HC Deb 14 April 1891 vol 352 cc532-83
(9.0.) MR. ARTHUR DYKE ACLAND (York, W.R., Rotherham)

In rising to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Paper, I think I shall be right in saying that the House will not think it unreasonable that, after three years' working of the Local Government Act, it should once more consider the question how Local Government in our rural districts, that part of Local Government still the most incomplete, the most unsatisfactory, stands at the present time. I am not going to spend any lengthened time in speaking of the chaos and complication of Local Government in rural districts. I think that the whole of that subject is well known and well under- stood, and I will only say that after three years' promises in three successive Queen's Speeches of a District Councils Bill, the anxiety of the country for such a Bill, which will give some further measure of reform in the matter of Local Boards, Boards of Guardians, and other authorities, is certainly growing every day. I can testify, and I am sure many north-country Members can testify to the fact, that dissatisfaction as to Local Board elections and the election of Boards of Guardians, and the manner in which these elections are carried out, is increasing and growing constantly. It is one of those matters our constituents are constantly bringing before us in a great variety of ways. They ask why, when they vote for a member of a Town Council or a Member of Parliament under a simple straightforward method why they should be condemned to an antiquated and unreasonable method in these local elections for Local Boards and Boards of Guardians, where still the plural vote obtains, with a property qualification vote and the voting paper method, all profoundly annoying to people in populous districts. Now I have confined my Motion to rural districts because the problem there has a distinct aspect, and because I think that even town Members are brought to realise that the country question, the rural question, the state of the inhabitants of villages, and the kind of life they lead there, are matters of great importance to dwellers in towns as well as to those who live in the country. I hope my Motion in its wording is sufficiently clear, and I am somewhat surprised at the Amendment my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset proposes. I have not a word to say against District Councils. District Councils were in the Bill of 1888, that part of the Bill which had to be dropped. In my opinion, District Councils which shall do more than the Bill proposed they should do, and in the same way in some districts, though in some respects differing, in which the Boards of Guardians shall be merged, will be necessary for sanitary and Poor Law purposes for a long time to come. But what the upshot of my proposal comes to is this— that, the next time a Local Government Bill is brought in, whether you call it a District Councils Bill or whatever other name you give to it, it must be fundamentally of a different character from that part of the Bill of 1888, which we may call the District Councils' portion of that Bill. The District Councils' portion of that Bill, what did it do? It practically wiped out the parish. Many of those powers which, though not much in working, still exist as belonging to the parish, that Bill proposed to transfer to District Councils, and the Bill did nothing whatever to bring back any life into the parish or to reform the Vestry, and practically it ignored the parish altogether. Now I say, if my Motion be accepted to-night, it would mean a fundamental change from the position in the Government Bill of three years ago. In my opinion, it is fundamental. You may say, after all, that the Vestry and the parish are very small matters, and they may be small matters, I know, but they may also lead to valuable local work and education in citizenship which in your little villages may, though it be a humble position, comparatively, be of very large educational value indeed. After all, what are the principles of Local Government, and the objects of Local Government, but the drawing out of local patriotism? It is not a question of poring over maps in an office, of sub-dividing areas and settling unions that they may be of the same size, or multiples of units nearly of the same size; nothing of the sort; we do not deal with great towns in that way. A great town grows from a small one, and we do not propose to split it in half. We give it the same Local Government whether it has 20,000 or 300,000 or 400,000 inhabitants. Nobody dreams of making any separation or division of the town grown from a small to a large size. In the same sort of way we must look to the question of Local Government in rural districts, not as a question of numbers but of interesting people in their own parish, large or small. I know that some of these parishes are small. The parishes I refer to, of course, are civil parishes. I am not concerned with ecclesiastical matters tonight. The parish is one of the most ancient institutions in the country, and it is rather Remarkable that the Conservative Party should do anything to expunge from our midst the parish, the old township around which associations have gathered. Not so very long ago, there really was some parish life in the country. But by degrees, and for various reasons, village government dwindled to nothing worthy of the name, and gradually died out. I believe the time has come when we ought to revive it, and I believe there is a strong feeling among the inhabitants that they are capable of managing their own affairs if we give them an opportunity of doing so in their own way. Now the stock argument, which I dare say we shall hear more than once to-night, against doing anything for the parish, is that many of the parishes are so small. I shall be told, I dare say, that there are 6,000 parishes, with under 3,000 population. I quite admit this, and some of these parishes must be merged in those around and become larger parishes. But that does not affect the Motion. There are, I know, parishes so small that there is no strong feeling in connection with them. I am reminded of a friend of mine talking to a farmer in Wiltshire, and who asked how he stood in his relation to the parish, and the farmer replied he held land in two parishes, that he was made overseer in one of these parishes, but no Vestry had been called during four years, and it was not necessary; and in the other parish he generally sat on a stile and talked over matters with the overseer and settled them every Easter; so practically government in either parish was pretty much the same. An hon. friend of mine, who is a Member of this House, tells me he is one in a parish of 25 in population, and he tells me that he and two of his friends take turns in the office of overseer, and appoint an assistant overseer to do the work. Well, of course, parishes of that sort might well have been merged long ago, and not of such do I speak. What I say is that though there may be great difficulties in these boundary questions you have no right to sacrifice the interests of the larger parishes to the interests of the small. I am quite aware that there are parishes in Norfolk and in other counties where difficulties may arise, and it may be difficult to merge parishes with rural claims. But it is a question for the County Council to deal with. Each County Council knows its own county well, and can adjust boundaries and amalgamations, as the Local Government Board will never be able to do. I have looked into this question, and I find that in Wiltshire there are 10,000 people in little parishes of populations below 200, and 150,000 in parishes of populations from 250 to 4,000. These first parishes are small, but why, therefore, should we sacrifice the interests of the 150,000 for the 10,000, and of a population say of 10,000,000 in the rural districts? Now,, my Motion first of all speaks of reformed Vestries; but, of course, the name is a matter of small importance. Some of my friends think that the word Vestry so much stinks in the nostrils of some people, because as an institution it has so long remained effete and non-efficient, that it would be better to do away with the word. Well, they may be called open parish meetings, or any other name would do as well, but I like the name of Vestry as well-known to the rural population; it has a meaning to them; and at any rate I wish to see a complete and effectual reform. Why it is asked by some, have Vestries, if you are to have District Councils? Well, it is a very important matter I think that you should have the opportunity of an annual open meeting of the parishioners, where all may meet. I think those town meetings of which we often hear as being held in American towns, and which are sometimes summoned by the Mayor in English towns, are very useful means for the discussion of questions of local interest. The reason why towns meetings are so difficult in towns is because the population is so large; but in proportion as there is less to interest, less to excite, less to occupy the attention of our country people, in proportion as the people's life is dull and dreary, and the means of entertainment are fewer, so in proportion also, ought yon to give every opportunity to the villagers to meet in gatherings which would be the subject of considerable interest to them. I would say, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said 20 years ago— " You ought to give every opportunity for these town meetings, and make every reasonable provision for 10 or 20, or whatever larger number of ratepayers you think right, to ummon open public meetings, for the discussions of matters which concern the inhabitants. An Instruction was moved in 1888 that provision should be inserted in the Local Government Bill to reform the Vestries. That proposal was defeated by the Government at that time. The whole of the Vestry Law is in a very chaotic state, and on some points there is a good deal of obscurity. The powers of summoning the Vestry are extremely limited. The powers of giving notice of business at Vestries are also extremely limited. The Chairman of the Vestry cannot be selected by the people, the plural vote arrangements are extremely unsatisfactory, and there is no adequate power of adjourning the meeting—each meet-is complete in itself—and when attempts are made to alter the time of meeting, they constantly prove ineffectual. The principle of one man one vote should prevail in all Vestry meetings, in all polls; the plural vote should be abolished, the people should choose their own Chairman, and in country villages there should be full right and opportunity of always meeting in the evening, which is the only time when the labourers can attend. Some of these changes would be perfectly simple. You could incorporate the Vestry, as the hon. Member for Rugby proposed to do in his Parish Councils Bill of last year. You could arrange for deliberations, for resolutions which might initiate important reforms, you could have gatherings which would back the Parish Council in their action, which would criticise the action of other authorities if they thought it injured in any way the interests of the parish. What is the Vestry as it stands at the present time in a good many parishes? I have here a Vestry notice which was hanging on some church door only a week or two ago. This is the notice— " The inhabitants "— it is a parish of 700 or 800 people— are requested to take notice that a meeting in Vestry will be held for the nomination of overseers and for the election of way wardens. It will be held on the 24th of March, at 11 o'clock in the forenoon, at the ' Crown ' —the " Crown " is a public house. If that is English Local Government in rural districts it is a very unsatisfactory thing. It would have been much better to say that "the five farmers and the one parson, and the five publicans "—for there are five publicans