HL Deb 20 June 1882 vol 270 cc1719-22

asked, Whether the Government would, in consideration of the present state of public business, introduce the Local Government Bill in the House of Lords? In reply to the noble Earl (the Earl of Onslow) some time ago, the Government had stated that the Bill would be brought in in the House of Commons; but during the interval which had elapsed circumstances over which they had no control had prevented Her Majesty's Government from introducing the measure. Unfruitful as was the last Session in legislation on subjects of general public interest, the present Session promised to be still more unfruitful. At the present time two important Irish Bills were preventing the progress of all other Business, and they were proceeding at a rate which might be compared with that of a yacht in a calm. It seemed probable that most of the important Bills announced in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech would not even be introduced in Parliament, and it seemed certain that they would not pass any legislation of public interest. No measure announced in the Speech from the Throne had attracted more attention than the Local Government Bill. It having been long recognized that our present system was in a state of confusion, several successive Governments had announced their intention of dealing with the subject, and a measure was very anxiously expected by the country. Any Bill that might be introduced must be thorough and comprehensive, and considerable time must be given to its consideration. If the Government hoped to legislate on the subject next Session, it would be well to bring in a measure without delay, so that Parliament and the country might have ample time to study its provisions. What reason, he asked, existed for refusing to introduce the measure in their Lordships' House, whose Members ought all to be well acquainted with the subject of local government? The question was not a Party one, and the present Government would, perhaps, be better able than the Party opposite to handle the subject efficiently, since it was generally recognized that the changes which ought to be made must interfere, to a considerable extent, with the privileges at present possessed by the magistrates. It was said that the Bill dealt with local taxation, and, therefore, was a Money Bill, and could only be brought in in the House of Commons. Well, the relations between the two Houses were well known, and the House of Commons could take care of its own privileges. The House of Commons had never shown itself either unwilling or unable to guard its privileges; and if that House was at any time of opinion that those privileges had been infringed by their Lordships dealing with a subject which might be supposed more peculiarly to belong to them, they had the remedy in their own hands—namely, that of throwing out the Bill sent down by their Lordships. Looking at the present condition of Business, he believed the House of Commons would think that their Lordships were performing a public service by discussing a question which could not but be of very great importance. The argument to which he had just adverted had often been disregarded, notably in the case of the Rivers Conservancy Bill, which was introduced in their Lordships' House, and by which it was proposed to tax every parish in the Kingdom. Seeing that, from the stagnation of Business in the House of Commons, the Local Government Bill could not be introduced there, he begged to ask the Government whether they would not give their Lordships an opportunity of considering it?


said, that a month ago, when the noble Earl (the Earl of Onslow) brought this question before the notice of their Lordships, he did not attempt to argue as to facts; but, anticipating the answer he was about to receive, he sought to demolish the arguments on which he thought it would be based; and it appeared to him the noble Earl (the Earl of Camperdown) had proceeded upon the same lines. The noble Earl had adduced as an argument in support of his request the fact that the Rivers Conservancy Bill was introduced in their Lordships' House. But that Bill dealt with other matters besides the question of local taxation—the conservancy of rivers, for instance, and the prevention of floods; and the clauses relating to local taxation were sent to the other House in red ink. But the most conclusive answer to his noble Friend's contention was the statement made in "another place" by the Prime Minister, who declared, on April 24, that the Bill could not be proceeded with this Session. It should be remembered that the County Government Bill, which the Government intended at one time to introduce, would create in counties a new authority analogous to that now existing in municipal boroughs, who would be intrusted with the management of the whole county finance. It had also been contemplated, in connection with the measure, to make proposals with regard to the most provident form of contribution from Imperial funds in aid of local charges. The rais- ing and management of local taxation were the principal features of the measure; and, therefore, he submitted that the introduction of the Bill in their Lordships' House would not be consistent with precedent.


said, he regretted that the Government had not introduced in their Lordships' House any Bill of first-rate importance. He regretted the fact the more, because their Lordships had agreed to sit an hour earlier in the day than formerly, in order to have ample time in which to transact Business. If the Bill to which attention had been drawn by the noble Earl opposite could not be introduced in that House, why not introduce in it the Bankruptcy Bill, or some of the other measures of importance mentioned in the Speech from the Throne? No Assembly was better fitted than their Lordships' House, which contained so many learned Lords celebrated for their legal knowledge, to discuss such a Bill as the Bankruptcy Bill. He thought it a hard thing that they should sit there day after day with their arms folded without having any Business brought before them. He wished to know whether the Government intended to give their Lordships any work to do this Session?


said, he was aware that reasonable complaint was made in connection with the subject of the non-introduction of Bills in that House. It was a complaint which had been made in the last few Sessions, and frequently before. Lord Aberdeen in 1853 said that the complaint had been continually made since the commencement of the present century. His Colleagues in the Ministry were aware how often he had implored them to allow certain Bills to be introduced in their Lordships' House. Unfortunately, good reasons were always given against that step. Those good reasons existed even in the case of the Conservative Government, which, though it had a large majority in their Lordships' House, had always felt it expedient that more Bills should be introduced in the House of Commons than in the House of Lords.