HL Deb 31 July 1888 vol 329 cc907-35

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that in what he should have to say in regard to this Bill he wished to ask that indulgence which the House never failed to extend to any one of its Members on whom had been imposed a task of exceptional difficulty and complexity. He was glad to think that, as this Bill had been before the country for some time and was probably well known to the majority of their Lordships, it would not be necessary to take up so much time as would be the case had he to introduce the subject for the first time and the House had no previous knowledge of it. He was also glad to think that in the task he had to perform he could not but be greatly assisted by that complete and accurate knowledge which so many of their Lordships possessed of the present state of Local Government in this country. No one who had any knowledge of the subject could doubt that in the present system, or rather want of system, there was a great field for the reformer, and that there was a most pressing necessity for endeavouring to simplify our Local Government in England and Wales. The position of matters had been described by a high authority as "a chaos of areas, a chaos of rates, and a chaos of autho- rities;" and he did not think anyone could say that the description was overdrawn. You had counties and boroughs, Unions and Parishes, you had Urban and Rural Sanitary Districts, School Boards, Highway Boards, Burial Boards, and others, and the whole seemed to have arisen in this way—it was not created upon any system, but it depended upon the exigencies of the day when new authorities were created to perform duties which had devolved upon them from time to time. It was stated in the 11th Report of the Local Government Board that there were no fewer than 27,069 different authorities which taxed English householders by no fewer than 18 different kinds of rates; and, to make confusion worse confounded, the name of a place did not always signify the same area. It was possible, and not at all improbable, that the inhabitants of any particular borough might have over them no less than a six-fold authority—a Municipal Council, a Vestry, School Board, Burial Board, Board of Poor Law Guardians, and Quarter Sessions. The inhabitants of Local Board districts might live in four different areas—the Local Board district, the Parish, the Union and the County, and might also have six different governing authorities over them. He had seen it stated that there was a farm of 200 acres in the county of Gloucester situated in 12 different parishes and subject to 50 different rates. If that was the case and the occupier retained his sanity, he must be a man of extraordinarily strong powers of mind. He did not claim for the Bill that it contained everything which might be desired in the way of local government, but what he did claim was that it laid a broad and solid foundation upon which hereafter a useful superstructure might be raised, and it gave considerable power for the simplification and consolidation of areas in, he thought, a wise way, for subordinate districts which had a community of interest would gradually come together by means of that interest without being coerced. Thus the object which reformers of our Local Government system had at heart would be much more likely to be attained than if a cut and dried system were imposed upon the country at once. There was only one other preliminary observation which he had to make. He was bound to express regret that so short a time should be allowed between the introduction of the Bill and the second reading. At the same time, every effort had been made to suit the convenience of the House. As it was believed that there was no formal opposition to the second reading, it was thought that it would be more convenient to the House if that stage of the Bill were taken as early as possible, and as much time as could be given were allowed between the second reading and the going into Committee. He passed now to consider the general provisions of the Bill. It would be found to be divided into six main parts. The first part dealt broadly with the constitution and powers of the County Councils proposed to be created, and with the finance so far as that finance had regard to the relations between the Imperial Exchequer and the County Councils. The County Council was to consist of a Chairman, County Aldermen, and Councillors. The Bill, in fact, proceeded on the lines of the extension of the Municipal Corporations Act to the Counties, though there were exceptions to the principle of that measure which had been adopted. The Local Government Board was charged with the duty of fixing how many Councillors should represent each administrative county, and also with the duty of apportioning the number of representatives which were to be given to the boroughs which were counties in themselves. The existing Authorities, both of the county and the borough, were charged with the duty of dividing the areas under their control, and when they were divided there would be one Councillor returned for each division. There was power given to the Local Government Board by a subsequent clause to get over any difficulty which might occur on the occasion of the first election. Various methods of election had been proposed; that some councillors should be nominated, others elected; that some should represent owners, others the occupiers; but all these systems had been discarded, especially it was thought undesirable to put in any provision that would create a difference of interest between owners and occupiers, and the new County Councils would be constituted by direct popular election. With regard to the points in which the Bill departed from the principle of the Municipal Corporations Act, in the first place the disqualification of clergymen and ministers of religion to sit as Councillors was taken away, and an