§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [2nd November], "That the Bill he now read a second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ THE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (Mr. A. ACLAND,) York, W.R., Rotherham
Mr. Speaker, I be- 236 lieve that at this stage, the Second Reading of this Bill, which I believe is to be brought to a conclusion to-night, I shall do best by trying to direct the few remarks I have to make on what appear to be the principal and main criticisms which have been made on the measure. My right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler), in his clear and conciliatory speech, I think removed many fears that were entertained with respect to what may be called ecclesiastical questions. With reference to the important subject, of the grouping of small parishes, my right hon. Friend also made it quite clear that he was prepared to entertain all reasonable proposals on that subject which would, on the one hand, make the best and the most reasonable provision for the development of self-government even in our smallest villages, and, on the other hand, would secure independent action as far as possible. My right hon. Friend has not the right of reply on this stage of the Bill, and I think I may add, on his behalf, that we will entertain with the greatest care and consideration the propositions which have been made, especially with reference to allotments, by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Cobb), whose interest in this question was so early displayed in this House, and who, I suppose, is probably the only Member of this House who, before the Government took the question up, laid a Bill respecting Parish Councils on the Table of the House. It appears to me that although we are agreed to a very large extent on the general purposes of this Bill, and have had in the main a very friendly discussion upon it, the chief objections are concentrated on a fear that either through Parish Councils, or District Councils, or Poor Law Guardians as they will be constituted when this Bill is passed, there will be a ridiculous, or, at any rate, unwise expenditure of money out of the rates. The reason given is that many of the persons who will be able to vote will not, in the opinion of our critics, contribute to the money which they vote. Even in reference to charities, some fears have been expressed that the present arrangements about them, and any new arrangements which might ensue, and which would lead to an alteration in the destinations of some of the 237 village charities, would be of a dangerous and mischievous character. In my opinion all such fears are entirely unfounded. In reference to charities, I believe that, in proportion to the extent to which you have developed the sense of responsibility among the working people and the artisans in our villages, so far will you find the existence of a growing feeling hostile to all forms of charity which are pauperising, even in the slightest degree. I have observed, and I think anybody who has watched the action of those who have distributed charitable funds in the course of the recent struggles between the masters and miners, whose cud we hoped to see last week, and whose prolongation we view with profound regret on all sides of the House, must have observed, how those who are most independent and most desirous of avoiding charity were affected by the prevailing distress. I have been told again and again, and know it to be true, that those who were most deserving of being participators in charitable funds have been exactly those who were most unwilling to come forward to avail themselves of them. And if their fellow working men bad to go from house to house in search of those who most needed relief, the reason was that they knew very well that though these men had an absolute claim upon the relief funds they preferred to remain almost starving and silent rather than give utterance to their claims for the charitable funds they had a right to. In connection with Poor Law relief and the administration of relief funds, I have only this morning received a letter from a man who has had a long experience in municipal work, and an occasional experience in the administration of relief funds in cases of distress. He says—There was no single point connected with the administration of the Relief Fund" (in a great town) "with which I was more struck than with the capacity and shrewdness of the working men Members. They could not have been more careful in giving relief if they had contributed every penny of the fund. It was in vain that the loafer or the lazy, drunken vagabond applied for relief from this fund; they were too well known to the working men members of the Committee, and, with very little parley, they were referred to the workhouse and its stone-yard. But there was another very important service these working men members performed, and that was the bringing to the notice of the Committee of eases of hardship and want amongst their neighbours—uncomplaining 238 people who would suffer extremest want before They would apply to a Relief Committee or to the parish officer. Depend upon it there Would be no move jealous guardians of public funds raised for the relief of the poor than the Councillors elected by the class whose low estate makes them most likely to stand in need of it.This question, Mr. Speaker, is still more especially raised in relation to the administration of the Poor Law. We are agreed upon the scheme to a certain point, but again and again it has been urged that we should defer that part of the Bill which is connected with the change of the methods of election of those who now administer poor relief in this country. I say, without hesitation, the Government consider that the most important and the most vital part of their Bill. I wish to point out one or two reasons why we consider it so important. One of the main objects of the Local Government reform is that we should, as far as possible, aim at simplification of that which is now so complex, and so intricate. I will refer, merely for the purpose of illustration and not for any purpose of reviving controversies, to the method adopted by the late Government in 1888, and to tin; method adopted by ourselves from this particular point of view. Before the Bill of 1888 was introduced there had been for many years, as there are still, a variety of views as to the best way of simplifying self-government in rural districts. There were those who held that it should follow the lines of the Unions and the larger areas especially in the interest of simplification. There were those also who held that you should keep permanently before you the interests of the villages and the parishes with a view to their own self-government, with the object of bringing out the feelings of local patriotism which lie at the very root of till success in local self-government. With these two views before ment. With these two views before them, the late Government embodied in their Bill of 1888 this proposition—that the District Councils should be the main areas, and that the parishes should, to a very large extent, be merged in the districts. There was to be no Parish Council, and what we call the adoptive Acts, which, as I think all present will admit, are very important Acts, were to betaken away from the parishes, and 239 handed over to the District Councils. As far as there was to be any local say in the matter, any local committees that were appointed would have their members selected by the District Councils themselves. Then the wards of the District Councils largely neglected the parishes, because they were to be formed according to the population as far as possible. Finally, in the original proposal of the Bill, even County Council wards did not necessarily respect the parish boundary, although that was altered in Committee, so that, at the present time, the parochial boundaries are respected. Of course, I do not deny that it was proposed, when there should be time, to reform the Vestry, but, to a very large extent, if the Bill had passed, parochial life would have been extinguished. I do not complain of that, because it is in entire accordance with the opinion of a very large body of local reformers. The late Government would have invited the voter to give two votes—a vote for the District Council, and one for a member of the Board of Guardians, which the late Government thought better to keep distinct from the District Council. We have adopted the other view. We have taken the Parish Council as the first and most important unit of self-government, and we have invited the House, in this Bill, to join together, from he point of view of the rural parish, the District Councillor and the Poor Law Guardian. We also, in our turn, invite the parish voter to give two votes, but two votes of a different kind. He has first a vote for his Parish Council, and, secondly, a vote for the person who is to be District Councillor and Poor Law Guardian. I would say, in connection with that subject, that if it is thought that too many meetings will be held, and too heavy a burden will be laid on that individual, it would be far better, at a later date, if it becomes necessary, to increase the number of representatives to perform this work than to separate the work into two different categories. On the question of Parish Councils, we are, I am glad to say, pretty well agreed. Our views have become modified since1888. Though there appeared to be a fear at that time that parochial self-government 240 would be left out, we have now gone back to the older lines indicated by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1885, and referred to in that well-known speech at Halifax of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke).It was then contended that the parish should obtain a real measure of self-government, and we have arrived, I believe, at an agreement on that subject. The last important utterance on the other side on this subject was made by Lord Salisbury, who gave in his adhesion to Parish Councils. He justified that adhesion by arguments which had a very special and pointed reference to myself. I think he held me up, to use his own words, as "a warning to his countrymen, "and that particular observation I have successfully survived. I will not go at all into the question— although the whole argument, or a considerable part of the argument, was basedonmyownaction—of the relevancy or accuracy of his remarks, but I will venture to say this—thatbefore the Recess, during the Recess, and during this Debate, hon. Members have, I dare say with good reason, very much pressed upon us this point, that if we wanted to pass this Bill through successfully, we must be very much on our guard to avoid introducing any controversial matter. I would only say that if this was the object so prominently placed before us, and that if the great thing was to avoid Party and personal attack, I must confess, on reviewing Party counsels, I think it would have well become the Leader of the Opposition to have obeyed the precepts of his Party. We are agreed on the point of Parish Councils. On the matter of District Councils I think some hon. Members have suggested that we should put off the whole of the second part of the Bill, but I venture to say that from the point of view of the real effective working of the whole scheme we ought to pass it altogether. If you set up Parish Councils and leave the whole of the other arrangements as they are, it will make it very difficult to carry out the provisions which we desire administered. And I would, further, say this with reference to the Poor Law: that really it is, on the whole, advisable to do what we suggest, and give to the Poor Law representatives this other work to do in 241 order that electors on this question at any future date may not he concentrated on the administration of the Poor Law alone. It is very advisable that representatives chosen in the parish to go to the District Council should go for a variety of purposes, including Poor Law work, but that his attention or that of the voters should not he centred in Poor Law relief alone. There is another point on which, in connection with this subject, a great deal of objection has been taken. We are told that one ought to have made some special provision to combine representation and taxation, and to avoid the great danger that may arise from the practice that exists in parts of the country of enabling the rates of many poor persons to be compounded for by the parish. To illustrate the great difficulty of dealing with this subject of altering the arrangements that now take place in regard to poor rate both in town and country districts, and a difficulty which all responsible persons must feel in the matter, I want to refer again to the Bill of 1888. In forming their resolution for District Councils, which embraced, as I have pointed out, many of the powers which now will remain in the hands of the Parish Councils, what did the late Government do? They arranged that there should be these District Councils carrying out the whole of the sanitary work, carrying out the whole of the highway work, and carrying out the whole of the adoptive Acts which now belong to the Vestry; and who were to be the voters to elect the persons to serve on the District Councils? There was not a word about altering the Act of 1869, and the arrangement for the composition of the poor rate between the landlords and the Vestries. Not a word. The Bill said in a simple, straightforward, democratic manner that the voters for these District Councils should be the voters on the County Register. I think that is a fair indication that Mr. Ritchie and the Government who framed that Bill had, no doubt, looked into the dangers that would arise from the vote of the compound ratepayer, and come to the conclusion that those dangers were not so great as to prevent them bringing in a democratic proposition like that for District Councils, that the subject was too complicated for them to meddle with, and that they were not afraid to hand 242 over all these powers to the District Councils, leaving the question of compounding exactly as it is at the present time. There was one precaution which we do not take, it is true. They set up Aldermen in the District Councils, but I do not believe the existence of Aldermen alone would be a serious method of lessening the dangers that have been so of ten pointed out. It seems to me that up to any point, in this Bill, short of the question of Poor Law administration, the late Government and the present Government go, on the whole, together—I do not mean that our proposition is not framed in a very different way to the Bill of1888; but I mean that, so far as danger from the compound ratepayer is concerned, it seems tome that we are at one. It is quite true that we have given to the Parish Councils a certain number of powers that would not have been conferred by the Bill of 1888; but I do not think they make any difference in essential principle. We shall be told that the difficulty lies in this: that there will be a temptation to poor voters to vote for a large and widespread distribution of outdoor relief. On that I would ask—What is it you propose to do? Does any one propose permanently to continue the Poor Law Guardians as they are now? In the course of this Debate we have had the negative given to that over and over again. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin, in concluding the able speech he made on this subject, said perfectly clearly he did not suppose for a moment that ex officio members of Boards of Guardians or the plural vote would be a permanent element in the arrangements made in connection with Guardians. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet said he did not so very much care about the ex officios. The proposition which the Member for Bodmin put forward, and which the Member for the Isle of Thanet supported, was that there should be some kind of minority representation—some kind of proportional representation. I have no doubt that when we get into Committee some proposition will be made on this subject, as it was made on the County Council Bill of 1888.For my own part, I have never been able to see that we shall really very seriously alter the character of the representation on these 243 Representative Bodies by adopting such a proposal. But, I shall not be expected to go into that very difficult question at the present moment. It will be discussed on its own merits at the proper time. What I want to press on hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on this most important matter of the Poor Law is this: Why do you urge us to put off his question at the present time? Is it not wiser, on the whole, to change the character of these Boards into more popular and democratic bodies than they are at present rather than leave Poor Law, and Poor Law alone, high and dry, as it were, open to attack from every quarter in consequence of its present method of representation being so entirely out of harmony with the other principles which guide our local government? Are you not actually creating the very danger which you want to avoid? It is said we are engaged in the study of a great many now problems in connection with Poor Law administration. I venture to say that the problems are really not new. All those who have been interested in Poor Law administration have been asking a variety of questions on this subject in the past, and will ask them again so long as our system of Poor Law relief goes on in this country for years to come. There are those who urge that you can get rid of pauperism by strict administration of the Poor Law, and, up to a certain point, there is a great deal of sound sense in what is so urged. But people will continue to ask the question, while technically you may get rid of pauperism, to what extent will you get rid of what is really poverty? They will also ask, however much you may systematise your charitable arrangements, what is the exact difference, as regards the recipient, between the receipt of State relief by the pauper and the receipt of carefully organised charity by the recipient of that charity? And there will be those who for a very long time to come will compare and contrast the advantages of indoor and outdoor relief, especially in the case of the aged poor in our country districts. There will be those who will believe that, as far as possible, you must make arrangements—such as those described by the hon. Member for Liverpool when he spoke of the West Derby workhouse—to make the people as com- 244 fortable and as happy as possible within the walls of the workhouse. There will be those who will take the view that there should be nothing in the real sense of what may be called either comfort or happiness in the fullest degree in our workhouses. You will find over and over again in our villages deserving old men who, like one I have in mind, prefer to tight for their living outside the Union, because they can do a bit of work in their garden when they feel able, can get up when they like, and go to bed when they choose, are not locked up at night, and can have their victuals when it suits them. There are two points of view, and there will be two points of view among the administrators of our system of outdoor relief for many "a year to come, and I think it will be very much wiser at once to popularise these bodies, and accustom them to the system of things as it is. Let them face all the difficulties of the system as it now is, and of its responsibilities. Lot them become accustomed to it at once, and if, as time goes on, changes are proposed which might be considered dangerous, those who think them dangerous will find it better and easier to fight those proposed changes than if they had to fight at the same time a proposition which we may not all agree with, to do away with the ex officio element and the plural vote. I hope we shall find no serious opposition to this conception of the Government's scheme, because I believe that in the very interests of those who are advocates of what is called wise and strict Poor Law administration such opposition would be a very great mistake. We have been told that the ex officio Chairmen of Guardians are almost essential in the work of good administration of Poor Law relief. My right hon. Friend has had some figures taken out on this matter. There are 648 Unions, and, therefore, there are 648 Chairmen of Boards of Guardians in the country. Now, of these only 249 are ex officio. Of course, the total number of purely urban Boards of Guardians out of these 648 is comparatively small in proportion, but my right hon. Friend has not given me the figures bearing upon these. Then, of the Vice Chairmen, who also are important persons to consider in this matter, out of the 648 only 109 are ex officio. That shows that there is a 245 very large proportion of Chairmen, and a still larger proportion of Vice Chairmen, who are already taken from among the elected members. There is, I think, another ground why we need not fear any very rash expenditure of rates in connection with District or Parish Councils. It is a common experience of those who are interested in an increase of expenditure of rates on genuinely good and advantageous objects, such as free libraries or some public improvement which would confer great benefit, especially on the poorer classes of the community, to find the greatest difficulty in persuading the ratepayers that it is a right thing, even those ratepayers who do not pay rates themselves directly at all. I have again and again found, in connection with School Board matters, when somewhat advanced proposals have been made as regards new schools and the like, that ratepayers, say, in a colliery district, where nearly every occupier does not pay rates directly but indirectly, entertain an extreme and generally an overpowering fear of any increase of rates in consequence. It may be said that this is because they fear that rents may be increased; but we know that in country districts it is very difficult to raise rents, because the cottages are often let at really charity rents which do not pay interest on the capital invested. And, in addition to that, it must be borne in mind that in the country villages for a long time to come the landlord and farmer will still possess very large influence over those to whom they pay wages and lot cottages, and would be able to prevent any proposal to increase the rates in a rapid or dangerous manner. I hope we shall take this opportunity to democratise the system of administration. We must recognise that there is a great deal in the administration of the Poor Law system, especially in the country, which is extremely mechanical, and which, with reference especially to children, requires a great deal of improvement. We ought to welcome that increase of local interest and local supervision which we may hope will arise from the adoption of the elective principle. The Government only ask that the people who will be elected members of these bodies under this Bill shall be put into what may fairly be called a responsible position as 246 soon as possible, and base their action upon the votes of the masses of the ratepayers, in order that they may then learn to consider the most important question of what is the effect on character of Poor Law relief, whether indoor or outdoor, and how they may best tend to avert bad habits among those who receive relief and to encourage good habits in the interest of the community. I wish to say one or two words on the suggestion of extravagance on the part of Parish Councils. Let us consider what, in the case of a country village, is the actual condition of things we have to face. We have to face the position, of a large number of communities in, which the tenants hold, as a rule, only from year to year, and in the South of England, at any rate, only from week to week, and in which, as an Assistant Commissioner said the other day, a most numerous class of labourers are placed in a precarious and dependent position because they have—To look to their employer both for their wages and for their house, and are liable to be turned out at a week's notice if they disagree with the employer.We have to face a condition of things in which even now, notwithstanding what has been done, allotments are too few and too small, and in many cases the rent is unreasonably high. Then, from a social point of view, we find, as another of these Commissioners said—The lack of rational and wholesome recreation one of the chief defects of village life,and it is a want that might easily be met by a little kindly organisation, but without, as he said—The grandmotherly control which too often renders such attempts unpopular.We have also to bear in mind that the great bulk of the labourers have to rely on pauperism when they are past work. This state of things, which is familiar to many of us, is not a state of things, which we expect to abolish by setting up Parish and District Councils. I do not say for a moment that we shall change the economic condition of the labourers and artisans in our villages by any Bill or Act which Parliament may pass; but I do think we can improve the spirit in which these matters are being met and grappled with; that we can, to some extent, render more hopeful the 247 outlook for those who have to endure the poverty which is so rife in our country villages. After all, the things which Parish Councils will have to do will often be very small indeed, and need not be very expensive; but, though very small, they are just as important in their way as some of the large schemes of improvement in our great towns. Take the question of water. There are villages where a decent supply of good water is wholly wanting, and where a very modest expenditure would alter the condition of things altogether. In the case of lighting, I have known villages in which propositions have been made and carried out to devote small sums of money to the purpose of lighting, so that the inhabitants shall not be subject to the inconvenience of going about at night in dark streets, and that has been done at an extremely moderate expense. In the matter of sanitation, a "ditch or drain prejudicial to health, "with the word "nuisance "or the like, as found in the Bill, may mean very little in connection with ii single cottage, but may be of as great importance to a village as a great scheme of drainage to a large town. It may, too, involve the health of the family living in the cottage. Rights of way, again, are matters of great importance to rural communities, for a humble path across a few fields may be as necessary to a labourer as a great canal or highway to a large community. Again, upon the increase in the size of allotments may, in some cases, depend the question of food or no food. In regard to libraries, many must see that the day is approaching when the most intelligent villagers will ask for some public provision of decent literature in their midst. The progress in the matter of evening continuation schools is so rapid that it causes me to anticipate a possible uncomfortable quarter of an hour with my right bon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who may, in the present state of the Revenue, administer to me a reproof on this subject. Where, however, people in villages are willing to help, it will be found that a very reasonable and good supply of books can be provided without any very formidable expense. It seems to me, therefore, that without anticipating any great economical change, we may, under this Bill, look for a great 248 deal that will prove of the highest importance. We may hope for that kind of corporate action which will bring about the association of different classes, which is a matter of such great importance in a country like ours. Persons sitting on, the Parish Councils will learn to know and appreciate one another in a manner which they have never done before. I remember being very much struck with a Debate in the House of Lords two or three years ago, in which the Duke of St. Albans moved that the property qualification for County Magistrates should be done away with. The Motion was supported by Earl Cowper and some Chairmen of County Councils upon the ground that since the establishment of County Councils they, as Chairmen of some of those Councils, had