§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 4.
§ (5.7.) CAPTAIN VERNEY (Bucks, N.)
I beg to move in Clause 4, page 2, line 27, at end, to add"whose deliberations shall be public." I do not think it likely that the President of the Local Government Board has the smallest idea how this clause will work; and I dare say he does not know much of the composition of County Councils. I have got a little information about the Bucks County Council, and who are likely to be the Committee to deal with allotments, one piece of information the right hon. Gentleman will be very glad to have. The Bucks County Council consists of three-fourths of Conservatives and one-fourth of Liberals, and I am very proud to know that the Liberals come from the constituency which I have the honour to represent, who are the gentlemen who are going to form the Committee and whose deliberations are to be private. I find no less than 40 Guardians on the 1714 Buckinghamshire County Council out of 68 Members. There are 13 elected Guardians and 27 ex officio Guardians. These men are not likely to wish to upset the decision of the Rural Sanitary Authority, who are the Guardians. What check have we got upon them? The only check is publicity. If these men are going to try to shirk the duty imposed upon them, as I believe they will, it will only be a natural result. They do not wish to come to a decision against the Guardians, who have already done all they can to prevent the men getting their allotments. Therefore, I think we want publicity. Now, then, we have got, to begin with, out of 68 members, 40 Guardians. Out of the remaining 28 members of the Committee there are 10 tradesmen, eight gentlemen, three brewers, two farmers, two soldiers, two parsons, and one labourer. It is a singular thing that there are only two farmers out of that rural constituency on the County Council. Who are likely to be the gentlemen appointed? According to the Act they must be, I think, more than one-third of the County Council. That is not more than 27. That number would make a cumbrous Committee. Unless there is something in the Bill, the Committee will be able to hold its meetings in private. I suppose they would only appoint a small Committee, and the question is, what class of men are they likely to appoint? I should hope they would appoint some labourers upon it; but they are more likely to appoint Magistrates and gentlemen resident in the district, who, in the future as in the past, will do their utmost to prevent the labourers obtaining allotments under the compulsory powers of the Bill. ["No, no !"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite say "no," but I can assure them I have been informed by different gentlemen that they strongly disapprove of these compulsory powers. I do not wonder at this. It is quite natural that they should disapprove of these powers, and do their best to oppose them. They say: "If you carry these compulsory provisions we will do all we can to prevent their being carried into execution." This has been said to me in the County of Bucks, which is a typical county, and I am very anxious that the Twyford men should get their allotments 1715 as soon as possible. I mean to go down there on Saturday and tell the men the Government are doing all they can to prevent their getting their allotments for the next two years. Why should these Committee meetings be held in secret? The Rural Sanitary Authority always holds its meetings in public with reporters present, and I believe that is the case everywhere. I think it would be deplorable if a body holding its general meetings in public and preventing the labourers from getting allotments should give them an appeal to a body meeting in secret. I believe the Committees of most of the County Councils hold private meetings; and unless the Bill renders these meetings public, I am afraid they will continue to be held in private. The labourers have already been waiting three years for their allotments; they are now told they must wait till next Michaelmas two years, and that then they must go before a body sitting in secret conclave if they wish to assert their rights, in which case they will be subject to all the pressure and influence which those who live on the spot know so well how to exercise. During the Committee on this Bill all the Amendments proposed have had but one object, namely, to make a bad Bill work better if possible. We have told the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ritchie) that the Bill will not work. He said it would; but if it is to work at all, we ought not to be kept waiting for two years to see how it will work. I cannot see why my Amendment should not be accepted. Why should not the tribunal of appeal to which the labourers must go be a public tribunal? As the meetings of the Sanitary Authority are held in public, the same rule should apply to the meetings of the County Council Committees to which the labourers must appeal.
§ *(5.20.) MR. RITCHIE
I cannot quite see the force of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's logic. He argues that, because the Sanitary Authorities have held their meetings in public, and have failed to do their duty, therefore we must compel the Committees of the County Council to hold their meetings in public likewise. How the hon. and gallant Gentleman can satisfy his own mind with such an argument I cannot possibly conceive. He has 1716 said a good deal of what is done in Bucks, and has told us that a large number of Guardians have there been elected on the County Councils. That, of course, is a matter for the electors of that county, but it would seem that if there be a large proportion of Guardians on the Bucks County Council, they have been put there because the electors have thought they have done their duty as Guardians. Unlike the hon. and gallant Gentleman I have full confidence in the discretion of the County Councils, and in their anxiety to perform their duties in a manner most in accordance with the interests of their constituents, and, for my part, I decline to be a party to fettering their action in this matter in a manner which is not applicable to any other portion of their duties. County Councils, including that of Bucks, do not hold their meetings in public. I remember the discussion which took place on this question of holding public meetings of the Committees of the London County Council, and on that occasion it was resolved by a large majority that those meetings should not be held in public.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Amendment proposed, in Clause 4, page 2, line 30, after the word "division," to insert the words "any County Alderman residing within and."—(Sir R. Knightley.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (5.28.) MR. H. STEWART (Lincolnshire, Spalding)
I hope that, as the House has already decided not to give prescriptive rights to Aldermen, the Government will not accept this Amendment. We had this question fought over and over again on the principal Act, with the result I have just stated; and as the right hon. Gentleman has hitherto resisted all the pressure brought to bear upon him in regard to this matter from the opposite side of the House, I trust he will not now listen to the Amendment moved from his own side, the effect of which would only be to delay the passage of the Bill.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
I quite sympathise with the object of my hon. Friend in the Amendment he has proposed, and, for my own part, I think that the presence of an Alderman residing in the locality might 1717 have a beneficial influence on the deliberations of the Committee. Still, I cannot but feel the importance of the objection taken by the hon. Member opposite; and, feeling that it would be illogical for us now to take up the position suggested by the Amendment, I trust my hon. Friend will not deem it expedient to persist in his Amendment.