owner of property in a county might be elected a member of the Council, although he did not reside within the area of the district to whose council he might be elected. The County Councillors would hold office for three years and then retire together. It was thought that to have an election every year would cause an amount of uncertainty and expense which it was extremely desirable to avoid. The County Aldermen were to be elected by the Councillors, and were to hold office for six years, half of them retiring at the end of each period of three years. A County Alderman was not, as such, to be allowed to vote at the election of a succeeding County Alderman. It was hoped that by retiring only half the number of Aldermen at the end of each three years a proper amount of continuity would be secured in the administration of affairs by the County Councils. In selecting County Aldermen power was given to the Council to select them either from among their own Body or from the outside; but in either case the person selected must possess the qualifications of a Councillor. As regards the Chairman, he might be elected from among the Councillors or Aldermen, and when elected was to hold office for one year. The powers and duties of the County Council might be said to be derived from three sources. Some were transferred from the Courts of Quarter Sessions, some from the Justices out of sessions, and some were new powers now given for the first time. With regard to the transference of powers from the Court of Quarter Sessions, the principle which had been acted upon was that all powers which might fairly be described as administrative or financial should be transferred, and that those which were judicial should remain with the Quarter Sessions. The powers transferred to the Councils were set out in the sub-sections of Clause 3, and they included rating, borrowing, the management of county asylums and of main roads, and many others; The power of appeal, however, in matters connected with fixing the basis for a county rate, was reserved to the Court of Quarter Sessions. The transference from Justices sitting out of session included the licensing of places for the public performance of stage plays, and powers under the Explosives' Acts. Some of the powers transferred had in the past been performed by committees of the Justices, and in the same way extensive powers of delegation were conferred upon the County Council. The new powers given to the Councils included the appointment of Coroners and the power to purchase bridges or repair and improve them. There were also considerable powers given under the Rivers Pollution Act. In this latter respect it was not intended to supersede the Sanitary Authorities, but the power of the County Council was to be concurrent with theirs, and it was hoped that the power being exercised by a Body representing a large district would be enforced with greater energy than had previously been the case, when the offenders were generally the chief men of the smaller district, while in cases of pollution by sewage the sanitary authorities were themselves often the worst offenders. Power was also given to the Council to appoint medical officers of health, to oppose Bills in Parliament in the protection of the interests of the ratepayers, to take over the maintenance of the main roads, and also to deal with the important subject of emigration. He was sure it was the desire of everyone to aid in supporting any well-considered scheme of assisted emigration, and at the present time the only power possessed by any public Body to deal with this subject was that possessed by the Poor Law Authorities. There were, however, obvious objections to that power, and it had very seldom been put into force. It was not unreasonable to suppose that some countries, or some of our own colonies, would object to an extensive scheme of pauper emigration. The power proposed to be conferred on the County Councils was, therefore, within certain limits, to assist in paying the expenses of poor persons who were not paupers, but who desired to emigrate. Then, with regard to the powers to be given for the management of the police. It should be borne in mind that the powers transferred to the County Councils were administrative or financial, while those retained by the Quarter Sessions were judicial. An interesting question might consequently arise as to whether matters regarding the police were to be looked upon under the one head or the other. The matters were financial in so far as the police had to be paid; but some of the functions of the police partook of at any rate a quasi-judicial character. Therefore, it was provided that a joint Committee of the Quarter Sessions and the County Council should be constituted in order to have the control and management of the police. There were also extensive powers given to the Local Government Board of transferring to the County Councils in course of time some of the functions now discharged by certain Government departments in regard to Provisional Orders. As at first proposed, the clause made an absolute transfer of these duties to the new County Councils; but it was pointed out that such a transfer would tend to overweight the new machinery before it had got into thorough working order. Therefore, without departing from the principle embodied in the clause, a suggestion was adopted that permissive power should be given to transfer those duties by means of Provisional Orders to be arranged by the Local Government Board and confirmed by Parliament. The same consideration had guided the Government in not transferring some other powers, such as those connected with the administration of the Poor Law. If there arose any question as to whether any given power was transferred under the terms of this Bill, a summary way of finding that out was laid down by a clause which provided that a reference might be made to the High Court of Justice. The