been brought into contact with many persons—farmers, tradesmen, and the like—had watched them do the work, and had come to the conclusion that these persons, though lacking the property qualification, were perfectly fit to be Magistrates. For their part, therefore, they wished the property qualification to be done away with. That was not, however, the view which the late Lord Chancellor and the majority of the House of Lords took, and the Motion of the Duke of St. Albans was not accepted. But the views of the supporters of the Resolution then proposed will be found, I think, in the future to be true in regard to the present Bill. Those of the wealthier classes who will sit hereafter on the Councils which the Bill proposes to establish will discover among their neighbours many qualities which they have not before detected, while the poorer members will learn to understand the motives and intentions of their more prosperous neighbours much better than they have ever done before when they come to sit side by side with them. The great advantage of publicity, too, will be apparent in every village, for the representatives of the people will often be asked for advice on small matters in which their poorer neighbours think they are subjected to injury, and experience shows that publicity is often the best antidote to petty tyranny. Continuity will also be secured. With a change of squire or the departure of a friendly clergyman voluntary arrangements for the public good often fall to the ground; but, under the Bill, the 249 great advantage of continuity will no longer be dependent on individual propositions or personal support, and I am of opinion that many of those who are really anxious to help and improve village life will most heartily welcome the establishment of Parish Councils. Most of us know of many owners of property and other persons of responsibility in country districts whose interest in life seems to be solely or mainly a love of sport or personal pomp; but there are also many who are as anxious to solve the social problems of the day as any man in the Kingdom. To those latter Parish Councils will be a perfect godsend. Nowadays, people in the villages are wont to say, "We look to you to do this or that, "whereas these owners will hereafter be able to reply, "You do it for yourselves, and we will help you to the best of our ability. "This will bring about a far better feeling between class and class, and will give a better opportunity to men and women of it he upper and middle classes who are anxious to solve some of those problems in a useful spirit. I have no wish to exaggerate the importance of the Bill; but I do think that, in its humble way, it is as important as the great Municipal Act of 1835. It will start the beginnings of municipal life, which will be really successful if only the right spirit is found to try and work them in a reasonable way. It will train many who now live in our villages without any knowledge of what self-government is; and that training will be valuable to them whether they remain in the villages or whether they go from them. I believe that town attractions will continue to draw away the best of our young men and women; but if they are brought up to see the villages on a self-governing basis, they will go to the towns with a better feeling; while, if they remain, they will stay in a place where poverty is not so hard to bear, because all people will feel that they count for something, and that they all have an interest in the community, however humble, to which they belong. All will agree that in democratic progress like that in which we are about to take a very important step in the passing of this Bill there is no going back, and it will be far bettor to go forward generously, judiciously, and fully. If we 250 show our interest in the subject by carrying the Bill through as a whole, we shall develop in our villages a sense of cooperative action which, when the Bill becomes an Act, will produce men and women of energy, insight, and self-respect, who will do admirable work under its provisions. If we fairly and sympathetically lead the dwellers in our villages to take a hopeful view, there is no need to fear a wasteful misuse of the opportunities about to be provided, and we shall find a large amount of intelligence, and a very strong sense of public duty. If the Bill, when it becomes an Act, is received, as I am sure it will be, in the country districts, it will prove a measure of great advantage to the nation, because it will cast upon the rural population a new sense of responsibility for the welfare of the community.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
Whatever comment or criticism the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just down might receive at our hands, I am sure, at all events, we shall all be glad to admit that he has approached this subject in the tone and temper of which an example was given by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, and which, I trust, will be maintained during the rest of our Debates, although it has been broken in one very significant instance by a colleague of the right hon. Gentleman. There is, indeed, a marked divergence between the manner in which the subject has been treated for the most part in this House and the manner in which the supporters of the present Government spoke on it outside. So long as they are not addressing you, Mr. Speaker, but speaking to their constituents and the public at large, they appear to think that this Bill will perform one of two great functions—either it will insure the passage of Home Rule in the next Parliament, or else, in addition to that great legislative advantage, it will bring about a condition of things in our rural districts which even the most sanguine prophet up to this time has hardly ventured to forecast in the dim and distant future. I think it was the Chief Secretary for Ireland who said that the establishment of Parochial Councils was going to re-introduce parochial prosperity, that "golden grain" was going to wave over fields now lying desolate because 251 their owners and cultivators had not had the advantage of electing members of the Parochial Councils. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has given us a picture of rural life which I do not recognise. He has indicated his belief that for the first time in the history of England apparently this Bill would make the owners and occupiers on the one side and the labouring classes on the other know each other——
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am very glad to think that the right hon. Gentleman did not make that statement, because, from such knowledge of rural life in Scotland and England as I possess, I affirm that there is not that division between the owners of property and the labouring classes which some hon. Gentlemen may desire to create, and that there is not that mutual ignorance which it requires a Parish Councils Bill to finally put an end to. I freely acknowledge that in what he has said the right hon. Gentleman, like the President of the Local Government Board, has given no occasion of offence to any class. In this respect his speech differed materially from that of the Under Secretary for India, who spoke from the Treasury Bench—I presume on behalf of the Government—on Friday night. The speech of that hon. Gentleman was not addressed to the Bill at all. It was a reminiscence, apparently, of some oration he had been making to the labourers in Bedfordshire, and I thought I saw in it adumbrations of some family quarrel which may have divided him from his usual supporters. The hon. Gentleman was good enough to tell us that until the passing of this Bill the agricultural labourers at the best were cyphers, or at the worst were serfs. He was apparently fond of that jingle of alliteration, because he told us it was a quotation from a speech of his own made in 1885. The hon. Gentleman is economical of his perorations, and appeared to think that a peroration which was suited to the Reform Bill of 1885, that gave the agricultural labourer the Parliamentary vote, was equally suitable to the Bill that gave the agricultural labourer a Parish Councils vote. But what exaggerated rubbish is this! These men, who it now appears are either serfs or cyphers, have got the vote for the County Councils; they have got a vote 252 for the return of Members to this House, and they have the honour, amongst other things, of returning the hon. Member himself. To tell us, then, that these men, have not got liberty, that they have been deprived up to the present moment of the liberties of citizenship, is to put a tax upon our common sense which I think the hon. Gentleman should reserve for his orations in his own county. His speech was not addressed to the merits or the demerits of this Bill. It was a mere platform performance, born out of due season and uttered, in the wrong place, and as such, I think, it might be consigned to obscurity. I should not have said a word about it but for the fact that I presume the hon. Gentleman represented the Government.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am glad to gather that the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for India did not speak for the Government.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
It does strike me that the right hon. Gentleman opposite has raised a point of some importance and interest. Most certainly during the whole of my recollection a Member of the Government not in the Cabinet, and whose Departmental labours are not in question, is never understood to speak for the Government. I mention this because in my early days it was a, common practice for Members of the Government not in the Cabinet to enter into general debate, and I think it was a very good practice. It has very much gone into desuetude of late years, and I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman because I thought that his remarks, tended to check the revival of that practice, which I confess I wish to see, within limits, revived.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman need offer no apology for his interruption, which I have heard with the greatest pleasure for a double reason. In the first place, I entirely agree with the general proposition he has laid down that it is not desirable to restrict too much the opportunities of participation in debate by subordinate Members of the Government, and I listened to him with pleasure in the second place, because, although I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to dissociate himself from the Member for 253 Bedfordshire, he is apparently not prepared to associate himself with that hon. Member. That is a half-admission which I receive from the right hon. Gentleman with great pleasure. I should wish to allude to one of the two questions that have been raised in the Debate—questions that are settled and questions that are unsettled. In dealing with questions that have been settled, I would allude particularly to the question of Church charities. The declarations of the Government upon this subject as to the way they have acted and what they desire to obtain are so clear and explicit that I shall ask nothing more from them at the present stage of the Bill, but will reserve myself till we come to Committee, with the view of seeing that the policy they have declared is really adequately and completely carried out by the clauses of the Bill as provided by them. I pass from that to the question of the division, or rather the amalgamation, of parishes. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down occupied some part of his speech in drawing a comparison between the policy pursued by the Government find the policy pursued by ourselves when we were responsible for Bills dealing with local government, and the right hon. Gentleman congratulates himself that he, in his Bill, is going to take advantage of that sentiment of local patriotism which already exists in the case of the parishes, and which he desires to utilise for purposes of local government. I think that is one of the advantages of the scheme of the Government. I do not say whether their scheme is as good as or better than our scheme, but I say if you are going to draw upon this local parochial patriotism for the proper carrying out of your measure, do not deal with it by halves. How can you effectively utilise the local patriotism of the parish when you amalgamate it with or merge it in something else? The local patriotism will vanish; you will destroy that which exists, and you will make no provision for any new thing taking the place of that which you have destroyed. I would earnestly beg the Government to consider whether the concession they have indicated is sufficient to carry out their own objects, and whether in Committee it would not be desirable to go even yet a step further, 254 and while not precluding or preventing amalgamation, at all events leaving it as voluntary with the parishes to be amalgamated, whether they will or will not lose their individuality in some larger unit to be created? I come to a question of even greater importance—the power which you propose to delegate to the Parish Councils; and though I think some of the powers, perhaps, require guarding and restricting, my complaint rather is that the powers are not numerous enough than that they are too numerous. There is one power you have given which, I think, ought not to be allowed to pass this House without amendment—I mean that particular provision with regard to the compulsory purchase of land. Is it fair to turn a Government Department in these days into a judicial tribunal from which there is no appeal? To make a Local Government Board Inspector the absolutely final arbitrator on real property in our districts is to throw upon the Department a burden it is not qualified or fitted to bear. I am afraid, in this connection, that there is a tendency at the present time to turn these great Departments of the State into political engines, a tendency which is new, which, I think, is deplorable, and which, I think, ought to be put an end to. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke before me—the Minister for Education—has, if I am not misinformed, with regard to his own Department over and over again used the powers of that Department to squeeze the voluntary schools, and, by squeezing the voluntary schools, to carry out the policy of particular portions of the community.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Squeeze them out of existence. It would not be in Order for me to go at length into the official action of the right hon. Gentleman now, but I shall be prepared, whenever the occasion arises, to make good my words on that point. All I am now saving is that I see a tendency to turn Public Departments into political instruments, and if that tendency is going to increase it will be even more difficult in the future than it is now to tolerate such a state of things as that a Local Government Board Inspector shall be an omnipotent arbitrator as to the value of laud and houses. [Ministerial cries of 255 "Arbitration!"] No; but it is not worth while going into that. [Laughter.] Well, I will point out, then, that arbitration does come in with regard to price, but not with regard to compulsory purchase; and on both those points I do not think that the machinery of a Local Government Board Inspector, whether supplemented or not by an arbitrator, is safe or just. I will first deal with what is by far the most important question raised by this Bill. It is a question which has evidently pre-occupied both the Government and everyone else interested in the matter more than any other, but it is one on which the Government have not given us a very full or fair measure of argument. I allude to the question of financial responsibilities. I appeal to the great number of gentlemen who take a great interest in local government to say whether it is not the fact that the whole essence of good government is sound and economic finance. The danger, and almost the only danger, which I see in the future with regard to the local government of England is the danger of financial extravagance; and I do not think that the Government have adequately faced the dangers which are before them, or provided adequate remedies and safeguards against those dangers. Consider how we in this House fence ourselves round, as far as we can, with precautions against our own extravagance. Consider the traditions which govern our actions; the provisions which prevent private Members from proposing an increase of expenditure; the enormous and ponderous machinery of the Treasury against which much may possibly be said, but which has this enormous advantage: that it makes expenditure by any Public Department a matter of such intolerable difficulty that any Minister—no matter how anxious he may be to carry out special schemes connected with his own Department—shrinks from the inevitable evils of a controversy with this powerful organisation. I do not complain of it, though I may have done so when I was a Minister. Looking at it from the point of view of Government economy, I think it is absolutely necessary. And yet, with all these precautions, how difficult it is to keep down expenditure. How difficult it is to keep it down in the Local Bodies which you have already created. Look 256 at the increased expenditure in the counties and in the boroughs since you have given them democratic government. Look at the alarming growth of local indebtedness. Many good things may be said of that form of democratic government with the burdens of which the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down occupied us. But this-cannot be said of it—that it is a form of government tending to economy. And yet you are going to give the power of practically unlimited expenditure to the new Local Bodies which you are going to create under circumstances which, as I shall show, offer fewer safeguards for economy and more temptations to expenditure than any form of representative government in the world. When a gentleman comes forward to represent a ward in his borough he is elected by a most varied constituency for most varied and complex objects. When he comes forward as a candidate for this House, again, he represents a most varied constituency, and is elected for most varied and complex objects, of which expenditure is only one. He is elected for reasons connected with all the diffused and complicated life of a great community; and naturally, therefore, even those persons who are not directly interested in public economy—if there are such—have no motive whatever for electing a man merely because he says he is going to make a free expenditure of public funds. But that is not the case with these new bodies. Almost all the gentlemen who have spoken from the Government Bench have had their eye upon the urban districts, and not upon the thinly-populated rural districts. But take a very common case—take the case of a small parish owned, perhaps, by one man, and farmed at the most by two or three men. That is not uncommon. In cases like that the whole rates at present, are, and will be in the future, paid by those three or four men—by the occupiers in the first place, and by the owner in the long run. You are going to make a constituency in which these three men, as far as their electoral value is concerned, will not count at all, and in which all the power of expenditure will be given to the more than 90 per cent. of the people in the parish who do not, directly or indirectly, pay 6d. to the rates, and who only in 257 a remote degree are interested in seeing that parochial economy is observed. Is there any resemblance between that state of things and the conditions in an urban district? There the houses are let on commercial principles. There, if the rates go up, the rents go up very quickly; and it is brought home to the compound householder very clearly that, if the borough in which he lives chooses to be extravagant, he will have to pay, directly or indirectly, and pretty quickly. Is that the case in the rural parish? The cottages are possibly not let for money at all. There is actually no rent, or the rent is paid by the farmer. From time immemorial the cottages have not been let for a commercial rent at all, but for a fixed rate of so much per week; and though the landlord may greatly improve his cottages, and generally ameliorate the condition of the labourer, he does not add to the rent. How are you going to bring home to the voters of that district that parochial extravagance means to them, in the long run, an increase in the rate? You cannot do it, because it is not the fact. What is the fact? That perhaps in the not very distant future, if the rates are raised beyond a certain point, the land will go out of cultivation, or that other and cheaper forms of labour will be employed; that the demand for labour will in some way be diminished. But that is a remote penalty to hold over a man for municipal extravagance, and Members of the Government who talk glibly of the economy which is to be practised in these rural districts have not considered the ordinary motives by which ordinary human beings are animated, and have not recognised that the English rural labourer is like the parson, the squire, and the farmer, none of whom can be safely entrusted with the expenditure of other people's money. In order to bring this fact, if possible, home to the minds of hon. Members, let me take a very simple illustration—an extreme, but not an impossible case, which, though extreme, could probably be paralleled in a large number of districts. It is the case in which most of the land is practically both owned and occupied by the resident squire. In that parish you set up a Parish Council. The Parish Council decide that they would like compulsorily to hire one of the fields most convenient to themselves, and, 258 as I will assume for the sake of argument, most necessary for the cultivation of one of the farms of the parish. The First Commissioner of Works, in alluding to this particular danger—that the land particularly valuable for cultivation would be taken for parochial purposes—said, "Oh, in that case there will be great damages to be paid for severance, and the cost of the proceeding will be so great that the Parish Council will not indulge in it." But the cost will not fall upon them, but upon the farmer. The farmer will appeal to the Local Government, Board's valuer for a specially high price for the field taken from him, and that price will be paid by himself, and by no one else. A few years elapse, and this land, compulsorily hired, is thrown upon the farmer's hands again in a very exhausted condition. Of course, no hardship can arise out of that, because the Bill provides that there shall be ample compensation in every such case. But who pays this ample compensation? Why, the very man from whom the field has been taken. First, then, you destroy his farm at his own expense; then you destroy the land which has been taken from him; and, finally, you throw the land back on his hands and make him pay for the deterioration which has been inflicted upon him. Is that a system which you can tolerate? Of course, such cases will not be common, but cases very nearly the same would be common. How many parishes there are where the people who would feel the rate are the smallest possible percentage of the total voting community, and they are the very people who would gain nothing by the expenditure of the rates. It is not the large ratepayers who want playgrounds, and allotments, and village libraries; so that you really are setting I up this state of things. Those who have the whole control of the finance of the community are divided into two sections—a very small section which pays parochial rates and gets no benefit from them, and a very large section which pays no parochial rates and gets all the benefit from them. That is an impossible system. There is no real resemblance between that system and the system already existing, either in regard to counties or boroughs. I never have denied that in both those cases the compound householder was a real danger. 259 But that danger is minimised by the complexity of our institutions, and the vast number of small ratepayers, and by many other circumstances, none of which exists in the rural districts. In the absence of these safeguards, I do not believe it would be safe to pass into law the financial system which you have chosen to embody in your Bill; and you talk, and in my opinion you talk rightly, of the educational value of local institutions, and the responsibility thrown for the management of his community upon the rural voter. Sir, your whole machinery will be an instrument not of education, but of demoralisation, if you allow this question of finance to divide the classes who are to vote upon the Parish Council, and if you divorce all the duties and privileges of the electorate from the inevitable cost of bearing the expense which local institutions must necessarily entail. So far as I am at present advised, I should not propose in Committee to alter the existing system of the incidence of rating at all; but I do think that the parochial rate should be paid by the constituency by which the Parish Council is elected. I am perfectly unable to perceive any argument in favour of such a proceeding as that proposed. If this House were to become the mere slave of the convenience of the tax collector—for that is what it comes to—you must collect the poor rates by the method known as the compound householder system. I told the House a short time ago that I thought, in some respects, the powers conferred upon the Parish Councils might with advantage be extended. Upon this point I object to lay down any dogmatic statement, or to make any cut-and-dried proposal to the House; but I would suggest to the House and to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill that it would be proper, when you are bringing into existence these Parish Councils, you should give them some power, at any rate, over our system of education. I do not believe that if you set up your Parish Councils you will be able, in the long run, to keep side by side a School Board elected for the same area and by the same people. I think the thing is absurd. I am not suggesting now that School Boards should be abolished in this Bill, but I do think there are certain powers in connection with education which ought 260 to be given at once and in this Bill to Parish Councils. There is one point which is very important. This Parish Council is to manage the finances of the parish; it is to be responsible for the parochial budget, and has to determine what the parish can afford for this budget. How can it do that if there is a School Board in the same area that has the right to impose any rate it pleases on the parish, and no Local Authority of any sort has the smallest title to interfere? I think this is most absurd, and I think that those who are responsible for preparing the parochial budget should have something to say to the School Board expenditure, and should be able, in the interest of local finances, to put some kind of check upon the possibly excessive demands made upon the Local Boards by the School Board Committee. That point, I admit, is surrounded by difficulties, and I only suggest the matter to the right hon. Gentleman as one which is worthy of very careful consideration. But there are two points in which no difficulty will be found. The right hon. Gentleman has acted with great Departmental discretion, and I think he will probably receive my suggestion with favour. We were told by the Home Secretary that the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last was in love with the denominational system. If that is so, he has dissembled his favour with great success up to the present time. He has told us, among other things, that he had forced in one or two cases School Boards upon parishes where there has been some kind of a meeting to make a demand for such a School Board, but which, so far as I know, on no ground would be said to express the deliberate will of the ratepayers.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I will not enter into a debate with the right hon. Gentleman across the floor of the House, but I have not made the statement without inquiring into the facts.
