§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [2nd November], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
said, the most important question touched by this Bill was, in his opinion, that of the Poor Law; and the reason he regarded it as the most important was, that it was the question upon which the independence of the agricultural population—the labouring population—rested. He was of opinion that to the small occupier this question was of the greatest importance. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) proposed, by changing at, one blow the whole of the administrators of the Poor Law, to turn topsy-turvy the present system, which had produced an independent peasantry in this country. He regarded the clauses of the Bill, as they at present stood, as endangering the good effects of the present Poor Law as settled in 1834. He did not say that the Poor Law of the present day did not need reform. Indeed, as an old local taxation reformer, he was pledged to certain proposals, and he believed that the present Poor Law ought to be re-considered. They wanted classification of workhouses and a central fund in every county out of which all indoor relief should be paid. The County Council would be able to deal with that; but the 120 Bill barred all reform in that respect. He hoped the Government would agree to eliminate the Poor Law provisions of the Bill. If they refused they must join issue with them, because the independence and character of the agricultural population were at stake. Then as to the compounding clauses, he thought they were the greatest blot in the Bill. Their effect was to give those who paid no rates a universal voice in the distribution of the public money. He was not desirous of disfranchising the compounder, but he believed every householder should pay his rates himself instead of through the agency of his landlord. The system established by the compounding was unjust to the freeholder and the small occupier. The proposal now made would destroy the equality of the Act, as it would create two classes—one superior class of men who paid rates, and the other an inferior class who paid no rates at all except through their landlords. It destroyed the sense of responsibility in the man who had his rates paid for him. Just as in the case of Friendly Societies, the members watched one another, if every man had to respond to the call of the rate collector he would take a personal interest in the distribution of the rates. They all knew that this Bill would increase the rates, and would hit country people very heavily. What they wanted was not so much to prevent the increase of the rates as to guard against an unwise administration of them. He would beg the Government, for the sake of the general character of the agricultural population, to re-consider their attitude on this matter. They (the Conservative Members) would help them with this Bill, and they would give them all the credit they could get for the passing of the Bill; but they could not, and would not, give up the cause of the agricultural labourer. Time was no object to him and his friends; and if the Government refused any compromise upon the questions of the Poor Law and the Compounding Act, they might be assured that the Opposition would fight these questions in Committee, and they would not get the Bill through as easily as they thought. These two questions were of the greatest importance, and he did hope that the Government would meet the views he had ventured to put forward regarding them.
§ * THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (Mr. GEORGE RUSSELL,) North Beds.
said, he did not propose to reply to the criticisms of detail which had been made on the previous day; but he claimed the indulgence of the House while addressing himself to the Bill rather as a private Member than in his capacity as a Member of the Government. The hon. Member who had just sat down (Mr. S. Leighton) began his speech last night with some rather grotesque raillery directed against his hon. Friend the Member for the Cirencester Division (Mr. Lawson). Now, his hon. Friend could take very good care of himself, and he was not going to defend him against "the slings and arrows of outrageous Shropshire." He spoke only for himself, and the hon. Member for Shropshire would not, at any rate, accuse him of being a Cockney. He was a countryman. He was hereditarily connected with the soil, and had lived on terms of familiar intercourse with the agricultural labourer—he had lived in a village the best part of his life—he had represented for five years a constituency composed almost exclusively of agricultural labourers, and he ventured to say that the policy propounded in this Bill was exactly that for which the agricultural labourer had been craving. He did not say the labourers had been crying out for the Bill, because that was not their habit; but he knew of their deep and inward desire for something of the kind, and, what was more, of their resolution to get it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horncastle (Mr. E. Stanhope) and the hon. Member for Shropshire (Mr. S. Leighton) said there was no enthusiasm for the Bill in rural districts. That was a diametrically opposite experience to that realised by Members on the Government side of the House. Their experience was that there was no political topic which excited so much enthusiasm and ardour amongst country audiences as this one did. How were they to account for the discrepancy in the experience of Members regarding this matter? He could only account for it in this way—that while those who did not much believe in the Bill but accepted it because they could not get out of it, explained its merits and recommendations in a way not to excite 122 applause, the supporters of the measure, who regarded it as a matter of vital importance, had a comparatively easy task, so to speak, on the subject, and handled the provisions of the Bill so as to awaken a very different response. Now, the right hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope), though he accepted this Bill, did not think much of it; he regarded it as a poor thing at the best; and said that the Government, before proceeding to set up Parish Councils, would have been better advised to attempt some other development of local government; and he instanced the creation of District Councils for London. He was exceedingly glad to welcome the right hon. Gentleman—who was a source of strength to any cause he espoused—into the ranks of London reformers. He agreed that the opulent square mile which was technically called the City of London would form a delightful area for a District Council under the London County Council, but he could not admit with the right hon. Gentleman that the Government was ill-advised in dealing with Parish Councils before the creation of District Councils for London, because, although London had its claims—and they heard that some of those claims were to be met in the earliest weeks of next Session—still, it must be admitted that the towns of England had had a fair amount of attention bestowed on their needs. The towns had had corporate self-government for many years, and in London they had had a system of government which left something, but not very much, to be desired, and only a few minutes ago they had heard it was to have its Equalisation of Rates Bill; whereas the agricultural labourers, so far as regarded their civil, social, and political life, had had very little done for them. They had a long account run up against Parliament, and it was about time Parliament did something towards reducing the account. He had known them long enough and well enough to know and to admire their splendid patience under inevitable misfortune; their manly endurance of poverty, sickness, and hard times; bad wages; and sickness and suffering, and the absolute deprivation of what were called the luxuries of life. They were not the men to complain about trifles. Beneath that deep and splendid patience 123 under inevitable evil, they cherished a bitter and determined opposition against the evils and misfortunes which they thought might be averted and the law might cure. The strongest passion of their nature was the desire for independence and self-government. Instead of those great boons, what had they had immemorially? They had had, roughly speaking, the rule of the squire and the parson. He was not saying that had been a cruel, or a hard or tyrannical rule. He would not draw an indictment against a whole class, for, after all, English squires and English clergymen were English gentlemen, and English gentlemen were not apt to bully those who were their inferiors in social standing. The rule of the squire and the parson, however, was essentially a benevolent despotism, not dependent on the consent of the governed. You might take the squires, and divide them into two classes. Take, first, the case of the small squire—the man who lived in the big house in the village, who had, perhaps, 1,000 or 2,000 acres of his own to look after, who had nothing else, perhaps, to do, a man of active mind and abundant leisure. He was, if he might say so, omnipresent in the social and civil life of the village. His eyes were everywhere, beholding the evil and the good, and the worst of it was that he probably regarded that as evil which was simply inconsistent with his own wishes and predilections. He had the advantages of station and position; possibly, even in these days, he was a man of some wealth—at any rate, of independence—and he had an hereditary and established claim on the respect of the people. In addition to these natural advantages of birth, he was often the Magistrate, the Churchwarden, the Guardian of the Poor, the Manager of the school, and so on. At every turn he came in contact with the life of the village, and from time immemorial he had acquired a habit of rule, of coercion—[Cries of "No!"]—well, each one must speak according to his experience—a habit of interference with the petty details and ordinary life of the parish; and he was prone to view with great repugnance the assertion of anything like independence of action on the part of those who were in any way subjected to his influence. [Cries of"No!"] Turning to the case of the large squire, 124 the great territorial magnate, he was not aware that as regarded the poorer classes the case was a much better one. The great squire did not live as the small squire did—among the people; and he received his information not from the evidence of his own eyes, but through the jaundiced medium ["No, no!"] of agents, land-stewards, bailiffs, lawyers, and the whole of the hierarchy of squiredom. He did not himself come much into contact with the poor, which contact was some safeguard in the case of the small squires. The traditional and official ally of the squire, great, and small, was the parson, and he used the word "parson" in the sense sanctioned by Blackstone, who said that—The appellation of parson, however it may be depreciated by familiar, clownish, and indiscriminate use, is the most legal, most beneficial, and most honourable title that a parish priest can enjoy.It formed no part of his purpose to denounce the clergy as a body. Many, if not most, of his personal friends were members of the ministry of the Church of England, and in those counties in which he had lived it so happened that he had never known a single case of a "scandalous clergyman." He had known them, as a rule and as a body, exemplary in private life, punctilious, and sometimes even zealous, in the discharge of their sacred duties, and generous in giving beyond the usual proportion of gifts to means. Yet, that being frankly admitted, would anyone contend that taking England through, from one county to another, the clergy had the confidence of their parishioners? ["Hear, hear!"] He was glad to hear that somebody knew of places where that was the case. That was not his experience. He maintained that in too many instances the clergy of the Church of England had not the confidence of their flocks. The question then arose, Why should men so admirable in themselves and in their ministerial work be on terms so unfortunate with those to whom they were the spiritual guides? He supposed the answer was this: that they had allied themselves time out of mind with the squire and the privileged classes in the attempt to rule full-grown men against their will, to order them about like children, and to check the least symptom of independence. That he believed to be the solution of the case, 125 and he regretted it in the interests of the Church, of which he was a, member. So far as he knew the feeling of tile agricultural labourers of the country, they looked forward to this measure as a means of independence, as giving them the hope and prospect of standing on more equal terms with those who, from time out of mind, had borne rule over them. Of course, the natural and inevitable influence of wealth, station, position, more particularly of the ministerial office, and, most especially of all, personal character, would remain; hut the hereditary right to dominate in civil and social matters would, as far as its legal basis was concerned, be rudely shaken by the legislation now before the House. Turning to details, he rejoiced at the hours fixed for the meetings of the Parish Councils, which would prevent the Village Parliament from being held at an hour when no labourer could attend; the right of access to such schools as wore supported by public money; and the protection of the Ballot, which was never more necessary than in connection with the small elective bodies they here proposed to set up. Moreover, they must lay down the fundamental principle of One Man One Vote, and they should hand over to those chiefly interested in them the administration of local charities. On the latter point he had found extraordinary jealousy to exist in the mind of the agricultural labourer. There was an opinion on his part, not that there had been malversation, but that his interests would be much better looked after if the charities were administered by a responsible public authority, who would do their work in the light of day and render a strict account of every penny that passed through their hands. Another subject in which the labourer took great interest was that of the right of way. Which of them was there who had ever known the pleasant meadow-walks of England and had not seen convenient footpaths either blocked up or deflected out of their straight course in order to suit the convenience of the people at the big house, whether manor or farm? and then, again, as to commons and open spaces, on which, in times past, such scandalous encroachments had been made in private interests? This Bill, when once carried into law, would render impos- 126 sible anything in the nature of what was well exemplified in the case of the miniature civil war which raged in the town of Berkhamsted, when an attempt was made to close Berkhamsted Common. He turned from these, which were details, to what was no detail, but an organic and essential part of the Bill—to that part which related to the Poor Law. He was delighted to hear his right hon. Friend say last night that, in regard to this part of the measure at any rate, there would be no surrender. Even if it stood alone be should look upon the revision of the system of creating Boards of Guardians as an inestimable boon to the poor. When it was considered what wide and extensive powers those Boards possessed in connection with allotments, with vaccination—which was a burning question in some parts of the world—and, above all, the Poor Law; and when it was remembered how closely those powers touched the lives of the very poor, it needed no argument to show how vital to their interests and happiness it was that there should be a just and reasonable administration of the Poor Law, and that the elections of the Guardians should be placed on another and a satisfactory basis. Hon. Members opposite, and severe economists on his own side of the House, must not shut their eyes to the fact that a strong feeling was growing up against the present system of Poor Law administration. He recollected on one occasion hearing a farmer, who had been for 30 years a Guardian, say at a meeting that if he had his way he would pull down the workhouses and mend the roads with them. Not going all lengths with that iconoclastic sentiment, he did most cordially agree with those who thought the time was come when a distinction should be more carefully drawn than hitherto between the case of the thriftless, lazy, idle rascal who had never done a stroke of work in his life and that of the man who had honestly done his best all through life to keep off the rates, but who was obliged, through the inevitable misfortune of old age, to seek relief in the workhouse. Rightly or wrongly, country people believed that they were more likely to get this distinction drawn when the Guardians were chosen by themselves than when they 127 were selected under the present system. The Poor Law itself, as had been stated, would be unaffected by the Bill. It was only a question of how best to choose those who would administer that law. He subscribed to the doctrine that the only satisfactory qualification for Guardians of the Poor was that they should possess the confidence of their neighbours. If, in addition to that, they had the qualification of being able by experience to enter into the sufferings of the poor he thought they were doubly and trebly qualified. Passing from the question of the Poor Law, on which he felt strongly, he could not refrain from expressing his satisfaction at the greatly altered tone in which the claims and interests of the agricultural labourer were now spoken of as compared with 10 or 15 years ago, when it was impossible to get the demands of the agricultural labourer treated in a reasonable spirit. Then, when his right hon. Friend near him (Sir G. Trevelyan) was leading the Liberal Party in the movement for conceding the Parliamentary vote to the labourer, it was rare to hoar the labourer spoken of, as regarded his political claims, in other than insulting language, and it was almost impossible to get his demands listened to m a reasonable spirit. But a change had been brought about by the Franchise Act. In this matter the Party to which he had the honour to belong had no unhappy memories. They had declared the agricultural labourers to be good and capable citizens, and events had proved that they were right. By granting the franchise of 1884 they laid the strong foundations of national self-government deep in the conscience, the intelligence, and the manly will of the English peasantry, and their present work was merely the complement and development of that. By the present Bill they were trying to bring the principle of representative self-government to the labourer's door, and to intertwine it with his daily life. They sought to establish it under such conditions as to area and population that not even the poorest ploughman should be a negligible quantity in the civil life of his community. Speaking from that place on the Second Heading of the Bill of 1884, he used language which he would venture to repeat, for the principle which actuated their present work was 128 the principle which actuated them then. Too long, and much too long, the English labourer had been at worst a serf, at best a cipher. But they were resolved that henceforth, as far as the law could secure it, he should be a free man and a self-governing citizen.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
did not think the speech the House had just listened to was calculated to secure extra smoothness for the passage of the Bill. The hon. Member had stated that he had just come from making speeches in North Bedfordshire. Well, a friend of his (Mr. Jesse Collings') had forwarded him reports of those utterances, and he found that the House to-night had been favoured with one of the hon. Gentleman's North Bedfordshire platform speeches. The hon. Member said that he had witnessed a great deal of enthusiasm about Parish Councils. He remembered the hon. Member's former speeches in 1886, when there was a great deal said about Parish Councils.