next matter dealt with in this division of the Bill had reference to the financial relations which were to exist in future between the Imperial Exchequer and the County Councils. There was no controversy that the claim of the local ratepayers for some relief was well founded. Effect had been given to that claim by the policy of grants-in-aid which had been made from the Imperial Exchequer to Local Bodies in recent years for certain purposes. Those grants-in-aid had tended to greater efficiency in regard to the matters for which they were given; but it was part of the present scheme that they should disappear, and that instead of them there was to be a transference from the Imperial to the county funds of certain licences hitherto collected for and used by the Imperial Exchequer. The licences to be transferred, which included all the licences for the sale of wine, spirits, and tobacco, would be found set out at length in the first Schedule of the Bill. For the present, these licences would continue to be collected by the Inland Revenue Department; but the proceeds of them would be paid to the different County Authorities in the districts in which they were collected. Those proceeds amounted to nearly £3,000,000 last year. In addition to those duties, it was proposed to give four-tenths of the Probate Duty, which would probably produce £1,800,000; and there was likewise the Van and Wheel Tax, which it was estimated would, if sanctioned, produce £826,000. In other words, the total would amount to £4,800,000, exclusive of the Wheel Tax; of £5,626,000, including it. Of these sums, it was estimated that about £500,000 would be spent by the County Councils in the discharge of the new duties which would be imposed upon them with regard to main roads. The local grants-in-aid for lunatics, medical officers of health, teachers in pauper schools, registrars, vaccination, and police would also be discontinued; but the net gain to the local ratepayer would not be less than £3,000,000, if the Wheel Tax were agreed to. Owing to the number of boroughs which became counties of themselves, some grievance was felt in many districts on account of the great financial loss which that would bring upon the County Councils. It was pointed out that many of the Licence Duties collected in the boroughs were really those which ought to appertain to the surrounding rural districts. Very difficult questions might arise in this connection, and it was thought better to insert a clause in the Bill appointing certain Commissioners for the purpose of settling these questions. But after all these deductions were made and effect given to these considerations, the proposal now made would afford relief to the local taxation of the country to the extent of not less than 5d. in the pound if the Wheel Tax were authorized, and of 3½d. without the Wheel Tax. There were also certain temporary provisions for the current financial year into which he did not propose to enter. The second part of the Bill referred to the methods of its application to the different urban communities and boroughs which had hitherto enjoyed special privileges and an exceptional position. These county boroughs and county cities would be found named in the Schedule. He had already explained what means were to be taken for adjusting the financial relations between them and the counties in which they were situate. The only point to which he need refer was that a permissive power was given, which would probably be exercised by some of the smaller ones, to consolidate their police force with the police force of the county. The second class of boroughs were the Quarter Sessions boroughs of above 10,000 inhabitants, with regard to which all municipal jurisdiction was exempted from the provisions of the Bill. There were also certain provisions with regard to main roads. The Act of 1878 did not apply to Quarter Sessions boroughs, and therefore they had not had the opportunity which other districts had had of declaring certain roads to be main roads. The provisions to which he was referring were intended to give these boroughs time to exercise their power of declaring roads to be main roads. There was another class of boroughs which had a separate Commission of the Peace, but were not in a technical sense Quarter Sessions boroughs. In the case of these boroughs there would be no transfer of judicial powers, and their asylums would be managed not by the County Council, but by the Municipal Councils of the boroughs. Boroughs of less than 10,000 inhabitants would have their municipal rights preserved, but their police would be amalgamated with that of the county. The other provisions of this part of the Bill would be better discussed by their Lordships in Committee than on the second reading. He next came to the provisions which concerned the future government of the Metropolis. The area which the Bill took for Metropolitan purposes was that which was subject to the Metropolis Management Act. Parts of three counties—Middlesex, Kent, and Surrey—were included, and the Metropolis was made a county in itself. The parts so taken out of these counties would thus become a new county of London, and would have a Lord Lieutenant and Sheriff and a new Commission of the Peace. But the first Commission of the Peace in the County of London would consist of those Justices now on the Commission of these three counties who were resident or were rated within the area of the new county. The County of London would have its Council, with a Chairman and Aldermen. The Aldermen, however, instead of being one-third of the whole Council, would only be one-sixth, and the Parliamentary divisions of the Metropolis would be taken as electoral divisions for the County Council, and each division would return two Councillors. The City of London would be included in the County Council, to which also would be transferred the power of the Metropolitan Board of Works. There