§ MR. ACLAND
The only case in which anything has been done resembling what the right hon. Gentleman complains of is the case of the closure of certain schools, and ever since the Act of 1870—in Mr. Forster's time more frequently than in mine—School Boards were occasionally set up on the closure of 261 a particular school. This is an extremely rare case.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I was probably mistaken in my facts. My impression is that there hare been other cases.
§ MR. ACLAND
Any mooting of ratepayers can vote for a School Board in any parish throughout the Kingdom, and I have nothing to do with it except to set it up.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
At all events, I understood that the right hon. Gentleman had reluctantly set up School Boards in certain places in consequence of the decision of non-representative meetings of ratepayers. I wish to save him from that in the future, and I hope an Amendment, will be placed on the Paper, by which all power will he taken away from casual meetings of ratepayers, and in which the Parish Council, with the assent of the Parish Assembly, shall alone be competent to demand that in any given parish a School Board should be set up. There is another point also connected with education which I would with equal earnestness press upon the right hon. Gentleman, and with regard to which I hope an Amendment will be moved. When a School Board has been set up it is excessively difficult to get rid of it. I believe there are legislative powers in the Act of 1878 by which, under certain circumstances, if there be no property belonging to a School Board, it is possible to get rid of it. I think that power should be very greatly enlarged. After all, if there be property belonging to a School Board it is parish property, and it might be dealt with by the Parish Council, and ought to be dealt with by the Parish Council. I certainly should vote for an Amendment which would hand back to persons willing to undertake the responsible duties of education, if and when the Parish Council, with the assent of the ratepayers, should make a demand to that effect. It would give an enormous elasticity to the educational system, and would relieve the right hon. Gentleman from a great many disagreeable duties. We should then get rid of many School Boards, which are only a burden to the parish rates, and there would be a much-needed protection to the voluntary system which, unfortunately, does not now exist. I leave the question of Parish Councils, and come to 262 the vast, more vital, and more important question of the Poor Law. The Government will not say they have nailed their colours to the mast upon the question whether it shall be dealt with in this Bill or not, but they have given a very clear indication of the policy of which they approve. I do not agree with that policy, and my first reason for disagreeing with it is entirely drawn from the convenience of Parliamentary attendances and the exigencies of Parliamentary time. Mr. Ritchie's Bill of 1888 was a longer Bill than this; it was largely a Bill of uncontroversial machinery, and certainly did not contain so many questions requiring the critical scrutiny of this House as the Bill now before us. It took 41 days to pass, and I cannot see how the present Bill, if you are going to keep in Part II., is to take a day loss. How are we going to find 41 days, and how we are going to do more work for 41 days, I confess I do not clearly understand. This is a question which affects the majority quite as much as the minority, but if the Government determine, in the interests of Parliament and in the interests of the progress of our business, to throw this enormous burden upon the Parliamentary machine, we shall not shrink from our duties. I make this suggestion in no spirit of hostility to the Bill, but merely having before my eyes, or rather burnt into my memory, the recollection of the great time which it has taken on a previous occasion to discuss, even in the most friendly spirit, the extension of local government in our rural districts. I assume, for the sake of argument, that Parliamentary time affords no obstacle, and the reasons for not dealing with the Poor Law appear to mo to be absolutely overwhelming. I myself belong to that school, not confined to one Party, who think that the Poor Law must, sooner or later, be dealt with by Parliament. The Act of 1834 deserves all the praise given to it by the head of the Local Government Board. That Act has now been in operation for 60 years, and it is only natural in a society whose ideas have altered, and even grown, in those years, and whose social condition has somewhat varied, that the time has come for the whole system of Poor Law relief to be overhauled and revised. That fact is the reason why I do not wish it to be 263 dealt with in this Bill, which only touches the fringe of the question. Any change in the Poor Law system is full of danger, and the change in the Bill, taken by itself, will do nothing to remedy the evils which now attach to the system. What is the danger facing us with regard to the Poor Law? I say any change made by the Bill will be a danger. Why has the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board glided very quickly over this part of the question? We all see that he is not easy upon this question, and that those on his side of the House are not easy upon it. The right hon. Member for Halifax, who has great official experience of these questions, appears to think that the scheme of the Government should be modified root and branch as far as the second part of the Bill is concerned. The reason we all look with apprehension on these things is this. If a Town Council foolishly expends the rates, if a County Council does not exercise the powers given to it with judgment, nothing worse happens than that the rates are augmented, and the machinery of industry is clogged and hampered; and suffering may be entailed on the poorer class of ratepayer and inconvenience on the richer class. But when you come to questions of Poor Law, you are dealing with something more than temporary mistakes. A temporary mistake in the matter of giving outdoor relief is not a thing you can remedy by altering your Poor Law Board; it is not to be measured by the mere increase of rates, or by the mere increase of cost to the ratepayer. The evil is one of demoralisation; the evil which you have to avoid is the evil of spreading again among the population of the rural districts those views which, as near as possible, brought this country to ruin 60 years ago. I wish hon. Members who, perhaps, retain a shadowy recollection of the studies of their youth, would cast their eyes over the Blue Book of 1834, in which the Royal Commission detailed not only the steps they proposed should be taken to deal with the evils then existing in poor relief, but the character of those evils themselves. Hon. Members will see that we were met with a social catastrophe compared with which nothing has occurred, or, I hope, will ever occur, in this 264 country. I am sure that if the House takes that fact to heart they will feel that to deal lightly with the whole system of Poor Law election on no better reason than it happens to fit in with a few formulæ—I will not say claptrap expressions, but a few general statements with regard to democratic principles—is to run a public risk which no Government has a right to run. This question must be looked at on all sides before it is touched. You do not know where you are going; you do not know what you are to propose in future. You have not prepared our minds for an examination of the question by the Report of a Royal Commission which has examined the whole question; but, at a moment's notice, in obedience to commonplace formulæ you propose to> alter a system which, be it good or be it bad, has saved the country in the past, and which you cannot venture to alter unless you know exactly what you mean to substitute for it in the future. It has been said over and over again that the ex officio Guardian and the plural voting are doomed. As a question of political prophecy, I have no doubt they are, and I do not think it is to our credit as a political nation, or to our statesmanship, that we have to recognise the fact of the system; we may regret that it is doomed, but I grant it. I do not believe myself that, in the first place, it is impossible to find some other system better than the one in the Bill dealing with the question; and, in the second place, I protest, whether it is possible or not, against dealing with this fragmentary aspect of a most momentous question, and in not laying broad foundations in the minds of our legislators and the public to guide our deliberations in the long run what your policy ought to be by a careful and impartial inquiry, such as that which preceded the passing of the great Act of 1834. Then only can you proceed with safety; then only shall I regard the proposal without misgiving and apprehension, not founded on any class jealousy, and not with any special regard for the large ratepayers, the small ratepayers, or the non-ratepayers, but a misgiving founded on the unhappy experience which shows the enormous powers of demoralisation possessed by an ill-administered system of Poor Law. As far as I can see, you have 265 not considered these points in your present Bill, which does nothing to alter the actual provisions of the Act of 1834; it does much more than this—it alters the whole machinery by which that Act is to be administered. I throw out a suggestion merely on my own behalf. Something might be said for a system by which your Poor Law Guardians should be elected, not directly by popular vote, but directly by your popularly-elected Parish Councils. If that were done they would resemble the American Senate, and the plan would not be open to the invidious objection that the authorities were elected by a privileged class. You would in that way get a body of persons who could exercise with safety the immense responsibilities now thrown on the Poor Law Guardians. No doubt there are many objections to that plan, but, so far as I have considered it, I prefer it enormously to the crude proposal yon have embodied in this Bill. It would also possess the important merit that it would save you one election. Country life is now becoming intolerable, because of the numerous elections constantly taking place, and even those who, like myself, are firm believers in representative government will agree with me that an election is an unhappy necessity of that form of government, and is not desirable or lovely in itself. However the House may ultimately deal with this question—whether it will adopt the suggestion I have thrown out, or whether it will adopt the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin, for which there is a great deal to be said, and introduce some form of minority representation in the election of Poor Law Guardians—I hope it will recognise, if it insists on dealing with the Poor Law, that it opens up an enormous question, a question on which a brief discussion is absolutely impossible, and as to which it will necessarily be obliged to consider the whole substance of our present Poor Law administration if it changes the machinery by which that administration is now being conducted. I have now, not in an unfriendly spirit, made my humble contribution to the criticisms of this Bill. That it will fulfil a tithe of the hopes which some of its supporters anticipate from it I do not believe, and I do not think that in their more sober moments they anticipate that 266 it will realise those hopes; but that it is possible to do something to ameliorate the condition of rural life, that it is desirable in any case to extend the system of local self-government, in large areas by County Councils, and in smaller areas by Parochial Councils and otherwise, we are all agreed. If this Bill be discussed in the tone and temper shown, by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of it, or by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and if we succeed in keeping out of our Debates other gentlemen who are unable to forget the hustings when they stand at this Table, then I believe that not in a very short time or with a brief discussion, but, at all events, some time or another, we shall be able to turn this Bill into a real and substantial improvement of our existing; system of local administration.
§ * MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
said, he was prevented by illness alone from being present to hear the lucid statement of the President of the lucid Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler). He recognised in every way the desire there was on both sides of the House to give to the agricultural labourer some interest calculated to lift him out of the mere routine of his daily life, and make him a real man, and not a mere human machine. But the experience of local government everywhere pointed to the fact that unless great care was taken they might utterly fail in the object they had in view; for if they multiplied indefinitely local governing and taxing authorities, without organising all into one simple and complete system, they would make it impossible for the people to have any real knowledge or control of their affairs. They would prevent the best men from coining forward and giving that devotion to the Public Service which was absolutely necessary in a work at once so minute and so important, and upon which they knew, from their own experience in England, that not only the prosperity but the character of their people depended. In America, where they bad multiplied elections and elective offices indefinitely, the system was inefficient, excessively corrupt and expensive to a degree, which an old country like this could not possibly endure without ruin. To judge from the thoughtless and ignorant way in which many people talked of the relief 267 of the poor (who had not given real study and labour to their service) one could not but suppose that they had never known, or utterly forgotten, that England, previous to 1834, was on the brink of financial and moral ruin, and the great bulk of the agricultural labouring class were being driven to become paupers and their women prostitutes. That sounded strong language, but he defied anyone of ordinary common sense and experience to read the Report of the Poor Law Commission of 1834 without admitting that it was absolutely justified. The Bill proved that the President of the Local Government Board had not overlooked this danger of multiplication and confusion of areas and administration, for there were provisions that the Local Councils could, if they chose, undertake duties and responsibilities of some of the minor Local Authorities, such as Burial Boards; and they must take over those of the Highway Authorities. He thought they might infer from the experience of the past that those provisions, where optional, would not be effective, or likely to be put in force. Whenever they sought to merge or combine Local Authorities, though the combination might be greatly to the convenience of the ratepayers, both in finance and administration, there were almost inevitably susceptibilities which were affected, and questions raised as to the exact rights of each in the settlement; and those to whom such powers of organisation were entrusted, having their hands pretty full with carrying on the work to the satisfaction of their constituents, avoided and postponed acting on such powers of simplification and rectification. It would be found that the Local Government Board itself had been very slow to act on the powers confided to it for this purpose, and the County Councils had, he was informed, been equally remiss in acting on them. He felt convinced that if they wanted this rectification and simplification of areas to be effectually carried out, they must entrust it to a very powerful Commission, in whose decision general confidence could be placed, and whose decisions—so long as they coincided with the provisions of the law and the Rules laid down by the Local Government Board—would be final, and accepted as such. The President of the Local 268 Government Board had said that it was impossible to carry out a proper scheme of local government if District Councils were not formed. But Members who had taken deep interest in Poor Law matters looked with great alarm on the dangers of removing any precautions against an extravagant and lax administration of poor relief; for they held, like the late Duke of Wellington and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the new Poor Law was one of the best, most courageous, and most beneficial measures ever passed by our Parliament. Under that law there was an attempt clumsily carried out to check lavish and expensive administration by giving ex officio Guardians—men of property and leisure—a certain representation on the Governing Body, and direct power of making their voices heard. But this was ill-constructed, and unaccompanied by what would have been a much more effective safeguard—placing on owners of property the direct contribution to the work, and giving them, as tax-payers, representation in its management. This was a great mistake when they considered how large a portion of local government under modern systems applied to the good management of property, and how deeply owners were indirectly and unrecognisedly interested in the heavy debts which had become necessary in carrying out the largely increasing modern demands of local government. He would ask the Government and the House to consider whether in dealing with this, by far the largest, most expensive, and most important part of local government, they should do so without rectifying the injustice of the financial basis on which the taxation for local government rested? For, as he thought he could show, not only was our system financially unjust, but its effect upon administration, and through administration on the character of our people, was faulty and dangerous. In England rates fell upon the occupier only, and were not divided, as they were in Scotland and partly in Ireland, between occupier and owner. There was no doubt that in the course of time, when the pressure became intolerable, part of it was transferred to the owner; but look at the monstrous injustice in the fact that in bad times the rise or fall of taxation to meet them fell 269 upon the occupier only, who was the weaker party and least able to bear it. But that was not the only, or even the main, evil of the system. The owner class, who were, as a rule, the wealthier and the most leisured, not feeling the direct impact of the rise of rates, did not take the interest they ought to take, and did take in Scotland, where the rates were divided and local debt accumulated on their shoulders, to which their property alone remained permanently liable. Nor was the pecuniary evil the most serious one. Expenditure met by easily-raised loans was sure to be lax, and lax expenditure in local affairs meant corruption, mismanagement, and the demoralisation of those for whose benefit it was supposed to be expended. This was no mere theory. They knew that in Scotland, where rates were divided, owners took a most active interest in local government; and it was somewhat remarkable that when the Leader of the Opposition's Bill for Local Government in Ireland was before the House, two of the ablest of the Irish Party, while objecting to his proposed plan of representing ownership, admitted in the fullest manner the importance of bringing the owner and leisured class into more active share in local government, and actually proposed that the rates should be divided, and that the owners should have directly one-half of the representation. That would be a great deal too much, for several reasons. Finance was not the only, or the most important, object of local government; and very likely, if they had to elect half, they would not find a sufficient number of owners steadily to take active part in it. In the second place, it would be very undesirable that those owners who did take active interest in local government relied on their power, and not on their knowledge, experience, and good work. If numbers were equal, there would inevitably be jealousy between the representatives chosen by different votes. But if there were a decided minority, who could only reason and not out-vote, that jealousy would not exist. They knew that from what happened now; the present system of ex officio Guardians was very naturally objected to. It allowed all Magistrates to come and vote when they pleased, and most of them took absolutely no in- 270 terest or part in the labour of Poor Law administration and local government, but often flocked in when an appointment was to be made to out-vote those who-attended regularly. That, of course, was unfair and intolerable. He had found, from a somewhat careful study of this question, that where the work of ex officio Guardians was left to a few Magistrates who attended regularly the Boards of Guardians, did their share of the work, and thoroughly informed themselves of it, they were welcomed most cordially by their colleagues; and, so far from any jealousy, they would find that one of them, having probably more leisure than most of the elected Guardians, would often be chosen Chairman, and just the Unions so governed were the most economical and carefully managed in the Kingdom. Now, if they allowed a quarter, or one-third, or one-sixth of the numbers of such Local Councils to be elected by the owners, they paying half of the rates, many of the very men they wanted, but men who would never push themselves forward for General Election, would be sought out as representatives by people who knew them, and be induced to take an active share in local government. He had said he did not care how few there were; but they did want some men representing leisure and the liabilities of property to local debt to ensure a careful and beneficial administration of local government. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) proposed this more than 20 years ago, and he had never spoken with anyone interested in good local government on either side who denied the fairness of this division, or that it must some time be made. Why not make it now, when they were dealing with the great mass of local government? Not only would they ensure its economy, but what, he repeated, was far more important—its careful and wise administration. He knew it might be said that if owners of property would not take the trouble to look after its safety, their ruin was on their own heads. There might be something in that if they suffered alone, but they did not. The most disastrous effect of loose expenditure and lax management in these local affairs, especially Poor Law, was, they knew from their own experience, the demoralisation of the labour and character of their people. 271 One point more. For many years he believed no Local Government Bill had been proposed for any part of the United Kingdom, and certainly no Local Government Act passed, that had not had a definite limit on the amount that could be borrowed; and he believed that for 30 years no Constitution of a State had been passed in America without such limitation, and such limitation had been inserted in most of the Constitutions of the older States. When he first read this Bill he did not see any such restriction, but it was pointed out that such existed by a reference to a former Act which covered it. He thought the Government and the House would agree that the limitation on the amount which could be borrowed ought to be very clear on the face of the Act, otherwise these numerous new and inexperienced authorities might undertake operations beyond their powers, and it would lead to disappointment and friction, and perhaps mistakes, which it was most desirable to avoid. It had taken some time to ascertain what borrowing powers already existed, and would exist, over the same area. As far as he could judge, they were as follows:—Under this Bill the parish might borrow to the extent of two years' rateable value, with the consent of the Parish Meeting and of the District Council, and the Local Government Board, when they wanted to borrow more than one year's rateable value, the Local Government Board had to hold a local inquiry. This was, in addition to the District Council, under the Sanitary Acts, who also could borrow to the extent of two years' rateable value, and the Guardians, of one-fourth of a year's rateable value; the County Council to one-tenth annual rateable value. Besides this, the Burial Boards, School Boards, and other Local Authorities had independent powers which had been exercised. The two years' rateable value, which these small parishes would have the power of borrowing, would require very close supervision, if it was not sometimes to be used very imprudently and undesirably. At any rate, the amount of the limit to which they could borrow ought to be made very clear on the face of the Bill. Judging by the experience of the boroughs who had been the greatest borrowers, two years' rateable value, if they excluded water and 272 gas supply and what might be called profitable investments, ought to be sufficient for the wants of any district; but the accumulated powers now given to the various authorities more than doubled this limit of two years' rateable value. To put it in another way. It would be found that the powers thus given to the parish would, if used to the full, and the debt was to be repaid in 30 years, involve an annual rate of about 2s. 8d. in the £1 for interest and repayment of debt alone; while, with the borrowing powers of the District Council and other authorities, the rate for interest and repayment of all loans on the parish might be as much as 6s. 8d. in the £1. This was, in addition to any rate, for the current administration and expenditure. Of course, it was extremely unlikely that all these authorities would borrow to the maximum. To give some idea of the magnitude and importance of the work of the different Local Authorities, their debt as such, which was only (if he remembered right) about £30,000,000 when he began to call attention to this subject 25 years ago, was now, excluding the Metropolis, over £160,000,000, and he was afraid it had been increasing at the rate of about £4,500,000 a year. But of this £160,000,000, only £2,600,000 were the debts of the County Authorities outside the Metropolis. In nine years (from 1881–2 to 1890–1) the local indebtedness of the country (exclusive of London) increased nearly 27 per cent., whilst rateable value increased only 7½ per cent. He was very far from concluding or believing that a large part of this expenditure had not been wise and beneficial, but he did contend that it had not always, even in the large towns, been as economical or well managed as it ought to have been, and that in some of those small outside localities there had been not only laxity in management, but at times a want of strict honesty in the application of local funds. Even laxity was demoralising, and would be fatal if it extended to the Poor Law administration. He repeated, it was most important that they should have on the Local Governing Bodies many men of leisure, and men whose permanent interests in the property liable to debt and taxation would make them alive to check any laxity of expenditure or administration. To sum up what he had 273 ventured to suggest:—1. That the rectification and simplication of areas and boundaries should be no longer delayed, and a Commission appointed to carry it out. 2. That the rates should be divided between owners and occupiers, and that, to guard against too great laxity in increase of debt, owners should be given representation on the Governing Body. 3. That the limit of local indebtedness should be clear on the face of the Bill, and not left to be found out by reference to former Acts of Parliament. He also agreed with most of what was said by his right hon. Friends the Members for Halifax and Bodmin, that the arrangements for the smaller parishes might be considerably improved. In Committee he would venture to lay before the House Amendments to carry out the above suggestions; but if the President agreed to these suggestions in principle, no doubt with the very able assistance he had at hand he would be likely to improve upon them, and he had no affection for any special form in which the points he had suggested might be provided for. But he was satisfied that unless provided for, the Bill would not be as safe or as effective as he was sure its author intended it to be.
§ * MR. STEPHENS (Middlesex, Hornsey)
could assure the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down that there was little ground, indeed, for the charges he had made against the owning class for not taking a proper share in the work of local government. He desired to join in the thanks which had been very generally tendered to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board for the conciliatory and considerate attitude he had adopted towards the well-grounded objections made in the matter of the grouping of parishes. In his view, mere numbers seemed to make a very sorry test of the spirit and capacity of parishes for the management of their local affairs. He submitted that a far better test would be found in ascertaining whether the village was in itself a distinct community. If it was a distinct community, and if it desired to remain separate and independent, then he thought that though it might prove a very good friend and sterling rival, yet if they attempted to force a compulsory marriage upon it the parishes so united would harass and thwart one another, 274 and certainly they would live a cat-and-dog life together. He could not understand why the right hon. Gentleman should have risked encountering so much obstinate opposition, perhaps passionate opposition, as he was likely to do, only, be thought, in deference to an abstract centralising sentiment, because the right hon. Gentleman would find no difficulty in giving powers to the parochial electors in small parishes, and he might, as had been suggested by an hon. Baronet on that (the Opposition) side, make the parochial electors the body corporate of the parish and give them the common seal. That would leave things as they were, for there was no reason why the ratepayers should not continue to have vested in them the powers of a body corporate for their parish. In fact, they would find a fair analogy in a company. In such a case they did not make the Directors the body corporate of the company. They made the shareholders the body corporate, and the property was in their name and not in that of the Directors of the company. He would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the parochial electors should have the powers of this Act given them in small rural parishes. They should have power to appoint Parochial Committees, and various Committees, dividing the work according to aptitude and inclination. It was a question whether they could not have a system of Parochial Committees for the administration of small parishes and a Parish Council for the administration of large parishes. The two systems might run side by side, and then they would see whether the plan he suggested would not prove better than that of the official rigidity of the Parish Councils. Then he came to the question whether the Parish Councils was to be made irremovable for 12 months. This Bill had been recommended as restoring the right of self-government. But he did not understand the Homo Secretary, in making that assertion, to support it in any way. For his (Mr. Stephens's) part, ho understood the Bill to be one which took away important powers of self-government. It took away the meeting of ratepayers in open Vestry assembled, and proposed for it the feeble and halting substitute of the parish meeting. That substitute was very unsatisfactory. The evil was that the Bill forced upon the 275 ratepayers the surrender of their direct personal management; and he wanted to know what system of control was to be compared with that of the wholesome power which enabled a man to speak for himself, as no one else could, in the parish or district in which he resided and in which he was directly interested? This Bill seemed to him to force upon the ratepayers the surrender of direct personal management of parish affairs, and he held that that surrender should be qualified by some such powers as those exercised by shareholders in the case of their Directors. Nothing could be more injurious than that the ratepayers should have the feeling that their affairs were being mismanaged and improperly dealt with, and that they should be kept helpless for 12 months—until a time when it might be too late to interfere in order that interference might be effective. But there was another reason to be urged upon this point. It was, he considered, a very practical reason. The Parish Councils members would very frequently, all of them, be the tenants of one man. The relations of landlord and tenant were unavoidably delicate and often trying, and, although he made no imputation upon the members of the Parish Councils or the landowners, he thought that by giving power for so long a period, by election for a fixed period of 12 months and irremovable for that period, they placed the Parish Council in a position of some delicacy and difficulty in dealing with the landowner or his manager about the questions upon which he might have to be dealt with. He did not think, therefore, that the term should remain as proposed. It would be far better to throw round the Parish Council the support of the parochial electors. The Parish Council might be coerced or influenced, but they could not bribe or coerce a Parish Vestry or a Parish Meeting, the members of which would be too many and some of them too sturdy. He thought on this ground they should endeavour to have the power derived from the parish itself, and that the parochial electors alone should deal with these matters. In his experience, any other system of authority had the opposite effect from that which was intended by the Bill. By the election of men for a fixed period they came to look with indifference on the wishes of the ratepayers. 276 He had experience of the attitude they assumed in connection with a School Board, of which he was Chairman; and he could say that, with elections under such circumstances, the representatives did not pay the attention they should to the business of those whom they represented. The right hon. Gentleman said he wished to popularise Boards of Guardians. He (Mr. Stephens) supposed that was a very difficult matter; and unless the right hon. Gentleman had said so, he should not have been inclined to think the Bill was intended to effect that object. Guardians were now elected for one year. Under the Bill they were to be elected for three years, one-third going off each year. Was it not to be supposed that that vicious system practically defeated representation, and deprived the ratepayers of control? He certainly did not expect that such a proposal would have been made in this Bill. The proposal indicated distrust, not confidence. The Boards of Guardians, he thought, could scarcely be considered or described as a Representative Body at all; because the poor might be said to be most concerned in their management, and the poor were not directly represented in their management at all. This question had been referred to frequently during the Debate. The Report of the Commissioners, 1832, page 83, who gave a perfectly unqualified statement of opinion, mentioned that those who were strictest in their administration of the Poor Law were commonly persons who had risen from the ranks of the labouring classes, and the reason given was that they had a better knowledge of the wants of the people. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman agreed with this, view contained in the Report; but one thing was certain, that they should endeavour to make it possible for the labouring classes to serve on Boards of Guardians. They had the difficulty of area. It was not possible, where they had a large area, on an average 100 square miles, for the labouring man to serve in this way. The meetings of Boards of Guardians must take place in the morning and absorb the day. How could a man whose occupation furnished his livelihood spare the daytime once a fortnight? The meeting place also was so distant that a man must have a horse if he was to perform 277 his duty as a Guardian. There was only one way in which the difficulty could be met, and that was to give out-door relief to parish administrators—to make a system of that kind a practical one. That system had the most complete success up to the time it was superseded. Parish administration first swept out, and then kept out, pauperism for 150 years. When parish administration was overthrown in 1748, the rating was only £689,000. Gilbert's Act followed, with others, removing all control and independence from parishes. In proportion as this was done, the rating rose to one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and eight millions. The Union, as it stood, gave no security. It broke down under any severe trial. In his own parish in Middlesex, when this breakdown occurred, they formed a Charitable Organisation Society. They formed the parish into four districts, with four Committees, in all of 10 members—relieving officers, in fact, for a parish of 18,000 inhabitants—a number which was not too many for close supervision. The system worked so well that they had the confidence of the people, and could get all the money they required to face their difficulties. But while they had these 40 relieving officers, the Union had only one relieving officer for its 10 parishes. Experience showed that one real obstacle and obstruction to true, sound dealing for outdoor relief was the Union itself, which prevented a complete command of pauperism by clashing and overlapping. What could be done in a parish of 18,000 which could not be just its easily done in parishes of 300 or 500 inhabitants and higher? He was, therefore, in favour of avoiding the devices of the Union system by entrusting control to persons within a limited area—persons whose close and complete local knowledge and personal knowledge of the poor would afford a real check on the administration of the Poor Law relief. One other thing he wished to mention. It had not yet been alluded to, he thought, in the course of the discussion. He referred to the question of the Parliamentary Register. He was against plurality voting. All ratepayers should fie equal; but all parish electors should be ratepayers. The present Local Government Board Register rested upon a 278 definite basis—one that was perfectly intelligible. But the Parliamentary Register was being altered continually. They knew that it bad been altered on several occasions, and that a Bill would shortly be brought forward to alter it again. It would not be long before a Bill would be brought forward for the reconsideration of the length of residence for registration. There were many Members in the House who believed in manhood suffrage, and it was possible that one Party or the other might try to cap manhood suffrage by universal suffrage. He did not wish, however, to terrify the House by a suggestion of that kind. He was merely pointing out the possibilities of the Parliamentary franchise. Would either Party be prevented from dealing with it because of secondary results disastrous to parochial administration? The qualification lowered, the period of residence shortened for political purposes, and manhood or universal suffrage, then the parochial administration would be swamped. It followed upon this that, from the nature of the case, the parish electorate must become less responsible. The powers of centralised control must be increased to meet this difficulty. Centralisation must they become more and more unavoidable. The claim of the Bill was that Parliament would be less troubled with local affairs; but in proportion as centralisation was increased, the time of this House must be more devoted to local affairs. This House alone could redress the grievances and control the abuses and oppressiveness of local government by a Central Department. The dangers from including Parliamentary Registration might not seem very near, but they were real and inevitable, and more serious than any connected with this Bill. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to strike out the clauses which proposed to confer such objectionable powers—powers which would not be, he supposed, objectionable for the present, but which would be certainly most dangerous in the future to sound local government.