§ Mil. JESSE COLLINGS
said, he might have made a mistake in regard to the date, but in the speeches at the last Election, and those the hon. Member made recently, he had said very little about Parish Councils. He (Mr. Jesse Collings) was not surprised that there should have been some enthusiasm displayed in former years, considering how Parish Councils were then described. He could not understand why the hon. Member should assume opposition to the Bill from the Party opposite. Did he not recollect that the Party opposite initiated this legislation on the same democratic lines upon which the present Bill was laid, and would have carried the measure further but for the extraordinary affection which the then Opposition had for the measure, which led to a portion of it being dropped? The discussions on the Bill of 1888 were, he would not say too long, but so exhaustive as to render it necessary to drop a great portion of the measure. It was not right, therefore, to attempt to mislead the House of Commons with regard to the initial reform which the President of the Local Government Board had called one of the greatest 129 administrative reforms of modern times and the first volume of a splendid work. It was not right for the hon. Member who had just spoken to make a platform political speech on the assumption that the Party opposite was opposed to the very legislation which they themselves initiated, and which, though they had laid down the lines of it, through stress of time they were not able to complete. He could only say that if the hon. Member's description of Parish Councils to his constituents was on a par with regard to accuracy with his description to them of the Home Rule Bill, they must have a very awkward idea of the question. The hon. Member had rejoiced that the time at which the agricultural labourers would meet in the Parish Councils would be statutorily fixed between 6 and 8 o'clock in the evening. He thought this was a Bill to give One Man One Vote, the majority to rule. He thought the motto of the Bill was "Trust the People"; yet the Bill did not leave the Councils to fix: the time of their meetings. From his own experience of trudging along the roads at night, lantern in hand, through mud and slush, he did not think many persons in the country would care to attend night meetings. Saturday afternoon would probably become the popular time for the meetings, seeing that ere long Saturday afternoon leisure would be the rule in the rural districts. But the Bill said—"You shall not meet before 6 o'clock, however much you wish it." Therefore the less said about trust in the people the better. He was glad that the President of the Local Government Board had charge of the Bill, because he was one of the few Members of the Government who had had long practical experience of municipal life; he knew what could be done, and what it was difficult to do, and he recognised the goodness of the legislation of 1888 which he was now following up. The right hon. Gentleman had not, as many did at that time, called the Act of 1888 "a wolf in sheep's clothing," and so on. It was not necessary to dwell on the inefficiency of the present state of things. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer summed it up 21 years ago, when he said there was "a chaos of authority, a chaos of rating, and a worse chaos of areas." This Bill was the natural corollary and consequence of the 130 Bill of 1888. In fact, his right hon. Friend, in introducing it, said that its object was to enlarge and extend the principles then laid down. But he must say, in passing, that they had reason to complain of the manner in which the Bill had been brought in and was being proceeded with. Here was a complex Bill of great magnitude, wide range, and dealing with difficult matters of all kinds, a Bill of which any Government might be proud, as the work of a whole Session. But what was now being done? After a long and weary, and, as some of them thought, a fruitless Session, the House was called together in the Autumn, irritated by the treatment it had received, to deal with a great English measure. He challenged contradiction when he said that there was no time, in what was left of this Session, to do justice to the Bill, though he hoped it would pass. He was aware of the cruel exigencies in which the Government were placed, but he did not think that the interests of the rural population should be sacrificed to the exigencies of a position in which the Government had placed themselves. The Bill of 1888 took 29 days in discussion—namely, six nights for the Second Reading, 21 days in Committee, and two days for the Report and Third Reading. He did not think that was too long for such a very important Bill. But between this and the middle of December they had just 30 days, and they were to pass this and another important Bill within that time, and then it was to go to another place, where he supposed it would be considered in some way or another. No one knew better than the Prime Minister that to require the present Bill and another important measure to pass before the end of the year was imposing a condition which he would not say was insulting to the agricultural labourers, but which would render it impossible to give to the Bill that examination it deserved. This was a, more complex Bill than the last. It dealt with more varied interests, and altogether demanded a longer time for discussion than the other Bill. He knew that it would be possible to force it through by the peculiar methods they had seen adopted this Session; but the status of the House, which had been so much lowered last year, would be altogether discredited by the admission that 131 the general legislation of the Government was only to be carried by the guillotine. There were matters in the Bill which it was necessary should have discussion—for instance, the question of the annual retirement of Councillors. If the President of the Local Government Board would follow the precedent set in this matter by the Municipal Corporations Act he would simplify the Bill. Then, again, in Clause 8 it was stated that the Parish Councils were to deal with ponds, &c. Was that a legal phrase? Were they to regard ponds in some cases as a nuisance, and how were they to set about this work? Again, the poor rate was continually referred to as the source from which the expense for parish meetings and other things was to be provided. It was a sentimental matter; but he confessed he did not like this continual reference to the poor rate. If the right hon. Gentleman would abolish that phrase, and speak of the rate not as a district rate, but, say, a consolidated rate, it would he better. Some hon. Members had expressed their fears as to the amount of money which would be expended and the rates that would be levied. All these fears, he believed, were groundless. There were several cheeks in the Bill, but the real check was in the people, and gentlemen opposite might be assured that they could rely upon that check. It had been said that the "compounders" did not pay rates. In Birmingham people compounded up to £12 or £14 a year, and in all his experience he had never known the poorest and most humble compounder to be anything but a staunch opponent of increased expenses. It had not been easy to got their consent to their opening of a Free Library on this ground. Of course, sanitation would be wanted in the villages; but if he might judge from his own experience and from the Report of the Agricultural Sub-Commissioners sanitation was in a satisfactory condition in the cottages on the large estates. It was in the parishes where the houses belonged to private owners that nearly all the mischief existed. In these parishes the moment the rates went up the rents would go up. The private owners would make any addition to the rates an excuse for putting up the rents. One of the effects of the Bill would be that those Unions which had 132 adopted the compounding system would separate their rents from the rates, and allow the occupier to pay them. This he thought would be a great misfortune, and would cause a great deal of trouble in connection with the rates; but it would be one of the results of the Bill. One reason why he particularly wished that the Conservative Members should not oppose but should welcome the Bill was that it would educate the rural classes. It would bring those who lived in rural parishes into a position to grasp other questions besides local ones, and would give them now interests and new responsibilities, with great advantage not only to the locality, but to the country. It would also put an end to the business of the political agitator. When the rural population knew by experience what could be done and what could not be done by local government it would be of no use for agitators to tell them fairy stories about the advantages that would result from extensions of local government. He had in his possession two volumes of speeches besides a volume of addresses on the Parish Councils question, and it was really pitiful to see what expectations had been held out in them to the rural population about Parish Councils. One would imagine, from some of the statements made, that the people in rural districts would be in the seventh heaven as soon as they got Parish Councils. If an agitator were to go to a dweller in a town and tell him that the management of his local affairs would give him similar advantages the reply he would get would be—"My dear fellow, I know all about it. I know what the advantages of local government are, and if you tell me I am going to get champagne and mutton chops for supper I would advise you to go to someone who docs not know what Local Government is." This Bill would teach the people in the rural districts what local government really meant. Last week he had a friendly letter from a labouring man, who assured him that the Parish Council would advance him money and would pay for his pig if, unfortunately, he should lose it by disease. He (Mr. Jesse Collings) could only tell him that the Bill would not do these things for him, but that it was a good Bill. As to the absence of qualification, it was quite right that there should be no money 133 qualification, but he thought it was wrong to have no residential qualification. The Bill must be read in connection with the Registration Bill, and if Parliament did not mind it, would have rural localities swayed by men who had no interest whatever in them, but were simply a nomadic population, who, however, might by their votes impose any amount of debt on the population. At the present time the Birmingham Corporation was making its new waterworks in Wales, and a large body of men were being employed upon them. Under this Bill the votes of this nomadic population might saddle district after district with large debts, and then leave the permanent householder to bear the burden of them. In Birmingham some large works were carried out by the Midland Railway Company, just as the Corporation were questioning the people as to whether they should incur so large a liability for a water supply. If the intentions of the Government had been carried out at that time, the temporary population might have turned the scale in the decision whether Birmingham should be saddled with a debt of £5,000,000. He was glad that his right hon. Friend had left all the sanitary powers in the hands of the District Councils. As everyone knew, it was necessary to have a wide area in such matters. France, with its 35,000 communes, had been referred to over and over again in connection with this Bill, but no one who had travelled in France would say that the sanitary arrangements of the communes were to be commended. He had studied this question in Switzerland, and there the authorities told him that what they wanted was larger areas. He was taken to a spot where two communes adjoined. One commune had cut off the drain pipes of the other, with the result that all the refuse was being discharged into the roads, and he was told that this state of things would have to continue until their legal difficulties were settled. Possibly his right hon. Friend (Mr. H. H. Fowler) might see his way to get the richer parishes to help the smaller ones. It was impossible for the areas to remain as at present. The district parish and county boundaries corresponded with the ancient limits, so that if an inhabitant of the 11th century were to come to life again he would find just about the same areas as he knew 134 800 years ago. If it was necessary to alter anything it was better to alter the county than the parish. The statement made by his right hon. Friend (Mr. H. H. Fowler), in his opening speech on the Bill, was not quite satisfactory on this point. In view of the value which parishes, however small, attached to their traditions, their historical interests, and so forth, he did not think that any of them should be grouped. It was quite true that there were more than 800 parishes with only 50 inhabitants, and 335 with only 25 inhabitants, according to the Census of 1881. It would, no doubt, be an anomaly to maintain this state of things, but it was better to have such an anomaly than to depart from a uniform principle. The solution of the difficulty, he thought, would be that parishes with a population of more than 200 should have Parish Councils, and the rest should not be grouped except with their consent, power being given to the County Council to group them. He had to this day a lively recollection of coming many a time in a most dilapidated condition out of a fight with a neighbouring parish. The very fact that parishes were neighbours created the jealousies and hatreds which now existed between them. In his early days the people of his parish thought that everything was bad in the neighbouring parish, and that its inhabitants were to be fought on every possible occasion. The grouping of parishes would mean a forced union with incompatibility of temper. He feared that there was grave danger to the working classes in the provisions of the Bill respecting allotments. He dismissed the question of small holdings, because the Bill did not touch it, except to substitute the Parish Councils for the men appointed under the present Act. This was perfectly right on the understanding that the Parish Councils were to have the powers given by the Appeals Act of 1890 as well. The Bill made three alterations with regard to allotments. It substituted the Parish Council for the allotment managers appointed under the Act of 1887; it gave the District Council power to hire, as well as to purchase, land by compulsion, and it substituted the Local Government Board for the County Council in case a Provisional Order were needed. In the interests of labour, he trusted that his 135 right hon. Friend (Mr. H. H. Fowler) would not take away the power given to the District Council under the Act of 1887. Under that Act the rich parish could help the poor one. For instance, the populous parish of Yardley, near Birmingham, was obliged to assist all the poor parishes around it. If the suggestions that had been made were carried out, the poor parishes would have to provide allotments out of their own resources. The Act of 1887 provided that if a small minority in a parish wanted allotments it could appeal to the District Council, and from them to the County Council, who, if they thought that the case was made out, were bound to provide them. If this power of appeal wore cancelled, a very grave injury would be done. When the Allotments Appeal Bill of 1890 was before the House an Amendment was adopted by which boroughs were omitted from its provisions, and the consequence was that the people in all those boroughs which, like Shaftesbury and Okehampton, were mere agricultural villages were deprived of the right of appeal. There were many Parish Councils that would represent districts as populous or as big as these rural boroughs; and if they should decide by a bare majority not to take up the question of providing allotments, it would be cruel to take away from people who wanted allotments the right of appeal to the County Council. He had a fervent hope that they would keep the Allotments Act of 1887 unimpaired, and that the labourers would not be deprived of the powers which they now possessed. Had time permitted he would have refuted what the hon. Member for Rugby said as to the efficiency of that Act, but he would content himself with saying that there were hundreds and thousands of men who had secured allotments as an indirect result of that Act. He was connected with an Association that had secured for the men thousands of those allotments by simply opening communications with landlords, or by getting Local Authorities to make the necessary arrangements in a friendly way. As for compulsion, he had always said that compulsory powers should be embodied in the Bill; but he had likewise added that they should never be exercised if a voluntary arrangement were feasible, simply because they involved increased expense and necessitated 136 higher rents. The hon. Member for Rugby seemed to suggest that the labourers had nothing to do but to choose a bit of ground, and to say to the Local Government Board, "We want so many acres"; that then the order would be drawn up, and the land available for allotments within three months. But he forgot, apparently, that notices had to be given to the landowner concerned, and that questions of damage for severance might be raised. The Local Government Board would have to take all those matters into consideration——
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, he only wanted to point out that compulsion involved extra expense, and, therefore, the fact that the Act of 1887 had worked so successfully without compulsory powers should be a matter of congratulation. The chief barrier had been the inertness of the Sanitary Authorities, but that difficulty would be removed by this Bill, and they might hope that through the agency of the District Councils they might ensure a great acceleration in the provision of allotments. It seemed to him, however, that hon. Members who supported the Government were not content with setting what they wanted unless they snatched it. The hon. Member had complained of delay in the matter of compulsory acquisition, and in the dealing with appeals arising under the provisions for it; but he must remember that many of the appeals were not pressed, and he (Mr. Jesse Collings) might cite a case which came before the Worcestershire County Council in which, after the appeal was lodged, someone stepped forward and provided 15 acres of land, thereby putting an end to the whole difficulty. There was one other matter he wished to deal with, and that was Clause 13, which raised the question of charities and transferred the management of local charities to the Parish Councils. He believed they would find that the clergy would be in favour of this proposal, because, as had been pointed out in a letter written to him by a working man, they would be glad to be relieved of the odium of partiality which now attached to them. At the same time, he did not think that even the Parish Councils would be able to carry out that distribution without giving rise to some 137 fancied grievance. He objected strongly to the proposed extension of the powers of the Charity Commissioners. At present they could not deal with charities having an income of more than £50 unless the whole of the Trustees asked for their intervention. Under the Bill the limit of £50 would be changed to £500. There had been several attempts at legislation in regard to the Charity Commissioners, and suggestions had been made for a possible extension of their powers. But he did not believe in the policy of the Charity Commissioners; they had worked injustice to many; and if any addition to their powers was to be made it ought to be done openly by a special Bill, and not by a mere clause. He would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill that he should drop this particular proposal or restore the limit to £50, otherwise long discussions might become necessary, because they would have to fight that clause. He was aware that in Subsection 5 power was given to the Parish Councils to approve or to oppose any scheme; but that really meant nothing, as whatever the Parish Councils might say the Charity Commissioners were sure to have their own way. He felt strongly on this point: and if the Government sanctioned this plan, they would inflict a deadly injury upon the rural population. Let him cite a case which would illustrate his meaning. The village of Methwold, in Norfolk, had a charity of £37 a year, which was spent in giving a good dinner to a number of poor people; and the Charity Commissioners had stepped in to interfere with this distribution of the money. It was all very well for hon. Members to talk contemptuously of doles; but he believed that a thoroughly good dinner with all its accompaniments given to poor people once a year was a benefit not to be despised. It was something to which they could look forward with pleasure and back upon with satisfaction. But now a scheme had been sent down under which the charity was to go to a hospital, thereby relieving the wealthier classes, while the poor were to be deprived of their one bright day a year. Opinion in Methwold was entirely against the decision of the Charity Commissioners; and he certainly could not see why the opinion of a few gentlemen at Whitehall 138 should prevail against the unanimous views of the people of the parish. If these changes were to he made, it should only be with the consent of the County Councils. It was all very well for hon. Gentlemen, to whom warm beds and good dinners came like natural phenomena, to talk about the demoralising effect of doles; but if the people liked them, it ought not to be in the power of three or four gentlemen at Whitehall to take the doles away. He hoped that the President of the Local Government Board would give way on this point. As he had said before, there would not, in his opinion, be time to discuss this Bill in the manner in which it ought to be discussed; and, therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman found it necessary to drop any part of the measure, he trusted it would be the section dealing with Poor Law administration. He wanted to see their system of local government made complete by the creation of District and Parish Councils. He, for one, would not begrudge the right hon. Gentleman the pleasure or the distinguished honour of saying he had completed the work so well commenced by the last Government and, therefore, he joined in the hope that they would have those Councils constituted.
§ * MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Derby Division has reminded me that on the Second Reading of Mr. Ritchie's Bill in 1888 I appealed to that light hon. Gentleman to give the House ample time for its discussion, and that I expressed the opinion it was not a measure that could be rushed or closured through. I am entirely of the same opinion on the present occasion, and I should not have the slightest hesitation in endorsing the hon. Member's appeal to the President of the Local Government Board were it not for the fact which the hon. Member has rather strangely overlooked—that the right hon. Gentleman in his opening speech declared the readiness of himself and the Government to give time and to admit Amendments. There was not in the speech of my right hon. Friend a word or a tone that had any of the spirit of Closure about it. I do not propose on the present occasion to enter into details; I wish rather to confine myself to the constructive parts of 139 the Bill, and to say freely and frankly what I think ought to be done. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill said that it would not be treated as a Party measure. I also do not want it to be treated as a Party measure, but as one in which all hon. Members are equally interested; and I therefore venture to make my contribution to the common fund without any fear of the imputation of a desire to impede the Bill. The first part deals with Parish Councils and parish meetings, and the second part with Guardians and District Councils, and I will consider the second part first. There seems to be considerable confusion in the minds of some hon. Members and in the Press as to the effect of this part of the Bill; some appear to be of opinion that the Board of Guardians is abolished, and that the District Council is to take its place. I read the Bill in this way:—The rural parishes of a Union will become the rural district of the future. The Union will remain intact; the elected Guardians will all be elected by urban parishes, and the District Councillors will be ipso facto the rural Guardians. I think this is made clear by Clause 23. Under this Bill they will become members of two bodies—the District Council and the Poor Law Union. The present condition of things is that the Rural Guardians are really the Sanitary Authority. Under this Bill the District Councillors will become the Rural Guardians, and have to fulfil two functions, and it is doubtful whether they can fulfil them with entire satisfaction, as it is evident that if the Poor Law business is first transacted and the sanitary work immediately follows, it will have to be left till the fag-end of the day. On the other hand, if the District Council does not meet on the same day as the Board of Guardians, its members will have to attend the meetings of two different bodies at different times. There are great inconveniences in the proposed arrangement, but I do not say that they are avoidable. As the right hon. Member for Great Grimsby has stated, there is already considerable difficulty in finding a sufficient number of competent persons to fulfil the functions of Guardians. The same difficulty will remain in another shape, for the number will not be doubled, but they will be required to accept a double function, and 140 to sit on two bodies. It is a choice of difficulties, and I do not know that the Government could have done better, but I do not believe that the plan will work well permanently. The only way out of the difficulty would be a complete reorganisation of the Poor Law system of the country. I do not say that the Government ought to have undertaken that duty, for it would have been impossible; but I would like to suggest that there will have to be in the future a re-arrangement of Poor Law Unions, so that the rural district itself shall become a Union area, grouping the workhouses for common use under Committees of the County Council and the District Council, and delegating some of the details of out relief, under rules and supervision, to the parish, but taking care to offer no temptation to either a too strict or too lax administration of the law. That would be too great and complex a subject for the Government to deal with now, but we certainly shall not got a complete system of local government until we have disentangled our Poor Law system from its present cumbrous surroundings. It necessarily follows from the purpose of the Bill that all Guardians must be elected by the same process, and it is inevitable that the present system of election must cease and pass away. If there should be dangers attaching to the election of Poor Law Guardians by Ballot and on the principle of One Man One Vote, the remedy must be sought in other directions, probably in the direction I have indicated. I come next to the portion of the Bill dealing with the parish, and I will endeavour to deal with the Bill as modified by the speech of the President of the Local Government Board yesterday. I understood that parishes under 200 of population, or whatever other figure instead of 300 the House may determine upon, will be grouped, and that the other parishes will remain ungrouped. There will be a considerable number of ungrouped parishes of from 200 to 500 inhabitants, with from 40 to 100 electors. What will be their powers, and what will they have to do? They will first elect Overseers and Parish Councils. In the smaller parishes the Council will consist of five, in the largest of 15, persons. The other functions of the parish meeting will be to adopt or refuse to adopt Lighting and Watching, 141 Baths and Washhouses, Burials, and Public Libraries Acts, and the Public; Improvement Act of 1860 as to recreation grounds. But these Acts, once adopted, the functions of the parish meeting will be at an end, for the administration of the Acts will be handed over to the Parish Council. The assent of the parish meeting will be required for any excess of what is called the 1d. rate. I do not think a clear idea of what that means exists amongst hon. Members. I understand the Parish Council is required to have the assent of the parish meeting to levy a rate exceeding 1d. in the £1; but there is excepted from the calculation expenditure which has already been sanctioned, either by the parish meeting or by the superior authority; so that, practically speaking, subject to these sanctions and assents, the expenditure may very easily exceed the rate of 1d. in the £1. When once the parish meeting has elected the Parish Council, what becomes of (the popular) local self-government in the parish already? Practically speaking, the parish almost ceases to meet, except for elections. There are hon. Members who think that the representative principle is of such high and universal value that it must be introduced everywhere, however small the area or limited the population. I hold that this is carrying the representative principle too far, and my view is that we should go back to the old Anglo-Saxon notion of government of the people by the people in areas so small that the representative principle cannot be conveniently adopted. If the House compares a reformed Vestry—a Vestry or parish assembly, with the right to choose its own Chairman and conduct its own business with all its present powers and meeting at a convenient time of day—with the parish which elects a Parish Council and loses all power of direct self-government, it will be seen that there is more living and real local self-government in that proposal than in the creation of Parish Councils of five persons, sitting with closed doors, and not reported, and doing all the local self-government themselves. I do not call that the best way of popularising local self-government. It is going still further away from the old principle of direct government on small areas. It seems to be based on the idea that direct government 142 by the people is a bad thing, and representative government the true idea even on the smallest area. My view, on the contrary, is that representative government is a. matter of convenience and necessity, to be adopted when the population is too numerous or the area too large for direct popular government. In the smallest areas what we want above all—and we have all been saying so—is, that the people should bring their intimate knowledge to bear, and that they should have the practice and training of self-government at home with the sense of responsibility it would bring. The case of the grouped parish is somewhat different. It becomes a ward, and elects its own representative to the Parish Council; it elects its own Overseers; it is to have permanently all the powers of Clause 18, which include all powers exercisable by the Vestry, except those relating to the Church, with certain other specified powers as to highways and rights of way. In some senses it has more individuality than the ungrouped parishes. But what will be its relations to the Council of the group? It may refuse to adopt the adoptive Acts; it may refuse to assent to a loan; or it may refuse an expenditure over the rate of 1d. in the £1. Surely if we create a Parish Council we must give it powers equally extending over the whole of its area. I put it to my right hon. Friend that the organisation of the group will need very careful working out by the admirable Department over which he presides before the House gets into Committee on the Bill. I am bound to say what I should prefer. I would create Parish Councils only where the population is too large or too divided or scattered over a large area to permit of the inhabitants, or rather the electors, meeting in convenient numbers in some central and convenient spot. Otherwise I would put the parish meeting—to become the parish assembly—in its place, with all the powers which the House may agree to confer upon it. I would arrange that it should meet quarterly, of course. It should have the power and the duty to appoint a Parish Committee for practical, constant action and administration, which should report to the quarterly assembly, and the Chairman of the assembly and of the Committee should be one and the 143 same person. I have the strongest desire that this Bill, with Amendments, should pass; and I believe that the House will best secure its passing by contributing freely and frankly its views and opinions to the common fund.
