§ [SECOND NIGHT.]
§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1.
§ 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. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
said, he hoped the Government had, since the last Sitting of the Committee, reconsidered their decision relative to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, as to the admission of urban parishes to the benefits of Part I. of the Bill. He admitted that the question was one of great difficulty. In the first place, he would suggest that they put aside the question of the larger towns and considered simply the position of the smaller towns and of the small urban districts. It was clear that I he latter would desire to enjoy the advantages conferred on the rural parishes, and his idea was that power should be given to small urban parishes to have 1154 parish meetings; that they should exercise the powers given under Section 18, and that the sanitary powers should be entrusted to the District Council, the parish meeting to have the right of making complaint if the District Council failed to do its duty. It had been found impossible in the past to give a large parish independent government in sanitary matters without converting it straight away into an urban district, and the custom had been that when a watering place obtained a, population of about 2,000 it had applied for an Order converting it into an urban district, though often it did not desire to exercise full urban powers. He would suggest that in future it should be in the power of any County Council not only to convert rural districts into urban districts, but to invest Parish Councils in rural parishes with certain urban powers. Those urban powers might be laid down in the General Orders of the Local Government Board, and the application of them to special districts should be under the supervision of an authority well acquainted with the local circumstances. The Government's proposal required an application to the Local Government Board in every case. He was sure it would be for the good of the country, as well as for the good of the Department, that any of these special powers should be exercised as far as possible by the Local Authorities and not by the Local Government Board. Although he did not think he ought to press the Government now for any specific proposal, he was of opinion that the Committee had a right to ask for a statement as to the general lines on which they were prepared to deal with the question.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
asked to be allowed to withdraw the Amendment, and said he was satisfied with the promise made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H Fowler) on the previous evening. That promise appeared to be as much as could be asked for at the moment, and the right hon. Gentleman had said he would be able to make a more definite statement on the second part. Two suggestions bad been made as to how best to deal with this question. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Sunderland, which was under the con- 1155 sideration of the President of the Local Government Board, was one which he (Sir C. Dilke) heartily assented to. It was, that urban districts should be allowed to apply to the Local Government Board to give them such of the powers dealt with in Part I. as were applicable to their situation. An alternative suggestion had been made by the hon. Member for East Somerset (Mr. H. Hobhouse)—namely, that the County Council, instead of the Local Government Board, should be the determining authority. As far as he (Sir C. Dilke) was concerned, he would prefer to have the Local Government Board, but that was not a matter to be decided now. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) on the previous evening, while admitting the strength of the case, said that there was one respect in which technically urban parishes were distinguished from the technically rural parishes—namely, that there was a certain concentration of population in them. The figures, however, showed that a large number of such districts had populations which instead of being concentrated were very much dispersed. In many cases there were urban districts 22,000 or 23,000 acres in extent and with a very small population. Not only were those districts substantially rural, but there was not even a village in some of them, the population being dispersed in an extraordinary degree. In the Isle of Ely the whole district was covered with a network of Local Boards, almost the whole of the isle being technically urban, although there was no concentration of population at all.
§ * SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N.E.)
said, he represented a very crowded constituency in a large city, and he found that his constituents took a very keen interest in the Bill, and did not see why they should not derive from it the benefit of being consulted in local affairs in parish meetings equally with the people of rural parishes. Of course, to a great extent, the ground covered by the Bill in large towns was provided for by Municipal Institutions, but there were a great many subjects dealt with in the Bill which were not fully met by the Municipal Acts, and on which the people desired to have an opportunity of expressing their opinions and providing for their wants, irrespectively of what was 1156 done for them by their Municipal Authorities. There were many towns in which there was a considerable amount of waste laud not at present available for public purposes, and he believed that under the Bill an opportunity might be given of providing places for exercise and recreation, and of supplying many wants still felt in many large towns. He thought, therefore, the Amendment ought not to be withdrawn until a very distinct assurance had been given by the Government on the subject.
§ * SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
thought the Committee was indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke) for drawing attention to a distinct defect in the Bill as it stood at present. It was to be hoped that means of remedying that defect would be found, and that Parliament would not add to the anomalies of local government by leaving the section as it now stood. The difficulty was not really great, because any of the propositions which had been made would, if adopted, remedy the defect. He must, however, protest against what had been said by his right hon. Friend (Sir J. Fergusson) in the direction of any interference with Municipalities under this Bill for Parish Councils. If one thing had struck him more than another on the previous evening it was the prudence of the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler) in saying definitely that he would not enlarge the boundaries of the Bill by dealing with those great centres of population which were already provided for by Municipal Institutions. He (Sir A. Rollit) was not aware that, as had been suggested, there was any difficulty as to parks and open spaces in municipal towns. They were to a great extent owned by the Municipalities and governed by them. The same remark applied to recreation grounds and waste lands. Many people seemed to think that allotments were inconsistent with Municipalities. The fact was that the very best instance of the management of allotments was to be found in one of the most crowded municipal boroughs, Nottingham, whore the very best vegetables and roses were grown on allotments in the very centre of the town, and municipal powers as to allotments existed. In his opinion, it was the duty of Parliament not to practically 1157 fetter municipal, by parish, action, but, if anything, to enlarge the sphere of municipal action and to give greater powers to Town Councils, in order to attract the best men for local government. For his part, he should oppose very strongly any extension of the Bill in the direction indicated by his right hon. Friend (Sir J. Fergusson).
§ * MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
regretted that the President of the Local Government Hoard had not been able to make a definite proposition to the Committee on the questions raised by the Amendment. Whilst he admitted that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke) was a very high authority on all matters connected with draftsmanship, he (Mr. Long) questioned whether it would be possible adequately to deal with this subject under Clause 2. He did not think the Committee had appreciated how great would be the anomalies which would be created under Clause 1. it must be borne in mind that no proposal had been made by anybody to interfere with the Municipalities, or in the slightest degree to reduce the powers now possessed by them, although it was proposed that some of the powers which would be conferred by the Bill on rural parishes should also be bestowed on urban parishes. Since the Debate took place on the previous evening lie had looked more carefully than he had hitherto done into this question, especially with regard to the circumstances of the neighbourhood in which he lived. He had taken at random several towns in different parts of Wiltshire. One of these was Marlborough, which bad a population of 3,012, and was an old Corporation and an urban sanitary district, being therefore excluded from the provisions of the Bill. Pewsey, with just under2,000 inhabitants, was governed by a Rural Sanitary Authority, and therefore would obtain all the advantages of the Bill, although, except in the difference of the population, there was absolute similarity between the two towns, which were both of a purely rural character. Gentlemen who came from the Midlands or the North of England would laugh if they went to these places, and heard them called towns. Many of those who lived in them were in reality agricultural labourers, and every one of their charac- 1158 teristics was purely agricultural and rural. Then there was the Borough of Malmesbury, which was also an old Corporation, having a population of 3,000. As it was an Urban Sanitary Authority it would be excluded from the provisions of the Bill. The town of Westbury, which had a population of 5,600, and was an urban place pure and simple, with large factories, where cloth and other things were manufactured, was governed by a Rural Sanitary Authority, and would therefore be included in the provisions of the Bill. Under these circumstances, he ventured to point out to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill that, if he allowed it to remain in its present shape he would be open to the charge of having left it most incomplete. He I bought the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir C. Dilke) was a little too sanguine when he believed that the Committee could adequately remove these difficulties and anomalies by Amendments in the later clauses. If it was desirable that powers conferred on one town should be given to other towns that were similar in population and characteristics, that object should be carried out in the present clause. The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for East Somerset (Mr. H. Hobhouse) both seemed to indicate in their speeches that if there were some provisions which would enable urban districts to apply to the Local Government Board for dissolution, that would meet the case.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE
, interposing, said, that what he had spoken of was a power to ask the Local Government Board to extend Part I. to urban districts.
§ * MR. W. LONG
said, that was what he intended to refer to, and he rather questioned whether such a power would be sufficient. One of the greatest difficulties in connection with local government in this country was the existence of these small towns, whether they wore governed by a Corporation or a Local Board. The Local Board had been brought into existence, because the powers of Rural Sanitary Authorities had been found to be insufficient. The case of a small borough was different, many of them having had their Charters granted to them in the dim and distant past, without any reference to their requirements for local self - government. The result was the existence of numerous 1159 anomalies which would be perpetuated under the Bill as it at present stood. He did not wish to see the Amendment withdrawn, until it had been definitely settled by the Committee whether the question was to be dealt with in Clause 2 or in the present clause. He was certain that many gentlemen in the House, if they would take the trouble to go into the Library and look at a Kelly's Directory of their own county, would find cases quite as interesting and as numerous as those be had mentioned as existing in Wilts. He was not objecting to the withdrawal of the Amendment in order to delay proceedings or to throw any obstacle in the way of the Government, but because he thought the Committee Ought to appreciate the facts as they were, and make up their minds whether this was the proper place or not where the necessary alterations should be made. The inclusion of the urban district in this part of the Bill would meet the difficulty, and he did not think there would be any objection to such a proposal, whilst it would be very advantageous for the urban districts to be included.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER,) Wolverhampton, E.
There is one difference between the towns referred to by the hon. Gentleman which I think he for a moment overlooked. The towns which are technically called urban and have Local Boards are already in possession of full local government. The Local Boards possess the powers of the Public Health Act, and almost all those powers which are given to Municipalities for effective local government. I am quite aware of the difficulty raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke)—namely, that there are certain powers which Parish Councils will possess, and which it might be advantageous and desirous that the towns technically called urban should possess, lint the number of these bodies is exceedingly small. I have been looking into the figures since last night, and I should like the House to see exactly what we have to deal with. We are 'dealing in, round numbers with something like 13,000 rural parishes, and we propose to give parish meetings and Parish Councils to practically 9,000. To 4,000, in round numbers, we are going to give 1160 parish meetings only. With reference to municipal boroughs, largo and small, there are altogether 302. The urban districts other than municipal boroughs number 719, and of these there are 91 with a population of under 2,000, 76 with a population of between 2,000 and 3,000, and only 161 with a population of between 3,000 and 5,000. If the Committee take 5,000 as the dividing liue—and I think that would he a large figure to take——[An hon. MEMBER: Not large enough.] Well, I do not deny that there is a difficulty in having small parishes side by side, one possessing a Parish Council with certain clearly defined powers of a local character, and another possessing a Local Board, and not having the powers of a Parish Council. What I understand is proposed is that we should transfer to Urban Authorities of this kind those powers which the Parish Council possesses as to rural matters. Such powers would include allotments, charities, and some other matters. I have no desire to contract such a transfer at all, but I must draw a line at this part of the Bill which deals with the rural parish and the authority in such parish. We have divided our proposals into those dealing with urban and those dealing with rural districts, and I ask the House to proceed with Part I. of the Bill. When we come to Clause 29, which we propose to extend in the way mentioned in the Amendment I have placed on the Paper—an Amendment which, I admit, should be enlarged ill reference to the Overseers—that will be the time for the House to say whether Urban Authorities should be vested with any of the powers given to Parish Councils. That, is the effect of the pledge I gave, and I understand that my right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke) is ready to accept that pledge. I think it would not be well that we should attempt a premature and unsatisfactory discussion of the question whether this clause should be extended to large towns.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
was of opinion that the question which the Government proposed to remit to the Local Government Board should be left to be settled by the County Council.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH (Bristol, W.)
If I rightly understand the views 1161 of the President of the Local Government Board, what he proposes is that, in certain cases, where Local Board districts are below a certain amount of population, or are of a certain area, some of the powers which are to be given under this Bill to rural parishes are to be given to the parish meetings?
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
To the Parish Councils. Well, that is lot precisely the same thing. When this question was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke) last night, what I thought be was aiming at was to give to parishes of a rural character in urban sanitary districts the same powers and advantages as are given to parishes in rural districts. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) now proposes not to have a parish meeting in every one of the parishes in a Local Board district, but simply to take the Local Board as the authority—the Local Board being elected on a, different system to that on which the Parish Council will be elected—and to give that Board certain powers. I wish to point out to the Committee that that is not at all the same thing as an extension to parishes which are really rural, although they are in urban sanitary districts, of the advantages given to the rural districts. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman has felt unable to omit the word "rural" here, and to extend the operation of this clause, I do not say to towns or to urban populations, but to rural populations in so-called urban districts.
§ SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
drew attention to one anomaly which might arise under the suggested alteration. It was perfectly possible that some districts now technically rural might, under the Act of 1875, become Local Hoard districts. In that case he took it that the district would have the powers given by the first part of the Bill as well as the powers of a Local Board.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. LUTTRELL (Devon, Tavistock)
said, that as the President of the Local Government Board promised to do his best to meet the object of the Amendment which stood next on the Paper (after the second "parish" to insert "and for every 1162 ward of a rural parish"), and as time was a most important consideration, he would not move the Amendment.
§ MR. HANBURY (Preston)
said, that up till to-day his Amendment to leave out from "rural parish" to the end of the sub-section stood next in order on the Paper, but now another bad been placed in front of if. He wished to know, as a point of Order, on what principle the Amendments were rearranged on the Paper?
The rule is, that where an hon. Member proposes to leave out certain words with the object of inserting certain other words he has precedence over an hon. Member who proposes simply to leave out the same words. If it were not so, the hon. Member who proposes to substitute other words would be shut out altogether.
