§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [2nd November], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL (York, E. R., Holderness)
said, the right hon. Gentle- 357 man the President of the Local Government Board would, he was sure, see that his (Commander Bethell's) criticisms last night, like the criticisms of other hon. Gentlemen who addressed themselves to this subject, had been given with the most friendly intentions, and the most anxious desire to see the Bill made as good for local government as it was possible to make it. He proposed to continue the line of argument he had begun last night, and to criticise for a moment the powers it was proposed to confer on the District Councils. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to make those Councils the bodies for providing allotments. Well, the people who best understood what was wanted in a parish or a village were the population of that parish or village themselves; and if they in the first instance made their wishes known, all that any other body could do—whether County Council or District Council—would be to hold an inquiry into the subject. He would submit that the County Council was, at least, as capable of holding an inquiry into a matter of that sort as the District Council. To his mind, it would be a far better body for the purpose. If this were the case in regard to all four powers it was proposed to confer on the District Councils, there was no reason why that part of the Bill relating to those Councils should not be omitted. He submitted that the inclusion of District Councils as well as Parish Councils only gave additional complexity to the Bill. It gave no security for good government. Should they not, then, with the only opportunity there would be in their generation for reforming local government, look well into this to see that, while they professed to simplify and popularise local government, they really did so? In the best interests of local government, the Bill would be immensely improved if all the administrative powers proposed to be given to Councils were divided between Parish Councils and County Councils. He would submit this further argument, which was not without weight—namely, that the more they broke up administrative powers amongst various bodies the less likely were they to have interest concentrated in them, and the more they could concentrate interest the better. So far he had said nothing about the provisions in 358 the second part of the Bill. He had said nothing about the administration of the Poor Law, and the few words he had to say he would venture to place before the House now. He did not think the proposals of the Bill, so far as the country districts were concerned, at any rate in the North, would do any harm in particular. He was sure that it would make no difference to the people in Yorkshire whether the Guardians were elected in the way the Bill proposed, or whether they were elected as at present. But his own belief was that they would never get any truly economical and popular administration of the Poor Law until they entrusted the power of giving relief to the hands of those who knew the recipients of that relief personally. Now, that, so far as the country districts were concerned, could only be done by adopting the system which the hon. Member for Hornsey, in his admirable work, had shown to have existed in the past. He did not mean to say that this system had not been known before, but the hon. Member had investigated the subject with great care, and hail furnished them with most useful knowledge on the subject. He felt that until the parishes had themselves the power of dealing with poor relief they would never have a system of administration which was popular and economical. He should have thought, however, that the best policy would have been to have reserved the question of the Poor Law for future treatment—that was to say, until the subject had been inquired into. Though he said that, he did not think that the proposal of the Government would do much harm in the part of the country with which he was best acquainted, yet ho could not but remember that there were other large, populous, poor places where the conditions might not be the same. His difficulty in the matter was a want of knowledge, and he was not clear that the proposal of the Government might not have an effect other than they anticipated. Certain it was that the administration of the Poor Law in villages was one thing, and the administration in large and populous and poor districts was another and an entirely different thing. As to the question of grouping, the President of the Local Government Board had remarked that the difficulties in the matter were 359 enormous, and he was quite right. They were not only enormous, but he (Commander Bethell) was afraid they would be found insuperable. Then why storm such a position as that? Why not turn it? The way to do that had been indicated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax. In all the speeches which had been made on the Ministerial side of the House, he had been astonished to find a lack of democratic spirit. He had only discovered one Member who was not afraid of carrying his principles into operation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax had pointed out what was undoubtedly true, that there was now an opportunity, which, perhaps, would not occur again, of once more re-establishing the pure democratic principle in the villages which were so small that they could not very well have Councils established. That was a small principle. Take the illustration that the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had given. He had told them that he personally knew of a village in which there was only one ratepayer. Well, if that were so, why could he not manage the business of the village? In all other villages, without exception, there would have to be a parish meeting endowed with such powers as were thought desirable, and being possibly allowed to elect a Committee. At all events, he was sure that the objections to grouping were so enormous that they would be insuperable. Every gentleman who had spoken on the subject on the Opposition side of the House seemed to think that it would be safe to entrust these powers to the parish meetings. Not one person among the many to whom he had spoken had said a good word for the grouping proposal. Was there any parish so small that Parliament would hesitate to endow a meeting of its ratepayers with all the powers proposed to be given by the Bill? The powers it was proposed to confer on Parish Councils were extremely small. They consisted of the old powers of the Vestry and the new powers contained in Clause 8 Anyone who looked at Clause 8 would see that scarcely one of the powers mentioned could be used by a small parish. For his part, he should be perfectly ready to entrust to the parish meeting every one of those powers without exception, and all those he had 360 already indicated in his observations on District Councils. With reference to the acquisition of land, he had never been able to understand the objection many of his hon. Friends had to the taking of land on hire. Personally, he always supported it. Of course, the way in which it was to be taken—compulsorily—was another question. The Local Government Board, which had all the evils inherent in a Central Authority, was determined to interfere in the matter as much as possible. Personally, he should prefer an appeal to the County Council rather than to the Local Government Board. He thought, however, that the proposals of the Bill with reference to the acquisition of land were proposals which might justly be entertained. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. A. J. Balfour) had made some criticisms on the proposal in reference to cases where one man owned the whole parish, and it had fallen to the duty of the Secretary to the Local Government Board (Sir W. Foster) to defend the Government proposal. Of all the quaint defences he had ever heard put forward in the House of Commons that used by the hon. Gentleman was the quaintest. The hon. Gentleman had told the House that if the landlord were a good one there would be no trouble, whilst if he were a bad landlord he could square the members of the Council and could gerrymander the electors. In fact, the hon. Gentleman's recommendation was a recommendation of bribery, and nothing else.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Sir W. FOSTER,) Derby, Ilkeston
I made no recommendation. I asked gentlemen opposite whether such was not likely to be the case, which is very different from recommending.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL
said, that in the position the hon. Member held such a suggestion could only be interpreted as a recommendation. He (Commander Bethell) could not help deploring the sad want of morality displayed by the hon. Gentleman. He knew he should not get any support from gentlemen opposite or from the Local Government Board when he suggested that some improvement should be 361 made in the nomenclature of the various bodies proposed to be created by the Bill. Who on earth could take any interest in a body termed a Parish Council? Almost every man in future would be a Councillor of some kind or other, and every tenth man would be a Chairman. Why should not the Government add a little sentiment to the dry details of their Bill, and, while they were fishing out of the archives of the past old forms of government, endow them with some of the older names? He thought people would take much greater interest in a body which had a name connected with old associations than they would in a so-called Parish Board or Council. He regarded the Bill as being on a level with other Local Government Bills which had become law in past times, and as being not a bit less important than the great Reform Bill. He believed that the object of popularising local government would be attained if the Government would give due attention to the suggestions of those who had throughout their lives been connected with the administration of public affairs. These gentlemen had almost to a man criticised certain features of the Bill. If these features were left in the Bill, he believed its object would be largely marred, whilst if they were removed or altered he believed the measure would endow the localities with a firm government, which would be of the greatest use both to rich and poor, to landowners and farmers.
§ * SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
said, he rose to call attention to a point in the Bill which had received hardly any attention in the Debate, but which, as far as he could judge, was exciting a good deal of attention out-of-doors, and which in Wales created more interest than all the rest of the Bill put together. He referred to the way in which the Bill touched the powers and privileges of the clergy of the Church of England, and invaded what was called the "autocracy of the clergy." It was bound to have this effect, because, whilst the principle on which the Church of England was founded was the principle of authority, the principle which ran through the Bill was that of self-government. He had always regarded his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler) as a master of the art of 362 skating over thin ice, and he thought that on Thursday his right hon. Friend excelled himself. His right hon. Friend said he had drawn a broad line between ecclesiastical and civil property, and that, in fact, the Bill established a clear distinction between the two. But was it possible to draw a broad line between ecclesiastical and civil property? The fact was that the Church of England had struck its roots so deep, and had become so entwined with the social, civil, and secular life of the country, that it was difficult to say where ecclesiastical ended and civil property began; the two being more or less inextricably mixed. However, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. A. J. Balfour) seemed to he satisfied with the speech of the President of the Local Government Board, though the right hon. Gentleman had made a somewhat un-Parliamentary attack, and a very personal attack, on his hon. Friend the Under Secretary for India (Mr. G. Russell), and a very uncalled-for reference to his private affairs. Upon the question of Parliamentary etiquette he, of course, bowed to the authority of the Leader of the Opposition, but of what was due from one gentleman to another he hoped he was as good a judge as the right hon. Member. After all, his hon. Friend (Mr. G. Russell) did was to say what almost everybody had been saying out of the House. He (Sir G. Osborne Morgan) could assure the House that in Wales this was the one point on which the discussion of this Bill had turned. The clergy themselves, in their numerous Diocesan Conferences and Church Congresses, had dwelt particularly upon this part of the Bill. They were afraid that if the Bill did not disestablish the Church it would, at any rate, disestablish the parson, and he was not quite sure that they were wrong in their view. Only three or four days ago, a Prelate who was a sort of incarnation of the Church militant in Wales, and the beau idéal of a fighting Bishop—the Bishop of St. Asaph—made a speech in which he said that if Mr. Acland had anything to do with the Parish Councils Bill, one must not be surprised to find in it traces of the same cunning as marked the passage of the Welsh Intermediate Education Act, and ho therefore called upon all 363 Churchmen to be on their guard. He (Sir G. Osborne Morgan) agreed with almost everything that his hon. Friend (Mr. G. Russell) had said. His hon. Friend had spoken of the "benevolent despotism" of the squire and the parson. Did anyone doubt that the ruling power in every parish was the despotism, benevolent or otherwise, of the squire and the parson? He thought, however, his hon. Friend's remarks would have been still more accurate if, in addition to the squire and the parson, only he had included the squire's lady and the parson's wife; and he was bound to say that their despotism was often much less "benevolent" than that of the squire and the parson. In Wales the parson was more often a nonentity than a despot. Still, his peculiar position gave him great importance, especially in the eyes of the poor. There were in Wales a number of small doles which were in the hands of the clergy and the Churchwardens, and there was a feeling that in some way or other, by currying favour with the parson and by going to church, the poor might get a few more yards of flannel or a hundredweight or two of coal. He held it was an unfortunate thing that that power should be vested in the clergyman and the Churchwardens. The Bill proposed to draw a distinction between civil and ecclesiastical charities. The 6th sub-section transferred to the Parish Councils all the powers, duties, and liabilities of the Churchwardens, except so far as they related to the affairs of the Church or to ecclesiastical charities, the latter being defined as charities the income from which was either wholly or partially applicable to any spiritual purpose, or for the benefit of any spiritual person. Now, he thought they would all be agreed that that definition was much too wide, because it took out of the operation of the Act charities which were only incidentally ecclesiastical and substantially civil. It was not an uncommon thing for a man to leave £20 a year to be distributed among the poor by the parson, to whom a further guinea was left to remunerate him for his trouble. Was that a civil or an ecclesiastical charity? Clearly it was civil, but yet it was by this sub-section taken out of the operation of the Bill. In considering this matter, they must not forget the circumstances under 364 which the parson and the Churchwardens were made the distributors of the charities of the parish. They were the only persons in former days who could be selected; they constituted a sort of quasi-Corporation, and were the only people who, in any degree, might be said to occupy a representative position in the parish. But the circumstance that the distribution of the charities was vested in the clergyman and Churchwardens did not, he submitted, make those charities in many cases ecclesiastical charities; they were civil charities intended for the benefit of the parish, and as such should come within the purview of the Bill. He was exceedingly glad to see in The Daily News of the previous day that the Committee of the Liberal Churchmen's Union, of which the hon. Member for North Beds, was Chairman, had passed resolutions approving of the transfer of charities other than ecclesiastical to Parish Councils, and suggesting the division of charities that were partly ecclesiastical in such a manner that the non-ecclesiastical portion might be placed under the control of the Parish Council. There was one other matter he had to touch upon, and it was one to the consideration of which he had devoted the best years of his life. He saw that the Bill transferred to the Parish Council the powers and the duties of the Churchwardens with respect to closed churchyards; but why should it stop at closed churchyards? Might he be permitted to remind the House that the Act of 1880, which he had the honour of passing through the House, gave the Nonconformists distinct rights in the parish churchyards, or rather it extended rights which they had before, by enabling them to have their own religious services read over their dead in the churchyards? The Act did not interfere in any way with the civil rights of the clergyman and Churchwardens, and consequently it left them in absolute control of the parish churchyard. One of the most important features of that control was the right of saying whether a non-parishioner should be buried in the churchyard. That power was given for the purpose of protecting the rights of the parishioners in the only burial ground they might have. Over and over again, however, it happened, 365 when permission was sought to bury a deceased person who had left the parish beside a husband, father, wife, or child, that the incumbent, while giving permission, made it a condition that the service of the church of England should be used at the grave. He said deliberately that such an exercise of control by a clergyman was an abuse of the object for which the control of the churchyards was vested in the incumbent, that object being to protect the parishioners, and not the interests of the Church of England, and the use which had been made of it was a fraud upon the Act. The hon. Member for Mansfield proposed to move an Amendment on this sub-section, and he should cordially support that Amendment. Other points on which he had intended to touch were those of the grouping of parishes, and the enormously broad question of the transfer of Poor Law powers. He fully agreed with the Vice President of the Council that the rural labourers would not prove wasteful guardians of their own parish affairs. There was in the rural districts a growing sense of responsibility, which would be stimulated by the fact of extending the existing powers as suggested by the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had commented on the enormous growth of municipal expenditure since the Municipal Corporations Act was passed, but he seemed to have forgotten that the objects on which the money had been spent had been created by the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act. They had, in fact, reached a point from which to start; they could by no possibility go back. The Bill, as a whole, was the sequel and complement of the measure giving household franchise to the counties. Surely it would be the height of unreason and of inconsistency, having given the agricultural labourer a voice in the administration of the Empire, to deny him a voice in the administration of his own parish. Self-government, like charity, began at home, and, in his opinion, the measure before the House would be successful just in proportion as it touched the daily cares, the daily wants, and the daily life of the great masses of the people.
§ * MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, there was no question that the Govern- 366 ment had acted wisely in introducing this measure at the present period of the Session. It was keenly anxious to pass some Bill in this barren year, and therefore it had produced one which certainly, from many considerations, suggested a possibility of doing something which would have a large, important, and wide-reaching effect on the general community. There was great difference in the treatment of this Bill, and of that which occupied the former part of the Session, for on every night of the present Debate one or two Members of the Government spoke in its favour. The speech of the President of the Local Government Board was certainly all that could be desired, and it relieved many of their apprehensions. The First Commissioner of Works had prophesied that the dangers and difficulties which they on that side foresaw might arise in consequence of the passing of this measure were illusory, but they must examine the Bill carefully, as they looked upon that right hon. Gentleman's forecasts with diffidence, since he stated that the present Government would not be in power six weeks before the evicted tenants were reinstated. The Vice President of the Council gave them, on the previous day, a very interesting speech, but they were bound to receive with caution his remarks, because his action upon educational matters had shown that ho had not at heart the real interests of the Church of England. It seemed to him that the Government would get the greatest help in passing the Bill from Members on the Opposition side of the House. The Bill, no doubt, suggested great liberality for country villages; it read as if Parliament was going to give a great many good things to the villages, and many hon. Gentlemen on the Conservative side seemed to be almost afraid to criticise it, lest "what they said should be contorted—and probably it would be contorted whatever they said—into doing something to prevent the peasant getting advantages under this Bill. The extreme supporters of the Government looked upon this Bill as a great step towards Disestablishment, and he was bound to say he agreed with them that it was, for he had no hesitation in saying that the effect of changing and altering the present system, whether for good or for evil, was a great move in the direction of 367 divorcing Church from State, and civil from ecclesiastical administration. The supporters of the Government were practically saving that they would cap the Tories' Bill of 1888 by giving Parish Councils to every village. The Government stood to win, either way, upon the present Bill. If it passed, the 60,000 Parish Councillors would form an important element at the next Election; if it did not pass, the supporters of the Government would say that the Tories had stopped it. They would thus derive, practically, the same advantages whether it was passed or not. From a Party point of view that was not a satisfactory state of affairs, and they were bound, whether they were or were not afraid of their remarks being perverted, to look carefully into the measure. The most important point to be considered in connection with the Bill was whether it was going to be worked in reality or whether it was a sham. Many speakers in the House had dilated upon the advantages of local government, but nobody disputed those advantages. The questions to be asked were, Whether this measure would be likely to promote really good local government; whether it would do what it proposed; and who was to pay for it all? Under the Bill they were going to create in every little parish of not less than 200 inhabitants—or 40 families—a Parish Council. He strongly objected to Parish Councils existing in very small villages with populations of about 200 people, because it meant that 36 electors were to appoint a Parish Council with five Councillors and a Chairman. It would thus come about that the head of every sixth family would be a Parish Councillor, and this was bringing down local government to an absurdity. They did not want to have it said of their local government system what was said of the American Army—namely, that it was composed of generals, and it was obvious that in small parishes parochial meetings would suffice to deal with everything leading up to local life and parish activity. Now they came to the powers the Parish Councils were to have. First, there were the powers at present exercised by somebody else by the Vestry and the Overseer; then, secondly, under Clause 7, they were to be allowed to take powers, if they chose, to adopt certain Acts; and, thirdly, altogether 368 new powers were to be conferred, such, for instance, as the right of using the schoolroom for any parish meeting. To such a proposal he strongly objected. Of course, the main point to be considered in the Bill was that of finance. If the various Acts mentioned in Section 7 of the Bill were to be adopted by the Parish Councils—and the House must remember that agitating politicians had lately been saying that all the villages were to have the advantage of the enforcement of the Lighting, Baths and Washhouses, Free Libraries, Public Improvements, and Burials and other Acts after the Bill should become law—that must imply the expenditure of an amount equal to 1s. or 2s. in the £1 upon the rates. He himself would like to see in every village a hall and baths and washhouses, library, and so on; but if the Government were aware that the practical result of the Bill would be that only one out of a thousand villages would really get all those advantages, owing to the fact that the cost would be such that many would not be able to pay it, then hon. Members ought not to go about telling the villagers that they would derive all those advantages from the passing of the Bill. No Member of the Government had condescended to go into the details of these matters, but he had given himself some trouble to do so, and he would put before the House the hard facts of the case. He would take a large village in Hampshire, which was the first he chanced upon. Its area was 6,973 acres, or about 10 square miles, and it had a population of 1,027. Its rateable value was £6,010, and a rate of 1s. in the £1 would produce about £25 a year. That example was half as big again as the average parish, but he would like to ask the President of the Local Government Board whether he had estimated what all the various things that were going to be given to the parishes would cost in such a village as that just described? £300, or 1s. in the £1, would not do it; an extra rate of 2s. would not do it, and he very much doubted whether 3s. in the £1 would pay for bathhouses, public libraries, recreation grounds, and their attendant expenses. That was a very stubborn fact which the House must face. Did the Government really mean that every parish was to have all those things? If not, to hold all those advantages up to the villagers and to promise 369 that they would get them under the Bill was a delusion and a snare. He had taken out the figures in reference to some other parishes. In one, with an area of 5,000 acres and a rateable value of £5,204, 1d. produced £22; in another 1d. produced £16; in a third £12; and in a fourth £9. Those were parishes to which the law would apply—they all had a population exceeding 300. He would next take the ease of a very small parish—its population was 327, just over the margin. The area was 1,958 acres—about three square miles—the rateable value £1,603, and a 1d. rate produced £6 14s. If the parish were to have half the advantages which the Bill laid down a 10s. rate would not suffice. And he might add that the average rateable value of all parishes in England and Wales, including London and the big towns, was only £10,000. The average rate of every parish, leaving out the cities and big towns, was £5,000, so that a 1d. rate would only bring in £20 a year in the average parish to which the Bill applied. It was therefore clear that one of two things must happen: Either they were going to give the parishes these good institutions or not. If they were going to give the parishes the good institutions through the Bill, they should make up their minds that it would mean an enormous increase in the rating of the parishes. On the other hand, if the Government said that they were not going to enormously increase the rating of the parishes, then the Bill was a sham and a delusion, and would not grant the good things which had been held out to the villagers. It was hardly creditable to the Government to put in that clause about the 1d. rate. It was throwing dust in the eyes of the people. The President of the Local Government Board must know very well that there was no limit to the amount of taxation which the Parish Council might impose—that it, might be a 5s., 10s., 20s., or 40s. rate. It would be far more honest and straight for the Government to state what was the fact—that the Parish Council and the parish meeting might tax the community to any extent they liked. Then, who were the persons that would have to pay this money? The first parish he had mentioned contained about 200 families. On inquiry he found that 15 were what were called private resi- 370 dents; 48 were commercial residents—farmers, shop keepers, and traders, leaving 140, who were industrial residents. Supposing the question came up at the parish meeting whether they should have free baths, and washhouses, and libraries, and public buildings? Everybody, of course, would say that these were excellent things, and that the providing of them would give employment. But supposing the private and the commercial residents, who would really have to pay for these things, took the view that they did not want them? Half of the industrial residents who paid only 1s. 6d., or 2s., or 2s. 6d., including rates, would be able to swamp them and to absolutely tax the district to any limit they pleased. The Bill was, in fact, a measure for taxing those who did pay by those who did not pay. Ho did not say whether that was right or wrong, though he had his own private opinion about it; but he thought the public ought to know distinctly that in adopting the Bill they must either be prepared in the villages for a very large increase of taxation, or else they would not get the advantages promised. With regard to the question of the grouping of parishes, all he would say was that it would be most unpopular, and that it would lead to enormous difficulties, and, therefore, he took it for granted that the Government would give up the proposal. He then came to the question of the Poor Law. For 20 or 25 years he had taken an active part in devising the best means for reducing pauperism and promoting thrift; and he declared that this part of the Bill required more attention and consideration than any other part. The other part was a matter of money. If they were prepared to spend a large amount of money, and people agreed to do so, nothing could be said against the provisions of the first part. But the part relating to the Poor Law was a matter tending to the demoralisation of the people or their improvement. The proposal in the Bill meant that the Poor Law should be based on the popular vote. In his opinion, that was a very great danger at present; but whether he was right or not, surely it was a matter of the greatest moment to the country that one clause of this Bill would instantly revolutionise the whole system of the Poor Law. He 371 knew that in these days there was a popular idea with one class of reformers that because one man was better off than others he must be a real villain. Why was the ex officio Guardian to be abolished? It was not true to say that he was to be abolished in the interest of the poor or in the interest of the Poor Law system. If they traced the history of the Poor Law, they would find that the men who did some of the best work were the ex officios. The country owed them an enormous debt of gratitude. When boldness, firmness, and sagacity were required, the ex officio Guardians had been rather in the advance than in the rear of the elected Guardians. And now they were to be sacrificed because of some absurd and unreasonable political cry, for that was the real reason. He did not believe the Local Government Board would give the ex officios up if it were not a political matter. He did not say that the Poor Law was perfect. It was probable that with careful consideration a better thing could be devised than the ex officio Guardian system; but he said that the ex officio Guardian, independent of the popular vote, was more necessary at the present time than ever before. What was the real danger of the Poor Law? If political Parties remained as they were, the real danger was that the Poor Law would be worked for Party purposes. A lax administration was becoming popular, and sounded more generous and even kind. Liberal offers of outdoor relief and promises of employment were attractive cries to people who imagined they were doing something very virtuous, especially as it was at somebody else's expense. But those who had studied this question knew that a lax administration and proposals for finding work at the public cost were about the most fatal and cruel things that could be given to the poor; and if Guardians were to be elected by the popular vote, they would have a tendency, like politicians, to pander to those popular feelings, even against their own convictions. In elections for Guardians the successful candidates would be not the men who appealed to the people to do something for themselves and to be thrifty in the days of prosperity, but the men who promised them liberal outdoor relief and employment when out of work. He ventured, therefore, to say, in 372 conclusion, that the results of the proposed change must be a large increase of the rates, and, what was infinitely more important, the degradation of the poor, which was the greatest evil they could possibly have. To think of passing this clause, which would revolutionise the Poor Law, simply to help to keep a Government in Office, by enabling them to say they had done something this Session, was really the degradation of politics and really the degradation of all statesmanship.
§ MR. R. J. PRICE (Norfolk, E.)
said, it seemed to be the right thing to begin a speech by congratulating the President of the Local Government Board upon the way in which the Bill, on the whole, had been received. But in the midst of all the harmony there had been two or three discordant notes, and discordant notes were liable in Committee to attain such a pitch as might lead to disaster elsewhere. One of the provisions against which opposition had been directed was the provision relating to allotments. The Bill did not say it; but he understood the President of the Local Government Board to say that the Parish Council should have the power to acquire land on lease either by agreement or, failing agreement, compulsorily, through the medium of the Local Government Board. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to meet them also in one more matter, which was not to limit the size of the allotment to one acre. He should like to appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite on national grounds with regard to the question of allotments. In the first place, the country districts were becoming depopulated very fast. In fact, he might say that the depopulation could not go further without causing danger to our national health. Country blood was wanted to revivify the rapid degeneration that was going on in the cities, and he was afraid the supply would soon diminish if something were not done to stop the migration from the villages. They had around them in these great cities hundreds of thousands of weak and incapable workers, who had been thrown out of employment by stouter workers from the country districts. No one could look forward to the physical deterioration of the race without feelings of sorrow and misgiving, and the only practical plan to prevent it was to stop the migration of 373 the labourers by allotments. Certain other remedies had been proposed, but they were not practicable. Protection was dead—he would not say as dead as Queen Anne, for that proverb had been a little discredited of late. Bimetallism was not feeling well just now. There remained, therefore, only allotments. Experience had shown that when labourers were provided with an interest in land they remained in the villages, and became so well off that they ultimately became Conservatives in politics. The pressing question at present was that land was labour starved—labour land starved—and that the cities were full of unemployed. He believed that if the Bill were improved up to the level of the speech of the President of the Local Government Board in the matter of the employment of the agricultural labourers on their own hired land, they would have the key to this difficulty. He did not care about the purchase of land by the Parish Councils. He did not look upon speculation in landed property as at all a fit subject for Parish Councils; but he felt that the hiring of land was a safe thing for them to do, for he was sure they would be able to get sufficient rent for the land to make the transaction safe. He asked hon. Gentlemen opposite not to complicate the steps for the acquiring of land. The simpler they were the better. Let them not have two Courts of Appeal—the District Council and the Local Government Board. He believed that one would be far better. He considered that if the Bill were passed in an improved shape, in a few years they would see nearly every labourer who wanted it having a bit of land ready to his hand. He did not believe they would see the derelict lands waving with golden corn, as the Leader of the Opposition had said—
§ Mr. R. J. PRICE
said, in any case he did not consider that allotments proper ground for growing corn. But they would see the population of the agricultural districts increased, the labourers hotter fed and in better condition, and the race in the cities kept up to the level to which it ought to be kept up, with the advantage of having the finest natural blood in the world. With 374 regard to the question of ecclesiastical charities, he would point out to hon. Members opposite that it was a good thing to throw away what was useless in order to make a valuable cargo safe, and hoped they would not resist a provision which would increase the Church's power for good. There was no doubt that the Bill would give to the Church authorities control of all the charities in which the Church was beneficially interested, and he thought they ought to be satisfied with that, without seeking to seize the civil dole also. The parson started under immense disadvantages. He knew a clergyman of strong Radical views, which ought to have recommended him to his parishioners—a strong, sympathetic man, who went to a parish determined to do good, but it was seven years before he could say that he had the confidence of every man in his parish. He believed that the most fruitful source of the suspicions under which the parson suffered was the parish charity over which he had control. He believed that if there was misuse of these charities, it was very far from being common. But, on the other hand, they should remember what the training of the average parson was; the grounds on which he was usually appointed to his living, and then they could not reasonably attribute to him any special business capacity. With regard to the parish charities, it should be recollected that in the vast majority of cases—in more than half—the Act which required that proper accounts should be filed with the Charity Commissioners, and published in the parish, was not complied with, and in those parishes there was a very strong suspicion as to the manner in which the charities were administered. He hoped, therefore, that hon. Members opposite would not seek to continue in the parson of the parish the patronage which was no good to him at all, but which made him distrusted by a certain section of the parishioners, and tended to make his powers less effective than they should be. He only wanted to add that his constituents were very thankful to the President of the Local Government Board for having introduced this Bill; and although it might not be what all of them had hoped, he believed it would be of great and permanent value to the peasantry of this country.
§ MR. C. E. H. HOBHOUSE (Wilts, Devizes)
said, he wished merely to get a certain amount of information from the right hon. Gentleman, and he did not intend to treat the Bill in a polemical spirit. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the rural constituencies, to confine the measure to rural constituencies pure and simple. He wished to know whether, under Clause 2, it was intended that all persons should be eligible for the Parish Council? If that was the intention of the Bill, he thought it was a great pity. It seemed to him that the persons really interested in local self-government were those who were resident in the parish. If outside assistance were desirable, power might be given to the parish meeting and Council, as in the case of the County Councils, to choose a Chairman from persons outside the parish; but he considered that the Parish Councillors as a body ought to be elected from persons resident within the parish. Under this 2nd clause, which said that only parochial electors were eligible to attend the parish meeting, it seemed to him that a Parish Councillor, if he were chosen from outside the limits of the parish, might actually be debarred from taking part in the meeting, even although it might be called for the purpose of discussing his conduct. Again, under Clause 4, the use of the parish schoolroom was rightly given free of charge for the parish meeting, but from that room the Chairman of the meeting, if not resident in the parish, might be excluded. That appeared to him to be an oversight which could easily be Corrected, and which could not have been intended by the framers of the Bill. He would be glad if the Government could see their way to permit persons outside the parish to take part as Councillors in the deliberations of the parish. The President of the Local Government Board had invited them to express their opinion upon the question of the grouping of parishes. He would ask the House to remember that the oldest institution in the Kingdom was the parish; and he would say that as each parish, however small in numbers or in area, had been for so many years separated from its neighbours except for certain definite purposes, and as there were innumerable memories connected with the retention of such area, it would be unwise and im- 376 politic, if only from a Party point of view, to merge these areas in some other parishes. In the Division he represented there were 74 civil parishes, 32 of which had a population under 300, and of these 32 parishes 24 had under 200 inhabitants. The average of each of these parishes was over 1,400 acres; and if one parish were compulsorily grouped with another, the independence which this Bill was intended to foster would be destroyed. He hoped the Government would leave every parish to choose for itself whether, for purposes of economy, it would be grouped with another parish or not. He should like to see the compulsory powers for the acquisition of land infinitely more stringent than they were in the Bill; but unless houses were given to the persons who desired to cultivate the land, it would be useless to give them the land. During the last 30 years the number of houses in the rural districts had decreased, and he would suggest that compulsory powers should be given to the local village authorities to acquire what he would call derelict or uninhabitable houses. With regard to the question of cottages, he would refer to the statement of the Leader of the Opposition, that the rent paid for these cottages in rural districts was not a commercial rent.
§ MR. HOBHOUSE
said, he quite understood that it was a general proposition. It was also said by another Member that rent was a fixed quantity. He ventured to differ from both the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member. The actual rent was a commercial rent, simply because it was the largest rent obtainable for the house. The statement had been made that in the towns the rent charged was a strictly commercial rent, but that in the villages the rent was as much as could be obtained from the labourers, having regard to the wages they earned. It was a matter of common knowledge that the owners of the soil lived through their land being properly and well cultivated. There must be cottages for the labourers, and they could not afford to pay a larger rent. If, therefore, the rent was raised by 1s. a week, so as to increase the percentage paid on the capital expenditure by 1 or 2 per cent., the result would be 377 that the labourers inhabiting the cottages would be unable to pay the rent, and there would be no interest available. The rent charged now was, therefore, the greatest rent obtainable, and the present rent was a commercial rent. With regard to the question of the plurality of votes, there was no doubt that the principle of "One Man One Vote" was established, but he very much doubted whether that obtained with regard to District Councils. If he was right in his reading of the Bill the condition of "One Man One Vote" being observed throughout the whole of its provisions was not maintained, and he urged the President of the Local Government Board to introduce some Amendment which would correct a system of voting which supporters of the Government both in and out of the House had strongly disapproved.