was power given in the case of London of appointing and paying a Deputy Chairman of the Council, as well as of appointing a Chairman. There were also special provisions as to highways in the Metropolis, inasmuch as the Highways Act, 1878, did not apply to the Metropolis. The next great division of the Bill had regard to the different areas taken and the boundaries of these areas. The difficulty was, in the chaos which existed, how to get the administrative county to conform to what he might call the geographical county. Parishes were almost invariably in one county only, but it was not so with Poor Law Unions. No one would like unnecessarily to interfere with county boundaries; considerations of sentiment, which were of great importance in such matters, would come in the way; but it was not less dangerous to interfere with Poor Law Unions, as important financial questions would immediately come to the front. The administrative county was, in almost all cases, the geographical county. The exceptions were the county boroughs and certain urban communities—Urban Sanitary Districts which were situate in more than one county. In the latter case the district would be assigned to the county in which the larger proportion of its population lived. As regarded the Rural Sanitary Districts, the boundaries of which were not conterminous with those of the county, each part was to be merged in the county to which it properly belonged. A considerable power was given to the Local Government Board of arranging boun- daries when there was any local dispute, and there was also a permanent power in this portion of the Bill of rearranging Sanitary Districts with the consent of the Local Government Board. For an alteration in the boundaries of a borough or county a Provisional Order sanctioned by Parliament would be necessary. The fourth part of the Bill dealt with local financial affairs, and there were special clauses reserving special liabilities of special areas for special purposes. He would give one example. Suppose there was in a County Council district a borough maintaining its own police. The clause to which he referred made it clear that the borough should not also be assessed for the general police of the county; but in matters connected with the county police, the Borough Councillors would have no power in that case to sit and vote. There was the power of borrowing given to the County Councils. That was a power which was viewed with a certain amount of jealousy; but it was hedged round by safeguards, and every precaution was taken to provide against extravagance and to place before the existing generation the amount of its liabilities. There was also to be an audit, with ample power to surcharge and disallow, and there would be a budget laid before the Council for each year. No liability beyond £50 could be incurred without a special resolution of the Council on due notice given. There were other clauses which, however, were purely administrative. There was, for the first time, a provision as to the regulation of tricycles and bicycles. It was felt to be a great hardship that a man going on a long journey should not know, as he passed from one district to another, whether or not he was breaking the law. The first election of County Councillors would take place in January; but the Councils would not come into full power until some date before the 1st of April, to be fixed by the Local Government Board. The object was to make the transition from one state of affairs to another as little abrupt as possible. It had been sometimes said there had been no demand for this alteration in the law; but what was the significance of that? What did it mean? The absence of agitation arose in no small degree from the fact that for a long time changes on these lines had been regarded as inevitable sooner or later. Both of the great political Parties were pledged to them; both parties had attempted to deal with them. He was sure he was the last man who would cast reflections on the administration of the Courts of Quarter Sessions. He believed it might be said that their administration had been a model of economy, efficiency, and purity. If things could remain as they were, perhaps there would be no necessity for such changes as were now proposed; but even the greatest admirers of Quarter Sessions would hardly say that they could have borne the strain of the increased duties now proposed to be put upon them. It was necessary that these Local Authorities should have broader, wider, and deeper foundations than those possessed by the Courts of Quarter Sessions. He hoped that the new duties were such that the ablest men in the community would be proud to perform them. The best Bill that could be framed would be useless unless properly administered; and he hoped to see the same class of the community taking part in the future as in the past. It might take greater trouble, but if so, the reward would also be greater. At the same time, no one class had a monopoly of ability, and what they hoped was, that in the future administration of the County Councils room would be found for the working of all classes. It was, perhaps, too much to expect that the poison of excessive Party spirit might be altogether and always banished from these elections. At least, he hoped there would be no importation of that which was worse than Party spirit—the pitting of one class in the community against another. If the business was approached in a proper spirit the result would be that all classes in the community would get a better idea of the wants, wishes, and aspirations of every class, which would tend to establish, confirm, and strengthen that true community of feeling which was the greatest safeguard of the public welfare. In conclusion, he thanked their Lordships for the indulgence granted him, and begged to move the second reading of the Bill.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Balfour.)