§ MR. J. GRANT LAWSON (York, N.R., Thirsk)
proposed, in line 8 of page 1, to leave out from "rural parish" to the end of the sub-section, and to insert—And such parish meeting may, if they think fit, determine by resolution, of which notice shall be given in accordance with this Act, that there shall be a Parish Council for this parish, and upon the passing of such resolution the provisions of this Act relating to Parish Councils shall thenceforth conic into operation in such parish.(2.) The parish meetings of any two or more adjoining parishes may, by resolution passed by each of such meetings respectively, determine that the said parishes shall be grouped together for the purposes of this Act, and upon the passing of such resolutions the group of parishes so formed shall be a parish within the meaning of this section.He said, it was a mere question of "may" or "shall"—or whether Parliament was to give every parish a parish meeting, and to place within its power the institution of a Parish Council, or to force a Parish Council upon it, whether it desired it or not. That point having been dealt with, the rest of the Amendment was mere machinery. He contended that it would not be a right thing for Parliament to say that because a parish had a certain population it should have a Parish Council, whether it desired to have one or not. The principle of option was conceded by the Government with regard to the adoptive Acts, and he only desired to extend that principle to the important question whether there was to be a Parish Council or 1163 not. That was a question which would have to be decided by the light of a number of local considerations, and he thought it was one which ought to be left to the decision of the people themselves. He would not argue the question on considerations of the general principles of liberty, although he thought that such considerations ought to make the Amendment the reverse of obnoxious to gentlemen opposite. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had put down an Amendment to the effect that a parish with a population of under 200 could, with the approval of the County Council, have a Parish Council if it wished. The right hon. Gentleman had, therefore, conceived that with regard to parishes with populations of less than 200 there might be some which would be unwilling to have Parish Councils. It was going a very short step further to ask him to conceive that there might be parishes with, say, 201 inhabitants which might be unwilling to have Parish Councils, and which preferred to conduct all their affairs through the parish meetings. The adoption in the Bill of the doctrine of free choice would do away with the very. great difficulty of having to draw the line somewhere. If a line were drawn the effect would be that the decision in many parishes that were near the border line would depend upon the chance circumstance whether the odd man or two were at home on the Census night. If the Government adopted the permissive principle they would at once sweep away the eight Amendments which had been placed upon the Paper on the question of where the line was to be drawn. Wherever the line was drawn he would undertake, by referring to the Census papers, to produce anomalous cases on either side of that line. He had in his mind a particular parish where, under the Government Amendment, the question whether the parishioners wore to have a Parish Council, whether they wanted it or not, would depend upon how many persons there were in the North Riding Lunatic Asylum on the Census night. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. Jesse Collings) had mentioned the other night the case of a village where some large works were being carried on, and pointed out that the question of whether the people in 1164 that village should have a Parish Council or not would depend upon whether the works were or were not finished before the Census night. It must be borne in mind that in many places the population was migratory. In old days there were many places which were so important that they were able to return a Member to Parliament, but which were now mere names. Supposing all the inhabitants of a parish moved away after this Bill had been passed, Parliament would be in the absurd position of having enacted that that parish should continue to have a Parish Council. It might be said that very small parishes would, if the Amendment were agreed to, adopt Parish Councils. Well, if those people chose to do so why should they not? It was their own concern. He failed to see why they should lay down rigid rules as to the size of a parish that should appoint a Parish Council. The matter was one for the exercise of the principle of local option. If a parish chose to go to destruction in its own way, it should be allowed to do so without directions from the House. So far from small parishes hankering after Parish Councils, the tendency would be the other way, and even large parishes would be inclined to do without Councils and manage their own affairs in parish meetings. In the country villages there was an immense jealousy against putting one man above his fellows, and there was a well-founded suspicion that representative government, whatever might be said for it, was expensive. It was believed that the first thing a man in authority did was to spend some money in order to make a show, and that villagers would be slow to appoint men to do that. Besides, the villagers were very much inclined to think that they were capable of managing their own affairs. For these and many other local reasons he believed there would be a keen desire in many parishes to do without Parish Councils and to have parish meetings, and why, in the name of local self-government, should they check so laudable a desire? Was there any difficulty in the Bill as it stood in managing local affairs through a parish meeting? A very large or exceptional parish might choose to have a Parish Council, but in the case of an ordinary rural parish under Clause 32 there would be as many parish meetings as any six ratepayers chose to ask 1165 for—one every day if they liked. In the North Hiding of Yorkshire he took it that the average population of a rural parish was between 200 and 300. In that Riding there were 289 parishes of under 200, and 256 of a larger number. Taking 280 as the mean, they would have from 40 to 60 householders in each parish. The whole of these were not likely to attend a parish meeting. But suppose they did, that would only be the number which was considered necessary to form a quorum in the House of Commons, and if there were any subjects of great importance to be dealt with temporary committees might be appointed for the purpose. His desire was that they should not invest a parish against its will with all the pomp and panoply of a Parish Council when the parishioners did not want them. He believed there were certain small parishes which, from their peculiar circumstances, would desire to have a Parish Council as well as a parish meeting. Their case would be covered by the second part of his Amendment. But he did not presume to swallow up all other Amendments by his proposal; and if hon. Gentlemen desired that the resolutions should be decided by ballot, or that a two-thirds majority should be required to carry them, these changes could be effected by the addition of sub-sections to the clause. Other points of difference could be settled by subsequent Amendments. He put forward his proposal as a necessary and highly desirable complement to the offer of local self-government which the House was about to make to rural parishes, and sis such a necessary complement he hoped it would meet with the favour of the Committee.
In page 1, line 8, to leave out from the words "rural parish," to end of sub-section, in order to insert the words,—"And such parish meeting may, if they think fit, determine by resolution, of which notice shall be given in accordance with this Act, that there shall tie a Parish Council for such parish, arid upon the passing of such resolution the provisions of this Act relating to Parish Councils shall thenceforth come into operation in such parish.
(2) The parish meetings of any two or more adjoining parishes may, by resolution passed by each of such meetings respectively, determine that the said parishes shall be grouped together for the purposes of this Act, and upon the passing of such resolutions the group of parishes so formed shall be a parish within the meaning of this section."—(Mr. J. Grant Lawson.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'and there' stand part of the Clause."
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Hereford)
said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would see his way to accept the Amendment, or some modification of it. He was inclined to hope that the right hon. Gentleman might do so, because not so very long ago he expressed in very clear terms what he conceived to be the object of the Bill. He said—The Bill was not a creation, it was a restoration of those principles of local self-government which were al the root of all free institutions, which had been the basis of the whole of the self-government of the Teutonic race, and which existed in this country in great force and freedom and efficiency many centuries ago.Now, as the right hon. Gentleman was aware, the institution of the parish was the oldest in the country. The institution of the parish was the government by tin; inhabitants by open personal participation in the management of the affairs of the parish. It was not representative government, nor was it necessary to be such, because all the people in the place were present. The Amendment only suggested that this ancient principle of self-government which the right hon. Gentleman had told them he wished to restore should be restored in its primitive simplicity. Members on the Opposition side of the House were, almost as much as hon. Gentlemen opposite, bitten with a kind of mania for representative institutions. They seemed to think that if they gave a man the right to vote for someone else to do his business for him it was giving him an equivalent for the right to do his business himself. If it could be shown that the people in a parish were capable through their parish meeting of performing all the necessary business of that parish, it might be left to them to say whether they would continue that form of government, or, where they were too numerous, or inert, or apathetic, whether they would put the government in the hands of a few individuals. His hon. Friend had suggested that in some eases the public meetings would probably be too large, and that in other cases they might be too small. There sat on the left of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade the 1167 Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who was a great authority on this subject in foreign lands, especially in America. He would read one or two of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bryce), the author of The American Commonwealth, on the subject of the local self-government of the States of America—The town" (said the Chancellor of the Duchy) "is in rural districts the smallest local circumscription. English readers must be reminded that it is a rural, not an urban community, and that the largest group of houses it contains may be only what would be called in England a hamlet or small village. Its area seldom exceeds live square miles, its population is usually small, averaging less than 3,000, but occasionally ranges up to 13,000, and sometimes falls below 200. It is governed by an assembly of all qualified voters resident within its limits, which meets at least once a year, in the Spring (a reminiscence of the Easter Vestry of England), and from time to time as summoned. There are usually-three or four meetings a year. Notice is requested to be given at least 10 days previously, not only of the hour and place of meeting, but of business to be brought forward. This assembly has, like the Roman Comitiæ and the Landesgemeinde in four of the older Swiss Cantons, the power both of electing officials and of legislating. It chooses the selectmen, school committee, and executive officers for the coming year; it enacts bye-laws and ordinance for the regulation of all local affairs: it receives the reports of the selectmen and the several committees, passes their accounts, hears what sums they propose to raise for the expenses of next year, and votes the necessary taxation accordingly, appropriating to the various local purposes—schools, aid to the poor, the repair of highways, and so forth—the sums directed to be levied. Its powers cover the management of the town lands and other property, and all local matters whatsoever, including police and sanitation. Every resident has the right to make, and to support by speech, any proposal. The meeting, which is presided over by a chairman called the Moderator, is held in the Town Hall, if the town possesses one, or in the principal church or schoolhouse, but sometimes in the open air. The attendance is usually good; the debates sensible and practical—much, of course, depends on the character and size of the population. Where it is of native American stock, and the number of voting citizens is not too great for thorough and calm discussion, no better school of politics can be imagined, nor any method of managing local affairs more certain to prevent jobbery and waste, to stimulate vigilance and breed contentment.The right hon. Gentleman proceeded to quote Jefferson, and the state of affairs did not seem to have altered much since Jefferson's time. Jefferson said—Those wards called townships in New England are the vital principle of their governments, and have proved themselves the wisest 1168 invention ever devised by the wit of man for the perfect exercise of self-government and for its preservation.in commenting, in a further chapter, upon the general system of local self-government in America, so accurately and ably described, the Chancellor of the Duchy said—If we compare the New England scheme with that of the England of to-day, we are struck not only by the greater simplicity of the former, but also by the fact that it is the smaller organisms—the towns—that are most powerful and most highly vitalised. Nearly everything belongs to them, only those duties devolving on the counties which a small organism obviously cannot undertake. An Englishman may remark that the system of self-governing towns works under the supervision of a body, the State Legislature, which can give far closer attention to local affairs than the English Parliament can give to English local business. This is true, but, in point of fact, the State Legislature interferes but little (less, I think, than the Local Government Board interferes in England) with the conduct of rural local business.He thought he had given the Committee excellent authority for showing that even in communities of considerable size the power of self-government by means of the parish meeting, with, of course, committees and officers for various purposes, would lie ample and perfectly adequate for the purposes of this Bill. He might remark that, so far as they had gone at present, they had simply declared the Common Law of the land. They had said there should be a parish meeting in every rural parish. Who was to prevent the parish meeting? By the Common Law of the laud the inhabitants of every parish in this Kingdom had a right to meet to appoint committees. They had a right to discuss all the affairs of the parish, and to pass bye-laws, and he believed, if these bye-laws were put into execution, and that then the Executive Government of the day, by sending down a company of soldiers or a force of police, endeavoured to prevent their execution, the Courts of Law would enforce these ordinances passed by the parish meeting. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had told them that he intended to restore the liberty of the people of this country. He thought it ought to he stated, so that the country should know it, that wherever Parish Councils were established in the parishes, the rights of the people were taken away from them, and that all that 1169 was given them in their place was simply the right to vote for somebody to do their business for them. There were some duties still permissible that could be done by the parish meetings. They could not, however, where there was a Parish Council, appoint their own chairman. That seemed a rather ridiculous position to put them in. Again, they could not arrange their own time of meeting, nor when they would meet. They could adopt certain Acts, it was true; but they could neither administer them, nor put them into execution, nor give any expression of opinion whatever, as to bow these Acts should be put into execution with regard to the particular locality for which it. was required to adopt them. The fact of the matter was, that where a Parish Council was established in a parish, the parish meeting took a secondary place. It was (dear that was the intention of the draftsman of the Bill. How were inhabitants, for instance, described? It was no longer "the inhabitants of the parish of so-and-so in open Vestry assembled." They were called parochial electors. Why? Because they had nothing whatever else to do but elect somebody else to do their business for them. In the vast majority of the parishes of this country the people would prefer to manage their own affairs by means of the parish meeting. In America, where rural parishes were more thickly inhabited than in this country, they could manage it very well, and it was simply the unwieldy nature of public meetings which deluded people into the belief that they could not by parish meetings manage their own affairs. They judged a public meeting from the meetings they were familiar with al election times, but the parish meeting was different altogether. It would consist of only a proportion of the inhabitants—something like 20 per cent.; and in the case of a population of 500, there would only be about 100 people if all the electors came together, which would not be likely. So far as he could judge from his examination of this Bill, and especially that part which applied to rural parishes, these who had framed it had been more familiar with urban than with rural localities. They seemed to imagine that if the inhabitants of a parish did hold a parish meeting in some elementary school they ought to be put 1170 in the infants' school. They had considered them so deficient in intellect as to be unable to manage their own affairs, which must be managed by somebody else. The right hon. Gentleman was quite right when, in introducing the Bill, he said that the Vestries had, to some extent, decayed in influence. Of course they had, because all the business having been taken from the Vestry, the people would not attend where there was no business for them to do. If they wished the people to attend to their own affairs and to vitalise these inert country parishes they must give the people of these country parishes something to do. If they wished to bring the congested populations from the towns back into the country villages they must not give them solely the right to vote, but they must give them the right personally to take part in the transaction of the affairs of the parish. If they were to become small owners of laud and occupiers of allotments they must feel they had some personal independent share in the government of the locality to make them take an interest in that locality, and they could do that by means of public meetings rather than through a Parish Council. The hon. Baronet the Member for the Evesham Division of Worcestershire (Sir E. Lechmere) gave him an instance the other day of the way in which the people in his own parish had more or less taken the management of their affairs into their own hands. They had revived the open parish meeting, and with what result? There were some 1,200 in habitants, and a great number of them—60 or 70 on an average, attended from time to time in the course of the year to discuss parish matters, and just to show how the people in the country had more intelligence than the Minister for Education thought, when he told them the other night that there was a certain amount of intelligence in the rural districts——
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE
said, if the right hon. Gentleman would consult the report of the speech he delivered the other night he would see that, although he might not be giving the exact words, he was not misquoting the effect of what the right hon. Gentleman said.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I had no intention whatever of saying anything of the kind. 1171 I have a very high opinion of the intelligence of the rural inhabitants.
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE
said, when they spoke of a certain class of the population, and said they had a certain amount of intelligence, they produced an effect somewhat different to what was possibly intended. With regard to this rural parish in Worcestershire, after they had a meeting on one occasion to discuss business, it was suggested that the matter of education was one in which the people took an interest. There was a question as to the management of schools, and he, for his part, thought it would be better if the school managers were not nominated but were elected by the people. The people at the meeting discussed the question of their schools, and a working-man treated the subject with so much ability that when it was proposed a manager of the school should be elected——
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE
said, he was endeavouring by illustration to show the Committee that rural parishes by means of parish meetings were quite as capable of conducting their own affairs as they could be conducted by an elective body. He only hoped that the right hon. Gentleman, to use his own words, would see his way to restore the lost liberty of the people in our rural parishes, and give them, at least, the choice between governing themselves as they pleased and governing themselves by means of an elective body.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I am afraid I must plead guilty to suffering from the mania for representative institutions. I believe in them; I think they are the most effective mode of carrying on the business of this country, and I think the House on the Second Reading of the Bill pledged itself to give representative institutions to rural parishes. We regard the Parish Council as an essential part of this Bill; and it is our desire and intention, if the House agrees with us, to grant a Parish Council with as large and wide a basis as we possibly can to the rural community. When the question was discussed on the Second Reading, there was considerable difference of opinion in the House as to the exact figure of population to 1172 be chosen. The Government proposed the figure of 300. I think I may say, without being at all inaccurate, that the House generally disapproved of that figure, and thought the figure too high. ["No, no!" and "Hear, hear!"] I was under that impression. I may have been wrong, but I was under that impression that the House thought 300 too high, and a smaller figure was chosen. The House also thought that no grouping should take place of any parish with another parish compulsorily—without its own consent. These were the two opinions, at all events, that the Government gathered from the Debate, and we have made a proposition in which we propose to alter the population from 300 to 200, and in which we propose there should be no grouping compulsorily, without the consent of the parish, but that the County Council should have the power if it thinks fit to grant a Parish Council, if the parish wishes it, where the population is below 200. There is also an Amendment which enables the Parish Council to deal with an increase of population, which may render a Parish Council desirable. The hon. Member for Thirsk proposes practically that the question of population should be disregarded, and that a Parish Council should only be granted to these parishes that desired them. That principle is one which the Government cannot accept. In our opinion we have put the population at a moderate figure—that of 200 Our view is that this institution of the Parish Council is an effective mode of granting local government to the parishes. My right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) has an Amendment for completing the executive, if I may so call it, of parishes below 200, which I shall be prepared to discuss when he moves it, but at any rate it is in that direction that the Government are desirous of going in order that representative institutions can be granted; therefore, I am quite unable to accept the Amendment.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH (Bristol, W.)