in this parish—" and the six trades people, and one or two other persons who may possibly come at 11 o'clock in the forenoon are hereby invited, and that the 120 or 130 labourers and artisans in the parish who cannot possibly come at 11 o'clock in the forenoon are asked to take notice that the meeting is to be at a time when it is well-known they cannot possibly attend." We have many indications that the people are anxious to take advantage of the Vestry, incomplete and insufficient as it is. I heard the other day of a Vestry meeting in a northern county. About 9 or 10 people had been in the habit of attending it, but it so happened that recently a School Board has been started in the parish, and School Board matters had stirred up the people to take some interest in their own parish concerns. The people said " we will go to the Vestry." The Vestry meeting was held in a public house. The room was not a large one, and the labourers and other people crowded in till the public house people were greatly upset lest their best parlour would be turned topsy - turvy. That is a warning against holding meetings in public houses, which I am glad to say 1 do not think is at all a common practice. A friend in my own constituency wrote to me recently to say that two years ago a majority of the working men from his parish, who live in the parish but work in the town, lost half a day to attend the Vestry meeting and see if they could not get the time altered from 4 to 7 p.m. A resolution was passed by a very large majority that the time should be so altered, but in the face of the resolution every meeting since had been called for 4 o'clock. There is no redress for anything of that sort. There is a little parish in Wales where there is a School Committee of a National Church School, of which the clergyman is the Chairman, and nearly all the other members of the Committee are Nonconformists. The Committee, of which I happen to be Secretary, work harmoniously. One of the first things this Committee discovered was that the school attendance officer, who lives several miles away, was doing nothing whatever to get the children to school. His pay was £25, equivalent to 1d. in the £1. The Committee sent a deputation to the governors, who referred the matter to the Vestry, thinking no doubt that the Vestry meeting would be attended by very few people. What happened? The Vestry meeting was held in the National School, and I am told the proceedings were rather lively. It was resolved that the work of the school attendance officer had not been done satisfactorily, and it was suggested that he should appoint a deputy and pay him out of his own salary. And then it was resolved to ask the School Attendance Committee to present a balance-sheet each year. Since the meeting, the attendance of the children has enormously improved, and the parties concerned have begun to get frightened of the parishioners. I am glad to know that some clergymen are holding Vestry meetings in the evening, and are encouraging the people to elect their own Parochial Council. One clergyman writes, that he thinks the labourers ought to be represented on this Council in the proportion of three to one of any other class. Then he says he has a Voluntary School Board elected on the same principle, and adds, that whatever else it does it disarms jealousy and suspicion, and produces more or less confidence all round. Why should we not emphasise such a state of things by making it a legal and proper process which should be gone through in every parish, whether the authorities that be like it or not? I now pass to the question of Parish Councils. I hold that in every parish of reasonable size a Parish Council, the members of which might vary in proportion to the number of the inhabitants, should be elected. It should be elected by ballot, and on a thoroughly popular basis. Such a Council should have administrative powers over matters which purely concern parishes. It should have the administration of the charities, of the allotments which are granted under the Allotment Act; it should have powers of control over public buildings, free libraries, common lands and footpaths. Then I think it might very reasonably, in some cases, be entrusted with limited sanitary powers; and besides all this, it would have its eyes open to a great many things which are wanted in the parish. It could call the Vestry together, and could appear with authority before the District or County Council. Amongst other matters it would be able to show and prove whether compulsory powers were wanted for the purchase of land or for the leasing of land for any public purpose—either for allotments, or small holdings, or for public buildings, village halls, or in some cases for dwellings. I consider that this question of dwellings and the security of tenure lies at the very root of all progress in a great many of our villages. I have present to my mind the case of a man living three or four miles outside a large town. He works in the town and goes backwards and forwards every day. His idea was that some day or other he would get around his house a piece of land as a vegetable garden, give up his town work and devote himself to country life. The man organised the flower shows in all the parishes around, and is one of the foremost men in the district. He has just got a month's notice to quit his house in order to make room for a second or third gamekeeper the landlord is going to engage. I do not complain of that, but this man, to my knowledge, is being driven into the town. He knows perfectly well that none of the chief landlords there would dream for a moment of giving him a piece of freehold. Mr. Fife in his evidence before the Town Holdings Committee mentions cases in which the landlord refused to give one bit of freehold. I say that no Small Holdings Bill, or any other Bill, which has not some kind of compulsory power behind it, will do any good whatever to the United Kingdom. Well, there is the question of education. I quite admit that the little parish School Boards, as we have them now, are not satisfactory. In England, at any rate, however things may be in Scotland, where there is a stronger feeling in favour of education, our rural districts will not be effectually organised until we have district School Boards embracing a number of parishes, with a view to providing higher and evening instruction for the children in the upper standards. At the same time there must be strong management, and if we have, as we ought to have, the schools under popular control, the parish Council will be well represented on such a body. There is a growing interest throughout the country on this matter of organised village management. I believe, and I do not hesitate to say, that when people learn lessons of association and lessons of responsibility a good many other things will follow. They will learn to develop the principle of association for their own interest in a way they have never hitherto learnt. I hope we shall see the great co-operative movement so successfully carried on in many towns introduced in the villages, where no facility is now given for the acquisition of freeholds for co-operative purposes. In many towns in the North of England they are a matter of course. The movement could not be successfully carried on without it. I hope we shall see the introduction of such co-operative societies as one I know. There is one society with which I am acquainted in a large district where something like 700 members, all working people, receive over their own counter £18,000 or £20,000 a year, of which they save £2,000 to put back into their own pockets; and for a labourer's wife, whose husband does not earn more than 15s. a week, to receive back £6 of her own, made by her own society, and not given her by any one else, is important as a lesson in self-help. I hope these methods of association will lead them to appreciate the value of a Trades' Union for the agricultural districts. In my opinion the successful development of an agricultural Trades' Union throughout the South East and middle of England would be one of the best possible things for the agricultural labourer. I do not know why, but for some reason this has been looked at askance by some who would not hesitate to tell the town labourers that they have to thank Trades' Unions for the progress they have made. I hope the agricultural labourers will learn the lesson which has been so beneficial to their brethren in the towns, and which has made them what they are. I hope my Motion is thoroughly clear. I have only been able to sketch my views in support of it in broad outline. I do not exclude District Councils; but when a District Councils Bill is brought in it will be utterly unsatisfactory unless it contains, as part and parcel of the Bill, these powers given to Vestries and Parish Councils. As I understand my hon. Friend's Amendment, part of which seems to me to refer to urban districts, it is merely a benevolent and pious opinion that District Councils are wanted. We said that long ago, and we have asked the Government for it, over and over again. District Councils have been mentioned in the Queen's Speech for three successive Sessions, and therefore I should not have thought my hon. Friend's Amendment was particularly necessary. In a Tory leaflet which I hold in my hand, and which was printed at Birmingham, it is said that some parishes are too large and some too small for Parish Councils; that Lord Salisbury's Government proposes to create District Councils elected by the householders, which will take over the duties of Boards of Guardians—that is new to me, for it was not in the Bill of 1888—and which will have power to look after labourers' cottages, establish libraries, repair the roads, and attend to many other matters. The leaflet goes on to say that they would have carried their proposals into practical effect before now but for Radical obstruction. I do not complain of that, for I suppose the writers of these leaflets have general instructions to fill up any blank spaces with "Radical obstruction." If there is one subject on which the Radicals never offered any obstruction it is District Councils, and if the Government had introduced a Bill dealing with that subject, instead of their attempt at temperance reform last year, they would not have had the slightest difficulty in bringing it to a successful issue. I think I know the views of some of my Tory friends in rural districts on this subject, and I believe they will strongly protest against Tom, Jack or Harry having an equal voice with themselves on parochial affairs. For my own part, I am sure that by degrees, they may be slow degrees—when Local Government has died out it cannot be revived in a day—I am quite sure we shall find our village people worthy of a trust of this sort. We shall be able to give those who must leave the villages, many of them strong, vigorous, enterprising men, a better knowledge of Local Government than they have at present; we shall accustom them to a sense of public responsibility—and as to those who remain behind, we shall be able to brighten their lives and give them a sort of education they have never had before. The process may be slow, but we must be patient with people who have had so few chances, though, for my own part, I do not believe in any speedy cure for the grave difficulties and hopelessness which beset much of our village life, due to a great variety of causes. The House of Commons can, by the means I have indicated, provide a training school in public responsibility and self-government at the very door of the people. Every example of such efforts in. other countries shows they are almost invariably attended with success. It is in order to grant these responsibilities, to provide that kind of training in citizenship of which I have spoken, that I think we may heartily and earnestly ask the House of Commons to pass the Resolution which stands in my name.

MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

I beg to second the Resolution.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, in the opinion of this House, no measure of Local Government for the rural districts of England and Wales will he satisfactory which does not provide for the reform of Vestries and the establishment of Parish Councils, so as to secure to the inhabitants of country villages a reasonable share in the management of their own affairs."—(Mr. Arthur Acland.)

(9.44.) MR. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)

There was a great deal in the excellent speech of the hon. Member who moved the Resolution with which I cordially agree. When I first saw this Motion on the Paper, drawing attention to the unsatisfactory position of Local Government in rural districts, I sincerely hoped that I should have the pleasure of supporting him. I thoroughly agree with him that it is unsatisfactory, and I am certainly not one whit behind him in wishing for its speedy reform. But I have two very strong objections to his Resolution in its present form. I object to it because it is a negative Resolution —a Resolution which, if it be carried, is more likely to delay Local Government reform in this House of Commons than to advance it — a Resolution which does not affirm the urgency of this reform, but which is in the form of an Amendment to the Second Reading of the District Councils Bill—a Resolution which, as my hon. Friend himself explains, requires a fundamentally different Bill to be introduced as regards District Councils from the provisions which were before this House three years ago—a Resolution which also, if he will allow me to say so, seems intended rather for consumption on public platforms than for practical use in this House. Such a Resolution is surely one which those who wish for a speedy settlement of the present difficulties which surround Government in rural districts cannot very well vote for. My second objection to the Resolution is that it gives quite an undue prominence to the parish as related to the district; it exaggerates the functions of parochial Government, and entirely ignores the district. It tends to put Local Government reform in the future on a wrong basis, and, in effect, it puts the cart before the horse. Therefore, the carrying of this Resolution will, in my opinion, embarrass rather than aid those who are anxious to put Local Government on a more satisfactory basis in the future. The present position is eminently unsatisfactory. We have got the reformed County Councils above, and below we have the chaos of overlapping areas and unreformed authorities and conflicting rates, which has been so often alluded to. The only way, in my humble opinion, to evolve order out of this chaos is to unify areas, to create proper District Authorities, and to concentrate in those authorities all the powers which appertain properly to district affairs—powers relating to the Poor Laws, highways, and sanitation. And then it must be secured that the District Authority is brought into proper subordinate relation to the County Council. Care must be taken that this District Authority is not only the only rating authority within its district, but that it is the predominating administrative authority. That being so, the question arises, what is to be the principal unit of district government? I should certainly gather from the remarks of my hon. Friend, that his opinion is that the parish ought to be the predominant unit in District Government. Certainly the choice lies between the parish on the one hand and the Union or Rural sanitary District on the other; and it seems to me that the Motion affirms the necessity of setting up in every parish, or at all events in every parish of tolerable size—for my hon. Friend did not clearly define what, in his view, ought to be the exact number of the population which should be required,—a Parish Council endowed with sufficiently exten- sive powers to make it the serious rival of any District Council. With regard to the reform of the Vestry, I am willing to admit that I am very much at one with my hon. Friend in that matter. I confess that our present Vestry needs reform; but I decline to put the reform of the Vestry side by side with Parish or District Councils, because, after all, the Vestry has extremely little to do in the matter of local government. It ought, moreover, to be borne in mind that there are many Vestries which are conducted in a way that fairly meets the needs and wishes of the inhabitants; and, therefore, this reform of the Vestry is not such a pressing thing as seems to be imagined. My hon. Friend has made light of the question of the size of parish areas; but I must say I think it necessary to impress this fact on the House, because, after all, in choosing new areas, the number of the population is the most important point to be considered. In England and Wales there are some 15,000 parishes; and about half of these have a population of under 500. I have not with me the exact figures; but from the Returns which were published some years ago, it may be gathered that there were some 6,000 parishes in England and Wales in which the population was less than 300. In my own county of Somerset we have 550 parishes in 300 of which the population is under 500, and in Norfolk I find that out of 800 parishes no less than 600, or three-fourths have a population of under 500. Thus, more than one-half of the parishes in England and Wales have a population of under 500 people, and yet that is the area my hon. Friend thinks the most suitable area in which to establish Councils with extensive powers. There are only two arguments, as far as I know, for taking the parish as the principal area for District Government. The first is that it is an ancient institution to which a large amount of local sentiment attaches. That is naturally an argument; which recommends itself extremely to hon. Members on this side, and which also recommends itself to me. But when you come to examine the size of the parishes, the amount of rearrangement, and, in some cases, of sub-division which they will have to undergo, it becomes perfectly clear that your reformed parish will be very different to the original parish, and will probably become an area to which very little local sentiment attaches. The other argument is that the parish is a small area containing a number of inhabitants who could meet together for the purpose of discussing matters of Local Government, and would not be barred by distance from so doing. But there is this fatal objection—experience has shown us that these small areas have been found to be unsuitable both for Poor Law and for highway administration. I think it will be admitted that the parish would also be a most unsatisfactory area for sanitary administration. [" No."] If that is not admitted I might remind the House that when the Local Government Bill was passing through it, there were serious complaints from hon. Members on this side of the House that sanitary matters could not be satisfactorily administered in small areas, and for that reason steps were taken to enable the County Councils to appoint sanitary officers. On the other hand, I may remind the House that the sanitary district which was practically brought into existence by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax at a date subsequent to that at which the present Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed the parish should constitute the area of county government, has been found so convenient in practice as to have been almost universally adopted for all new district purposes during the last 20 years. I think this will constitute a very strong argument for the sanitary district against the parish. The sanitary district is not such a large area that men cannot meet together to discuss local affairs, even in the most scattered parts of the country, but it is large enough to give a choice of able and competent administrators. Now my hon. Friend proposes to set up Parish Councils in every parish, and I want the House to realise how these Parish Councils would work, and I think that in so doing I am entitled to call in aid the Bill of last year which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby. The House is able to judge from that what kind of powers the Parish Councils are likely to have if they are set up according to the wishes of hon. Gentle- men on this side. Take a parish with a population of 200 persons. Its Council would be elected for three years; its Council would be able to appoint its mayor, clerk, banker, surveyor, and solicitor; it would have powers to acquire an unlimited amount of land compulsorily for allotment purposes, and now my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham proposes to give it power to acquire land for erecting houses.


I do not propose that.


That explanation I accept. But at any rate the Parish Council would have the management of the schools and charities, and extensive Poor Law powers, according to the Bill of the hon. Member for Rugby, for it would be actually able to discharge indoor paupers and order the Guardians to relieve outdoor paupers. As to sanitary powers, they include the inspection of all houses, and the services of sanitary officers are required. They were to have some highway powers, such as preventing the obstruction of footpaths. That is a short account of the powers proposed to be given to the Parish Councils. ' What I want to ask the House to consider is how this could be worked. Suppose we have a parish of 200 inhabitants, that means 30 or 40 families —perhaps 30 agricultural labourers' and a few farmers' families. These 30 labourers will have absolute control of all parish matters; even a small minority of them may get this control, because we know that, unfortunately, in these country districts there is great apathy in regard to local affairs. Therefore we may have ten or a dozen agricultural labourers electing their mayor of the parish, and this mayor, where the population of the parish is over 500, is to be an ex officio Magistrate. These Parish Councils when elected would, perhaps, in many places, consist of five agricultural labourers—-because in many places where, I am sorry to say, the agricultural labourers are not on very good terms with the farmers, they would certainly object to electing any but a member of their own class to a Parish Council, and these Councils are to have extensive powers over land, houses, charities, Poor Law, and sanitation. Then, the members of these Councils may be all compound householders, not paying rates. There is no doubt that in many of the rural districts an increase of rate does not fall on the occupier but on the owner, therefore, it will matter very little to the members of the Parish Council how much the rates are increased. They will have no interest in economy, and very little leisure to attend to public affairs. I wish to ask the House whether, under these circumstances, which will probably prevail in a large number of parishes out of the many thousands you have to deal with, there is likely to be a very wise administration of local affairs? Let us look back 50 years to the way in which the Poor Law was administered by the parish, and do not let us do anything to recall that state of things, and to bring back the abuses which prevailed. I am bound, however, to remind the House that under that system the Poor Law was administered mainly by those who had a direct interest in keeping down rates, while in the proposed Councils these matters would be administered by those who have practically no interest in keeping down rates. There is another illustration which, I am glad to see, was alluded to by the hon. Member for Rotherham— the small parish School Board. That is the only instance, or, at any rate, the nearest instance, of a body similar to that he proposes to set up. I was not surprised to hear my hon. Friend, who has devoted so much valuable time and labour to the cause of education, admit that these small parish School Boards are not very satisfactory bodies. Of course, there are exceptions, but I have heard from Government Inspectors and schoolmasters serious complaints of the small parish School Boards, for the simple reason that in the small area of a parish there are not always competent men to man such bodies. But now the hon. Member is proposing to set up bodies with far more extensive and varied powers in the very areas where these bodies have failed. I, therefore, contend that by setting up these bodies we should be running the greatest risk of bad administration. But there is another objection. We should fail to simplify the present chaos. For it is acknowledged that District Councils would remain for many purposes side by side with Parish Councils, and the last named, if they receive the powers I have mentioned—poor-law, sanitary, and highway powers—will usurp the functions of the District Councils, and materially interfere with the performance of their duties. You would have the powers divided between two bodies mutually interdependent—half dependent and half independent—neither subordinate to the other, and the Parish Council practically the more powerful of the two. You would then have either waste and expense from these bodies employing a double set of officers, or constant friction, confusion, and general irresponsibility from their employing the same set of officers. Thus, if we set up without due consideration these Parish Councils with extensive powers side by side with the District Councils—which we all admit must be set up—we shall run the risk of making confusion worse confounded, of deterring good men from taking part in local affairs, and the still more serious risk of generally discrediting the development of Local Government throughout the country. This last consideration is to those who approach this question, as I endeavour to do, from a non-Party point of view—[Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but I have a right to say this to the House, for before I took any active part in politics at all I expressed publicly in writing exactly the same views I am expressing to-night, which views I have always held, and shall continue to hold, until I am convinced that I am wrong. I say the consideration I last referred to is an important one to those who consider the matter from a non-Party point of view. If we want steady and healthy development of local institutions we must guard against too precipitate forcing. No doubt further steps are required, but we ought to be secure of our ground, and take care that we shall not have to reverse our steps in the future. We must remember that we are legislating in the South of England for districts which, compared with some others, are backward. We want good administrative bodies, manned by competent men, and I hope we shall not sacrifice the cause of good Local Government to any considerations of Party. I am well aware that " Parish Councils" is a very popular name on public platforms, but there are higher considerations than those of the platform. I think we should take care to realise what we are proposing, and to regard the matter from a responsible point of view. Having said so much about Parish Councils, I will shortly deal with my own proposal. My own Amendment proposes to do that which I believe we all desire—to group the rural parishes under popularly elected District Councils, with concentrated powers, and in touch with the people, through making the areas of a fair and workable size. These District Councils when established must be put in proper relations with the County Councils. Every County Councillor, for instance, should be an ex officio District Councillor. With regard to the second part of my Amendment, which provides for the control of local affairs in urban and populous places, I would point out that in many rural sanitary districts there are towns or populous places which stand on a very different footing from the ordinary small country parish. Those places will require different treatment in respect to local control, and various suggestions may be made in respect to them. We might set up Local Boards for all towns of 5,000 inhabitants and under, or we might enable the County Councils to delegate to them certain powers, but powers not so extensive as Local Boards will possess. Whatever course we adopt let our system of district government be as elastic as possible. We should have a system of joint committees, so that the sanitary districts included in a union may be able to work together for Poor Law or other purposes. On the other hand, power should be given to set up executive committees in all small towns or large villages. I would give every town or village of 2,000 inhabitants, the right to have powers delegated to an Executive Parish Committee by the popularly-elected District Council. These Executive Committees should manage the lighting, sewage, allotments, public buildings, burial grounds, and perhaps the schools of the parish. I would extend the Parochial Committees now existing under the Public Health Act, and would make them really responsible bodies with some financial control. In this way there would be elastic and suitable machinery set up for any parish which desires it. I would further urge that such reforms are greatly needed. The present difficulties existing between the County Councils and the District Councils are really of an urgent and an awkward character. Many County Councils have hung up the question of the maintenance of the main roads until District Councils shall have been created. The responsibility of maintaining roads and bridges being now vested in the County Authority, the improvements required mainly for the benefit of particular localities cannot be effected at the cost of those localities. The Allotments, Housing of the Working Classes and Sanitary Acts are not properly administered, owing to the want of a popularly elected District Authority. These evils are fully recognised. The County Councils Association, at a meeting the other day, passed a resolution by a majority of 2 to 1 urging the introduction of a District Councils Bill. On behalf of all interested in Local Government, I would make a strong appeal to the President of the Local Government Board to redeem the promise he has so often made, and produce a District Councils Bill. Even if there is no possibility of passing the Bill this Session, much good would result from the introduction of the measure. In dealing with such a complicated subject as Local Government, the more time that is given for the consideration of the questions involved, the more likely is there to be produced a good measure in the end. I believe that no time will really be lost by giving a Second Reading discussion to the District Councils Bill this Session. I feel sure the right hon. Gentleman will be a willing party to this appeal, and that he will not wish to leave the great reform he has undertaken incomplete. He will not wish it to be said on his retirement from office that the system of Local Government is left, as the Latin poet has said—if it is still allowable to quote Latin in this House— Desinit in piscem mulier formosa superne. Above we have a well-planned and successful superstructure of County Government, while below we have nothing but chaos. I trust that by accepting this Amendment the right hon. Gentleman will give a further pledge for the introduction of that Bill which is to complete his scheme of Local Government on sound and satisfactory lines.