§ * MR. J. H. JOHNSTONE (Sussex, Horsham)
said that, in the consideration of this measure, which was largely one of detail—for with the principle they were almost entirely agreed—hon. Members who were familiar with the details of municipal administration should extend consideration to the views of those who were familiar with rural administration, and not fail to bear in mind that between the two things there were great and essential differences which must always exist. The wants of towns were more of a domestic character, whilst the wants of villages were more of a sanitary character. Above all, there were great geographical differences. The Councillor in the towns could have a cab or an omnibus at will to take him to attend meetings, and the distance he had to go was rarely great; whereas, in the country they had often to face the difficulty of drawing men together from a widely-scattered district, and this at all times of the year and in all sorts of weather. All these things should be taken into account. He wished to say that he recognised, and gladly recognised, that in the large country parishes this Bill would be extremely welcome and very useful—those larger parishes which did not rise to the dignity either of boroughs or Urban Sanitary Authorities. He was aware that some of the matters which the Bill proposed to devolve upon the Parish Councils might, under the existing law, be dealt with by Parochial Com- 378 mittees, but there seemed to be no particular provision at the present time for supplying Parochial Committees with funds, and therefore in the larger parishes the Parish Council with funds at its disposal would, he thought, do useful work. On this subject he would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the advisability and the possibility of allowing these parishes to form within themselves—of course, subject to due restriction and control—a particular rating area, or administrative area for certain purposes. He had in his mind a large parish, mostly rural, but having a considerable town in the centre of it. The town, of course, required lighting and certain sanitary conditions—scavenging and cleaning away of refuse—and he would not say water, for that it had already. It would be manifestly unfair that the extremities of the parish, which would benefit little by these domestic services, should be placed on the same footing as regarded expenditure and rating as the town in question. As to the smaller parishes, he could speak as an inhabitant of a parish with a population which was about 200—and here he would remark that if that was to be the limit of population in deciding what parishes should be grouped, nearly one-third of the parishes in England would be affected. He had a knowledge of the great individual parochial feeling which existed in the country. He had land which was in two parishes which adjoined one another, and the inhabitants of which were closely connected with one another by marriage or friendship. Despite the connection, there was in certain matters a healthy rivalry between the two, especially as regarded administration, the rising or falling of rates, and so on. Each liked to think itself in this or that respect better than the other. This had existed from time immemorial, and partly explained the fact that there was the greatest possible objection to the individuality of the smaller parishes being done away with. This being so, he would suggest that the grouping should be entirely optional and subject to the decision of the parish meeting, which, according to the Bill, had to be held yearly. Dealing with this point of parish option, he would also suggest that the institution of the Council in the parish should be optional also, and be 379 decided by the parish meeting. Their Liberal friends had much to say about trusting the people. He asked them to trust the people in this matter, and let them decide for themselves whether they would or would not have a Council; whether they would be satisfied with the right of meeting which they would possess under this measure, or whether they would take on themselves the additional burden of a Parish Council. An important consideration to be taken into account was the expense of bringing this Council into operation. They all remembered the expense which attended the first election of the County Council. He looked the other day at the Financial Return for his own county, and found that their election in 1889 cost no less than £1,289. That was to elect 45 members, so that the amount was about £29 for each member elected. The County Councillors were elected for three years; the Parish Councillors would be elected for only one year. Probably, every polling station would cost £7 10s. Taking the rent of rooms, staff of officers, &c, it could not well be less. If they bad so much to spend in their various parishes—and it might easily be more—they would soon find that the amount raised by the possible 1d. rate would be swallowed up entirely by the elections. He had endeavoured to picture himself in the position of the Chairman of a Village Council. The first thing he would have to tell his fellow-Councillors would be that their first business was to raise a loan to pay the expenses of having elected themselves. He would next like to refer to the subject of the ex officios. He was an ex officio himself, and felt sympathy for the ex officios. From both sides it had been acknowledged that they did good work, and the attempt was made to re-assure the defenders of the ex officio element by saying that under the new system the country would get the same class of men. It might be so, but a long time would first elapse. The country would lose them at the first. Many of the men who were now ex officios would not care to be put to the trouble of contested elections. Many of them felt that they had too many contested elections already; and if they were to have more it would make life scarcely worth living. No doubt some of the present elected 380 Guardians would retire in favour of the ex officio; but they would not wish that, and they must lose the service of one or the other. He would not himself feel justified in standing for election, because he would not be able to spare the time to attend regularly and take the place of one who could. His own experience was that, though he was not able to attend as often as he wished, when he did attend, whatever the business was, he was always kindly welcomed by the other Guardians, who were glad to see him, and he believed that some time he had been of use in the work of the Board. Although the ex officio Guardians were only able to attend occasionally, they brought fresh minds to bear on the subjects and often usefully took part in the deliberations of the Board. He should like to say a word or two upon the subject of property qualification and representation with which this Bill proposed to deal. As regarded the property qualification for a Guardian, he attached very little importance to it. He should be glad, indeed, if they could get some real, genuine labouring men to come and sit on the Boards, and take part in their proceedings. He had learned a good deal of the labouring men. He found them shrewd, business-like, honest and intelligent, and he should be glad to welcome them on the Boards. The reason he would most gladly see the abolition of the property qualification was that he hoped they might get on the Boards a class they had not now—namely, married women. Occasionally they got a spinster or a widow, but it was exceptional to get a married woman. Those who had to deal with the administration of the relief of the poor, and particularly indoor relief, must know what great weight and strength it would add to the deliberations of the Boards of Guardians in many of their administrative functions if they had the advice and assistance of one or two married women. But when he came to the question of the representation of property, he could not at all agree with what was suggested by the Bill. He did not think they should get rid of the compound householder—he was a great deal too convenient. He knew from experience, having been an Overseer, how very much easier it was to collect rates from a few owners instead of going round to the cottage 381 tenants. The present system was really an economy to the parish and to the Overseer; and, after all, the convenience was so great that he did not think it ought ever to be done away with. The true, logical escape from the position they were otherwise placed in—of men voting money which they did not themselves pay—was to adhere to the present system of plurality voting. He did not say that it need be as extensive or as full as now. It might, perhaps, be sufficient that the owner and occupier should have a vote; but he would not in any degree deprive the occupier, whether a compound householder or not, of his vote. The matter was one which required careful consideration without regard to Party politics, and those who had to pay the piper should be able, to some extent, to call the tune. He should like to say a word or two on the question of rights of way with which the Bill dealt. He thought it was a very valuable thing that the District Council, under the supervision of the County Council, should have the power of dealing with rights of way, and of instituting or defending proceedings which really turned upon the existence of a right of way. It would be infinitely better for the unfortunate landowner, over whose property a right of way was claimed, that he should have a solvent body as an antagonist than that he should have some man of straw put up with the feeling that if he won the case he would certainly have to pay his own costs, and that if he lost he would have to pay both. It should not be in the power of any meddlesome person to claim a right of way, and thus put one to frightful expense. He would suggest that the District Council should be the necessary parties to every proceeding which involved the existence of a right of way, and he thought no person could reasonably complain if a provision of that sort were introduced into this measure. As to the question of compulsory purchase, it did seem to him a grave blot on the Bill and an infraction of sound principle that they should deliberately propose to take a man's property for the public advantage, without giving him an increased percentage to the price they paid him on the ground of the purchase being compulsory. He was quite aware that the price which custom seemed to have sanctioned was extravagant and unnecessary. He be- 382 lieved it was often as high as 25 per cent., but it might very well be limited to 10 per cent. While they should not pay an exaggerated compensation, they should recognise the principle that if a man's property was taken compulsorily, he at least should be paid a higher rate than if he had gone into the market and sold it voluntarily to the highest bidder. Upon the whole, he gave the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board his hearty concurrence to this measure. He thought it advanced, as far as it went, the true principle of local government—the devolution of administrative powers, while at the same time withholding the devolution of judicial powers. It seemed to go on the lines of honesty, commonsense, and sound knowledge, and he gave it a hearty support.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES (Durham, N.W.)
alluded to the warm and generous reception which the Bill had met with from both sides of the House, a reception which, although generous, was, in his judgment, by no means a less just reception. And if he might take one illustration in point from the other side of the House, he would refer to the extremely interesting speech of the Leader of the Opposition, the sum total of whose adverse criticism of the Bill was confined to the potentialities of extravagance on the part of the District and County Councils, and the removal of the present ex officio qualification of Guardians. He could not help thinking that in the former of these objections the illustration which the right hon. Gentleman gave was singularly unfortunate, because he referred to the amount of money which had been spent by the Municipalities of this country. If there was one thing upon which he thought the British public felt marked satisfaction it was upon the mode in which the Municipalities of this country had been conducted; and if the Municipalities had spent money, the ratepayers and the public generally of these Municipalities had had their money's worth. If one contrasted what was the condition of the Municipalities before the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act with what it was now, one could see, both in the sanitation, in the public buildings which had been created, and the general amenities and healthful conditions of life—both of body and mind—that our Municipalities 383 had wrought a marvellous change. With regard to the question of ex officio Guardians, he had no doubt that those who worthily filled the position of ex officio Guardians, like his hon. Friend who last spoke, would receive fitting recognition from the electorate. Having made these general observations, he wished, with due respect, to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill to what he conceived, speaking as a lawyer, to be one or two defects worthy of consideration on his part. He might mention, en passant, his regret—although he could not quite see how it was to be avoided—that it had been necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to create a third Register. They had at present a County Council Register; they had a Parliamentary Register, and now they had to have a third—a District Council and Parochial Register—which would, of course, undoubtedly entail very considerable expense and be open to the multifarious objections which must necessarily apply to a multiplication of Registers. He would further point out another very minor defect which he thought the right hon. Gentleman might readily cure, and that was where he provided that the granting of miscellaneous licences should be confided to the District Councils. He thought he was correct in saying that in most County Councils, where the powers of licensing were at present vested, it was found a very unsuitable and inconvenient power. He was speaking now in the interests of the applicants for licences, and he thought it would be well for them if some arrangement was made like that which, he believed, had been made by the County of Middlesex, by which the Magistrates could still retain the power of granting licences, because the County Council and District Council, to whom this power was granted, could not meet as frequently as the Magistrates did Although this was a small matter, it would be a convenience if the power were still confined to the Magistrates. He regretted—and in this the opinion of municipal reformers concurred with his—that the District Council was not re-elected en masse. He objected to the one-third retiring after a period of three years. He did not feel that that one-third retiring gave an effective control by the ratepayers over their representatives. It left too large a residue, which 384 might act inimically to the wishes of their constituents. He quite agreed that for District Councillors a longer period of service than one year was necessary, so that they might gain experience, and learn to discharge effectively their duties. Still, it would be better if, after the period of three years, all should retire rather than that a third should retire. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman had the precedent of the Municipal Corporations, but the experience of those versed in municipal matters was wholly opposed to the present system. Passing from that to the general scope of the measure, he took it that this Bill, so far as the Parish Councils were concerned, was transferring from the present Vestries to the Parish Council the power which was possessed by them, because, looking at Clauses 7 and 8, he found that, almost without exception, the powers which were conferred upon the parish meeting and Parish Council were powers which were at present enjoyed by the Vestries. He omitted, of course, the very important question of allotments. Until recently the Parish Vestries had power to acquire allotments by agreement, but that power had been lately extinguished by Act of Parliament. He thought it would be well that on similar lines those powers should be restored to the Vestries. But that was not the point of his observation. He admitted the amplitude of the powers which had been conferred upon the parish meeting and the Parish Council by his right hon. Friend. What he wanted to know, however, was how these Parish Councils and meetings were to have the means of effectively carrying out these powers any more than the Vestries had at present? He thought the right hon. Gentleman would agree with him when he said the Vestries had larger powers at the present time than the parish meeting or the Parish Council would have, because the Vestries had the power of making an improvement rate without limit, whereas a rate levied by the Parish Council or parish meeting must not exceed the sum of 1d. in the £1. The Parish Councils, it was true, had the power of borrowing money if their scheme were approved by the District Council and the Local Government Board. There were 15,400 parishes in England at the present time. Of these 15,400 parishes about 8,500 had popula- 385 tions under 500. The valuation of these latter parishes, as a rule, was comparatively small. It would be impossible for them to levy rates. Although they had the power of going beyond the 1d. in respect of adopted Acts, it would be impossible for them to levy money by rates to carry out any of those beneficent objects which the right hon. Gentleman conferred upon them, and they must have resort to borrowing powers. They would go to the County Council, and the County Council would then exercise its option. It might, if it liked, accede to the request; but if it did not like, it might refuse to lend the money. He would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that there should be some control exercised over the expenditure of the Parish Council; and that if the proposed scheme of the parish met with the approval of the Local Government Board, and it might be of the District Council, then it should be obligatory on the County Council to lend money for the purpose of these improvements. If the matter remained purely optional the District Council or the Parish Council would be extremely chary of lending the money. He desired to know why the right hon. Gentleman had omitted to give the Parish Council and the parish meeting the power which he believed was possessed by the parishes at the present time, of providing accommodation for the working classes in respect of houses? That was a power which would be exercised with very great discretion and judgment, and which would undoubtedly, having regard to the sanitary condition of too many of our agricultural villages, be warmly welcomed by the agricultural classes. With regard to the lending of money by the County Councils, unless the right hon. Gentleman put some such provision in the Bill as he had ventured to suggest, he was afraid these 8,500 parishes with a population under 500 would not really derive any material benefit from its passage; but, beyond the fact that their organisation and machinery would be improved, they would be left very much in the same position as they were at present. He saw the right hon. Gentleman had made no arrangement with regard to the Vestries; but he presumed the Vestry was to continue to exist. The Vestry 386 clerk, he observed, was to be extinguished. He wanted to call attention to a matter of some practical difficulty, and one as to which ho had received numerous communications. Hitherto the Vestry had had the power of mooting in the parish room or hall. In a large number of villages there would be no meeting place whatever for the Parish Councils, and it would be necessary to make provision to remedy this state of things. Then as to the question of Poor Law, it was an entire misrepresentation of the Bill to say that it proposed any revolution of the Poor Law. The only alteration which it made in regard to the Poor Law was in the method of election; the administration remained practically the same. But he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman, as the Representative of a large industrial constituency, whether he had been altogether judicious in leaving that question so entirely alone. There was an enormous amount of chronic distress in the villages which voluntary effort was unable to meet, and with which the present Poor Law administration was incapable of grappling. Great as was the evil inflicted by indiscriminate relief under the old system of Overseers and Magistrates, greater still was the injustice done to the honest, hard-working poor by the cruel system of indiscriminately refusing outdoor relief, or of granting it in an absolutely inadequate manner. When it was considered that Boards of Guardians had, on an average, districts 10 miles square, it was impossible that their members could become acquainted with the conditions of village life. What he would like to see was a return to the purely parochial or village system of outdoor relief, the parish being regarded as the unit. They knew from the system of charity organisation that that system was the best. The right hon. Gentleman had taken upon himself a great responsibility in founding Parish Councils without providing machinery by which those Councils should, in the administration of relief, be placed under the close supervision of the District Councils. He (Mr. Atherley-Jones) intended to move an Amendment in this direction, and he was satisfied that, if agreed to, it would confer a real and a substantial benefit upon both the agricultural and the industrial population in checking the extrava- 387 gance which still existed in Poor Law administration. He had not spoken in any tone of animosity towards the Bill, which he supported, and which he hoped, amended in the sense he had mentioned, would receive the sanction of the House.
§ * MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN (Kent, Faversham)
said, he did not think he should have intervened in the Debate but for one reason. He held views in respect of this Bill—views which he was aware were not, perhaps, popular, which, although they might be hold outside the House and possibly even inside it, were not, he thought, likely to find expression. They found partial expression in the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Islington (Mr. Bartley), and he thanked him for that speech. It was one of the most honest and straightforward he had ever heard, and it was the only speech in the Debate, not even excepting the able speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. A. J. Balfour), which he had heard with unmixed satisfaction. The Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool said he thought there were certain Members in the House who disliked the Bill in their hearts, but who were afraid to say so. He (Mr. Knatch-bull-Hugessen) was not one of those—
§ * MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
said, he did not say that. What he said was that that charge had been preferred by hon. Gentlemen opposite against Members sitting on that (the Conservative) side of the House.
§ * MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
said, of course, if he misunderstood the hon. Gentleman he begged pardon, but he thought that was what he said. At any rate, if that opinion prevailed anywhere he, for one, was not afraid to say, either in the House or out of it, what he thought of the Bill, and before it went to a Second Reading he wanted to utter what he was well aware was an unavailing protest against it. He believed the effect of the Bill would be to scatter confusion and ill-feeling broadcast throughout the country, and that it would lead to extravagance, jobbery, corruption, and maladministration. When the Local Government Bill was introduced by the late Government—a Bill which he considered one of the most mischievous ever passed into law—except, possibly, the Ballot Act and one or two examples of modern legislation, he ventured to say that 388 he viewed its introduction with dismay and apprehension, and to predict that it would lead to the sacrifice of efficiency and economy. Unfortunately, his predictions on both points had been verified. Their affairs were certainly no better conducted than they had been, and no one would be bold enough to deny that rates had increased, were increasing, and, no doubt, would increase. And now they were going, by this Bill, to inflict a larger and an unknown pecuniary burden on the small parishes of England, and upon an industry already nearly crushed. His hon. Friend the Member for Islington had completely exposed the financial danger of the Bill, and he should be anxious to know if any Member of the Government had taken the pains to ascertain the financial results of their own proposals. Now, he held that this creation of Parish Councils would make matters worse than they now were; that it would make confusion Worse confounded; that it would make every parish the centre of political discord, and that they should see, what indeed they were seeing now, the gradual retirement from public life of all the best men of business and their places taken by busybodies and political adventurers. This Bill appeared to him to have been framed by gentlemen with, no doubt, good intentions, but very ignorant of the real conditions of rural life, though he did not impute to them the dense ignorance of the real relations of the parson and the squire to the parishioners, which characterised, and, he thought, must have dictated, the unhappy speech of the Under Secretary for India (Mr. G. Russell). That hon. Member had received at abler hands than his a sufficient castigation, so that he would not pursue the matter. He was afraid this Bill was a greater blunder than the Bill of the late Government, because he believed it militated against the principles of true Conservatism, which he took to be the removal of the bad and the maintaining and upholding of the good in every institution. He might remind the House that, in introducing the late Local Government Bill, the very Minister who did so felt obliged to preface his speech with a well-deserved eulogium—on what? Why, the very institution he was proposing to destroy. And this example had been followed in this Debate, by almost every speaker, in praising the 389 ex officio Guardians for the way in which they had performed their duties. Yet it was proposed to abolish the ex officios. He was aware that this Bill, or something like it, with the consent of both Parties, would become law. He could only marvel that with the fearful example before them of the extravagance of the London County Council and Loudon School Board anyone could be found anywhere willing to advance still further in the direction of the creation of more popularly-elected bodies. He believed there was more nonsense talked on this subject of popular bodies than on any other—except, perhaps, Free Trade. But he marvelled still more that such principles as were embodied in this Bill should find even indirect acceptance by a Party calling itself Conservative. But so it was; and for himself he would offer no factious opposition to what he knew was inevitable. But he should feel it his duty to endeavour to help those who in Committee would try to move or to modify some of the worst features of the Bill, and in that connection he wished to urge the Government to defer to the opinion which had been expressed in many quarters of the House, that it would be well not to touch the Poor Law, but to leave the consideration of that matter for a future occasion. He would say no more; but if he were the only Tory left in that House, as he sometimes thought he was, he felt bound to protest against legislation which he honestly believed to be unnecessary, dangerous, revolutionary, and opposed to the best interests of the country.