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has quite appreciated the object of the Mover of the Amendment I do not think also that I can agree with him that, in supporting unanimously the Second Reading of this Bill, the House gave a vote in favour of what he calls 1173 representative institutions. The principle that I understand was unanimously accepted by the House was that the parishes should govern themselves; and when the right hon. Gentleman proposed that parishes only of 300 population should be allowed to govern themselves, and that these under that population should be compulsorily united with other parishes, there was practically a universal protest against that proposal, and the House reduced the limit of population to 200 in consequence of that protest. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has confused, or attempted to confuse, self-government with representative institutions. I must say it seemed to me there was great force and sound sense in the argument which the right hon. Member for Halifax addressed to the House on the Second Reading of the Bill. He said that self-government is the first thing we want to establish, and that representative institutions are only necessary where the number of persons with whom you entrust this self-government is so large that they cannot properly exercise that self-government except through representative institutions. The right hon. Gentleman plainly and openly confessed his preference for self-government exercised by the people themselves, in accordance with our old English fashion, to any form of representative government, where self-government without representative government was fairly possible. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board himself had admitted this principle in the Amendment he had placed on the Paper, for his proposal was that all parishes under 200 population shall be allowed to decide themselves whether they shall have a Parish Council or not. Well, what my hon. Friend asks is that the principle of allowing the parish to settle whether it will govern itself by parochial electors in their meeting assembled, or whether it shall govern itself by a Council representative of these parochial electors, shall be extended to parishes whatever their population may be. I could understand the objection of the right hon. Gentleman if he had said that, if you extend it to parishes of any population, of course a parish of 1,000 population with 100 or 200 electors could only work by such a Representative Council as this Bill seeks 1174 to establish. But take a parish with a population of 201, just over the limit. Why are you to make it compulsory on that parish to incur the trouble and expense of an election of a Council to manage its affairs for ever, whatever its future population may be? because I do not think there is any provision in this Bill which would take away the Parish Council if the population were to decrease. If a Parish Council is once established it is to exist for ever, for there is no provision dissolving it, even if the population should not warrant its continuance. That does seem to me carrying your theory of representative government to an absurd conclusion. How many parochial electors are there likely to be in a parish of 210 of a population? About 25 or 30, and why cannot they, in meeting assembled, settle their own affairs in meetings held as often as they like and adjourn as often as may be necessary? I really must express the hope that we may be favoured again with the views of the Member for Halifax upon this subject, and that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board will reconsider the position which he has taken up, and if he cannot accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend, will at least give parishes which, though above 200, may be under a certain reasonable limit, say the 500 suggested—I think by the hon. Member for Somersetshire—the option of deciding whether they shall be saddled with a Council or not.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
I should like very much to know the view of the right hon. Gentleman as to numbers, whether he accepts the view of the hon. Member for Hereford, who, looking back to ancient times, longs to have the whole population, the posse comitatus, meeting in the locality and resolving what it shall do; and then, if the responsible government of the day seeks to put any of its acts aside, the Courts of Law will carry out whatever such parish meeting may decide. I daresay in Ireland the view that a number of people meeting in a parish and resolving anything which constitutes a law which the Courts of Law would always enforce would be accepted with great alacrity. That is the doctrine of the Member for Hereford. The object of this Bill is to 1175 give certain powers that do not exist to a certain body, and that must be an organised and representative body. ["Why?"] Why? Because these powers cannot be carried out by a posse comitatus of that kind, an omnium gatherum kind. You must have some persons chosen for this purpose. If we are to accept the hon. Member's argument, why not have the population of this country—the nation—meet together without a Parliament? Until this Amendment was put down had anybody any conception or idea as to that Parish Council except the notion of, in some form or other, a Representative Body? At all events, that is our view of the question, and we regard the Amendment as nothing else but an Amendment against the whole principle agreed to on the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ * MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)
feared that were he to respond to the invitation of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir M. Hicks-Beach) he should incur censure, and be called to Order. He had an Amendment on the Paper which would be reached in due time, and his opportunity and right would be then. He did not suppose he could, inside the Rules of the House, discuss these questions at the present moment; but he thought it was perfectly clear that it would be impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to accept this specific Amendment, and for this reason: He believed the whole country was tired of adoptive Acts, and wanted some constructive measure to settle the outline or skeleton of the parish government of the future. Within that statutory outline there must be some elasticity, and he proposed later on to supply that elasticity. In 1888 both sides of the House agreed that the time would come when the parish must be organised; but he did not think the Amendment was consistent with any such permanent organisation. On the other hand, he did not think that the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. H. H. Fowler's) Amendments would be sufficient for that purpose, but when the proper time came he would propose his own Amendments with the best arguments he could.
§ * MR. W. LONG
observed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had found fault with the Member for Hereford and his right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, and had told them that they on 1176 that (the Opposition) side of the House did not believe in representative government. But what a curious proof did the Chancellor of the Exchequer give of the belief of the Government in their own Bill! What was the proposal of his hon. Friend? It was a proposal, said the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to abolish representative government. [Sir W. HARCOURT: No, no!] Well, not to establish it. The proposal was simply to give these Local Authorities the absolute right to say whether or no they would have a Parish Council. What had they been told since the commencement of this Debate? They had been assured, times out of number, that the agricultural districts were longing and praying for Parish Councils, and that the one desire that the agricultural labourers and the villagers had was that they should have Parish Councils. One hon. Gentleman told them that he had only to mention Village Councils at a meeting in his constituency to bring down the house. He asked, was there any reality in this theory? because, if so, it was very odd that the Government were afraid to entrust the electors of the country villages with the power to say whether they would have a Parish Council, although they protested that these people were longing for nothing else but a Parish Council. If there was this desire for Parish Councils in every rural village why need the Chancellor of the Exchequer be afraid of giving them the power to say, below a certain number, whether they would have one or not? He protested that the Opposition were not betraying any want of confidence in the people, or in the principle of local representative government, because they asked that there should be an option given to the localities. The President of the Local Government Board accurately described the position of the Second Reading up to a certain point; but he thought the right hon. Gentleman had failed to appreciate the enormous change effected in the position of the Bill by the second of his concessions. He was perfectly right when he told them that at the time of the Second Reading they looked upon the number he took—300—as being too low at that moment, because it was not accompanied by voluntary powers with regard to the groining of two Parish 1177 Councils below. They said the Government had better show their complete trust in these village communities, and not compel them, whether they wanted it or not, to have a Parish Council. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told them that these people could not manage their own affairs, and he asked—"Why not summon the whole nation together?" It was not necessary to trouble the Committee with comments on remarks such as these. He should have thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with his high reputation as a statesman and as a great historical authority, would not have condescended to adopt such a peculiar and simple method of argument as that. They on the Opposition side dill not admit that there could be any comparison between the deliberations of Representative Assemblies in this country and the deliberations of small bodies of parishioners dealing with local affairs. If the Government were right in their view that the people in the villages were longing for representative government, that they were consumed with a desire to possess a Parish Council, all they had to do was to give the people power and the Parish Council would be immediately created by themselves. But, on the other hand, if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite had exaggerated this feeling on the part of the localities why compel them to go through the form of electing a Parish Council whether or not they desired it, even in cases where the population would be manifestly inadequate? In many cases they would have an electorate of 25, 30, 35, or 40 called together, who would have to go through the expensive process of the ballot to elect a Council, even though they might not desire it; and seven or eight men wishing to be on that Council an election would be forced on the village, with all its attendant expense and trouble. They declared that was unnecessary, and that the real principle of the Bill would be well adhered to if they gave localities the power to do as they liked below a certain number. The Opposition were prepared to give them that power, and to trust the people: the Government were afraid to do so. If the Government were determined to resist the Amendment—he could not see on what just ground they could resist it—he trusted that they would, at all events, 1178 raise the limit so as not to force small communities with a sparse and shattered population to elect a Parish Council whether they desired it or not.
§ * MR. H. L. W. LAWSON (Gloucester, Cirencester)
feared that, if the Amendment were adopted, it would have the effect of compelling the rural districts not to elect Parish Councils at all. The hon. Member who spoke last said that Members on the Ministerial side of the House could not trust the people, but he knew very well that the effect of this Amendment would be this—that the people would by means of subtle influences, perfectly well understood, be persuaded not to put themselves under the operation of the Bill so far as Parish Councils were concerned. He (Mr. Lawson) would utter no word against the landowning class, but he would ask the Committee to take the case of what was known as a close parish, where the influence of a good landlord was all pervading. Did hon. Members opposite suppose that, under these circumstances, the Bill would be put in operation? This Amendment being embodied in the measure, the parish would declare against a Parish Council, and the whole of the benefits would be denied to the community. As to the Town system in the New England States, the selectmen were elected, and they were practically the Council for the year, and under this Bill the Councils were elected from year to year. While there was no disposition to distrust the people, there was a great desire on the Government side of the House to confer the benefits of the Bill on local communities, and not to afford an opportunity of evading them such as this Amendment offered. Believing that the adoption of the Amendment would open the way to a conspiracy to some extent against Parish Councils, he hoped there would be no disposition to compromise on such a point as this.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down misunderstood the scope of the Amendment, and presumed that, if they were to have parish meetings and not Councils, these parish meetings would not have exactly the same power as the Councils. Again, he was as wrong in regard to the American system as he was in his surmises as to this Amendment, because the select men 1179 in these parishes were in a different position to the Councillors who had to be elected. The selectmen of the townships of America were men who were practically committees whose powers might be recalled at any moment. He was afraid that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not paid his Colleague the Chancellor of the Duchy the compliment of reading the right hon. Gentleman's book on the American Constitution. He thought the Chancellor of the Duchy must have been very much surprised when he heard his right hon. Colleague, in these somewhat random utterances with which he amused the House, talk of the impossibility of any townships being governed in this omnium gatherum style. There was no more enthusiastic advocate of parish meetings in the House than the Chancellor of the Duchy. In the system of American local government with regard to townships there was no such thing as a Parish Council. The people would not trust them, and they would not give away the whole of their authority for one year to one set of men. In the New England States and in Massachusetts, which, in the New England States was the principal of all, as the Chancellor of the Duchy knew, up till 1820—even Boston itself, with its enormous population—was governed by a parish meeting; and so jealous were the American people of doing away with their right to control officials from one year's end to the other that even when a Charter of Incorporation was granted to this town it was insisted that the people should he called together at stated periods for the purpose of exercising control over that Corporation; and at the present moment they had it, on the authority of the Chancellor of the Duchy, that actually towns with a population of 13,000 were governed by parish meetings. In these circumstances, therefore, he did not know what became of the omnium gatherum statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It so happened that the system of government in the New England States was somewhat different from what it was in the South of America, and, he thought, further West. But it was in New England alone that these parish meetings still governed the local communities. Now, the Chancellor of the Duchy had gone into this subject very thoroughly, 1180 and what was his deliberate opinion about it? In the first place, he said that up to 700 or 800 electors that was the very best system of government—that was, that the parish meeting was much better than the Parish Council. The right hon. Gentleman had distinctly made that statement, and he did not now contradict it. [Mr. BRYCE was understood to dissent.] He would read what the Chancellor of the Duchy said—Of the three or four types or systems of local government which I have described, that of the town or townships with its popular primary assembly is admittedly the best. It is the cheapest and the most effective; it is the most educative to the citizens who bear a part in it. The town meeting has been not only the source, but the school of democracy. They join in local government, and learn from it how government must be carried on, and in particular how discussion must be conducted in meetings and its results tested at elections. The town meeting has been the most perfect school of self-government in any modern country.It was because he and his hon. Friends wanted to retain this system for the English villages that they advocated the system of parish meetings. Look at the strange position of the Government. The President of the Local Government Board said—"I am all for representative government," and apparently the matter was settled. But they wanted the people interested in the villages to have a voice in the matter, and not to be left to the President of the Local Government Board alone. Their complaint was that, instead of giving them fresh powers, the Bill was taking away the powers they had already, and before doing that they ought to have the right which was suggested in the Amendment—of deciding whether they would have them or not. They were giving the parish larger powers no doubt, but yet, at the very moment they were doing this, they decreased the power of the individual parishioner. The President of the Local Government Board talked about representative government. He was not so very sure that these Parish Councils were to be so very representative. Certainly in the small villages there would be great risk that they would not be representative of the people at all. They, no doubt, elected the members of the Council, but they did not choose the Chairman, the man with the two votes. Again, even the Chairman need not necessarily be an elected 1181 representative at all, for they had power to go outside their body to elect a Chairman, and this man would have two votes against one vote which each member would have who was elected by the parish itself. He did not call that representative government. In small bodies like this the vote of one man might turn the scale. But if a death or vacancy occurred, there was to be no election, but a member was to be co-opted—with the casting vote of the Chairman. What were their powers? As his hon. Friend said, they were mere voters, and nothing else. The President of the Local Government Board stipulated that the parish meeting should be held once a year at any rate; but he wanted to know what for? All the parish meeting would be called together for would be to elect certain men, and not to discuss the affairs of the village. If that were the case, why did they want the parish meeting at all? They did not have official meetings for Corporations or even for Members of Parliament, and he did not believe that elections would take place at these parish meetings. A Bill of this kind ought, to have two objects: (1) to give increased powers to the parishioners; and (2) to educate and train the parishioners in the proper exercise of the powers given them. He held that this Bill did not give increased powers to the parishioners, and that such a parish meeting as was stipulated for did not give them the education which was desired, and did not give them an interest in their own affairs. Where were the parishioners to go to have their training? If they were to be trained, the parish meetings must be called more than once a year; but if they were held frequently, there would be nothing to do. There was another reason why these affairs should be conducted in parish meetings and not in Parish Councils. In the first place, it was necessary to educate the parishioners as much as possible. That chance had been neglected. It was also necessary to bring rich and poor together as much as possible, and if they did not get opportunities for coining together in parish meetings they would get them nowhere. Another reason why the parish affairs should be conducted in the parish meeting was that they could provide for a minority representation. This was a 1182 necessity where they dealt so largely with property, and where the classes were so sharply divided. He knew it was impossible to introduce this minority representation into the Parish Council, but in the parish meeting they could get the very best form of minority representation. There each class could attend and state its case, and no class would be left out, whereas, if they merely had Parish Councils it was quite clear they would have a number of men who would not be representative of the whole interests of the parish. These, he submitted, were very good reasons why they should follow the American principle. He hoped, before the discussion closed, they should have some statement from the Chancellor of the Duchy, who ought to be able to show them why what was a good and workable system in America should be so inappropriate in this country.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE
said, the first half of this Amendment they should have to discuss over again in a more reasonable form on the proposal of the right hon. Member for Halifax, and he should, therefore, say nothing with regard to it on this occasion except this: The present Amendment was unlimited as regarded population and area, and it seemed to him so clearly unacceptable that they ought not to spend time in discussing it. With regard to the second part, he only rose for the purpose of entering a personal caveat with regard to the compulsory grouping of two parishes and the provision that it should be compulsory to obtain the consent of the parishes before they could be grouped. The President of the Local Government Board had alluded to an Amendment on which he would state his reason for his view. On the Second Beading he thought the right hon. Gentleman assented to the suggestion which he (Sir C. Dilke) ventured to put before the House, that there were extreme cases in which it was difficult to ask for the consent of a parish in grouping, and, personally, on the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment he should he inclined to re-state cases of that kind. On the present occasion he would only put in this caveat. There were parishes so absurdly small that, a local consent was really no consent at all. But there were other cases which would have to be mentioned later, where there was no 1183 real freedom on the part of a very small parish in the consideration of this question. There were rural parishes, besides the case of the parish he mentioned on the Second Reading, where there would be only one elector, and other cases occurred to him which went to show that they would not get local consent to grouping. There were two cases which occurred to him, in one of which the whole parish belonged to a single landowner, and in which the whole of the persons belonging to that parish were servants or lived in cottages of that single owner. In cases of that sort there would be no real freedom on the part of the parish in expressing its opinion against grouping. It would be the interest and the desire of the landowner that the parish should not be grouped with any other, and he feared if it were not grouped there could be no real active local life in that parish. He could give another case of a similar kind. Both these were cases of fewer than 100 inhabitants, but one of them came near the 100 limit. It appeared to him there was a case to be made out later on as regarded populations of less than 150 or 100 inhabitants on this question of compulsory grouping. It seemed to him inconvenient they should discuss the Amendment at greater length, because the first part appeared clearly unacceptable by the House, and the question of grouping had better be discussed when they came to it on the Amendment of his right hon. Friend.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not understand by what means the right hon. Baronet has gathered that this Amendment is unacceptable to the House. I am sure he has not gathered it from the character of the arguments against it.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE
observed that there was no limit of population in the Amendment, whilst several of the hon. Members who had addressed the House had said there should be a limit of population.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not recollect observations of that kind from any hon. Gentleman, and when I turn to the arguments against the Amendment I must say, with an unprejudiced mind, that they have made a very poor show indeed. No practical argument has been adduced at all. All the arguments have been of a purely theoretical character, based upon special views with regard to 1184 representative government or government by assemblies, which happened to be entertained by the Treasury Bench, with the exception, of course, of the Chancellor of the Duchy, that most unlucky author, who appears to me to be compelled to oppose in Office almost every doctrine which he has advocated when in a position of greater freedom. I would very respectfully put before the Committee one or two observations which I think ought to make them pause before they reject the first part of the Amendment, either in the form proposed by my hon. Friend or in some more restricted form which may be proposed later. My argument will be applicable to both forms which this Amendment may take. We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill that he has strong feelings in favour of representative government, and therefore he will not tolerate any form of government that was not representative. He appears to forget that representative government is simply a dodge to get over the impossibility of people directly managing their own affairs. No theorist has ever pretended that representative government is in itself the best form of government. It is the only practical form of dealing with a large number of persons. Undoubtedly the effect of representative government is to take away from the electors the largo power which they would have if they were allowed to act directly in their own affairs. The only reason why we tolerate representative government—which is a departure from true democracy—is that true democracy, when dealing with large numbers, is an unworkable machine. Therefore, in every case in which you can work that machine without representative government you are giving to the people a larger share of that power which you profess to wish to accord them than you can give by the best form of representative government which the ingenuity of man has ever devised. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made a speech a short time since in which he told us that it would be as idiotic to work the affairs of the parish through a parish meeting as it would be to do it through a posse comitatus. Yet it is in the Bill. Even in the very largest parishes the posse comitatus is to revise and review 1185 the decisions of the Parish Council, and if it was capable of revising the acts of the Parish Council, why should it not take the initiative in these very matters, and discuss these matters which it will have to discuss later on? This argument has not been touched upon or in any way answered by speakers on the other side of the House. There is another argument of a very practical kind which 1 have not heard mentioned. The main objection—not the only one, but the main one—to this Bill is that it will increase the cost of local government in the counties, and it will increase it at a time when rural society is very little able to bear any increase. Surely it is our duty to diminish that cost in every possible way in our power. There is one form of expense which would be thrown on the parish by this Bill, with which no one has any sympathy, and that is the cost of election. I do not know that any estimate of that cost has been laid before the House, of the cost of taking a ballot; but, judging by the analogy furnished by County Council and Parliamentary elections, it will not be inconsiderable, and this will absorb a very large proportion of the resources of the parish itself. That is thrown away, and is absolutely unproductive, and does not leave a residue of good to the parish. If you can avoid that, and if the people can have the advantage of managing their own affairs without the expense of an election, you will confer a very great advantage upon them. Therefore, on grounds of theory, democratic theory, and of cheapness, I would press this Amendment, or some other Amendment on similar lines, on the attention of the Government. The right hon. Baronet has referred to the question of numbers, but I do not think that numbers give a fair test of the necessities and wants of a parish. In some parishes the population gets scattered over a large area, and a Parish Council might be necessary; but I can conceive other places, populous centres, where the principle of the parish meeting could be carried out without the slightest inconvenience to any human being. The numerical limit, therefore, is a very crude and imperfect test of the wants of a, parish. I do not know whether the House will take that view. But if not, I would advise my hon. Friend to reserve 1186 taking a decision until an Amendment has been reached, by which some limit, however imperfect, is imposed.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF FHE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (Mr. J. BRYCE,) Aberdeen, S.