(10.22.) MR. HASTINGS (Worcestershire, E.)

I do not desire to say one word against the introduction of improved Local Government into our rural districts. I think, however, that the hon. Member who brought forward this Motion has done a little injustice towards the inhabitants of rural districts in imagining that they do not avail themselves of the means they at present have of making their voices heard and of improving their local administration. With regard to County Councils, I was very much struck with the interest that was taken in my own parish in the election of a County Councillor nearly three years ago. I was asked to take the chair at a meeting, and although it was a night in November, and was pouring with rain, and although many of the people had to come a considerable distance, there was a large attendance of all classes, and the keenest interest was taken in the question who was to represent them on the County Council. I listened to what the hon. Member said as to the indifference of the rural populations to District Councils, and their desire for Parish Councils. I am frequently in every parish, I believe, in my own constituency, and I have been asked again and again within the last 12 months why the District Councils Bill has not been brought in, but not once have I been asked if there is to be a Parish Councils Bill introduced. The hon. Member will allow me to say that I cannot agree that Parish Vestries are so very ineffective as he seems to imagine. In my own parish we have Vestry meetings much more frequently than once a year, and they are very well attended. I was present at one not long ago, called at the wish of the electors, because it was believed that the Poor Law and sanitary administration was not properly carried out by the parish. Men of all classes were there, and they showed complete ability to understand the questions at issue, and to manage their own parochial affairs. Although there is no doubt that the Vestry system requires amendment, it might be made much more effective if it were placed upon more modern lines than it is on at present, and I do not see why it should be superseded. I believe that reformed Vestries would much more commend themselves to the minds of our rural population than Parish Councils. I do not think it is desirable that we should search for a more distant object when we have before us a question that is ready for immediate solution. It is for District Councils that we ought now to press; and it is because I feel that the bringing forward of a Parish Councils Bill would seriously embarrass us in pressing for District Councils that I support the Amendment. It may well be that at some future time we may go on from District Councils to a further development of Local Government. I believe, however, that District Councils can now be brought practically before us, and I therefore ask the House to say that District Councils shall be first constituted.

Amendment proposed, To leave out all after the words "provide for," in order to add the words "the grouping of rural parishes under popularly elected district councils, and the effective control of local affairs by similar bodies in urban and populous places, and that such further reform of Local Government in rural districts is urgently required,"—(Mr. Hobhouse,)

—instead thereof.

Question proposed, " That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

(10.27.) MR. SEALE - HAYNE (Devon, Ashburton)

I desire to say a few words in support of the Motion, and I must congratulate my hon. Friend (Mr. A. Acland) on having brought the question so fully and ably before the House. I regret that the hon. Member for East Somerset (Mr. Hobhouse) should have endeavoured to drag a red herring across the scent by substituting an Amendment relative to the establishment of District Councils. The hon. Member for East Somerset is a supporter of Her Majesty's Government, and Her Majesty's Government have promised us District Councils. When they introduced the Local Government Bill of 1888 they promised to deal with the question of District Councils in the following Session. That promise was not kept. I believe they also promised to deal with it this Session, and it seems to me there is very little chance of that promise being kept. However that may be, as the hon. Member for East Somerset supports Her Majesty's Government, I take it that he ought to be satisfied with their promises, and not throw obstacles in our way, who desire to go at once to the root of the matter by creating Parish Councils. It has been acknowledged by all those who have undertaken the question of Local Government Reform that in order to establish a satisfactory and thorough reform you must begin with the parish. The hon. Member for East Somerset desires that the district should be the unit of Local Government. The district, in my opinion, is too large, and I think that in some instances even the parish is too large. I live in a parish five miles away from the centre of Parochial Government, and I have the pleasure of paying for lights which I cannot see, for drains which are useless to me, and for burial grounds, recreation grounds, and other supposed local advantages. To make the anomaly more absurd, the next parish within a few hundred yards of my residence provides some of these things, should I require them, at the expense of their ratepayers, whilst I have to pay a considerable rate for those which are absolutely useless. I admit that in order to obtain a satisfactory Local Government we should begin by readjusting our areas; and whether you call these units of Local Government parishes or districts, the beginning must be made by ascer-faining first of all the proper dimensions to the local area, and adjusting the local boundaries to meet the necessary requirements. I live in the West of England, a little further west than the hon. Member for East Somerset. In my part of the world we do not care very much for the squire, and we do not pay much attention to the parson; but we rather want to get rid of the dominating influence of both the squire and the parson in parish matters. We want to have the control and management of our own affairs. First, we want to control the allotments of the parish; we also want power to take land on compulsion for the purpose of allotments. I, for one, would go even a step further, and give them power to take land for the purpose of small holdings, subject to the control of the District or County Councils. This, I think, is a sine quâ non for rural parishes in the West of England. We also desire that the parish should have full control of the parochial charities, and be able to administer them irrespective of denominational considerations. We know that they often get into the pockets of those who are, or represent themselves to belong to one denomination, and we want them to be administered fairly by Council elected by the people on which all parties are represented. Again, we feel very strongly on another point; we have an Established Church and the clergy of that Church, I assume, are our servauts as long as the Church is the Church of the nation. We desire, therefore, to have some control by means of Parish Councils over their nomination, and to be able to get rid of thos3 clergymen who do not satisfy their parishioners We desire to be placed in the same position as our Nonconformist' friends, who are able to select such ministers as will serve them, in a suitable manner. As long as the Church of England takes the national money the clergy ought to be subject to national control. Then, again, the Parish Councils ought undoubtedly to have some control over the relief of the poor. I do not say entire control, but sufficient to enable them to amend the manner in which the aged and infirm are dealt with. I am afraid it is often very harsh under the management of the Guardians. Then, again, the sanitary condition of the villages ought to be in the hands of Local Parish Councils; and where there are no active and efficient School Boards, I think it would be expedient to place parish school management in the hands of Parish Councils, because, being elected by the people, they would be the proper authorities to exercise control. Beyond this, we desire to have control over the management of open spaces and commons, believing that the Parish Councils on the spot would be able to keep better watch over any encroachments that may be made than is the case under the present system. In fact, we want our Parish Councils to have the same power as the Town Councils. We want to get rid of the various Boards which at present in some parishes exercise an overlapping authority which leads to a chaos of control. There is also no reason why Parish Councils should not also have the control of all burial grounds, in which case they would certainly put an end at once to many of the scandals that are common at the present day, when high-handed action is taken by clergymen of the Church of England which is the cause of gross offence to many of their parishioners, and contrary to the true spirit of Christian charity. I do not see why the chief of the Parish Council should not have the same position as the Mayor of a municipality, and be made a-Magistrate of his district. By doing this we should satisfy the want felt by the people that they should have some control over the appointment of the Magistrates. By giving the Chairman of the Council the powers of the Magistrate you would ensure the election of the best men in the parish, who, in such case, would be induced to come forward. If you wish to set up a thorough system of Local Government you must begin at the foundation and re-constitute the parish. 1 assure the House that this reform is ardently desired in every rural district; and, from personal experience, I know that there is no more popular topic on which you can address a rural audience than that of showing them how they may get control of their own affairs. Whatever may be the fate of this Resolution, I trust the Government will think fit to give this matter their most earnest consideration; and that when they introduce, as I trust they will with in a short period, a further measure of Local Government, by bringing in a District Councils Bill, they will at the same time include the appointment of these Parish Councils, and thus satisfy a great and growing demand on the part of the people of this country.

