse to put that Question.
§ Question, "That the words 'fifty' stand part of the said proposed Amendment," put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 225; Noes 79: Majority 146.—(Div. List, No. 201.)
§ It being after Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.