I want to call the attention of the Committee to the fact that we are not discussing the advantages of parish meetings or what might be done by them. We are discussing upon this Amendment the question as to whether there must not be in every parish some executive machinery. It was quite impossible to work a system of local parish government without having some executive authority to carry out the decision of the meeting, and that is the point upon which the Committee is now engaged. In the United States, wherever there is a town meeting there are executive officers, selected men, and men who are elected annually. We cannot have a system of local government without having some such executive authority for carrying out the decisions arrived at. That is the point with which the Committee is dealing. If we do not establish a Parish Council we must have some other executive machinery—some authority for carrying out the scheme of government before us. That is the question. [Cries of "No!"] Yes, that is the object. If you do not have a Parish Council, you must have some other machinery, and, whatever you have, it will only be a Council under another name. The Government have come to the conclusion that the limit of 200 is the best that can be done; it is necessary to provide some machinery, and we have thought it better to proceed on these lines. There are a great many, parishes in which it would be impossible to get all the inhabitants to assemble at one point; and we have laid down the machinery in such cases under the name of Parish Councils.
§ * MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)
said, the hon. Member opposite (Mr. H. Lawson) had made allusions pointing to the landlords of Gloucestershire, and their desire, as he put it, to prevent the creation of Parish Councils. As a constituent of the hon. Member, he wished to protest against that.
§ * MR. WHITMORE
said, the landlords of Gloucestershire desired to do all they could to give due effect to this Bill. The hon. Member did undoubtedly refer to "close" parishes, and certainly insinuated that some of the landlords would do their best in such villages to endeavour to prevent the creation of such Councils. His own impression was that if the principal landowner in a close parish wished to have an easy time of it he would put pressure on the people to get a Parish Council. He could not understand on what sort of Liberal or Radical principle hon. Gentlemen opposite were denying to the people themselves the option of saying whether they would be governed by a Parish Council or a parish meeting. He could not conceive a more complete misconception of the reading of the Amendment and of the machinery of the Bill than that of the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. The question was not as to furnishing machinery, but as to whether they ought to have Local Option, and while in his own parish he should prefer to see a Council created, he thought the decision should be left to the parish itself.
§ * MR. EVERETT (Suffolk, Wood-bridge)
said the principle underlying this Bill was, as he understood, that of self-government for the villages, and there appeared to be a general disposition to co-operate upon that ground. He had, it appeared to him, listened to more liberal sentiments on the subject from that (the Opposition) side of the House than from this (the Government) side. When these of them who had addressed many meetings in the villages spoke about Parish Councils there, what they meant was the parishioners in council. When he heard his own side contending for elected Councils he felt bound to say that he preferred the open meeting of the parishioners. He thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer must have felt himself very hard up for argument when he spoke as he did in regard to their Amendment. The villagers naturally wanted, where they could, to do their own duty themselves; not to delegate it to a handful of their number. That was the feeling in his part of the country, where the villages were small. He liked the Amendment also because it did not draw a hard-and-fast line as to population, but left it to the villagers to say whether 1188 they preferred one system or the other. That was eminently a matter to be dealt with by the people themselves. The meeting of the parishioners would be one of the educational features associated with the working of this Bill. It would avoid the expense and jealousies that would arise under elections, and would have other advantages which would be apparent, he thought, to hon. Members. He was in favour of the parish deciding for itself the manner in which it wished to be governed. Let the parish have all the powers proposed to be conferred under this Bill, but lot it exercise them in its own way.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)
said, the hon. Member for Hereford had referred particularly to a village in which he (Sir R. Temple) was deeply interested, for he was born within a short distance of it, and for the past seven years he had represented it, and the Division it was in, in the House of Commons, and had canvassed every house in it, so that he ought to know it. There they had a well-populated, wealthy, public-spirited village, with several hundred inhabitants—1,200, he believed. It had been the custom for that village to look after its own interests, to appoint its Executive Committee and do its own work. Was it reasonable that such a village as that should be refused the option that was claimed? Ought it not to be allowed, if it wished, to retain its position as it now was? Should it not be allowed to select its own form of government; to say whether it would go on as at present, or whether it would adopt a Parish Council? Suppose they in that village were to say that they would not have Parish Councils; that they would prefer to adopt the example cited by the Chancellor of the Duchy. Why should they not have an optional voice? He said it was nothing short of tyranny to try to prevent such a village having an optional voice in reference to its own form of government.
§ MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
said, he wished to repudiate the accusation brought against landowners by the hon. Member (Mr. H. Lawson). Such speeches would not secure co-operation in different parts of the House. He (Mr. Heneage) had received far more communications from the landowners in close parishes than from these of large and populous parishes in favour of Parish Councils. He thought, if the progress of 1189 the Bill was to be expedited, it would be well that they should not have three Ministers rising on every possible Amendment, and speaking in three different tones. That was not, likely to facilitate the passage of the Bill through Committee. The President of the Local Government Board knew the Bill best, and he should be allowed to deal with it. With regard to the 200 limit, he hoped it would be still further lowered. Whilst he had the strongest desire that every parish should have a Council if it desired, and whilst he hoped that would be carried into effect, he could not agree with the second part of the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman said that the County Council might provide Parish Councils to parishes that wore grouped, provided the parishes consented. But he gave no power of initiative.
§ MR. HENEAGE
said, he was glad to hear it. He did not know that that was the case, but he would take the right hon. Gentleman's word for it. He could not support the Amendment as it stood, and he hoped that it would be withdrawn, so that they might proceed to other important Amendments.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN (Kent, Faversham)
said, the Government, when reviewing this Debate, would regret two things. They would regret greatly the intervention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the proceedings, and they would regret that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had written a book. For the last evil there was no remedy, but the other might be averted by judicious representations, which he could not help thinking would be made. What was the real nature of the conflict in which they were engaged? It was a conflict between the two antagonistic principles of liberty and coercion. The advocates of liberty and freedom were on this occasion the Conservative Party, as they always had been and would be, and the advocates of coercion and compulsion were the great Radical Party—with the exception of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Everett). For his own part, he was sorry they were not to have a Division on this important question; but he hoped they would have another and more favourable opportunity of expressing an opinion upon it.
§ MR. PICTON (Leicester)
said, he understood that a good part of the discussion really did not refer to the Amendment on the Paper at all. In his opinion, the Amendment made no provision for conferring on the parish meeting the powers given by the Bill to the Parish Council. He, therefore, opposed the Amendment, which would postpone indefinitely the application of the measure to a great number of parishes.
§ MR. PICTON
said, although he liked the idea of small meetings acting for small parishes, he could not support the Amendment.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
said, the difference between both sides of the House might be settled on another Amendment. The point was one of principle, affecting all the parishes in the country. The supporters of the clause did not wish that parishes should part for all time with a certain amount of power, and place it in the hands of the Parish Councils. His main objection was, that he did not like to see the parishes parting with a certain amount of power to Parish Councils for all time. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy had said that later on they would be able to discuss what authority they should they to the Parish Councils, and what authority they should give to the parish meeting, but whatever they decided now as to the power in the Parish Council, that would go for all time. Their contention was, that the source of power ought to be in the parish meeting, and that the parish meeting ought to be allowed to devote so much of its powers as it desired to the various committees it might appoint. That was the difference between them and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. That right hon. Gentleman and other Members of the Government were in error when they said that this matter was not discussed on the Second Reading of the Bill. As a matter of fact, the question was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax, and the views urged then were these he (Commander Bethell) was urging now—namely, that the source of power ought 1191 to remain in the parish meetings. He took the opportunity upon the Amendment of his hon. Friend, which he hoped would be carried to a Division, of urging the principle.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
said, he had always held that this Bill had been brought forward behind the backs of the parishioners. They had not been sufficiently consulted, and they hardly knew what was contained in the measure. And when the parish meetings were got together they would not be free. They would be obliged to do what the Bill arranged that they should do, and they would not have sufficient volition of their own. The Bill laid down positively that the parishes were to take a certain course, whether they approved it or not, and that appeared to him to be very like dragooning the parishioners. If tins measure was to work well it must enlist the thorough goodwill of these who were to administer it, but it would not work well if the Parish Council was forced upon an unwilling parish, and that was what the Bill proposed to do. The hon. Member for Leicester seemed to think that there was some confusion as to the issue on which they wore going to divide. But the issue was quite simple. It was whether they should adopt the word "may" or "shall." All the arguments which had been submitted in the House had been in favour of local option on this matter. The Government had proceeded on the plan of the Vestry, but they had taken away the truly democratic principle which existed in the parish and turned it upside down; they had taken away that liberty which the Church had given and which the parishioners had always enjoyed. There were many clauses in the Bill which would vest great executive power in the parish meeting, and he sincerely hoped that, instead of insisting on the unpopular, undemocratic principle proposed in the Bill, the Government would even yet make some concession in the interest of the freedom of the parish. If they refused to make a concession he hoped the Committee would carry the Amendment.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES (Salford, W.)
said, he thought the Government were taking up an illogical position. If the Committee would turn to the Amend- 1192 ment on the Paper in the name of the President of the Local Government Board, they would see that the right hon. Gentleman proposed to introduce the principle of local option in rural parishes whore there was a population of less than 200. But when they came to the big parishes the right hon. Gentleman would not allow that principle to prevail. If the Bill was to secure the goodwill of the people the Amendment should be accepted. They would then have local option all round, and that would satisfy the rural population much more than the passing of the Bill in its present shape.
§ * MR. RANKIN (Herefordshire, Leominster)
said, he wished to draw attention to a point of practical importance in connection with the Amendment. There would be some difficulty in carrying out the second part of it as to allowing parishes to group themselves, as such grouping might not be in accordance with a scheme of the County Council, and he would, therefore, advise the hon. Member to leave it out. One of such a group of parishes might be in a different county district to an adjoining parish which it was proposed to group with it, and the circumstances of the two might be different. If the hon. Member went to a Division on the first part of his Amendment he (Mr. Rankin) should support him, as he believed it would give the parishes an option which they greatly desired.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, he thought the Amendment, proposing as it did to allow the parishes to do what they thought best for themselves, Was so obviously reasonable that the Government must have some extraordinary reason for not at once accepting it. He believed the fact was that the Government really wanted to promote, not local government but Party government. They thought that by forcing a Parish Council on a parish against the wishes of the people—especially a parish which was thoroughly peaceable and in which the landlord was doing much good—they might possibly introduce demagogues who would create an agitation there for Party purposes. Six people out of every 40 in the parishes would become Councillors, and the Government thought that by making all these local politicians they would be creating a grand army who would be moved by gratitude to support 1193 them at the next Election. This, he believed, was at the bottom of the obstinacy of the Government.
The hon. Member cannot do that. The Committee is now in possession of the whole Amendment, and without the leave of the Committee no part can be withdrawn.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, that perhaps it would be well for the hon. Member not to press the Amendment to a Division. If they could have divided on the first part it would, perhaps, have been well for the Committee to have accepted the Amendment. Seeing, however, that the second part was somewhat positive as to grouping, and that a large number of Members insisted that there should be absolute freedom on the point, and seeing, also, that the Amendment contained no limit as to the size of the parish, though the principle of the Amendment was good, he thought it would be wise not to ask the House to divide.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Isle of Thanet)
said, that if the Amendment were carried to negative certain words in the clause, and the words proposed by the hon. Member (Mr. J. G. Lawson) became the substantive Question, he (Mr. Lowther) should move to leave out the second part, as he was dead against grouping. In supporting the Amendment he would do so only so far as the first portion was concerned, and if it were carried, as he hoped it would be, he would move an Amendment at the end.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 179; Noes 99.—(Division List, No. 319.)
§ MR. HANBURY
rose to a point of Order. He said, he had an Amendment on the Paper which came before that of the hon. Member (Mr. Hobhouse). [Cries of "Order!"] He was not going into his Amendment, but he wanted to know as a point of Order why he had been passed over, because his was a totally different Amendment from the one which they had been discussing.
Two hon. Members have Amendments to leave out the game words, and one proposes to insert words as well. He has the priority.