(10.38.) MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)

I came to the House to-night in order to hear from my hon. Friend what work he intended to give these Parish Councils which has not hitherto been conferred on the Vestries. In addition to that, I wanted to hear something I hare not yet heard, namely, how he proposed to group the small parishes together. That is a practical difficulty which has occurred to me. I see great utility and advantage in the case of many parishes arising from the constitution of Parish Councils, but I think they ought to be of a sufficient size, and that the difficulty is not removed when the hon. Member for Rotherham tells us we must merge the small parishes in the best way wo can. My hon. Friend has told us that in the small parishes there is no sentiment. My experience is that the smaller the parish the more sentiment there is in regard to it, and that if you try to group two small parishes you will have a more difficult task than in the case of two large ones. Differences arise between the smaller parishes which do not exist between larger ones, and if you lump together three or four small parishes under one Parochial Committee you will necessarily raise questions of very considerable difficulty. I was particularly struck by the impractical way in which the Mover of the Resolution, and those who supported him, dealt with this question. I should like to know how many hon. Gentlemen who adopt these views ever attend parish Vestries, how many hon. Gentlemen opposite, for instance, attended the Easter Monday Vestry in their own parish this year? My hon. Friend made certain statements which puzzled me immensely. He spoke of a state of affairs which I hardly knew of as existing under the present law. For instance, the hon. Member for Rotherham has said he knew of a case of a Vestry who got rid of a Guardian. How, I ask, can a Vestry get rid of a Guardian? The Vestry has no power to appoint a Guardian, and, therefore, has none to take away his office; although I can imagine cases in which they might think it very desirable that an obnoxious Guardian should be got rid of. The hon. Member also said he knew a parish where the accounts had not been audited for years, but how about the district audit, how had they got over the presentation of the books half-yearly to that audit? The hon. Member also said he knew a parish where a Vestry meeting had not been held for four years. I want to know how such a thing could have taken place. I know that Vestry meetings are not called very frequently in the rural districts, but they are always held when required if the parish expresses a wish to hold them. Again, the hon. Member told us cases in which Vestry meetings are held at hours that are not convenient to the bulk of the local community. That, unfortunately, is true; where there is a whip up the labourers may be got together, but as they have not attended those meetings regularly, they do not take much interest in the business, and I think it very desirable that all Vestry meetings should be held at hours at which a labourer can attend them. Again, my bon. Friend wished us to believe that it was a matter of constant occurrence for Vestry meetings to be held in public houses. For my part, I never heard of such a thing in my life, and I do not believe it can have happened in more than half-a-dozen parishes in England. At any rate, such a scandal could not exist if public attention were once called to it. For my part I am anxious to see in certain parishes some sort of practical committee that might be more useful than the existing Vestry. Under the existing Sanitary Acts all the parochial work has to be delegated or ought to be by the Sanitary Authority to local committees. Those parochial committees are sometimes elected partly by the parish and partly by the Guardians, but as the money expended is that of the parish, I should like to see the parish initiate a great deal more than it does. One great difficulty, however, is that the parish has at present no machinery. It has no clerk, and is obliged to employ the clerk to the Guardians for the work it requires in this way, and this, of course, adds to the expense; but in large parishes this difficulty is got over by the appointment of a Standing Committee to look after sanitary matters. Again, the Parish Authority has to carry out the Allotments Act, the expense of which falls on the parish itself. Again, in almost every parish there are certain roads and approaches which might be left to the Parish Authorities. As it is, the improvements in the roads are not as numerous as formerly; and it "would probably be an advantage to give the parish control over such matters. Reference has been made to the question of parochial benefactions. I am certainly inclined to think that during the last 50 years the Vestries have been very lax in looking after benefactions, the result being that in some cases they have been entirely lost owing to their being left to one or two persons to look after, and to this duty having been neglected. But when hon. Members say that those benefactions should be handed over entirely to the control of the Parish Committee, the difficulty arises that they have generally been left to the management of trusts, usually the vicar and churchwardens, or one or two of the principal residents in the parish; and it would be a very easy matter to transfer them to trusts other than those appointed by the donor. We have also had reference made to the question of co-operation and the advantage of setting up cooperative societies in the villages. For my part, I should be sorry to see the co-operative stores set up in many of our rural districts, notwithstanding the fact that they might enable the villagers to get their goods a little cheaper. I should regret to see the small village shopkeeper entirely swept away. At present a great number of widows and poor persons obtain their livelihood by keeping small shops, and I should be, very reluctant to see them suppressed by co-operative stores. In conclusion, I hope the hon. Gentleman opposite will give an answer to my question—how does he propose to deal with the grouping of the parishes? I am not averse to voting for a grouping scheme that could be practically carried out, and I can understand that such grouping might be managed in the case of the larger parishes. I think, however, there would be great difficulty in the case of the smaller ones. For my part I am disposed to give more attention than this House has hitherto done to questions affecting the position of those in the rural districts, but I do not think the rural population will be inclined to think so if all we have to give them is the establishment of reformed Vestries. I should very much prefer to see the attention of the House directed to something of a more practical character by which the condition of things in the rural districts may be improved.

(10.55.) SIR E. GREY (Berwick-on-Tweed)

I quite sympathise with the hon. Member who has moved the Resolution in his desire for a certain extension of Municipal Government. But I think he would have had more of our sympathy if, in his wish to reform our Vestry system, he had gone further and said he wished them to be put on a more popular basis by the abolition of the plural vote. The hon. Member expressed regret that Vestry meetings are frequently called at an hour when the labourers are unable to attend. One object of the Motion is to make such a scandal as that impossible. The Amendment before the House contemplates the grouping of parishes as a desirable thing; but while the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham contemplates the grouping of parishes as a system that might be resorted to on exceptional cases—why, I ask, has the Mover of the Amendment thought it necessary to bring forward a proposal to displace the Resolution of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham? He has told us that we are putting the cart before the horse; for my part 1 do not see that we are doing anything of the kind. I do not know whether the Mover of the Amendment desires to present us either with the cart or the horse, but at any rate the object of the Resolution is to ensure that we shall not have one without the other. I suppose the Amendment was brought forward from this side of the House in order that a proposal from this side for the establishment of District Councils might be at once answered by the statement that in view of the Bill promised by Her Majesty's Government, the Resolution of my hon. Friend was an intrusion on their domain, and showed a want of faith in them, which they had done nothing to justify. But the fact is that the Resolution does not touch the question of District Councils. It merely refers to the importance of establishing Parochial Councils. The Mover of the Amendment seemed to be afraid that by the establishment of Parochial Councils we should fail in finding the best 12 or 20 men to conduct parochial affairs; but the supporters of the Resolution assert that it would be the means of arriving, by natural selection, at those 12 or 20 men who are best capable of conducting parochial affairs. At present we have no means of finding out which are the best men for this work, and at present there is a strong feeling in the country that the more capable men are not contented with country life, and are leaving it for wider and more ample spheres. Although, undoubtedly, country life has considerable advantages, there is no doubt that it lacks variety and scope. There are, however, two things which help to compensate those who reside in the country for the want of that variety which they find in towns. First of all there is the interest and enjoyment a man has in larger and more extended private possessions, and, in the next place, the opportunity afforded him by the performance of those public duties which are always opened to him in the rural districts. Of course, the ordinary inhabitants of the villages have little to boast of in the way of private possessions, but, at any rate, they have more opportunity of participating in the performance of public duties. In proportion as his private possessions are narrow, we ought, I think, to give the villager some chance of feeling that he is a member of a living and growing community. As an instance of the way in which the desire for more scope among villagers arises, I may mention the establishment of reading rooms. Those who take charge of a movement are invariably told- that if they wish to make it a success the first thing is to put it under the control of the people. What does that show? It shows that in every village it is not necessarily because the villagers are not conscious of the advantages of a reading room—not because they do not want it, or because they are not fit for it—that it often fails, but because it is ac-accompanied by that sense of dependence which prevents them getting the full development of it. Take the question of allotments. Apart from the question of rent it seems to me that the success of the allotment system depends on very small things—on the quality of the soil, the size of the allotment, its situation, and the family circumstances and habits of the man who holds it. A Parish Council would be the only body with the proper knowledge of these small details, and with the capacity to appreciate them and adjust them in the most suitable manner. A Parish Council would set the allotment system going, and would be encouraged by success or warned by failure long before a larger body like the District Council had got under-weigh at all. It is time to recognise what is the spirit of the age. Parliament has long been employed in extending municipal enterprise and municipal ownership, and a similar system should be extended to the country villages. It is quite foreign to the spirit of the times that large landowners—some times only one or two, or half a dozen in a parish—should continue to exercise as a matter of course a predominant influence over village life. Hon. Members opposite say that landlords and clergymen, the two most influential persons in any village, perform their duties in a thoroughly satisfactory manner, and are the benefactors of their fellow men. On this side of the House there may, perhaps, be some difference of opinion as to the number of their duties, and the degree in which they are performed. Who is to decide that difference of opinion? There is only one possible body to appeal to, namely, the people of the parish. If the influential people in a parish perform their duty in the satisfactory way hon. Members opposite say, they are the guidance of the Parish Council which will fall at once into their hands, and will remain in their hands as long as they prove themselves worthy of retaining it. The result will be that they will have an open recognition of the way in which they perform their duties. If, on the other hand, it is not the case that those duties are universally well performed, it is surely desirable, and the friction would be comparatively small, that we should establish some such body as a Parish Council which may be able to take over the charge of the wage-earning people. There is this further point: There are, no doubt, differences and a certain amount of friction between the various classes in most parishes, and the object of any one who wishes to bring about harmony in country life should be to minimise the interests that are opposed and bring out those that are identical. No better method for achieving this object could be instituted than the creation of a Parish Council, in which farmers, labourers, and others could meet together and come to a fair compromise on points in which their interests are opposed, and at the same time recognise points of union. Some persons say that there is no great demand for Parish Councils, although there is some for District Councils. I think that one of the reasons which has operated hitherto has been the lack of opportunity for villagers to understand what use they may make of Councils when they possess them. The abler spirits have left the villages for wider fields elsewhere, and those who stay behind are so used to the groove that it does not occur to them how much they can do for themselves. What was it that made the best landowners suspicious in recognising and accepting the Local Government Bill? Surely it was the consciousness that the sum of the responsibilities which make up the fullness and worth of life, and make a man able to maintain that dignity without which life can hardly be a happy one, were to he diminished. If that be the case why will they not give people in the villages a chance of exercising such responsibilities? When they know how monotonous country life may be without this scope, why not give people the chance of coming forward and bearing their share of the burden and heat of the day? I think we ought to rid ourselves of the confusion introduced by the Amendment. We ought to consider not only how we may provide an opportunity, but how we may provide the best opportunity, for able and earnest men in every parish to take upon themselves a proper share of the responsibility of performing public duties. If something of the kind be not done, it is impossible for strong characters in any village to continue to stay there, or, if they do stay, it will be inevitable that, instead of developing and using their powers for the advantage of themselves and their neighbours, they will degenerate into a mood of irritation and discontent, and prove a source of danger to the community in proportion as their natures are vigorous and their intellect is strong.