§ * MR. EVERETT (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
said, it was not often the House was indulged with a speech of the character of that which had just fallen from the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Knatch-bull-Hugessen). It seemed to him that that speech and the sentiments expressed in it represented a survival of ancient times, and gave them a true picture of the spirit of Toryism as it was in its prime. The Bill they were discussing was designed to kill Toryism; to pursue it to its last strongholds, and there to root it out. To most of them who held their seats in that House, principally by the votes of the agricultural labourers, the Bill was of very great interest, for it was one to complete the enfranchisement of the labourer. They had given him the 390 vote in respect of the election of Members to that House, so making him a freeman of the nation, and now they proposed to make him a freeman in the parish. The Debate—and he had had the pleasure of listening to most of it—had been marked by a blessed spirit of peace. They were engaged in a holy work in trying to make free the men in the parish, for the parish was to a nation in its civil life what the family was to it in its social life. They were engaged in a great work, and he was glad that the Government took as the foundation principle of their measure persons and not property. Property was all very well; but persons were more than property, and property and men of property were better able to take care of themselves than the poor man. In the rural districts—in the villages—there was one individual in each called the parson. The word "parson" was, he understood, a corruption of the word "person." He was the person. The Bill recognised that there were persons also in the cottages, and would make of each of them a parson. It was to be recognised as a fact that every cottage contained a person, and that every person—every man in the village—was entitled to have his share in the government of the village in which he lived, and that appeared to him (Mr. Everett) to be a thoroughly sound foundation upon which to build their legislation. It was said that it was dangerous to do this, because the labourer did not pay the rates. It was true that he did not consciously pay them; but he contended that no Government dare propose that the man in the cottage should directly pay rates. The people would not stand it. One hon. Member had said that the tap of the rate collector at the cottage door would have a very educational effect; but if that hon. Member went down to his constituency and advocated this, he (Mr. Everett) did not think he would occupy a high place in the poll at the next Election. Governments could only do what they could, and no Government would propose to do that which they knew the people would repudiate; and certainly the Government that would propose to do this would have a poor chance of being returned again to power. It would be the poll tax and Wat Tyler over again. But although the cottagers did not pay rates directly, 391 they did so indirectly. The rates paid out of the village were paid out of labour, and were the produce of the toil of the workman. If the cottagers showed a disposition recklessly to increase the rates they would soon be made to suffer in their rents or their wages. He had no fear but that the different classes of the people would join and work together for the common good. It was said that the tendency of the workman in the village was revolutionary. He denied that, and said he was one of the worthiest members of the social community. He thought this class was disposed to look up to the higher classes, and that it would be willing to accept their guidance and leadership, and act in harmony with them under this measure. Those who knew the villages need have no fear that anything revolutionary would emanate from them. He was glad that this Bill recognised local patriotism, and as amended it would preserve the individuality of even small parishes, and so keep alive healthy local pride. He approved of the sentiments expressed by several speakers in the Debate, that they should not endeavour to put the Parish Councils in place of the parish meeting. In the one case they had a principle of selection which would excite jealousies; in the other they had the whole of the inhabitants assembled in the village meeting. Then there were the questions the parishes would have to deal with under the present Bill. There was the question of the land; they would want easy access to it. Those who had to do with this question at present in County Councils found that in case of unwilling owners the methods now available were impracticable. Land could not be obtained by the machinery they had, except at prohibitory expense. What they wanted in the villages was to have easy access to the land, and that would enable them to obtain as much land for public purposes as might be essential to the welfare of the people. And unless they had power to take the land easily, the people in the villages would be enormously disappointed with this measure. He trusted they would give means to take the land in that way. Then they wanted to have the land cheaply—to have it taken cheaply and let to the people on similar terms. If they made the Parish Council respon- 392 sible for payment of the rent, the letters of the land would be willing to take the same rent for that land as for any other land, because the rent would be assured. Moreover, the parish being responsible for the rent, they would have the moral force of the parish at the back of the rent collector. The parish would see that the rent was honestly paid, and that the land was only let to men who were willing to use it properly. Then, again, the parishioners wanted to have the land in an independent way—and this, to his mind, was the most important point of all. They did not wish to have their allotments under conditions which made it necessary for them to touch their hats to somebody, or which rendered them liable to be put out if they did not conform to the wishes of Squire So-and-so, or the Rev. So-and-so, or Lord So-and-so, or Farmer So-and-so. With regard to appeals in cases where the Parish Council could not agree with the owner from whom they wished to hire land, he thought they should be made to the County Council rather than to the Local Government Board. As to the question of charities, he thought the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had spoken more to please hon. Gentlemen opposite than his own supporters. This question had brought out the true spirit of the two Parties as regards the Bill. He had been surprised at the manner in which this question had been dealt with by the champions of the Church who had spoken in the House and at Convocation and diaconal meetings. They had bristled with fear lest the popular element should be brought into the administration of charities. They had seemed to wish to treat the Church as if it were a sect rather than the National Church, the Church of the whole people, and had assumed an attitude of hostility toward the people of the rural districts, their desire being to keep as many charities as possible from their management. The supporters of the Government, on the other hand, desired to see as many charities as possible come under the control of the villagers. Although the people of the villages were anxious to assist the Church in the management of these ecclesiastical charities, that Church folded its arms, and said—"Keep off; we will keep the management of every- 393 thing connected with the Church out of the hands of the village people." He could not help feeling that that attitude on the part of the Church would have its fruit. The villagers would regard the Church as, after all, only a sect, and a sect jealous of popular power. His opinion was, that if the Church was wise, she would open her arms and welcome the people to assist in the management of the village charities. He was sorry that the President of the Local Government Board in this matter had given the Radical Party away; but he recognised that under existing circumstances concession and a spirit of peace on his part was, perhaps, wiser than to incur hostility. He (Mr. Everett) much regretted that the National Church should have taken in any way an attitude of hostility towards the people of England, especially the rural population in the villages. The most remarkable and glaring fact in connection with the Bill was the omissions in it. He regretted that more charities were not included in the Bill, but an omission of much greater importance was that it did not touch the village schools. When the Leader of the Opposition made his speech yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman had said that there was an omission in the Bill which it would be wise even now to repair, and he had gone on to speak of schools, and he (Mr. Everett) confessed that he had felt quite hopeful. He had listened many times to the right hon. Gentleman with pleasure, and had thought he had discerned a strong vein of Liberalism running through his Conservatism. He (Mr. Everett) had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman was going to say that schools were one of the affairs most interesting to the people of the parish, and that they should be put as far as possible under the management of the Parish Councils. But what the right hon. Gentleman did was to suggest that the School Board schools, which were the only schools under the management of the whole people now, should have some alteration made in their constitution. But it was the management of the other schools which the people of the villages wished to see altered. In the great bulk of the villages the National school was the only one to which the people could send their children. These schools were sustained principally by public money; 394 and to withhold them from all popular control, while the government of the parish was granted to the people, was a singular and monstrous course to take. Here, again, he could understand why the President of the Local Government Board had not put the desired reform in the Bill. It was because of the dangers the measure would have had to encounter in another place. But he could assure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that the people of the villages would feel bitterly disappointed in the matter. They would never be content until the village school was in their hands. Another important institution in the village was the public-house. He came from an eastern county, and they were a beer-drinking people there. The people he came in contact with up and down the villages believed beer to be a good gift of Heaven sent to refresh the thirsty man in his toil in the fields, and he did not believe that if the control of the public-houses were put into their hands they would close them, but he did believe that they would reform them. His conviction was that the only effective way of dealing with the drink question in this country was to give each locality the control of its own public-houses and drink regulation. If this were done, and the people had the power to regulate the number of houses and the days and hours of opening, he believed a great reform would soon be effected in the conduct and condition of the trade, and in the character of the liquor sold. The beer sold at the village public-house was very often very different to good honest home brewed beer. It got into the heads of the people, and made fools of them before they were aware of it. Then the price charged was exorbitant, 2d. being charged for that which cost only a ½d. to the brewer. No tradesman got rich so fast as the brewer. They did not often see the baker becoming rich, driving his carriage, and going up into the House of Peers. It was beer, the manufacture and sale of which was a close monopoly, which did this for those who made and dealt in it. He should let the people, in the parishes be masters over the public-houses. They would then say to those who kept the public-houses—"Mr. Publican, if you don't supply us with beer which is wholesome and invigorating at a reasonable price, 395 instead of that which at once flies into our heads, we will get rid of you and get somebody else who will." He thought this Bill was the beginning of a beneficent revolution, but only the beginning—only the first step in a direction in which they hoped before long to make further progress. When these Councils should have been firmly established, and au articulate voice should thereby have been given to the villagers for the expression of any grievances that they might feel themselves labouring under and for the demand of any reform that they might think within their reach, there would be a great change indeed in village life. The use of the parish church—generally the oldest building in the village, a building hallowed by centuries of pious associations, the one piece of common property in the parish ought to be under their control. In villages where there were many Nonconformists, its use on one part of the Sunday might perhaps be asked for. And when once all the religious life met in the same building it might lead to a drawing nearer in heart, and open the way to closer re-union in religious matters. The appointment and removal of clergymen and the disposal of tithe funds the people would ask for some voice in. He did not believe that the law at present regulating these matters would hold for any length of time when once the villagers had been enfranchised and had got accustomed to their powers. In regard to the second part of the Bill, its most important aspect was the change it would make in the election of Guardians. It would make the elections popular. Some hon. Gentlemen had spoken, and spoken rightly, of the great services the ex officio Guardians had rendered in the administration of the Poor Law in the past. It was true that they had rendered great services, but the answer of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board was unanswerable, when he said that all the ex officio Guardians who desired to serve in that capacity would no doubt be willingly elected by the people. That had been the case on the County Councils with all active Magistrates; and if the ex officios were men of the right sort, he had no doubt that it would be the case on the new District Councils. The right hon. Gentleman 396 the Member for Bodmin had expressed a fear that with the system of One Man One Vote at the election of these bodies there would be no variety. He (Mr. Everett) had wondered whether the right hon. Gentleman had ever cast his eyes around that House, which was elected not on the principle of One Man One Vote it was true, but by a popular vote. Did they not see here the horny-handed sons of toil, the sons of our ancient nobility, manufacturers, members of the wealthiest families in the world, professional men—in fact, all classes of the community? The most agreeable thing in the House was that all were treated equally. And the same condition of things would doubtless prevail on the new District Councils. All classes, he was sure, would be represented, and every one would be on terms of equality there. It was certain that the working-man element would not prevail too much, because of the distances that would have to be travelled, and the expense and loss of time that would necessarily be entailed. He had been pleased to notice the familiarity that the squires on the other side of the House had shown with the ins and outs of country life. Those who lived in the country districts knew that the workhouse was the object of bitter detestation on the part of the villagers. Many felt that they would rather die than go there. He had sometimes wondered why that feeling arose, and why it existed amongst these people, when it did not exist amongst the middle classes, and he had come to the conclusion that the reason was because the middle classes had no expectation of spending the closing days of their lives in the workhouse, while the labourers had that fear before their eyes. If hon. Members had that expectation, no doubt they would entertain the same feeling as that which pervaded the breasts of the labouring classes. There must be something about these places unnatural and detestable to render them so hateful to the people as they were. One effect of that part of the Bill relating to the Guardians would be to humanise the spirit of Poor Law administration; and if the newly-constituted Guardians could devise some better means of dealing with the aged poor than the present, he should 397 consider it a very happy outcome of the Bill.
§ * MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)
said, he would not follow the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down through the remarkable picture of Utopia he had drawn. The House had made some progress in education, but it had hardly got so far as the hon. Member. There were one or two points in the Bill on which he thought they ought to have a distinct understanding from Her Majesty's Government. They all acknowledged the moderation of the tone that pervaded the Debate—a moderation which was not confined to those who had charge of the Bill, but which had characterised the utterances of many who entertained strong feelings on many points dealt with in the measure. He hoped that the result would be that they would arrive at something like a common understanding on the Bill. If they arrived at that understanding, no doubt the Government would eliminate from the measure all the questions which did not properly belong to this special subject. He would ask for an assurance that in Committee the promises of the President of the Local Government Board with reference to Church questions should be translated into statutory words. Their experience of the assurances given when the Education Act of 1870 was passed—assurances that the rates would not exceed 3d. in the £1, and that the position of the voluntary schools would not be in the least interfered with—showed how necessary it was that the fulfilment of promises should be assured. With regard to voluntary schools, he understood that no alteration was to be made in the existing law by the present Bill. There was one point they had not had sufficient assurance upon, and that was as to parish rooms. All they asked as to parish rooms was that, where they were now on a distinctly Church basis in accordance with the founder's wishes, they should not be interfered with. He trusted that in this matter the Government would give them not only the assurance of a speech, but would bring forward an Amendment to give effect to it. While he was on the subject of Amendments, he would ask when they might hope to see the Amend- 398 ments on the Paper, because on those would depend a good deal the course he and other hon. Members would take as to putting down Amendments. On the Opposition side of the House a friendly spirit had been shown towards the Bill. They had only two fears, broadly stated. One fear was the danger of excessive burdens on the rates—burdens, be it remembered, imposed by those who had not to pay the rates; for it would be admitted that no alteration was made in the rents to ordinary village voters, whether the rates were higher or lower. It could not be said, in the true sense, that the village voter paid any rates at all. All he would say on that was that he wished to emphasise the fact that these burdens might be made excessive. The only other fear they had arose from the tone of some of those who advocated this measure. There was a great difference in the tones adopted inside and outside the House. He was not going to reiterate any of the complaints made by some hon. Members in the course of this Debate. But it was a matter of common notoriety that outside the House all kinds of wild pictures had been drawn about the present oppressed state of the agricultural labourer, and a fancy picture was sketched of what was going to be achieved under this Bill. The picture drawn of the oppression of the parson and the squire as an argument for the passing of a Bill of this kind was really what they might call an anachronism. It might have been applicable to past times, but no one who lived in the country could admit that such a state of things existed now. He did not believe that the labourers suffered from any oppression from the squire or the parson, and if such a state of things prevailed in any district he was unaware of it. Such was the difficulty of getting land cultivated that those who cultivated it had pretty much their own way, and the persons oppressed were very often the landlords themselves. He should also like to emphasise another point as to the limitation of the rate. On that matter there was supposed to be a safeguard in Clause 10. They were led to believe that the rate would be limited to 1d. in the £1, but there was really no limit at all. There were limiting words in the clause, but words followed which extended the limit with the con- 399 sent of the District Council. Practically for certain purposes under the Bill, the amount of expenditure was almost unlimited. If 1d. in the £1 was really to be the limit, let it be so stated in the Bill. Furthermore, he wished to know what provision was made for arriving at a decision as to what was and what was not ecclesiastical property, and, if there was a dispute, who was to decide? One of the clauses seemed to him rather one-sided. The Local Authorities might appeal, but he did not see that those who were interested on the other side were in the same position. This was a point which he thought the right hon. Gentleman should consider, and, if possible, put right. The question of grouping was one upon which so much had been said that perhaps it was hardly necessary for him to go into it. He understood from a speech made last night that some concession would be made. All he would say on it was that if the small parishes were not grouped no doubt there would be anomalies, but anomalies existed in all our institutions in this country, and he did not think that English life would be as agreeable as it was if it were not for those anomalies. He hoped that the fear of creating anomalies would not deter the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board from retaining the independence of each individual parish. As to the Poor Law, which already had been largely dealt with, it had been admitted to be a most critical question, and he would add his earnest appeal to others which had been made to the Government to remove the second part of the Bill from their scheme. The President of the Local Government Board must be aware of the condition of things which existed before 1834, and must know how enormous was the disaster which was then threatened. Everyone who had gone into the matter knew that at that time the country had almost brought itself into a condition of bankruptcy. In Mr. Fowle's book on the Poor Law he found the following passage on the subject:—The typical though extreme case of Cholesbury in Buckinghamshire, where the rates, which had been £10 11s. in 1801, were in 1832 £367, when they ceased, owing to the impossibility of collecting more. The poor rate 400 had swallowed up the whole value of the land, which was going out of cultivation.…When we remember that the amount raised in poor rates was over £6,000,000 we can imagine that the margin between possession and confiscation was growing perilously small. Farms were in all districts without tenants, simply because it was found impossible to pay rates that were, perhaps, £1 per acre. The burden upon the poorer ratepayers was hard indeed. In many instances they earned less and worked harder than the paupers whom they were supporting in idleness and comparative luxury. It sometimes happened that the overseer called for rates upon a man who had at that moment nothing to eat in the house. As one witness said—'Poor is the diet of the pauper; poorer is the diet of the small ratepayers; poorest is the diet of the independent labourer.'The Leader of the Opposition on the previous day commended to the consideration of the House that invaluable document, the Report of the Commissioners of 1834. It was not agreeable, but it was instructive reading. The Commissioners said—It is our painful duty to report that in the greater part of the districts which we have been able to examine the fund which the 43rd of Elizabeth directed to be employed in setting to work children and persons capable of labour, but using no daily trade, and in the necessary relief of the impotent, is applied to purposes opposed to the letter, and still more to the spirit, of that law, and destructive to the morals of the most numerous class, and to the welfare of all.Again, Mr. Cowell, one of the Commissioners quoted in the Report, said—The acquaintance I had with the practical operation of the Poor Laws led me to suppose that the pressure of the sum annually raised upon the ratepayers, and its progressive increase, constituted the main inconvenience of the Poor Law system. The experience of a very few weeks served to convince me that this evil, however great, sinks into insignificance when compared with the dreadful effects which the system produces on the morals and happiness of the lower orders.He quoted these extracts because he wished to remind hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House how great was the danger which England narrowly escaped at the time. Under these circumstances, he earnestly appealed to the Government not to lift up, as it were, the mere fringe of the question of Poor Law administration, but either to leave it alone, or, if he thought the time had come, to grapple with it as a whole. As to the ex officio Guardians, the usual reason for abolishing any institution was that it had failed to carry out the object for which it 401 was established. In the ease of the ex officios, it had been admitted over and over again that they had been the most successful of those who had taken part in the administration of the Poor Law. The proposal to abolish the ex officios was, in his opinion, one of the most gratuitous pieces of pedantic legislation ever attempted. The House had already been informed that about one-third of all the Boards of Guardians in the country were presided over by ex officio Chairmen. This, of course, proved that the other members of the Boards had confided in these men, and he thought it also proved that there could not be that jealousy of the ex officios which was imagined in some quarters. A great deal had been heard lately of the pressure put upon the Lord Chancellor to admit a larger number of persons to the office of Justice of the Peace. It was rather a curious thing, under these circumstances, to deprive the new Justices of the Peace of one of the most honourable and successful of their functions, which was the serving as ex officio members on Boards of Guardians. He was quite ready to admit that all ex officios had not done their duty, and he thought it might be well to provide that no one should be entitled to act as an ex officio Guardian who did not attend a certain number of meetings a year. This Bill did not deal with the Metropolis, yet, in order to carry out what was called the popular idea of the abolition of ex officio Guardians, it was provided that in London as elsewhere ex officio Guardians should cease to act. This seemed to him to be so utterly unfair and absurd that he hoped the Government would not proceed with the proposal. He happened to be an ex officio member of a Board of Guardians in London, and he knew that some of the best men who were serving on that Board were ex officios, and that they were received with perfect good feeling by the elected Guardians. He was certain that if the ex officios were not permitted to serve any longer the Board he referred to would be almost paralysed. There was one simple matter interesting to his own constituents to which he would call the attention of the Government. The City of Oxford possessed a Board of Guardians who had a 402 very peculiar arrangement by which the City and the University were jointly represented. Under the Bill as it stood, that arrangement would, he believed, be abolished; but he had no doubt the Government would, if necessary, insert an Amendment in the Bill on the subject. He trusted that the same spirit of fair and free discussion which had characterised this Debate would be continued in Committee, so that a result might be arrived at which would be satisfactory.
§ MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
, referring to a remark made by the preceding speaker, denied that there was any desire, in the large part of London with which he was acquainted, to retain the ex officios on the Board of Guardians. He had been surprised at the criticism which had been directed against the second part of the Bill, because it seemed to be supposed by some hon. Gentlemen that the Government intended to open up the whole question of Poor Law administration. Nothing of the kind was proposed; the intention was merely to deal with ex officio Guardians and the plural vote. The plural vote was most objectionable, and he had known cases in which the candidates who had polled by far the larger number of electors had not been returned because the plural voters, who represented a very small section of the community, had been able to throw him out. Under these circumstances, he sincerely hoped that the Government would stick to this portion of the Bill. He felt very keenly the exclusion of London from the general provisions of the Bill, because if the measure became law London would be the only part of England in which the property qualification would remain in the Vestries. Under the Metropolis Local Management Act of 1855 it was necessary for a Vestryman to have a £40 rateable qualification if one-sixth of the ratepayers were assessed at over £40. If the re-assessment took place, and the Vestryman's qualification were reduced to £38, he would be subject to an action by a common informer, who might sue him for penalties for every vote he might give. The common informer was at work in the South of London at the present time, and small men were continually 403 being harassed by him. Only in yesterday's paper a case was reported in which a man whose qualification had gone down to £34 a year was prosecuted. That person had an action brought against him in respect of the six votes he was supposed to have given, and he would have been mulcted in a penalty if it had not been for the technical flaw that the signature of the Chairman alone had been used, instead of the signatures of the Chairman and two members of the Vestry. They were told that the requirements of London would be dealt with in a future Bill. But that promise was made to them when the Municipal Corporations Act was brought in in 1836, London being left out on account of its size. No legislation was given to them until 1855, when the Metropolitan Local Management Act was passed. He submitted that if the Government would include London in the Bill, it would not interfere with the District Councils when they came, because by that time the property qualification would be the same as it was in the case of County Councils. He himself had had a Bill before the House for several years for the purpose of altering the law in the direction he suggested. He had been unsuccessful with the measure, however, never having been able to secure a good place for it. He had a Bill on the subject this year, which was backed from the Conservative and the Liberal Unionist Benches, as well as by his own friends. He was, therefore, able to say that this reform was desired by Members sitting in all parts of the House. If the Government could see their way to concede what was now requested, they would be getting rid of something which was very disagreeable to Londoners, because they wanted to throw the Vestry open to all who could gain the confidence of the electorate, leaving on the electorate the responsibility of choosing their representatives.
§ MR. COLSTON (Gloucester, Thornbury)
said, he desired, in the first place, to thank the President of the Local Government Board for the extremely full and frank assurances he had given as to the treatment of Church property under this Bill, and to say that, personally, he accepted those assurances in the candid 404 spirit in which they had been given. It had been suggested that the clergy would cling tenaciously to the civil functions now exercised by them by virtue of their office; but he believed the clergy themselves recognised that those rights were in a sense an anomaly, and that they would gladly surrender them. Personally, he believed the Church would become stronger by throwing off what he would call its excessories, and by the clergy purposely abstaining from taking part in all civil functions. He thought the small parishes would gladly welcome the concession the Government had made with regard to the grouping of parishes. But he thought the concession did not at present go far enough. He thought every parish should have the opportunity given it of saying whether it should be grouped or not. He thought they should do nothing to destroy the identity of a parish against its wish. If there was any one thing which those who lived in the country valued, it was the individuality of the parish in which they resided, and he thought that feeling of local patriotism should be stimulated rather than discouraged. In its Financial Clauses the Bill seemed to take away with one hand the safeguards it gave with the other. It was said that the rating for new works would be limited to 1d. in the £1; but if a parish meeting elected to put certain Acts into operation they would have an absolutely free hand, and there would be no check on the expenditure. He thought, therefore, there should be some control over parish expenditure by the Local Government Board or some other competent authority. They were all anxious to see the number of owners of the soil increased in the country. He believed that nothing would tend more to increase the strength and stability of England; but nothing would tend to frighten would-be purchasers more than the prospect of having to pay heavy rates. He earnestly hoped that the Government would not deal on the present occasion with the Poor Law, because it was not only a vast and important subject—a subject on the happy treatment of which the prosperity of England depended—but it was also a subject distinct and apart from the other subjects dealt with in the Bill. He had considerable experience as a member of 405 Boards of Guardians, and, as it had been admitted that these bodies were doing good work, and work oftentimes of an invidious character, in a most exemplary spirit, he ventured to deprecate any alteration in their constitution, except, at any rate, after the most exhaustive inquiry. He had examined the Bill very carefully; but he had failed to discover what was going to happen to those extremely useful bodies of men, the Assessment Committees. Would their powers still lie with the Boards of Guardians, or would they be transferred to the District Councils? Again, there was confusion in the minds of some as to whether Guardians and the rural District Councils were identical bodies in the Bill. He gathered that the Councillors would be Guardians, but that where urban areas were concerned all Guardians would not necessarily be Councillors. He thought that some Amendments were necessary in the Bill, but, speaking generally, he begged to give it his most cordial and hearty support. He trusted that it would soon become law, and be the means of infusing fresh life into the country districts and creating greater interest in local affairs.
§ * MR. E. J. STANLEY (Somerset, Bridgwater)
said, that hon. Gentlemen opposite prided themselves on the fact that the Parish Council was an improvement on the plan of local government which had been brought forward by the late Government. But when they considered that the late Government intended to re-organise the Vestry, it would be found that there was not much difference between the re-organised Vestry and the Parish Council proposed in this Bill. Hon. Gentlemen opposite also said that they had great confidence in the Parish Council; but, if that were so, why did they not give to the Parish Council some of the powers that used to be exercised by the old Vestries? Perhaps it would not be well that the administration of the Poor Laws should be immediately given back to the parish; but he thought the management of the parish roads should be given to the parish as before the Highway Acts were passed. The 406 main roads had been given up to the County Councils, and when the Parish Councils were brought into existence they would be very good bodies to look after t he parish roads. He was sure that if the Parish Council got the management of the roads, every parish would take a pride in keeping its roads in good condition. There was one point with regard to charities which had not been altogether noticed in the Debates on the Bill. He thought there could be no doubt that in some cases those who would receive doles from a parish would not be constituents of that parish. In the part of Somerset in which he lived the Divided Parishes Act had been used most freely, and, in the five parishes with which he himself was connected there were persons in receipt of charity who belonged to other parishes. It would cause great jealousy if the charities were not given to those who had the right to share in them, and he thought steps should be taken to remind the Parish Council that those who had the right to the doles were those who lived in the ecclesiastical parish, and not those in the civil parish. With regard to closed churchyards, he thought that if they were taken away from the Churchwardens it would simplify matters if they were handed over to the Burial Boards. He thought that allotments were very beneficial, and they were freely given in the part of the country to which he belonged, but he thought that if allotments were to be provided in extent exceeding an acre we must remember that a year's notice must be given to a tenant, and that an owner wishing to take land into his own hands, say on the 30th of September, would have to wait two years before he could do so. With regard to the use of school houses for public purposes, he had to say that the use of the three schools over which he had control had always been given most freely. One of them was offered to his opponent at the last General Election for a political meeting. But if the school houses were to be freely used by the parishes for all public purposes, the Government might consider whether the schools had not, on that account, a very fair claim for being exempt from rating. With regard to the distribution of doles, which took 407 place at Easter time, he pointed out that the Parish Councils were to be elected on the 15th of April, and he felt certain that it was very desirable, in order to avoid insinuations and accusations, that the doles should not be given away exactly at the time when the parish elections took place. He also ventured to hope that some provision would be made to prevent parish meetings from adopting Acts for which there was no reasonable necessity. He meant that baths and wash-houses should not be allowed to be adopted in villages where there were not 100 houses together. As to lighting, he knew that in one large village they had not had the slightest difficulty in raising subscriptions for the purpose of lighting it, and he thought that where those things could be carried out by private subscriptions rather than by public taxation, it was far better to adopt the former course. For his part, he thought the question of grouping villages the most burning question in the Bill. If there was one thing the parishes would cling to it was their individuality. If the Vestry could be given back some of its old powers, they would find that in small parishes it might be made quite as useful as the parish, meeting. He would not dwell upon the question of the Poor Law, as it had been so amply debated, but he thought it was scarcely possible that the local Poor Law itself could be altered by the election of District Councils. He must say he should be very glad to see at some future date the Poor Law worked, if not entirely, at least largely, by the parish itself. Those who knew as much of country life in the last 20 years as he did could not but have observed the great change that had been brought about, partly by the Education Act, and partly by the improvement that had taken place in village society. He thought there was a careful watchfulness on the part of all classes that the relief given should be fairly won by means of accident or the illness under which the recipient was suffering. He believed a large proportion of the working of the Poor Law might easily and properly be given to those who were connected with Visiting and Friendly Societies. In conclusion, he could only say he trusted the right hon. Gentleman opposite might be able to bring his work 408 to a happy end, and he felt sure the satisfactory measure brought forward would redound to his credit, and that the right hon. Gentleman would be regarded in every village as one who had done a great deal to raise village life, and increase the interest everyone took in the body politic of England itself.
§ * MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
said, he had had some experience of local government, especially of Poor Law affairs, in the two great parishes of Islington and St. Pancras, which occupied a large part of North London, and in the Hailsham Union, in the County of Sussex. There was really no opposition to the Second Reading. The Bill did not raise a Party question, and he thought, in the most handsome way, the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had recognised that the Conservative Party when in Office had dealt with the question of local government on very satisfactory lines, and he admitted that was only supplementing what the Conservatives had done. The Bill, no doubt, was a fair attempt to complete the system of local government in this country. With regard to the authorities constituted under the Bill, he hoped they would give them real and not illusory powers; that the powers conferred on them should be clearly defined in the Bill. There was a certain amount of interference with the discretion which should rest on these authorities which he thought was unnecessary and undesirable. He noticed that the Local Government Board came in, to control the action of the authorities set up by the Bill, in something like 20 or 30 places; he noted down distinctly 22 places, and in some of these he thought the interference of the Local Government Board was undesirable as well as unnecessary. One would naturally suppose, when a great central Government, Department interfered in the affairs of local government, that the interference was for the purpose of either conferring additional powers, or for controlling existing powers in the national interests, or, in some way, that the interference of the Local Government Board was absolutely necessary. Among the powers which, under 409 this Bill, the Local Government Board proposed to take was power to give or withhold consent to the sale, exchange, or letting of property acquired at the expense of any rate, or at the passing of the Act applied in aid of any rate. It seemed to him, if there was to be any control over the Parish Councils dealing with this matter, that that control should be exercised either by the District Councils or by the County Councils. The considerations which should operate in deciding as to the policy and propriety of the sale, exchange, or letting of land were considerations that could very well be left to the County Councils. There was also a provision that the Local Government Board should determine whether the cost of permanent work was to be spread over a term of years or not. That was another matter, of large local interest, that could be better dealt with by the County Council, who knew the circumstances of the parish much better than the Local Government Board could do, and certainly better than any official, however well-informed, at Whitehall. Then as to the sanctioning of borrowing. The question whether the parish ought properly to borrow money was a local matter which could be dealt with by the County Council far better than by the Local Government Board. The County Council consisted of men who resided in the neighbourhood, who knew the population and their ability to bear debt and taxation, and who could give a much better opinion than the Local Government Board, who could only act on the Report of some Inspector sent down to hold an inquiry in the locality. Then there was the provision to determine special expenses and charge same to any contributory place, or direct same to be treated as general expenses. Surely that was a matter that ought to be under the control of the County Council. There was also a power, in conjunction with the County Council, to adjust areas and boundaries and group small parishes. How the Local Government Board was effectually to act in business in conjunction with the County Council he could not understand. That was certainly, again, a matter for the County Council alone. Then the Local Government Board were to prescribe rules for taking the polls for 410 elections of Parish and District Councils. Surely the County Council could be entrusted to deal with that. Then to fix the day of the poll. He could not imagine anything of a more local character than the fixing a convenient day for taking the poll. There were customs and habits of the people which the County Council must know more about than the Local Government Board at Whitehall. Then this Board was to make orders to deal with matters arising out of boundaries. Again, that was a matter for the County Council. There were other powers besides proposed to be given to the Local Government Board which seemed to him to be equally unnecessary, and only calculated to lead to correspondence and red tapeism and the unnecessary employment of gentlemen in Loudon. Why on earth this interference of the Local Government Board in all these matters was introduced into the Bill he could not, for the life of him, understand. In Committee he hoped they would take out all this unnecessary interference. There was one most extraordinary provision in the Bill with reference to the power of County Councils—namely, the provision giving County Councils powers to remove "difficulties." He did not know whether hon. Members had noticed the clause, but there was a clause in most general terms giving County Councils the power to do anything they chose to remove difficulties in putting the Act in force. He had no doubt there would be some difficulties, but this was a power unprecedented in an Act of Parliament, and he should like to see the clause more carefully defined. A good deal had most properly been said about the transfer of the administration of the Poor Law to the District Councils. At present Poor Law relief was not treated as a municipal matter, and therefore the proposal in the Bill was a new departure. The great Municipalities had hitherto had no control over Poor Law concerns. As he understood, the County, District, and Parish Councils were to be a sort of hierarchy, if he might use such a term, of Municipal Bodies dealing with municipal concerns. It was a new departure to introduce municipal control into a matter which was not necessarily in its principle and 411 practical application of a municipal character. The present Poor Law administration was brought into existence to deal with great social difficulties. It was unnecessary to go into the consideration of Poor Law relief prior to the Act of 1834. That Act, viewed in the light of the experience of the last 50 or 60 years, was generally admitted to be one of the largest and wisest Acts of statesmanship ever placed on the British Statute Book; that Act was administered under central control, in accordance with principles laid down by the Legislature. If they altered the present local administration of the Poor Law, they would have to consider large questions of general policy. He knew that unthinking people had talked very foolishly about the harshness of the Poor Law. It was very easy to go in certain quarters and raise a cheer by appealing to the people to be generous in the administration of poor relief. But, after all, it must be borne in mind the money spent in poor relief was raised compulsorily and in very many cases from people who were very nearly as poor as the persons relieved, and who were constantly struggling to avoid becoming paupers themselves. The object of the Poor Law was not only to relieve destitution, but also to discourage and to stamp out pauperism; and any policy of unwise legislation or lax administration would be calculated not only to impair the efficiency of the Poor Law, but to damage and injure the very class these sentimental people professed to care for. He would not say that reform was not desirable, because he believed there were many matters connected with the administration of the Poor Law that could be improved; but to alter the character of the administration of these laws in a Bill of this kind, dealing with municipal affairs, seemed to him rather a big step and a grave departure without sufficient consideration. The proposal was that all qualification whatever should be got rid of for Boards of Guardians. He could not help thinking there should be some qualification; he did not say it should be property or high rating, but it should be just that qualification which should ensure the representative being associated with the locality. It was said there was no qualifica- 412 tion for this House, but they knew very well there was no comparison between the candidature for a Board of Guardians and the candidature for Membership of this House. For Municipalities there was a qualification, because no outsider could go into a municipal borough and get elected; every candidate must be a qualified burgess. Again, no outsider could go to the County Council and be elected; a candidate must be a qualified voter in the county. Only recently a member of the London County Council had to retire because he changed his residence, and thereby lost his qualification. Identification with the locality was requisite, and the same sort of qualifications should be required for District and Parish Councils, otherwise they would have all sorts of faddists and extreme people, who were ready to promise anything, going down and getting themselves elected, and upsetting the businesslike arrangements of these Councils. The proposal was to introduce the principle of One Man One Vote into the elections. He had no love for the plural vote; he did not very much care about nominees sitting on these Boards; but in the One Man One Vote principle being applied they would have to consider the fact that it might be possible that the people who did not pay any large amount of rates would control the election and the spending of the money contributed by others. He did not see how they could avoid that, and was afraid they would have to trust to the good sense and knowledge of the people to-counteract any foolish behaviour on the part of those who got elected. Reference had been made to the ex officio members of Boards of Guardians. His experience of ex officio members was that half of them did not attend, but there were many of them who did good and useful work. In the Parish of St. Pancras the Chairman was for years an ex officio Guardian, and took the greatest interest in Poor Law administration. In another Union, of which ho (Mr. Bolton) had been Vice-Chairman, the Chairman of the Board was an ex officio Guardian, and he should be very sorry to see him out of that position. They were told that at least one-third of the Chairmen of Boards of Guardians were ex officio members. With reference to these persons, 413 he thought there should be a power introduced into the Bill to enable the Local Government Board, on the request of Boards of Guardians, to nominate as Guardians any gentlemen who had hitherto held such official positions in connection with their Boards. He believed that would be much appreciated, and it would do no harm whatever, and be no serious interference with the principle of election, whilst it would help to carry on a continued and practical administration which was so important in such business as Poor Law relief. Upon the whole, he must say he looked upon any interference with the Poor Laws as a matter of very serious concern. He would rather that this subject were omitted from the Bill. It was weighting the Bill too much, and he was afraid it would be found to raise a great amount of discussion, which would interfere with the carrying of the Bill in this Autumn Session. If the Government could see their way to postpone the dealing with the question of Poor Law in connection with the Bill—and, after all, it was not essential to the Bill—he believed it would be good policy, and would help very materially the passage of the Bill. He thought the Poor Law was so important a subject that it should not be hastily interfered with, and not in a piecemeal way, and whatever changes were made should be made after full consideration, and so as to preserve the policy and preserve the administration which had been so successful in the past. He thought it would be better to postpone dealing with this question until some future time. As to the District Councils, the Chairman was to be an ex officio Justice of the Peace. There would have to be a provision introduced into the Bill that the Chairman should be a Magistrate, only in the event of the office being filled by a person of the male sex. He did not want to be particularly ungallant, but it would be a new departure in England to find a lady in the position of a Justice of the Peace.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON
The hon. Member will find it recorded some 200 years ago, if he looks at the law books, that a lady was Justice of the Peace in England.