§ MR. HANBURY
My point is this, and I want to have the ruling of the Chair upon it: Do I understand your ruling to be that, supposing a Member moves to omit certain words for one purpose and that Amendment is not carried, it is impossible for anybody for another purpose to move to omit these words afterwards?
§ * MR. H. HOBHOUSE
said, he wished to move, in page 1, line 9, to leave out "shall," and insert "may." This was the first of a series of Amendments he had put on the Paper at the request of the County Councils Association. The County Councils Association was a non-Party body, consisting of men who had had experience in the working of county institutions. He should, therefore, like the Committee to consider what he had to say as having more weight than if it were merely the expression of his own individual view. The Association were of opinion, in the first place, that parishes should not be grouped without the consent of the parish meeting. On that point the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had mot them most amply, and he (Mr. Hobhouse) desired to take this opportunity of acknowledging the concession the right hon. Gentleman had made. The second point urged by the County Councils Association was that very small parishes should not be obliged to have a Parish Council. The line the Association would like to draw would be based on the principle that where a parish had not more electors in it than could conveniently meet in a, single room, and exercise such powers as were vested in the parish meeting, such parish should have the option of saying whether it should have a Council or not. In a, word, the County Councils Association would give a, parish meeting to every parish, but left, to every parish under a certain limit of population to decide whether or not it, would have a Parish Council. The limit of population suggested was 500, which would mean an electorate of about 100. The County Councils Association considered that, only a certain portion of 1195 these electors would attend; that if they all attended it1 would not be a very tumultuous assembly, and that these who attended would very likely wish to look after their own concerns, so far as they could do so without delegating them to a Committee. It might be said that this parish meeting could not exercise executive powers itself. But the meeting would have power to appoint a committee for any purpose, and the advantage of the committee would he that the people would not be bound to delegate their powers to a small body of persons composing the Parish Council, and then have nothing more to do with these powers throughout the year. But besides the committee there would be a chairman, and they could make that chairman a very responsible person. It had been urged as an objection to this proposal that the meeting could not delegate to a committee powers which they did not possess themselves. But it was intended to propose that the powers already given to the meeting under Clause 18 should be extended by the addition of all the powers exercised by a Parish Council, so that it would be possible for the meeting to exercise all these powers, but in a different way. From a, democratic point of view, and from an educational point of view, there would be a great advantage in discussing parish matters in parish meeting rather than in Parish Council. What was wanted was to interest as many people as possible in their own local affairs, and it was, therefore, better to give everybody at least the chance of discussing these affairs. In these small parishes there were not many attractions, and people would be very glad to meet together for the purpose of discussing their local affairs. He was quite sure that if the villagers in such parishes found they had to delegate all their affairs at the beginning of the year to a Parish Council they would be very much disappointed. He deprecated making a cast-iron rule for parishes whoso population was so small that Parish Councils might not be necessary. In the large parishes it was, no doubt, desirable to work through representative institutions, and he believed, on the whole, that above the line of a 500 population representative institutions began to be necessary. On the question of the limit of population, he would point 1196 out that the position was somewhat altered. In his opinion, and that of many others, 300 was altogether too high when the Government proposed compulsory grouping of small parishes. But now that the Government had wisely decided to drop the proposal for compulsory grouping, the question of the limit of population appeared in a different light. It was necessary that they should take a much higher limit in giving parishes the option of deciding whether or not they would have Parish Councils, though the exact number might be open to discussion and fixed at a later stage.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 9, to leave out the word "shall," and insert the word "may."—(Mr. H. Hobhouse.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'shall' stand part of the Clause."
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
As I understand it, this Amendment is one of a series of Amendments which are to be taken together in order to understand the scheme proposed. Practically the scheme is that the population below which there shall not be, compulsorily, a Parish Council is to be 500. The Government's original proposition was 300; the amended proposition of the Government is 200, and now there is a proposal that it should be 500. Of course, there is a distinction between the last Amendment and this, because the last had no limit of population at all; but I think the House discussed that Amendment with the idea that there should be a limit in case the Amendment was accepted. I can only repeat what I said on the last Amendment. The question is not an easy one to decide, and, in view of the differences of opinion which prevail as to where it should be compulsory to have a Council, it is essentially a matter for compromise. I still think 300 was the best figure. I am bound to confess that a large number of Members thought it too high; but I think it is too much to say that that number was objected to because of the proposal for grouping the parishes. But, on the whole, having modified the number to 200, I advise that it would be best to adhere to it.
§ * MR. W. LONG
said, he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that the view taken almost universally in opposition to the original figure of 300 was based upon the fact that compulsory grouping was 1197 contained in the proposals of the Government. The desire then was that the number should be as low as possible, in order that a great number of parishes would escape the proposed compulsion. The view held by the Opposition, and the view he believed also held by hon. Members opposite who represented agricultural constituencies, was that the greatest possible freedom of choice should be given to the localities, He thought himself that they might very well leave the parishes themselves to decide whether or not they should have Parish Councils. The Amendment, however, would compel a village with a population above 500 to have a Parish Council, but, on the other hand, it would allow parishes under that limit to conduct their affairs themselves or appoint a committee for the purpose, if they thought it best to work in that way. That was a very reasonable decision at which the Committee might arrive. He would urge on the right hon. Gentleman that this was a matter of greater importance than he seemed to think, and he would say, with some knowledge of village life, that he believed the Government would certainly secure greater probability of success for the Bill if in this way they gave smaller communities as much freedom as they could, for the Councils forced on parishes against their will were foredoomed to failure.
§ MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)
said, he was very hopeful, after the way in which the right hon. Gentleman had received the present proposal, that they might be on the eve of seeing their way to a general agreement, and it would be as well on this Amendment—which was merely an introductory Amendment—if they endeavoured to make clear their own views in order that they might see how far the Government could accept them. From that point of view, he would state again the opinions he expressed on the Second Reading of the Bill, so far as it seemed necessary to repeat them, He had been very much struck with the resolutions of the County Councils' Association, because they were almost identical with the words which he used in the Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill. He then said that there was no particular virtue in having a Parish Council where the number of the population was so small that they could meet 1198 together without any difficulty. He entirely agreed with the views expressed by the Leader of the Opposition on the subject. He did not want to make a fetish of the representative principle. It was in some places a matter of con venience and necessity, but where, in smaller areas, direct government of the people by the people could be secured by the parish meeting and an executive committee, that was better. It might be necessary, if they were to accept the Amendment, to obtain the sanction of some body like the County Council for this course; but that was a matter that might be left to the Government. It might be more convenient to have a figure of population for this purpose, and he would be prepared to accept the number of 500, and below a population of that kind there could be no need to have a Parish Council in the nature of the body constituted by this Bill. As the Bill was at present framed, almost all the powers of the parishes—except the functions of the parish meetings to elect Overseers and Parish Councils—were possessed by the Parish Council. Could any of them doubt that an arrangement of that kind was a diminution of the self-governing powers of the people? They had been accustomed to talk all over the country of Parish Councils, but what they had really meant was the parish in council. They did not pledge themselves to the interpretation of a Parish Council that would appear on the face of a statute. What was wanted in the very small areas was an organisation outside the Parish Council—a parish meeting, with a small executive committee, which should report to the parish assembly at quarterly meetings its proceedings for the confirmation of the larger body, just as committees of the County Councils reported to these bodies. He asked the Government, was not that a better scheme in small areas than the Parish Council? Indeed, they might call the executive committee a Council if they liked. But what he wanted was something that should not be created to take the entire power of self-government from the population, but something that would act as their representative and be responsible to them. The principle of self-government had been quite as frankly expressed on the Opposition side of the 1199 House as on the Government Benches. It meant that they desired to accustom the population to the conduct of the public affairs of their own villages and parishes. They wanted to bring the power of parish government, effective and living, to bear on the needs of the parish. They wanted to bring all classes together for a common purpose in a common body, and in a common meeting to think and act for the public good. He believed that if they gave this power to every parish, except a parish so ridiculously small that they could not find people enough in it to form a meeting—the limit might be determined afterwards—they would have created a system of local self-government which would unite all classes, which would train the population in a knowledge of public affairs, and in a sense of responsibility in the conduct of public affairs, and which would have an influence—they might call it Conservative if they liked, for he did not object to true Conservatism—an influence that would be Liberal and Conservative at the same time, which would redound to the union of all classes, and the well-being of the population.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I quite agree with my right hon. Friend that each parish should have the management of it own affairs. The only question is as to the best method of carrying that out. My right hon. Friend suggests that where the population is small and the area convenient, what is called a parish meeting should conduct the affairs of the parish. They are to assemble in a room, but what guarantee have you that every person in the room is a resident elector?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then you must have some power to take care that these meetings are attended by nobody except these who are qualified electors. My right hon. Friend says, further, we must have a room that will hold them all.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then if you have a, small Committee you get in reality a Parish Council under another name. This Council is practically to do the business for the whole parish. The objection to this is that the parish delegates its powers instead of putting them into effect itself. But to return to the state- 1200 ment that we must have a room large enough to hold all the electors. But let us take as a typical case, a parish with a population of 500. The electors would number probably one in five, and so you must have a room capable of accommodating 100 persons. Is it likely there will be such a room in the majority of parishes? I have attended a parish meeting of three persons, two farmers and myself, and we quite filled the room.
§ MR. HANBURY
Does the right hon. Gentleman know that there will be parish meetings under this Bill?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then for the transaction of the business there is to be a committee, which would be really a Parish Council. This committee will have to transact the business, and therefore it will not be done by the whole population. How is the option of the parish meeting to be exercised, by open voting or by ballot? [Cries of "By ballot!"] I am glad to know that that position is accepted, because if labourers had to give open votes it may be taken for granted what the decision will be in most eases. I must say that, after the strong opinions that have been expressed in Debate, the limit of 300 is too high, and I do not see how the Committee can adopt the higher limit of 500.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman had hardly given the Committee any assistance by the speech he had just delivered. Several questions which he had addressed to the Committee were answered by Clause 2 of the Bill, which made provision for the holding of a parish meeting from which non-electors were to be ejected. If he would read the clause, for which and his colleagues were responsible, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would find that provision was made for the holding of disorderly parish meetings, non-electors were to be turned out, riotous scenes were to take place, and anybody in the parish was to be allowed to go into the meeting at discretion and kick up a row.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the summary ejection of persons by, he presumed, the parish beadle, and evidently the disorderly element was to be debarred 1201 by statute from taking part in the meeting.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
That is not quite what I said. At any rate, I intended to convey the idea that the parish meeting would be a very small body, and it would be easy to decide who had a, right to be present.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
, continuing, said, that the right hon. Gentleman's suggestions were valuable arguments against Clause 2, and might be made a note of for use when they came to consider the provisions of the Bill as to the constitution of the parish meetings. The remarks of the right hon. Member for Halifax had commended themselves to a large section of the Committee who desired te approach this question in no Party spirit. He himself had far sooner that such a question as this should he dealt with by a Liberal Government, with a Conservative Opposition, because his experience was that so-called reforms were in extremely dangerous hands when the special custodians of the Constitution headed the ruck of these who sought the change. They all remembered what was called the Conservative Surrender Reform of 1867, and be would therefore prefer to approach this question not with a desire to reserve it for further consideration by a Conservative Government, but rather with a view to the practical settlement of a difficult and complicated question. Now he was bound to say that the suggestions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax seemed to him to meet the requirements of the case. A parish meeting embodied all the powers a Parish Council would possess, and it would exercise them without involving the expense of cumbrous machinery which a Parish Council must necessarily incur.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
said, the discussion had been useful, because it had brought out something else besides the cry for Parish Councils, a, cry by which, in nine cases out of ten, outsiders did not know what they meant, though, as the right hon. Gentleman remarked, what was substantially meant was a meeting of parishioners in Council. He believed, after listening to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the right hon. Gentleman did not know what he meant. He told them that the Parish Committee would be the same as the 1202 Parish Council; but if that were so, they would not want to carry on this discussion. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax had abundantly made it clear that the parish meeting was the old plan of the people managing their own affairs. If they appointed a Parish Council for 12 mouths, they would see very little of the Parish Council, which might sometimes do things in the names of the parishioners which the latter were not aware of. On the other hand, in the committee the interest would be continuous. The only thing a committee was appointed for was as a mere executive to carry out the affairs of the parish, and, in the interval between the reports, the people of the parish would have a continuing and abiding interest in its affairs. The responsibility would not be removed from them. If the Amendment of the hon. Member for Somerset and the consequent ones were carried, the words in the Clause would read thus—There shall be a parish meeting for every rural parish, and there may be a parish committee for every rural parish, and there shall be a Parish Council for every rural parish with a population of 500.The opinions of his right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax necessarily carried great weight with them, and no doubt, in fixing the population at 500 he had chosen a right number for mere mechanical reasons, but personally he was not sure that 500 would not be rather too high. The expense of a poll in a large parish was greater, in proportion, than in a smaller one; and he thought considerable expense would attach to the frequent polls that would be taken under the ballot. There was, however, a good deal in the remark of the Member for Halifax that the matter did not rest merely on population. He would heartily support the Amendment, which was difficult for the Government to resist on any of the principles laid down by them. If the Amendment were carried, he hoped there would be some Amendment to reduce somewhat the suggested number of 500.
§ MR. H. C. STEPHENS (Middlesex, Hornsey)
said, he did not think it right to assume that a poll would necessarily be resorted to in many eases. It was not a matter of course that parish matters would be discussed in a Party spirit, because these taking part in the meeting 1203 would not be mere delegates; they would, on the contrary, be managing their own affairs. They were, he hoped, returning very much to the old system, the title of which was "The meeting of the inhabitants in Vestry assembled," and which was undoubtedly the most successful local system they had ever had. Under this Bill the title would be—"The meeting of the parochial electors in parish meeting assembled," and he trusted that they would return to the old system. For examples of successive administration they must go back to the past.
§ MR. STEPHENS
said, that so far from its being universal suffrage, it was the vote of the ratepayers, and theirs alone, that could be taken. Ratepayers alone had a title to be present, and the intrusion of unqualified persons was jealously looked upon in the Vestries. He did not agree with the assumption that Parish Councils would better administer local affairs than was the case under the old system, which possessed greater elasticity, and under which the work of the parish was divided among these who showed aptitude for particular branches of it. This Bill was forcing the inhabitants to give up the personal management of their affairs, and to talk of it as a restoration of the rights of self-government was quite an insult. It proposed to convert a deliberative and responsible community into an ignorant, clamouring mob with a master, and if that was to be the effect of the Bill, it was certainly not conferring a benefit. He believed, however, that it might be made to confer a benefit by giving open practice in public affairs, instead of confining the work to a small body, with the secrecy which was sure to attend the management of affairs in Parish Councils. An hon. Member had talked of the subtle influences which might be brought to bear, but anyone with a knowledge of the character of parish meetings would understand it was impossible to bring such influences to bear, as there were sure to be some independent spirits to be dealt with.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I just want to point out the difficulty in which I have found myself in interpreting the wishes of hon. Members when viewed by the light of the Second Reading Debate 1204 The right hon. Member for Bordesley, in the course of that Debate, saidIt would be better that all parishes above 200 should have separate Parish Councils, but that no smaller parish should be grouped without its consent.That is exactly what the Government has proposed; and yet the right hon. Gentleman now makes a speech, censuring the Government for what it has done. Under these circumstances, I wish to be informed whether the proposer and supporters of the Amendment adhere to the limit of 500 or not. I have only made these few remarks in order to justify my action in the matter.
§ MR. GOSCHEN () St. George's, Hanover Square
said, the point at issue was not the giving of an option. That did not enter into the Debate at all. The point was the point as to grouping.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, that what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division recommended, and what the Government proposed, was that only all parishes with a population above 200 should have a Parish Council, and that no parish should be grouped without its own consent.
§ MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
said, he conceived the Amendment to be simply a declaration of the right of every parish to have a Parish Council if it desired. That was the point to be decided. The limit of population ought to be discussed hereafter.
§ * MR. C. HOBHOUSE (Wilts, Devizes)
said, he hoped that in the matter now under consideration the Government would accept no compromise of any sort. What they wanted in parishes was a small and practical body which would transact the business of the parish in the shortest possible space of time, and with the least amount of friction. In a comparatively large and unwieldy body, such as an assembly of the whole of the parishioners, business would be done slowly, with a good deal of friction, and unnecessary delay and expense. He hoped, therefore, the Government would stand firm to the principle of Parish Councils in all parishes where there was a population of 300. With regard to the grouping of parishes, he still adhered to the principle that they should not be compulsorily grouped. His objection to the original clause had been met, and he was in 1205 favour of the original provision of the Bill, plus the Amendment of the President of the Local Government Board. A good deal had been said about a, Parish Committee being established. It seemed to him that if they had a Parish Council, they would get a set of men who would be more directly responsible to the electors than if they delegated the powers to a Parish Committee, and for that reason, if for no other, he urged the Government to stick to their original Amendment. Some objection had been urged as to the expenses of elections, and he was quite ready to admit that under the scale which now existed with regard to School Boards, as fixed by the Education Department, the expense of elections was unnecessarily large. But he would give an instance of a parish in his own county where a School Board was brought into being without the intervention of the Education Department at all—a Voluntary School Board. The cost of the election, instead of being, as it would have been under the Local Government School Board scale, some £7 or £8, was conducted at an expense of 35s., for which sum 12 people were elected at a contested election. Now, if that could be done at a, School Board election by the voluntary action of the parishioners of the parish it could be done by parochial electors of the parish under this Bill, and in the Amendment which he had on the Paper he suggested the scale of fees chargeable at these elections should be left to the parochial electors, and not left to the Local Government Board. The principle of that Amendment being accepted, he thought a, great part of the objection to the Parish Council—namely, the expense of the elections, would he obviated, and it would be possible to obtain a body of men competent to deal with the business, and practically the best intellect of the parish would be brought to bear upon the cheap and effective management of the powers given to the Parish Council under the Bill.
§ * MR. LEES KNOWLES (Salford, W.)
said, his friends on his side of the House would take into consideration the hon. Member's Amendment when it came before them, because he was sure they all wished these elections should be carried out with as little expense as possible. In the Bill the limit of population was fixed at 300, and the right hon. 1206 Gentleman had pointed out that there were Amendments to the Bill upon the Paper decreasing that figure to 100, and increasing it to 1,000. He wished the figure kept as high as possible, for the reason that he wanted all the parishes, or as many parishes as possible, to have local option. The Government proposed in their Amendment that the small parishes should have local option, and hon. Members on his side of the House thought the big parishes should also have local option. Therefore, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would adopt some happy mean, and, at all events, fix the figure at 500. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had asked, with regard to parish meetings, in what places they would be held? He could not help thinking the right hon. Gentleman could not have studied the Bill properly, because if hon. Members referred to Clause 4 they would see that provision was made in the Bill for these meetings. At the present time, in consequence of free education, which had been given to the country by the late Government, there was a considerable increase in school accommodation; and he had made a calculation with regard to this matter. He imagined that, in a parish with a population of 500, about one-sixth would be children of school age, making about 80 scholars. In such a parish there would be about 100 electors, and of these a certain number—say, 20 per cent.—would be old, sick, or infirm. That would leave 80 electors, without allowing for absentees, and in such a parish, if they had 80 school children, they must have accommodation for these children. Therefore, so far as he could make out, there ought to be no difficulty where there was a, population of 500 to find a room for the meetings. There could be no difficulty, either, in finding out who were electors or who were not. The right hon. Gentleman had asked how it could he discovered whether or not the meeting of parochial electors would give their consent to the parish having a Parish Council? The right hon. Gentleman might have asked that question of the President of the Local Government Board, for he had put on the Paper what he might call an optional Amendment, requiring consent 1207 to be given; he allowed option in ease of small parishes, but not in big parishes. The right hon. Gentleman went on to ask, should such consent be given by ballot? Well, hon. Members on his side of the House had no fear of the ballot, and did not want hole-and-corner meetings. If it should be thought desirable that the consent should be given at the meetings in the smaller parishes by ballot, so far as he was concerned he would willingly vote for it, but he must point out to the President of the Local Government Board that the Bill did not contain a provision by which the consent should be so given.
§ SIR J. DORINGTON (Gloucester, Tewkesbury)
said, that after the speech of the right hon. Member for Halifax he had hoped the right hon. Gentleman would have seen his way to make a concession to them in this matter. The Amendment had been most carefully considered, and it was the product of the County Council Association, which was a non-Party body. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had thrown all sorts of clouds around this matter, and raised what he (Sir J. Dorington) thought somewhat absurd notions. If they had a parish meeting of 500 members in the outskirts of this House, elected from the streets of Westminster, they would very likely not know who the members were, but in their villages they knew who everyone was; in a village of 500 persons every one knew his neighbour, and the general subjects which were matters of interest to the parish were well talked over and considered, and were known a great deal better, he might say, than hon. Members knew the subjects that came before this House. Looking at the matter in that way, it was difficult to understand how the parish meeting could be incapable of managing its own business, and why it should want a Parish Council. Take a Parish Council elected out of some 70 or 80 householders in the parish. He ventured to say these householders would be extremely jealous of putting five or six persons, their equals in every way, in the superior position of Councillors for the year. The title itself, they might depend upon it, would he invidious and wholly undesirable. There was not the slightest difficulty in the parish meeting carrying on most of its business in the 1208 meeting. He lived in a large parish of some 4,000 or 5,000 inhabitants where they had an urban district, and he had been accustomed to attend Vestry meet-tings where they dealt with questions of allotments, parish recreation grounds, and charities. They managed to get through their business with remarkable satisfaction; they generally went four or five years without any fuss at all, and then they would have a noisy meeting where grievances would be talked over and discussed, and when they were disposed of the work would go on again satisfactorily. They had had the management of the allotments, and they had so far managed them with satisfaction to the parish at large, notwithstanding that it had been done at the Vestry meeting. It was certainly possible for parishes of 500 inhabitants and less to do the same thing, and it was unnecessary to go into all this expensive machinery unless the parish itself absolutely desired it. He quoted the other night the example of another parish in Gloucestershire where they had got a Parish Council, and to a certain extent this told against himself. The parish elected by ballot a Parish Council, and the Councillors had met and discussed parish affairs, but the same thing could be done under the Amendment, because if the parish desired it a Council would be elected; whereas if the parish did not desire it, then they need not be put to the trouble and expense of having it. There would, he thought, be no difficulty about a room for the inhabitants of a parish of 500 to meet in. When they remembered this Amendment was recommended by a body so essentially of a non-Party character as the County Councils Association, he thought it came forward with a considerable weight of authority, and it was ably supported by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld.) He could assure the Government that they on that side of the House had only one desire, that this new scheme should restore parish life to their villages, and that they should be able to make the Bill work in a satisfactory manner, and that he believed would be materially aided by the adoption of the Amendment.
§ MR. WARNER (Somerset, N.)
strongly urged the Government not to give way upon this Amendment. He and many of his friends in the House 1209 were strongly in favour of the Village or Parish Council in preference to the village meeting. One hon. Gentleman said He had always spoken to his constituents about a Village Council as the village meeting in council. He (Mr. Warner) must disclaim having done anything of the sort; he had always stated to his constituents that by Village Councils he meant elected Councils by the village householders, and he should be sorry to see anything else. If they had a parish meeting they would probably meet once a mouth instead of once a year as the Vestry did, and the result would be that the management of parish affairs would fall into the hands of the busy-bodies, to the exclusion of those who, though they had the interests of the parish at heart, and were important people in the parish, were not busybodies. Hon. Members on the other side would describe that as absurd; but there was no doubt that it would be so, because the agricultural labourer was very chary of exercising au opinion before his superiors. Certainly a poll could be demanded upon any question; but a parish meeting would have to express itself very strongly before anyone would dare to demand a poll. The Village Council would have a great advantage over all this: they would be an elected body chosen by the parishioners, and would be people whom the parishioners knew they could trust, and with very few exceptions they would not only be people known in the parish, but would be parishioners. He certainly thought these' people would do the work of the parish quite as well, if not better, than the chance delegation or committee suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld). These men would be in office for a year, and if they did their work well they would probably be re-elected, and in that way they would get continuity. He hoped the Government would adopt as small a limit as possible for Parish Councils. When the limit fell below 200 he knew that the electorate would not be more than about 40; but if they bad a parish with more than 40 electors, he thought it would be better to have a Parish Council rather than the village meeting. He believed that everyone on that side of the House who know anything of the rural population would favour that view of the subject.
§ MR. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)
said that, with all due deference to the opinion of the light hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler), he did not consider the question of the number of inhabitants—whether it should be 300 as given in the Bill, or any other number—was a material question for the Committee on the present Amendment. For his part, it seemed that the smaller the number the better it was for the proposition of his hon. Friend the Mover of the Amendment. It seemed to him the Amendment raised a most important issue, and the smaller they made the number the more favourable it was for the Amendment. What was the issue? As he understood it, it was the advocacy of democratic principles, pure and simple. The democratic form of government was the most honest that could be formed, the very best so far as intention was concerned, but from history they knew that a democracy was incapable of managing complicated affairs. If they could apply democratic principles to this great Empire, he would tie a democrat, but it had been found by experience that while democracy was honest it was impracticable. When they came to the management of any great Empire or any great State affairs, they wanted the strength of the Monarchy, and the wisdom of the aristocratic form of government. [Laughter.] He was merely using the language of the school-men, awl was not responsible for the language. It was a fact, as far as wisdom was concerned—be did not mean the wisdom of the aristocracy in the vulgar sense of the term—the government by men selected for their wisdom, for their knowledge, and for their position, was a system that was all very well when they had to deal with the affairs of a great Empire; but when they came to a small parish of 200 or 300 inhabitants, where was the necessity of the representative system? In the parishes they had the opportunity of trying the effect of the great democratic principle. What were the questions that would come before the parish meeting? What were the questions that required the parish to be governed by a representative system? The representative system was only an acknowledgment that democratic government, pure and simple, was absolutely impossible. 1211 They introduced that principle because of the titter impracticability of pure democracy, but it was absolutely unnecessary in the government of a poor parish. He was very much impressed by the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), that the parish meeting might, and probably would, appoint a Committee. Why not? No, said the President of the Local Government be are (Mr. H. H. Fowler), that would be the same as the Parish Council. But what would the Parish Council do, or what did the County Council do? He had the honour to be a member of the County Council, and what did they do? When they met in their County Councils did they discuss the various questions? A letter was road from so-and-so, and was referred to the Highway Committee; a letter was road from so-and-so, and referred to the Asylums Committee, or to some other Committee. The business of their County Council was reading letters and other documents that came before them and referring them to a Committee. The Committee met, and eventually reported to the County Council, and in nine cases out of ten nothing further occurred than to pass the report of a particular Committee, whatever it might be. Of course, he did not deny that a point might arise now and then on which there was a difference of opinion upon what the Committee had done, and then when the matter came before them the County Council did its duty. If there was any question really deserving of debate it was discussed and debated, and, he was happy to say, without heat or quarrelling or anything of that kind. That being the course of business in the case of a County Council, he wanted to know what there was in a parish meeting where the same thing could not he done? If they had any great question and the meeting was in possession of all the fads it could decide upon it, and, if necessary, a poll could be demanded. He could not see why a parish meeting might not refer to a Committee just as readily as a County Council, and decide important questions upon the report of the Committee, thereby retaining its jurisdiction and control over parish affairs. He objected to Parish Councils on the ground that they were apt to have rings in the parish, as they had them in almost every 1212 branch of government; whereas if they adopted the Amendment they would diminish that danger to a very large extent. Then there was the question of expense, which was important. What were, they going to do with so many elections? If he were not travelling beyond the Amendment he was be und to say that on reading the Bill the one feature that struck him most was, that they were all electioneering from the beginning to the end of the year, and establishing authorities that would overlap one another; there was the County Council, and there was to be the District Council, the Parish Council, and the parish meeting. There were to be so many authorities that the amount of red tapeism and circumlocution that had hitherto prevailed would be largely increased, so that instead of being an improvement it would be the reverse. An objection had been taken that they would have to vote in the parish meeting openly. To some extent that was an objection; that was to say, to those who thought that the ballot ought to protect them under all circumstances. A man need not speak at the parish meeting, or vote openly unless he pleased, or if a man were not honest he might vote one way in the parish meeting and quite the opposite by ballot when a poll was demanded, just as was done now at Parliamentary and other elections. At the parish mooting a man might attend and silently listen—as many did in this House—and learn wisdom from those who had more wisdom, and in time could vote according to his conscience. A man who was afraid of offending the squire or the parson need not say anything, and if he bad not the courage of his opinions he need not demand a poll, but leave that to be done by someone else, and in that way he would get his opportunity of voting by ballot. Another point raised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was as to the provision of a room large enough in which to hold the parish meeting. He (Mr. Ambrose) did not think there would be much difficulty in regard to that, for the authorities would have power to secure a room largo enough, and if they had not that power, then it could be given to them. He thought that was a trifling objection, unworthy a gentleman in the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He recognised in this 1213 Amendment a method of applying democratic principles, which he loved, provided they could apply them with safety. Here was an opportunity of applying them, and to see how far hon. Members were the true democrats they professed be hoped his hon. Friend would go to a Division, and if so be should vote with him.
§ MR. BENSON (Oxfordshire, Woodstock)
said, that in his opinion it was better to have a Parish Council in every parish where they could possibly have it, say in all parishes above 200. He had discussed the subject, more or less, many times with his constituents, and bad constantly found the villages were anxious to have a Council to represent them, and it was only in this House that he had found expression given to the belief that the, people would rather have an organised parish meeting rather than a representative Council, He thought it was desired on be the sides of the House that the governing body of the village, whether it was a parish meeting or a Parish Council, should be a vigorous, capable body, applying itself diligently and effectually to the management of parish affairs. They bad all had experience of Committees, and he thought it was the universal experience that, provided the Committee was large enough to represent all the interests it bad to represent, then it effectually got through its work; and he believed, in villages especially, a Parish Council of from 5 to 10 persons was likely to be a more vigorous body than a parish meeting of 40 or 50 men could He expected to be. They would at these parish meetings have a fluctuating majority. What was the reason they had the Vestry be dies as they were at present? It was because they were open to everybody who liked to go. What was everybody's business was nobody's business. That would be the case in this instance. If they had a representative Council they would have picked men, men upon whom an honour bad been conferred, and a responsibility imposed, and who would see to the business to be transacted with greater vigour and efficiency, and discharge it with a greater amount of discretion and caution than they were ever likely to have by any other method. It was said that the parish meetings could delegate business to small Committees. 1214 Such Committees, however, would be only Parish Councils with less responsibility, less dignity, and less power, and they would be less likely to do their work thoroughly and well than those Councils as now proposed. Then, again, there was the question of—he would not say intimidation, but of timidity. He did not think that would apply in the case of the Councils, for men of independent minds were more likely to be chosen and to be ready to offer their services in the matters of the parish. This was a question between transacting parish affairs by means of picked men or by a scratch meeting. It was a question which the House of Commons was capable of deciding, and one which could be far better settled there than by referring it to any form of local option. He was only expressing the opinion of his constituents in saying that they would be grievously disappointed if the question was not decided in the manner which he had advocated.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
said, he hoped that, in the course of this Debate, they had convinced the Government of the importance of the Amendment. From some points of view this was one of the most important and critical points in the Debate, in the sense that if an understanding were now arrived at the Bill could be passed within a. reasonable time. He thought the Committee did not realise the enormous variety of conditions which existed in the country and the distribution of population within the different areas. He differed from the hon. Member who had just sat down, who thought that the present subject could be best settled by this House. They hesitated to lay down any rigid system to be applied to every parish alike. A scheme suitable to every parish, and which would enable the inhabitants of that parish to be brought into the closest possible touch with those who managed their affairs, must be flexible: but he thought it right that they should fix some limit beyond which there should be Parish Council as a matter of course, even though there might be some slight difference in population. They said, let them decide whether the Parish Council was a just form of government, and whether it was best for the parish. They had heard an astounding doctrine from the Chancellor of the Ex- 1215 chequer. He thought that those colleagues of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who knew anything about agriculture—and there were not many of them who did—must have been sorry that the right hon. Gentleman had intervened in the Debate. If the right hon. Gentleman were often to do so in the same spirit they would not be likely to get on with the Bill. He did not think there could be any difficulty in meeting the view put forward in the Amendment. The President of the Local Government Board had shown the utmost desire to gather information upon the points dealt with in the Bill. He could not but have been struck with what had been said upon this Amendment. The views of the hon. Member for Gloucester should carry weight; and then the right hon. Member for Halifax had made a most important and interesting speech. He hoped he (Mr. Stanhope) clearly understood the proposal of that hon. Member. The proposal of the right hon. Member for Halifax seemed to him sound in itself and capable of adaptation to a great many parishes in the country. They did not want to do away with Parish Councils. He believed that if the Amendment before the House were adopted and supplemented by Amendments conceived in the spirit of the proposal of the Member for Halifax the Bill might be made a thoroughly satisfactory measure.