(11.10.) MR. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)

I would point out that no distinction has been made by the Mover of the Resolution between Vestries in London and Vestries in the country. Vestries in London may be almost regarded in the light of County Councils, as they have all the ordinary powers and discharge the ordinary duties of Local Government, but in the country the case is different. A Vestry in the country is a meeting of the inhabitants of the district held ordinarily once a year for the purpose of choosing Churchwardens, Overseers, and Surveyors of Highways. A Vestry in the country, therefore, has very little governing power whatever and there is no basis for Local Government in such a body. To form a body with proper governing power a new constitution would be necessary. How could the affairs of the parish be governed by a body which ordinarily met only once a year? If we are to proceed on the lines of Local Government, we ought not to undo the whole of the work of the last 40 years. In 1848 the incapacity of the Vestry was recognised for all purposes of Local Government, and when the Public Health Act of that year was passed power was given for combining two or more parishes, and so Local Boards were formed for local purposes, such as sewage, lighting, the maintenance of roads, and all the ordinary functions of Local Government. I do not mean to say that Act was perfect by any means. Another Act was passed in 1858 improving upon that Act, and in 1875 a very useful measure was passed for establishing a system of Local Government. Those who study that Act will find that if the powers it confers were put in force we already possess all the advantages that are to be obtained from the system of grouping parishes. An hon. Member has said that what we want is to abolish the parson, the squire, and the Church. I do not recognise any one of these matters as being within the proper province of Local Government, and I am sorry that such a question should have been introduced in a Debate of this kind. It seems to me that we are making a mis- take when we seek to improve Local Government by ignoring what has been done during the last 40 years. That may be good or bad, but it seems to me to be out of the question to try to uproot it. For Poor Law purposes the areas of the parishes were too small for effective government. Therefore the areas were enlarged by combining a number of parishes. If that principle is established in District Councils you embody all that is contained in the Resolution. I have no sympathy with the Resolution on the one hand or with the Amendment on the other. It seems to me the best course to pursue would be to leave the matter to be dealt with by the Government in their District Councils Bill so that the defects of the present system and I do not say that there are none—will be done away with. The true plan is to make the best of what has been done and improve upon it—to pass a District Councils Bill on the lines of previous legislation, merely transferring to another body the power at present exercised by Representatives of the rural districts.

(11.19.) SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down having made a speech against both the Resolution and the Amendment. Both the Resolution and the Amendment agree in one particular, and that is in passing more or less of censure on the Government for not having fulfilled their pledges with reference to the completion of Local Government. Both say that it is necessary that there should be some further extension of Local Government in rural as well as in other districts. I go further and say it is a matter of urgent necessity. I think Her Majesty's Government are open to censure for not having in this, or last Session, taken any steps to fulfil their promise to give Local Government to the smaller units of rural districts. The great importance of this is present to the mind of every one acquainted with the conditions of life among our rural population. It is a matter of urgent importance, as the natural complement to the newly created system of Local Government, which many of us think was begun at the wrong end, and which ought to have built up from the unit of the parish. The rural districts are practically deprived of Local Government, because the County Councils which have been created are too far removed from the villages to exercise any influence over village life, and the inhabitants of these villages look forward with anxiety to the time which was foreshadowed, and to the scheme which was indicated, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in what I may call his better days, when he spoke strongly, and as I think wisely, on this subject. I may venture to recall his words in 1885, when he said— "I hold that the smallest village should know who its chief man was…. I proposed that in every village there should be some responsible head man. I was extremely-anxious that throughout the rural communities. we should be able to develop some civic life. I trust that the Liberal Party will go forward, on those lines. Well, the Liberal Party has steadily continued in its desire to go forward on those lines, but I am not so sure that the right hon. Gentleman has been equally constant. Last year, in the Debate on the Address, we had several speeches on this subject, and in that Debate I took part. I quoted from official documents, from the Reports of Medical and Sanitary Inspectors, and showed the deplorable, I may say the revolting, sanitary condition of the life led in some of our rural districts; and the picture I presented made, I think, some impression upon the House at the time. But those conditions still continue. We have done nothing; we can do little or nothing, under the present condition of Local Rural Government, to put the sanitary arrangements in these villages in the state in which they ought to be. The difficulties arise from the fact that the people who feel the pinch of these insanitary conditions, who suffer from the defective system of drainage or bad' water supply, are the people who have little or no voice in connection with the-management of these matters, and until they have that voice in Parish Councils, these things will never be satisfactorily dealt with. The whole system of sanitation in these small rural communities is rotten; for the reason that the sanitary control is placed in the hands of men elected not primarily to carry out functions for the public health of the locality, but for the administration of the Poor Law, and, therefore, sanitary administration is a secondary matter with them. As such, these matters are put off to the end of their meetings; little time is left for their discussion, and their functions in reference to public health are discharged in a perfunctory fashion, or not at all. The neglect of sanitary conditions in our rural life is a disgrace to our time. In the interest of health and morality it is high time this state of things was altered, and a system of popular Local Government formulated. This condition of things has grown out of the fact, that the people have been gradually deprived of all power and control in local management. What the hon. Member for Ashburton (Mr. Seale-Hayne) has said is perfectly true. During the last century or more there has been growing up a system of patronage, under which all the local control has passed into the hands of a few superior residents who have discharged all administrative functions, and I am sorry to say have done their work very badly. We want to go back to the old system, when every individual had some interest and influence in the management of local affairs. If every dweller in a country district were given a voice in the management of the village affairs, a new interest would be given to the lives of the inhabitants, many of whom have been qualified by the operation of the Education Act of 1870 to undertake the duties of citizenship. They should be given control over sanitary matters and over local charities. Fewer cases would then occur of the filching of public lands from the community and of maladministration of charities. From 20 Officers of Health residing in different agricultural counties I have received deplorable accounts of the way in which the people are housed. In many of these districts the houses are described as unfit for human habitation. One medical officer said, that the houses he had seen would have been a disgrace to the slums of a large city. Others spoke of houses that in some cases had only one bedroom, in many cases only two, and in very few three. In such a house, a man with a wife and a growing family cannot bring up his children under conditions which make decency and morality possible. We want the housing of these poor looked after with greater care and diligence, and if we had Parish Councils that care would be exercised. We believe that in the interests of the morality and well-being of the poor in the country districts one of the best reforms we can make would be the creation of Parochial Councils in which the people would be able to look after their own affairs. Such Councils would do the work more efficiently than is the case at present under the Rural Sanitary Authorities, because they would work under the open and constant criticism of the community; and the result would be to bring about not only a healthier, but a higher condition of life in the rural districts.

(11.32.) COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)

It seems to me that there has been a general consensus of opinion on the part of speakers on both sides of the House as to the desirability of greater development of self-government, and that the main point of difference is as to whether we shall attain this common end better by the creation of District Councils, or whether they should be preceded by Parish Councils. [" No, no ! "] I fully understand that some speakers say this is not the point; but from the speeches that have been made this evening, there can be no doubt that the question is practically this: Shall we be wiser in developing the County Council through District Councils as far as Parochial Councils, or in beginning with the latter and building up from them? In my opinion, we shall be decidedly wiser in going downwards from the County Council to the Parish Council. We have been told not to forget that District Councils are to be the next step in the Local Government programme of Her Majesty's Government; and I have no doubt that the call made on the Government in this respect will receive a response from the Treasury Bench to-night. Personally, I sympathise with much that has fallen from speakers on both sides of the House. The Mover of the Resolution has my sympathy in much that he has at heart. He thinks we ought to recognise that our poorer population not only have wants that need satisfying, but have also ambitions and aspirations we ought not to be slow to acknowledge; and in that belief the hon. Member has my complete assent. But I think there has been some disposition on the part of speakers to-night to forget that many of the reforms on which they laid especial stress have had the consistent support of, and in many cases owed their initiation to, that class of landlords of whom they have spoken so cheaply. The Mover of the Resolution and those who supported him would have been wiser and more consistent if they had recognised that the most considerable advantages in the direction in which they desire reform have been the outcome of the sympathy of the landlords with the rural population around them, and that there has been no disposition on the part of the landlords to withhold from the people the advantages of such reforms. The hon. Member who preceded me laid great stress on the question of sanitary dwellings. I am with him in that matter entirely, but I do not think it can be laid to the charge of the modern landlord that he has been slow to recognise the necessity of sanitary dwellings. There is hardly one improvement which is more marked than that which has taken place in the dwellings of rural labourers during the last 10 or 20 years. The improvements that are taking place in that respect might receive some check if there were any premature arrangement made by which such matters might be handed over to Parish Councils as suggested by the Mover of the Resolution. It is said that one of the results of the Resolution, if adopted, Would be that the right men would find themselves in the right place, and that those entitled to the confidence of their neighbours would find themselves in the proper position. That is the principle on which I understand the Government acted in bringing in their Local Government measure, and I am fully under the belief that the development of the principle of working from the County Council downwards would be attended with the same result. I am sorry I cannot speak with the same satisfaction of the speech made by the hon. Gentleman representing the Ashburton Division of Devonshire. I certainly had hoped that when we came to discuss this question there would not have been attributed to a class more vitally interested than any other class in the social development of the rural population motives so thoroughly unfair.