said, that although the Bill only contained one clause more now than when it was introduced in the other House, it had undergone very considerable alterations, and many of these alterations, in his judgment, were for the worse. The Bill had not only been shorn of many of its most valuable provisions, but other parts had been marred and mutilated. The Government, no doubt, had yielded to the pressure of friends and of foes. The fault he had to find with them was that they had not shown a sufficiency of obdurate tenacity in adhering to certain sound provisions which the Bill contained when it was introduced, but which were lost in its passage through the other House. Still, after all, the Bill accomplished, even as it stood, three great purposes. It laid broad and deep the foundations of municipal government in the counties; it put the aids to local taxation upon a somewhat better footing than hitherto; and it effected no inconsiderable measure of reform in the government of the Metropolis. In establishing a representative body upon a broad basis to which would be transferred the financial and administrative functions of the Justices in Quarter Sessions, it conceded a reform which had been demanded in speeches and in writing from the days of Mr. Hume downwards, and to accomplish which Bills had been introduced by independent Members and by Governments of both Parties. The Bill effected another change which had long been asked, by substituting the surrender of the produce of certain taxes, or parts of taxes, for the present grants-in-aid, and thereby put the system of subvention on a safer footing, though he was far from saying an altogether satisfactory footing, as regarded the Treasury and the Local Authorities than hitherto. The Bill, then, appeared to be a valuable Bill even as it stood, and if that should be, as he hoped it was, the opinion of the House, it seemed unnecessary to occupy the time of their Lordships in a second reading debate. They might well read the Bill a second time, reserving, as he proposed himself to do, any observations which they might have to make for the clauses of the Bill in Committee.


said, that, if he did not quite agree in the conclusions of the noble Lord opposite, he hoped his noble Friend the Prime Minister would not think he criticized the Bill in an unfriendly spirit but he felt that the sum and substance of his remarks must rather appear unfavourable to the Bill than to the general plan laid before the House this evening. He congratulated his noble Friend on the very careful and conscientious way in which he dealt successively with each point, for he made amends by his patient and exhaustive statement of the Bill for the great disadvantage which their Lordships laboured under of having had the Bill presented only this morning. Of that, however, he made no complaint. His remarks at present would apply simply to the County Councils and county administrators. He was afraid his objections went to the very foundation of the Bill. He denied, in the first instance, that there was any real analogy between counties and boroughs for the treatment of local business. Counties differed from boroughs widely in character, in habits, in thought. More than that, and most of all, they differed in geographical conditions. In a borough everyone who took part in these County Councils would be at hand; in a large county every member of a County Council would have to travel long distances. They could not by legislation annihilate conditions of space. Men would not consent to travel frequently from one end of a large county to another, and the larger a man's business was the greater his stake in the country, and, consequently, the more desirable he was as a member of the Council the less time he would have to give to it. Again, on first principles he denied the wisdom of adopting this principle of uniformity in assuming that, because a particular system worked well in boroughs, it must for that reason be desirable to apply it as closely as possible to the counties. The strength of the English Constitution had been over and over again stated, he believed truly, to be in the fullest variety of classes, of interests, of subjects. That was a doctrine which had been affirmed repeatedly from the days of Mr. Canning down to the days of Mr. Disraeli, and now they were going to reduce everything to the deadest level of the most monotonous uniformity. The only persons from whom he had heard any warm expression of satisfaction about this measure had been the election agents. They naturally foresaw in it a harvest, and a rich harvest. They saw how easily the machinery which was now being erected by the Bill lent itself to the formation of the caucus, of election agencies of all sorts and kinds. He was not stating his own opinion only on this subject, because he had seen in the last few days the letter of a very distinguished writer and politician, a man whose name certainly was well known in this country, and who had gained a vast experience on the other side of the Atlantic; he meant Mr. Goldwin Smith. He would read Mr. Goldwin. Smith's own words— How much good this Local Government Act will do in the administrative sphere, we shall see when it comes into operation. What seems certain