§ * SIR R. WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)
I make no apology in asking the attention of the House on this subject. In my judgment, any Member of the House, and particularly any Representative of a county, would be failing in his duty if he did not, by close attention to the subject, endeavour to assist, the House in coming to a just determination. For my own part, having been connected with the framing of the Local Government Act passed by the last Government, I think it is my duty to intervene in the Debate, and to do what I can to assist the House in a just examination of this important question. I join heartily in the tribute which has been paid to the moderate tone and the well-chosen expressions of the President of the Local Government Board when introducing the Bill, and I am sure that in criticising the Bill, as I venture to do in a few particulars, my right hon. Friend will not accuse me of a desire to impede the progress of the measure. I desire also to pay a tribute to the tone and temper of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House; and I beg to invite the right hon. Member to guide the House by placing Amendments on the Paper giving effect to his suggestions. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the statement of the President of the Local Government Board, that time would be given for the consideration of the measure. It is all very well for us to be told that time will be given for the discussion of the Bill; but what were we told before we came to the House by the Home Secretary, the Minister for War, and the Secretary for Scotland? Did they declare that Amendments would be fairly considered? Nothing of the kind. We were told that if there was the slightest attempt made to prolong discussion, steps would he speedily taken for the purpose of carrying the Bill. I mention this not for the purpose of suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman was insincere in what he said yesterday, that the Government were anxious that, the Bill should be fairly discussed. 144 But if there is anything which calls for observation from the Opposition Bench, it is the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedfordshire. While that speech was being delivered I could not help wondering what were the feelings of the President of the Local Government Board. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman did not sympathise with the tone or temper of that speech. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knew that speeches like that would not promote the passage of the Bill nor the fair consideration of Amendments from this side of the House. This Bill is the outcome of the deliberate policy of the Party to which I belong. Our successors in Office have in the natural course of things taken up a branch of legislation which they consider incomplete, and to carry out our scheme according to their lights, and I regret that in such a case we should be addressed by the language and in the tone adopted by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire. I regret that the hon. Member is not present, but that is not my fault. It is the duty of the Party to which I belong to reply to the speech of the hon. Member. The hon. Member told us that he had been down in Bedfordshire making speeches, and that the scheme of the Government had met with a most enthusiastic reception. I doubt it not. If the hon. Gentleman indulged down in Bedfordshire in the expressions and sentiments which he used in this House I have no doubt his meetings would be a success. These statements might temporarily promote the success of his meetings, but there are other things to be considered besides the ephemeral success of political meetings. There is a great deal, I think, in what has been said by the Member for Bordesley—that many of the speakers at political meetings will have a great deal to answer for when the real results of the Bill are contrasted with the promises made to the agricultural labourer. The colours have been laid on strong and thick. No doubt enthusiasm has been created, but are the statements which have been made justified by the actual clauses in the Bill? The hon. Gentleman adopted a tone which is not affected by the Leaders of his Party, and only by the second and third rank speakers. If the hon. Member had stopped at his meetings there might have been little to say. A short protest would 145 have been sufficient, but I confess it is somewhat unworthy of one in his position to come here and, contrary to the spirit of the promoter of the Bill, endeavour to stir up animosities which, thank God, have almost disappeared, and produce again unfounded and slanderous reports to gain some little credit for a moment or two with the constituency which he represents. We were told that the agricultural labourer hailed this measure because at last there is the dawn of his independence and self-government. It is the first victory which is going to be achieved by him in his long old battle against the squire and the clergyman. How did the hon. Member describe the squire? It is difficult to use moderate language when remembering what the hon. Member said. [Ministerial laughter.] I care not for that laughter. I have had, perhaps, as much experience among labourers, and lived as much among them and talked as much with them, as hon. Members who laugh. Is the hon. Member's description of the squires justified by facts? He described, first, the small squire who imposed rural coercion. Why does the hon. Member sneer at the resident squire who goes about the country and knows the people? He may be a poor man—a small man; he may not have the wealth or the means which the hon. Member commands. Still, the small squire lives among the people and interests himself in their affairs. Is that a ground for suggesting that he is one of those who are going about trying to coerce and rule the people? I crave leave to say that in hundreds and hundreds of cases the squire is the personal friend as well as the neighbour of the people. Then the hon. Member came to the great squire. But here he was careful not to mention names, nor to give any evidence in support of accusations which outside this House would be little short of slander. He said the big squires did not enter into affairs themselves. They did not themselves inquire what was good or bad in the condition of the people. They took it from the jaundiced reports of the agent, the lawyer, and the bailiffs who constituted the hierarchy of squiredom. I want to know, is that a true description of the great squires? What does the hon. Gentleman mean by bailiffs? Men who put in executions, or 146 something of that kind? If the hon Gentleman's statement is true, why has he not the courage—I had almost said the manliness—to indicate whether he has in his mind specific cases which he is prepared to give to the country? This is no Party question. [Laughter.] I will show those who laugh that it is no Party question. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister will admit that up to 1886 many of his strongest supporters and many of his nearest political friends were those who exactly fell within the description of country squires. And from personal knowledge I can assert there is, so far as the agricultural labourers are concerned, no difference between Liberal and Conservative squires. It is a question of individual temperament and disposition. For the hon. Gentleman to come to this House and endeavour to make Party capital by suggesting that, for the purpose of this Bill, the Liberal Party had separated themselves from the wicked squire is, unquestionably, to do a gross injustice to a class with which the hon. Gentleman himself is not very remotely connected. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire then passed to the parson. He said that most of his personal friends were clergymen, and he led us to believe that he is in the constant and daily habit of associating with them and taking counsel from them. If that is what the hon. Gentleman has been doing for the past five years, he has profited little by the intercourse. But what has the hon. Gentleman said of men who—ignoring the exceptions, who are to be found in all classes—go their daily round among the poor, visiting cottages, ministering to the distressed, and doing the charitable work of the parish? The hon. Gentleman says these men—the clergy—have allied themselves with the squires in their attempt to rule over the people against their will. That statement, no doubt, would catch a cheer on a village platform. There would be plenty of village agitators who would cheer it, and make the hon. Member think his meeting was a success. There will be a certain number of moderate and thinking men who will know that, although that statement was made for the purpose of making the meeting a success, and may have honestly expressed his views, it does not tend to 147 promote the passing of a Bill of this kind, nor is it just to the class he is attempting to deride, nor his political opponents in this House. One word more—as I must not detain the House too long on this part of my speech—in regard to the speech of the hon. Member. He said that his Party were as anxious to establish distinction of classification in the workhouse; that his Party wore as anxious to redeem the Poor Law, and the administration of the Poor Law, from the action of the Guardians under the present system as anyone. Again, the hon. Member does not seem to be able to approach this question without making accusations, unsupported by evidence, against all classes of persons connected with the present system. I want to know, does he seriously say the suggestion as to classification, or the housing of the paupers—the separation of the thriftless and drunken from the frugal and unfortunate—is in any way the exclusive idea of the political Party with which he is associated? Why, Sir, I remember speeches years and years ago, made by my hon. Friend who spoke last night, the hon. Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Mr. W. Long) and Members of our Party, advocating that, and expressing the hope that something of the kind would soon take place. After assailing two classes, one class wholly unrepresented in this House—I mean the clergy of the Church of England—I thought it a little strange the hon. Gentleman should have finished up his speech by taking credit for that policy of the amendment of the Poor Law which we have so frequently and strongly advocated when dealing with this subject amongst our constituents. Sir, I believe many Members on both sides of the House will be of opinion I have not been wrong in entering my protest against the language of the hon. Member and against the tone that was introduced to-night by the speech to which we listened with so much regret; and I believe that not amongst the last to form that opinion will be the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of this Bill. I pass from that subject, and I hope, after what the hon. Member has said, some of my friends who sit around me will also answer him with even better or greater knowledge than I have; but at the same time, as I have said before, I 148 speak not of mere rumour, but of what I know in connection with the accusation he has thought fit to bring against a certain class of gentlemen. I desire to abandon anything like a controversial tone, which would not have been necessary regarding the tone of debate last night, and to ask the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill to permit me to call his attention to one or two points in the Bill that require further consideration. It was said by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire that the Debate took, to a large extent, the form of a discussion of points that must be raised in Committee. That is perfectly true; but, on the other hand, as we know from what took place in 1888 and on other occasions, the right hon. Gentleman will agree that unless these matters are called to the attention of those in charge of a measure upon the Second Reading, the Government are entitled to say their attention was not called to the direction in which amendments were required; therefore, I think the House will agree with me it is not waste of time to discuss, at moderate length, and without any idea of Party opposition to the Bill, matters that require consideration. I would here make a preliminary observation with regard to the attitude of those with whom I am associated. Speaking for myself—and I am not entitled to speak at the present moment for more than myself—I wish the Bill success, and I hope the Bill will pass. I think it requires considerable amendment, but I hope in its main features it will pass; and if, after full discussion, it is found impracticable to pass it in its entirety, I, for one, should not consider the withdrawal of any particular portion of the Bill any ground for thinking the right hon. Gentleman had been unsuccessful in his efforts. The Bill, which is large, embraces so many different matters that require consideration, that I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings) that within the limits imposed by this Session there is scarcely time to give fair discussion to the whole of them. Let me test that at once by reference to the District Councils. We heard the right hon. Gentleman last night say he regarded District Councils as a fundamental and essential part of the Bill, and also the provisions affecting the operation of the 149 Poor Law. I will say a word or two about that presently, but for the moment I desire to deal with District Councils. The right hon. Gentleman cannot think—no fair-minded man would suggest—that as a Party we are opposed to District Councils, which formed a part of the Bill of 1888. Everyone will agree that the time occupied in the discussion of the Bill of 1888 was none too long, and yet it is a fact there was not time to discuss the District Councils. We began the question with County Government, but there were hon. Gentlemen opposite who protested we ought to have begun at the other end—that we should have begun with Parish Councils before we established County Councils. That was a matter of opinion; but having begun at County Councils, it is obvious you might either go down to Parish Councils or ascend from Parish Councils to County Councils. The Government have thought fit now to commence their work with Parish Councils, as they are of opinion Parish Councils ought to come first. I am not suggesting there are not fair grounds for that contention, but will hon. Gentlemen clearly understand I am not saying this in opposition to District Councils? Ultimately District Councils must come between County Councils and Parish Councils. This Bill makes large use of County Councils. They are referred to 15 or 20 times, and they were appointed in order to solve difficulties that may arise in the event of Parish Councils desiring to appeal. District Councils must also, to a certain extent, interfere with the functions of the County Councils, for some portion of the County Council work will have to be transferred to the District Council. The result of that consideration is this—that if, instead of beginning with the District Councils and going downwards and then establishing the Parish Councils out of it, you commence with the Parish Councils and work upwards you have this great difficulty: that you would not properly consider what the functions of the District Councils ought to be, and my opinion is that from the point of view of really producing a successful scheme of District Councils it would be better the Bill should be confined to Parish Councils, and District Councils be made the subject of a separate scheme. I do not put this forward in opposition to the 150 scheme of District Councils; it is part of our view there ought to be District Councils; but, on the other hand, we consider the framer of this Bill has not sufficiently considered the question or sufficiently worked it out. That would include the class of criticism I am disposed to apply to those provisions by which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to create District Councils. I shall not refer at great length to matters that have already been the subject of discussion; but I cannot avoid them altogether, because I have certain opinions on these matters that have not been sufficiently explained at present. I would suggest that the safeguards with respect to the financial powers of this Bill are not sufficient. I know my right hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings) has suggested that we need not fear extravagance in the matter of rates, and that there is no reason to fear that the Parish Councils will spend too much. But what is our experience on this matter? Who has, as frequently as any one, called attention to the increase of expenditure out of the rates? The right hon. Gentleman himself, over and over again; and I cannot help thinking, as we are establishing a system that is to come into operation all over England and Wales whereby the Parish Councils the right hon. Gentleman proposes to create are for the first time to be responsible for and to initiate expenditure, it is at least important that the safeguard should be sufficient against undue extravagance. I will in two sentences explain what appears to me to be the difficulty of Clause 10. It is quite clear—I must not say quite clear, for the learned Solicitor General (Sir J. Rigby) may disagree with me—but it appears to me clear that 1d. in the £1 is an annual 1d. in the £1, and it is also clear there is no limit to the expenditure if the Parish Council and the District Council agree to the money being spent. And having regard to the popular agitation that is likely to take place, I cannot help thinking it would be a serious step for the District Council to overrule the strongly-expressed wish of the Parish Council. I think it would be well worth consideration whether, at any rate for some time, the veto or the sanction of such expenditure—at any rate, beyond an annual 1d. in the £1—should not rest with the Local Government 151 Board. It might be suggested it should rest either with the Board or the Comity Council, but I think the Local Government Board the best body, because they have very great experience as regards the spending and borrowing of money. The Borrowing Clause—Clause 11—incorporates sections of the Public Health Act, which need the consent of the Local Government Board, and, that being so, it appears to me to follow that the Local Government Board should also be the controlling authority with regard to any excessive expenditure of the Parish Councils. I throw it out to the right hon. Gentleman as a suggestion. Now, the right hon. Gentleman was very eloquent last night with reference to our objection to the voters being allowed to vote, and also to sit in Council, who did not pay the rates, and he said, what is good enough for the House of Commons, for the School Board, and for something else, is not that good enough for the Parish Councils? The right hon. Gentleman does not usually indulge in what I should, without offence, call clap-trap argument; it might do very well on the platform at Wolverhampton, but is not quite arguing the question on the floor of this House. We are, at any rate for the first time, introducing the case of the persons who have almost directly the spending of the money, being the voters who are to vote and the persons who are to serve, because the qualification for a Parish Council is that of being a parish elector, or possibly even a less qualification. I would ask whether it is not worth consideration whether there may not be some middle course which would not deprive anyone of a vote because he did not pay his rates? I think that compulsory compounding has been that which has been at the root of the evil to a large extent. Optional compounding is a very valuable thing, as it enables a man to pay his rates without any great difficulty, though I think the Local Authority gain, on the whole, by a reduction of 25 per cent.; but whether or not, it appears to me unfair that the Vestry should have the power of forcing all owners of houses under £20 in London, £10 in boroughs, and £8 elsewhere, to compound. Therefore, I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman as worthy consideration whether compulsory compounding for 152 purposes of this Bill might not be re-viewed, and to keep optional compounding? The remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. W. Dilke) last night somewhat surprised me. He, and I believe some other hon. Members, said the labourer really paid the rates through the rents. I was astonished that a gentleman of his intelligence and experience should have uttered such an opinion in this House. What has been our experience? Throughout the length and breadth of many of our rural parishes there are hundreds and thousands of cottages where the rents at rates of 1s. and up to 2s. a week have not varied for 30 or 40 years. I know, from my own knowledge, instances where the rents paid have not exceeded from between £2 10s. and £5. The rents have never been altered, and yet the rates have largely increased. If you ask the people whether they pay the rates they will tell you, "No, the landlord pays them;" and they would not be able to tell you whether the rates were 10d. or 1s. 2d. in the £1, or any other sum. I only mention this for the purpose of dispelling the excuse from some quarters, which the right hon. Gentleman made use of, that after all it was only a theoretical grievance, and that these people did actually pay the rates. I cannot help reminding the right hon. Gentleman of what he will have to face in this matter. I think I am right that in Scotland there is no compounding at all for labourers; through the whole of Scotland the rates are paid, and the qualification for voting of farm labourers depends on payment of rates; and under those circumstances it does seem a little strange the right hon. Gentleman should twit us about a principle that he will see prevails in a large section of the United Kingdom, and which, apparently, works with satisfaction. Closely connected with this matter is the question of the personal interest which the voters will have in their parish affairs, and that brings me to say a word or two on the question of charities. I am perfectly conscious of the good faith of the right hon. Gentleman; I am perfectly satisfied with his intention to carry out his announcement of last night; but when hon. Members, amongst others the hon. Member for Islington, who spoke as a lawyer, said that in 153 their opinion charities under this Bill were sufficiently protected, all I can say is that I cannot come to the same conclusion, though that is rather a matter for the Committee stage. The right hon. Gentleman will have to consider most carefully the language of the Charity Clause, for there is serious ground for considering that the charity would not be maintained by the Bill as originally framed. Here I must say a word or two on the question of doles, and I shall not meet with the support or concurrence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings). I am aware we do not quite agree on the question of doles, though I should be glad to join with the right hon. Gentleman in giving to every labourer a good dinner with all the accompaniments. I speak with some knowledge upon this question of doles, because during the seven years I held the office of Attorney General an unusual number of schemes came before mo, certainly upwards of a score, and in many of them the question of doles was raised. I took some pains to make inquiry of what was the feeling of those controlling these charities, and I found that, without distinction of Party, everyone who had had to do with this system was agreed that the system was largely abused, and that it would be better for the money to be expended upon other objects. I could mention instances in which persons went to live in particular parishes in order to try and obtain the doles; and I had the opinion of a gentleman of great experience, who told me that in many cases they had a pauperising effect, and did not promote the cause of the deserving poor. I am not sure there should not be some public inquiry info those dole charities; but that is not the question now. What the right hon. Gentleman must consider in dealing with these charities is the unpopularity of diverting them from their original source. I speak of this again from my experience with some little authority. I have received communications from large numbers of persons in various towns objecting to doles being diverted, and the right hon. Gentleman may depend upon it a great deal of pressure will be brought to bear on the members of the Parish Councils to maintain these old dole charities; and, therefore, I am not sure the right hon. Gentle- 154 man has taken the best step in the interests of Parish Councils in placing them under their control. When this question was raised last night the right hon. Gentleman gave an answer that requires a little further consideration. In speaking on this question the right hon. Gentleman said that no person could vote who received relief, and I want to call his attention to the language of the measure. If I remember right the words are in Clause 33, and are—"Whether persons received Union or parochial relief or other alms." He will have seriously to consider whether that will include the case of persons having received benefits under these very charities.