I attributed no motives.


The hon. Gentleman expressed his desire to sweep them away as stumbling blocks to the happiness of the population.


I expressed no such desire.


If I have misinterpreted the hon. Member, I am willing to apologise, but I think I have expressed the meaning of his words as they reached me across the floor of the House. I would only wish to make this much clearer—that in voting for the Amendment and not for the Resolution I do so because I believe it is more likely to bring about an effectual and useful reform than the Resolution. It is not because I have the slightest desire to stand between the rural population and self - government in parish affairs that I prefer the Amendment to the Resolution, and that I therefore support it.

(11.42.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)

I hope that the Debate will not close without some expression from the Government Bench of their attitude upon this question, for their supporters appear to be divided in opinion. The hon. Member for the Harrow Division says he is equally opposed to the Resolution and the Amendment, whereas the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down has expressed his intention of voting for the Amendment. The Amendment is really one of a dilatory nature, and apparently based on the notion that the hon. Member for Rotherham was pitting Parish Councils against District Councils. As a matter of fact, neither he nor those who support him are in any way pitting Parish Councils against District Councils. What we emphasise is that in the rural districts there should be three distinct stages of Local Government in those matters wherein the people are most interested, and that those in which they are most affected are where they are living in the smallest area. The hon. Member for Somerset has contended that the language of the Resolution does not imply urgency in this matter, but I would remind the House that this question has been declared to be urgent over and over again by the present Parliament. It was so declared by Resolutions more than once brought forward by the hon. Member for Halifax, by an Instruction which I myself moved on the Local Government Bill of 1888, and also by an Amendment moved in 1890, by the hon. Member for the Rugby Division of Warwickshire tending in the same direction, although only referring to the question of allotments. On each of these occasions we emphasised the fact that there was urgent need for a thorough reform [of parochial government. Some points of detail have been raised to-night, and one of them is embodied in the Amendment of the hon. Member for Somerset, who has put to the front the necessity for a readjustment of boundaries. No doubt that is very desirable, but this process is going on under the Divided Parishes Act, and the number of very small parishes is not so large as was sometimes supposed. The number of small parishes is very much less than hon. Members imagine. If the hon. Member confined his attention to parishes of less than 100 inhabitants, he would find that they contain not more than 200,000 inhabitants. That is clear from the Census of 1881. In Prance, with a population of 36,000,000, there are no fewer than 36,000 communes, which have self-government in the fullest sense of the term as far as the machinery of self-government is concerned. In England and Wales, with a population of rather more than 26,000,000, the number of parishes is 15,000, and as we have larger towns compared with France, I think it will be found that there is really not much difference between the parishes of France and the parishes of this country. There are two distinct points raised by the Resolution — one, the reform of the Vestries, and the other the establishment of Parochial Councils. Though those are distinct matters, I think they are capable of being treated at one time. I am strongly of opinion myself that there is really no limit of population below which any reform of the Vestry would be an impossibility. The reform of the Vestry system might be effected on the one vote one man principle, and perhaps for convenience and to meet certain prejudices it might be possible to limit the number of the inhabitants of the parishes to perhaps 70 or 75. But as far as Parochial Councils are concerned they stand on a. somewhat different level, and no doubt the population ought to be raised in that case. What the precise limit should be is a matter for subsequent investigation. But that need not be a difficulty in the way of the acceptance of a Motion of this kind. What we desire to emphasise by the Motion is the principle that our parishes ought to have the fullest possible measure of Local Government. We want a reform of the Vestries and the establishment of Parochial Councils elected by the people, to deal with distinctively parochial affairs. In foreign countries, notably in Switzerland, where it has been very much elaborated, there is a distinction made between the larger and smaller parishes, which has been attended with a considerable amount of success. I cannot but think that such a distinction between the parishes in this country would obviate many practical difficulties and facilitate a scheme of Local Government. The question has been raised why this question is being pressed forward at the present time-As far as my own constituents are concerned, and I believe their view is shared by most constituencies throughout the country, they regard Local Government from the point of view of having full, direct, and equal voice in the arrangement of their own affairs. We are asked by the Mover of the Amendment to choose between District and Parochial Councils. But there has been no proposal for District Councils before Parliament since 1888. Are we to assume that any proposal for District Councils will be simply a revival of the Bill of 1888? If so, then the proposal of 1888 conferred powers of no value, and no human being would care to sit on the Boards which they created. If you give them powers worth having, if you transfer the administration of the Poor Law from the existing Board of Guardians to a body sitting in the intermediate area, and directly elected by the people, on the principle of one man one vote, if you conferred powers worth exercising, then you would have the best-fitted men eager and anxious to serve. As a matter of fact, the two schemes of reform, District Councils and reform of the Vestries, could be carried out simultaneously, and in this matter we want to carry out that policy of similarity and simultaneity which has been allowed so long to remain in abeyance, which the Government met in 1888 with a direct negative, and which has been so long, though I trust not for ever, postponed.


I think that it is no matter of regret to any Member of the Government, or to any Member of the House, that those who feel strongly upon this question of parish administration should have placed their views on the subject before the House; and I think that it is evident that there is a strong feeling in all parts of the House of sympathy with the desire expressed from more than one quarter that we should endeavour, so far as we can, to put vigour into the life of our agricultural parishes and villages. We all feel that if we can enlist the co-operation of all classes of the community in the work of Local Government we shall be doing a great public service, and much to make the system more perfect throughout the country. If there is one thing that I regret, it is that the hon. Member who introduced the Motion, and one or two other speakers on that side of the House, treated the matter rather more from a Party point of view—I might say rather more acrimoniously—than I think is at all necessary in a matter of this kind. The hon. Member for Rotherham, who usually speaks with a considerable absence of Party spirit, would, I think, have done better to have left out some of the reflections which he made upon the Tory Party in general, and upon the Government in particular, with regard to this question of Local Government. He twitted us with having in three Queen's Speeches promised to deal with the question of District Councils, and with our not having done so. At least he should have remembered that, starting in 1888, when the question first came up, we have had three Sessions, and that a very large portion of two of them have been spent in dealing with Local Government in the counties. We have dealt with England and also with Scotland; and I think that, so far as Local Government reform is concerned, that is not by any means a bad record for the three years. The hon. Gentleman ought also to have remembered that the Party to which he belongs contributed very little indeed to the solution of this great question when in Office; and when he tells us that we made promises in three Queen's Speeches, I must remind him that the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in 1882–3–4, in the Queen's Speeches of those years, made absolute promises that they would introduce measures dealing with the reform of Local Government, and did not introduce a single measure on the subject at all. I think that so far as our action is concerned, it may well compare with the inaction of the Government of the Party to which the hon. Member belongs, and that he should remember what his Party has failed to do. If the Liberal Government had begun to deal with the question when they promised to do so, we might now have arrived at a time when the whole question would have been settled in a manner satisfactory even to the hon. Gentleman himself. We have dealt with the question of County Government, and we are very clearly of opinion that we began rightly. The ratepayers of the counties had really no share in the administration of the rates of the county; but we have organised a system of Local Government which has given to them a share in the administration of county affairs and in the administration and the collection of the local rates, while we have contributed largely to the relief of those rates. When we look at the manner in which the County Councils have been elected, and the manner in which they have done their duty, we see nothing to regret, but, on the contrary, much upon which to congratulate ourselves in having begun by County Councils instead of beginning by Parochial Councils. We believe that the next step in the reform of Local Government is the setting up of District Councils, although we will not deny the importance of many of the points touched upon in this Debate in connection with the administration of the parishes. I am prepared to acknowledge that at present in the rural districts sanitary matters are not dealt with by a body such as ought to control matters of that kind. We attach so much importance to this point that we think a popularly-elected body to deal with sanitary matters and highways ought to be established in the counties as quickly as possible. We believe there is no subject of greater importance to working people than the housing of the working classes. We desire to see that dealt with by a popularly-elected body in the rural districts, and we have given large powers to the County Councils by the Act of last year. We have made it compulsory on the part of the Medical Officer of Health to forward his Report to the County Council. He may make representations upon which the County Council may take action. Therefore, I think the hon. Gentleman will admit we have made a very considerable advance, and we acknowledge that the next step which we ought to take in order to secure the proper administration of the Public Health Law is to set up within the Counties District Councils who would have as their chief duty the administration of that law within the counties. That is why we think the question of District Councils is more urgent than that brought before the House by the hon. Gentle- man. We have been twitted with the fact that we have not produced our District Councils Bill, but we have not had sufficient time to deal with such a large question as District Councils. The demands made to-night with regard to the powers to be conferred on the Parish Councils cannot fail to have shewn the extreme importance, difficulty, and complexity of the various powers which different speakers propose should be conferred upon the Parochial Councils. If we had had introduced Bills dealing with District and Parochial Councils, the measures would have been of such importance as to have shut out all other measures of importance during a whole Session. Amongst the various things which the hon. Gentleman thinks should be dealt with by the Parish Councils are Charities, Allotments, Public Libraries, Buildings, Common Lands, certain Sanitary Powers, Fixity of Tenure, and Co-operative Stores, with Trade Unions thrown in, together with the compulsory acquisition of land for small holdings, and the nomination of the clergy and Magistrates for the parish. I think that is a very large budget and a very good order to ask the House of Commons to consider in an offhand way in connection with the other measures which are pressing on its attention. I am sorry the right hon. Member for Newcastle did not speak on seconding the Motion, for I had been looking to him for some interesting suggestions on this question. He made a speech some time ago, 1 think at Newcastle, in which he advocated the transfer of a certain portion of the Poor Law administration to the parishes.