MR. HERBERT LEWIS (, &c.) Flint
said, he had the honour to be a member of a body which did not speak with undivided voice upon the question—the County Councils Association—and he thought the proposal of the Government was of a more democratic character than that of the Association. He gave his support to the proposal of the Government. He recollected presiding at a meeting 15 years ago during an interregnum in connection with the parson-ship of a parish, and his experience showed him that the proposal of the Government was the proper one to meet the situation. He would draw attention to fact that in the small parishes there was generally a small group of houses, in the hands of the occupants of which the government of the parish would virtually be. It would be admitted that the parishioners as a whole were entitled to proper representation. That it would be 1216 impossible for them to have in a meeting of the kind which had been alluded to. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Ambrose) argued as if parish meetings were not to be held. He would remind him that that was not so.
MR. HERBERT LEWIS
said, he understood that to be the meaning of the hon. Member's speech. He (Mr. Lewis) was in favour of the policy that had been already laid before the country.
§ MR. MACDONA (Southwark, Rotherhithe)
said, the reason he ventured to speak on the Amendment was that he had had experience of the control of parish meetings. From what he had seen, he doubted that Parish Councils would prove very beneficial in the management of parochial affairs. Nevertheless, he strongly supported the Bill, and he wished to congratulate the President of the Local Government be and upon its introduction. The Bill had been most justly praised on both sides of the House, and he thoroughly approved of the principles which it embodied. He believed that the election of men to serve on the Council would do away with a large amount of disorder in the management of affairs. For that reason he was in favour of that mode of dealing with the question.
§ THE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL ON EDUCATION (Mr. AcLAND,) York, W.R., Rotherham
said, the hon. Member who had just spoken thought parish meetings would be rather doubtful benefits, but that was an opinion not entertained by many hon. Members who sat near him. He (Mr. Acland) had no fear of parish meetings. With regard to the views expressed by the right hon. Member for Halifax, they were looked upon by all as more or loss behind the Amendment before the Committee. He had great sympathy with the spirit which animated the right hon. Gentleman in the proposals he made. He did not believe, however, there was a wide line of difference between the views of the right hon. Member and those of the Government, as many hon. Members seemed to suppose. The right hon. Gentleman did not define how high he would go in respect to the number of the population. Several hon. Members had suggested 500, and the number of parishes which 1217 would be affected between 200 and 500 would be 4,000. The question involved, therefore, was an important one. The right hon. Member for Halifax proposed something of this sort—that there should be a parish meeting which should meet four times a year, and which should definitely, according to his Amendment, elect annually a Parish Committee. By one of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendments the Parish Committee was to consist of five parochial electors, and the Committee was to have such powers and duties, with certain exceptions, as the parish mooting might delegate to it. But if any adoptive Acts were carried Commissioners would have to be appointed. Would this Parish Committee have power to hold property? He thought not. It was only to be a Parish Committee. And he did not think that, by any provision or Amendment, the Parish Council would have power to hire land. Supposing these 4,000 parishes with their Parish Councils were anxious to have quarterly parish meetings, what was to prevent them from saying that there should be those quarterly meetings, to which the Committee should report what they had done for the last three months? The parish meeting had only to say when it elected the Parish Council, "Will you have parish meetings once a quarter?" and the tiling would be done. It seemed to him that the Government would be wise in adhering to their proposal for Parish Councils as opposed to committees, thus enabling the people to have as many parish meetings as they liked—simply requiring the Parish Councils, whom they elected, to convene them.
§ * MR. STANSFELD
said, what the right hon. Gentleman bad argued was entirely beside the mark. What they wanted was that the Executive Committee should be responsible to the inhabitants and not that the parish meeting should merely listen to the Report of the; Council. All they had to do was to maintain the responsibility of the committee to the parish meeting. Nothing else would preserve to the parish responsible government.
§ * MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
said, the right hon. Member (Mr. Acland) who had just addressed them said there was very little difference between them, and then He went on to 1218 show that the difference was just that of 4,000 parishes.
§ * MR. W. LONG
said, precisely; and he submitted that was a great difference. Their opinion was that, the Parish Council ought to be the servant of the parish meeting, not the parish meeting the servant of the Parish Council. The Government proposed exactly the reverse. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Lewis) spoke of this as a democratic movement. It was a contradiction in terms to describe what the Government proposed as a democratic movement.
MR. HERBERT LEWIS
said, he described it as a truly democratic movement—not as an apparently democratic one.
§ * MR. W. LONG
said, what he attributed to the hon. Member was calling it a democratic movement. The present Vestry system might be an unsatisfactory mode of managing the parish, but, at all events, it was a gathering of the men of the parish: but if they were to accept the Amendments of the hon. Member for Somerset and the right hon. Member for Halifax they would popularise the government of the parish and enable the people of the parish to manage their own affairs instead of forcing them to elect an authority which would be independent of them. This, he contended, would be true democracy. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that there would not be a room in which the people could gather, and he told something about his experience in his own parish, lint if this Amendment was carried the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of his own personal generosity, would soon remove the obstacle, and so good an example, set by so high an authority, would be promptly followed.
§ MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
said, he hoped the Government would stand firm to their guns and not budge an inch. He sincerely hoped the Government would not He drawn aside by the arguments addressed to them regarding the numerical question.
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Hereford)
said, he had hoped from the conciliatory tone of the President of the Local Government Board that he would have advanced some way in their direction. Many hon. Members seemed to think that if the present Amendment 1219 were passed some parishes would be prevented from having the great be on of a Parish Council. All the Amendment did was to give small parishes an option in the matter. It was really a question of principle that was before them. In one case they had 500, and another figure in another case. The decision in such matters must depend upon various circumstances, and he thought it ought to be possible to find some loophole of escape. They would, he thought, have to adopt some arbitrary limit. He presumed the Cabinet had considered the question before again bringing it before the House. If they did so they had not told the Committee why they fixed on the number of 300, and why, subsequently, they had adopted 200. One was just as much an arbitrary figure as the other; but if they increased the number, say, up to 500, they would get a larger number of parishes and greater liberty of action. He would insist that after all representative government was not so good as personal government by the people. When be heard of hon. Gentlemen talking of the difficulty of 40 or 50 persons managing or conducting the business of a meeting, he would point to the fact that the County Councils consisted of from 80 to 100 members, and who doubted that they conducted their business fairly well. Supposing the Government made a concession, and the limit were extended to 500, what then was to done? Was it right that there should be a hard-and-fast limit? Would it not be well to let gentlemen of experience who wore acquainted with the parishes—who knew, for instance, that one was 10 miles long, and another four miles broad—settle the question? What better authority could there be to determine this matter than the County Council in the county where the parish was situated? In the case of allotments, if the people in a parish desired to have them, and the Sanitary Authority refused to act, a committee of the County Council went on the spot and examined into the matter for themselves and decided it. Why should not a County Council decide these parish matters—why should not the Committee take a, broad view and give power to the County Council to decide whether a particular small parish should have a Parish Council or not? In this matter the 1220 Committee might well allow itself to be guided by the hon. Member for Suffolk, who so thoroughly understood the wishes and desires of the agricultural community. The President of the Local Government Board had adopted a conciliatory tone when he first spoke on the Amendment, but what was the use of adopting a conciliatory tone if nothing was to follow from it? Now was the time for the right hon. Gentleman to find a mode of escape from the difficulty into which they had got. A parish meeting would consist of the parochial electors, whereas a Council elected by a parish meeting might consist entirely of outsiders. There would be nothing to prevent a parish from electing any number of agitators from London or elsewhere.
§ MR. W. ALLEN (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
said, the Amendment seemed to him to be a very fair and reasonable one, and he thought the Government might very well accept it. What was the position of Members on that side of the House? Why they seemed to fear coercion on the part of the squires or farmers, but they must remember that they were themselves proposing coercion. The question was whether the small parishes were to accept a Council against their wishes, or whether they should have a free choice in the matter. It seemed to him that every true economist must vote for giving a free choice. The Government had introduced a Bill for Local Option during the present Session. How did they reconcile that measure with their present attempt to force Councils on some parishes that would doubtless be much better without them? This Amendment had been considered by an Association that was non-political and that acted altogether without bias.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)
asked, what would be the difference between the word "may" and the word "shall"? In the Metropolis Local Management Act there was a clause which contained the word "may," but a Judge in one of the Supreme Courts not long ago had decided that that word "may" meant shall. He remembered the circumstances very well, because he had been a member of the Board which made the appeal, and was one of those whom the Master of the Rolls said he thought he must charge with the costs. He had been astonished to hear hon. and right hon. 1221 Gentlemen who called for this proviso say that they were in favour of any democratic measure whatever. He had never understood that that was their policy, and they certainly did not say that sort of thing every where. To-night they told the Committee they were more in favour of this democratic measure than the Radicals themselves. ["Hear, hear!"] He only said they told the Committee so. He did not believe that they meant to be. What they meant to do was to wreck the Bill if they could. The people in the counties wanted the Bill. They had asked for Councils, not for Vestries of which they had had large experience, and which hail proved to be a failure. In 1835 the House had given Municipal Councils, and so far as he was aware, no town in the country had ever appealed to have the law altered. He had had considerable experience of parish meetings, and had found in connection with them that there was always a. difficulty in getting the people together. What was everybody's business was nobody's business, and there was no continuity in the proceedings of parish meetings. He was satisfied that the Committee would be doing its duty if it stuck to the Bill as it was. Lot them give the people what they had asked for.
§ * MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax had said that if they had a discursive Debate they would come to some agreement. Well, it was clear they were not likely to come to any agreement, and he would, therefore, suggest that they should take the Amendments on their merits. It was said the country people had asked for Parish Councils. Well, let them have them. Put in the word "may," and the country parishes would be able to adopt them.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, he could not understand why the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board did not accept the Amendment. It was on the lines of the principle the right hon. Gentleman had assented to on the Second Heading, save in regard to the number of 500, and that was not an essential part of the proposal, and could be altered. The Amendment as it stood, with that exception, would carry out precisely the understanding that was come to during the Debate on the Second Reading. He hoped the 1222 Government would not be carried away by exhortations such as that they had heard from the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, about standing to their guns—he did not exactly know what that meant. [Ironical cheers] Well, it seemed to him to mean that these hon. Gentlemen were taking the Government under their patronage; but He hoped the Committee would be independent enough to do what they thought right.
§ MR. GOSCHEN () St. George's, Hanover Square
The hon. Member who spoke from this side of the House, but usually sits on the other (Mr. A. C. Morton) suggested that we on this side are anxious to wreck the Bill by this Amendment. If any hon. or right hon. Gentleman on this side are anxious to wreck the Bill they are doing so in company with the right hon. Member for Halifax, who will be admitted to be one of the chief reformers of local government in the House. I must assume that the hon. Member meant what he said, but I do not think, looking at the whole tone of this Debate, that the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill can for a moment suggest that this Debate, interesting as it has been, has been intended in any manner to damage the Bill or impede its passing. He must admit that the Amendment raised a matter of very considerable importance. Hon. Gentlemen opposite who have taken no interest in the earlier part of the Debate have come in to egg on the Government by violent cheers not to listen to argument but to "stand to their gnus." If hon. Members had been in the House the whole of the time they would have wondered what were the guns to which the Government were expected to stand. The Government themselves agreed to put down Amendments which to a certain extent invited the proposals that have been made by the Opposition. Do not let us at this early stage have to listen to such speeches as has been made by the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, who says that the Party expect the Government to stand to its guns. What Party? What portion of a Party? Why, he was answered by the hon. Member below the Gangway opposite, who said that this is a most reasonable Amendment. Let it be clearly understood that this is not a question between Party and Party or be- 1223 tween one class and another class, but it is one as to which of two different directions a reform is to take. I am free to admit that the question may be argued on two grounds. It may be argued from the point of view simply of administration. I expected every moment to hear it said—"If you had Parochial Councils whatever might be said with regard to the increased interest which would have taken in parish business would that business be better done?" That was shadowed—it was not argued in full. I admit there might be force in that argument. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax has met that by another argument, He has made it a question of the interest that would be taken in parish affairs. That is a point that has excited, I think, more interest in the country even than improved administration. Is the Party opposite mainly anxious to have improved administration in the parish? Not at all. What they wish to have is a new machine. That was clearly shown by the characteristic speech of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, cheered as it was by those who come not to assist us but to disturb with violent irruptions a Debate which has been conducted with great moderation on both sides of the House. I have wondered why the Government should so strenuously oppose this Amendment, and I have come to the conclusion it is because it savours of "contracting out" in leaving the formation of Parish Councils to the free and independent action of the parishioners. Hon. Members opposite want the machinery—the institution; it is that which has such a charm for them. But the increased interest of the people, rather than improved administration, is what I have had in view in promoting the action of the parish meeting or of the Parish Council. Hon. Members opposite do not seem to are so much about the popular interest as about having a machine which is to assist, as they say, the independence of the labourer. That was the point put by the hon. Member for Northamptonshire—"Let us have something that asserts the independence of the labourer." Well, what is the independence of the labourer but trusting him with the management of his own affairs? But the independence of the labourer is to be asserted by taking out 1224 of his hands once for all and putting into the hands of other people the management of the affairs of the parish. I think, if it is not too strong a phrase, I might say it is almost a nonsensical argument to say that the independence of the labourer is at stake. Hon. Members opposite, not all of them, but some of them, have got into a groove and cannot get out of it. They think that squires and farmers must be opposed to Parish Councils. I do not believe that landowners anticipate that Parish Councils will be in any way antagonistic to their interests. Why should they have any desire to suppress Parish Councils? There were similar apprehensions about County Councils, and it must be admitted that all classes have thrown themselves into this work of the County Councils with energy and with a desire to make the best of the law which has been passed to produce the best possible results for the country. I believe that those connected with the laud feel the same with regard to Parish Councils, and there is no ground for the suspicions that some people entertain. If there is that desire on the part of the agricultural labourers that is declared in many quarters to exist, not only to have the parish in council but to have Parish Councils, does anyone think that they would forego the adoption of those Councils in order to please the squire? If they did forego it, it would be clear that their expressed desire for Parish Councils is a sham. With regard to this question, as in regard to many others, I say it is not one on this side; but hon. Members opposite, who distrust the agricultural labourers, and believe them to be open to influences, and to be subservient. Many hon. Members opposite, whose experience relates to a period 20 or 30 years ago, do not believe in the emancipation of the agricultural labourer from old influences. We on this side, on the contrary, do believe that the labourer is now- an independent man. If he were not believed to be independent by the Party opposite there would not be that confidence that there seems to be in trusting him with the management of these affairs which all are anxious to entrust him with. I am not opposed to the creation of Parish Councils, because I hold the view that such Councils in the larger 1225 parishes may perform the work of administration better than parish meetings' But I say, trust the inhabitants in this matter. I am in favour of permitting the inhabitants of villages to choose for themselves whether they will have Parish Councils or not.