§ * SIR R. WEBSTER
I am aware of that. I am not suggesting he made the mistake; but my attention was called to the clause where the language was used, and he must provide some safeguard to make the clause apply to other charitable relief. I must not detain the House further; there are many minor points which I shall have to discuss upon the Committee stage, but might I ask the right hon. Gentleman's careful consideration to the drafting and language of some parts of this Bill? I speak with full knowledge of the great services rendered to Public Departments by Sir Henry Jenkyns—no one is more conscious of that, than I am; but, at the same time, we have to look at the product, and not merely at the reputation, of the man, and there are in this Bill some important expressions which are so loose that no lawyer or any Judge would be able to say, without careful consideration, what the true construction is. There is no advantage in putting loose language into an Act of Parliament; it may do very well for purposes of a platform speech, but unless the language carries out the intention of its authors, it is only a damnosa hereditas, and therefore, in order to make a Bill really effective, there must be careful consideration of the language. My hon. Friend near me pointed out last night one singular instance in Clause 8, which no one can tell the meaning of. Then, again, I find in Clause 15 the words "public or reputed footpath." No one—no lawyer—would know what that meant; either it is a public footpath, or it is not. Then there is a clause in the Bill 155 apparently permitting women to be not only Councillors, as is intended, but Justices of the Peace at the same time. What is really intended ought to be put in clear language. The First Lord of the Treasury, I hope, will not think lam criticising the Bill unfairly or unduly. My object is not to impede the Bill, but, if possible, to assist its progress. I have for a long time felt that there has been a necessity for an extended system of local government. I do not in the least wish to take credit to one Party or another, and the last thing I should wish would be to inflame in my favour feelings against my political opponents in connection with this Bill. I do wish to see a scheme proposed which will increase the interest of the inhabitants of rural districts in the management of their own affairs, which will establish effective local machinery for dealing with pressing local questions, and yet work without undue expenditure and without interference with private rights which we ought to protect. I thank the House extremely for the way they have received me on the present occasion. I will only say, in conclusion, that I hope the effect of the deliberations of the House will be to produce a measure that will work smoothly and well; and as far as I can assist—without departing from my own views—the progress of this Bill it will be a pleasure to me to do so.
§ MR. WARNER (Somerset, N.)
was sorry to hear the words of the right hon. Gentleman who had last spoken finding such severe fault with the speech of the hon. Member for North Beds (Mr. G. Russell), which, he had said, was delivered in a Party spirit. His hon. Friend (Mr. G. Russell) was not speaking as a Member of the Government, and he was speaking the feelings of Members below the Gangway when he said that the Conservative Party throughout, though they nominally supported the Bill, were giving it a support quite different from the support they (the Liberals) gave to it. He and his friends wore attacked by gentlemen opposite for being ignorant of rural affairs, and were told that they had no right to interfere with the affairs of a Church to which they did not belong. Yet the gentlemen who made these insinuations said they were discussing the Bill in a friendly spirit! One great objection to the Bill, that it would, to a 156 certain extent, disestablish the Church of England, ought to have been set at rest by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the measure. Some of them on his side were, perhaps, in favour of Disestablishment in a true sense, but they were also in favour of certain disestablishment which had nothing to do with the Church, and that was the disestablishment of the temporal power of the priest in his own parish. They did not want to touch any of his teaching, or the money paid to him for keeping up the Church or promoting the progress of spiritual knowledge in the parish, but they did object to the power, obtained by doles and different charities, being used in the way it sometimes was, these charities having simply been left in the hands of the Church because in the old days they were the sole authority in a parish. As to the suggestion that there should be Aldermen in these District and Village Councils, the Liberal Party throughout the country would object to any such system being introduced. It was objected to the Bill that electors who did not directly contribute to the rates would be allowed to vote for District Councillors and Guardians. But to exclude people who did not directly contribute to the rates would be to exclude nine-tenths of the rural and district population. He hoped and trusted that the system of plural voting was dead. There had been a suggestion made by the Member for the West Derby Division (Mr. Long) that the District Council should not be the authority to control the expenditure of the Village Council, but that the Government should use a Government Department, with its trained men and official machinery, to control the expenditure, above a 1d. rate, of a small village. Did not that sound very much like red tape and large expense? If a Government Department, with its trained men and official machinery, was to be used to give its sanction to the expenditure of £100, that £100would be multiplied long before the objects for which it was intended were ever reached. He had to congratulate his right hon. Friend on bringing in a Bill which, throughout every village he had ever visited, he had always found was received with acclamations of joy by the agricultural labourers. It had required no stirring eloquence and no false state- 157 ments. At a village meeting the simple words "Parish Council" were enough to bring down the house. He hoped the Bill would be pushed on and improved in Committee. He strongly urged that the Parish Councils should have compulsory powers to hire land for allotments. It would he not only a great boon to the agricultural classes, but also, he believed, to the landowners and farmers of the districts. One objection raised to this compulsory power of hiring land was that the best piece of land might be taken and that allotments might injure it, and, again, that after seven years the land might be thrown upon the owner's hands worth very much less. That was equally true of every farm that had been let in this country for the last 100 years. If it had been farmed badly the owner suffered at the end of the tenancy. Why should a labourer who took an allotment be more likely to injure the land than the fanner who took a farm? But there was something more to be said in favour of the allotments as against the farms, and that was that spade husbandry improved the quality of the land, whilst very often farming on a large scale did not improve it. Another objection was that the Bill was too large, and it was said that some of it ought to be deferred. One hon. Gentleman had suggested that the proposal as to District Councils should be delayed until a Royal Commission had inquired into the areas of the District Councils, and the right hon. Member for Bordesley, while approving of the Bill and saying it was a grand thing for the agricultural labourer, said of course it was not perfect—as nothing could be which came from his old friends—that it was a disgrace it should be brought on now, and that it had better be put off until they could devote a whole Session to it later on.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
I beg to correct the hon. Gentleman. The reason I said it was wrong to bring it on now was because there was not time to give it an adequate discussion. I contend that it should have been brought on during the past eight months, in which we have been wasting our time.
§ MR. WARNER
quite accepted everything the right hon. Gentleman said. He believed he was correct in saying the right hon. Gentleman considered it an insult to the agricultural labourer that 158 the Bill should have been brought on in an Autumn Session. He did not think there could be much doubt that if it had not been brought on in an Autumn Session it would have been delayed for some time. He was sorry the right hon. Gentleman did not think there was enough time for it. He, for one, was quite willing to sit there daily until Christmas next year to see this measure carried into effect. He did not, in the least, fear that it would be rushed through because it had been brought in in an Autumn Session, when certain gentlemen preferred staying in the country to living in London. He felt confident the Government would stand firm, and go on from day to day until this Bill had become law, and the agricultural labourer would be grateful to them for it.
§ MR. J. G. LAWSON (York, N.R., Thirsk)
desired to know what would happen if the Parish Councils took land for allotments and the labourers afterwards gave the allotments up? What would the Parish Councils do with the land? Were they to go into farming themselves? He listened with great interest to what the last speaker had said as to disestablishing the clergy of their temporal power in their own parishes which this Bill was supposed to effect. He was glad that no large number of gentlemen from Ireland were present, because such an opinion would have been intensely unpopular with them. He should like to hear the hon. Member address meetings in Southern Irish cities or towns and declare that this was a Bill for the disestablishment of the temporal powers of the priests in their own parishes. He (Mr. Lawson) had been particularly anxious to say a few words on this subject, because the only other occasion on which he had addressed the House when the Speaker was in the Chair was when he talked on the Bill which touched the fringe of this question, and which was moved by some hon. Gentleman opposite on a Wednesday in February. He found next morning, very much to his surprise, that what he had said, or intended to say, had not struck the gentlemen of the Fourth Estate exactly as he said it—which was probably due to his nervousness. He was supposed to have defended plural voting, vote by proxy, and vote by voting papers, and several articles appeared in 159 newspapers in his own constituency in reference to that speech. He did nothing of the sort. What he said was this: that if these were evils they were not evils of so severe and terrible a character that they could not wait until a responsible Government found an opportunity for dealing with them. Well, an opportunity had been found for dealing with the question, but he could not say much for the suitability of that opportunity. This measure was taken at the end of a long Session, and at a time when the country gentlemen who were most acquainted with this subject and most-interested in it desired to be in the country. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down said if it was not dealt with in the Autumn Session it never would be dealt with by his Party—that was to say, they were never to have any time except at the fag end of a Session for the consideration of local government in their counties.
§ MR. WARNER
I did not say it would never be dealt with. I said it would not be dealt with for six months unless it was taken now.
§ MR. LAWSON
, of course, accepted the hon. Gentleman's explanation; but he did not know what was to happen in the six months, and he did not think it would be sufficient excuse to those who were affected by this Bill that the House had been engaged on other matters during the more usual period for holding Parliamentary Sessions, because what they had been dealing with was the self-government of a population of 4,500,000, while they were told this Bill was to give the right of self-government to 8,000,000. Why should the smaller population demand the attention which might be given to the larger population? But he did not wish to approach this subject in any Party spirit at all. He preferred to found himself on a sentence in a speech which the present Prime Minister made in the Debate on the Address in 1888. The right hon. Gentle-man said—Happily we have no Party divisions on the subject of local government.And yet when a right hon. Gentleman from that (the Opposition) Bench said there were no Party divisions on this subject some hon. Members opposite laughed at the statement, and yet here were the words of the Prime Minister— 160We have no Party divisions on the subject of local government, yet it involves many questions on which opposing interests may be numerous and strong, questions upon which the propulsive power is unfortunately weak.Powers for parishes was not a cry in which either Party had any monopoly. Both sides had spoken largely in favour of local government. He believed it was in the authorised programme of the Party opposite in 1885, and in the year 1888 Mr. W. H. Smith said that the Conservative Party recognised fully the desirability, even the necessity, for doing much to improve the village Vestry and village life. It was quite true that 1885 and 1888 were now ancient history. There had been delay in taking up the matter again—what he considered to be a very wise delay, and he was quite sure the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would acknowledge that in the drafting of this measure he had been very greatly assisted by the fact that County Councils were in working order, and that they had already established a strong position. He did not see how this Bill could have been drafted but for the fact that County Councils were in existence. But as a good deal had turned upon the question of whether the propulsive power was or was not weak, he was prepared to show from independent evidence that there was not that interest in this question of Councils in the country that hon. Gentlemen opposite would have then believe, and that there were not shouts of joy at the prospect of having them at anything but political meetings—certainly not at the social gatherings of agricultural labourers. He did not desire to adduce this as a reason for saying that this matter ought to be shelved. He did not believe in shelving it; but what he said was that if he could show that the propulsive power was weak, then they ought not to allow it to propel them too fast or too far, but they ought to advance gradually on the lines of compromise. The first witness he would call was one from the camp of their opponents. In the year 1891 The Daily News sent a Commissioner into all the rural districts to report on "Life in our Villages." This Commissioner brought certain accusations against the squires and the parsons, which would delight the heart of the Under Secretary of State for India. The Commissioner 161 himself was strongly in favour of Village and Parish Councils, taking his cue from the Newcastle Programme of blessed memory, which was then an active and living force. He defied anybody to read the letters which appeared in The Daily News and to show him any place where the Commissioner said that the labourers with whom he talked put forward Parish or District Councils as amongst their pressing requirements. Again, they had had a mass of official evidence taken. Within the last year there had been Sub-Commissioners sent by the Labour Commission into the Unions all over the country. He had read the most valuable and interesting Reports of these Sub-Commissioners as regarded England, and he bad only found three instances in the whole of that mass of Blue Books in which Parish Councils were suggested before these Commissioners. If there was all this keen interest in and enthusiasm for these Parish and District Councils, although the Commissioners were not specifically instructed to inquire into the views of the people on local government, yet in the course of a general inquiry as to the condition of the labourers this exceeding bitter cry must have reached the ears of the Commissioners. The first instance in which the subject was mentioned was in a letter addressed to the Sub-Commissioner for Hereford in favour of Parish Councils, and which came from the Radical agent for the borough of Hereford. The second instance was at a meeting held at Swaffham, in Norfolk, where the suggestion was made that the mode of electing Local Bodies should be altered. That suggestion came from an agent of the National Agricultural Labourers' Union, a body which was nothing if not political; and the third instance was where it was set down as an article in the programme of the Eastern Counties, Federation, another political organisation. He therefore said that this demand was not natural and spontaneous, but was the result of political effort and organisation. He would like to quote the words of one of the Commissioners, and the only one who thought it necessary to mention the subject. What did Mr. Wilson Fox say?If a Norfolk or a Suffolk man is asked what he wants, his reply is not allotments, shorter 162 hours, or Parish Councils, but higher wages, while a Northern labourer suggests none of these things, but says he would like a half-holiday once a week.He repeated that there was no enthusiasm on this question, but that the state of mind of the country was quiescent on this subject, and at this period of the Session the Government ought certainly to have brought in a less ambitious scheme. They might have kept and reformed the Vestries as regarded the mode of summoning, the hour of the meeting, and oven as regarded the Chairmanship. They might also have given them power to group themselves voluntarily, and then the rest of the Bill might have been employed by saying that when they had grouped themselves sufficiently in accord with the opinion of the County Council they would give them the further powers. Other clauses dealing with the simplification of areas would have been welcomed on both sides of the House; and as to the matter of charities, he thought he could say there was hardly any necessity for legislation at all if the legislation which now existed was put into force. The Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. W. Dilke) had said the previous night that the only thing he complained of in regard to the charities was that they did not send in their accounts. But there were laws compelling them to send in their accounts.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
was understood to dissent from the interpretation of his statement.
§ MR. J. G. LAWSON
said, at all events, the law was still that the Parochial Trustees should send them for presentation to the Vestry. The next point was as to simplification. The very first line of the Bill suggested an absolutely impossible state of things. It said that there should be a parish meeting in every rural parish. But, according lo a Return presented in July last, there were 10 parishes consisting of area only, without house or population. Was there to be a parish meeting there? Then there were parishes consisting of one farm only. He knew of one case in which a 1d. rate would bring in only 18s. 2d. Was there to be a parish meeting to consider how that sum was to be spent? Were they to have a parish meeting for the discussion of right of way 163 across the only farm in a parish? It would be absolutely impossible to have a parish meeting for every civil parish. The Vestry should have been retained. In that case they should have been able to avail themselves of the existing grouping of ecclesiastical parishes. There was another point that would have to be considered. By the Bill as it stood a non-resident female owner of property would be disfranchised, even if the whole parish belonged to her. Her name would not appear on the Parliamentary List, because women had not the Parliamentary vote, and the Local Government List consisted only of occupiers. He found that the provision as to compound householders applied to all holdings under £8 a year, and in the country districts that meant the majority of the householders. Ho thought the rate should be paid by the occupier, who should be entitled to deduct the amount from his rent. With regard to the expenditure of the parish, it would be the last straw on the backs of those who had the misfortune to bear the burdens of agriculture if the rates were raised. The Parish Council was to be empowered to put on rates in respect of the adopted Acts, and such other rates as the parish meeting might agree to, and, in addition, to impose a 1d. rate. In parishes of between 300 and 400 inhabitants a 1d. rate would yield between £8 6s. and £16 12s. a year. Could anybody imagine that the Councils would not want more than that? The first check against increased expenditure was the village meeting. He assumed that the Parish Council would consist of the wisest and most capable men, and the parish meeting would consist of those men plus the less wise and the less capable. The next check was the District Councils; but their only interest was that they had to glean after the Parish Councils. The check on the expenditure of these new bodies should rest with those on the security of whose property the rates were to be raised, and who had to pay the larger part of them. He did not propose that the landlords should have the power to stop necessary expenditure; but he believed they ought to have some voice as to the extent to which they would have their property compulsorily improved. They ought also to have a voice in regard to borrowing, as there 164 could be no doubt that the landlords' property, and not the shifting property of the tenants, was the security for money lent to a parish or district. The powers proposed to be given to the District Councils were very similar to those contained in the Bill of 1888. He thought that those bodies should be entrusted with the power of nominating sub-postmasters now possessed by the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury. The present system of appointing violent partisans was, in these days of post cards and open letters, highly undesirable. As to the question of ecclesiastical charities, he was anxious to accept in the conciliatory spirit in which it was put forward the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) who introduced the Bill. It was said by the right hon. Gentleman that Clause 5 dealt only with land held by Overseers and Churchwardens under the Act of 1819. He thought it was a pity not to say so in the clause, and to avoid misunderstanding. As to the definition of the term "ecclesiastical charity," he thought it would be necessary to have some definition of an ecclesiastical building before they could arrive at a definition of the words "ecclesiastical charity." At the present moment there was very little interest shown in these charities in the parishes themselves. If this Bill protected the endowments of the poor only he should be very glad to see it carried. He had, however, greater hope of it than that. He was of opinion that in its adjustment of areas it would do excellent work; and he thought it would have the effect of compelling, if only from the motive of self-protection, the best men of all classes to take more interest in public affairs. He approached the consideration of the Bill with greater confidence since the right hon. Gentleman had promised to accept any Amendment that would help to make the scheme work economically. For the reasons he had stated, he joined in the discussion of the Bill with every hope of good results.