§ * MR. H. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
said, he was afraid be could not agree with the views which had been put forward by the hon. Member (Mr. Stephens) on the question of the Poor Law. He congratulated the Government on the 279 fact that they were going to make this a District Councils as well as a Parish Councils Bill. He had always thought that, now that there were popularly-elected County Councils, the next step in local government reform was to have popularly-elected District Councils, and he firmly believed that if these had been erected in the first instance nine-tenths of the abuses which were now complained of in country places would have been rectified by a more effective, liberal, and sympathetic administration of the Sanitary and the Allotment Acts. Small towns required a better system of parish government, and the Vestry needed reform. But there was no necessity for universal Parish Councils. Although these were his views expressed to the House before and still entertained, yet, as one who was anxious to help on the reform of local government, he thought they were bound loyally to accept the lines of this Bill, and to endeavour on those lines to erect a sound and satisfactory superstructure. He hoped the Government would not drop Part II. of the Bill, for he could not conceive a worse position than would be created in local government if the County Council and the Parish Council were reformed, while the District Council was left unreformed. It was with special regard to the Sanitary Authority that he expressed this view. He believed that before very long there would have to be a reform of the Poor Law Authority on very much the same lines as the Sanitary Authority, for an unreformed Poor Law Authority could not exist side by side, in the same district, with a reformed Sanitary Authority. If there were time to consider the question, he would be the first to urge upon the Government the necessity of dealing with the Poor Law Authority at once. But what was their position now? They had no time to discuss the many important questions connected with the Poor Law. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax had made a suggestion which certainly ought to be considered when the time came for dealing with Poor Law administration—a suggestion for grouping workhouses and for making the areas of outdoor relief smaller, for, in fact, taking advantage of the different circumstances that now existed in many of our country districts, economising ad- 280 ministration and centralising the system of indoor relief. Then, in many urban districts, it would be desirable to make Poor Law areas coincide with municipal areas. These and other changes in administration, which he did not wish to dwell on at the present moment, should accompany a change in the electoral system. It would be unwise to deal with the question by halves, and surely they had not the time to deal with it as a whole in the present Bill. This Bill must be incomplete. It left out of account desirable changes in their system of assessment and rating which were intimately connected with district government. It left out of account the reform of all the urban parishes. He did not know whether they would be able to leave that altogether untouched in the present measure, because the anomalies that would arise, if they had parish meetings in the rural parishes and no parish meetings or Councils in the urban parishes, would be so serious and peculiar that ho thought they would force the Government to deal with the matter in the Bill. But it was clear that the Bill could not be complete as regarded district government; and, if that was so, surely it was a strong reason for dealing with Poor Law administration not in the present Session, but next Session. It was clear that if the Government would not take that course all those who felt apprehension as to the administration of the Poor Law would have to insist on some safeguards or other being introduced, and the chances of passing the Bill into law would not be great if they were to discuss the many serious questions that would then arise. Now, he wished to say a word or two on the question of small parishes. He should not have troubled the House on the subject, but he happened to represent a constituency containing 80 small parishes. Under the original scheme of the Bill one-half of those parishes would have been merged in other parishes. Under the present modified scheme one-third of them would be grouped, and so lose their identity. Neither of those proposals, he felt assured, was satisfactory to the parishes he represented. The first proposal, to merge all parishes of under 300 population, would have been found utterly impracticable. He did not think the 281 County Councils would have been able to group the parishes. The second proposal was in some respects more satisfactory. The main objection was that it preserved the parish for the purposes of the parish meeting, and grouped it for the purpose of the Parish Council. That, in some cases, would produce greater complications than the former proposal, and he did not think the House had yet quite considered how it would work out. Two villages, with populations of, say, 100 and 150 situated two miles from each other, would have their parish meetings, which would, to a great extent, preserve what had been called their local patriotism. The first question they would ask would be—"Why should we be grouped for the purpose of forming a Parish Council?" They would understand why they should be grouped for district purposes; but when they wanted to deal with such questions as the repair of the parish pump or the improvement of the parish reading room, they would ask—"Why should we not be able to deal with these things in our own parish meeting, instead of being obliged to send our representatives two miles off, where they are in a minority on the Parish Council of another parish?" That was the practical aspect of this proposal, and he ventured to say that it would not give satisfaction. These small villages would he like two dogs chained together against their will. Their local antipathies would not be likely to he healed by the system now proposed, which would give the n parish meetings to preserve the ancient parish feeling, but which would oblige them for all executive purposes to unite with one another. How this scheme was to be worked out when they came to deal with loans he failed to understand. The consent of each parish meeting would be required before a loan could issue; and if the loan happened to be—as it often would be— for the benefit of the larger parish and not the smaller, he doubted whether the consent of the latter would be given. These were some of the difficulties which must attend the compulsory grouping of small parishes. Why should the Government consider it absolutely necessary to have Parish Councils universally? Why, in a parish of 200 population with some 40 electors, only 20 or 30 of whom, according to the 282 right hon. Gentleman's own calculation, would attend the parish meeting, should they call on these people to depute their executive powers to still smaller bodies? He could see no reason why these small parishes should not do their work through a parish meeting or committee, instead of being obliged to have an election and submit their affairs to a small clique called a Parish Council. If it was held that the parish must have a corporate existence in order to hold property, he would point out that that difficulty might be overcome by vesting parish property in the Chairman of the meeting or committee, or in the Overseer of the parish. He would ask the Government whether, to improve the working of their own Bill in these country parishes, they could not allow small parishes to remain ungrouped, and have their affairs managed by a parish meeting and committee? Such a plan would be far more educational, would give greater publicity, and would produce that good feeling among the different classes which was gained by their constantly meeting together. While accepting the principle of Parish Councils, he did not like the idea of making them compulsory in the case of these small parishes. They might extend the principle of Clause 18, and make it apply to all parishes which did not wish to have Parish Councils. And here he might say that he was not only expressing his own views, but the deliberate conclusions of the representatives of the County Councils Association. Before he sat down he would say a few words on the more general aspects of local government reform in its connection with the Bill. There had been a great deal of talk about the advantages of decentralisation. How far did the Bill carry out that principle? As far as Parish Councils were concerned, there was a certain amount of devolution of work from the District Councils, but there was no attempt to enable the County Council to devolve their work on the District Council, still less was there an attempt to create bodies on which Parliament and the Government might devolve local government functions. His hon. Friend the Member for Islington (Sir A. Rollit) the other night had made some eloquent remarks on the advantages of decentralisation. The hon. Member was one of the representatives of the municipal 283 boroughs, who were continually urging Parliament not to put the smallest boroughs under the County Councils. What was the result of this love of the independence of the very small local bodies? Why, that much more work of control was thrown on the Government Departments, and, eventually, upon the House. There were already about 120 County Councils, 200 smaller municipal boroughs, and 650 Boards of Guardians. These local bodies bad all to be controlled to some extent by the Local Government Board already. It was now proposed to create more than 1,000 new local bodies in the shape of Parish Councils. They must take care that they did not indefinitely increase the work of the Government Department. He had looked through the Bill with a view to seeing how far the duties of the Local Government Board would be increased by it, and he found that there were 15 clauses that imposed new powers on the Local Government Board with respect to Parish and District Councils. These powers ranged from powers almost too great to give to any Government Department—powers of making Provisional Orders for the taking of land compulsorily—down to the petty power of determining questions as to the use of a public room. They would have to audit the parish accounts, and, considering the complaints that already arose as to delays in the local audits, he did not envy the President of the Local Government Board this extra burden upon his auditors. It must be remembered that a Government Department, however able or experienced its officers, had no local knowledge. The County Councils were possessed of local knowledge, and could decide many small questions that arose with much less waste of time, and probably with much more satisfaction to the locality, than any Government Department. Therefore, it was, he held, unwise, from an administrative point of view, to overburden the Local Government Board with direct relations with these very small bodies. He would suggest that, in order to prevent this, the work of controlling and supervising the Parish Councils should be given to the larger local bodies to perform. The Bill did not do very much for the simplification of boundaries and areas. It did more than was done 284 by the measure of 1888, because that Act did nothing at all. In the districts the present scheme did collect most of the powers into one band. In the parishes it left the School Boards outstanding, and he was not surprised at that, because, if the Parish Councils were invested with these powers, very large educational interests would be affected. But the Bill added to the complication by creating two kinds of parishes—the small parish with the parish meeting, and the larger parish with the Parish Council. It did nothing at all to effect a simplification and consolidation of rates, and he thought that after the passing of this Bill the rural ratepayer would be more perplexed than ever when considering who was the authority responsible for the large payments which he had to make in the shape of rates. Then there was another question he should like to press on the attention of the Government. If they wanted their Local Government machine to work well they ought to see that its different parts were properly organised and subordinated to each other. A defect in the machinery was the absence of connecting links between the different local bodies that were to be created—links such as existed under the old system of Quarter Sessions and Boards of Guardians. On the County Councils the loss of this connection was felt at present, for they had not the same links with the Poor Law and the Highway Authorities that the Quarter Sessions used to have. Between the County Council, District Council, and Parish Council there would not necessarily be any connection. That friction and want of harmony which was already experienced in connection with some County Councils would be increased in the future. To obviate this it would be well to provide that every County Councillor should be a member of the District Council in his district, and that every member of a District Council should be a member of the Parish Council in the locality with which he was connected. This would not be introducing the clement of ex officios, for these gentlemen would have already gone through a popular election for the larger body, and would, therefore, be eminently qualified to sit on the smaller body. No Aldermen were provided in the Bill. He thought that, perhaps, they were not 285 necessary for district purposes; but he wits sure of this: that the old arguments that were used against Aldermen five years ago would not be heard with the same approval in the House now as they were in 1888, because, undoubtedly, on the County Councils the system of Aldermen had worked very satisfactorily. They had very experienced men on the Councils, whose assistance they would not have been able to secure if it had not been for the Aldermanic principle. He thought that more ought to be done to encourage the delegation of matters by one body to another, and to prevent the overlapping of authority on the part of the different Local Bodies. He did not think that concurrent powers, as a rule, worked at all satisfactorily. Finally, they must all agree that if their local administration was to be a popular one it must be both efficient and economical. In order to secure efficiency they must concentrate powers in a few bodies, so as to secure the best men to exercise them, and they must admit to these bodies every capable man who had a legitimate interest in the question and exclude everyone who had not. From District and Parish Councils non-residents ought to be excluded. In fact, no one who was not a parochial elector ought to be qualified to sit on the local bodies. Care should be taken that agricultural land was only charged its fair proportion of taxation; and he would suggest that there should be one consolidated rate levied and divided into two parts, the first part being levied as the poor and highway rate was levied now—equally on all kinds of property; and the second part being levied, as was the sanitary rate in towns and the "special expenses" rate in the country, with a, three-quarter's exemption for agricultural land; and on that second part of the rate all new improvements executed by the Parish Council should fall. In that way they would make the people pay who benefited. House property should pay rather than agricultural land, which did not require improvements. With regard to expenditure, he would urge the House to see that the limits put upon it under the Bill were not illusory as at present they seemed to be. The danger arose from the fact that the majority of parochial electors would not contribute 286 directly to the rates. The President of the Local Government Board contended they did, because 22 per cent. of the Union expenditure was repaid out of the Exchequer grants. But the right hon. Gentleman had not told them that it the rates increased in future the Exchequer would be prepared to increase its grants towards the local rates. If it did not—in spite of what was said to the contrary—the burden of the increased expenditure would fall on those who were ratepayers, and not on the taxpayers or compound householders. The larger part of the expenditure would probably be under the adoptive Acts, and the Bill expressly excluded from consideration any rate levied under them, so that the charge might run up to 1s. or 2s. in the £1. If they desired to limit borrowing, he did not think it was wise to entrust the power to borrow to three different bodies—the County Council, the District Council, and the Parish Council, each of which would have the power under the Bill to borrow money for the same purpose. Some limit should be put to the total debt of the parish, and any inquiry which took place under the Local Government Board on an application to borrow should extend to the question of the total debt of the parish. Unless they ensured efficient and careful administration the new bodies, however popularly constituted, would not be popular in the long run. If they wanted to make local administration sound and stable they must be careful to provide the local bodies with proper safeguards against extravagance and inefficiency.
§ MR. BARLOW (Somerset, Frome)
said, it had been suggested during the Debate that if the Bill was not viewed with indifference, at any rate it was not viewed with enthusiasm by those for whom it was intended. That was not his experience, either in the district he had the houour to represent or in that part of the country in which he lived. He found that the county electors were not only wishful to know all about the Bill, but were most anxious that there should be no doubt about its far-reaching character. They felt that the measure would be useless to them unless it provided that they should have the absolute management of their own local affairs. They warmly approved the Bill, because 287 it gave them the power of electing their own representatives on the Parish Council, placed the local elections on a popular basis, and abolished ex officio Guardians. The people, so far as his experience went, appeared to have a very strong objection to ex officio Guardians. The hon. Member for Hornsey seemed to think that the Vestries met the wants and needs of the country districts; but the agricultural labourers were altogether dissatisfied, with the Vestries especially, for the reason that the Vestry meetings were apt to be held at an hour when it was inconvenient for them to attend. Another reason why the people in the parishes approved of the Bill was because it gave them the use of the parish room, and he hoped the principle might before long be carried further, so that the room might be used for other purposes besides holding the parish meeting. As to the Church property and charities, the people in the country districts had no wish at all to interfere with them, but they did claim the right to have a voice in the management of those charities which had been left for the benefit of the poor inhabitants generally. This was a point which he was glad to see the Bill dealt with. He trusted that it would be a point which would be strenuously adhered to by the Government in dealing with the Bill in Committee. On another point, the people in the country were very anxious that Parish Councils should have the power of buying land so as to facilitate the extension of allotments upon the hire system. He believed the people in the rural districts viewed with favour the fact that District Councils were also to be elected, that the property qualification of Guardians was to be abolished, and that there were to be no ex officios. He trusted that the Bill would be made an even fuller and more complete measure than it now was.
§ * SIR A. ACLAND-HOOD (Somerset, Wellington)
remarked that there was one class who, although they accepted the Bill gladly, regarded it with some misgiving, and that was the class which would have to pay the cost. The picture which had been drawn by his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on the condition of our rural parishes was a genuine one. There were many parishes where the whole of the land was owned 288 by one man, and there were others where the whole of it was farmed by a handful of men. A good deal had been said about what was spent by Local Authorities at the present time. In the county in which he lived, under the beneficent rule of the County Council, the county rate had risen from 2½d. to 8d., and he did not know a single instance in which the labourers' rent had risen, or his wages had been lowered in consequence. The President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler) had said that what was good enough for the election of a Member of Parliament was good enough for the election of a Parish Councillor, but the reasons which induced a man to vote for a Member of that House were very different from those which would induce him to vote for a Parish Councillor. In voting for a Member of Parliament the last things he thought of were questions of a financial character. He left them to his Representative, and accepted the results with patient resignation, whether they meant 2d. off his pound of tea or 1d. in the £1 on his Income Tax. In the Parish Councils elections the voters would he obliged to deal with financial matters. The Parish Council was to have the right of acquiring certain things, and those who attended a parish meeting would have to vote directly on questions of a pecuniary character. He contended that the temptation to spend money to which they did not contribute would be almost too great, under such circumstances, for human nature. At all events, he contended that there was no likelihood of a membership of a Parish Council fitting men to take their share in other public work. Let the labourer have self-government by all means. He had shown himself fitted for it by the way he had managed his Friendly Society and his Club; but, at the same time, let him have a proper and due sense of his responsibility, or otherwise Parliament would be giving him a sham and delusive form of government. As to the grouping of parishes, he did not think the framers of the Bill had any idea of the very strong parochial feeling which existed in rural parishes. There were three parishes in the corner of the constituency ho represented, and of the Union in which he lived. They had respectively 704, 70, 289 and 31 inhabitants. The first was distant from the second eight miles, over the top of Exmoor; whilst the second was six miles distant from the third, over the top of Exmoor. He would suggest to the Government that, whatever limit of population was adopted, no parish below that limit should have a County Council, but that, the parish meeting should take its place. He took it that the 1d. rate was not to be a cumulative rate. [Mr. H. H. FOWLER: Hear, hear!] The rate could he increased by the consent of the parish meeting and of the District Council, or by means of the adoptive Acts. He would point out that in the case of a village surrounded by small hamlets and large farms, the principal ratepayers, who would be the farmers, would not benefit by the lighting of the village, or by the adoption of the Baths and Washhouses Act. Many suggestions had been made as to checks on the expenditure of the rates. He, however, did not believe in such checks. There was only one check which, to his mind, was of the smallest value, and that was that those who called the rune should have some share in paying the piper. As to the compulsory acquirement of land without extra compensation, he considered that such a process would press very hardly upon the farmers. The First Commissioner of Works had said that spade labour improved land. As a matter of fact, however, it took 20 years to make a good pasture, and when once it had been broken up it took 20 years to make it right again. The hardship of the present proposal was that the men who suffered would have to pay the cost. Out of his pocket would have to come the money for buying the land that he had to give up, and, when the land was returned, out of his pocket again would have to come the money for paving for it. He could not agree with what had been said as to the desirability of dividing up land among more small owners. In all parts of England the best cottages and gardens, and the most comfortable labourers, were always to be found on estates where the parish, its a whole, belonged to one man. Less comfort would be found in parishes which belonged to three or four men, and the least comfort in parishes where small rows of cottages belonged to different individuals. In the last-named case the 290 landlords had not the power to put the cottages into repair, but they charged rack-rents and kept the tenants in a condition of the greatest discomfort. As regarded District Councils, he thought the ex officio members of Boards of Guardians had been dealt rather hardly with by the House. In his county out of the seven members of tin; House of Commons five were Members of the County Council. He himself, whenever the Prime Minister allowed him to leave Westminster, did his best to attend the meetings of the Board, and he could only say that the presence of two former Members of the House of Commons, Sir Thomas Acland and Mr. Charles Acland, had been of great value to the Board, and he should be very sorry if they were unable in future to attend its meetings. He admitted that ex officios were an anomaly, but he did not see why, if the House preserved one anomaly in the shape of a compound householder, it should not preserve another. The Government wished to preserve the compound householder because his vote and influence might, tend in favour of the revolutionary ideas which prevailed with regard to property, and they abolished the ex officio because he represented property. He would suggest that it would be a very useful thing if members of County Councils were ex officio members of District Councils, and members of District, Councils were ex officio members of Parish Councils. He thought, also, that, there should be some residential qualification for members of Boards of Guardians and District Councils, because in all matters that came before these bodies local knowledge was a most valuable thing. If it was impossible for Union residents to deal with highway matters, it was ten times more impossible for them to properly administer the Poor Law. He was sorry the Government thought it necessary, in the few remaining weeks of the Session, to endeavour to hurry through so great a reform as that, of the administration of the Poor Law. He did not believe that the labourer would be influenced by jealousy, class-hatred, or prejudice to act unjustly. What he distrusted under the Government, scheme was that feeling of sympathy and that kindness of heart, inseparable from human nature, which would cause the labourer to be guilty of errors of judgment, 291 and might bring about very serious results hereafter. What would happen, for instance, if the control of the Army Estimates were taken out of the hands of the War Department and the Treasury and given over to the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the Army? Why, judging from the views expressed by military men, inside the House and out of it, there would soon be a handsome addition made to the salaries of the officers and to the pay of the non-commissioned officers, and men, and the expenditure on the commissariat and the equipment of the Army would be enormously increased. He trusted that before the Government decided upon carrying through this very serious reform of Poor Law administration, they would consider whether the amount of time available in the few remaining weeks of the Session was sufficient for the purpose. The Opposition welcomed the Bill, and hoped it would fulfil all the wishes of its promoters. At the same time, ho had a strong conviction that unless with the powers they were conferring they gave a proper sense of responsibility they would only in the long run injure the very men they were endeavouring to benefit.
