§ Constitution of District Councils.
§ Clause 41 (Establishment of District Councils in urban and rural districts in each county).
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE) (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
said, he would appeal to hon. Members not to move the Amendments to this and the other clauses relating to District Councils, because, as the Committee would know, they were to be withdrawn.
§ Question proposed, "That Clause 41 stand part of the Bill."
§ MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)
said, he had nothing to say against the decision of the Government to omit these clauses; on the contrary, under all the circumstances, he considered the decision a wise one. The idea of county government, which he believed was shared by the right hon. Gentleman and many on those Benches, was not entirely that of a County Council, but a system of government constructed on units of administrative area. The perfection of a scheme of that kind would imply simplicity of area, and that for every particular function of local government an area should be found and the whole connected together. They had found fault with the Bill in many ways, and commented on what he believed to be omissions; but they had never contended that this vast and complicated subject could in one measure be dealt with in such a manner as to give them all they wanted. The justification of the omission to be made was on the ground of stress of time alone; but he did not altogether regret it, because he thought it gave them a right to expect that in a future Session the Government would be able to take a larger view of the case than they had done in the Bill. There was, for instance, the question of reorganization, and, as he might call it, the revivifying of parish life. He had never entertained any extravagant notions on that subject; he could not think, with regard to the parish, that it could be taken as a practical unit for local government purposes, because of the great diversity of size. He approved of the division of the county into urban and rural districts for ordinary local purposes; but he recognized that there were some purposes for which a smaller area than the sanitary district was desirable. There were some functions which could be undertaken by the parish, and he thought it advisable, in the interests of local government, that there should be introduced some vitality into parish life. He had put some Amendments on the Paper which were an indication that he had not any extravagant ideas on this subject. He desired that, by some simple arrangement, the inhabitants of the parish, and those interested in its affairs, should be familiarized with the object and 1298 nature of local government. As he had already stated, the great blot in the Bill, from an administrative point of view, was the absolute exclusion of the Poor Law system from its provisions. He did not know what would be the feeling of the right hon. Gentleman on this subject when he came to reconsider his scheme for the District Councils; but he adhered to his own convictions, and felt bound to restate them on the present occasion. He felt that it was indefensible, except as a momentary arrangement, to erect a system of county government, and exclude from it the Poor Law administration, which was that part of the local government in counties in which there was the strongest possible popular interest. Then, from an administrative point of view, he repeated the argument he had already used, and said that it was of the greatest interest to good administration that they should so construct the local system of Poor Law administration as to make it depend on popular election and support. It would be a serious mistake, in dealing with this question, to leave out the Poor Law administration from the scheme; and the Government would never be able again to take up the position that they excluded it from want of time to deal with the matter. He welcomed the omission of these clauses, mainly because it imposed upon the Government the obligation of taking in hand the question of bringing the Poor Law system into harmony with the rest of the local administration of the country. With these feelings and views, he had only to express satisfaction with the course which the right hon. Gentleman had, in his opinion, wisely taken, and to invite the right hon. Gentleman now to give the Committee some indication of his views upon the two subjects of Poor Law administration and parochial life.
§ MR. C. T. DYKE ACLAND (Cornwall, Launceston)
said, he would ask the right hon. Gentleman, in any future measure which he might contemplate to deal with District Councils, to strain a point, if possible, to overcome the difficulty referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax, on the ground of the varying sizes of parishes. That there was a difficulty in this respect could not be denied; at the same 1299 time, as was well known, the parish in rural districts was a much more real entity than in borough districts. It had a distinct organization of its own, and he was convinced that any measure which might be proposed by the District Council would be much more energetically carried out if there were a recognition of the parish in the future scheme of the Government.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, no one could complain that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax had taken the opportunity of the Motion to omit this clause to state in a few words the opinions he held on the two questions of Poor Law administration and parochial life. They all knew how anxious the right hon. Gentleman was that this Bill should deal with those questions, and that he had more than once impressed upon the Government the importance of this being done; but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would now see that the Government had a very strong argument on their side for the course they were taking—namely, that in the time at their disposal it would be absolutely impossible to deal with either one or other of the subjects. The Committee would know, not with standing the fact that the Bill had been pushed forward with a certain amount of vigour, that the Government had been compelled to abandon some important clauses relating to matters with which they had hoped to be able to deal. The right hon. Gentleman had expressed the hope that before the Government proposed any measure dealing with local government in districts of counties, they might be able to make up their minds on the questions of Poor Law administration and the parish