§ SIR R. KNIGHTLEY
After what has been said by my right hon. Friend, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Other Amendments made.
(5.30.) CATAIAN. BETHFLL(York, E. R, Holderness)
I am surprised to find that my right hon. Friend is accepting Clause 4, which has the direct result of limiting the powers of the County Councils, and also that he has accepted from an hon. Member who objects to the powers given to the Councils an Amendment which makes this clause still more drastic. If we are going to give these powers at all we ought to give them freely and to let the County Councils do their work in their own way. Why should we insist on having a Standing Committee at all? If the Council desire to have more than one-fourth, why should they not? We have already got three Committees, two of which—the Lunacy and Finance Committees—are, to some extent, independent, and why should you have another independent Committee, which may still further hamper the work of the Council? Everything which is proposed might be done by the Council itself, and the appointment of the Committee would only hamper the Council and detract from its dignity and general use. There can be no reason whatever for insisting on this limitation being placed upon the Council, whose powers are already unnecessarily and improperly limited. I wish we could persuade my right hon. Friend to withdraw this clause; but, failing that, I am glad to have this opportunity of entering a strong and vigorous protest against this bad system of limiting and violating the powers of the County Councils.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That Clause 4 stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.1718
§ Clause 5.
§ (5.35.) MR. H. STEWART
I propose to move the Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Member for the Cirencester Division, the object of which is to substitute for the Sanitary Authority, as a body to which the County Council may delegate their powers as to the management of allotments, a Committee consisting of a member of the County Council for the district, two ratepayers chosen by the allotment holders, and two ratepayers chosen in open Vestry. By the Bill, as it at present stands, the County Council is to give the first consideration to a body which is discredited. For my own part, I would have preferred a Parish Council; but as we have been beaten on that point, I do press the Government to accept this Amendment.
In page 3, line 20. after the word 'to,' to leave out the words 'the sanitary authority,' and insert 'a Committee consisting of—(1) The member of county council for the district; (2) two ratepayers chosen by the allotment holders; (3) two ratepayers chosen in open vestry.'"—(Mr. Haltey Stewart.)
§ Question proposed," That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ (5.38.) MR. W. H. LONG
I think the hon. Member who proposed this Amendment must have overlooked the fact that under this Bill the County Council has double powers; that it may either delegate its duties in this respect to the Sanitary Authorities, or, on the recommendation of one-sixth of the electors of the parish, appoint allotment managers. You thus have introduced the element of local administration. I think it is hardly worthwhile to appoint another method and to create another local Parish Authority. I trust that the Amendment will not be pressed.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Amendments made; Clause agreed to.
§ (5.42.) CAPTAIN VERNEY (Bucks, N.)
I beg to move the new clause of which I have given notice. I think the proposal is a very reasonable one. It is that the school of the parish should, if in receipt of a Government grant, be as 1719 the service of the authority to which the allotment powers are delegated; of course on payment of any expenses that may be incurred. I do hope that the Government will accept this proposal.
§ New Clause (Use of School on Payment of Expenses,)—(Captain Verney,)—brought up, and read the first and second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be added to the Bill."
§ (5.44.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
I trust the Government will accept this new clause. It must be borne in mind that the case of a rural parish is very different to that of a town. In the latter there is usually a town hall, where public business may be transacted, but most villages are entirely without a public hall of any kind, and the parish school is the most suitable building for the purpose. Surely the Government might consent to allow schools to be used for this purpose?
§ (5.46.) MR. W H. LONG
I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that the Government entirely sympathise with the spirit of the Amendment, but all those who are conversant with village life must be aware that the Educational Authorities have found great difficulty from the somewhat too frequent use of the school buildings. The Government do not disapprove of the object of the Amendment at all, and they will consider the question between this and the Report stage.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ (5.48.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON
Between this and the Report stage I hope the Government will have the Bill re-printed.
§ Bill reported as amended, to be considered on Tuesday 3rd June, and to be printed. [Bill 318.]