§ * MR. FULLER (Wilts, Westbury)
said that, happily there was no controversy as regards the principle of the Bill, and, therefore, he would confine his remarks to the details. He did not share in the fears which had been expressed during the Debate with respect to the probability of extravagance ensuing from placing the disposal of public money in the hands of popularly-elected persons, who, perhaps, would not have as much private property at their command as they would wish for. He would himself rather increase the powers of the Bill in that respect, and give even greater advantages to the rural population of the villages than was held out by the Bill in its present condition. He considered the question of the housing of the villagers a very important one, especially as owing to the fall in the value of land it was difficult for landowners to provide the money for keeping the cottages on their estates in proper repair. He had been informed by one of his constituents, who had resided in a village for 25 years, that in consequence of the migration of the villagers and the rather depressed circumstances of landowners, there had 292 been a decrease and demolition of cottage property in the village—at the rate, at least, of one cottage pulled down every year during the 25 years, and the land let for agricultural purposes. It seemed to him that if they were going to give powers to the villagers to acquire land, either by purchase or by hire, they should also see that the villagers had houses to live in. He suggested that where a landlord found it would cost him more money than he could command to keep his cottages in repair, it should be in the power of the Parish Council—of course, anticipated by the decision of the parish assembly or meeting, whether this was desirable or not—to acquire these cottages for the use of the villagers. There was no great objection to such a course. It would be a great advantage to many landowners to have some other body to repair the cottages on their property when they could not well do it themselves, and the villagers would be glad of the opportunity of obtaining good cottages on letting from the Parish Council. This might be easily done by giving powers to the Parish Council to step in when cottages wore condemned as uninhabitable by the Sanitary Authority, and give notice to the landowners that they were prepared to take those cottages off their hands by purchase, and then, after putting them in repair, letting them for any parochial purpose that might seem advisable. There was a great feeling in many villages against the necessity of poor persons being obliged in their old age to take to the workhouse; and he thought that in each village there should be a dozen or half-a-dozen cottages as houses for the deserving poor, who, in the opinion of the villagers, should be relieved in that form, rather than be compelled to take refuge in the workhouse. Again, it was not quite clear to many Members how far the Bill enabled villagers to hire laud. He himself had no confidence in any powers to villagers to purchase land. The villagers did not want to purchase land. What they desired was to be able to rent land, and he therefore thought they should be able to do that easily under the Bill. For instance, when a farm became vacant through a change in the tenancy, the villagers ought to be allowed to decide at their parish meeting 293 whether they would like that farm for themselves, in order that they might rent it, according to the Bill, for a period not less than seven years and not more than 35 years; and the terms of the acquisition of the farm might be arranged, in case of a dispute, between the villagers and the owner, by some authority such as an Inspector of the Local Government Board, or an arbitrator chosen by the County Council. The Parish Council should then be empowered to sub-let that farm—the one-acre limit in the Bill to be abolished—as it seemed best to them in the interest of their community. He knew of instances in his own constituency where that had been tried as a private experiment, with results most satisfactory both to the owner of the land and the villagers. He was not lawyer enough to say whether such powers were within the four corners of the Bill, but at least they ought to be, as the object of the Bill, as he understood it, was to place the villagers on the land. As he thought poverty should be no disqualification to a man being a member of the Parish Council, he objected to the 31st clause of the Bill which disqualified everyone in receipt of outdoor relief. If a man were properly elected by the villagers, the fact that he was obliged to have recourse to outdoor relief ought not to be a disqualification to sit on the Parish Council. In fact, he considered such a man would make a very good representative, for he would know, from personal experience, the wants and the difficulties of the class for whose benefit the Bill was being passed. He also thought the provisions of the Bill with regard to borrowing loans for the improvement of the condition of the villagers should be improved and simplified. Another defect in the Bill was the distinction drawn between the rural householder and the urban householder. He did not see why the urban householder living on one side of a hedge should have conveniences and privileges denied to the rural householder living on the other side of the hedge. The rural householder was limited to levying a rate of 1d. in the £1, while the urban householder could go to the Local Government Board and borrow as much money as he pleased. He did not think that this distinction between the urban householder and the rural householder was fair, 294 or right, or just, and he, therefore, trusted that it would be removed. He was not lawyer enough to know whether footbridges meant the same as footpaths, but he knew in rural districts there were great difficulties in the way of getting these footbridges—planks placed across a stream—kept up in proper repair. There were, they all knew, frequent divisions of property, of parishes, and even of County Authorities by stream, and it therefore came to be a matter of considerable controversy as to who was to repair these bridges. Where the bridge was not shown to be repairable by anyone else, the county was the authority to do the work; but they knew how difficult it was to get a County Authority or the County Council to take over to itself the repair of a bridge of this kind; therefore this was a question that very much affected their villages. From his experience upon Highway Boards, and such like, he knew they had a great difficulty in fixing upon those who were really liable to repair these footbridges. He should like it to be in the power of the Parish Council, when any of these bridges got out of repair in their district, to set to work to trace out those liable for the repairs, and, when so traced, to make them perform the work. He knew a case in his own neighbourhood of a bridge being destroyed because there was no one they could call upon to repair it. Another matter that would affect parishes considerably was the power given in this Bill for sanitary purposes. As he understood it, the sanitary powers were to be handed over to the District Councils, and the District Councils had all the authority of laying out money for improvements in sanitation in their parishes. But very often there was a considerable difference of opinion how these sanitary questions and works were to be carried out. Ho knew an instance in his own constituency where the parish itself desired to have a large scheme of drainage, and to borrow sufficient money to make it a complete work. The Sanitary Authority, on the other hand, said they wanted to charge the parish with the expenditure by piecemeal, and the result of that was that this unfortunate parish was year by year taxed with a 1s. or 1s. 6d. rate, and was thus doing a work which should not be paid for by this particular generation, 295 but for which payment should be spread over a number of years. That was an instance of a Sanitary Authority not carrying out the work in a proper way. This Bill expected the superior authority would do the work bettor than the Parish Council, but in this particular instance the Parish Council would have been wiser than that of the district. Though not a written law, a case was well known in his constituency in which the order given to an Inspector of Nuisances was to do nothing. They knew what that meant, and the result was that in many parishes, though the Parish Council would like to do something, they were unable to do so in consequence of the superior authority preventing them. If not embodied in the Bill, he hoped powers would he included enabling the Parish Council either to carry out these matters, or to compel the District Councils to do their duty. A great deal had been said about the compounding for the payment of rates, and he hoped the Government would stand firm upon that question. It was a settled question now as regarded the payment of rates, and they ought to adhere to it; and his own experience was that whether householders compounded for the rates or not they were equally interested in parish affairs, and were equally anxious for economical administration. However much hon. Members might feel that there was something in the direct payment of rates, ho believed, in the long run, the best system was to continue as at the present time. If there was to be any variation in the rates under the Bill, which he did not anticipate, he should like to see it in this way. The Parish Council was given, according to the Bill, considerable powers for sanitation works and the utilisation of water supplies. In his judgment, all the rates that were raised for water supply and drainage purposes should be a direct charge upon the owners of property, and not upon the occupiers. He understood that in the City of London, if any person entered into an agreement to rent a house, and that house was not in a proper sanitary conditionas regarded water and drainage, the agreement might be thrown over. From that, it appeared to him, the tendency of the law was that the house should be in a good sanitary condition; and if that was the law, then, he said, the rates ought to be 296 paid by the owners of the property. In his experience they fought the question of a proper water supply for a period of over six years with a large landowner, and ultimately gained the day. To him it appeared just that the owner of the property should put the property in a proper sanitary condition both as regarded water supply and drainage, and it would be most unfair to call upon the rural populace, out of their small means, to improve the owner's property. Another matter which had been discussed a good deal in that House was the question with respect to the grouping of small parishes. He hoped, again, that the Government would not give way on that point. He was in favour of small parishes being grouped, but he would give them their power of representation. His experience of his own County of Wiltshire was that there had been no difficulty at all in coming to an amicable arrangement in the grouping of villages or in the settlement of boundaries, whether of Unions, parishes, or, it might be, of a county. In 1888 the County Council of Wiltshire set to work, under the 57th clause of the Act, to adjust all its boundaries, both as regarded the parishes outside the county that required to be altered and as regarded Urban Sanitary Authorities. They had no less than live counties to deal with as regarded county boundaries and a good many Local Boards, and in no instance was there any serious opposition. It was amicably arranged, and, therefore, he saw no reason why the grouping of villages, as suggested in the Bill, should become a question of difficulty. In his own immediate neighbourhood, not many years ago, no less than four parishes were united, three of these being separate parishes, and one of them being tied to another parish, yet he never heard of any opposition to that proceeding. Of course, there was a good deal of questioning and consideration as to how it was to be carried out, but from the time it was finally settled to the present time the united parish had worked better than when they were separate parishes. One result had been that they had been able to have a paid Assistant Overseer, which was preferable to an unpaid one. He was against the voluntary system of Overseers for small parishes, as the Overseer was able to put what value on the property he liked, and 297 it was very often difficult for Assessment Committees to settle the valuation where the Overseer had influence, therefore he hoped the Government would stick to this portion of the Bill. He hoped the Government would not reduce the population of parishes to be grouped below 300, but he approved of some elasticity being allowed to the County Council. He knew of an instance of a parish under 300 of population which was practically four miles away from anywhere, and it would be unreasonable to group that with another parish for practical affairs. As regarded parish meetings, where the population was below 300, he thought the Bill itself safeguarded the individuality of these parishes, and if he was right in that view he did not think the small parishes would lose anything by being grouped with other parishes. There was one important point—and it was, as it seemed to him, absolutely essential—that they should have the use of the schoolroom of the parish. The Vestry meetings of the parish were always held in the church of the parish, and as church affairs were taken out of the compass of the Parish Councils, it followed that the villagers would have to find some other place in which to hold their parish meetings. Therefore, it seemed to him that in dealing with this question the villagers demanded the use of the schoolroom for parish functions as a, matter of right. He wished to call the attention of the President of the Local Government Board to another matter. Certain postal facilities were given to Sanitary Authorities under the Post Office Act of 1891, whereby the Sanitary Authority could allow a Parish Authority to be guarantor in case of improvements being made in the postal facilities. He drew attention to this for the purpose of showing that it would be advantageous if the Parish Council were given these powers, and, if found necessary, be the guarantors. Another but a minor point was this. Under Section 164 of the Public Health Act of 1875 there was a power as to recreation grounds. The next section of that Act gave power to the Urban Authorities to put, up public clocks. The church clock was a matter of considerable importance to a parish, probably the only clock in the village, and it was, therefore, necessary that the 298 clock should be kept going. What he asked was that power should be given to the Parish Council, out of their funds, to keep the clock going. Another point that he hoped would be considered was the unnecessary expense of having the accounts audited twice a year. In regard to voting, he hoped it would be made clear that if there were five Councillors to be elected and there were more than that number of candidates, each elector might give one vote to any of five candidates, and no more. According to the Bill, the scale of fees and the expenses for the elections were to be fixed by the County Council. The officials of a County Council were generally very extravagant people, and in all probability they would fix a scale of expenses far higher than would be fixed by the parish itself. He thought in this instance the parish, if worthy of taking care of its own affairs at all, ought to be able to say what scale it should pay, and be, therefore, would ask that the Government give this matter further consideration. Again, he could not see why the County Council was to fix the number of the Councillors to sit on the Parish Council. From his experience he found that the Central Bodies were very much inclined to fix a very small number of Councillors. In his own neighbourhood they were anxious to have a School Board, and the reason they did not was because they knew that the Education Department would only allow live members to be elected, and therefore they carried out the whole system as by law directed, except that it was carried out voluntarily. They considered it would be far better to have representatives from all classes rather than four or five from one class. Accordingly they carried out the system voluntarily, and bad 12 members on the Board, which they considered to be a fair representation. He was afraid he had detained the House on these questions, but as it was not often that he troubled the House he thought he ought to make some remarks upon the various points he had alluded to. For his own part, he did not hold any of those fears that had been spoken of in this Debate respecting the Poor Law administration. When they were referred to the days of Poor Law administration prior to 1834, he asked who were the persons who made those bad laws, and 299 who were the persons who improved them? Surely it was a Reformed Parliament that improved them, and by improving their representative system they got their laws more in accordance with popular opinion than when they were made by an exclusive class. Therefore he was in favour of any reform in their parishes; he did not want to see their Parish Councils depending upon their District Councils, and therefore it was that he was glad they had a Government that proposed these reforms.
§ * MR. A. FREEMAN-MITFORD (Warwick, Stratford)
would not have ventured to intrude himself on the attention of the House if he had not desired to impress on the House the fact that they on that side of the House, as a body, were not opposed to the proposals of this Bill. While the free lances of the Party opposite, speaking on platforms, and even in that House, flouted with jeers and sneers the sincerity of Members on that side of the House, they could, perhaps, afford to disregard these sneers and jeers—at any rate, to appraise them at their proper electioneering value. But on Friday night the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) called to an account the hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir R. Webster) for the remarks which he made upon the speech of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. G. Russell). The right hon. Gentleman accused the hon. and learned Gentleman of introducing a discordant note into these proceedings. A little reflection would show the right hon. Gentleman that ho put the saddle on the wrong horse. He (Mr. Freeman-Mitford) was prepared to show that neither the squire nor the parson were opposed to the principles of this Bill. Perhaps he might be allowed to refer to the parson first, as very little had been said about the parson in this Debate, and what had been said had hardly been flattering. He would read to the House a resolution which was passed at a Conference of a Rural Deanery in Warwickshire, which might fairly be taken as representative of the feelings of the clergy in reference to this Bill. The resolution was as follows:—That while approving generally of the provisions of the Local Government Bill, this Conference considers it desirable that the 300 definition of an ecclesiastical charity in Clause 58 should be so modified as to secure that all charities, schools, and institutions now vested in and under the authority of the rector or vicar and churchwardens should be exempted from the operations of the Bill.He did not think that that was an illiberal or ungenerous view to take of the Bill. If that was the view that the clergy took of the measure, they could not be considered hostile to it in any sense. He should now like to call attention to what had been done on certain estates which had come within his own knowledge, in regard especially to Committees which had in some way foreshadowed the Parish Councils which it was proposed to establish by this Bill. Those estates belonged to Tory landlords, aid it was with a view to facilitating the acquisition of allotments and regulating the management of the allotments that the Committees were formed. They had proved a very signal success. One fault ho found with this Bill was that it left so many matters in a hazy condition. While empowering the Parish Councils to acquire allotments, it applied to those allotments the provisions of the existing Allotments Act. But there was this to be remembered: the Allotments Act dealt with transactions between individuals; it dealt with the landlord and the lessee of the allotment. Here in this Bill they established the Parish Council as the lessee, and there was no machinery provided for enabling the lessee to carry out with advantage the provisions of the Bill. In order that the Parish Council might be able to take advantage in the fullest sense of the powers given to it, it was absolutely necessary that the House should lay down and define the powers which they wore prepared to give to the Parish Council. In the first place, the Parish Council should have the power of collecting the applications for allotments from the various poisons desiring to have them. They should be allowed to say—"Such and such a man can cultivate so much land"; they would know perfectly well what were the capacities of the different applicants, and should be allowed to parcel out the allotments accordingly. In the next place, they should have the power of ejection from the allotments. If a man did not cultivate his allotment properly, if he allowed it to fall into a foul and dirty state, and become full of 301 weeds, that man was doing an injury to his neighbours. The Council should have power—as they had in the case of the Committees on the estates to which he alluded—of ejecting such a man. Something had been said in many quarters of the opposition of the fanners to this measure. The spirit of the farmer in regard to the whole question of allotments had much changed in the last few years. He remembered very well a meeting of farmers same six or seven years ago, where he urged the necessity of helping the men to acquire allotments. Many of the fanners then thought that if the men had allotments they would net work as well as before for their masters. But that view was a thing of the past. The farmers had come to realize that the allotment was necessary to the comfort and well-being of the villager. He was confident that no opposition need be apprehended from the farmers in regard, at any rate, to this portion of the Bill. As he said just now, there were many matters which were left hazy in this Bill. By Clause 8 the Parish Council was to utilise any supply of water in their parish. That lacked definition. They wanted to know in what cases they were to take water in what water they were to be allowed to take; how far they were to be allowed to interfere with existing rights, because that might be an exceedingly serious matter. Again, there was the power to acquire any right of way, casement, or other right within or without their parish, the acquisition of which was beneficial to the inhabitants of the parish. Here were provisions which might, if imprudently used, absolutely destroy the residential value of many properties—destroy their saleable or lettable value. Such a power might involve parishes in endless litigation. Apprehensions had been expressed as to there being an increase of the rates as a result of Parish and District Councils. This would entirely depend on the way in which the question of the compound householder was dealt with. He could not see that the mere fact of the rates being charged in the rent came home to the cottager, as the right lion. Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke) supposed. The circuit was altogether too long; and it was to be borne in mind that, whilst the rates were 302 a variable quantity, the rents were a fixed quantity. Whether the rates went up or down the rents remained the same. He had great faith in the country labourer as an economist. The labourer had learned the principles of economy in a, very hard school. A man who out of 12s. or 13s. a week—and, he was sorry to say, sometimes even less—had to keep his wife and children respectably, to save up money for their clothing, and, till lately, provide for their education, and who, besides that, had to put by a yearly sum to meet his rent, was a man who had become in a small and humble way a very sound financier. That man would jealously guard the expenditure of the parish. But if he did not know, if he did not see where the money came from, if the money was found, if no matter how voted, it was there, the case would be altered. The cottager was only human, and he could enjoy as much as Members of that House the luxury of spending other people's money. Lei him be bonâ fide a ratepayer, and then there would be no fear of the financial success of this scheme. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. Jesse Collings) had dealt with the powers that might be obtained by a floating population, and he alluded to a case of waterworks in which people came into a certain district to carry out those works, and, whilst they stayed, voted away the money of those who were a permanent part of the population. But there was a further danger. Suppose these people liked the place they had come to for temporary employment, what was thereto prevent them going on voting money for other works in which they might find employment, so that they might continue in the place? Such an expenditure would be to the prejudice, and might, indeed, lead to the utter ruin, of the parish in which they had sought hospitality. He thought that was a very dangerous matter. But there were other matters which were left in a somewhat dark condition. There was the question of the arbitrator. When land had to be acquired an arbitrator was to be appointed presumably by the Parish Council. Against the decision of that arbitrator there was to be no appeal. He conceived that very great injustice might be done in that way; and if the arbitrator who was appointed by the 303 Parish Council was to come down and value the laud without a compensatory clause for compulsion, the danger was that very grave and very serious injustice would be done to existing rights. He hoped with all his heart that this measure, when it should become law—and they on Iris side of the House should help it to become law to the best of their power—would bear all; the fruits that were expected from it. But in order to accomplish its objects it must be a just law to all parties. Class legislation was a bad thing. It was bad to legislate for one class at the expense of another, bad to legislate so that the rich might tyrannise over the poor, or that the poor might tyrannise over the rich. If this Bill was to lead to happiness it must be fair and just. He felt certain, from the temper in which the President of the Local Government Board had approached the matter, that he would do his best to ensure that the measure should be fair and just. If the right hon. Gentleman succeeded in making this such a measure as would conduce to the greater happiness, greater comfort, and better education of our villages, he would have written his name upon a measure which would certainly give him a lasting and very well deserved reputation.