§ MR. EVERETT
thought that the importance of this discussion could not be exaggerated, because it was concerned with liberty in its very cradle. The smallest organisation that we had in the country was the family, and no one had ventured to force representative institutions there. It was a common saying that "An Englishman's house is his castle." The next organisation in the country was the parish, and where the people of a, parish were assembled together why should they not be trusted? Why go to them with a, pistol at their heads, and say—"You shall have a Council," when very likely they themselves preferred government through public meeting. Let the House use the free man's word "may," and allow the parishioners to do as they liked. He hoped that true Liberals, true Radicals, would resist this attempt to interfere with the independence of villagers, and that every man who lined liberty in the House would vote in favour of the Amendment, and not for the despots "shall."
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 154: Noes 93.—(Division List, No.;320.)
§ MR. HANBURY
said, he desired to move, in Clause 1, page 1, line 9, to leave out "Council," and insert "Committee." He was still of opinion that the parish should be at liberty to manage its own affairs if it chose, but the House had already adopted the proposal of the Government that there should be a representative body. They had still to decide whether it was to be a representative body which would lose touch during the whole of the year with its constituents. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax, who was the highest authority in the House on local government, had been the first to introduce the word "Committee" into the Debate, and had strongly supported its adoption. The same view was taken by the late Secretary to the 1226 Local Government be and, and it had been confirmed to a large extent by the present Vice President of the Council, who seemed to admit that the Parish Council was under the Bill allowed too great a latitude, and suggested, as he understood, that four times a year it should be brought into touch with its constituents. But what good would result from that if the parish meeting would have no control over the Council, and was only able to listen to their explanations? The parish meeting ought to have power to turn out the Parish Council if it did not carry out its wishes; and in that respect he was be und to say he considered the suggestion of the Vice President utterly futile. He had already quoted the experience of the American people. He was not ashamed by the taunt raised against them by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in suggesting that he wanted to Americanise their old English institutions. What, in fact, was the old English institution? The Americans had borrowed the system of the parish meeting from us, and had retained it for over 100 years, and he desired to keep an institution that had worked well both in England and America. What were the Government doing? They were taking away the old English system, and it was a mere farce to extend the powers of the parish and at the same time to deprive the parishioners of a real exercise of those powers. He and his friends had no desire to Americanise our institutions; they wore for liberty, and for the old English system. The Member for Halifax favoured the appointment of a Parish Committee. If that were agreed to they ought to have a Committee of bonâ fide electors and ratepayers, but under this strange Bill there was no guarantee whatever that the Parish Council would consist of bonâ fide electors or ratepayers. It might be made up of people belonging to London. A Committee, however, would consist of the same persons as those who delegated the powers; it would be permanently representative, and would necessarily be elected simply and solely by the ratepayers. But in the case of the Parish Council the chairman might He nominated from outside, and there would be co-optation, and to both of those principles he objected. They were told there would be more 1227 responsibility on the part of a Parish Council. He could not admit that. The Parish Council would be utterly irresponsible, and he could not see what check there would be upon it. After all, the real argument in favour of a committee, which would keep the whole matter in the hands of the parishioners, was the necessity of giving them an opportunity of educating themselves in local government. It was because the Parish Council would give no opportunity of that kind, and because there was to be an evasion of individual responsibility, that he had brought forward his Amendment.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 9, to leave out the word "Council," and insert the word "Committee."—(Mr. Hanbury.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'Council' stand part of the Clause."
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
We have occupied the whole of this evening practically in debating one question. The first part of the evening we discussed whether there should be a Parish Council in any parish that did not desire it, and the House decided against that proposal. The question has now been discussed for the last three hours whether an option shall be given to parishes below the limit of 500 in population, and the House has practically just decided that there shall be a compulsory Parish Council in every parish with 300, as the Bill at present stood, but with 200 as the Government propose. And now the hon. Member proposes to the House an Amendment asking it to declare that there shall be no Parish Council at all, but that some other body shall be constituted in a different way and with different powers. With all due respect to the hon. Member, who no doubt entertains very strong views, I say that that is really wasting the time of the House. The Amendment strikes at the very root of the Bill, and the Government cannot accept it without practically abandoning their Bill. The hon. Member alluded to the character of the qualification for election on the Parish Council. That is a question on which the Government will be quite ready to accept Amendments when the time comes. If there is a general feeling in the House that the members of the 1228 Parish Councils shall be chosen only from residents in the parishes, the Government will raise no objection whatever to such a course. That, however, is a question which will be raised later, and I shall then be able to explain to the House why the clause was introduced in its present shape. This Amendment strikes at the root of the Bill.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
I have welcomed with great satisfaction the words of the right hon. Gentleman. I think it to be a serious blot on the Bill that it should be possible in the Parish Council, which is essentially a parochial representative body, for outsiders to be introduced, having nothing whatever to do with the parish, and who would practically regulate the parish affairs. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Preston was mainly induced to move this Amendment by the desire that the Parochial Councils shall be composed of, at least, residents or electors in the parish. In view of what the Government has said, however, indicating that they will not be indisposed to accept an Amendment on this point when we come to the proper stage, I will ask my hon. Friend not to press this Amendment now.
§ MR. BARTLEY
said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman had been hardly fair to his hon. Friend. As a fact, they had not yet settled that there should be a Parish Council; all that had been settled at present was that there should be a parish "something." His hon. Friend had suggested that they should have a Committee instead of a Parish Council. It was true that the Committee had discussed this subject to a certain extent, but the initiation of the subject was due to hon. Members on the other side. The first mention of a Committee came from a supporter of the Government. What they wished definitely to settle, however, was whether the parish should have a Council or whether they should allow some parishes, if they preferred it, to have a Committee. The difference between a Committee and a Council was to his mind very great indeed. True, it struck at the root of the Bill, but he and his hon. Friends wished to amend the Bill in every possible way. They would do their best to make this Bill an effective measure of local government. Their contention was that the formation of this Council would take away from 1229 the ratepayers and inhabitants of the parishes some of the powers which they already possessed. That was the point they laid great stress upon, and it was the point they would use in the country. The Government were professing that they were acting very liberally towards the country: but they were, in fact, offering that which many of the country people did not want. A Committee of people in a parish would have greater control over their own affairs than by means of a Council, over which the people would have no further control during the remaining 12 months. He could not see why a Committee should not be appointed in villages for certain special purposes. It was quite conceivable that two or three men might look after allotments and another set of men after recreation, and so on, and in that way they would get the larger number of the inhabitants of a village interested in its local government. He hoped that his hon. Friend would press this Amendment to a Division, because it was of great importance to the interest of local government in the parishes. It was very fashionable among certain politicians to go about the country making vague promises as to what they were going to give the rural inhabitants, but here they had a definite proposal which would deal distinctly with the cases of small parishes.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I think the hon. Member cannot really have seen what this Amendment is. It is this—that there shall not be a Parish Council anywhere. [Cries of "No!"] The Amendment will read—There shall be a Parish Committee for every rural parish which has a population of 300 or upwards.There is no provision for a Parish Council anywhere. With such a proposition as that, it is yet declared that this is to be called a Parish Councils Bill. Surely that is enough to dispose of the Amendment.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Are the Government prepared, after the speech of the President of the Local Government Board, to accept the Amendment which gives a Parish Committee in certain cases, leaving Parish Councils in those parishes which exceed a certain population?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman evidently had not the advantage of bearing what the Chancellor of the Duchy said earlier in the evening—that the House had been engaged in discussing whether or not there should be an executive for the parish. That was the version given by the Government of the Debate.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
There appears to be some difference of opinion on the Treasury Bench as to this point, and I will not attempt to decide between the conflicting opinion. While, however, I admit that the Committee has already resolved—wrongly, I think—that it will not give this freedom of decision to parishes under 500, it has not yet determined whether it will have only a parish meeting with the addition of a Council. I certainly do not agree with the observations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)
said, hon. Members on his side of the House were very anxious to go to a Division on the subject, because they greatly preferred in the smaller villages a Committee to a Council. They believed their constituents had the same preference for a Committee. When the Opposition agreed to the Second Reading of the Bill they did not commit themselves to Councils; what they did agree to was to improve the organisation of the parishioners for the administration of the affairs of the parish. They further demurred to the suggestion of the President of the Local Government Board that they had already decided upon a Parish Council in every village with over 300 inhabitants. That was still a question for the House to settle. He joined in the satisfaction expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol as to the view of the President of the Local Government Board that there should be some qualification for membership of a Parish Council, because otherwise under the Bill as it stood Liberals might go about the 1231 country from village to village, turning the Parish Councils into——
§ SIR R. TEMPLE
apologised for having gone outside the Amendment, and concluded by again urging his hon. Friend to press the Amendment to a Division.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL
reminded the Committee that the question whether there should be a Committee or a Council had only been incidentally discussed that evening, and he and his friends felt it was a point on which a Division should he taken. To his mind, the distinction between the proposal of the Government and that of his hon. Friend was this: that the Committee would keep the power in the hands of the parishioners. The Government had, so far, resisted every concession, and they might at least give way on this point. They ought to allow parishes under certain figures, say 200, 300, or 500, as the case might be, to have a Committee.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 158; Noes 38.—(Division List, No. 321.)
§ MR. HANBURY moved, in page 1, line 9, after "which," to insert "according to the last Census." The intention of the Bill as it stood seemed to be that whatever the population of a parish might be it was always to have the same government as was introduced by the Bill. Surely there should He some alteration in that respect. For instance, it was not possible that a parish should continue to have the same form of government—say, in 20 years—if the Census showed a great increase or decrease of the population.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 9, after the word "which," to insert the words "according to the last Census."—(Mr. Hanbury.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, that if the hon. Member would refer to Clause 58—the Definition and Interpretation Clause—he would find that the population was to be the population according to the Census of 1891. The Amendment was, therefore, met. An Amendment would 1232 be introduced at a later stage by the hon. Member for Somerset which would deal with the question of dealing with the Parish Councils in an altered state of things in the future, and he thought that would be the proper time to discuss the Amendment of the hon. Member for Preston.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
said, that before the Amendment was withdrawn, he wished to know whether the Committee might interpret what the right hon. Gentleman had said as meaning that he was alive to the difficulty with regard to parishes that might fall below or exceed the limit of population fixed by the Bill, and would propose an Amendment to deal with the case?
§ MR. HANBURY
said, he did not think the point of his Amendment—which was that the population of a parish should be taken as given by the last Census, and not always according to the Census of 1891—was met by the Bill; hut as the point was fully raised by the Amendment of the hon. Member for Somersetshire, perhaps it would be better to leave the matter over till then.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MAJOR DARWIN moved, in page 1, line 10, after "has," to insert "either now or hereafter." The object of the Amendment was to bring within the Bill parishes which, though not having a, population of 300 at the time of the passing of the Act, might increase to that number hereafter. The President of the Local Government Board had an Amendment down giving the County Council power to grant a Council to any parish, whatever the population might be; and he admitted that that met the point of his Amendment in about 99 cases out of every 100. But the Definition Clause declared that the word "population" meant the population according to the Census of 1891. If hon. Members turned to Clause 47 they would see that that would work very awkwardly, for it would necessitate the County Council, when arranging parishes for the purpose of electing Guardians, to consider the Census of 1891 only, and not take into account, any increase of the population. Therefore, the Definition Clause would have to be altered; or the 1233 point would be mot by the insertion of his Amendment, which he now moved.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 10, after the word "has," to insert the words "either now or hereafter."—(Major Darwin.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he was in sympathy with the Amendment, but the word "hereafter" would be rather vague. It might involve waiting for the next Census, and he wanted to provide a machinery to enable the County Council to change the government of a parish whenever there was a change in the population.
§ MR. HENEAGE
said, that if the County Councils were to get power to deal with those cases as they arose, he would advise his hon. and gallant Friend to withdraw his Amendment.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
said, that many of the rural parishes wore diminishing, and he would like to ask what would happen when the population of a parish fell below the statutory number of 200? The Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Somerset only dealt with the case of parishes under the statutory number at the passing of the Act. What he thought desirable was that by some mode, either through the County Council or the Local Government Board, the government of a parish should be regulated according to the population as circumstances altered.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he did not mean to convey the idea that, the Amendment of the hon. Member for Somerset would grapple with the case completely. Ho proposed, however, on that Amendment to deal with all those cases.
§ MAJOR DARWIN
hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would sec that parishes with increasing populations came under the jurisdiction of the County Council. He asked leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER moved, in page 1, line 10, to leave out "throe," and insert "two."1234
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 10, to leave out the word "three," and insert the word "two."—(Mr. H. H. Fowler.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'three' stand part of the Clause."
§ MR. J. G. LAWSON
said, that as the Government were determined to force Parish Councils on parishes of a certain size, whether they wished it or not, it was most, important to put the limit of population as high as possible. He, therefore, protested against the reduction of the limit of population from 300 to 200, on the ground that its effect would be to increase largely the number of parishes that would be compelled to have Parish Councils against their wishes. The Government had given way on the matter, of the compulsory grouping of parishes; and now that no parish was to be grouped without its consent, a new importance was given to the question of the size of a parish. In the Division which he represented the result of the change would be to bring 48 additional parishes within the limit of compulsion, He knew that many of these parishes did not want a Parish Council, and, therefore, he felt it his duty to oppose the Amendment.
§ * MR. HENEAGE
thanked the President of the Local Government Board for consenting to reduce the figure from 300 to 200, but he should be glad if there could be a, further reduction to 100. The characteristics of parishes were constantly changing because of the constantly flitting agricultural labourers and their families. He had gone carefully through three Unions in North Lincolnshire, and was astonished to find what a number of parishes there were, all identically the same in every respect—the same acreage, the same rateable value—which fluctuated between 100 and 300 in population owing to various circumstances. Therefore, he thought they could not take any number of population as a definite number; and the only question was, what was a fair figure to take? In Lincolnshire there were quite as many parishes with a population of 100 that would like Parish Councils as parishes with 200 population. In the three Unions through which he had looked, a limit of 200 population would give Parish Councils to only one-half the parishes, while a limit of 100 population 1235 would give Councils to three-fourths of the parishes. Therefore, he was in favour of fixing 100 as the limit, and he intended to move an Amendment to that effect at the proper time.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
said, he was opposed to reducing the number. The Government had brought this discussion on themselves. The Opposition had been most anxious to get rid of it, and to strike out everyone of the Amendments with regard to the figures. The right hon. Gentleman know very well that the object of the Opposition was to save the smaller parishes from compulsion, and that his Amendment would have precisely the contrary effect that they desired. Compulsion was the order of the day. But the Opposition must defend their position as far as they could, and they could not' give way on this point.
§ It being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.