§ MR. T. H. BOLTON
was dealing not with 200 years ago, but with the present day, and he did not know any case of a lady filling the position of Justice of the Peace, carrying with it, he supposed, the right to sit at Quarter Sessions and to fill the Chair there; trying prisoners, and conducting the whole business of the Sessions. He thought if ladies were to be invested with powers of this character it must be done by some definite Act of legislation, and not by way of a side wind, as proposed by the Bill. He should like to say one word with reference to the power proposed to be conferred on the Local Government Board, without the sanction of this House, to authorise the taking of property compulsorily. He thought that House should be very jealous of delegating any such powers to any authority, whether a Government Department or any other body. The taking away a man's property against his will infringed very largely the liberty of the subject. It was a matter which had always been retained within the control of that House, and he did not think it should be handed over to the Local Government Board unless it was safeguarded much more effectively than was proposed by this Bill. But a new compulsory power quite novel was introduced into this Bill—namely, the compulsory hiring of land. While he quite admitted it was within the competence of Parliament to do anything, yet it was a new proposition to authorise the compulsory hiring of land. He thought that should be very carefully safeguarded, and machinery created more effective than he saw in the Bill to provide that, in the first place, the land was only hired compulsorily when other sufficient and equally suitable land that could be obtained by agreement was not available, that it was hired under fair conditions only, and when it would not inflict injuries, and that fair and reasonable compensation was provided for those from whom the land was taken. He could quite understand it was a much easier process to hire than to buy. Of course, there was no object in buying land if they 415 could hire the land they wanted with fixity of tenure at pretty well their own price as to rent. He was very much afraid that many of the advocates of compulsory hiring had these sort of ideas in their heads. It was, as he had said, a somewhat novel proposition that a public Board should hire land compulsorily for the benefit of individuals. He could understand their taking land compulsorily for a public object common to the whole people; but to hire it for the benefit of individuals, to turn certain men out—because that was what they would have to do—to put other men in, was a very large and very strong proposition. They must bear in mind that land required for allotments and common grazing grounds would be, in the main, desirable land. It would be land near to the village. It would be generally good land, land that the farmer who happened to be in possession would desire to retain, and, therefore, it would be taken from him against his will to hand over to some other inhabitants of the place, and they would have to be very careful to safeguard this, so as not to inflict injustice. He did not quite see the machinery in the Bill that was to protect the landlord whose laud was compulsorily hired and the tenant who was evicted. It was said the Bill preserved Local Authority. It was not altogether on the lines of Local Authority with regard to highways. There were something like 6,477 highway parishes. The control of their highways would be taken away from them and handed over to the District Councils; therefore, it was to that extent an abolition of local control. The highways at present in the hands of the parishes were the smaller highways. The larger highways were in the hands of the County Council. They controlled all the main roads of the county, and he was very doubtful whether it was necessary to transfer the bye-roads from the control of the present Highway Authorities to the District Councils. He could understand no reason for it except the desire to give the District Councils something to do. He believed these bye-roads could be just as well attended to by the present local Highway Authorities as by the District Councils. The alternative would be to 416 abolish the Highway Boards and transfer the control of the bye-roads in the 362 highway districts—where there were Highway Boards—to the parishes. Nothing would be more unpopular throughout England than the proposal to group parishes. If the Government wanted to reap a rich harvest of unpopularity in the rural districts, they would persevere in this policy of compulsory grouping. There might be some parishes that would desire to be united; but it was desirable that parishes, however small, which desired to maintain their independence should be allowed to do so. When parishes were large enough for a Parish Council let them have one; but below a certain population there should be an opportunity of saying whether they would have a Parish Council or not. It seemed absurd that a parish of 100 people should be compelled to go through the formality of selecting five members of a Parish Council. Parishes with a small and sparse population had no necessity for any Council, which would mean unnecessary expense. He should like to say a word or two with reference to the incorporation of what were called the adoptive Acts. There was the Lighting and Watching Act, the Baths and Washhouses Act, the Burial Acts, the Public Improvement Act, and the Public Libraries Act. He did not think the hon. Member on the other side of the House who said that the adoption of these Acts would inflict something like 2s. or 3s. or perhaps 4s. in the £1 was at all excessive in his estimate. He believed if those Acts were adopted they would be terribly oppressive in many districts. But under this Bill any of them might be adopted by a bare majority of the parish meeting. That was not what the Acts themselves provided. The Lighting and Watching Act could only be adopted by a two-thirds majority of the ratepayers—of the persons who had to pay the rates; and the Baths and Washhouses Act by a two-thirds majority of the Vestry. The Burial Acts and the Public Libraries Act, again, required very careful formalities, and the Public Improvement Act required a majority of two-thirds of the ratepayers voting, and was only applicable to a population that amounted to 417 500. It was now proposed to hand over the power of adopting these Acts to a bare majority of a parish meeting, which was to consist of all persons who were qualified to vote in the parish, whether they paid rates directly or only indirectly through the rent they paid their landlords; whether they were compound householders, lodgers, or service franchise people, or any other electors having any sort of right to vote at any election in the place. He had in his hand a little pamphlet published by the National Liberal Federation, of which the Secretary to the Local Government Board was Chairman of the Executive Committee, or something of that sort. This pamphlet contained a summary of the Acts to which he was referring, and as one of the inducements to the people to support the present Government in respect of this Parish Councils Bill the pamphlet stated in reference to these Acts—There is no limit to the expenditure under either of these Acts.He thought they must put a little limit to this expenditure, and they must not allow inexperienced people in these country districts to have a descent made upon them by travelling politicians on the political "make," who went down there and pictured the enormous advantages to come from supporting this Bill. They must put a little restriction upon the exercise of these Acts; and when they came to incorporate the adoptive Acts in this Bill, they should have to provide that these Acts should only be carried by the parishes after complying with the conditions that had hitherto been required, and satisfying some county or other authority, it was reasonable and proper that these Acts should be put in force and would not inflict crushing debt and insupportable taxation. It would be very easy to go down and tell the agricultural labourers of the advantages which these adoptive Acts and Acts of a similar kind conferred upon them, and get them to vote amid shouts of excitement at a parish meeting; but a day of reckoning would come. There would be a heavy debt and increased taxes, and these people would then bitterly regret having listened to the professions and inducements to which he had referred. 418 The House must take care that these adoptive Acts and other provisions of the Bill with reference to expenditure were carefully provided for. The 1d. rate clause was simply a delusion, and he was very much surprised the Government ever put in such a clause. It simply limited the annual expenditure without reference to expenditure previously sanctioned in parish meeting or debt previously incurred, so that there was nothing to prevent expenditure increasing year by year and debt accumulating and the charge for interest increasing. The clause had better be omitted altogether, so that the people might understand that the Bill would confer powers of taxation without any limit or restriction. There must be some better control over extravagant expenditure. No debt should be incurred without the sanction of the County Council, which should be the sole authority to provide the money, and which should judge for itself of the powers of the parish to pay the debt it proposed to incur. He did not much sympathise with one observation of the President of the Local Government Board when he said that Parish Councils would make mistakes and would be extravagant. Parish Councils, said the right hon. Gentleman, would "make mistakes"; Parish Councils would be "extravagant"; Parish Councils would possibly do foolish things. He did not very much sympathise with such observations when they were passing a Bill of this kind. Their object was not to create authorities that would be extravagant or make blunders, and provisions must be inserted to, as far as possible, prevent these foolish or extravagant things being done. It was the duty of the Minister of the Crown and of that House to take care, as far as human foresight could extend, to put provisions in this Bill which should prevent extravagance and folly and endeavour to keep these new authorities upon something like practical, sensible, economical, and business-like lines. This Bill would involve considerable expenditure. They could not shut their eyes to that fact. It was a mistake to tell the people that the Bill would confer unqualified benefits upon the villages. It would confer benefits if safeguarded, and if it were worked in a practical way. It would, he 419 hoped, encourage and increase a municipal spirit, and get men to act more together in the agricultural districts; but it was not going to cure agricultural depression, and it was not going to bring prosperity in place of that depression, which had existed for so long a period in those districts. He knew that a good many gentlemen on those (the Liberal) Benches had talked very largely about what the Bill was going to do, and he believed that the agricultural labourer bad an exaggerated idea of what it would do for him. He thought it was going to enable him to get a very much better house at a very much cheaper rent, land at a very low rent, and that somehow or other he was going to be set up in business, and that be was to be quite a different man altogether, not socially or politically, but individually. He was afraid there was a good deal of worthless talk being indulged in on this subject on those Benches.
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (Mr. GEORGE RUSSELL,) North Beds.
§ MR. T. H. BOLTON
said, the Under Secretary for India might have been very cautious in his speeches in his constituency. He might have been, but that could not be said of a good many on those Benches. He admitted that the Bill would enable the bulk of the people to have the management of many purely local affairs, and on these moderate lines it received support. But it was not going to interfere very largely with economic conditions. Some of its proposals must be altered considerably, and before they sanctioned the powers of the Bill they must take care that those powers were safeguarded against extravagance. Whatever Amendments were introduced the Bill would not, as he said, do away with agricultural depression, or realise the expectations raised by those who had been stating the great things the Bill would do. It would not lift the agricultural labourer into prosperity; but he believed that it would do some good. It certainly would do some good if the common sense that generally governed the action of Englishmen was allowed free play. He 420 hoped when it became law it would be worked in a practical way, and in this hope he should vote for its Second Reading.