§ MR. H. E. HOARE (Cambridge, Chesterton)
said, they had heard a great deal from both sides of the House with regard to the feelings of the labourers as to the introduction of the Bill, and he wished, for his part, to say that the measure had been received by them with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. He 165 was especially pleased to say that that satisfaction was expressed with the proposal to include in the Bill power to deal with allotments. He hoped, however, the Government would take into consideration the advisability of giving the Parish Council direct access to the Local Government Board in the matter of allotments, or, at all events, of giving to the Parish Council the right of appeal to the Local Government Board in the event of the District or County Council refusing to act. It was essential to the proper working of the Bill that the Parish Council or meeting should have the management of the allotment land rather than the District or County Council. One of the principal advantages of the Allotments Clause was that it would have a tendency to reduce the unfair rates which were charged in too many cases. He was disappointed, and so were many of his constituents, that there was no provision in the Bill to secure that schoolrooms should he available for public purposes. Those who required the use of village schoolrooms were willing to pay a fair price for the use of them; but it had often happened to him that when an excellent schoolroom was the only room in which a meeting could be held, the use of it had been refused. It was not always that outdoor meetings were comfortable and convenient. He trusted that some provision would be inserted in the Bill enabling the Parish Councils to obtain the use of schoolrooms for political and other meetings. He hoped the Bill, in passing through Committee, would be strengthened and not weakened; and if it were strengthened the Government would earn the long-abiding thanks of the agricultural labouring population, who did not easily forget a grudge or the claims of gratitude. In the west of Cambridgeshire wages were but 9s. or 10s. a week, and the farmers were desperately badly off', having just had the worst harvest for 50 years, after a succession of bad harvests. They had waited patiently from July of last year for something to be done for them; and he called upon the Government not to seek to conciliate the Opposition by weakening the Bill, and to remember that by such a policy they would not improve the chance of the Bill passing, while they might materially diminish the benefits the Bill would confer on the 166 country. In conclusion, he would ask the Government to remember that the country had returned a Radical majority and asked for Radical measures.
§ MR. WHARTON (York, W.R., Ripon)
said, he was glad he had listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, which found a responsive echo on the Opposition side of the House, from its lucidity and plainness of statement. It had been to him a matter of sincere regret to have heard the speech of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, who bore a name honoured for traditions of a different character. But he hoped hon. Members would try to forget such speeches. All he would say of them, in passing, was that they would not promote the carrying of a Bill such as that before the House, which called for conciliation on both sides. He regretted that the Bill did not stand by itself as the only one demanding the attention of the House during this Autumn Sitting. They all felt that it was a Bill of considerable complexity which would require considerable discussion, and it was a matter for regret to him that two Bills bad been placed before the House. Part of the limited time at their disposal would be required for another measure besides the Bill now before the House. With regard to the details of the measure, there were one or two subjects on which, as he had had some experience of local government, he would ask the leave of the House to speak. First of all, the question of the limitation of expenditure was one well worthy the attention of the Government, particularly in the face of the increase of county rates, the one in Durham having risen in three years from 1½d. to 4½d. The election of Parish Councillors, which would be consequent on the passing of the Bill, would in itself be a source of considerable expense, and, looking at the matter from that point of view, he would suggest that those elections should be biennial or triennial rather than annual. The last contested County Council election for the County of Durham, two years ago, had cost £2,400 to the county rate. If there were to be contested elections to County Councils, Boards of Guardians, District Councils, and Parish Councils, the cost of these elections would make a very considerable addition to local ex- 167 penditure. He thought it was a matter well worthy the attention of the Government whether they should not attempt as far as possible to reduce expenditure by enlarging the intervals between elections. The objection to longer intervals between elections was that if they had got bad members they could not get rid of them for three years; but surely that would hold good the other way, and if they had good members they would retain their services for that time. They might have one-third of the members retiring every three years, or some such plan as that, which would bring about a considerable saving of expense to the ratepayers. No doubt the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. W. Dilke) was right when he said that in his district there were a large number of labourers who paid rates. But in the North of England many Parish Councils would probably consist of men who did not directly pay a penny to the rates. Take Northumberland. There it was probable there would be parish meetings that would consist entirely of miners, who would elect miners; and what would a Parish Council so composed do? Why, it would naturally pass resolutions with respect to playgrounds and the like which would have to be paid for by men who would not be represented on the Parish Council. That would be a very serious matter, so serious that there ought to be some safeguard inserted in the Bill to-protect the actual ratepayers against the natural action—he would not say the assaults—of the majority of the parishioners. He was glad to hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), who in times past he had looked up to as au authority on rates and county government. The right hon. Gentleman's remarks and some of the Amendments he suggested were such as the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill should give ear to. There seemed to be some doubt with regard to the limitation of the rate to 1d. in the £1. It had been suggested, and he thought the idea was held by the late Attorney General, that the 1d. rate was somewhat delusive, and that by accumulated expenditure the rate might rise as high as 1s. in the £1. He was sure the President of the Local Government Board would feel that this was a fit 168 matter to be guarded against by an Amendment, so that the unfortunate ratepayer might be able to feel some security against a 6d., an 8d., or a 1s. rate. He felt that the speech of the President of the Local Government Board left nothing to be desired with regard to Church property, Church schools, and the like, and that speech would do much to clear Ins way in the conduct of the Bill. The most vexed questions in the Bill were those of the Poor Law and the grouping of parishes. As to the Poor Law, it was probable that the provisions of the Bill relating' to that would raise stronger feeling and more discussion than, perhaps, any other part of the Bill. As to that much abused individual, the ex officio Guardian, he would only say that he understood that at the present time there was in preparation a Return showing the number of ex officio Guardians who were Chairmen or Vice Chairmen of Boards of Guardians throughout the country. Ho believed it would be found that the Chairman was invariably an ex officio Guardian; and, if that were so, it would show that the Guardians generally did not regard ex officio Guardians as improper members of their Boards. At the same time, he acknowledged that the position of an ex officio Guardian was somewhat of au anomaly. It would, however, be well worth considering whether they could not secure the services of the same class of men by some other process. It would be a great public misfortune if they lost the services of men who by their education and experience were well fitted to take part in the work of Boards of Guardians. He came now to what he believed would be the most difficult question of the whole Bill to deal with—namely, the question of grouping, and he feared that the difficulty would be realised in working out the problem. When an attempt was made to bring together three or four villages, which it was necessary to group, local jealousies would be aroused. Supposing there were three villages a, b, and c. There might be a strong feeling on the part of c that a and b would be too strong for it, and a and b might each individually hold the same view. He hoped this matter would be carefully looked into before the Bill became law. It was a question whether each parish meeting should not have the power to 169 select one or more persons to be members of the Parish Council, and whether in grouping two or more villages the Council should not be enlarged, so that there might be members chosen by each, and each might feel that it was adequately represented. One other matter referred to in the Bill which some persons thought of minor importance, but which he thought was of great importance, was that of sanitation. Powers were given by the Bill to the Parish Councils to deal, at any rate to some extent, with this question, and he feared that unless great care was taken this would lead to much difficulty. He had had experience of one or two cases in which parishes had undertaken the work of improved sanitation, and the result had been most unsatisfactory. Do let them have work of this kind undertaken by a competent authority. He questioned whether the words in the Bill were not very dubious, and proposed to give more power to the Parish Council in regard to this matter than was intended. The question as to the best authority to deal with sanitation was a point which the right hon. Gentleman would do well to consider in relation to the Bill. Power was also to be given to the Parish Council to deal with ponds, pools, ditches, and to execute works in order to obtain a water supply if necessary. In these matters they did not wish to see any jarring of authority. The real question to be considered was, who would be the best authority to deal with this all-important subject? He also held that the rights of those who, like himself, had provided their own water supply should be protected. The Party with which he (Mr. Wharton) acted did not wish to treat this Bill as a Party measure. What he hoped was that all security would be given to the ratepayer that his money would not be needlessly spent or squandered. The condition of rates at the present time was such that any addition would be fatal to the commercial life of the community. He hoped the Government would make this scheme as inexpensive as possible to the ratepayers.
§ MR. LUTTRELL (Devon, Tavi stock)
said, he thought they must all admit, on whichever side of the House they might sit, that the measure which they were discussing had been received 170 with general satisfaction. It had, at any rate, satisfied all those who were open to satisfaction, who wanted to see local government extended from the counties through the districts to the parishes; and while they accorded, as was right, praise to the Government for having brought forward such a satisfactory measure, they must also extend due praise to the Opposition for the very fair way in which they had received it. They had received it in a spirit of fair play, suggesting Amendments, not to destroy, but, from their point of view, to improve Criticism, of course, there had been, but it had been not captious criticism, but criticism sincerely felt. On one subject he noticed there had been a general agreement, and that was that the individuality of the parish should be maintained; and while he attributed great importance to this provision for the individuality of such parishes, he thought they should not forget that it was also important that parts of large parishes should not be left out of touch. The President of the Local Government Board had recognised the difficulties which would arise on account of the large size of some of these parishes, and had provided that in those parishes where inconveniences would arise on account of their large area, or large population, there should be divisions into wards for election purposes. He proposed that these parishes should be divided into wards, and should have their wards treated as parishes for parish meetings. To give an instance of large parishes, there was one in the Division which he represented which consisted of about 60,000 acres, where villages and hamlets were from six to 10 miles apart and where, consequently, it would be impossible that the different parts should be in close touch and sympathy one with another. He thought the statement of the President of the Local Government Board as to charities gave general satisfaction. It quieted the fears of their opponents lest ecclesiastical charities should suffer interference, and it raised their hopes that the lay part of charities should be under the Parish Council. He drew a distinction between the ecclesiastical and the lay parts of charities, allowing the ecclesiastical part to remain under ecclesiastical care, and the lay or parochial part to be under parochial care, 171 and not swamped by the ecclesiastical elements. He wished that it had been possible to give to the parishes some control over education. The difficulties might be insuperable. Of this the Government were the best able to determine. But he hoped the day was not far distant when they would be able to give to their Parish Councils some control over the elementary education of the parishes. The criticism had, he noticed, been principally directed against Part II. of the Bill—that part which constituted reform of their Boards of Guardians, and the hon. Member for the West Derby Division, in the fair, courteous, and outspoken manner in which he always addressed the House, proposed to the Government that they should postpone this part of their measure. This request was not met with approval on the Government side of the House, for they had business to do, and meant to do it. The Government were mindful of the old maxim—"Do not put off to the morrow what you can do to-day." The objections raised to this part of the Bill were that they were going to place the rich man upon an equality with the poor in the distribution of poor relief and other local matters. Why should not they be on an equality? Why should the rich man have any advantage over the poor man? It was to the poor man's interest that the poor relief should be well administered, that the sanitation should be good, and that there should be good water. In his opinion, the poor man was more interested even than the rich man in such matters. The hon. Member who last spoke told them how he himself had put in a ram to supply his own house with water. Yes, many rich men did this for themselves, and often they were good enough to supply their neighbours; but a poor man could not do this for himself, and it was, therefore, more to his interest that there should be a good system of local government. And as to the expense, those who had any connection with Boards of Guardians must know that the poor man was just as anxious as the rich that there should be no undue or wanton expenditure of the rates. There was another objection raised yesterday by the hon. Member for North Hants. He stated that the ex officio members of Boards of Guardians would be all swept 172 away, and that, consequently, their good services would be lost. But was this the case? He thereby raised an accusation against these members. For what did it imply? Either that those men were too bad to be chosen, or that, if good, the people were too bad to choose them. His opinion was that these men were in most cases the right sort of men, and he believed that if they showed themselves to be the right sort of men they would be elected by the people. They would be in a far better position when sitting as the representatives of the people than they were now, when they must feel that they were almost poaching when they took their seats. An hon. Member had accused the Government of inconsistency in, on the one hand, sweeping away ex officio members, and, on the other, constituting them by making the Chairman of a District Council ex officio a Justice of the Peace. There was, however, a difference between the two systems. The ex officios on Boards of Guardians were objected to because they wore not representatives of the people. He himself was, however, pleased to see ex officio representatives of the people placed upon the Bench, because they were true representatives of the people. They would, for the time being, be the only representatives of the people on the Magisterial Bench, but many Members of the House hoped that the day was not far distant when all who sat on the Bench would be, directly or indirectly, representatives of the people. He looked forward to an improvement under this Bill of the system of local government, and to a further extension of the representation of the people, believing, as he did, that the Government were determined to adhere firmly to the whole of the Bill, and thus to carry out the will of the people of the country.
§ MR. WICKHAM (Hants, Petersfield)
said that, although he belonged to that class which, according to his speech, the hon. Member for North Bedfordshire despised, he was bound to say that, as a County Member, he took a deep interest in this Bill, and wished to see it perfected in its passage through the House. The speech of the hon. Member for North Beds. was a strange corollary to the conciliatory speech of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, and he trusted that it indicated no change of purpose in the 173 mind of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, but that, in spite of it, the Government would persevere in the announced intention of showing a conciliatory spirit to all who took an interest in the subject, although they might sit on the opposite side of the House. Notwithstanding that they wished to make the Bill as good a Hill as they could, it was impossible for them not to criticise some of the points contained in it, and he was sure the right hon. Gentleman himself would be the last to deprecate such criticisms. In the very first stage of the Bill they had to face the difficult question of the grouping of parishes, and he hoped he would not be thought to be at all offensive when he pointed out how remarkable it was that a strong Government should not have sufficiently considered this point to enable them to arrive at a satisfactory and definite conclusion. They were told that parishes with a population of less than 300 were, as far as practicable, to be grouped with other parishes, so as to bring the total population above the limit, but they were not told what class of parishes were to be grouped—whether they were necessarily to be contiguous parishes, or whether they were to go some distance afield in order to find a second small parish for the purpose of grouping. It would obviously be most inconvenient to group together two parishes several miles apart; but, on the other hand, if a small parish were joined to a largo one, the former would virtually be swamped in the hitter. All who knew anything of country life were acquainted with the spirit of jealousy existing between small communities; and it was impossible to doubt that, in the event of grouping, that spirit would be evoked, especially upon such a question as that in which of the two parishes grouped the Parish Council should have its place of meeting. They would do better by not having this limitation, and by allowing even very small parishes to continue their existence and to have their own Council. It was true that there were parishes with scarcely any inhabitants at all, but the right hon. Gentleman must deal with such cases in the best way he possibly could. At any rate, a parish of 200 in habitants should have its own Council. There 174 was another point he should like to refer to, with regard to parishes in which the number of inhabitants was close upon 300. It might occur that on the occasion of the Census being taken, in consequence of the absence from home of the members of one family, the parish would be returned as having a population of less than 300, whereas it was really over the limit, and it would, consequently, have to be grouped with another parish, and be deprived of its right to a Parish Council of its own. Provision should surely be made for such eases. Next, he came to the rating question. They had heard a good deal as to the hardship inflicted on large landowners by high rates, but he wished to plead the cause of the smaller owners and occupiers, of whom there were very many in the Division he had the honour to represent. In the parish in which he lived there were no fewer than 100 persons rated as owners. The great bulk of them were very poor people: they lived on their own land; they had only a hand-to-mouth existence, and the raising of the rates would be to them almost a matter of life and death. There was one point which he very much desired to have made perfectly clear, and that was as to the limit of the rate. The hon. Member for Basingstoke told them that, as he read that provision, it would be possible to put on an additional 1d. every year. Personally he did not read it so; but inasmuch as some doubt prevailed upon the point, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would tell them distinctly whether, under any circumstances and after any number of years, the rate for a single year would be allowed to exceed 1d. in the £1. He now came to the second part of the Bill, in the drafting of which there was—he was bound to say—much vagueness and confusion. The mixing up of Guardians and District Councils was very confusing, and any ordinary reader would find it difficult to understand what was really intended. There was the question as to ex officio and nominated Guardians. As an individual, he was most strongly in favour of the ex officio system, of which the right hon. Gentleman had himself spoken in terms of the highest laudation. He only wished that the President of the Local Government Board would express his admiration by something more than words, and that he 175 would acknowledge by action the vast good that had arisen from the system. They were all aware how much the Poor Law administration had improved since 1834, and he did not think it any exaggeration to attribute that improvement to the ex officio Guardians, who, in a large number of Unions, were chosen by the elected Guardians to fill the offices of Chairman and Vice Chairman. In the Union in which his own house was situated the Chairman of the Guardians had for 35 years been an ex officio member, and on one occasion, when another ex officio member declined the office of Vice Chairman on the ground that it ought in fairness to be occupied by an elected Guardian, his refusal was rejected by the whole of the elected Guardians, because they said he was the best man for the appointment. He believed there was no Board of Guardians in England remarkable for its good management in which it would not be found that the ex officio Guardians had had a great deal to do with the administration. Why, then, were the ex officio Guardians to be got rid of? It was not because they were useless or had neglected their duties; nor was it for a logical reason, for the Bill itself provided that the Chairman of the District Council should "by virtue of his office" (which was the meaning of ex officio) be a Justice of the Peace for the county. If the Government adhered to their determination to get rid of the ex officio Guardians, and to have an entirely new body, would it not be desirable for them to secure for that body the services of men of real experience, who would be able to guide and direct it in its work? Ho considered it a matter of the greatest misfortune that they should tinker in this Bill with the Poor Law system, which was of such vital importance that it ought to be dealt with in a separate measure, embracing the whole question. It was not a matter of enormous importance that those reforms should be carried within the next few months. Let the Government pass that portion of the Bill which created Parish Councils and District Councils, and hold the question of the reform of the Poor Law over till next year. Ho made this suggestion in no hostile spirit, but he did think a question of such vast importance ought not to have been pressed at the fag-end of a long and most 176 laborious Session, when, by reason of its very complexity, it could not be properly discussed. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Wight spoke with great authority on the legal points of the Bill, and he agreed with him that there were some clauses in the Bill which must lead to litigation and jealousy between parishes. By Clause 25 it was the duty of the District Council to protect public rights of way, and to prevent, as far as possible, the obstruction of public or reputed public; footpaths "whether within or without their district," and to prevent any encroachment on any roadside waste within their district. Would not that lead to a great deal of jealousy and of litigation? Was it desirable to give one District Council power over land or rights of way in another district? The District Council was also made the guardian of reputed footpaths, by which was meant the claim of an individual to a right of way over somebody else's land. Was the Council to take up the cudgels for everybody who wanted to walk over his neighbour's land? It might be said that the District Council would exercise a wise discretion in these matters, but it was desirable that the House should notice the words "reputed public footpaths," which gave a very vague reading to the clause. Again, there was the question of roadside wastes; that also was sure to lead to a good deal of litigation, to the advantage of lawyers both in and out of the House. What was a roadside waste? It was either a right of passage over somebody else's land, or else it was land acquired by the body which had charge of the roads as its own freehold. If it belonged to the Highway Board, they would have the District Council clashing with that Board, which might want to sell it or cover it with material—a most legitimate use for it—and thus litigation would arise. This was, perhaps, a small matter; but it was a point on which the Bill was ambiguous, and ought to 1 le made more clear. Another point on which litigation might crop up was the unlimited right of taking possession of any water supply. He thought the Councils should not be given the power to do this. The President of the Local Government Board might tell him that he did not intend to give the Councils such a power; but if that were so, he hoped the right hon. 177 Gentleman would qualify this provision on the Committee stage. He thought it was a matter of great importance that the most difficult parts of the Bill—the parts that were likely to lead to litigation—should be thoroughly discussed, not only in Committee, but beforehand—on the Second Reading. He trusted, therefore, that when the Bill arrived at I he Committee stage, hon. Members would give it the fullest attention, and that they would not be deterred from discussing it by any anxious desire to get home to look after their various duties, which al this time of the year they were usually able to do. He hoped that in Committee' they would take the Bill clause by clause, and remove from it what he considered its blots, but certainly its ambiguities, so that it would be passed in the best possible form and give satisfaction to the country at large, and particularly the rural districts, for which it was specially intended.
