§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *CAPTAIN VERNEY (Bucks, N.)
In moving the Second Reading of this Bill,. I desire to say that it is the outcome of the bye-election of last autumn, and is drawn exactly on the lines of the Local Government Act of 1888. It is a perfectly straightforward and innocent Bill, and, so far as I know, there is not concealed in it any clause that ought to be objected to by hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House. It proceeds on the same register as the Local Government Act, and provides that the elections to Boards of Guardians shall be conducted by Ballot, and that the plural vote shall be abolished. It contains a provision for the appointment of ex officio Guardians, whom personally I should be glad to see abolished. Now, if anyone has taught the country that these are desirable principles it is the present Government, who have impressed on us that these are the conditions on which elections ought to be conducted. The election of last autumn taught me that there is no measure which would more readily appeal to the sympathies of agricultural labourers than one to enable them to elect their own Guardians. At present the labourers of the country take very little interest in elections to Boards of Guardians, because they know that they are likely to be swamped by the plural votes, and because pressure can be brought to bear upon them under the system of open voting. The President of the Local Government Board has on the Paper a Bill providing for an appeal from Sanitary Authorities under the Allotments Act. I hold that the electors should themselves be the body appealed to. If this view is adopted, elections to Boards of Guardians will be regarded seriously; those who vote will feel that something depends upon their votes, and the labourers especially will feel that their acquisition of allotments depends upon the Guardians elected. Let the labourer feel that if he allows himself to be cajoled into sending on to the Board of Guardians a man who does not repre- 1803 sent him he must submit to it, until another election comes round. Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, and I would point out to the President of the Local Government Board that this measure is an imitation of his Local Government Act. In every clause I have endeavoured to incorporate the principles of that Act. It may be objected that the passing of this Bill may interfere with the establishment of District Councils, but I do not think there need be any fear of that. On the contrary, I think it would be a reason why great disappointment would not be felt if the introduction of a District Councils Bill is postponed this Session. It is very generally felt now that Guardians do not do their duty in respect of sanitary matters, such as water supply, drainage, and insanitary dwellings. If this Bill is passed, the voters will only have themselves to blame if the Guardians do not discharge their duties satisfactorily. If the measure can be improved in any respect I shall gladly accept Amendments. Speaking for myself, if any Amendments should be proposed to bring the Bill more into harmony with the Local Government Act I shall be perfectly ready to accept them. I am sure if hon. Members opposite will take the trouble to read the Bill they will come to the conclusion that it is a bond fide attempt to deal with admitted evils.
It being half after Five of the o'clock, further proceedings stood adjourned till to-morrow.