§ MR. HANBURY (Preston)
said, it must be very satisfactory to the agricultural labourer to see the "happy family" agreement that, existed on both sides of the House regarding the general principles of this Bill. It might be that they should have given the local franchise to the parish people before giving them the Parliamentary vote, so that they might have rewarded them for giving that advantage to them. But they had placed the labourer in that happy position of giving him the Parliamentary vote in the first instance, and he could not help thinking that they might make up their minds that no Party advantage could be got out of the present measure by either side of the House. He doubted whether the agricultural labourer cared very much for the Bill. Both sides of the House were, at any rate, in favour of the general principle of the measure, but when they came to its details ample discussion would be needed. One or two details would certainly require such discussion. He thoroughly agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down as to the centralising dangers found in the Bill, and was astonished to bear from him the number of instances in which the Local Government Board interfered. They had to consider that this was the first instance of the Local Government Board being brought into direct connection with these small parishes. The Bill had been framed by the Local Government Board, and, of course, the Local Government Board thought that there was nothing like the Local Government Board, and that the more it interfered in local government the better; but he hoped that was not the opinion of officials and ex-officials on both sides of the House. It was an opinion against which independent Members ought to protest. The centralising tendencies of the Bill constituted a great danger, and he held that the division of civil and ecclesiastical work was a new departure, entirely inconsistent with the sole and only basis 421 upon which an Established Church could rest. He confessed it seemed to him that a period of six weeks at the fag-end of the Session was very little time to allow for discussing two Bills dealing with the whole working-class populations in the country villages and in the large towns. He was of opinion that the Government would have to drop the Poor Law portions of the present measure if they were going to do justice to the working classes in the towns by an adequate discussion of the Employers' Lability Bill. It was a serious question for the country at large that the rural population should migrate into the towns as at present; but it was useful to bring forcibly to the front the fact that in the country districts, just as much as in the large towns, the labourer had public rights just as much as he had private duties; and that the owner and occupier had public and social duties just as much as they had private rights. He thought the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would have done great service if he had removed a great many of the exemptions which existed in regard to those rights and duties. Public rights in the villages ought to be treated in the same way as in the towns; and so ought also private rights. He did not think they were unless they were put on exactly the same footing as in the towns. Take the acquisition of property for public purposes. He did not see any reason why, if land was to be acquired in the villages, it should not be subject to some proof of absolute necessity; to the payment of the same price and the same compensation for severance and forced sale as existed in large towns. In his view, the danger of any abuse of the powers was much greater in the smaller areas than in large towns. He could not conceive how the right hon. Gentleman drew the distinction, as the danger, he repeated, was bound to be much greater in these smaller areas. They should recollect that by the Bill the villagers would be given far more than had ever been accorded to the artizans in large towns. They must recollect that they were going to set the villagers up in business on the land, whereas they did not allow an artizan to take part in any business on similar conditions—they 422 did not allow him to have a share in a mill or workshop, or anything of that kind. It would be obvious that there were special dangers in the villages that did not exist in the case of the towns, and they should bear in mind that for the first time they were dealing with small communities. There were certain dangers which struck him at first sight. Owing to the smallness of the communities, there was greater possibility in the villages of the power of combination than could possibly exist in large communities. He did not say this danger was real; but the possibility existed. There was also, in the small villages, a much more possible immediate benefit in his vote to the individual voter than would be the case in the larger communities. Then they had this further consideration: that in a large community there was not that constant change of population that was always going on in a very small community. In many cases this migratory population would out-vote the permanent residents in a parish—people who had lived there all their lives, and their families before them. These people would have it in their power to lay a lasting burden upon the shoulders of those people, while they themselves might escape altogether the consequences of the vote they gave. The right hon. Gentleman might say it was just to give the franchise to the small districts, but he did protest that they had no experience to go upon, and that the experiment was being tried in this case for the first time. There were dangers, let them remember, that affected landowners as well as others. It would affect also the large farmers of the parish. By introducing for the first time into their Bill the principle of the right of outsiders to vote for and to sit in the Parish Councils, the Government were taking a step that would be most injurious to the small occupiers and to the agricultural labourers themselves. It was a course for which there was no precedent. They did not allow Freshmen to vote for Members of Parliament, or to be represented in Parliament. Why should they allow people who were outside the scope of the scheme to vote as was proposed? It appeared to him that by taking this course the Government were adopting the false principle of representation with- 423 out taxation. Men who did not pay rates in a place had no right to sit and vote away the rate of that district or parish. Why was an innovation of the kind introduced? Was it because of distrust of the agricultural labourer? He thought he had a right to protest, in the name of the agricultural labourer, against this system. In his opinion, the introduction of the outside, wandering agitator would be disastrous. He was the most mischievous person who could be introduced, because, instead of rendering Parish Councils business assemblies, these men would render them subject to mere Party politics, and make it impossible for anyone to vote on the questions that ought to be dealt with by the Councils. Then, again, it seemed to him that by the grouping of smaller parishes the Government were practically disfranchising the agricultural labourer, and destroying his love for his village and all local patriotism. Nothing was more keen in the mind of the agricultural labourer than his love of his village and his local patriotism, and in the interest of the labourer he objected to the proposal in the Bill to break down that local patriotism. For the purposes of parish government he saw no reason for this system of grouping parishes together. These small parishes—small in point of population—were usually large in point of area, and the distance of the place of meeting from his home would in many cases make it impossible—it would be a hardship upon him—for the agricultural labourer to attend the parish meeting, especially if it was to be held at 8 o'clock in the evening, a time at which the labourer would be disposed to go to bed after an exhaustive day's work. Again, the larger parishes of 400 or 500 with which the smaller parishes would be grouped would also lose their individuality. He could not see what possible objection there could be to a small parish governing itself, and, even if there was only one resident in it, why that man should not be allowed to determine his own affairs. It was not a question of giving a new vote to these people, but of taking away the vote they now had. It was a very important matter for the labourer that he could attend in the Parish Vestry, and to feel that by his voice and 424 vote he could influence the affairs of his parish. That was different from the state of things created by the election by the inhabitant of the parish of a body of individuals who might be his masters. At the present moment the Vestry was the master of the officials and could control their action during the whole of the year. It had never thrown away its responsibilities. The humblest villager had a right to call in question from week to week the action of the officials of the parish; but if a Parish Council was appointed, the villager elected his masters, and they could run away with him and administer the parish on a system totally different from what he had intended when he gave his vote. What precedent had they got for the establishment of these Parish Councils? They had something of the kind in France, but he would rather go to a better authority than France. He was content to go to the authority of the United States. There, even in townships with a population of 2,000, there was no such thing as a Parish Council. The system of government was more democratic, everything being administered by the parishioners in open meeting. He objected altogether to doing away with the good points of the Vestry at the same time that they did away with the bad. Let them recollect what the Vestry was. It administered not only the civil, but the ecclesiastical affairs of the parish. Now, in the parish, above all places, where the agricultural labourer was to receive his political education, he was to be taught that the civil work should be separated from the ecclesiastical. He could not understand why some of his hon. Friends near him should have agreed so readily to that proposal, for it was giving up a great principle. No wonder the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board was willing to draw a hard-and-fast line between the civil and the ecclesiastical work. No doubt it suited the right hon. Gentleman's purpose, because if he could once get the House to do willingly what they were now doing, they would be abandoning once and for all the only basis upon which the National Church Establishment really rested, and converting that National Church into a sect. That, undoubtedly, was the inten- 425 tion of the right hon. Gentleman, who laid great stress on the importance of drawing a broad distinction between ecclesiastical and civil work, and who was, he regretted to say, supported by some hon. Members on his side of the House whose ultra-clericalism seemed to carry them very far. He had been astonished to hear one hon. Member on the Opposition side actually suggest that when this separation was effected the Vestry must be confined exclusively to Churchmen. By accepting such foolish proposals they would, as he had said, part with the principle on which the Church Establishment rested. By making the Vestry an Ecclesiastical Body limited to Churchmen they threw away entirely the principles of the Established Church. About that there could be no possibility of a doubt. At present the Vestry included Roman Catholics, Jews, and Infidels, as well as Churchmen, and he could not conceive what could be the reason for drawing the distinction of which he had spoken. He trusted that in the small parishes the Parish Councils would be done away with. He could not conceive what attraction representative government had for the President of the Local Government Board. Representative government was a necessary evil in a large community; but in a small one, what was the good of electing men to do their work when they could do it themselves? In the larger communities, whose affairs could not be satisfactorily managed by parish meetings, it might be right to have a body of representatives, say a Committee, whose action could be checked from week to week. But in the smaller areas let them be content with the parish meeting having control both over civil affairs and ecclesiastical work. If that was not the course adopted they on the Opposition side of the House would be taking a very foolish step indeed. They would be making the civil work of the parish popular and the ecclesiastical work unpopular. The former would be democratic and the latter anti-democratic. Moreover, for the Vestry there would be a property qualification, which would not be the case in the Parish Council, and he maintained that Church property was the very last in regard to the management of which there should be a property qualification. 426 No doubt this qualification did not come in, so far as the Vestry was concerned, unless there was a poll; but at a Vestry meeting anyone had a right to demand a poll. He protested against making the Vestry an anti-democratic body, and also against leaving it with a nominated Chairman; against allowing the clergyman to nominate one of the two officials, and against requiring those officials to be sworn in before the Archdeacon. The affairs of the Church ought, of all others, to be administered on a democratic basis. He hoped the Church would not, in its own interests, be placed in an anti-popular position; and when the Bill got into Committee he, for one—and he did not care whether he had much support or not—should move an Amendment to the effect that the whole of the ecclesiastical powers now left to the Vestry should be handed over to the parish meeting. He repeated what he had said at the commencement of his speech, that the Bill had a great many flaws in it, even as affecting the interests of the agricultural classes, and it would have to be considerably amended. He would appeal to the Government to give full time for its discussion. It was unjust to the working classes that a measure so largely affecting them and of such importance should be hastily forced through the House at the fag-end of this long Session. He had shown that many of the Amendments that were to be moved would affect principles that underlay the very basis of our Constitution. What had influenced him in preparing Amendments was the notion that if they were going to try, as he hoped, to interest the agricultural labourers and the smaller electors in the government of the parishes, they should see that the powers granted to them were real and not a sham. He hoped the Bill would be so amended that it would really secure to those classes that full and fair share in the public life of their villages to which they were entitled. The agricultural labourers should not be deluded by a Bill which, instead of adding to their powers, would largely diminish and take from them.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, it was a rather portentous matter that a measure of much im- 427 portance should be brought forward at the fag-end of a Session. The measure consisted of 71 clauses and two Schedules, and, in addition to that, it wholly or partially repealed or gave power to adopt, or partially adopt, 32 other Acts of Parliament. It was impossible to appreciate the effect of the Bill without having every one of those 32 Acts, or clauses of those Acts, before them. The House had a right to be put into possession of the information furnished to the draftsmen who originally drew up the Bill. He admitted that it was desirable to improve our system of local self-government. They all agreed that the foundation of the local government of the country was the parish, and most of them believed that the basis of parish government was the maintenance of the power of dealing with parish matters by every free man resident in the parish who paid his rates and was subject to no legal disability. And that was no new or Radical doctrine. It was a principle laid down by King Alfred, and acted on up to the time when Radical legislators began to improve upon Alfred's work. There never was so popular a system, nor was there ever a better place for a popular system than the parish. Formerly there was a true democratic government in the parishes. The area was so small and well-known that everyone had full, and complete, and adequate knowledge of the affairs that had to be managed. Now the modern principle was not to make the area smaller, and consequently obtain greater knowledge, but, forsooth, to make the area larger. Whilst they kept within the parish, they had complete knowledge on the part of every parishioner; but as soon as they went outside, they got into the region of ignorance. If they joined two parishes, they joined two bodies that might be close to each other, but two bodies that were jealous of each other, and two bodies or sets of residents who were ignorant of each other's necessities and wants. But this was not the main objection he had to the Bill. His main objection was that it was not what it professed to be. It professed to be a Bill for the extension of popular government in the parishes, whereas it was one for the suppression of such government. It professed to give the parishes and the 428 parishioners further powers, but it suppressed powers they at present possessed. It professed to be a popular Bill, but it was centralising in its effect. He did not blame the right hon. Gentleman, as they knew he was but the mouthpiece and instrument of his Department—a Department which, as they know, had been growing in their pretensions and expenditure. It cost £165,000 a year at this moment, and wished to spread its clerks over the whole country. He did not blame the right hon. Gentleman, who simply acted at the instigation of his officials, and came down to the House to introduce a large bureaucratic measure of centralisation under the name of local government. The Parish Council would have power to take over various powers of the Guardians in regard to dealing with property. Yes, but only with the approval of the Local Government Board. It might act as landlord, but not without the consent of the Local Government Board; it might borrow money with the consent of the Local Government Board; it might borrow from the County Council, or District Council, but subject to such conditions as might be proscribed by the Local Government Board; it might keep its accounts, but only in the form prescribed by the Local Government Board; its accounts were to be audited, but by the auditors of the Local Government Board; a Parish Council might claim, and might have a poll, but the day of the poll must he fixed by the Local Government Board. A similar state of things would exist in connection with the District Council. In short, they had the Local Government Board from one end of the Bill to the other. And what was to be the position of the Department in this matter? The Local Government Board might send its Inspectors and officers at largo through the country with an allowance of three guineas a day for expenses. There was to be no limit to the amount of the expenses under the Bill, the measure saying, merely, that the expenses should be "reasonable," and the authority who would have to settle the amount of the expenses being the Local Government Board itself. What would be the result of this? It would 429 not be to simplify the government of the parishes, but to complicate it in an extraordinary manner. The correspondence would be endless, and the result the imposition on the country of a most ignorant and wooden-headed bureaucracy. He said "ignorant," because it was absolutely impossible that gentlemen at Whitehall could have any knowledge of the requirements of the villages in different parts of the Kingdom. This was not local government, but Whitehall government. It was not even government by a Minister; it was government by the permanent clerks, who desired the extension, not of the public liberties, but of their own power, and further opportunities of increasing their own salaries. It would be seen that his main objection to the Bill was that it was not popular enough, and it was in that sense that he re-echoed the remarks of the hon. Member for Preston with regard to ecclesiastical affairs. Undoubtedly the Bill would tend to set up a separate body for the management of Church affairs, and he feared that was done in order to bring separation between the Church and the people. The Charity Trustees were to be altered, but the ecclesiastical charities were to be left as at present. What was the object of that? The right hon. Gentleman had told them that the trusts of the charities would remain the same, and that therefore no effect would be produced by the change of Trustees. But if the trusts were sufficient to secure the due administration of the charities, why make the change? Why not leave the Trustees as they were? But everyone knew that the trusts were not inviolable, and the real meaning of the change of Trustees was that it was intended to work the trusts in a different spirit from what was originally intended. They were told that the trusts belonged to the people. Not at all; they belonged to those for whom they were intended by the pious founder. There wore charities for widows and charities for children, and these charities belonged to the widows and children of the parish, and none of them could be said in any true sense to be the property of the whole of the parish. He failed to see why the smaller parishes should be relieved of the responsibility of managing their own affairs. They did not 430 relieve the private individual from the responsibility of maintaining his family. Why then should the smaller parishes be relieved of the responsibility of the management of their affairs? If the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill desired to give the parishes real local government and to make the measure a popular one, he would strike the words "the Local Government Board" out of every clause, and then there would not be much of the Bill left. The Bill was one for the aggrandisement of the Local Government Board itself, and that was why he objected to it; but he doubted if it was mendable in that respect. If it were, they would do their best to amend it. If the Bill were to pass in the centralising, bureaucratic form in which it was presented to the House it would be one of the greatest and most abiding curses ever fastened on the daily life of the villages of England.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
I trust that, as now perhaps one of the oldest Members of the House, I may without presumption congratulate the House upon the very serious and interesting Debate of the last four days. It will be admitted, I think, that the House has gained much knowledge of detail and much advantage from the interesting speeches which have been made on both sides. We have had the opportunity, which I am sure the House will rejoice to have had, of listening to a good many gentlemen who have addressed the House for the first time, and who have shown the ability with which they are able to contribute to our Debates and the interest which they take in the great question now before us. I think it is long since I have listened to a Debate which has addressed itself so continuously to the real essence of the question and has endeavoured to grapple seriously with the great difficulties which beset the subject. The Secretary to the Local Government Board spoke of the "kindly criticisms" which had been made with regard to this Bill. I am glad to recognise that both Members of Her Majesty's 431 Government and independent Members have generally admitted that the criticisms from this side have been fair and have been directed to really important questions connected with the measure. The hon. Member spoke of kindly criticisms, but he expressed a little alarm lest kindly criticism should be disastrous in the Debates in Committee. I think it must be admitted that our criticisms on the whole have tended more in the direction of lightening the Bill than of rendering it more difficult to pass. I remember that when we had the Local Government Bill before us in 1888 hon. Members opposite also received it in a kindly spirit, but far from urging us to throw over any portion of the Bill in order that we might carry it, they suggested a large number of questions that ought to be added, and the alarm was, lest through the kindness with which they wished to make a very complete and elaborate Bill, they should prevent us from passing it. Now our kindness is entirely in a different direction. We want to simplify the Bill. We want to relieve it of one of the most difficult portions, and, having done so, to be able to pass that which is really the serious and the main object on both sides of the House. What we on both sides are anxious to do is to pass a Parish Councils Bill; and I would remind Her Majesty's Government that one of their own supporters, who addressed the House with great ability and ingenuity this evening, the Member for one of the Divisions of Wiltshire, has himself pointed out the danger, if there be any attempt to expand this Bill, of the labourers being disappointed in their hopes of having a Parish Councils Bill passed this Session. I remember that in 1888 we were asked to add a Valuation Bill, an Assessment Bill; we were asked to put into the Bill matters relating to Highway Boards, and we were scolded because we did not introduce into it the question of the division of rates. Where is the division of rates at the present time? Here is a Bill which goes beyond the Parish Council, which deals to a certain extent with Boards of Guardians, with rating, and with other matters on the fringe of the question. I do not see that Her Majesty's Government have thought it necessary to introduce into 432 this Bill the question of the division of rates, to which during our tenure of Office they attached so much importance. That will form an additional argument in the great representation we shall make to Her Majesty's Government to drop that portion of the Bill which relates to the Poor Law and to matters which lie outside the Parish Councils, and to devote the remainder of the Session to that which is the paramount object—namely, the Parish Councils Bill. I rather regretted to hear the President of the Local Government Board say that the Poor Law part of the Bill was a vital part. It may be vital in the minds of the Government, but it is not vital to the Parish Council scheme. There are two senses in which the word "vital" may be used. It may mean that the Government insist upon passing the provision, and that, therefore, it is essential to their existence. That is a different sense to its being vital to effect the objects of the Bill. They can carry out the Parish Council part of the Bill with the greatest ease, without making the further additions to it which they and their supporters desire, but which are not organic parts of the change. Let me remind hon. Members of what happened to myself. Like the President of the Local Government Board, when I occupied his post I entertained ambitions on this subject. I introduced a Bill for Parish Councils 20 years ago. I endeavoured to construct a Bill which would deal with the whole of these vast questions. I devoted, I think, a year to that measure, and I elaborated it in concert with my colleagues in the Cabinet. There was in it valuation, division of rates, and many of the reforms which hon. Members below the Gangway opposite now desire. The result was that the Bill was so big that it did not pass, and the question has been hung up for 20 years. I suggest that as a precedent to hon. Members opposite who desire to see this "vital" portion of the Bill carried now. Let them be careful not to wreck a measure on which we are all agreed in order to carry out a more ambitious scheme, which will have to be dealt with some time or other, but which, as every reasonable man must feel, cannot be dealt with before Christmas or January next. I have dealt with this subject simply from 433 a tactical point of view, and I submit to the Government, in a spirit of friendliness for Parish Councils, that it is unwise to clog the Bill with these vast subjects, and that experience has shown the un-wisdom of adhering to that policy. Now, in the first instance, let me direct myself to that part of the Bill which deals with Parish Councils themselves. Here I may say that the House, and especially we on this side, may be congratulated on having dealt with the County Councils first when we legislated on this subject in 1888. We were criticised at the time for not having begun with the District or Parish Councils, but experience has shown that we were wise in adopting the course we did. This Bill bears testimony to the wisdom of our policy, for in at least 18 or 20 cases the services and assistance of the County Council are invoked to carry out the scheme for Parish Councils. We have in the County Councils it machinery which we are now able to use and which assists us in lightening the task of the Local Government Board, whose interference is so much deprecated by my hon. Friend who has just spoken. I think he is incorrect in saying that this Bill is the creation of the Local Government Board. It is the spontaneous effect of political forces which have been at work for some time past on both sides of the House, and of a general desire to establish Parish Councils and to interest the agricultural labourers more and more in the administration of their own affairs. It may be wise or unwise to attribute so important, a rôle to the Local Government Board, but from my knowledge of the Department, I think it is unlikely that they would have the paramount influence suggested by my hon. Friend or the desire to interfere to any great, extent with every detail of parish work. But we shall be able to discuss as we go from point to point to what extent the Local Government Board should interfere and to what extent we ought to utilise the County Councils as Boards of Appeal in the difficulties which may surround parochial administration. Of course I cannot be sorry—on the contrary, I congratulate myself—that the parish has been taken as the unit in local government reform. That was the plan which under the auspices of the present 434 Prime Minister was put forward in 1871, and it was very much criticised at the time. It was said that we were restoring an antiquated unit. I have never doubted the propriety of the course followed by us 20 years ago, and I am glad the Government have followed it. Much has been said on the question of grouping, I think from the observations which have fallen from both sides of the House we may say that the scheme of grouping as it has been put forward tentatively by the Government is doomed. I am glad to think that Her Majesty's Government will be prepared to submit proposals of a different kind. I am free to admit that in the Bill of 1871 the possibility of grouping was admitted, as it is in the present Bill. But strong precautious were taken by means of clauses in this direction—that public notice should be given, that the localities should be consulted, and that there should be a local inquiry at which both sides should be heard before any grouping could take place. But there is another suggestion which I think affords the solution of the present difficulty. It is the arrangement sketched out by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Holderness Division (Commander Bethell), namely, that in the smaller parishes the parish meeting should itself be practically the Parish Council, and should act as the Parish Council. In the Bill of 1871 there was a clause to this effect, that where there were less than 12 members of a Vestry they should form themselves into what was practically a Parish Council, and that they should have the power which the Parish Council would otherwise have. The President of the Local Government Board may still find a solution of the difficulty in a provision that where the parishes are so small the parish meeting itself may be practically the Parish Council. There is another point connected with the constitution of these Parish Councils, on which I would like to make a personal suggestion, with regard to which I have not consulted my friends, but to which I attribute very considerable importance. In the Bill of 1871 the Chairmen of Parochial Boards, or what we now call Parish Councils, were to be elected, not by the Council, but by the Vestry itself. I am not in entire agreement with my hon. Friend 435 the Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) on one point. My strong belief is that it is of enormous importance in a parish to have somebody who is really responsible. The experience of many years has shown that when responsibility is distributed you get practically nothing done. What is of real importance is that there shall be a certain number of men, call them Parish Councillors or what you will, who can be laid hold of and held responsible and who can be blamed if parish affairs are neglected.
§ MR. HANBURY
What I suggested was that in the larger parishes the Vestry should nominate a Committee, as is done in America.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Yes; but I think on the whole the tendency of my hon. Friend's remarks was that he was afraid that officers would be masters of the Council. I do not admit that they would be masters; they would be servants, but they would be the responsible servants of the Council. Supposing inadequate water supplies or bad sanitary arrangements called for reform; I should prefer to have persons who were distinctly appointed to deal with such matters—executive officers—rather than leave them to the general body. I quite sympathise with the fear that there may be members who may acquire too much power; but there is the other risk of nothing being done; and, as both sides of the House are anxious that necessary reforms should be undertaken, I prefer a plan by which there shall be responsible officers. My impression was, and is, that if you had a Chairman directly responsible to the Vestry or to the parish meeting he would feel that he must take the initiative, and that the parish would look to him as a principal officer more than they would if he were simply Chairman of a Committee. I may be wrong in this matter, but I am anxious to be able to put responsibility on some particular person. The next point on which I would touch is as to the powers 436 to be given to the Parish Council. I think hon. Members will admit that on this side of the House no niggard spirit has been shown. We have criticised the securities limiting some powers, and we have at the same time suggested that other powers might be given to Parish Councils besides those conferred by the Bill. No reply has yet been made to the important suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. A. J. Balfour) that in the case of education the responsibilities which are now laid on certain bodies of ratepayers should be put upon the Parish Council or the parish meeting. One advantage we hope for under the new arrangement is that under this Bill we shall get rid of any hole-and-corner meetings of irresponsible ratepayers who propose this and that without their representing the genuine opinion of the whole of the ratepayers. I think we may lay down as a principle to which both sides of the House will assent that when we have got these Representative Bodies they should act in all cases as the representatives of the ratepayers at large, and the powers hitherto given to ratepayers on certain subjects should be put on the elected representatives of the ratepayers. The next question that arises relates to the finances. I will ask to be excused from dealing with that portion of the subject, as it has been so much discussed, but I may say that I agree with the criticism that the limitation to a 1d. rate is delusive. It is an impossible limit when you see in many cases how small a sum would be available. I think the parish will in most instances say that with that sum it will not be possible to carry out the intention of Parliament. Therefore I think the 1d. rate in the £1 does not represent the burden which will probably be put upon the ratepayers by the provisions of this Bill. I turn to the interesting question, Who is to bear the expenditure, and what relations will the powers conferred by the Bill bear to the burdens imposed by the Bill? The President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler) explained to the House that in the long run, and to a certain extent, the ratepayers must be held to bear a considerable portion of that burden. Others have said that, although there might be compounding of 437 rates, practically the ratepayers would bear it, and they would know it and would bear it in mind in giving their votes. They demur to the view that it is the owner who will have to bear the cost; they say that the ratepayer will bear a portion of it. I was surprised to hear that doctrine put forward by hon. Members opposite, and especially at what fell from the President of the Local Government Board, because I have read a great many different speeches from him and his followers denouncing the late Government, and myself in particular, because they said all the assistance given to rates was simply so much advantage to the landlords. I remember a speech of the President of the Local Government Board in which he said that all this assistance of rates which he has always so strenuously and consistently opposed was simply a boon given by the late Government to their friends the Tory landlords, I accept the recantation we have had during these Debates. We now see that these were electoral doctrines, and today we have a different set of doctrines. Now we are told that the labourers are interested in the amount of the rates, and if that is so I want to know with what justice or fairness we have been denounced for putting money into the pockets of the landlords? The labourers are now to be able to see through that most difficult of all problems, the incidence of the rates, and they are to feel that they themselves are paying the rates. I have always staled that as regards the relief of rates it goes partly to the owner and partly to the occupier. In the large towns there is no doubt that it goes, to a very great extent, to the occupiers; while in the country, so far as the farmer is concerned, the relief goes to those who have not to disturb a contract. But this is too elaborate a matter to discuss at this time of the night and at this stage of the Debate, except so far as to ask the House what is the position with regard to this limited class whom we have to deal with now—namely, the agricultural labourer who compounds for his rates? Does that agricultural labourer feel the imposition of rates? It may be true that in the long run the imposition of higher rates upon cottage property will render it more difficult to 438 create cottage property, will discourage landlords from building it, and will so far affect the occupiers. But it is too indirect an effect to have for one moment any influence on the agricultural labourer, who is offered, at the expense of the rates which he sees being paid by the landlords, every kind of advantage to himself in the way of all those benefits which are to accrue from the powers granted by the Bill to Parish Councils. Therefore, I do not think an increase in the rates will operate on his mind, and I shall be surprised to hear any hon. Member who has looked seriously into the matter contend that it would. But we have had a very interesting and ingenious argument from an hon. Member who addressed the House earlier this evening, I believe for the first time, with regard to what he calls the commercial rent of cottages. He said that because the landlord could not get any higher rent for his cottages the rent he received was the commercial rent. I listened very carefully to see how he would apply that doctrine, but when he came to the application he stopped and turned to a different subject. I will apply the doctrine. His position was that as the agricultural labourer was required to pay as much for his cottage as he could pay, consequently that was the commercial rent. I may suggest here that even that fact is not absolutely correct; and, especially if the labourer can only pay a certain amount for his cottage, the question will arise—What cottage can he expect to have for the rent he pays? I think every one who is at all acquainted with agricultural life and with cottages on estates will know the enormous advance that has been made in the quality of cottages during the last 20 years. Cottages are now given for the same money which cost the owner twice as much as they used to cost him, and he builds them not from any commercial sentiment, but because he wishes to see the labourer better housed. If there are estates on which the cottages are a disgrace we have the fact that the cottages on other estates are being daily and yearly improved. But what is the application of the commercial rent? The application is this—that the landlord cannot get more rent, whether he pays high or whether he pays low rates; and if that is so 439 it is clear that for all these extra expenses the landlord, the owner, will have to pay. That may be right or it may he wrong, but do not let us deceive ourselves; in the great number of cases it will he the landlord who will have to pay. So much for the point that the labourers would be influenced by the increase in the rates, and consequently would not show an extravagant tendency. I have omitted one question, and that is the question of the additional powers given with reference to allotments in this Hill. The question is, are these additional powers necessary? What arguments have been submitted to the House to show that, they are necessary? One instance, I will not call it an argument, was submitted by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board, who quoted a case in which allotments had cost a parish £350. The hon. Gentleman argued that when the granting of allotments cost a sum like that it was high time we should have reform. But I believe the hon. Member will know that, is a solitary case in the hands of the Local Government Board, and I do not think it is quite fair for the hon. Gentleman to quote it. It is, however, only a part of the story. What is the other part? What did it cost the landlord, or rather the landlady, an obstinate nonresident lady, who caused all this legal controversy? I am told it cost her £1,000. That, is what she paid for her obstinacy. Now, I ask the House, is that encouraging to landlords to refuse allotments? Is it likely that a cost of that kind would induce other landlords to refuse the land where it is desirable that allotments should be given? I am told, moreover, that it would have been competent to the Committee of this House who examined into the matter to put all the cost on the landlady. This difficulty does not arise from any deficiency in the Act. The Act is strong enough. It is part of the case of those who advocate stronger powers being given that if they are given you will have voluntary arrangements. But yon have strong powers now, and they are leading to voluntary arrangement. I have heard of cases where members of the County Council, when they heard that there was this demand for allotments which one landlord refused, have themselves come forward 440 and given allotments voluntarily, and in that way have assisted the policy which we all desire to see pursued. If hon. Members will look more fully into this matter, I am convinced they will see that the present, powers are working well, and that, from day to day the number of allotments is increasing in the manner desired by so many Members of this House. I cannot help remarking on the somewhat, glib manner in which the Secretary to the Local Government Board spoke of the transfer of property from one class to another. He said it was for a public object. But the words "public object" have a double meaning. There is a social object, and there is au object in the sense that you want land for a public purpose. The whole question of allotments is for a social object. It is that sense of a public object, which is a social object. That social object we wish to promote. But there are other social objects which could easily be promoted by the transfer of property from one person to another. I see before me a large number of gentlemen who are largely interested in the industries. There is the system of co-operation, which, to my mind, is a social object, and one most desirable. What would hon. Members opposite say if, under the inspection of an Inspector of the Board, the workmen who are engaged in assisting them, like the labourers assist the landlords, should have the right to say, "We claim a certain share in this business which we assist you to promote, and it is a public object that certain shares should be transferred to us?" Why should land be treated in this manner, so entirely different from capital? If we once go so far as to say that for social objects property ought to be transferred to another, it might be easily said that colliers might demand a share in the coal mines. It might assist to prevent coal strikes; and an Inspector of the Local Government Board might settle the share to be given to the miners who assist in the collieries. This transfer of property is a very important question, and all sides of the House will, I think, see that it is necessary to surround it with proper safeguards. Let me return for one minute to the question of the burdens imposed. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition suggested that the parochial 441 charge should be embodied in the parochial rate so that all persons might see to what extent the new burdens really affect the finances of the parish. I have always been myself in favour of consolidating the rates for administrative purposes, and of having one collection and one administration of rates. But when you come to very small areas a different sot of considerations arise. The smaller the area is and the more direct the benefit is the more necessary it is to take precautious. Hon. Members have continually urged in those Debates that where you have given the Parliamentary franchise and the School Board franchise you have given full powers without fear to the parishioners to vote money. The cases are not parallel. In one case you have a great diffusion of interests; in the other case the benefit is direct, and the man is before them from whom they can extract the payment. I put it to the House that this must not be allowed. We must take care that, in the arrangements we make, the relations which exist between the owners on the one hand and the labourers on the other should not by this Bill be turned into financial squabbles as to expenditure. We wish by this Bill to draw the owners of land and the labourers nearer together. We must be careful that the result of the arrangements we make is not to establish a divergence of interests, which, so far from cementing the friendship between classes, might become a now source of creating difficulties. I wish to be allowed to say one word upon the question of the Poor Law. There the same remarks I have made with regard to the expenditure by the Parish Councils apply to a certain extent. Representation on Poor Law Boards differs from other representations in this—that those who elect to those Boards, if they are likely to be recipients of relief, have a more direct pecuniary interest in the appointments to those Boards than in any other electoral duties in which they may be engaged. It must be recognised that it is an entirely different matter. Various proposals have been made, all showing the extreme difficulty of the subject. I wish to remind the House that when, under the Premiership of the right hon. Gentleman who is now Prime Minister, we introduced a Bill in 1871, we proposed 442 what we propose now—namely, a democratic franchise and the putting of all elections upon the same footing. We proposed the abolition of plural voting and of the property qualifications of certain kinds, and so forth. My right hon. Friend proposed not to disfranchise and disestablish the ex officio Guardians, but we proposed that one-third of these Boards should be composed of ex officio Guardians or of the representatives of the owners. My right hon. Friend recognised, with his Cabinet, some of whom are in his present Cabinet, that in the case of these Boards the administration of the Poor Law by some other members besides the representatives of the occupiers would be a safeguard upon which statesmen ought to insist. That was the view at that time. We have moved forward since that time. That I frankly admit. I think the House will see that in many quarters there is a desire to deal with the Poor Law in the manner in which other Representative Bodies have been dealt with. We have suggestions of a minority vote of indirect connection through the Parish Council; we have suggestions of the plurality vote. I know there are hon. Members and good Liberals who think that the owners ought to be represented. That brings me back for one moment to the question of the division of rates. Is that still part of the policy of the Government and of the Party opposite? I believe it is. I believe they are in favour of a division of the rates between owners and occupiers, and I say that, though the proposals of the Government of that day were severely criticised, it would have been of incalculable advantage if 20 years ago we had been able to divide the rates between owners and occupiers. Many of the difficult questions which now surround us would not have occurred, and we should have been relieved of many of the problems now before us. But if you are going to do so, is this the moment to change the whole machinery of the Poor Law Board? If the owners are to pay directly a portion of the rates, will it not be necessary to appeal to the sense of fair play and of justice of the people that certain representation should be given to the owners with regard to the money which comes directly from their pockets? Whether you agree with us on this occasion or 443 not, or whether any of the securities are necessary, you must admit the immense importance of the subject. I cannot agree with the Government who hold that the administration will not be affected by the body who elect the men who are to carry out that administration. As we are to deal with a reform of matters which are to be administered, as we are to deal with changes in the persons who are to pay the funds by which the administration is to be carried out, I say, in justice, the Poor Law provisions ought to be cut out of the present Bill, and that they should remain a subject which is to occupy the Government at some other time. I trust I have not intruded unduly in this matter. I ask, in conclusion, what is the object of this Bill? The object of the Bill, to my mind, and to the minds of many of us, is twofold—better administration and an increased sense of responsibility on the part of the inhabitants of a parish. These are honourable objects which we hope will be secured by this Bill. I demur, however, to the portion of the speech of the Vice President of the Council which put it as if in the Bill almost for the first time we should bring together owners, labourers, and occupiers of the land. The right hon. Gentleman bears an honoured name, and I feel confident that in his own family he possesses the experience of those who own land, and who are acquainted with almost every man, woman, and child of the parishes which they own, and that they make it their business to do all they can to further the interests of these people, and to establish neighbourly relations with them. It is almost a libel on owners of land in this country to represent, as has been done, that the relations with their neighbours in the parishes are estranged, and it is a libel on the labourers to represent them as ciphers or as serfs, and not to acknowledge the immense stride forward which has been made in the independence of the agricultural labourers during the last 10 or 15 years. The agricultural labourer of to-day is a totally different man from what one would imagine from the descriptions of hon. Members opposite. With regard to the object of the Bill, I should like to defend the Under Secretary for India against some of the charges brought against him. I have a totally different theory as 444 to his appearance in this Debate. I think his speech was a protest by example against all the electoral speeches made by his friends on the platform. He has said—It is not honest in this House to talk as hon. Members have been talking; that is not the language they have used, and I can show the House how they really spoke.And so the hon. Gentleman sacrificed himself, and he sacrificed good taste as well in order to make a protest on behalf of electoral honesty on the part of his friends. But he must know that his charges were not justified. You have not brought them out in this House. The hon. Gentleman has been the solitary Member who has held this language, and the Prime Minister did not associate himself with the speech; and to the honour of the House hon. Members have not associated themselves with the hon. Member's views. This is not a Bill directed against the squire, the parson, or the landlord, or any class; and I hope its provisions, improved and amended as they will be in Committee, will result in those relations between all classes in the various parishes remaining as friendly as they have been heretofore, and that they will increase the sense of responsibility on the part of the labourers, conduce to better administration, improved sanitary arrangements, and generally a more diffused and new sense of responsibility among a large portion of those who are now taking an important share in self-government.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
I am sure everybody recognises the right of the right hon. Gentleman to speak on this subject, seeing that he has done such good service in the past in connection with it, and I only desire to associate myself in his testimony to the businesslike and useful character of the Debate. I hope that the House will now consent to read the Bill a second time. I will only make one observation. The right hon. Gentleman has asked the Govern- 445 ment to abandon a large portion of the Bill, but in reply to that request I cannot help remembering that in the Judgment of Solomon it was the real mother who did not consent to divide the child in two. The Government, in like manner, are not prepared to make a jettison of a valuable portion of their cargo.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.