* MR, DODD (Essex, Maldon)
said, it must be a satisfaction to the President of the Local Government Board to rind that the principle of the Bill was acceptable to all parts of the House, as it certainly was to the country at large. He would, therefore, say nothing on the principle of the Bill, but would offer a few criticisms which his right hon. Friend had invited on its details. As he understood it, the parish meeting was intended to become a substitute for the Vestry for all purposes not ecclesiastical. The Vestry at present had the power of discussion. Persons might bring forward at the Vestries matters in which the inhabitants of the parish wore interested, and pass resolutions, though those resolutions might be merely expressive of opinions and have no actual or immediate result. To the parish meeting no such power was given. The power of the Vestry was transferred not to the parish meeting, but to the Parish Council. Therefore, the power of discussion which was inherent in the old parish meeting of the Vestry was not given to the parish meeting under this Bill, but to the Parish Council. That meant that the inhabitants of a parish could not discuss or pass resolutions with regard to matters concerning them, but must leave it to those elected by them on the Parish Council. That was, he thought, a matter of some importance. As he had said, all the powers of the 178 Vestry, with the exceptions mentioned in the Bill, were transferred to the Parish Council. One of the present powers of the Vestry—which represented both the ecclesiastical and civil authority of the parish—was to hold meetings in the church, whether for ecclesiastical or civil purposes. He did not think that the promoters of the Bill intended that Parish Council meetings should be held in the church; but the matter was not specifically dealt with by the Bill, and, as the Bill stood, the meetings could be held in the church. In the clause defining the use of the parish rooms, parochial electors and the Parish Council were entitled to use the rooms free of charge at seasonable times: but it seemed that no power was given for the use of the rooms by the inhabitants of the parish for the discussion of the matters they were interested in. He thought that defect ought to be remedied. He thoroughly agreed with the observations that had been made in regard to the hiring of land. He thought, and his constituents thought, that it was essential that the Parish Council should itself have the power not of buying land or holding it, but the power of hiring it, and, if necessary, of hiring it compulsorily. He also thought that, in order that there might be no improper conduct in this respect on the part of the Parish Council, that there should be some control over the power of hiring, which should be entrusted to the Local Government Board. In Ireland, a country which hon. Members on his side of the House were accustomed to regard as somewhat oppressed, there were in operation certain Acts which allowed the Sanitary Authorities to supply cottages for the agricultural labourers where the existing accommodation was defective. The Reports of the Commissioners, who had been recently appointed to investigate the condition of the Irish labourers, showed that the operation of these Acts had been exceedingly beneficial. If it were possible, he would like to see these Acts extended to this country. It might be done by giving the District Councils under the Bill the power to enforce the "Labourers' (Ireland) Acts," or at least it might be left optional to these authorities to put the provisions of these Acts into operation. He found by the Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire 179 into the condition of the Essex labourers that the want of proper house accommodation was, in some districts, their great grievance; and as he had been returned to Parliament by the labourers of Essex, he thought it his duty to ask the Government to consider the possibility of giving District Councils the power of putting into force at their own option the Irish Acts. With regard to charities, he understood from the President of the Local Government Board that he regarded as well-founded the criticisms that had been made as to the definition of ecclesiastical charity in the Bill not being altogether accurate. He should say that definition was singularly unfortunate. As the Bill now stood, charities was declared to be ecclesiastical nine-tenths of which had nothing whatever to do with ecclesiastical, purposes. Speaking as a Liberal and a Churchman, he was satisfied that the Church had no desire to have property that did not belong to it, and he was satisfied that the clergy had no desire to administer any property, unless the country desired them to administer it, except, of course, the Church property, which they desired to retain a hold over. He was, therefore, glad to hear that the definition would be amended, and that there would be a distinction drawn between charities wholly ecclesiastical and charities that were partly civil and partly ecclesiastical—that, the ecclesiastical part would go to the Church, and the civil part to the parish to which it belonged. One of the clauses was framed to meet possible litigation, and he foresaw that there was a great prospect of litigation because of the complexity of the matters dealt with. For example, when two parishes were grouped, he did not think anyone could state what happened with regard to the Overseers—whether there would be two sets of Overseers, or one sot of Overseers common to two combined parishes; or, if one set of Overseers, whether they would levy separate rates for each parish, or a joint rate for the now combined parishes. Under Section 54 there was an invitation to persons, when a difficulty arose, to go to the High Court, which was to exercise jurisdiction in a summary manner, and then to the Court of Appeal further the right of appeal was provided. That might afford satisfaction to the more litigious of the learned 180 gentlemen of the district, but he doubted whether it would give satisfaction to the farmers and the labourers; and he would like to ask whether it would not be possible for the Local Government Board to take upon itself more responsibility in solving as arbitrators the various problems that must arise under such a complicated Bill? In conclusion, he could say that the Bill was welcomed in all villages as a boon and a blessing.
§ * SIR J. DORINGTON (Gloucester, Tewkesbury)
said that, after the very conciliatory speech of the President of the Local Government Board, a great many of the objections which had been raised to the Bill by some of his constituents had been removed, and they looked with confidence to the remedies proposed to be made with regard to local charities and affairs connected with the Church. Except in regard to these matters, he looked with satisfaction to the creation of Parish Councils. Ho thought they would satisfy popular sentiment, and that they would do no harm; and, while he did not share in the exaggerated hopes of the good things that were to result from the establishment of the Councils, he did not believe that there were any grounds for the fears and apprehensions with which some regarded the Bill. However, he thought that hon. Members were entitled to criticise the provisions of the Bill, and he hoped these criticisms would result in the improvement of the Bill in the interest of the country generally. He did not think that there would be the difficulties which some hon. Members imagined with regard to the Overseers in the grouped parishes. The grouped Parish Council would appoint the Overseers for each parish, and he did not understand that the parish life of parishes that were grouped would be extinguished, for it should be remembered that the parish meeting would still exist, and that was a very important matter. He hoped that when they came to consider the question of the grouping of parishes the importance of the parish meeting would be greatly extended, and the importance of the Parish Council might, perhaps, be diminished generally to the benefit of the parishes concerned. He also thought that some provision ought to be made to meet the difficulties which would arise in cases where a parish was partly 181 covered by a Local Board and partly outside that area. Then, in Clause 2, there was a little difficulty which would require attention. At present a person was not entitled to be registered twice in one Electoral Division, so that unless some words were inserted in the Hill to meet such a case, a ratepayer having very largo interests in a parish might find that he was deprived of the voting power in that parish by the operation of the Registration Laws. There was a significant provision in the Bill which bad not, he thought, attracted the attention it deserved. That was the provision which proposed the great change of transferring the control of the parish highways from the parish to what would represent the old Highway Boards—namely, the District Council. The object of the Bill, as he understood it, was to create a local interest in parish affairs. The reason why the Vestries had lost so much in importance was because they had been deprived, bit by bit, of all their useful functions, and perhaps the last of those functions was the maintenance of the highways which they looked after through their parish surveyors. This Bill proposed to revivify the parish again, and yet it took away the last matter of importance which the Vestries had to administer and handed it over to the District Council. But, oddly enough, the Bill at the very same time placed under the control of the parish the parish footpaths. He could not understand why the parish should maintain its footpaths but not its highways. They were equally highways. As the county had got the maintenance of the main roads, he thought they should throw back the maintenance of the parish highways absolutely and entirely on the parish, taking care that in some localities where the needs required it there should be some provision to have the highways administered by the District Council. With regard to the grouping of parishes, hon. Members who took part in county administration knew what a difficult task it was—indeed, a task found practically to be impossible to carry out—to alter the boundaries of Unions so as to bring the Unions into the areas of counties, and he thought the task would be still more impracticable when they put it on the County Councils to attempt to group parishes together, whether the parishes were willing or un- 182 willing to be grouped. This was a large and complicated subject, indeed. Looking over his own county, he found that there were 349 parishes in the county, of which 16 were covered by Local Boards and Municipal Institutions; and of the remaining 333, 138 would have to be grouped in some way or another. Looking at the parishes geographically, he found that some of them would have to be grouped with others lying two or three miles away, with which they had no common interest. In levying a rate for the benefit of one of these parishes, possibly a great injustice might be done to another parish. He knew of a large parish in which a small hamlet of probably 1,000 inhabitants was most unfairly treated through the requirements of a town four miles off. When, for instance, lighting and draining were done for a populous district, a small district in the same area got no benefit whatever, but had to be rated all the same. That would probably be the condition of things which would prevail under the grouping arrangement. He would suggest to the Government some such arrangement as this: that in small parishes, going up to a population of even 500, the parish meeting should be a body corporate and should have such powers of the Parish Council as it would be desirable to give it. Such a machine as a Parish Council was really unnecessary for a small population. The parish meeting would be able, through any informal committee, to carry out all the works that were necessary. If such a proposal were adopted it would clear the ground of many difficulties, and would make the Bill far more workable than it was at present. He might mention that in his own county there was already one Parish Council. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) would be surprised to hear it. He admitted that it was an amateur Council. It was elected about 12 months ago upon the existing Parochial Register. Its formation was suggested by the squire of the parish, and the only stipulation he made was that he should be elected an Alderman. An hon. Friend below him suggested that he was a very wicked squire, but naturally he wished to inspect closely the results of his own handiwork. Most of the members elected were supporters of the hon. 183 Member for the Cirencester Division of Gloucestershire (Mr. H. L. W. Lawson), but they got on very well together. He had had a memorial from that Council asking him to oppose the provision of the Bill by which the parish would be grouped with others, because, being the only Parish Council in Gloucestershire, they thought it, hard that they should be extinguished by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler). Some comment had already been made respecting the words "acquiring" and "utilising." Both those words needed correction, as they conveyed to some minds an utterly false and erroneous idea of what they meant. The intention was that rights should be purchased in some manner, or, in other words, that the Parish Council should have a legal right to acquire in a proper way. He had not the slightest objection to the Council having such a right, provided that it was made clear that this was the meaning. Ho hoped that some amendment would be introduced into the Bill on this point. So much for the first part of the Bill, with which he confessed himself satisfied, subject to the amendments be had suggested, and which he believed would, with those amendments, work well. Not so with regard to Part II. He thought the House would make a mistake if it hastily carried out such an entire change in the personnel of Poor Law administration as the provisions of Part II. would effect. He did not think it necessary that the House should proceed in a hurry in this matter, because even if that part of the Bill were not dealt with at the present time District Councils would still practically exist. Either through the Highway Board or the Rural Sanitary Authority the country districts possessed very nearly in full measure the District Councils which it was proposed to establish by this Bill, and that without mixing up the District Councils and the Boards of Guardians. The country at large thought the Government were establishing District Councils; but his impression was that after this Bill had become au Act the people of all the rural districts of the country would ask, Where were the District Councils? He believed the term "District Council" would almost disappear, because the members of Boards of Guardians would be elected as 184 District Councillors, but they would continue to be Guardians also, and the older name would be the only one used. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) said that the difficulty of reconciling the District Councils and the Guardians would be got over whenever the areas of rural sanitary districts wore made coterminous with the District Council areas; lint the right hon. Gentleman did not say how this was to be carried out. He (Sir J. Dorington) did not himself see how such a suggestion could be practically carried out unless the District Boards, as District Councils, were abolished. In that case the Union areas would be coterminous with the rural sanitary districts—the District Council areas. He hardly thought, however, that this would be practicable, because he thought it would offend too many prejudices to place the sanitary administration of those areas under the Boards of Guardians. In the County of Gloucester there were 16 Local Board areas, and he supposed that the larger part of the rural sanitary areas were free from any interference with Local Board areas. He himself had presided over a Board for a great number of years, and no difficulty arose there. The members of the Boards of Guardians who were members of other Local Boards left the room when the sanitary business was reached. The Board had the same clerk both for Poor Law and sanitary purposes: and when the Poor Law business was finished, the Inspectors of Nuisances and other officials were called in, and the sanitary business was transacted. He was bound to say, however, that in the case of a large Board of Guardians there would be rather too much work to be done. His own feelings led him to support the constitution of an independent District Board, which should take over the school attendance and sanitary work, and to leave the Boards of Guardians to administer the Poor Law, which he thought they had done, on the whole, well. One of the greatest glories of the Liberal Party, he thought, was their success in passing the Poor Law Administration Act of 1834. They were now, he thought, somewhat inclined, without adequate consideration, to wreck the machine they had set up. In the early part of last Session he said that on certain conditions he should he inclined 185 to part with the ex officio. Those conditions were that if there were a division of the rates there should he an owners' representation on the Board, which would replace the higher-class element who now found a place upon them by means of the ex officios. He had also said that as long as it could be secured that the more highly-educated class could be present at meetings of the Board with full power to act, there was no objection to admitting the widest possible franchise. The difficulty was, that if a Board were constituted wholly of the lower elements, the administrative efficiency, and the power by which the machine had been made to work up to the present time, would be lost. Almost all those who had made reputations for themselves in Poor Law administration had come from the ranks of the ex officios. In Gloucestershire at the present time 11 out of the 15 Boards were presided over by ex officios, and two by gentlemen who would be ex officios but for the fact that, because of their particular profession, they were practically excluded from the County Bench, one being a clergyman and the other a brewer. If this was the case in one county a similar state of things probably prevailed in other counties, and it showed what a great change would he effected by sweeping away that part of the machine which had hitherto worked so well. He hoped sincerely, being anxious for the success of this measure, that the Government would not imperil that success by insisting on carrying Part II. of the Bill without due consideration. If it were thought by gentlemen opposite that such a change should take place, it should only be after great consideration and probably after the Report of a Royal Commission, in the same way as the reform of the Poor Law in 1834 was based on the Report of a Royal Commission. If after such a Report had been made it was thought that the elements in the machine he had spoken of could be dispensed with, he should be quite willing to part with them. He might say, on the part of the Justices, that he did not think there was the slightest feeling that they were going to be excluded from their work. The question, however, was, whether the work would be equally well carried out when the arrangements by which the 186 Justices were placed on the Boards were abolished, and he himself did not think it would. As regarded the District Councils, he did not see why they should not work as well as the County Councils. The Poor Law was a matter purely of administration, and it was well-known that in elections of Boards of Guardians canvassing was now carried on, and the voters were told that if they would vote for So-and-so he would be favourable to giving larger outdoor relief. Outdoor relief had brought many parishes to the verge of bankruptcy, and was the cruellest infliction which bad ever been cast upon the labouring classes. It was the most damning gift that could be made to them, as it not only brought down their wages, but ruined their lives. Under these circumstances, he trusted that the House would not consent to destroy the machinery by which such great good had been conferred upon the country through the efficient administration of the Poor Law, and thus run the risk of restoring the evil state of things which existed prior to 1834.
§ * THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. SHAW LEFEVRE,) Bradford, Central
As my name is on the back of this Bill, I will venture to say a few words respecting it. In the first place, I must state how satisfactory it is to the Government that hon. Members opposite have dealt with this measure in a tone of such moderation and with such evident desire to improve it and turn it I into a workable Bill in Committee. It augurs well for the progress of the Bill in Committee that it has been treated very much in the spirit shown in 1888, when, with the concurrence of all Parties, the very important measure of local government, for which the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. W. Long) was so largely responsible, satisfactorily passed through this House. There appears, however, to have been one or two discordant notes uttered to-night. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. Jesse Collings) could not avoid attacking the Government for having, as he said, neglected English business during the whole of the Session, and having now, as he added, found it impossible to do justice to the rural population. My right hon. Friend proceeded to speak about the Bill itself, but he had so little objection 187 to take to the details of the measure that we might hare expected that he would have occupied a very small amount of our time. He attacked what he called the rural agitators, and said that one good effect of the Bill would he to bring the work of the rural agitator to a conclusion. I have some recollection that my right hon. Friend not long ago was engaged in that work himself; but it appears that he has now abandoned the career of a rural agitator, and consequently feels some contempt for those who now pursue it. Another discordant note was struck by the hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir R. Webster), who made a hitter attack on my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for India (Mr. G. Russell). I was Dot present when my hon. Friend the Under Secretary spoke, and, therefore, I am not able to defend him; but those of my colleagues who were present at the time have told me there was nothing in his speech which in any way justified the attack of the hon. and learned Member, or the torrent of forensic indignation that was poured upon my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend merely repeated in this House what, undoubtedly, many rural labourers outside of it are saying. I do not think it necessary to enter into these topics, especially in view of the very satisfactory attitude which has been adopted by hon. Members opposite generally. But I may say that, in my opinion, it is not desirable that the things which are said outside this House should be left unsaid here. After the discussion which has taken place, I think there is a general concurrence on both sides of the House as to the main features of this Bill. Those main features are the provision under the County Council of a complete scheme of local government, the simplification of the present chaotic system of Local Authorities, the doing away with class privilege and with all abnormal franchises, and the disconnection of the civil government of parishes from the ecclesiastical partnership which has hitherto prevailed. We take the Parish Councils as the unit; we go up to the District Councils, and up from them to the County Councils, connecting all these bodies together by appeals from one to the other, and by making it necessary in some cases for one to assent to the proceedings of the other. 188 These general principles have the approval of the House, and it is only when we come to details that we find any real disagreement. Here I must express the thanks of the Government to the hon. Member for the West Derby Division (Mr. W. Long) for the able and interesting speech he made last night. The hon. Member always speaks with the authority due to the fulness of knowledge which he has derived, not only from his personal experience, but also from his official work, and his speeches are always marked with a certain grace and courtesy which makes it a pleasure to listen to him. His utterances on the present occasion were the more valuable, inasmuch as he was so largely responsible for the great measure of 1888. He knows the difficulties which surround this question, and knows what is necessary in order to give satisfaction to the country. What he left unsaid was, I think, quite as important as anything he said, for we may be quite certain that he exhausted all the topics of criticism which he thought of real importance. The measure has been spoken of in many quarters as a Bill for the establishment of Parish Councils. No doubt that is a very important part of the measure, but I think myself that the portions of the Bill which create District Councils and deal with Boards of Guardians are even more important. At the same time, I think that the administration of the Parish Councils, being more novel, is in many respects more interesting, and the portion of the Bill which relates to the parishes is one in which I myself have taken the greatest possible interest. When we look at the details of that part of the Bill we are met with various objections. A great deal has been said on the subject of grouping. The Government fully realise the unwillingness of parishes to be extinguished by a system of grouping, and my right hon. Friend (Mr. H. H. Fowler) has gone almost to the extreme limit of conciliation in this respect by suggesting that the County Councils shall have power to group or not as they think fit. The Bill, as we propose now to amend it, will not make it obligatory on the part of the County Council to group parishes with a less population than 300. [An hon. MEMBER: 300?] 189 Well, that portion of the Amendment is hardly settled yet. My right hon. Friend has pointed out that the small parishes shall retain their parish meeting, and therefore, for that purpose, they will preserve their individuality. There are a considerable number of parishes which it is desirable to group. ["No, no!"] know there are many Members who are not of that opinion; but, on the other hand, many even on the other side are of opinion that it is desirable. When we are told, as we were a short time ago, that there are no fewer than 800 parishes with a population of not more than 50, that is, 10 families, I think it is obvious that parishes of that size should be grouped. With regard to the clause relating to the purchase of land for allotments, the measure proposes that compulsory powers shall be given to the District Councils, on the application of the parish, with the consent of the Local Government Board, for the compulsory purchase and hire of land, and that it shall not be necessary to come to Parliament for further power. It is to that part of the proposal that the main objection has been made. Some hon. Members have gone the length of saying that it is quite unprecedented that the property of individuals should be taken away without the authority of Parliament. Hon. Members who have said that have not recollected the important Irish measure giving power to purchase land by compulsion for the purpose of erecting labourers' cottages, and also for allotments. In the Irish Labourers' Act of 1887 precisely the same method was adopted as is now proposed in the measure before the House, and a very large number of transactions have taken place under the Act. I believe that some thousands of houses are now being erected under that Act, and that in a large proportion of these cases the land for these houses has been taken compulsorily. Large transactions have taken place under the measure. So far as I can ascertain, no complaint has been made of the action of that Act. If in Ireland it has been found possible to take laud compulsorily for the purpose of erecting labourers' cottages and for allotments without the confirmation of Parliament, surely it will be possible to adopt the same method in England. Hon. Members appear to think, when land is taken for the purpose of hire or 190 purchase, the best part of a farm may be taken; but I have to point out that all transactions will be subject to the approval of an Inspector of the Local Government Board, and of that Board itself. The Government attach very great importance to this part of the Bill, and I believe that when it comes to be fully discussed it will not be found open to the objection that has been taken, but that it will be found perfectly safe to adopt this course without coming to Parliament to confirm the Order. Should the Inspector allow the best portion of a farm to be taken, then, under the clause providing for compensation under the ordinary law, compensation would specially he given for the severance of the property, and this would add materially to the cost of the transaction. Therefore, for that reason alone, it is almost impossible to suppose that laud would we taken in such a manner as to deteriorate the remainder of the farm. I do not doubt that it will be perfectly possible in these parishes to find land perfectly suitable for allotments, without destroying the value of the holdings from which it might be taken. The fact is that the delay and the cost of confirming Orders are such as greatly to deter Local Authorities from taking advantage of the existing Act, and I believe I am right in saving that there has only been one case, so far, of a. successful application for compulsory powers for the purchase of land under the Allotments Act in England. I cannot but think that if this obstacle were removed transactions would be far more numerous than they have been in the past. At all events, the Government attach the greatest importance to this part of the Bill, and they hope it will be attended with good results. The next point on which there has been some comment was the giving the District Council the power of assenting to the expenditure of Parish Councils above 1d. in the £1, and the Member for the West Derby Division suggested that this power should be taken from the District Council and given to the Local Government Board. That is an indication, I think, that the Member for the West Derby Division has not been influenced by the attacks which his Leader (Lord Salisbury) has lately made upon the officialism of Whitehall, whom, if I recollect rightly, he accused 191 of a blind red-tapeism, ignorance of local wants, and many other incapacities for the work, suggesting that a needless state of things resulted from this continued application to the authorities in Whitehall. Apparently hon. Members opposite, who desire to transfer this power from the Councils to the Local Government Board, are not influenced by any fears of that kind. For my part, I cannot but think it is wise to avoid centralisation as much as possible, and it is with that view it is suggested that this power should be given to the District Council. I need hardly remind the House that if the transaction involves any loan of money, then the application must come before the Local Government Board, and these transactions are of such an important character that it is necessary they should be approved by the Local Government Board. But if not connected with a loan, and the transactions do not involve a considerable sum of money, I think it would be almost absurd that transactions of this kind in every parish throughout the country should come flooding the Local Government Board with applications when they might be very easily dealt with by the District Board.
§ * MR. W. LONG
said, such matters would only come before the Local Government Board in cases where the expenditure exceeded 1d. in the £1.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I know it is only in those cases, but still, no doubt, there would be a considerable number of them. When you look at the enormous number of parishes throughout the country, there must inevitably be a certain number of them which will exceed Id. in the £1.
§ MR. W. LONG
The point we have endeavoured to put before the Government and the House is not as to the desirability of avoiding centralisation, but the point as to whether there is any reality in the check imposed by the proposal of the Government. If there is any reality in the check well and good, but if not it is better to remove it.
§ * MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I understand the hon. Gentleman to contend that the check of the particular Council would be of no great value. I cannot but think the District Council will exercise a check upon the expenditure of the parishes. I see no reason why they 192 should not do so. Something has been said upon the subject of the footpaths, and comment has been made upon the clause which enables the parish, under certain circumstances, to provide the cost for a footpath even beyond the limits of its own parish. It has been suggested there may be cases in which a parish would be desirous of getting a path which would pass over the laud of a neighbouring parish, though, as a general rule, it is not expected for a moment that any parish would dream of acquiring or expending money on a footpath not within its own limits. Another question has been raised with reference to the clause regarding water. I think it must be obvious to anybody reading the Bill that it cannot be contemplated that parish officers should have the power to take the right of water from any individual without compensation. It is absolutely certain that a right of that kind could not possibly be taken away without the clearest indication that it is the intention of Parliament to do so, and that is not the intention of the Bill as now drawn. No right of water can possibly be taken by a parish without the ordinary process of law for obtaining it. The hon. Member for Hampshire spoke of roadside wastes, and took exception to that provision in the Bill giving power, under certain circumstances, to the District Board of taking roadside wastes. I may remind my hon. Friend that an almost precisely similar clause was inserted in the Act of 1888—I think at my instigation—giving power to the County Council to take charge of roadside wastes in respect of main roads which were committed to their charge. The public have a full right of transit over these roadside wastes, which is that interval between the road and the continuous fences on the other side of the road. It has been found by experience that the public generally are not aware of that right, and many owners of land adjoining are in the habit of enclosing roadside wastes. It was to obviate that that I got inserted in the Act of 1888 the clause I have referred to, and of which the clause in this Bill is only practically a copy. I now come to the second part of the Bill, which deals with District Councils and Boards of Guardians. A large amount 193 of criticism has been directed to the elections to the District Councils, to the abolition of plural voting, and to the extinction of the ex officio Guardians. The hon. Member for West Derby, I observed, did not attempt to defend these matters. Ho spoke of them as anachronisms which could not logically be de-feuded, though he expressed some regretat the abolition of them: but I do not think he ventured to say that they should be retained, nor did he indicate his intention of opposing the Bill in this respect. The right hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope) followed very much the same course as the hon. Member for West Derby. He also did not defend these anachronisms, but he ventured to suggest a substitute for them in this manner. He suggested that Boards of Guardians should have power to elect a certain number of members from outside their body to act with them. He suggested they should in this way have power to elect one-tenth of their number. That would be introducing, in a somewhat small degree, the principle of Aldermen adopted in the County Councils. We on this side of the House most strongly objected to the creation of Aldermen in the case of the County Councils, and it cannot be expected that we should meet with approval the suggestion that we should adopt that plan for the District Councils or other Elective Bodies. I do not, however, think it necessary at the present time to enter at length into an argument against nominating members of Boards in this manner. If the proposal is made we shall, no doubt, be prepared to state our reasons why we think a proposal of that kind is not desirable, and why we think it would not have the effect it is desired it should have. A great deal has been said on the subject of compound householders. It has been said by the right hon. Member for Lincolnshire and others that representation and taxation should go together. That is a very plausible idea, and was one which was discussed at length on the Reform Bill of 1867, and which formed the principal reason for that Reform Bill passing. It was the idea that taxation and representation should go together which led to the principle of the personal payment of rates upon which that Bill was originally founded, and in the course of the discussions upon 194 that Bill, in order to carry out this principle of personal payment of rates, the House inserted a clause in the Act of 1867 abolishing compounding, in order that the country might have the satisfaction of knowing that through the personal payment of rates the principle of taxation and representation would be thoroughly asserted. What was the consequence? only a few months had elapsed from the passage of the measure when there was such a general outcry throughout the country of the inconvenience caused by the abolition of compounding that it was necessary for Parliament on the earliest opportunity to pass another Act repealing that clause of compounding, and after that compounders were more certain of giving their votes than householders above the. limits of compounding whose rates were paid to them, and there is no test now of ratepaying for the Parliamentary franchise. If any attempt was made to interfere with the system of compounding the same result would follow. The convenience of compounding as a matter of the administration of our Poor Law system is so great, that it would, in my opinion, be absolutely impossible to get rid of it. The hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight suggested that there might be au optional system substituted for the compulsory system of compounding. I believe it would be found impracticable, and that the convenience of the present system, both to owners, occupiers, and Local Authorities, is so great, that it would be practically impossible to get rid of it. You might make it optional to-morrow, and neither landowners, nor tenants, nor parish officers would desire to avail themselves of that option. The right hon. Member for Lincolnshire said he intended to raise the question of taxation and representation by way of an Amendment to the Bill. He did not, however, say what his Amendment would be, and I was very curious to know in what manner he would raise this important and interesting question. It appears to me there would be only two possible modes of doing so. One would be that of abolishing compounding, and the other would be to disfranchise the compounders. He would be a very bold man who would attempt either of these processes. I am quite certain that to attempt the abolition of compounding 195 would prove to be a nullity, and that the convenience of the system is so great that it would be found necessary at the earliest possible opportunity to revert to it again, as was done in 1867, and, on the other hand, I need hardly say it would be most improbable that anybody would be so bold and so unwise as to suggest that the householder whose rates are compounded should not be allowed to vote. We must recollect that the compounders have voted now, since 1867, in Parliamentary elections. They vote for County Council elections, and for the! election of the Guardians of the Poor. They vote every time a vote is taken in the parish on other matters, and why not, therefore, allow them to vote in the elections for the District and Parish Councils? For my part, I have very little fear of the result of this principle. I do not think it will be found in practice that these people whose rates are paid for them will be any less desirous of economy than those who pay rates. I believe the experience of the action of the compound householders throughout a great part of the country and in large towns has been, on the whole, satisfactory, and, at all events, it has not been attempted to show that the voting of these men in Parliamentary elections has resulted in bad economy, nor has it in the other cases I have mentioned. I will frankly admit, for my part, that having regard to the condition of things in many rural parishes, I think it would be very desirable if there were more persons invested with the rights of property. It is an undoubted fact that in a very large number of rural parishes all the property is concentrated in very few hands—in a large number of parishes in one hand only—and there are many reasons for alarm where that is the state of the case. The remedy, to my mind, is to be found not in disfranchising people, not in doing away with compounding, not in any of the ways that have been suggested, but by gradually increasing by every possible means the security of the tenure of the labourers in the districts of this kind. I believe the landowners in rural districts would do wisely to facilitate the acquisition by the labourers of something like fixity and permanency of tenure in their homes and holdings, and it is in this direction we must look for a remedy. For my part, I have always looked with con- 196 cern on the fact that during the last 50 or 100 years there has grown up in our rural districts a system under which property is concentrated in so few hands that the labouring population cease to have anything like a permanent interest in their homes or holdings of laud. I think something has been said on the subject of highways. The right hon. Member for Lincolnshire has criticised that part of the Bill which proposes to vest the repair of the highways in the District Councils. In that respect we have followed the proposal of the late Government in their original Bill of 1888. I think the hon. Member for West Derby will admit that the Bill which his Government introduced proposed to deal with highways exactly in the manner proposed in the present Bill; therefore, the Government, of which the right hon. Member for Lincolnshire was himself a Member, proposed to deal with the matter precisely in the same way as the Bill now before the House.
§ * MR. W. LONG
The right hon. Gentleman forgets that a considerable change has taken place in the highways in consequence of the passing of the Act of 1888. Since that time the County Councils have taken charge of and made main roads. They have taken over a large number of roads from parishes or highway districts.
§ * MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
But that is what is contemplated by the Act of 1888 and by the original Bill. No doubt some counties have extended the principle of main roads very largely. In other counties, on the other baud, the principle has not been extended, and only those roads which are generally understood as main roads have been taken in charge by the County Councils, and there remain a largo-number of roads which would probably come under the Highway Clause of this Bill. I think it would be a very great mistake to lose this opportunity of bringing the whole system into accord throughout the country, and I think I can very fairly conclude that the hon. Member and his Government came to that conclusion in 1888. I do not think it necessary to go largely into the question of charities. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Bordesley Division has taken exception to the clause of the Bill which gives power to the Parish Councils to apply to the Charity Commissioners in 197 respect of the charities between £50 and £500 a year in order to enable them to frame schemes for the reform of charities of this kind. I should have thought my right hon. Friend would have approved of that clause, because it operates in the direction of giving to the Parish Council a greater control over the charities in their district.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
It gives them an opportunity of asking for reforms of these charities, and the clause in the Bill directs the Charity Commissioners to consult the Parish Council in reference to any schemes they may frame, and, therefore, opportunity is afforded to the Parish Council of influencing the Charity Commissioners in respect of these charities.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
In what manner have the Parish Council any control over the Charity Commissioners in regard to any new scheme?
§ * MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I admit they have no actual control. All I say is, they have the power of making the original application to the Charity Commissioners. They will not do that unless they have some confidence in the Charity Commissioners and in this administration of the charities. The Charity Commissioners frame a scheme, and under the Hill they are bound to submit that scheme to the Parish Council, consult them, and take their advice in respect to the scheme, though they are not bound to follow this advice. However, the two operations together appear to me to give a certain voice on the part of the Parish Council in regard to these charities in future very far different to what they have now. If it was proposed by the Pill to give this power to outsiders, I think that the right hon. Gentleman would have a, distinct right to complain, for I always understood my right hon. Friend aimed at placing these charities in the hands of the Local Authorities; but the object! aimed at by the Bill is to bring these charities more or less under the Parish Councils; therefore, although the clause does not go so far as the right hon. Gentleman desires, I think, at all events as far as it goes, it ought to meet with his approbation. This, at any rate, is a matter eminently worthy of discussion and consideration by this House. 198 No doubt there are at this moment a very large number of charities which are I grievously mismanaged, and which I cannot be reformed at present, because the Charity Commissioners have no power except in respect of charities below £50 a year; and unless the majority of the Trustees of the charity agree in making application to the Charity Commissioners, the Commissioners have no power to interfere. I should have thought it was a wise thing to give that power of applying to the Charity Commissioners to the Parish Council. The right hon. Member for Bordesley has accused me of being an advocate for the Charity Commissioners. I must disclaim that charge altogether. I have always admitted there have been cases in the past in which grievous wrong has been done by the Charity Commissioners to the poor of certain districts; that they have in past times framed schemes under which the poor of certain districts have been deprived of charities to which they had a right, and these charities have been devolved to the benefit of classes above them. But I firmly believe within the last few years, since public opinion has been brought to bear on the Charity Commission, there has been an entire change of policy in that respect; and when I presided over the Committee which some years ago entered into this matter, I think the evidence tended to show that for some few years before that the schemes framed by the Charity Commissioners had not been open to that objection, and had been framed with due regard to the interests of the poor concerned in these districts. I have myself very carefully followed the schemes made since then by the Charity Commissioners; and I believe it is impossible to find cases where they have diverted a charity from the poor of a district and have given the benefit of it to a class above the poor.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I cannot recollect the details of that particular case. I speak generally of that class of cases. I will look into the case of Sutton Coldfield, and if I am wrong I will withdraw what I have said. Of course, there may have been cases under the Endowed Schools Act, where practically the Charity Commissioners have no control, which 199 are open to the exception of the right hon. Gentleman; but I am speaking of cases under the ordinary administration of the Charity Commissioners, and I undertake to say you cannot produce a case which would substantiate the charge of my right hon. Friend. If I am right in this, I believe it would be wise to extend the powers of the Charity Commissioners on the application of the Parish Council. It appears to me that is one of the powers which may very properly be given to, the Parish Council. I think I have now gone through the principal points dealt with in the course of the interesting discussion on this Bill. I will only say, in conclusion, that I believe the more the Bill is examined the more it, will appear that it is adequate and complete; that it will effect great simplification in the rural districts: that it will bring into harmony conflicting Local Authorities; that it will do away with many anomalies, and that it will divide civil from ecclesiastical affairs. It will have a good effect in many rural districts by stimulating men to fulfil the duties of citizenship; and it will lead to even greater results in the future, when the rural population appreciate the advantages which result from local government and from combined efforts for the public good.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said, he did not wish to detain the House, but ho could not allow the Bill to pass a Second Reading without making one or two remarks. Speaking in a general way, he approached the scheme of the Bill with considerable friendship. His experience did not induce him to feel that reverence, respect, and something approaching to admiration which some Members seemed to have for small parishes; but he recognised that they must respond to their desire for such local organisation as would enable them to enjoy the advantages of self-government. The right hon. Member, who must he congratulated upon the clearness with which he treated the subject, rather found fault with the way in which the Bill dealt with small parishes, and seemed to think it inconsistent with democratic ideas as to their separate existence. He thought it better that they should have parish meetings, and dispense altogether with Parish Councils. That suggestion must be examined 200 in the light of experience gained elsewhere, and his impression was that if small parishes dispensed with Parish Councils, and relied solely upon a parish meeting assembling once a quarter, it would he found that what was everybody's business was nobody's business, the meetings would be badly attended, and no business would be properly done. A democratic example might he found in the case of the Swiss Cantons, which assembled once a year: but the business was left to be transacted by persons specially selected for the purpose. On the whole, and especially with the modifications announced by the President of the Local Government Board, he thought the Government had dealt with small parishes adequately; and he did not believe that small parishes, if they had their due quota of members, would have any jealousy or fear of the bigger parishes. Neither did he think there was any ground for apprehension with respect to charities. The utmost that was involved in the Bill was the substitution of one set of Trustees for another. But the trusts would remain absolutely unaltered, and, therefore, the change of Trustees need-give no cause for anxiety. The principle of the Bill, with respect to the establishment of the Parish Council, was one with which he entirely agreed. The position held by the squire and the parson as a matter of privilege began no doubt long ago; but when the County Councils Act was passed in 1888, there was a clear warning given that their position of privilege was no longer tenable, and must be abandoned. The only question which really concerned the House was the proper way of organising the body which was to take their place. The object was to bring within the Parish Councils representatives of all classes in the parish. If the Bill did that they would get an embodiment in the Parish Council of the democratic principle. If it did not do that it would not realise what they were aiming at. They might see certain classes banished entirely from the Parish Councils, which might be representative of one class alone—the labourers of the parish. If the labourers were so disposed they could elect upon the Parish Council representatives of their own body only, but such a representative body would fail to realise the intention of Her 201 Majesty's Government, and would fail to give that guarantee for good government in the future which the House desired. But, while it was important that all classes should be represented in the Parish Councils, it was of more importance that that should be done in the District Councils. It was important in respect of all the functions they proposed to entrust the District Councils with, and it was infinitely important in respect of the administration I of the Poor Law, which it was proposed to confide to this body. If they wished to have the Poor Law administered in a way which would maintain the principles of the Poor Law as enacted in 1884, if they wished to have a consistent administration of that law so as to go on further in the diminution of pauperism, it was of very great importance that they should get on the administrative body representatives of all classes of opinion within the area. The President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler) pronounced only yesterday a eulogium upon the Poor Law Act of 1834. The passing of that Act did more than anything else to improve the condition of the industrial classes, and if there was any risk of imperilling the maintenance of the principles of that Act by the change now proposed they were justified in feeling the greatest anxiety, and in asking whether the risk was to he undertaken; and, if so, whether it could not in some respects be modified? It was true that they had reduced pauperism in England since the new Poor Law was established. If it were not so, they would have now reached a condition in the scale of social communities terrible to think of. The old Poor Law was striking at the root of the industrial life of the country. It was slowly wearing it away. The new Poor Law came in and rescued them; but though they had done much they had I not done enough to satisfy those who had at heart the welfare of their neighbours. The extinction of pauperism and the attainment of the condition of affairs when the poor as a class should cease to exist was what they should aim at. They had done a great deal by the new Poor Law to bring about that state of things. One great difficulty, however, in the way had been the variety of administration of the different Boards, some of 202 which had done a great deal, while others had done little or nothing. The greatest difficulty of all was the maintenance as true principles to be acted upon of those principles which in theory had been professed. The battle was of the few against the many; and if they adopted a mode of election that gave to the many under this Bill the power of electing the members of the administrative body charged with the Poor Law duty, was there any security that they would be retaining on the Boards the few who had that restraining, deliberative, and far-seeing force which had hitherto prevailed to the advantage of the system? He had two or three days ago road a paper by Mr. Pell—formerly a Member of this House—in which that gentleman stated that wherever the administration of the Poor Law was effective and economical the beneficial result could invariably be traced to the presence at the Board of, perhaps, one educated man, whose influence had made itself felt, and who, in time, had won over the majority of his colleagues to a true perception of the work of their office. The Poor Law was not, and never could be, popular; it did not recommend itself to the first instincts of men, and they would inevitably run an enormous risk if they entrusted altogether to the mere representatives of the majority the administration of that law. This was not a question merely of the poor against the rich, but of the effect which such administration would have upon the character of the people. False ideas on the subject of relief were not confined to the poor; they were also to be found among the rich. He was fighting for the representation of the few as against the many, the few who would be able to rule, to withstand the popular cry, and to realise the effect of their conduct. In 1834 the system of bringing into the administration the representatives of several classes was adopted, and the principle of ex officio Guardians was probably resorted to with the desire of sparing the rates. He was free to confess that at no very distant time ex officio members would have to go. But he desired to urge upon the Government—so that all the good work would not be undone—the necessity of considering how they could insure the election of members who would keep up the traditions of the past in the bodies that were to 203 take the place of the present Guardians, of considering, in other words, how they could secure amongst the Guardians of the future a representation of the true principles of Poor Law administration. Could anyone say that there was not a danger of the good work effected in the past being undone by the scheme of the present Bill? He would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he thought there was security for the administration of Unions, such as Bradfield and Ricksworth, in the Bill? Was it likely that a Board of Guardians elected in the manner the right lion. Gentleman proposed would maintain the principles which had been acted upon in those Unions? And what would be the condition of things produced in Whitechapel or St. George's-in-the-East, if, instead of the existing Guardians there, they had Guardians elected on the principle of One Man One Vote, and no attempt were made to apply that principle in such a way as to secure a just representation of the different classes of the electorate? He had heard last night with great pleasure the speech of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire with regard to the risks involved. The hon. Member had referred to a passage in the Report of the Poor Law Inquiry Commission of 1834 to show that the poor were as keen about the economical administration of relief as the rich. The reference was to the managers of Friendly Societies who were concerned with funds to which the members of those Societies alone contributed. They were, it should be observed, not managing the funds of other people, and they were, moreover, the élite of the working classes of that day. It was not wonderful that they should manage economically funds to which they were themselves contributors. It could hardly be argued on the ground of a case of that kind that representatives of the poor upon a Board of Guardians would exercise the same care, caution, and vigilance with respect to the expenditure of funds to which the poor would contribute relatively a very small share indeed. In a country parish the amount of poor rate contributed by the owners of cottage property as compared with the amount contributed by farmers and landowners was extremely small. It was clear, therefore, that one could not assume that the same spirit of economy would be shown by the poor in the administration 204 of Poor Law funds as was shown in the administration of the funds of Friendly Societies. His right hon. Friend in charge of the Bill, when he brought in his measure, did not dilate very much on this part of it. He passed over the matter of the Poor Law very lightly indeed. He (Mr. Courtney) was not-finding fault with the right hon. Gentleman, for hon. Members were now encouraged to examine into the matter more at large, and it encouraged them to think that the right hon. Gentleman approached the subject with an open mind. The right hon. Gentleman asked why there should be any distrust of Poor Law Boards as constituted by this Bill when the franchise upon which they would be elected would be the same as that prevailing with respect to County Councils, Members of Parliament, Town Councils, and School Boards? In mixing up these cases together his right hon. Friend had been guilty of something very like confusing the issues, for the bodies mentioned differed radically from one another. In the case of County Council elections, feeling might differ in the several districts returning members. The principle of election was most democratic, and the whole of the members had to seek re-election at the same time. In this way variety could be secured. In the case of the School Board, cumulative voting provided for the representation of minorities, which did not prevail in other systems. Ho submitted that it was not necessary that they should attempt to deal with the administration of the Poor Law in this Bill, and that, if it was important to adopt the principle of One Man One Vote in relation to the matter, it was of still greater importance that they should go further, and adopt the principle that only one vote should be given to one man. If those principles were adopted, the District Councils might fairly represent the different views and interests of the various classes of their constituents. He desired that it should be clearly understood that he was far from regarding the Bill in a hostile spirit. He regarded it in a friendly spirit, and in a friendly spirit he appealed to Her Majesty's Government to consider the desirability to refrain from transforming the administration of the Poor Law until the whole subject had 205 received independent investigation. They had done a good deal, but there was yet much to be done, and there were many ideas as to Poor Law afloat which demanded investigation. A great many of the reformed methods of dealing with the poor which had been inaugurated in the country had little influence outside the particular districts in which they had been introduced, because there were no moans yet devised of bringing to bear outside the different Poor Law districts of the country the experience that had been gained in some of them, and he confessed that he believed it would be possible to bring to bear more settled principles of administration in all Unions without destroying local freedom. He should, however, deprecate any alteration of the machinery at a time when so much was in agitation, and when so much required attention and examination. Apologising for pressing this subject so warmly upon I ho attention of the House, he would conclude by saying that he had entered upon it in no hostile spirit. He strongly supported the Government in their scheme, but he must say that the proposals relating to Boards of Guardians affected some of the most serious considerations bearing upon the fortune and character of the Hill. Ho would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Hoard to consider the propriety of withdrawing altogether for the time that portion of the Bill which proposed to effect a change in the administration of the Poor Law.
* MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said, that ho did not intend to ground his excuse for addressing the House upon this question upon any official experience, although he must confess that just 25 years ago he had held an office to I which was attached the duty of representing the old Poor Law Board in the House of Commons. It was not, however, I for the purpose of raking up any musty records of a quarter of a century ago that he claimed the indulgence of the House. It was rather because he happened to hold I the position of Chairman for the year of the Central Associated Chambers of Agriculture, a body largely interested, so far as its constituent elements were concerned, in the present Bill. The body he represented, he need not say, was in no shape or form a Party organisation. As an illustration of the fact that Party was 206 eliminated from its composition, he might point out that while he had the honour to hold the office of Chairman this year his immediate predecessor was the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, while his successor would be—the present Vice Chairman—the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire (Mr. Channing). At their recent meeting the Associated Chambers had passed resolutions relating to the adequate representation of minorities in Local Bodies, the grouping of parishes, the voting power to be given to the compound householder, and the desirability of separating the question of the administration of the Poor Law from that of parochial government. With regard to the representation of minorities, the Committee of the Central Chambers, while accepting the principle of the Bill, protested against placing the power of controlling the expenditure of the rates in the hands of those who did not directly contribute to them. They declared themselves of opinionThat the old principle of joining representation and taxation could only be ignored with mischievous results.That was part of a Report unanimously adopted by this distinctly non-Party body, which more especially represented those who paid the greater proportion of the rates in the country districts. As to representation of minorities, the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had dealt with the important problem with his accustomed ability, but how did the Government propose to deal with it? The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board ignored the question altogether. He talked of the existing system of multiple or plural voting as "well enough for the days in which it was adopted." He spoke of it as though he was under the impression that it was a relic of some old obsolete Tory system. But though the right hon. Gentleman was too well versed in the history of Poor Law administration to share delusions of that kind, the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, although he had also occupied an official position, was glad to leave the rural audiences which he addressed under that impression. But what were the facts? The system of granting representation in proportion to the amount contributed by the voter became law in 1834, at a time 207 when the Tory Party was at its lowest ebb. It was passed at a time when Liberal ideas were proceeding at a great pace. It was true that the principle was endorsed in 1844 by the Conservative Government then in power, one of the Members of which was no less a distinguished statesman than the present Prime Minister. Therefore, the necessity for making provision for the adequate representation of those who contributed the greater share of the rates had been recognised by both Parties. The principle of "One Man One Vote" had been spoken of, and he confessed he was utterly at a loss to know the meaning of the phrase. It was a phrase used with many meanings by one man after another. However it was used, he objected to it most emphatically if it meant that contribution to the rates would not carry with it a fair share of the control of expenditure. He did not say that because they had not arrived at an ideal system of representative government that the substitute provided for it was in itself unjust. In the majority of instances that would be so, but it did not follow as a matter of course. If, for instance, the government of the country were handed over to the United States Congress, although it would not be a representative form of government, it did not follow that the country would be badly governed; but, at any rate, it could not be described as representative government. He trusted that those who worshipped what it was now the fashion to call democracy, but which seemed to be the tyranny of one class substituted for the predominance of another, could realise that if they handed over local government to those who practically might not be ratepayers even in name, that they did not carry out the system of representative government. With regard to ex officio Guardians, he did not care very much about the matter. It was an indirect way, perhaps, of obtaining the representation of minorities; and unless some other system were substituted its removal should be deprecated. He would far rather see some system adopted or retained which would enable property to be represented in a Constitutional, legitimate, and direct manner. This was in accordance with the doctrines of John Stuart Mill and other thinkers, who were even 208 greater Liberals than the present President of the Local Government Board. He would like to say a word about the compound householder. He could recollect very well the controversy which raged so furiously around the name of the compound householder, to which the First Commissioner of Works referred as having taken place in 1867. With regard to the compound householder, his view might be a little out of date, but he confessed that it was exactly the same as in 1867—namely, that the system of compounding for rates was mischievous and unsound. That was his own personal opinion, for which no one else was responsible. He had no share in any of the recent Bills dealing with local government. He was out of Parliament when the so-called County Councils Bill was passed, or he should have strongly opposed it on the ground that it made no provision for the representation of minorities, and on account of the bad arrangements made for the government of; the Metropolis. But in regard to the present difficulty, the real solution was to sweep away the compound householder altogether in town and country. A proposal had been made to abrogate the compulsory provisions with regard to compounding, and to make it a voluntary I arrangement; but he thought that would be miserably inadequate, though it would be better than nothing. He hoped the House would grapple with the question in a serious spirit, and extinguish that indescribable nuisance, the compound householder. With regard to rating, and the responsibility that the payment of rates carried with it, he himself would like to see the system extended to allotments, i.e., that all allotments, however infinitesimal in size, should be rated in the names of the persons who occupied them. There was a system of allotments which in his own case had been in force for many years, before the subject became as popular as it recently had, and he had watched its development now for a great many years. He thought it a most valuable system; but if it were combined with the responsibility involved in a person paying the rates attached to the allotments, it would have a very important educational effect. This was a matter which, apart from Party bias, they ought to face. Under the scheme of the Government 209 every occupier, whether he paid rates or not, was to have a vote; and in the case of a vast number of electors, not only would they not be interested in the promotion of economy, but their personal and individual interest would He in precisely the opposite direction. There ought to be some efficient cheek to protect the bonâ fide ratepayers from being exposed to the dangers resulting from the encouragement of excessive expenditure on various objects by the great bulk of the voters who did not contribute at all, or at any rate so largely to local resources. The cheek of the District Council in this respect was ludicrous. What would almost certainly happen would be a kind of logrolling system, under which the majority of persons in one parish interested in schemes of public expenditure for giving employment, and so forth, would obtain the co-operation of their neighbours in the adjoining parishes, and the most extravagant schemes would be encouraged. Ho even doubted whether the Local Government Hoard would be an efficient check, though it was better than the District Council. He strongly held the opinion, on the subject of the grouping of parishes, that every parish ought to have a Council of its own, unless it elected to be merged in another parish, because the smaller parishes would run grave risk of having their interests overlooked by the larger communities with which they would be linked. He had always thought, in opposition to the view that there should be a large community with large powers, that the less outside influence which was brought into any parish to interfere with its affairs the better; and, therefore, ho should strongly object to the grouping system. As to the ecclesiastical charities, he preferred to see the Amendments of the right hon. Gentleman before he offered any criticism on that subject, particularly as he gathered that the right hon. Gentleman was prepared very materially to modify his proposals. As to the question of doles, ho agreed largely with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight; but while adequate care should be taken that doles were not made the subject of local parochial jobbery under the auspices of a numerical majority of the inhabitants, he thought it would not be advisable to give sanction to any scheme which proposed to divert 210 those doles to any other purpose than that for which they were originally intended. He remembered criticising in this House years ago some proposals which were made by the higher educationalists, who figured so largely in those days on the political horizon. The great idea was to lay violent hands on doles of all sorts—flannel, coals, or food—and to turn them into educational emoluments. He remembered being the subject of good-humoured banter in this House for saying that he would never be a party to robbing the aged and feeble for the benefit of the young and healthy, and to taking what was intended for the stomach and cramming it into the head. He adhered to the same sentiment now. He thought the Government realised that the question of the administration of dole charities was one that ought to be approached cautiously, and he hoped they would consider the question seriously before going into Committee. Of course, it was said that this Bill was carrying to its logical conclusion legislation already sanctioned by Parliament. He was not prepared to endorse in all their details the measures of local government already passed, but he did not want to waste the time of the House by asking them to turn their backs upon the work which they had so recently accomplished. There was no doubt that there was a very strong feeling, in the Conservative Party outside Parliament, at all events, that in surrendering to the prejudices of the moment and allowing a measure of local government to be passed into law without any adequate provision for the safe discharge of their duties by the Public Bodies to be created they were acting in a manner very strongly to be condemned. He only mentioned this not for the purpose of casting stones at good friends who were responsible for that enactment, but merely to prevent it being thrown in their teeth that they were not to criticise the present Bill for omissions which were equally prominent in the Bill which was passed into law by the late Government. As to local government in general, if it meant that those who contributed to local taxation were to hare the spending of their own money, he was entirely in favour of it, and it could not, in his judgment, within safe lines be carried too far; but if it meant that those who paid practically 211 nothing towards local expenditure were to control that expenditure without any adequate share in the representation being accorded to those who contributed the great bulk of the money, he declared that was obviously unfair. If that was democracy, all he could say was that it was one more reason for being against democracy. He was happy to think that in this Bill they were approaching a subject which could be dealt with without arousing Party passion. The President of the Local Government Board had assured the House that all legitimate suggestions made with a view to improve the Bill would not only be fairly considered, but would be fully dealt with by the Government, and he could only hope that the House would not display any timidity in the manner in which they approached the subject, and that they would not be afraid to enforce their opinions and views without regard to any possible risk of clamour outside, although he himself did not believe that any public feeling in the country existed against the fair and legitimate representation of all those who had to contribute towards the cost of local government.
§ THE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (Mr. A. ACLAND)
I beg, Sir, to move that the Debate be now adjourned.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till Monday next.