HC Deb 09 March 1891 vol 351 cc525-30

7. Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £200, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1891, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Police Courts of London and Sheerness.


Once more I must raise the question whether the expenses of Police Courts in London and the suburbs should be borne on the Imperial taxation or should be borne by London itself. We have Police Courts in the towns we represent, and in these towns most assuredly the inhabitants pay for them. In London that is not the practice. This practice of placing these expenses on the Estimates has, I imagine, grown up from there being a Central Court at Bow Street, where international matters come up for consideration. Of the payment of a small sum on that account I should not complain, but why we should be called upon to pay for Police Courts at Sheerness, Woolwich, Greenwich, Wandsworth, and other places I do not understand. Is there any more reason why we should pay for the Courts at Woolwich or Sheerness any more than we should pay for the Courts at Derby or Northampton, or any other town? This matter has been frequently raised, and I have sometimes very nearly beaten the Government upon it, though at other times I have been much further from success, but there always has been a protest made. I raised it also on the question of the expense of building the Courts. Now, if we only look in the newspapers we see that the cases in these Courts, making an occasional exception at Bow Street, where there may be an extradition case to decide, are as much local to London as the proceedings in any of our provincial towns concern the Municipal Police of those towns. As I cannot find a sufficient reason for this Vote being put upon the Estimates I shall divide against the Vote.


This is a very old controversy. My right hon. Friend (Mr. H. H. Fowler) has raised it over and over again, and the only defence which could be made in past times was that London had no municipal representation, and, therefore, this Charge was put upon the Estimates. With the extension of municipal government to London the Charge is no longer defensible. This was fully recognised in the Bill I introduced for the better government of London, this Charge being placed upon the inhabitants of London. Now that London has a County Council, I cannot see how this Charge can in justice to other Municipal Bodies be made a national Charge, and I hope we shall have an undertaking that in future this Charge shall be transferred from the Exchequer to local finance. If not, I shall certainly vote with my hon. Friend as a protest, for undoubtedly this should be a matter for the constituted Local Authority—the London County Council.


Of course, this is a Supplementary Vote, and the House has already sanctioned the principle with the ordinary Estimates for the year. I understand the hon. Gentleman to draw a distinction between the Courts in London and those at Sheerness, Chatham, and Woolwich, and proposes to divide against the Charge in relation to the latter places.


No; I said I was opposed to the whole of the Vote, though perhaps it might be possible for the Treasury to pay a certain sum—say £500—annually to defray the costs arising at Bow Street, in respect to magisterial investigations in relation to international matters. I can understand the reasonableness of that.


I understood the hon. Gentleman to take exception to the Charge for Sheerness and other places. Of course, at Chatham, Woolwich, and Sheerness there are large increases of the population owing to the Government dockyards and military stations, and this involves a greater demand for summary jurisdiction. As to whether the London Police Courts generally ought to be supported from local resources or the Imperial Treasury, that is a subject for abstract discussion. The maintenance of good order in the Metropolis is a matter of Imperial as well as of local concern, and in passing the main Estimates for the current financial year Parliament has sanctioned the principle at present obtaining.

(6.57.) MR. H. H. FOWLER

I venture to think this has ceased to be an abstract question, and now assumes a concrete shape. When this question was raised some 10 years ago the answer given by the then Secretary to the Treasury was that it was impossible that the question could be raised with any advantage until London was invested with municipal government, and a pledge was given, which has been repealed since, that when London had her own municipal government the expenses of the Courts should be defrayed as they are in all other great towns of the United Kingdom. Of course, I should be out of order in raising the general question, but I can promise the Government that it will be raised when the Estimates come forward. I confine my remarks to the Supplementary Estimate and the increase for the salary of a clerk at Sheerness. The Under Secretary tells us that the good order of the Metropolis is a matter of Imperial concern, and that the nation should support the Courts at Sheerness because there are large Government works there, and the population is increased by Government employés; but would the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary to the Treasury countenance such an argument on behalf of Liverpool or Portsmouth or Plymouth or other of our maritime ports? This is the only opportunity which the Committee will have of dividing on these Votes, which were passed en masse at the end of last Session, in too great a hurry for Parliament to approve or disapprove of the principle under discussion. Unless the Government can give us some more encouraging answer in respect to the future Estimates I shall go into the Lobby with my hon. Friend.


The Under Secretary says it is the duty of the Imperial Government to provide specially for the Police Courts at Sheerness and elsewhere, because there happens to be a large amount of Government dockyard labour. But is that the case with Plymouth or Pembroke or Portsmouth? No; there is no pretence that the Government labour entails heavier local expenditure on the Courts. We know perfectly well that people like to have these Government establishments. The populations of garrison and dockyard towns should, above all others, pay for the local administration of justice, because the existence of the Government establishments brings so much trade to the localities.

(6.59.) MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

I quite agree that London should pay for its own Police Courts, and I think the time has come for making the change, but I do not know that the right opportunity offers itself upon a Supplementary Estimate. It does seem to me, though I do not always approve of the action of the London County Council, that that is the authority to be entrusted with the duty of raising the money for this expenditure, and on another occasion I shall support a proposal for transferring this Charge to the Local Authority.


I confess I am not disposed to say there are any very strong arguments why London should be treated differently from any other town, and I think if the whole thing were to be commenced de novo the Committee would be disposed to agree with my hon. Friend. But this is a Charge which for many reasons has been long thrown on the Estimates. It may be desirable at some future time to go into the whole question of London finance as compared with that of other towns, but it must not be assumed by the Committee that because this particular Charge is thrown upon the Estimates, London is in a very much better financial position than other towns as regards its relations with the Exchequer. In the arrangements that were made under the Local Government Act London was placed at a disadvantage as compared with every other part of the United Kingdom. I have not the figures by me, but I believe I am correct in saying that, whereas the relief that was given generally throughout the country was something over 3½d. in the £1, the relief which was given to London was under 2d. in the £1. If there were to be a re-adjustment of the settlement, London would, therefore, have more to gain by re-adjustment than it would lose.


Although it is no doubt true that the whole question was gone into carefully when the County Councils were created, still this is a matter which should stand on its own footing. Of course, to tie a question of this kind on to any re-adjustment of the whole system would be practically to defeat the course of justice. I am not at all confident that those who are the recipients of the bounty of the right hon. Gentleman have any reason to be thankful for it. In the parish in which I live in the country, I inquired what the effect of the benevolence of the right hon. Gentleman had been, and I found that the rates had been raised 4d. in the £1.


On a point of Order, I beg to ask whether this is relevant to the Vote?


I am answering what the right hon. Gentleman has said.


It is not in Order.


Then I hope L may be allowed in one sentence to answer the right hon. Gentleman by saying I traverse the statement that London has lost under this system as compared with the rest of the country. I have observed an ominous silence on the part of the Secretary to the Treasury on this question, and he is the man we really ought to hear, because he is the vindicator of the public purse in this matter. He knows very well that the public purse is being robbed as it ought not to be robbed; and though he will not speak in opposition to the Vote, I hope he will enter the Division Lobby against it.

(7.5.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 143; Noes 75.—(Div. List, No. 80.)

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