is that in the political sphere it will call into existence another swarm of demagogues, and give a new field and a fresh impulse to the democratic movement at the moment when something to moderate that movement is most needed. Mr. Goldwin Smith went on to another paragraph, to which he invited the special attention of his noble Friend the Prime Minister— The pledge which is by implication given of presently extending municipal democracy to Ireland is the promise of a boon, which, if we may reason from the municipal action of the Irishry on this continent, is likely to prove the greatest of curses, and which the Irish people themselves can hardly be said to desire. It will not satisfy their Nationalist sentiment, or sentiment of any kind. As he was, he believed, the only person who ventured to warn the House what the result, so far as Ireland was concerned, would be from the last Reform Bill, so he ventured also, as a dispassionate observer, to assert that they could not pass this Act without involving very serious consequences as regarded the Sister Isle. With regard to these County Councils, they had undergone two changes since the Bill had been originally introduced, and he was afraid that both those changes had weakened and worsened them. When the Bill was originally introduced, the County Council occupied a much more important status, and much larger towns were comprised within the county; but by degrees the number had been limited. First of all, towns under 150,000 inhabitants were to be included, then 100,000, and then it was reduced to 50,000, and he was not sure whether that standard was adhered to at the present moment. From a Local Parliament, designed to decentralize and to attract within its sphere all the highest ability within its districts, the County Council had been allowed to degenerate in Committee in the House of Commons into a large Vestry. There was a second change which he held to be a distinct evil. When the Bill was first introduced, elections were to be held every six years, then these six years were cut down to three, and the Chairmanship of the Council was to be contested annually. What was the result of this? Why, that every large county would be kept in the ceaseless turmoil of electioneering campaigns, with all their agencies and caucuses, which it should be their object to keep out of these districts. He asked their Lordships to consider what would be the result supposing that at the time of one of these elections there came some popular cry, whether Home Rule, or some financial heresy, or any other? Who could doubt that the members of the County Council would be elected upon that cry? That was a great evil; but a further evil followed. The chances were that with the whole body of the County Council changing at once, they would have no continuity of policy. But then they were told that the County Councils would be directed and kept in the right path by those who had formerly been members of the Quarter Sessions, who would give them the benefit of their ripe experience and business habits, and would be able to counteract the caucuses. He sincerely trusted that this might be the case. He would urge upon everyone he knew to apply their habits of business to the work of County Councils; but who could seriously say that that would be the case, or honestly believe that, even supposing those magistrates of ripe experience should find their way, in the first instance, into the County Council, that would long be the case? His noble Friend who had introduced this Bill might possibly remember how heritors in Scotland had been practically shelved in matters where it was expected they would take a prominent part. The noble Lord had complimented the County Justices as models of purity, efficiency, and economy. He had praised them in that House as they had been praised in "another place;" but, for his own part, he was reminded of the Latin line— Probitas laudatur et alget, and in spite of their efficiency, economy, and purity, the County Magistrates would have small inducement to discharge the duties required of them. Their position reminded him of the inscription upon an Italian tomb—"I was well; I hoped to be better, and now I am here." He would ask a further question. For what was it that they were abolishing the whole of this great administrative system, which, by universal confession, had worked so well? It was for what in one sense only was an unknown quantity, not in another. There were many other Bodies and Institutions in this country which discharged duties resembling those which those County Councils would have to discharge. One was a Body of rather sinister reputition—the Metropolitan Board of Works. If the noble and learned Lord who presided with so much ability over the inquiry which was now going on had been in the House, perhaps he would have told them something about the conduct of business within that Body; but the public prints, at all events, led them to believe past any doubt that there was corruption, bribery, intimidation, and every sort of foul iniquity that could defile a Public Body of that nature. It was his earnest hope that these County Councils might not prove such as the Metropolitan Board of Works; but he wished they had some better security