as a unit of government. But the right hon. Gentleman would recognize that, whatever might be the time when they were able to bring in the measure, it was by no means an easy task to deal with either of those two subjects, in addition to setting up the District Councils as originally proposed in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Launceston (Mr. C. T. Dyke Acland) had spoken strongly in favour of the parish as the unit of local government; but in his remarks he had admitted the difficulty which lay in the great diversity in the size of parishes, and had said, very candidly, that the inhabitants of one 1300 parish almost regarded as foreigners the inhabitants of another. That constituted the difficulty, because, as hon. Gentlemen would see, if the Government proposed some considerable measure which would deal with the areas of parishes, they would by no means be able to consult the wishes and feelings of individuals in that respect; but if they had to cut up large parishes they would necessarily have to run counter to what was undoubtedly a strong feeling existing among the inhabitants of parishes. And so with reference to the smaller parishes, the inhabitants of which were just as clannish as the inhabitants of the larger parishes, a great amount of friction would be caused if they attempted to amalgamate them, in order to bring them up to a proper area. He was sure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax would recognize that the difficulties with regard to the Poor Law area were very much increased in consequence of the large number of parishes which would have to be dealt with; and no one knew better than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) how strong were the arguments the Government had to meet from the point of view of the county boroughs, the large number of which had enormously increased the difficulty of dealing with this subject. Having pointed out one or two considerations which must not be lost sight of, he was willing to say that between the present time and when they would bring in a Bill they should have carefully considered the whole matter again; but the right hon. Gentleman would not be surprised if he was unable to make any engagement with him or the Committee with regard to these two most difficult subjects.
§ MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
said, he thought the statement they had just listened to was not altogether satisfactory. In the first place, the President of the Local Government Board had not given any definite pledge as to the time at which the new Bill would be introduced. It must be obvious that when the County Councils, constituted on a quasi-popular basis, existed side by side with the Boards of Guardians, the anomaly would raise such a wave of feeling on the part of the public as would compel any Government which might be in Office to press 1301 forward a Bill to deal with these questions as a first-class measure. It seemed to him absolutely impossible to bring in a satisfactory measure for dealing with District Councils without, in some way or other, dealing with the Poor Law question and the parish question simultaneously. The great danger in dealing with the District Councils was that they might give to them too much or too little power. They would give them too little power if they did not transfer to them the power of Poor Law administration, and too much if they transferred to them work which would be done much more efficiently by the Vestries. Therefore, the object which the Government ought to have in view should be, on the one hand, to give to the District Councils that work which they might perform with advantage to the locality, but, on the other hand, to develop that parish life which now existed in embryo. Therefore, they regarded with a certain amount of dissatisfaction the statement of the right hon. Gentleman—first, because he had not named a date when he would bring in a first-class measure to deal with these questions; and, secondly, because he had not said that he would endeavour to make the District Councils a satisfactory institution by the incorporation in the Bill of provisions to deal with Poor Law administration and the reform of parish vestries.
§ MR. HALLEY STEWART (Lincolnshire, Spalding)
said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman did an injustice to himself in referring to the difficulties in the way of dealing with the Poor Law question in the Bill. It might make the Bill a little more complicated for the Cabinet to discuss; but the simplification of local government which would result would more than compensate them. He was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should come down and make such a difficulty about this matter, and he invited him to consider how he could best triumph over the difficulties he had spoken of.
§ MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman would give a pledge to introduce a Bill next Session dealing with local government in the smaller county areas? This was a definite question, and he thought the Committee were entitled to a definite answer.
§ MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
said, he hoped the Government would not answer the question of the hon Gentleman. He was very glad to see these clauses disappear, because he thought they would conflict very much with the Poor Law administration. The matter would be better left open until recommendation came from the County Councils, who would very soon make Parliament listen to what they thought was for the benefit of their several local areas. He would rather see the question of District Councils deferred for one, two, or three years, so that the reform of the Poor Law administration might be effectively dealt with.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
said, he dissented from the remarks of the last speaker. The Government must regard the District Councils as an integral part of the County Councils, and the scheme of the Government, which was in its inception a bold and a complete one, could not from the time at their command be passed in its entirety. He trusted it would be regarded as a paramount obligation that this part of the subject should be dealt with next Session.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH)
said, that was certainly so, and he did not know what had occurred to raise a suspicion to the contrary. [Several hon. MEMBERS: The speech just made.] The Government were not responsible for that speech.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Clause struck out.
§ Clauses 42 to 50 struck out.