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
had listened with great interest to some of the speeches delivered about this measure by gentlemen on the other side, and he was particularly pleased at the closing sentences of the hon. Member who had just sat down. It was something to learn from their friends on the other side their cordial detestation of class legislation, especially that kind of class legislation which had found so ample a sphere in the legislation of this House in past ages when the rich and the landlords were enabled to tyrannise over the poor. He did not think there was much reason to fear that if the Bill passed into law it would be of the dangerous character which had so frequently been feared by hon. Members on the other side. He had never discovered yet in the history of this country anything in the nature of legislation which tended in the direction of robbing the rich or enabling the poor to tyrannise over their superiors, and that legislation would be strange and unprecedented, indeed, which had any such 304 direful result. What they desired in this legislation was to put a stop to some of the class legislation which had done so much injury to the poorer classes of this country in the past, and to redress the inequalities of that legislation. The tendency of modern legislation was to do something to improve the social position of the entire population in the country districts, who had been deprived of the benefits of self-government during so many ages. As he understood the arguments of hon. Members opposite, they wore directed almost entirely to the possible action of the District Councils, which were to take the place of the present Poor Law Guardians. He was not aware that those hon. and right hon. Members were prepared to defend the present administration of the Poor Law. It was admitted that the administrators of the Poor Law were out of harmony with the people for whom they had to administer it. They asked the House to believe that the alteration in the machinery by which that Poor Law was to be administered would in the future make all the difference between the perfect administration such as had existed in their minds since 1834 and the most direful catastrophes in the future. Surely this was a little too much in the way of protestation. The only change proposed in the matter of the Poor Law was a change in the machinery, for it had been declared by the Government that they would not go in for any alteration of the principles by which the Poor Law was administered. That being so, how in the world was the mere abolition of the ex officio Guardians and their replacement by popularly-elected Guardians to upset this principle upon which the administration of the Poor Law was based? Hon. Members on the opposite side of the House were talking as if it were always the wish of the labourers to put their hands into other people's pockets for their own benefits, and to advance their own interests in some mysterious way. He had no hesitation in saying that that was rubbish. There was not the slightest danger of anything of the kind; and if there was, he would undertake to say that the result would be no worse than the ex officio system of the present time. In all parts of the country ex officio Guardians had comedown to perpetrate some job or 305 other, such as putting a friend into an office or voting money in an irresponsible fashion. They were not responsible to anybody but themselves. That wholly irresponsible and objectionable system of the administration of public money should come to an end; and he hoped, whatever else the Government might yield to in connection with this Bill, they would certainly not yield to the demand put forward on the other side of the House that the Poor Law portion of this Bill should be dropped. The men who uttered those doleful predictions seemed to think that the poor labourer had no interest in keeping the rates down to the lowest point. If there were no rates, he said that the rents ought to be much lower than they were, even in the country; and if the labourers and the poorer class generally did not pay in meal, they paid in malt. If they had not to pay the rates directly, they had to do so in the shape of an increased rent. From that point of view it was altogether unjust to that particular class for whom hon. Gentlemen opposite were constantly protesting their life-long friendship and desire to ameliorate their condition, when they, in the same breath, denounced that same class as being little better than public robbers who could not be trusted with the rates, even of the parish. Let them have done with all these predictions, which were the usual style of argument which had been heard from time immemorial in that House against every possible reform which had been suggested. Let them do what they were doing in a generous spirit, and show confidence in these neighbours and friends and constituents of theirs. He imagined the hon. Gentleman opposite had labourers among his constituents, and he invited him to show some confidence in those to whose votes he looked to be returned to that House. Bis dat qui cito dat. The boon they were proffering to the rustic population would be inestimably greater to them and more highly appreciated if they gave it at once with no niggardly, but with a generous, hand, instead of trying to fence whatever boon they might confer on them with all manner of difficulties, for the purpose of protecting some obsolete privileges. As to the question of the compulsory acquisition of land, the hon. Member who had last spoken was terribly 306 afraid that the arbitrator who might be appointed by the Parish or District, or County Council, would rob the poor landlord in the matter. This question of the acquisition of land by Public Authorities was of the utmost importance, and they on his side of the House should look closely to the action of the Government towards strengthening their proposals, especially with regard to the Allotments Act. He desired to point out by a couple of instances the importance of having a simple, but easy, way of acquiring land for public purposes. The Allotments Act had not been very successful, but the Small Holdings Act had been even less so. Ho might mention this as an illustration: In his own county (Cornwall) the County Council had appointed a Small Holdings Committee, but they had put at the head of that Committee one of the staunchest Tory landlords in the Kingdom, who, though an extremely able man, did not conceal his objection to the principle of this legislation, and would not lift his little finger to enable people to obtain what they wished from the County Council. That being so, they were at a deadlock in this particular; and the same thing would happen with this Bill whenever land was to be acquired for public purposes by either Parish or District Councils if these words of Clause 9 were allowed to stand—Except the provisions of this Act with respect to the purchase and taking of land otherwise than by agreement.He had given a strong illustration, and he wanted to enforce what he had said by another illustration, because it would be found to apply to Clause B, after the 1st sub-section of Clause 8, where the Parish Council was to have the power, among other things, to utilise any supply of water within their parish. He took this point, because the hon. Member was speaking about the supply of water, and asked what supply of water wore the Parish Councils to obtain? He would give an illustration from two parishes in his own division. These two parishes—Gwennap and Redruth—were in want of water. The water supply it was proposed to utilise in the case of each parish was under the control of certain landowners who possessed mining setts. In both these cases, where a proposal was made for the utilisation 307 in the public interest of this water supply, the owners said—"You shall have the use of the water supply only on the condition that we shall have the right to say at any time in future (giving you six mouths' notice) that the supply shall be discontinued." That was to say, if these mining setts were to be again worked, the owners, on giving six months' notice, would be able to take the water supply from the two villages. They could not have a stronger test than that of the necessity of having in this Bill power to take land for public purposes and to utilise supplies of water. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. A. J. Balfour) spoke of the objectionable character of the principle as to the valuing of land—its being placed in the hands of Local Government Board Inspectors. He quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in that. Such work should not he in the hands of a Government Department. He thought they ought to have Land Courts. His conclusion was not the same as that of the right hon. Gentleman, for where land was required for water supply, the authority to decide ought to be a local tribunal such as he suggested, which could say whether the land was worth a certain sum and what amount should be paid for it. He did not speak on this point with any sort of animus. He spoke as being himself a landowner in a small way, and as one who would not like any land taken from him under unfair conditions. There was another important matter which had been referred to, he believed, by an hon. Member on that (the Government) side. One of the matters he would impress upon the Government was that if the Bill was to be worth anything, it should give to the Urban Councils the same powers as were to be given to the Parish Councils. Part I. applied to the Parish Councils, and, that being so, he thought Clauses 5, 9, and 13, and the powers embraced in them, ought to apply to the Urban Councils also. He wanted the Government to realise the absurd anomaly of the state of things proposed. He could take a case of two places in his own constituency—one a purely urban district and one a parish district. Why should the Parish District Council have greater powers than the Urban? Why should the powers he had indicated be hold exclusively by the Parish Council? He 308 hoped the Government would not drive them to oppose them on this point. There was another point upon which he would like to say a word or two. He referred to the subject of parish meetings. He was not going to labour this point, as he believed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) dealt with it. Although ho had not the pleasure of hearing the speech of the right hon. Member for Halifax, he believed that ho was in favour of making more of parish meetings and less of Parish Councils. The Government were going to pass a measure professedly for the purpose of giving some interest to labourers and the poorer classes generally. They wished to educate these classes in local self-government, and to see that they would take an interest in these local matters. Under the authority of the Bill a parish meeting would be held once a year, and a Council would be elected to hold office for a year. In a great many cases the Councillors would be selected from the ranks of the farmers. He wanted to know how the labourer was to be benefited in education in local government if that were so? The parish meeting would be a very important institution. The Bill proposed it should be held only once a year. He thought the meetings should be held at, least four times a year. There might not be much business to transact, but it would be a source of education for the people. Yet another matter which would require consideration would be the right of parishioners to convene a public meeting. At present, if certain parishioners wished to convene a meeting, there was the possibility of their being met by a negative on the part of the Council. They would amplify the subsection relating to that subject so as to give the parochial electors the power which they should have. He would impress this upon the Government, because they had no right to shut out from the electors the control of their business for a period of one year. Being anxious not to trespass upon the time of the House, he passed over other questions. There was, however, one important matter which he was pledged to his constituents to bring before the Government: that was the question of women electors. He did not know how far that matter had been considered during the Debate; but 309 in case it had not been considered or discussed, he wished to say that ho should certainly do his utmost to see that not only women in the different villages had the right to vote, but that they should have the right to be qualified to be elected as Councillors and Guardians upon the different Parish and District Councils. He trusted that there would be many on both sides of the House who would see the force and desirability of permitting women to have the fullest rights in this respect. These points would have to be fully and adequately discussed, and he intended to do his utmost in the matter. In conclusion, he had to urge upon the Government the desirability of taking the same course when the Bill became law as was taken in 1881 when the great Charter of the Irish tenants was passed. On that occasion a short synopsis of the Act was published by the Government, and distributed broadcast through the medium of the Post Office. Unless something of that sort were done in the present instance a great many would not know what Parliament had accomplished on their behalf. He hoped that course would be adopted.
§ * SIR R. PAGET (Somerset, Wells)
said, with reference to the observations of the last speaker, it appeared to him that the parish meeting was the first desideratum, and that there should be a Council only in those cases where the circumstances made it necessary to resort to the representative system. The framework of the Bill appeared to be rather in the direction of first electing a small Council and then giving it powers which superseded those of the body which elected it. There were a great many instances in which the Parish Council would be masters of the situation, and that, he thought, was one of the main questions to which the President of the Local Government Board should give his consideration. He congratulated the President of the Local Government Board on the conciliatory tone of his speech. That tone, if continued during the Debate, would be the surest way of bringing the Bill to a successful conclusion. The question of water supply, which had been raised by the last speaker, was of importance, and he thought they should 310 have a better definition of what was necessary. He approached this Bill in a friendly spirit, though he could not conceal from himself that it was one which required careful consideration, and which must be approached with deliberation. It was a Bill of great intricacy and of complexity. He hardly thought that it could receive that consideration in the few weeks that remained between now and Christmas, unless the proceedings in Committee were attended with the same spirit of conciliation and concession as characterised the speech of the President of the Local Government Board. There was the difficulty of finance that required to be most carefully dealt with. The Bill must in its working entail considerable expenditure. The expenditure, therefore, would be great. It would also be uncertain, and he would ask the President of the Local Government Board whether he had attempted to make any estimate whatever as to what that expenditure would be? He wished to point out that this burden of additional taxation would fall first and foremost upon the shoulders of the farmers, and afterwards it would be shifted on to the shoulders of the owners. Anxious though he was to see improvement in parish life, he ventured to protest against the whole of the extra burden of taxation being thrown upon an industry that was at the present moment, and had been for some time, in a position of extraordinary difficulty. He was quite as willing as any man in the House to rejoice in the spectacle of improved villages and homes of health and happiness; but the burden was being thrown upon the shoulders of those who were ill-fitted to bear it, and any reasonable method by which the expenses of this great reform could be more evenly spread over the nation at large ought to receive the assent of Her Majesty's Government. Why should all the cost be saddled upon one class of property alone? The value of laud was going down rapidly year by year, whilst, as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) would see by official statistics, there was a considerable increase in the value of property assessed to Income Tax. This was a question of great importance in the details of this Bill. He did not see why they should throw the whole charge on real pro- 311 perty, instead of allowing personalty to bear its proportion. He thought there was ground for saying that in the financial part of the Bill they should do all in their power to ease the burden of the rural ratepayer. If money was to be spent let the State find it in the easiest way. He would only now say that any method by which the liabilities incurred in consequence of this great reform could be spread evenly over the whole country ought to receive approval. The President of the Local Government Board contended that the compound householder paid rates in his rent. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that that was true, how was the compound householder to pay the increased rate which would certainly be the consequence of this Bill? Could he do it in any other way than by paying an increase of rent? Was it the intention of the President of the Local Government Board that the compound householder should have his rent raised to the amount of the new rate which would be the outcome of this Bill? Unless that were so, he failed to see how the right hon. Gentleman's statement could be received by the House. If the compound householder paid the rates at present, and fairly paid them, presumably he ought to do so in future. With regard to the question of grouping parishes, he was not quite clear how the matter stood, because he understood the President of the Local Government Board to have said that no parishes were to be grouped without their consent.
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER
I do not know whether the hon. Member is quoting from the report in The Times, which, speaking generally, is very accurate. I think I put a qualification there as to parishes above a certain population. What I intended to convey was that the question of grouping was to be an open question. I have endeavoured to ascertain the sense of the House upon it in the course of the Debate, and before going into Committee the Government will make fresh proposals respecting it. I have indicated that if it should be the general sense of the House that 200 should be fixed as the limit instead of 300 the Government will not oppose the change. But the whole question is 312 surrounded with difficulties, and our desire is to ascertain the views of both sides of the House upon so complicated a point. The only suggestions that I have to make at present are that the limit of population may be reduced from the number 300; that the County Councils' power of dealing with the subject shall be very elastic, and that every parish shall have a parish meeting whatever its population may be.
§ SIR R. PAGET
said, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman was very satisfactory, because it indicated, first, that he had approached the subject in a spirit of concession; and, secondly, that the Bill would be further amended before it was finally disposed of. As a man familiar with the wants and wishes of country districts, he could say that nothing would be more unpopular in rural districts than the compulsory grouping of parishes which desired to retain their independence. There would always be rivalries between grouped parishes, and he ventured to say that if the President of the Local Government Board was to seek throughout the Kingdom for parishes that were ready to ally themselves willingly, he would seek in vain. He should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, under the proposed system of grouping, any one parish of a group could adopt, or refuse to adopt, the adoptive Acts?
§ SIR R. PAGET
So that they might have a and b adopting all the adoptive Acts, c adopting some of them, and d adopting none at all. One of the adoptive Acts was the Libraries Act. Under that Act there was an elaborate procedure by voting paper, which must be undertaken before the Act could be put in force. Would that procedure be overridden by the Bill, and would it be left to the parish meeting to determine whether or not they would put the adoptive Act in force? It was an important question whether, in applying the adoptive Acts, the machinery of those Acts was to be followed. He sincerely hoped that where there was no grouping the parish meeting would be furnished with all the powers of reasonable self-government. In his opinion, it would not be difficult to furnish cases in favour of the parish meeting as against the Parish Council. Why should they be obliged in a parish to elect five, 313 or it might be 15, men to stalk about the place as superior persons? It seemed to him that they were creating an elaborate machinery that was not necessary, and giving the power of local government to people who were by no means the best people to exercise it. It was worth while to consider how it came to pass that the parish had been disestablished from the old position it once held as an item of self-government. If they went back to the new Poor Law Act of 1834 they would find that it was that measure that was mainly responsible for destroying the parish as an active living centre of representative government. Then came the Union Rating Act, the Union Assessment Act, and the Highway District Acts, each one of these tending more and more to destroy the activity of the parish. For a long series of years the set of the current of public opinion was in favour of getting rid of the parish as an administrative unit, and of grouping the parishes in Unions. Now they had got into a breeze that rather set the other way, and they seemed anxious to try and recall the parish to life. He ventured to think that they could not effectually do that by the process of Parish Councils in cases where they could have a parish meeting. But he must say that to commence to recall parish life by disestablishing 6,000 parishes—which was the original proposal—was a singular method of procedure. They were proposing District Councils to take the place of the Poor Law Guardians and the Highway Boards. In many cases it seemed to be intended that the District Council should be a sort of Appeal Court to which the Parish Councils might refer, with a further appeal to the County Council if the decision of the District Council was not satisfactory. Well, in the County of Somerset, for instance, there would be 22 District Councils. Each of these might deal with certain matters in a different way, and there would be endless appeals to the County Council. Surely in regard to such questions it would be better to go direct to the County Council in the first instance. By so doing they would get their administration reduced to a system, and would be saved the trouble and delay of appeals. The County Council would take broader views than 314 the District Council, and would have no particular interest in one parish more than another. He deprecated the annual election of Parish Councils and the arrangement by which all the members would retire together. It might prove to be incompatible with continuity of action. And here he would ask whether, supposing an adoptive Act was put in force by one set of members just before their retirement, and there were a change of feeling in the parish and a new set of members were returned who wished to rescind that Act, would it be competent for them to do so? Furthermore, with regard to boundaries, he was rather afraid that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had not quite realised the difficulties of the situation. It had been suggested that a small Commission should be appointed to deal with the matter; but the Bill said that the County Council should undertake the work, and if within a year it had not done so, the Local Government Board should undertake it. He thought that a study of the difficulties that had arisen in connection with the overlapping of the districts and the alteration of the county boundaries would show the right hon. Gentleman that he was rather reckoning without his host when he expected that Clause 30 would settle the matter. He regretted that it was considered necessary to disestablish ex officio Guardians, who, he believed, had done their work admirably. As a rule, County Magistrates did not attend Boards of Guardians; but some did so, and their presence was always welcomed, and they introduced a good tone into the debates and the administration. He deprecated strongly the suggestion that ex officio Guardians had attended only when there was a job to be done. This was a suggestion based upon old stories of a past generation, and was unworthy of those who now made the accusation. If, as had been stated, the Return just produced would show that in 648 Unions 249 ex officio Guardians were elected to the office of Chairman, that was a pretty good answer to those who said that ex officios did not do their duty. He hoped it might be found possible, when the question of Poor Law administration was grappled with, to find some means by which Boards of 315 Guardians, if they chose, might be able to elect these men to sit upon their bodies. To rule them out of office, and to endeavour to get rid of them in the face of the evidence to which he had referred, was, in the interests of local administration, distinctly unfair. In going through the Bill he found that in more than one case they had what he might call dual control. For instance, with respect to footpaths, a new authority would be called upon to exercise a power already vested in an existing authority. He submitted that conflict of jurisdiction between two separate bodies dealing with the same matter was sure to lead to confusion, and that, he was certain, was not the intention of the President of the Local Government Board. As to expenditure, it was clear that some further control was absolutely necessary. He would propose to the right hon. Gentleman that as he was in a spirit of concession and conciliation he should strike out the clauses in the Schedule which diminished the control by doing away with the two-thirds majority, and introduced a bare majority. On the subject of Poor Law reform he would only say one word, and that was that he entirely concurred in the powerful speech of the Leader of the Opposition, which was, he thought, unanswerable. Those who had read the Report of the Commission of 1834, and who realised the state of things that existed previous to it, would be able to form some idea of the danger that existed in dealing with the question, and this ought to show the President of the Local Government Board that before he attempted to deal with the question of the Poor Law he should appoint a Royal Commission to consider it thoroughly. To take inadvisedly and without sufficient reason a new departure in this matter would be a course very difficult indeed to support, because, once they made a move, it would be very difficult to retrace their steps. It would be far better to ease the Bill by relegating the consideration of Poor Law questions to another Session. There were many smaller questions of importance in the Bill which would require consideration when they got into Committee, such, for instance, as the proposal relating to the compulsory hiring of land. He deprecated the power taken 316 by the Local Government Board to treat special expenses as general expenses. He hoped he had dealt with the Bill in the spirit of a friendly critic; but he could not conceal from himself that it was full of difficulties and intricacies. The President of the Local Government Board, however, had begun and continued the consideration of the measure in a spirit of conciliation, and he (Sir R. Paget) was by no means without hope that the right hon. Gentleman would consent to introduce Amendments doing away with some of the faults of the Bill. In this way ha hoped the Bill would be passed in a satisfactory form, and then, if it did not realise all that was expected of it, he hoped that, at any rate, it would do something to improve the lot of the rural population, with whose interests they who lived amongst them wore so intimately concerned.
§ * THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Sir W. FOSTER,) Derby, Ilkeston
remarked that he felt inclined to say to the critics who had found so many faults in the details of the Bill, "Be to her faults a little blind," and ask them to postpone their criticisms to a later stage. He hoped that a good many of the criticisms that had been used in the course of the Debate would conduce to a saving of time hereafter, and that more rapid progress would be made in Committee in consequence of them. He thought the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition admitted the soundness of the principles of the Bill. In 1888 the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was then a Member were converted to the principle of the District Councils, and though some doubt existed as to whether they held the same view with regard to Parish Councils they had now adopted the principle of Parish Councils also. The only questions between the two Parties were those of minor details. The principles of the Bill were, necessarily and logically, a consequence of past legislation. When once the agricultural labourer and the county voter had been placed in the same position as the town voter, it became morally and logically impossible to keep from him the same privileges of local self-government. The object of 317 this Bill was to give to people in the agricultural districts the rights and privileges enjoyed by the dwellers in towns. The critics of the Bill had seized especially upon three or four points. The question of grouping had been dealt with by the speech of the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler), who had shown he was willing to approach it in a conciliatory spirit, and to give the County Councils elastic powers. There was no intention in any way on the part of the Government to interfere with the general love of the parish which existed amongst the parishioners. They believed in parochial patriotism, and were not anxious for its disturbance. They believed it might be made use of for municipal purposes by giving the inhabitants a greater interest and pride in the government of the parish in the future. The question of charities had also, he thought, been very fully and satisfactorily met. There never was any intention of interfering by the Bill with Church property or Church rights in connection with charities. He thought that in all cases the trust deeds of Church charities would influence their distribution in the future as they had done in the past. But something would be done in reference to charities which he thought would be of great use to village life. There was no feeling in the villages so strong as the distrust of the management of charities. At first, when he became aware of the existence of this spirit, it seemed to him a totally unfounded one. But when he looked into the matter, he found that charities were habitually being lost to the poor, and were disappearing in such numbers and to such an extent that it was one of the great scandals of our time. That state of things could not have occurred if there had been some responsible authority in each village to look after the charities. He had had the assistance of the ex-Solicitor General in passing a Bill to recover a certain class of charities—those which depended on the existence of a rent-charge on a piece of land. In all these cases the land was in existence still, but he found that in every county in England some 10 or 15 per cent. of the charities had been absolutely lost. There could be no greater condemnation 318 than this of the management of charities under the old system, and no stronger justification of handing them over to the management of the chosen representatives of the people in every village community. Another question which was, more or less, of a burning character was that of the compulsory acquisition of land. The provisions of the Bill on that point had been much criticised. The Government had no wish to injure anyone, but they thought that when land was required for a public purpose, such as allotments, there ought to be ready means of putting; people upon the land in order that they might till it for the benefit of their wives and families, and if they were kept off it by the unwillingness of one person to grant it, there ought to be means of bringing the unwilling owner to a reasonable state of mind. The principle of compulsion was accepted and adopted by the late Government, and they placed in the Allotments Act of 1887 certain clauses which Mr. Ritchie said at the time were simple and inexpensive in their procedure. They proved not to be simple and inexpensive, because great difficulty had been found in getting people to supply land for allotments under them. From time to time there had been complaints made to the House of the difficulty of getting land, and that it could not be obtained without a very large and unjustifiable expenditure. Things were so bad that the late Government actually brought in an Allotments (Amendment) Act to make the process simpler. Under the amending Act, however, the process had been so bad that there had been no attempt to buy land since the present Government came into Office. It seemed that the attempt to obtain land under the present procedure had been given up as hopeless. [Cries of "No!"] Local Authorities were perfectly justified in treating it as hopeless. In the one single instance in which it had been tried the expenditure had been so enormous that the authorities had been justly frightened. That case was the case of St. Faith's. In the year 1887 the labourers of St. Faith's wanted land for allotments, but could not get it. The Rural Sanitary Authority tried unsuccessfully to get the land. In 1890, when the Act was passed which gave the right of appealing to the County Council 319 for compulsory powers, the labourers proceeded under that Act. The County Council accepted the appeal, and proceeded to take steps to acquire the land. The owner of the laud resisted. The usual procedure was then gone through, and eventually a Provisional Order was applied for. A Committee of the House of Commons sat, and finally the authority of the House was obtained, the land being secured to the labourers in 1891 under the Allotments (Amendment) Act of the late Government. Well, the labourers had been struggling for four years before they got the decision of the House of Commons. That was an intolerable length of time to keep poor men waiting. But what was the cost? Some £1,500 was spent in legal expenses. These costs fell to a large extent on the landowner, but the authority itself had to pay no less than £345 of legal costs in order to acquire 14 acres of land. He thought this was a monstrous condition of things to which to subject a Local Authority desirous of obtaining a small amount of land for allotments. This land, in fact, cost the people in that district £24 an acre in law costs alone, to say nothing of the cost of the land, which was very high. The total cost of the 14 acres to the authority was about £1,600. He thought it a reasonable demand to make for the labourers that some better method should be adopted. The Government had attempted to adopt a better method in this Bill. The main difference between the proposal of the Government and the plan of the late Government was that under the present Bill it would not be necessary to come to the House for an Act authorising the purchase. The District Council, having a larger rating area than the Parish Council, would be more likely to have the power of raising money for the purchase of land. Gentlemen opposite asked why the Local Government Board should be made the confirming authority? The Local Government Board was introduced because a Department of the Government was responsible to the House of Commons, and could not and dared not do any injustice to any landowner. It was necessary that some authority should have the power of making a fair inquiry, in which both sides should be heard, settling the 320 price of the land, and making an order under which it might be bought. The whole procedure was the procedure of the Allotments Act of the late Government made simpler and speedier. Even if the compulsory powers were made stronger, he did not think they need give rise to any fear on the part of landowners. He did not believe that compulsory powers would be put in force once in a thousand times, and the stronger they were, the less chance would there be that they would be used. The fear that the choicest portions of an estate would be picked out for allotments was purely imaginary. It was clear that no land essential to the owner would be taken under the clauses by which the Bill proposed to proceed. What was wanted was to get land to work upon, and not to annoy the landowner. The fears he mentioned were, in his opinion, imaginary, and were unworthy of those who indulged in them. The Leader of the Opposition had asked how a Council was to be prevented from picking out for allotments some of the best land in connection with a farm occupied by the man who owned all the property in the parish. He (Sir W. Foster) thought that in such a case the landowner would be on such good terms with all the people that they would not want to put compulsory powers in force at all. If, on the other hand, he were a bad squire, was it not likely that, being the landlord of everyone in the parish, the elections to the Village Council would be carried in such a way that he would probably himself be Chairman, that some of his friends would be Councillors, and that, consequently, no attempt would be made to exercise compulsion? It was hardly conceivable that a good squire would force the people in the village to put compulsory powers into action in order to obtain one of the necessities of life of the agricultural labourer—a small plot of land. He hoped that these imaginary dangers in connection with the compulsory acquisition of land, cither by purchase or by compulsory letting, would not be allowed to interfere with provisions which the Government regarded as of exceeding importance to a rural community. The struggle with regard to allotments had been going on for many years. He was glad to see that allotments were being 321 acquired largely by voluntary agreement, and he hoped they would be so obtained still more largely in the future. He wanted compulsion to exist on the Statute Book, in order that if voluntary agreement failed the labourers might still be able to acquire the land. With reference to the second part of the Bill there had been a great deal of discussion. As to District Councils, the necessity for them had been admitted by the late Government; and why were they a necessity? Because the Rural Sanitary Authority had been one of the greatest failures in our system of local government. Under the Allotments Act of 1887 powers were given to the Rural Sanitary Authorities in respect of compulsory purchase; and yet he had known one such body which kept lithographed circulars refusing assistance ready to send in answer to any application. The suggestion was also made that unless the land could be obtained by voluntary arrangement the expense of putting in force the compulsory powers would prevent anything being done. That, in itself, was a proof of unwillingness to take action. But that was not his only ground of complaint against them. The most serious accusation against these authorities was their failure in connection with their public health duties. There were villages in which people were continually dying from preventible diseases, simply because the Rural Sanitary Authorities would not take the simplest precautions to insure the decency of the homes in which the people lived, and the purity of the water which they drank. He knew of scores of villages which were undrained, and where the only water supply was from ditches or surface wells by the roadside, or contiguous to sources of impurity. The condition of things was so bad that, speaking in 1888, Lord Playfair described the whole position of rural sanitation as "desperately inefficient." During the last few months, when he and his right hon. Colleague had had the burden of great, pressing, and constant anxiety consequent on the dread of an invasion of cholera, one of the things which had given them the most acute anxiety was the condition of the rural localities. They knew that if the disease were imported there its ravages would be terrible; the 322 people were living either without drainage or in a centre of bad drainage; they had no pure water supply, and they, consequently, ran every risk of being decimated by the plague. Until there was some efficient Sanitary Authority in the rural districts it was impossible to hope for anything like the improvement in the condition of the people's health which, under the present Sanitary Laws, they had every right to expect. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax mapped out the country into sanitary districts, he regarded these rural areas as likely to be useful for medical health purposes, and he believed they would have been so if the authorities had boon chosen under a different method. The present authorities gave, perhaps, half-an-hour a month to the consideration of the sanitation of a whole district 100 miles in extent. They employed Inspectors of Nuisances, whose orders were to do nothing; and they employed Medical Officers of Health at salaries so small that they were meant to do nothing. The consequence was that health administration under these bodies had, as Lord Playfair said, been "desperately inefficient." The Government believed that the new bodies, elected on the new principle by the whole of the ratepayers, would have a useful effect, and that men directly interested in the sanitary condition of the districts would be brought to serve on the Boards. Under the old system the cottager had no chance of turning out the men who would not make his cottage decent; but under the Bill the cottager would be able to elect the men in whom he had confidence. It was complained by some that the other portion of the Bill touched the Poor Law. It did so extremely lightly. It had nothing to do with the administration of the law; all it did was to alter the mode of the election of Guardians. No one in that House had dared to defend the present system of election, with its ex officios, its plural vote, and its property qualification. Hon. Members who talked of the dangers of interfering with the Poor Law showed little confidence in the wisdom of the people, and seemed to forget that there were towns where the elective principle had been applied to the election of Guardians, with the result that both the health and 323 Poor Law administration had proved to be very good. With the disappearance of the ex officio Guardian and the property qualification, why should not the people be trusted to elect Poor Law Guardians as well as representatives for other responsible positions? What danger could there be in making the basis of the election broader? The right hon. Member for Bodmin, speaking of the administration of the Poor Law in certain parts of the country, said, quoting Mr. Pell, that a Board of Guardians was often guided by the influence of one educated and enlightened man. Under the proposed system that man would have the best chance of being elected. Hon. Members opposite ought, with their experience of the Local Government Act of 1888, to have no dread of the constituencies, for the electors whom the Bill now proposed to elect the Guardians were the very electors who returned the County Magistrates in large numbers to the County Council. Ex officio gentlemen would be the first to be elected if they were known to be interested in the administration of the Poor Law. There was every reason to suppose that the electorate under the Bill would exercise a better influence over the administration of the Poor Law than the present electorate, because it would put into the administration of the Poor Law a larger number of men who were in closer touch with poverty and who knew the impostures by which relief was obtained. The Report of the Poor Law Commission of 1834, as quoted by the hon. Member for Hornsey, stated that the men who had risen from the ranks of labour were the most economical administrators of the Poor Law. Those were the men they now wanted on Boards of Guardians, and they did not, consequently, desire to keep up the property qualification and the plural vote. Reference had been made to the fact that Magistrates had in the past administered the Poor Law, but it seemed to be forgotten that the very ex officio gentlemen whom hon. Members opposite were so anxious to keep on the Boards of Guardians were a great cause of the terrible social bankruptcy which almost overwhelmed this country before the new Poor Law was introduced. So 324 long as the Poor Law in the olden time was administered by Overseers and by the inhabitants of the parishes it was administered economically and well; and it was only when the Magistrates began to interfere and to order out relief, very often in opposition to the wishes of the inhabitants, that the Poor Law began to go wrong, and that there set in the terrible condition of things which the new Poor Law was intended to, and did, avert. When they looked at the history of the Poor Law, therefore, they had every reason to believe that the poor people in the community, the agricultural labourers, the village artizans, and the small shopkeepers would manage the Poor Law as efficiently, economically, and as trustworthily as the class which had for so long the administration of that great and honourable duty. By this Bill the Government believed they would bring home to the inhabitants of the counties the same rights and privileges that the inhabitants of the towns enjoyed. It was said by hon. Members opposite that these Councils would be extravagant; but when that bogey was raised by the Leader of the Opposition, he could not help thinking of the remark of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley, to this effect—It was said that compounders did not pay rates, but in his experience he had never known even the most humble compounder to be anything but a staunch opponent of increased expenditure.If that had proved the case in towns it would be equally the casein the country. Englishmen were made of the same stuff whether they lived in town or country, and he believed they would do their duty as honestly and economically in the rural districts as they had done in the towns The proposals of the Government, if carried out as they wished to see them passed, would give the rights of full citizenship to men who had too long been denied them, and in those rights they would find a remedy for the degradation they had suffered in the past.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
said, it seemed to him that in local elections, as distinguished from Parliamentary elections, the sound basis of all voting power ought to be to some extent, at any rate, in property. He was not supporting plural voting, but he 325 supported the householders, because he noticed that in the villages in East Yorkshire the ideas of the people with regard to lodgers and others who were not householders was that such persons were out of the scope of interest in the particular locality. If no difference was to be made between the suffrages for Parliamentary and for local elections, he considered it would be a fair thing to the landlords to repeal the Compound Law passed in 1869, so that they could pay the rates if they thought proper, or insist upon the tenants paying them. Now he proposed offering a criticism upon the Bill which had not been touched upon by any previous speaker. Almost all the friendly critics had accepted as a necessity the existence of District Councils, and the Secretary to the Local Government Board had defended such Councils on two grounds: first, because of the failure of the present Sanitary Authority to perform its duty in connection with allotments; and, secondly, on account of its failure in regard to sanitary administration. But be would ask the House, in looking at this question, to bear in mind how the duties proposed to be imposed on the District Councils were at present performed, and he would urge that the creation of these Councils was entirely unnecessary, and merely complicated the Bill. The first duty was the management of the highways. If there was one thing which Local Authorities could manage it was their roads, and this was proved by the fact that the parishes over nearly one-half of the country did manage their own highways. If there must be District Councils, they should be disembarrassed of that duty. Hon. Gentlemen opposite professed to believe in local government; then let them enlarge the County Councils and the Parish Councils, and give them the elasticity of authority which would enable them to manage their own roads, without having recourse to a rigid law for the whole country. He presumed District Councils had been created chiefly for sanitary work. It had been said over and over again in that House—"You must have a largo area for sanitary work." But this question must be looked at from two points of view: first, the expense; and, secondly, the motive power of the autho- 326 rity to carry on its sanitary work properly. His contention was, that the people in a village best understood what was required for the sanitary condition of the village itself. At any rate, in the first instance, the people who ought to be consulted about the sanitary work of a village were the people of the village, though he admitted that there must be some power to which appeal could be made. The County Councils had unfortunately been given very little power in that matter, and he would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, in the first instance, the sanitary work should be entrusted to the Parish Council, with supervising power to the County Council, to ensure the duty being properly performed. That would assuredly be a complete safeguard against any retrogression in sanitary science. It seemed to be overlooked that at present, when any sanitary work was done in a parish, the ratepayers of that parish had to pay for it. There was no real difficulty connected with the expense of sanitary work. The general expense of sanitary officers and Inspectors of Nuisances, and so on, could be borne by the County Council, but the people should, in the first instance, have the power to look after their own sanitary matters. If they wanted to decentralise local government, surely the best plan would be to place this power, at any rate, in the hands of the people. As to the power of the District Council, to allow or disallow certain acts of the Parish Council, it was obvious that the County Council would be a safer Court of Appeal than the District Council. On that ground, again, the District Council was unnecessary. The Secretary to the Local Government Board had argued that in the future the acquisition of allotments would be much improved by this proposed change; but his argument was evidently based on theory only, for he adduced not a single argument in support of his statement, and be certainly would have given facts had he possessed any.
§ It being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.