I did not say so.


The right hon. Gentleman said that the Parish Councils should have conferred upon them the power of dealing with applications for relief within the parishes.


Not on that occasion.


The right hon. Gentleman certainly advocated that the Parish Council should have the power of dealing with certain matters of relief.




I will endeavour to find the passage in the right hon. Gentleman's speech to which I refer. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman safeguarded himself with an appeal to the District or County Councils if it was considered that the relief had been given improperly, in which case the County or District Council might surcharge the parish. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has very much studied the effect of various modes of administering the Poor Law in times past-If anyone attempted to make the administration of the Poor Law a parochial administration he would incur a grave responsibility. It would be an entire reversal of the system which has been settled after much consideration by Committees in order to meet many abuses which previously existed in connection with the administration of the Poor Law. When one looks at the enormously beneficial results of the Union administration of the Poor Law, I do not think that anyone would lightly attempt to disturb that system. It may be of interest to the House to know in connection with this matter what difference has arisen in this matter. In 1857 the number of paupers was 921,000, now it has fallen to 690,000; and I hold that a system which has worked such a reform as that ought not to be lightly interfered with. Anything which would take away the administration of the Poor Law from a large area like the Union and bring it so close to the persons who receive relief as would be done in parochial administration would tend to bring back many of the evils from which the Union system has freed us. It is conceded that the rates in the country fall upon the landlord. If there were a Parochial Council elected largely by labourers, the relief would probably be administered by the majority of the Council, composed of labourers; but if the relief had been improperly given the surcharge on the parish would be borne by the landlords, and not by the labourers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for New- castle, in the speech to which I have referred, did not, I find, commit himself to the view that Parish Councils should administer relief, but he said the idea was worth consideration, and gave a quasi-sanction to the disturbance of the present system under which relief is given by the Guardians of Unions. As to the question of sanitation, I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax at least would not support such a retrograde policy as the breaking up of the sanitary areas which he himself created. I can imagine no course which would be more detrimental to the public health. I am not prepared to take up the position of saying that no reform is desirable in our parochial legislation. I have more than once stated that that reform is desirable. I do not think that it is possible to have a County Council elected upon a popular basis, and a District Council elected upon a popular basis, and to have at the same time the parish Vestry remaining as it is. There must necessarily be reform of the Vestry in its mode of election and its mode of procedure; and when I come to deal with the question again I hope that I shall be able to propose to the House of Commons a mode of retaining certain of the powers conferred on the Vestry, while giving to the District Council powers of delegation to the Parish Authorities. I admit that no scheme of Local Government Reform is complete without dealing with the parishes, and I do not understand the hon. Member for East Somerset to differ from that view. But the contention of the hon. Member for East Somerset is that District Councils should be dealt with first, while the Motion of the hon. Member for Rotherham makes no mention of District Councils, As to the area of parishes, there is no doubt that that is a very important difficulty in the way of reform of parochial administration. With regard to the varying size of the parishes, it may be said that the smaller parishes may be grouped. That cannot be done without difficulty, however. There is as much sentiment in a small parish as in a large parish, and there would be as much sentimental objection to grouping the small parishes as to dividing the large ones. I do not say that this is a bar to reform; but it is a difficulty which must be taken into consideration. The power of grouping and dividing parishes rests with the County Councils, and not with the Local Government Board. When we gave them that power we hoped that they might move tentatively in the matter, and help us to a solution. I trust that I have made the position of the Government clear. I especially desire to complete the work of self-government which we have begun, and I think that the House and the country will admit that we have at least begun well. We have established County Councils on a broad and liberal basis, and we have prepared them for any further powers which may be conferred upon them. By including District Councils in our Bill, we gave evidence that we feel that we ought to deal with these smaller areas. I have to acknowledge to the House that the scheme of Local Government will not be complete until we have dealt with this matter; and we think that there ought to be a link of communication between the three kinds of Councils—between the County Council and the District Council, and between the District Council and the parish organisation. I hope, therefore, that it will be understood that we support the Amendment for the reason I have given, namely, that the hon. Gentleman who moved it desires District Councils to be dealt with first.

(12.25.) MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)

Before the right hon. Gentleman spoke I was at a loss to understand how the Government could support the Amendment of the hon. Member for East Somerset; but my difficulty has been increased by the speech to which we have just listened. The Amendment is directed pointedly against the organisation of the parish.


On the contrary. I said I did not object to the reform of the Vestry, but approved of it. What I did object to was the constitution of the Parish Council as proposed by the hon. Member and his friends.


I will leave the hon. Member to deal with his Amendment, which is purely negative, while the Motion is at least a positive Resolu- tion. It says that no measure of Local Government will be complete without the introduction of organisation and reform in the parish, and in that sentiment the President of the Local Government Board concurs. That certainly cannot be said to be a negative proposition. The Mover of the Amendment complains that undue prominence is given to the parish in the Motion. That is not so, because the parish has its proper place as the unit of Local Government. The right hon. Gentleman agrees with me that the parish is the smallest possible area. The Amendment practically pits the District Councils against the Parish Councils, and therefore the Mover of the Amendment cannot represent the views of the President of the Local Government Board. The fault I find with the President of the Local Government Board is that the right hon. Gentleman seems to think that the District Councils must come first in a separate measure.


No; I did not say that.


The right hon. Gentleman then differs in yet another point from the Mover of the Amendment which he proposes to support, for the hon. Member for East Somerset undoubtedly desires to separate the District Councils Bill from the Bill dealing with Parish Councils. The right hon. Gentleman now says he did not mean that. What I say is that the next measure must contain both. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the possibility of multifarious schemes and proposals for new powers to be given to Parochial Councils, which might occasion considerable trouble and occupy considerable time in discussion. But that is not a proper objection for a Minister to make. He constructs a Bill upon his own responsibility, and upon the responsibility of the Government. It would be for him to put the parish into the Bill, and to confer upon the parish only those powers which he thinks right.


The right hon. Gentleman rather misunderstands me. I did not mean to imply that we were not fully responsible; but what I said was that if there was an attempt to graft on any Bill we might introduce such proposals as those indicated it might take a whole Session to pass the measure.


I must remind the right hon. Gentleman how he has been treated by this House. When he introduced the great measure of his, which included District Councils as well as County Councils, he was fairly treated by the Opposition, and he will not deny it. Why should he not expect and look forward to similar treatment again? Why does he now get up and without justification attack my hon. Friend and say he made it a Party question, and twitted the Government with their shortcomings? The right hon. Gentleman himself is the man who has tried to make this a Party question. He has made that mistake before. Let me remind him that during the passing of the Local Government Bill the hon. Member for the Eye Division (Mr. F. Stevenson) proposed an Instruction to the Committee authorising them to introduce clauses to reform the Vestry. I placed on the Paper certain proposals, limited in number and moderate in character, and we assured the right hon. Gentleman that we would be content with the adoption of such proposals. The right hon. Gentleman did not say they were exaggerated or too numerous; he did not commit himself in their favour; but the only ground on which he declined to go into them—and he was followed in that line by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Lord of the Treasury—was that he had as much on his hands as he could manage in that Session. The First Lord of the Treasury, in winding up the Debate on the 7th of June, said the Government felt they had entered on a task of great magnitude, and did not think time would permit of the consideration of the question. He added— "The Government recognised the desirability, even the necessity, of doing much for the improvement of the parish Vestry, and of giving to village life the strength and power which it once possessed; hut they had undertaken as much work as they could carry successfully to an issue, and must ask the House to postpone that portion of the Local Government Bill to another Session, when they would be disposed to give it very favourable consideration. The Government, if they vote for the Amendment before the House, will not be acting in accordance with the spirit of that declaration. If the Government intend to deal with District Councils only, their promised Bill will not be satisfactory. I shall certainly vote for the Resolution of my hon. Friend.

(12.36.) The House divided:—Ayes 142; Noes 175.—(Div. List. No. 131.)

Question proposed, " That those words be there added."

(12.50.) MR. RITCHIE

I desire to make clear what the views of the Government are on this question, and with that object I wish to amend the Amendment. I have to propose after the words " district councils " to insert the words " the reform of Parochial Government," and to leave out the words " similar bodies" in the same line, and put in " district councils." The Amendment would then read— " That, in the opinion of this House, no measure of Local Government for the rural districts of England and Wales will be satisfactory which does not provide for the grouping of rural parishes under popularly-elected district councils, the reform of Parochial Government, and the effective control of local affairs by district councils," and so on.

Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment, after the words " district councils," to insert the words " the reform of Parochial Government."—{Mr. Ritchie.")

Question proposed, " That those words be inserted in the proposed Amendment."

MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rush-cliffe)

I think this is a very extraordinary proceeding. The House has for nearly four hours been discussing a Motion and Amendment which have been on the Paper for some time, and the terms of which are, therefore, familiar to us. It was practically understood that the Government adopted the Amendment, and now the right hon. Gentleman asks the House to adopt words which the House has had no opportunity whatever of considering. In the circumstances, I have no option hut to move the Adjournment of the Debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, " That the Debate be now adjourned." —(Mr. J. E. Ellis.)


If the hon. Gentleman persists in his Motion the Government will not oppose him. I desire to say, however, that there is nothing whatever inconsistent with what I said in my speech in the Motion I now make. I only desire to introduce words I think will be acceptable to both sides of the House.

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

By reading his Amendment, the right hon. Gentleman certainly failed to convey to our minds what the purport of his Amendment is. Under these circumstances, it is rather hard to ask us to accept the Amendment. I hope my hon. Friend will divide the House.

MR. T. M.HEALY (Longford, N.)

I think I can make a suggestion which may be generally acceptable: it is that Her Majesty's Government should provide the House with a day for the discussion of their own Motion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned.