§ Order for Committee read.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
There are four Instructions to the Committee on the Paper. The first Instruction is out of Order, for it deals with the election of Municipal Corporations, which does not come within the scope of the Bill. The second Instruction is in Order, as it proposes to divide the Bill into two parts, not for the purpose of discussing the merits of either portion of the Bill, but for the purpose of re-arrangement, or of taking one portion before another, or of postponing one portion to a more convenient season. But it would not be in Order to discuss the Poor Law on an Instruction. The third Instruction can be done without the intervention of an Instruction. The fourth Instruction has given me considerable trouble; but I think, on the whole, it would be safer to adopt the method suggested. As regards the first part, however, it would be in the power of the Committee to re-insert clauses, so as to restore the classes which it is asserted are disfranchised under its provisions in the Bill, and no Instruction is necessary for such a purpose. The remaining part of the Instruction—To enfranchise, for the purposes of this Act, all those women, whether married or single, who would be entitled to be on the Local Government Register of Electors, or on the Parliamentary Register of Hectors if they were men,is in Order.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
rose to move the following:—That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to divide the Bill into two Bills, and to embody all clauses and sub-clauses which relate to or effect alterations in the Poor Law in a separate Bill.Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES
, continuing, said he felt indebted to Mr. Speaker for 1090 having pointed out the limits within which the discussion should be confined, and he need hardly say that he did not propose in any way to transgress those limits. Indeed, he scarcely proposed to go so far as they would seem to allow, for he did not propose to discuss the advisability of postponing any part of the Bill. He proposed to confine himself strictly to the question of the desirability of making the Bill into two Bills, and putting into the second Bill all that related to the Poor Law. It was in no spirit of hostility to the measure, so fat as it might extend popular parish government, that he made this proposal indeed, his only complaint against it was that it was not popular enough. Popular government could not be too greatly extended in parishes, whatever might be said of it under other conditions. The unanimous opinion of experts in Poor Law administration was that the Poor Law should be dealt with separately in a different measure. He reminded the House that the Instruction was not mandatory: it merely gave the Committee the power, which otherwise they would not have, of making the Division should they deem it to be necessary. His impression was that in the course of its labours the Committee would be extremely likely to come to the conclusion that it would be for the benefit of both parts of the measure if they were divided. This was a, Bill not only for the alteration of the system of local government: it was a Bill for effecting an alteration in a very considerable measure in the Poor Law, in its principles, machinery, and administration, and it dealt with the Poor Law not in a comprehensive manner, but in a purely incidental, fragmentary, and unsatisfactory manner. Why should the two subjects be bound up together? It seemed to him that they were altogether distinct in their nature and in the principles which should be applied to each of them. Local government concerned the management of their own affairs in their own localities by the helpful free men of the locality. The Poor Law was absolutely the contrary of that; it was the management of the helpless pauper by other persons, who undertook the management of his affairs for him. The government of the locality by the men of the locality sprung from 1091 the necessities of the case, and had existed in these islands so long that its origin was lost in the mist of ages. It certainly existed before the Church; it might almost be said to have existed before the nation. It was the necessary development of a free spirit of the free men who had always inhabited these islands, that as soon as they got into settlement they should arrange and manage their own affairs. The ancient spirit was shown in the declaration that a man was a coward who allowed anyone else to do for him what he could do for himself. But the Poor Law was a comparatively modern device, rendered necessary by strange and almost incredible historical events, partly by suppression of the monasteries who fed the poor out of their own funds, and partly, he was sorry to say, by the diversion of that one-third of the tithe which, by the ancient Canon Law, and by the sound practice in ancient times of the Anglican Church, was held to belong to the poor. When the third of the tithe was diverted it became necessary to find some means of dealing with the poor. He was contrasting the origin and nature of the local government with the origin and nature of the Poor Law. Local government was older than the Heptarchy: the Poor Law was as young as the Tudors; and while one arose naturally and inevitably from the necessities of the people, the other, speaking historically, was an accident caused by incidental and accidental occurrences and acts on the part of the Crown and the Parliament. The measure which they had before them was called a Local Government Bill, but it was in reality—it certainly was specially—a Parish Government Bill; its popular name all over the country was the Parish Councils. It was in respect of its dealing with the parish—which he did not propose to criticise—that the interest existed in it; it was in respect of its dealing with the parish that all the criticism was directed against it or for it. All its merit or demerit lay in its success in dealing with parish affairs, in grouping parishes, suppressing parishes, and bringing them together in the shape of District Councils. It was certainly and properly a Parish Bill, and, in his mind, local government that was not based on 1092 the parish was no local government at all; therefore he did not quarrel with its being a Parish Bill. But the Poor Law, so far from being bound up indissolubly in any increasing way with the parish, had for 300 years been more and more severed and removed from the parish, so that the parish now had scarcely any voice at all in the administration of the Poor Law. And he used that as an argument, that in as much as this was a Parish Bill it was inappropriate to include in such a Bill the administration of the Poor Law system, that was being increasingly removed from the purview of the parish. No doubt at first the relief of the poor was entirely maintained by the parish. By the 39th of Elizabeth the Overseer was then invented and named for the first time; he was appointed to distribute the parish money among the poor. The whole of the management of the Poor Law, such as it was then, was left in the hands of the parish, and was maintained by the parish officers. The work then was very simple; the work of those concerned in the administration of the Poor Law extended no further than that they were to set to work those who otherwise would not get work; they solved the problem of the unemployed in a manner satisfactory to some, though not so satisfactory to others. In fact, in three words, to those who would work to give work——
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think it in Order, on this Instruction, to discuss the system of the Poor Law. The hon. Gentleman is now treating of the incongruity of the two parts of the Bill. I His object would be served when in the Committee by moving to omit the clauses dealing with the Poor Law.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said, he quite apprehended that, though he had not done so previously. He might say, in three words, the whole tendency of Parliament had been to suppress the parish in the administration of the Poor Law by importing the Justice of the Peace and the Guardian, and introducing the Local Government Board. Each of these subjects—the subject of Local Government, and the subject of the Poor Law—was 1093 of the most tremendous complexity, and the greatest possible difficulty. Their history was strewn with failures; and either subject might almost demand a Session to itself. He would remind the President of the Local Government Board that his object must be to puss a good measure, and he might appropriately be reminded of the French proverb—"Qui trop embrasse, mal étreint"—let him not strive to embrace too much, otherwise he would not get a good grip of the subject which he embraced. In short, he would advise the fight hon. Gentleman not to try to ride two horses with the sumo saddle. It would surely be best to settle who and what the authorities were to be before transferring to them the administration of the Poor Law; and he was only pleading for putting the horse before the cart when he asked that the Committee should have the power, if they thought it advisable, as the result of discussion, to divide the Bill into two parts, and to separate Local Government from the question of Poor Law. A Royal Commission was now sitting on a branch of the Poor Law, the relief of the aged poor, and that Commission might make recommendations such as would entirely traverse all the arrangements they had made in their Bill. It seemed to him, therefore, it was reasonable to ask that the Committee should have power—again he said this Instruction was not mandatory—of dividing the Bill. He did not advise the postponement of the Local Government part of it; he did not advise the postponement of the Poor Paw part of it; but certainly, if the Poor Paw part were postponed to another Session—if, indeed, they ever had another Session in this Parliament—no great harm would be done to the essential portion of the Bill which dealt with the parish and its government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, it; reply to the late Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day, said he would not be a party to dividing the Bill, referred to the Judgment of Solomon, and told the House that the true mother was the mother who refused to divide the child. He assumed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer claimed to be the mother of the Bill. Who the father was he did not know. He would 1094 point out, however, that the person who ordered the division of the child was no less a person than King Solomon, a man who, he believed, was generally right. That being so, he, who was but a humble follower in the paths of wisdom of that great man, thought it might not be unreasonable to press upon on the Front Bench opposite King Solomon's advice in this case, with full confidence that the child would not be hurt, but greatly improved by the process. The Minister who made a real reform of Local Government and brought the strings of Local Government into the hands of the parishioners; the Minister who introduced and passed a measure for the complete reform and re-popularisation of Local Government, would have done a noble work. That Minister, also, would have done a noble work, perhaps a nobler work, who succeeded in making a reform of the Poor Law; such a reform as, while it would give power to relieve the necessities of the necessitous, would prevent the law being made an instrument for inducing idle people to become more idle and a danger to the State. These were noble works which he should like to see advanced, but he said to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite he earnestly trusted they would not imperil both these great works by insisting on doing them both at one and the same time.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to divide the Bill into two Bills and to embody all clauses and sub-clauses which relate to or effect alterations in the Poor Law in a separate Bill."—(Mr. Gibson Bowles.)
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER,) Wolverhampton, E.
I am not going to follow the hon. Member in the speech he has delivered; I should be out of Order if I attempted to make a, Second Reading speech upon this Instruction; or if I attempted to discuss the various points he incidentally raised. This, I take it, is a pure question of procedure, and nothing else. The hon. Gentleman says he does not wish any part to be postponed, and that this is an Instruction that is not mandatory. No Instruction could be 1095 mandatory; it would be out of Order to move a mandatory Instruction, and all he proposes is to give the Committee power to divide the Bill into two parts in order to deal in one Bill with what he describes as the principle, administration of the Poor Law. This procedure the hon. Member has had recourse to is a procedure rarely adopted in the history of this House. During the last 40 years, since 1853, it has only been brought before the House on five occasions, including Private Bills, and on the four occasions on which the House did resolve that the Bill might be divided, it was either on the Motion or with the consent of the Minister or Member in charge of the Bill. In fact, it was a stop taken for the purpose of accelerating the progress of the Bills, and not an adverse Motion brought forward by the Opposition. Such a Motion was made by the present Prime Minister with reference to his great Budget Bill, by Mr. Bruce with reference to the Trade Unions Bill, and by Mr. Forster with reference to the Endowed Schools Bill. Those were the occasions on which the House bad empowered the Committee to divide Bills. If that course were taken in the present case, would it have the effect of accelerating the progress of the Bill? I at once say it would not. What does the hon. Gentleman propose? He has rested his speech upon the ground that the Government are going to propose alterations in the principle of the Poor Law. They are going to do nothing of the sort. There is not a line in the Bill which touches the principle of the Poor Law; there is not a line which touches the questions that have been referred to the Royal Commission; not a line that touches what I believe to be one of the most difficult questions of the day—the Poor Law as a whole. Of what would this separate Bill be formed? It would be formed of one clause, a clause of 21 lines altogether, proposing to enact that there shall be no ex officio Guardians; that the constituency that elects the Guardians shall have no plural vote, and that there shall be no property qualification for the office of Guardian. That is the beginning and the end of the alterations proposed in the Bill. I do not mean to say that they are not important alterations and do not deserve the fullest 1096 discussion by the House, and when the clause is before the House I shall be prepared to submit to the Committee the considerations and arguments which have induced the Government to make the proposals. If the House disapproves of the proposals of the Government they will reject the clause. The first division will settle it. The first Amendment put down to the clause will at once raise and dispose of the matter. There is no case whatever for dividing the Bill into two parts. This is not the time to discuss the proposals of the Government with reference, not to the principles of the Poor Law, but with reference to the constituency and composition of the Guardians of the poor. Therefore, I beg the House at once to reject the Instruction as being perfectly useless and serving no purpose whatever in facilitating the progress of the Bill.
§ * MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
said, the right hon. Gentleman found fault with his hon. Friend and told him he had not read the Bill. If his hon. Friend had missed some portion of it, it would not have been his fault, because, after all, the position of the Bill was a remarkable and unique one. They had had the Bill before them for a long time in its original form; but in the form in which it was now, with the Amendments of the right hon. Gentleman, it had practically only been in the hands of Members for a few days, and they were to consider it in a much shorter time than had ever been before allowed by a Government on such a Bill. But he would point out that the right hon. Gentleman, who found fault with his hon. Friend for not knowing the Bill, did not seem to know the Bill himself. The right hon. Gentleman asked the House to believe this Motion of his hon. Friend, for the division of the Bill into two parts would result in one clause only being taken out of the Bill and put in a Bill by itself. The right hon. Gentleman was not correct; he had not taken the House into his confidence, and had failed to realise what he had put into the Bill. It was most remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman should have omitted a very important clause—namely, Clause 47, in which County Councils had power to deal with Boards of Guardians, to fix 1097 or alter the number of Guardians to be elected for each parish, and the clause contained other provisions with regard to Guardians. The right hon. Gentleman, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, claimed it as a virtue that there was only one clause that proposed to deal with the Poor Law, and dismissed it in a few contemptuous phrases. He did not want to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman did not appreciate the importance and gravity of the question; but if the right hon. Gentleman had realised it, all he could say was that it was most remarkable that he proposed to deal with the Poor Law of the country in one single clause, and asked the House to believe that one single clause was a matter that could easily be sandwiched into a Bill dealing with a great many other matters. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite protested too much. It they were not dealing with the Poor Law why were they so anxious for this reform? if they were not, going to make a change in the Poor Law why all this anxiety to keep the Poor Law clause in? They knew perfectly well that if they could have excluded the Poor Law it would have facilitated the passage of the Bill. And they knew something more than that; they knew perfectly well that if they saw their way to omitting the Poor Law they would be better able to make the Bill thoroughly workable and efficient. The right hon. Gentleman told them it was nothing but procedure. Procedure! He ventured to say the right hon. Gentleman had made a bad start on this stage of the Bill in trying to dismiss the Motion with a contemptuous reference to a matter of procedure.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I was not dealing with the question in any contemptuous manner; there was nothing contemptuous in my reference. I said the question of dividing the Bill and taking out this clause was a pure matter of procedure.
§ * MR. W. LONG
said, he had correctly quoted the right hon. Gentleman; he said he described this as a matter of procedure, and he described that as a contemptuous reference to his hon. Friend's Motion. And he repeated that it was a con- 1098 temptuous reference because the Motion involved something much wider and more important than a mere matter of procedure. The right hon. Gentleman told them there was no precedent except certain Bills brought in by the Government, the division of which was unanimously accepted. The right hon. Gentleman had described his hon. Friend's Motion as a hostile one. It might be hostile in the opinion of the Government; but that was a, matter of supreme indifference to them (the Opposition). The Motion itself, in their opinion of the Opposition, involved something of great importance. If was an unimportant matter probably to the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella), who did not care whether Parish Councils were effective or not as long as the Bill was carried.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. MUNDELLA,) Sheffield, Brightside
said, he did nut understand why the hon. Gentleman should make such pointed reference to him.
§ * MR. W. LONG
said, that the right hon. Gentleman's effective smile might have misled him. He was not aware, however, that the right hon. Gentleman was so sacred a person that no reference ought to be made to him in that House. But he would undertake not to refer to the right hon. Gentleman in the future, whether he smiled or frowned. The matter at issue was, in the opinion of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, a mere matter of procedure, but it was really nothing of the sort. They were going to deal with one of the most difficult details of Local Government in its most minute form. In past years when other Statutes passed the House on questions of this sort—such as County Councils, Corporations, or Local Boards—the House had the knowledge that those Local Authorities would in all probability be manned by men of considerable experience in local administration, who would be aided by trained legal officials; but on the Councils that were now to be set up they would have untrained men and no legal advisers. In bodies so composed the law which they would have to administer ought to be 1099 made as intelligible as possible, so that the men who were to be responsible for administration should know exactly what they were to do. If that were not done they would have to rely on untrained men.
§ * MR. LONG
said, if he understood the matter aright, he was only endeavouring to point out the reasons why it appealed to him and those behind him that the Bill should be divided as proposed. At present the Bill consisted of five parts, three of which contained clauses relating to the local administration of the parishes; and if the Instruction of the hon. Member were adopted, it would not delay, but facilitate, the progress of the Bill; it would not delay, but would facilitate, the work of the Government. The division of the Bill would render it easier of comprehension, and it would throw no obstacle in the way of the reforms the Government desired to carry out. The President of the Local Government Board himself could only desire that when the Bill became law it should work well and easily. He had no doubt or hesitation whatever in supporting the Instruction, and he regretted that Her Majesty's Government had not seen their way to accept it, as it would enable them to make the Bill work more easily, and enable those to understand it who were to carry its provisions into effect.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said, he was not surprised that this Instruction should have been proposed, although he could not quite agree as to the wisdom of pressing it upon the House on that occasion. The Bill was one of great scope and complexity; and the second part was, in his judgment, vitally important, and was not adequately described when it was spoken of as involving mere matters of procedure. He fully admitted that his right hon. Friend was technically right in saying the Bill did not interfere with the Poor Law; but it proposed to substitute for the administrative Boards now charged with the administration of the Poor Law other bodies elected upon a different pattern, 1100 and having probably different ideas. Those who knew what different views actuated different Boards administering the Poor Law must be aware that a change in the administrative body meant something more than a mere change of procedure?
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, the question of our administration might he underrated, but could not he over-rated. Supposing it were suggested that the Judges should be elected instead of being nominated as they now were by the Lord Chancellor, on his responsibility as a Member of the Government, it might be said that that would effect no change in the law of England, and it would be true; but there would certainly be a vital change in the administration of that law. Similarly, in the change which the Government proposed to make in the bodies charged with the administration of the Poor Law, they might be effecting a change as important as a change of the law itself. Whilst holding a strong opinion as to the expediency of considering whether the Bill should not be separated in two, he scarcely expected the Government to assent to such a proposal at once. In the unparalleled circumstances in which they found themselves they might well consider the Bill in reference to their ability to pass all its complex and difficult provisions in the time between now and Christmas. They would naturally wait to see how the measure fared in Committee. His own belief was that, in attempting to recast their parochial life by the institution of Parish Councils, they would be attempting quite enough to exhaust all the time at their disposal. He hoped they would enter on the Committee on the Bill in a spirit of practical, business-like, friendly co-operation. If they did that they would find more than enough to occupy them. It was in that spirit he intended to act himself. It was, perhaps, as he had said, not to be expected that the Government would accept the Amendment at once. It might well be that they would like to see how far progress could be made before they expressed themselves definitely on this subject; 1101 but he, for one, hoped the hon. Member would not press the Motion to a Division.
§ MR. J. G. LAWSON (York, N.R., Thirsk)
said, the Government could not say, in bringing forward this proposal, any hostility was shown to the measure. Many of their own supporters, judging by their cheers, would agree that the ship was overladen, and that it could be advantageously lightened by the omission of the provision relating to Poor Law. Sixty-three pages of Amendments to the Bill furnished of themselves 63 good reasons why the proposed Instruction should be adopted. The ship was already overladen, but it was not at all unlikely that many mine Amendments of an important character would be put on the Paper. [laughter] Hon. Gentlemen who laughed seemed to forget that a large number of the Amendments came from hon. Members on their own (the Government) side. Very important questions were raised by the clauses of the Bill. They all hoped to see the Bill carried into law, but he would ask the Government to remember that it was now the 16th of November, and when the Bill had passed this House it would have to be considered in another place. Under these circumstances, it was surely desirable to do whatever they could to facilitate its discussion by omitting provisions which would occupy considerable time. Had the late Government in 1888 adopted a proposal of this kind in their Local Government Bill the licensing clauses might have keen dropped and ample lime devoted to District Councils. Time would be, wasted on Clause 19 which might be devoted to other important clauses, such as Clause 33, relating to the constitution of Parish Councils, and part of those which raised other important questions. These were hints which the Government might take, and so facilitate the purpose of the Bill.
§ CAPTAIN NAYLOR-LEYLAND (Colchester)
said, he had not noticed any of the spirit of friendly co-operation, to which the right hon. Member for Bodmin referred, in the speech of the President of the Local Government Board, and he 1102 hoped some more valid argument than had yet been offered would be advanced by the Government for opposing the Instruction. It was scarcely ingenious of the President of the Local Government Board to say that the only clause in the Bill dealing with the Poor Law was the 19th. Nearly the whole of the second part of the measure had reference to it. Under the Bill the District Councillor and the Guardian would be one and the same person: and if he was dealt with in one capacity, he must he affected in the other—they could not make any distinction, lie hoped the hon. Member who moved the Instruction, and who had given good reasons in support of it, would not follow the advice of the right hon. Member for Bodmin, but would take the sense of the House on the question. They would he wasting time if they did not divide the Bill into two parts, lie was deeply interested that the Bill should pass, but he was also interested that time should not be wasted between now and Christmas. They had not at all been met in a conciliatory or co-operative spirit by the Government and their supporters. The Instruction was brought forward for the very purpose of facilitating the progress of the Bill, and his object in supporting it was that the first, or local government, part of the measure might be passed into law before Christmas, lie trusted the right hon. Gentleman would yet see his way to agree to the Instruction.
§ * MR. H. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
said, he should not have taken part in the discussion but for the character of the speech of the President of the Local Government Board. Although during the five minutes which it occupied, and which hon. Members on the Government Benches seemed to consider sufficient time, the right hon. Gentleman said he did not wish to minimise the importance of the part of the Bill relating to the Poor Law, yet he persistently did so. It was quite true, technically speaking, that the Bill did not touch the principles of the Pool- Law; but they might alter materially the administration of the Poor Law by altering the character of the authority that administered it, and he believed that that administration would 1103 be considerably altered by the Bill. He thought that the Minister in charge of the Bill might have attached a little more importance to this subject than to regard it as simply a matter of procedure. Surely he knew that the really controversial part of the Bill was that dealing with the Poor Law? If the Instruction were adopted they might be able to set up a good system of local government with Parish Councils before Christmas, and they could pass a District Councils Bill after Christmas. He did not think the time at their disposal was sufficient to enable them to deal with both those great questions. The President of the Local Government Board seemed to think that when the first Amendment to Clause 19 was disposed of they would get on rapidly.
§ MR. HOBHOUSE
said, be did not know that it would be rejected. The; Government had a majority; but they also knew that if controversial questions were forced upon them, it would take a long time to deal with the question of local administration. Those Members who, like himself, lived in the country districts, and would have to live for the future under those local institutions, were determined to see that they were placed upon a satisfactory basis. It was in the interest of the Government itself and of the local institutions of the country that it had been suggested that these subjects could be better dealt with in two separate measures. He did not understand why the question was treated with the contempt it bad received; it was a very important question, and even during the dinner hour it ought to be treated with proper consideration. This was a question of combining in one measure two great subjects upon one of which they were all in principle agreed, and upon the other of which there was great difference of opinion, and it might be important to future progress whether it was treated with adequate consideration or not.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
said, he was not surprised that his hon. Friend should have moved this Instruction. What was the question 1104 upon which they were engaged? If he might judge from the cheers of gentlemen opposite, they cared much more for the question relating to the Poor Law than for Parish Councils. They were going to establish a system of parish government. Everyone should desire that the law on the subject should be thoroughly simple and easily understood, and that there should not be mixed up in one Bill a number of questions two or three of which had no relation to the action of parish government. What he desired was to make the measure a simple Parish Councils Bill. It would be important if, after this Bill was passed, hon. Gentlemen could recommend it to the inhabitants of the rural districts, and tell them what the powers of the Parish Councils would be, and it would be well that people should not have to wade through a number of clauses to understand what it was they had to do. The right hon. Gentleman said that, after all, they were dealing only with a fragment of the Poor Law, and that the Government did not intend to alter its principle. But surely Members were entitled to doubt whether this was the best method of approaching probably the most important subject that in the rural districts could engage attention. He believed the Government would promote the object they had in view if they simplified their present Bill, and that they would make it more acceptable to the country. The right hon. Gentleman said that only one clause of the Bill dealt with the Poor Law. He believed that was a mistake, and that there were many clauses which touched it. "After all," said the right hon. Gentleman, "it is a matter of time, and we shall see presently whether there is time to deal with the question." Members on that (the Opposition) side had always said that the time at the disposal of the House was too short for dealing with a considerable portion of this important subject. "But," said the right hon. Gentleman, "Let us try." Well, be was bound to say that, upon the whole, it would be well to let him try. I n his opinion, it would be better to postpone the subject of the Poor Law until they could consider it as a whole; but if the Government desired it, let them try whether they could deal with all those great and complicated questions 1105 in the few weeks before them. But he would venture to point out that it would he more difficult to abandon that part of the Bill at a later period than it was now. If the Government wished to goon he thought his hon. Friend would be well advised not to go to a Division, but see whether he might not take a. future opportunity of again urging the House to drop that portion of the Bill which dealt with the Poor Law.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
said, he was sorry the President of the Local Government Board was antagonistic to this proposal. There was no one in that House who desired more than he did the completion of county government, and his sole object in rising was to express the wish, that the Government would make sure of passing that portion of the Bill which would complete the work inaugurated by the late Government. If this Bill were divided into two parts they could make sure that the Parish Councils part would be carried; and he could not understand why those in charge of the Bill did not accept that view. They ought to follow the example set them in 1888, when the late Government wisely dropped one portion of their Bill in order to save the remainder. That Bill was 31 nights under discussion.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, yes, 22 in Committee; but 31 or 30 nights under discussion altogether. He was quite sure the right hon. Gentleman did not hope to carry the whole of this Bill before Christmas. Nearly eight months had been wasted by the Government, and the country regarded it as wasted; and yet this important Bill, touching the great mass of the English people, was relegated to odd times in a weary House. It was an outrage on the House. It was in the power of the Ministry to bludgeon the House of Commons. Would it not be well to be able to say at Christmas, "We have done a good work—we have completed the county government of the country? "
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
Perhaps the hon. Member for Sunderland would give somebody credit for sincerity in this matter as well as himself. His only fear was that the local government part of the Bill would be endangered by introducing this great contentious element of the Poor Law. They in the Opposition who represented the British people had aright to speak in their name. ["Oh! Yes"] the Government did not represent, the majority of the British people. The Government might refuse to listen to those who represented the British majority, or they might listen with impatience, bill they could only adopt that attitude by the strength of the anti-British majority they had at their back. The Pill affected only England and Wales. They who spoke in the name of a majority of 60 Representatives of those countries asked the Government to pay some attention to their expressed wishes. He, for one, did not think the Government would gain, by the course they were pursuing, that amount of credit which they seemed to anticipate. There was another reason he would give which might touch the Government. Those who understood political matters would know that there was far more to be got from the electors by things which were not done but which were expected than by measures passed. If they accepted the Instruction they might at the end of the Session be able to say, "We have done something." They might say, "We have completed the county government system which the late Government began, and now you have a good system of local government. We intend to proceed next Session with the Poor Law portion of the Bill." He believed that that would get them far more votes—which seemed to be the object of all their proceedings—than if they were able to say they had dealt with the Poor Law in a partial manner, a thing which would be forgotten in three or four months. Nobody doubted the goodwill of the Opposition towards Parish Councils, whatever they might think of the Poor Law part of the Bill; therefore, it was certain that the local government portion of the measure could be disposed of in reasonable time. But it was doubtful whether, even with curtailed discussion, 1107 and less than fair examination of the Government proposals, the Bill as it now stood could be got through. If it was divided, there would he no necessity for dropping either half, but the half that was postponed could be taken up when the other was disposed of—possibly before Christmas. Even if the second half could not be disposed of before Christmas, it could be passed next Session—for he supposed the Government expected to remain in Office a, month or two longer. At any rate, he would offer a. humble protest in the name of the people of Great Britain, [Laughter.] Yes; in the name of a majority of 60—that after eight months had been wasted in passing a Bill the people of Great Britain did not want, against attempting to pass a, Hill they did want at an odd time in the fag-end of the Session, when no legislation ought to be proceeded with because it could not be discussed with comfort. This was treating in an almost contemptuous manner the people of England and Wales.
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
said, he only wished to say one word on this matter. He had learnt one thing from the hon. Member for Great Britain—[Laughter]—and that was that he was anxious to have a Parish Councils Bill, and to have Poor Law reform. Well, if the right hon. Gentleman was anxious for those two things why had he occupied the time of the House in discussing the question whether they should discuss them. He (Mr. Storey) was willing to follow the lead of the Government who had put the Bill before the House. Every commonsense person in the country would believe that those who wasted the time of the House when it was ready to discuss the Bill were really opposed to the measure, although they said they were not. Reference bad been made to the shortness of the time at the disposal of the House. It was said that it wanted but six weeks to Christmas but who had told hon. Members opposite that Christmas would end the Session? This he knew, that the people of Durham, including pitmen and miners, whom he had the honour to represent on the County Council, were extremely anxious that this Bill should pass, and their Members were quite willing to sit through Christmas, and as 1108 long as it was necessary to pass the measure.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ * MR. W. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)
said, he had the following Notice on the Paper:—That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert provisions to prevent the disfranchisement of those married women who as ratepayers are now entitled to vote at elections of Guardians, and to enfranchise, for the purposes of this Act, all those women, whether married or single, who would be entitled to be on the Local Government Register of Electors, or on the Parliamentary Register of Electors if they were men.Owing to the technicalities of the Forms of the House, Amendments which it would be admitted were of great importance could not be discussed unless Instructions were first given to the Committee. He had, therefore, been reluctantly compelled to put his Instruction upon the Paper. He was glad to find that the first portion of the Instruction was unnecessary. In its amended form the Instruction would run—That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert provisions to enfranchise, for the purposes of this Act, all those women, whether married or single, who would be entitled to be on the Local Government Register of Electors, or on the Parliamentary Register of Electors if they were men.The words which were left out, he understood, referred to a matter which the Committee would be able to deal with without an Instruction. The Instruction, as all such Instructions were, was permissive; and he only asked that the Committee should be empowered to deal with the matter at the proper time. He simply desired, and he had reason to believe that a large number of Members desired, to extend local franchises for the purposes of this Act to women on the same terms as to men. He hardly thought the House would desire to prevent properly qualified married women from voting for Parish and District Councils. At present married women who were ratepayers were entitled to vote for Poor Law Guardians, because the rate book was the Register. That was a matter he need not dwell upon, as it was a well-known and indisputable fact. But with regard to the Local Government Register, which the Bill asked them to adopt, if it could be proved that 1109 married women were now legally entitled to be on the burgess list, the operation of his Instruction would he unnecessary. But he hoped to prove as briefly as he could that married women at the present time were not entitled to be on the burgess list. The Register was made out from the rate book as a basis, but it was made up by the Assistant Overseers, and revised by I he Revising Banisters, and in case after ease, almost as a rule, the Revising Barristers and the Assistant Overseers deliberately excluded the names of any women whom they knew to be married from the list. In cases where there was carelessness, or a friendly feeling towards the claims of married women, certain married women's names did appear on the Register, because there was no means of proving at the moment whether the women were married or widows. But that, of course, was not the same thing as married women being legally entitled to be on the Register. The only legal decision on the subject was given in the Borough of Sunderland in 1872, when an Election Petition was brought to unseat a Town Councillor, who had been elected by a majority of one. The case was tried in the Court of Queen's Bench before no less an authority than Sir Alexander Cockburn, who disallowed the votes of two married women and unseated the Town Councillor who had been elected. That case still governed the law. There had been no appeal against it, and he did not know that if it had been appealed against the result would have been any different. It might be taken that that decision demonstrated what was clearly the intention of the law in the matter. When the Municipal Act of 1869 was before the House, the hon. Member for South West Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright) carried an Amendment in these words—Wherever words occur which import the masculine gender, the same may be held to include females for all purposes connected with and having reference to the right to vote for the election of Councillors, auditors and assessors.That remained the law at present, and he wanted to know if the words enfranchised married women or not. He thought he could show that they did not. In 1881 the hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) 1110 carried a Bill dealing with Scotch municipal elections, and in the Preamble these words occurred—referring to women voting—Whereas it is expedient in this respect that the franchise in Scotland shall he assimilated to that of England.The House proceeded to "assimilate" the Scotch municipal franchise to the English by deliberately excluding married women, because the words of the Scotch Act were—Wherever words occur which import the masculine gender the same shall be held to include females who are not married and married women not living in family with t heir husbands.It was obvious, therefore, that the municipal franchise of England did not enfranchise women. The Municipal Corporations Act of 1882 contained no indication that the opinion of Parliament was in favour of enfranchising married women. Again, in the English Local Government -Vet of 1888, the burgess list was extended for the purpose of County Council elections, but no attempt was made to remove the disabilities of married women, and in a further consummation of that view the Scotch Act which followed in 1889 again expressly excluded married women from the Register. It was incredible that if married women were entitled to be on the Local Government Register in England the disability which rested on married women in Scotland would have been enacted. Some of the most prominent Members of tin1 present Government—Leaders of the Opposition as they were then—were Scotch Members. I he Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Secretary for War, the Secretary for Scot land, the Chancellor of the Duchy, the Patronage Secretary to tint Treasury, the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General for Scotland, were all Scotch Members, and it was impossible to suppose that they would have allowed the Scotch Local Government Bill to go through imposing a. stigma and disability upon married women in Scotland which did not test on married women in England. Therefore, he though it clear that in the Local Government Register they proposed to incorporate in the Pill for the purpose of District and Parish Council elections, they were not enfranchising married 1111 women. He would give one final proof of that proposition. Last year the hon. Member for South Islington (Sir A. Rollit) brought in a Bill to confer the Parliamentary franchise on those women who were enrolled on the Local Government Register. The Prime Minister in a letter—which was well known to hon. Members at the time—which he addressed to the hon. Member for Flintshire, expressed a preliminary objection to the Bill in these words—The Bill is a narrow Bill, inasmuch as it excludes from its operation the entire body of married women.The Home Secretary, then an unofficial Member, in speaking in the Debate on that Bill, confirmed that view. The right hon. Gentleman said—The Movers of this Bill ask the House to affirm that a woman is perfectly qualified and competent by intelligence and experience to exercise a vote, but the moment she approaches the altar she constructs for herself a disability which Parliament ought to recognise as thenceforward disqualifying her for a vote.To use a phrase made familiar to them during the past few days, the woman who married would "contract herself out of the Act." If the Bill passed in its pro-sent form, and the Local Government Register were made the Register upon which votes were to be given for Parish and District Councils, married women would be effectually excluded. He claimed to have proved his case that married women could not vote. But it was equally certain that they could and did vote for members of Boards of Guardians. Therefore, it was obvious that if they were to retain the franchise for women as it was at present, they must in some way enfranchise married women on the Burgess List. He took it that that was the intention of the Government, for within the last few days the Prime Minister-had written a letter which had appeared in all the papers, in which he said—All women who can now vote will vote under the proposal of the Government. The general questions of women suffrage, of course, are not touched on in the Bill.Of course they were not; but the statement of the Prime Minister that all women who could now vote would vote under the proposal of the Government, as he (Mr. M'Laren) had shown, was not 1112 strictly accurate. In any case, whether accurate or not, he desired to ask the House to enable the Committee to carry out this pledge or intention of the Government, and to take deliberate steps to enfranchise that class of women who were certainly amongst the best qualified to vote at all these elections. The second portion of his Instruction aimed at placing upon the Register those women who would be entitled to be on it if they were men, that was to say women freeholders, women entitled to vote under the Service Franchise and women lodgers. He could see no good reason why, in passing a measure of this sort, which the Government claimed to be a complete measure, they should not make the Register complete and perfect. No great amount of time would be required in order to do this. All that would be necessary would be to provide for the making of supplementary lists to include women under those three qualifications. There could be no technical difficulty in it whatever. As a matter of fact, women in Scotland, for the purpose of County Council elections, did possess these franchises, and if in Scotland why not in England? The Scotch Local Government Act of 1889 provided as follows:—Every woman who is not married, or who, being married, is not living in family with her husband, otherwise possessing the qualification for being registered as a Parliamentary elector, but who is disqualified for being so registered by reason of being a woman, shall nevertheless be entitled to be registered in the supplementary register as a county elector.Under this provision women who were under the Lodger Franchise, women who were under the Service Franchise, and women who were freeholders, could vote at County Council elections. Now that they were dealing with the subject of the franchise, why should they not make the franchise in England the same as it was in Scotland? They were enfranchising men of the classes he had specified for these Councils, and he failed to see why the very simple alteration which would be necessary to include women should not be made. Any one of those women would be eligible for election to the Councils, and it was an absurdity to say-that they should not vote. He would borrow an argument from the letter written by the Prime Minister to the hon. Member for Flint. Dealing with 1113 the Parliamentary vote the right hon. Gentleman wrote—For a long time we drew a distinct-ion between competency to vote and competency to sit in Parliament. But long before our electorate had attained to the present popular proportion this distinction was felt to involve a palpable inconsistency, and accordingly it died away. It surely cannot be revived; and if it cannot be revived, then the woman's vote carries with it. whether by the same Bill or by a consequential Bill, the woman's seat in Parliament.He would ask the House to change the word "Parliament" in this letter into "Parish Councils." If the vote carried the right to sit, as the Prime Minister said it did, did not the right to sit carry the vote? He thought there could be no sound reason alleged why women should not be admitted to these franchises—there was no reason why they should not definitely settle the question in this Bill, and so render it a complete and consistent measure, lie did not think that any hon. Member would Stand up in the House and say that married women were less qualified to be electors for these purposes than unmarried women and widows. In moving this Instruction, all he asked was that they should be permitted to discuss the subject in Committee. He did not desire that there should be a long discussion on the question now. The Committee stage was the proper time for dealing with it. Unless this Instruction were carried, he feared that serious difficulties would arise, therefore he would respectfully ask the House to accept it.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert provisions to enfranchise, for the purposes of this Act, all those women, whether married or single, who would be entitled to be on the Local Government Register of Electors, or on the Parliamentary Register of Electors, if they were men."—(Mr. Walter M'Laren.)
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
In the Debate which took place on the previous Instruction I was blamed for having made the Bill a measure of very great extent and of a considerable complexity, and I was warned by hon. Gentlemen opposite and by some who sit on this side that the Bill was already too long to be carried within the limited space of time which now remains for its consideration. My hon. Friend now asks me to put a very 1114 heavy piece of cargo on what I have-already been told is an overladen ship. I am not going to express any opinion on what is emphatically a burning question—namely, the question of the female suffrage, as to which there is a cleavage on this side of the House and a cleavage on the other side—a question on which very strong feelings are felt on both sides. It is not necessary for me to ox-press any opinion one way or the other, and I am not going to do it; but I am going to put it to the House whether we can in this or any other aspect make this Bill what my hon. Friend calls a complete, perfect, and entire measure. That is out of the power of Parliament, even if it had from now till Whitsuntide. There are already 67 pages of Amendments down upon the Paper, and an hon. Member has told us that those Amendments will continue to increase. Well, I put to my hon. Friend, who I know is anxious that the Bill should pass, whether there is not a danger of suffocation. If we are to discuss a vast variety of questions not germane to the construction of this new piece of machinery, but germane to matters in which we all feel a deep interest, which we would very much like to see settled, and many of which we should like to see reformed, shall we not be imperilling the existence of the Bill altogether? On that ground I would ask the House to decline to assent to this Instruction. The point to which the hon. Member attaches the greatest importance he says he is at liberty to raise in the Committee stage. I have no doubt that he is at liberty to do so. He goes a step further, and asks us for the purposes of this Bill to create a new Register, and to settle, as it were, by a side-wind the vexed question of women suffrage. I do not say where he is right or wrong, or in what way I should be inclined to vote on that question. I do not say that different views might not exist amongst Members of the Government as well as amongst Members opposite: but in the interests of this Bill, which my hon. Friend desires, in conjunction with hon. Members on both sides, should pass—[Mr. W. M'LAREN: Hear, hear!]—I ask the House not to cumber it with this vexed question of female suffrage. The women who are now entitled to be upon the local Register 1115 of electors—aud a very large number are upon the Register—will be entitled to vote under the Bill. The question is, whether you are going to extend that number. 1 do not say yon should not, but I do ask the House—and I am afraid I shall have to make the same appeal in regard to other proposals to be submitted to us—not to encumber the Bill with this grave and vexed question.
§ * SIR C.W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has spoken of this matter as a very heavy piece of cargo, but the heavy cargo was the change in the local electorate which the right hon. Gentleman himself proposes in the Bill. This Bill for the first time introduces the lodger voter, the service voter, and the Parliamentary freeholder into local elections. With regard to the Instruction, I quite understand that the question of the married woman's vote cannot be discussed at length upon the question of an Instruction to the Committee; but it can be discussed in Committee. There is no doubt that the Bill disfranchises all the married women ratepayers who have voted at elections in London, and at every Vestry election throughout the country since, I believe, the days of King Alfred. All the married women are disfranchised, and that is a question which can be raised and will be raised on the Bill. But, surely, it must be fair that there should be given to those who desire to raise the larger question a right to raise it by means of this Instruction when we remember the enormous number of new local voters enfranchised by the Bill. In the ward in which I live it has often fallen to my lot to have to conduct a local election as presiding officer. There a large class of married women ratepayers now vote. There are a considerable number of ladies of property, wives of butlers and so on, who vote at local elections. This Bill takes away their votes. We shall be able to discuss that in Committee. But, at the same time, it enfranchises hundreds of people who never had a local vote before. When I was a young man, 24 years ago, it fell to me to move that in Town Councils 1116 the local vote should be given to women. That was accepted by the House without a Division. That view prevailed in regard to County Council elections. By this Bill one class of women only are enfranchised for local elections; the other class are disfranchised, while three classes of men are enfranchised. What will be the effect of this? In my own ward in London 1,000 new electors will be enfranchised, most of whom will be coachmen and artisans. In the next, ward a, great number of Chelsea pensioners and also coachmen and artisans will be enfranchised. Therefore, while there will be a considerable number of male voters added for local purposes there will be considerably fewer women voters for such purposes. That seems to me to be a reversal of the policy adopted in 1869 and 1870, and I consider it a fail-case for discussion in Committee, and therefore I shall vote for the Instruction.
§ * MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)
I have heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, which I suppose we must take as the decision of the Government, with great regret. The right hon. Gentleman has heard that he will not succeed in preventing hon. Members from discussing in Committee the question of the married women's vote; what he may succeed in doing will be to prevent the Committee from dealing with the subject, in the best, clearest, and most conclusive manner. It is not only a question of whether we wish to give the vote to these women. It is a question whether we have not a right to that discussion. The right hon. Gentleman appealed to his supporters in a somewhat commanding and imperious way, and called upon them 1o put down any attempt at the assertion of individual right of discussion. I beg leave to tell the right hon. Gentleman and Her Majesty's Government that a not inconsiderable number of hon. Members are interested in this question. There should be something like give and take between the Government and its supporters, and if they expect an enthusiastic, devoted, and persistent adhesion and support, they ought not refuse to a considerable number of their followers 1117 deeply interested in the question the opportunity to which they are entitled of discussing it in Committee. 1 will not go into the merits of the case. Every one who knows me knows what my opinions on the subject are. I confine myself to the proposition that we have a right to this discussion, and I shall follow my hon. Friend into the Lobby if he goes to a Division.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH (Bristol, W.)
I do not approach this question from the same point, of view as the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. The right hon. Gentleman has been a very consistent and active supporter of woman's suffrage in Parliamentary elections. I myself have taken precisely the opposite view. The question we have to deal with is not similar to that. It is proposed that a certain number of women already on the County Council Register should be enfranchised, and I think rightly enfranchised. There are a certain other number of persons who are to be enfranchised by the Bill, and why the enfranchisement of women should be confined to those women who were on the County Council Register, and why those who have the same qualifications as the men on I he Parliamentary Register should not also be included, I really do not know. And further than that, it seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman, if I rightly followed the argument of the Mover of the Instruction, is actually proposing to disfranchise some of those who are entitled to vote in Vestry elections or in other elections of the kind under the existing law. This does seem to me to be a gross injustice. If women are to be enfranchised at all, I never could see why married women, the worthiest of their sex, should not have a vote as well as anybody else. I cordially support the Instruction of the hon. Gentleman, and am surprised at the argument raised against it by the President of the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman says—" The Bill is over-weighted already, lint you propose to weight the Bill further, and to swamp it with the question of woman suffrage." But it has been conclusively shown by the right hon. Baronet opposite that it is not the true state of the case. If the Bill is overweighted it is because the 1118 Government has foolishly chosen to overweight the measure by embodying within it the question of the Poor Law. It is absurd, therefore, for the right hon. Gentleman to stand up at this Table and charge those who are in favour of this Instruction with overweighting the Bill when he himself and his Government are responsible for that state of things. I trust that the House will carry the Instruction.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 147; Noes 126.—(Division List, No. 318.)
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1 (Constitution of parish meetings and establishment of Parish Councils).
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
said, he wished to move the omission of the word "rural" from that, part of the clause which provided that there should be a parish meeting and Parish Council for every rural parish. His object was to ascertain the intentions of the Government in regard to the urban portion of the Bill. The word "rural" governed the whole of the first part of the Bill; the whole framework of the measure rested upon it, and none of the provisions of Part, I. applied to communities except those which were rural. Now, the word "rural" was not to he taken here in the ordinary sense as generally understood by the people, but in the legal sense. There were vast numbers of urban districts which were much more rural than many which were rural, and vast numbers of rural districts which, as a fact, were urban. There were great numbers of parishes really rural throughout the country which were absolutely undistinguishable from parishes to which for some reason urban powers had been granted—technically urban parishes which did not come within Bart I. of the Bill at all, and to which, therefore, none of the reforms of Part I. would apply. There was one parish which he named which had been constituted as an urban district. It contained only 32 houses, it was purely rural, but the second part of the Bill only would apply to it; it would consequently have no Parish Meeting or Council, it would not get the benefit of 1119 the clauses relating to allotments, charities, and Overseers, it would retain the compulsory chairmanship of the incumbent in Vestry meeting assembled, and it would, in fact, got none of the reforms contained in Part I. of the Bill. There were other parishes technically urban in which the houses did not exceed 54, and which were just as rural as the rural parishes. He could not but think that it would have been better if there had been one part of the Bill for general provisions. It was, of course, too late for any private Member to secure that, and lie doubted whether the official draftsman would be able to accomplish it. But they might find some palliatives. The Government had already tried to meet his views on certain points. But there were some clauses in the first part of the Bill which ought to apply to all parishes which were substantially rural. First, there was the Allotments Clause. Then came the Charities Clause, which would, in his opinion, be valuable in all parts of the country, urban as well as rural. No doubt the Government had some good reason for confining it to the technically rural parishes, but surely it should apply to all parishes which were substantially rural, and unless an Amendment was made in that direction he feared the Bill would be a great disappointment in man)' parts of the country.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 1, to leave out the word "rural."—(Sir C. W. Dilke.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'rural' stand part of the Clause."
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
There is great force in the objection taken by my right hon. Friend as to the difference between rural and urban parishes. The House is aware that the whole country is mapped out either into rural or urban districts, and of course the main objection to this Bill lies in the treatment of what are technically urban, but in reality rural parishes. An urban district has, of course, considerably larger powers of local management than a rural district, and, generally speaking, it has a compact and better means of organisation. I quite admit that there are many parishes in urban districts which are purely rural, but I had hoped that the whole question would be raised on a subsequent 1120 Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
That is so, but the view the Government are disposed to take is that when my right hon. Friend's Amendment is reached, as well as that in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield, pointing clearly in the same direction, we shall submit a proposal by which in a new clause we shall extend many of the valuable powers of the Bill to what may be called urban-rural parishes. The difficulty is, of course, one of definition. This is a question on which I should like to take further time for consideration. But I may say at once that the desire of the Government is to extend the powers of the Bill to all really rural parishes. We must, however, keep clear of the towns, or else we shall involve ourselves in other difficulties with reference to Vestry administration. If my right hon. Friend will defer this question until we reach Clause 2, I shall be prepared to submit some such scheme as I have indicated.
§ * MR. W. LONG
remarked that the right hon. Gentleman had said as much as could be expected that day, inasmuch as be had promised to consider the matter, and to endeavour to meet the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean. The discussion, however, illustrated the difficulties which some of those who had been connected with local government all along felt in connection with the Bill, and which he had all along assured the House would be found to exist when they came to consider the details of the measure. There was at present no method of designating those districts which, technically urban, were in reality rural. On the other baud, it would be found that some districts called rural and included within the scope of the Bill were more urban than many urban districts. He hoped that when they pointed out these matters the Opposition would not be charged with obstruction or with any hostility towards the Bill. Because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley spoke, the Member for Sunderland indulged in some strong condemnation of 1121 hostile criticism, but when similar but still more lengthy criticism came from his own side of the House and from one of his own political friends the chiding remarks were no longer heard. Circumstances, no doubt, altered cases, and Tory hostility in one case became friendly aid in the' other. But he repeated, lie hoped that charges of hostility and obstruction would not be raised, because they criticised the acts of those who found interesting amusement in experimenting upon their unfortunate country villages. He ventured to suggest to the President of the Local Government Board, and to those Members who acted with the right hon. Gentleman, that, if they desired to see the Bill passed before Christmas, they would best effect that end by receiving in a friendly and conciliatory spirit the Amendments which were moved by the Opposition, not in a hostile spirit, but with a desire to frame a measure that could be carried out with some reasonable chance of success. In his opinion, the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had raised a question of great importance, and he would look forward with great interest to its further development in the hands of the Government.
§ MR. POWELL WILLIAMS (Birmingham, S.)
said, that the question whether or not an urban parish was in strictness a parish that ought to be called rural might possibly be settled by a Commission of Inquiry after the Bill was passed. There was a precedent for that course in the appointment of a Commission after the passing of the present Franchise Act to determine the boundaries of districts electing Members of Parliament. The difficulty of the question lay in the fact that there were a large number of rural parishes which were rapidly becoming urban, and which, if they were classed in one category today, might in the course of a year or two have to be classed in another.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, that the character of the Bill would be completely transformed by taking out the word "rural." There was nothing in the Bill to except London from its operation but the word "rural" in the first clause. His own parish of Islington contained 350,000 people, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, who was supposed to be a great 1122 authority on local matters, in the very first Amendment moved to the Bill proposed to give Parish Councils to Islington and similar parishes in the large towns and cities. He hoped that when there was talk of obstruction and of the difficulties of passing the measure through the House, it would be remembered that the very first Amendment which was moved by a supporter of the Government was fatal to the measure, for it would completely transform it, and make it quite a different measure from the measure introduced by the Government.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE
The hon. Member is attempting to describe what I never said. I entirely repudiate that construction of my words. I raised this question at the stage at which it should be raised, if it were to be raised at all, and I formally moved the Amendment for the purpose I expressed, and for none other.
§ MR. BARTLEY
said, the right hon. Gentleman had exactly stated what he had said. The right hon. Gentleman had moved to omit "rural," and the President of the Local Government Board had said that if the word were left out the whole Bill would be transformed, for the Bill would then apply to the parishes of London and other big towns. It was, therefore, a somewhat strange thing that, meeting as the House did at such a. time of the year, the very first Amendment moved by a follower of the Government proposed to revolutionise the whole measure.
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
said, his right hon. Friend had moved the Amendment for the very simple purpose of pointing out that it was necessary the House should have the matter in mind. In his judgment, however, a little more was made of the matter than need be. He would suggest to the President of the Local Government Board that there was a simple way out of the difficulty. The rural parishes which were technically urban were not numerous. Might not the difficulty be met by putting a clause in the Bill enabling the Local Government Board, upon the application of a Local Authority, to confer on these really rural parishes, though technically urban parishes, the powers of rural parishes.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, that some self-acting plan might be devised 1123 by which the constitution of parishes might be altered. The hon. Member for Sunderland would place the matter in the hands of the Local Government Board. He would rather suggest that it be left to the County Councils, which knew all about the local conditions of the parishes in the area over which they had jurisdiction, to determine what parishes had become entitled, or had ceased to be entitled, to have the benefits of the provisions of the Bill. If a rural parish increased and became urban, it could be removed from under the Bill, or if an urban-rural parish lost its population and became a semi-rural district, it could be brought under the Bill by the County Council.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
said, he thought the right hon. Baronet was amply justified in bringing this matter forward, and had not been fairly treated by his hon. Friend the Member for Islington. The right hon. Baronet had called attention to a most singular defect in the measure. The title of the Bill was a very comprehensive and ambitious title. It was "a Bill for the better Government of England and Wales." But what did it do with regard to the parishes? The parishes were the very beginning of the idea of the light hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, and of the Party which sat behind him, as to the improvement of our local government, yet the Bill pretended to deal only with rural parishes, and left out all parishes, whether they were in their nature urban or rural, which were in the towns. Those local government reformers who desired to see carried a complete measure of local government dealing with parochial government generally throughout the country, must admit that a more incomplete or a more unsatisfactory measure from their point of view had never been presented to Parliament. The President of the Local Government Board had said that it was a very difficult matter to deal with Vestries in towns. He admitted that the Jaw with regard to Vestries in towns was complicated and very different from the law relating to Vestries in the country. But the right hon. Gentleman would not deny that the law relating to Vestries in towns required reform, and if Parish Councils, Household Suffrage, the principle of One Man One Vote, and all the rest of those great changes which 1124 the Government were going to introduce into rural parishes were good for rural parishes, why should they not be good for parishes in towns as well? Why had the Government confined themselves to rural parishes in the first part of this Bill and then gone on in the second to deal with the Poor Law generally? Simply for the reason of "votes, votes, votes." They thought that they would not gain any popularity by urging reform in the Vestries in towns, and that they would gain popularity by urging reform in the Vestries in rural districts. The President of the Local Government Board had complained earlier in the Debate of the number of Amendments on the Paper. The very first Amendment that was moved dealt with the question of the position of semi-rural and semi-urban parishes, which the right hon. Gentleman admitted was called for; or, at all events, had admitted that it would have to be dealt with by some Amendments in the Bill. He would like to ask why—if the measure was intended to be complete—was not the question dealt with in the original preparation of the Bill by the Local Government Board? It would have been infinitely wiser if the measure had been confined purely to parochial government, extended to towns as well as to rural parishes, and have the question of the Poor Law dealt with in a subsequent Bill. But the responsibility for the course taken rested entirely on the Government, and he only hoped that so far as quasi-rural parishes were concerned, the President of the Local Government Board would endeavour to make the measure as complete as possible.
§ * MAJOR DARWIN (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
said, he had placed on the Paper an Amendment similar to that which had been moved by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, in order that this important question might be discussed. It appeared to him to be impossible to define what was a rural and what was an urban parish, and that the only course was to leave it in the hands of the Government to settle. He desired to point out that there were many contiguous parishes which would receive different treatment under this Bill if it passed in its present form, and he hoped the President of the Local Government Board would take these 1125 parishes into consideration. For instance, one parish would have a Parish Council and the next would have none; one parish would have a parish meeting and the next would have none; one parish would be able to deal with its water supply and the next would not; and one would be able to impose a library rate and the ether would not. These were anomalies which he hoped would be removed in some way before the Bill was passed.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
The position we are in appears to be rather a singular one. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean has pointed out to the Government a grave difficulty or shortcoming in this Bill in a speech of the kind with which we are familiar as coming from him—a speech showing great knowledge of the general principles of local government, backed by immense mastery of details. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill has said that he agreed with the criticisms of the Member for the Forest of Dean. The President of the Local Government Board has admitted that there are parishes that will be excluded from the benefits of this Bill although they have every title to participate in them except a technical title; but he indicated in rather a vague phrase that the time had not come to deal with what was a very difficult and a very complicated problem. Of course, that is true. But we have a right to ask the Government for some indication of policy with regard to this matter, and for some adumbration of the method by which that policy is to be carried out. The President of the Local Government Board has given us no hint of his intentions. After a discussion that has lasted three-quarters of an hour we are as ignorant of the views of the Government as we were when the discussion began. If the President of the Local Government Board meant to include within the scope of the Bill a very large number of parishes which are at present excluded from it, I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will proclaim his intention without delay, and will put on the Paper immediately the Amendments which are to carry out that intention. I say, it is hardly fair to us that the Government, after acknowledging the justice of the criticisms passed on this Bill by the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the Forest of Dean, 1126 should not indicate in the least degree how they mean to meet those criticisms, and in that matter leave us completely in the dark until some future stage of the Bill. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean has told them that he moved this Amendment formally with the view of extracting the opinions of the Government. His mode of procedure is perfectly legitimate, but if the right hon. Baronet had gathered anything from the reply of the President of the Local Government Board he has been far more fortunate than any other Member of the House. Did any man in the Committee know whether the Government do or do not mean to include within the purview of the Bill parishes which are rural in substance, but which are not rural in law? I am myself perfectly in ignorance of what the policy of the Government is, and I would therefore ask some Member of the Government to tell the Committee distinctly what they mean to do—whether they mean to change the definition of rural parish in the Bill, and, if so, what particular machinery they propose to adopt in order to carry out that legitimate and useful object?
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman opposite has not been able to grasp my views in this matter, for I stated them as clearly as I could. I have already said, in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean, that the Government had no intention, so far as parish meetings, Parish Councils, and the rural aspects of the Bill are concerned, to alter the framework of the measure. But I have put down an Amendment myself recognizing the fact that there are certain powers in the Bill relating to rural parishes which should be extended to parishes which, though technically not rural, are really such for all practical purposes. On the Second Reading of the Bill I stated that I would endeavour to consider the various suggestions that were made in the course of the Debate, but only a week has elapsed since that time. Meanwhile, however, I have been doing my best to carry out many valuable suggestions that have been made by Members of the House. As there is an Amendment on the Paper upon 1127 Clause 2 which raises the very point now before us, I assume that when that Amendment is reached will be the proper time to discuss the question, and I will then be prepared to give the views of the Government. I may tell my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland that his suggestion is now under the consideration of the Government. We are anxious to deal with the whole matter in the best possible way. It is a positive absurdity, however, to think of applying the Bill to such parishes as Islington, and the Government had no intention whatever of reforming the Municipal Corporations of the large towns.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)
, said, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had failed to appreciate the point on which the House was entitled to information. The real question was, whether the early clauses of the Bill which related to parish meetings and Parish Councils were or were not to be extended to those urban parishes which had all the characteristics of rural parishes? It was not a question of asking that those clauses should be applied to Municipal Corporations. It was a question of policy, and he thought the Committee were entitled to a distinct answer from the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill.
§ * MR. H. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
said, the Bill, if passed in its present shape, would create great anomalies throughout the country, and he thought the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean was fully justified in raising this important question. There would be small towns which would have the right to a parish meeting; and other towns of the same population in the immediate neighbourhood which would not have these privileges. It was therefore desirable that the whole question should be fully considered.
§ It being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.