for it, as in constitution the two Bodies closely resembled each other. The noble Lord told them that precautions had been taken to enable control to be kept of the expenditure. In this respect he thought that the Bill had improved since it was first introduced. Powers had at first been given to lend money to other Local Bodies within the county for emigration and for other purposes. All those powers, as far as he was aware, had been cut down and curtailed with very great advantage; but, at the same time, he could not doubt that the public expenditure in the hands of those Bodies would so grow that the large subsidy of which his noble Friend had told them would be absorbed by the extravagance of these now Bodies. The noble Lord had begun his speech by dwelling on the merits of the Bill as simplifying the present administrative chaos in rural districts; but, for his own part, he had listened in vain for any explanation of that simplification. With all respect to the noble Lord, instead of simplifying the Bill introduced fresh elements of complexity. They would now have Quarter Sessions, Petty Sessions, Boards of Guardians, Highway Boards, and County Councils, and they would have District Councils; there were to be three electoral registers, two electoral areas, and three or four modes of election; in fact, there was a vast multiplication of public business, and he was simply bewildered when he heard the noble Lord taking credit for the Bill on the ground that it simplified the existing system. There was another point on which he would not dwell now, but which was more the subject of discussion in Committee—namely, the question of the joint committee which was to administer the police. He would only say, in passing, that he could not for his own part conceive any plan more likely to be fruitful of quarrel than this co-optation of two powers which had naturally no affinity. With regard to the measure generally, he would have preferred to praise it than to criticize. He acknowleged that the Government had had considerable difficulties to confront, and that there would have been great difficulty in refusing Local Government when both Parties had pledged themselves to it. But the result was now that they were galloping down hill with reins hanging loose and with no drag on the coach. He did not think that that was wise statesmanship; and he felt sure that his noble Friend at the head of the Government knew that as well as he did. He was told by some noble Lords that that House would incur unpopularity if it were to criticize adversely this measure; but he hoped that that House would rise superior to such considerations. If there was one place more than another in this country where they were bound to speak out their opinion, whether pleasing or displeasing to others, it was the House of Lords. In conclusion, he would only say this—he accepted this Bill; he accepted facts which he had no share in shaping, and he would make the best of those facts in future; he would induce others to do the same; but he deeply regretted that this Bill should ever have been introduced.


, who had given Notice of his intention to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, he had had the audacity to move the rejection of the last Reform Bill. His chief objection to it was the naming of the divisions of Counties by the names of Boroughs. Wirksworth Division for Western Division of Derbyshire—which misnomer was removed either in the Registration or Redistribution of Seats Bill, by the two Members for South Derbyshire (Sir T. W. Evans and Sir H. Wilmot), now Chairman and ex-Chairman of the Derbyshire Quarter Sessions, from which all financial business was proposed to be withdrawn. Indeed, this was so much of a Money Bill that the House of Commons might disagree to any alteration of it. He wished to see all the magistrates as fully respected as they were now. It would be remembered by their Lordships that the Local Government (Electors) Bill had on the 15th May been carried by a suspension of the Standing Order No. 35, and some women were admitted as voters for the County Councils on the same footing as the voters in the municipality of Belfast passed last Sel, but He could take no part in the Committee on the Bill, but would, if it were set down for a third reading, repeat the Motion of which he had given Notice that day, but which he now withdrew.


said, that it must be a satisfaction to the Government that the noble Earl who spoke last but one did not move to reject the Bill, for throughout his speech he brought forward the strongest objections towards it. He (the Earl of Kimberley), on that occasion, appeared in the unwonted position of a supporter of Her Majesty's Government, and he was ready to avow that his own feelings towards the Bill were unquestionably friendly. He did not say it was framed entirely as he should like it, but as regarded the general purposes of the Bill, he heartily accepted it and believed it to be founded on just principles. The general policy of that Bill was to give to counties the power of managing their own affairs so long possessed by towns. Although he was the last person to say the County Magistrates had not admi- rably discharged their duties, their jurisdiction had become an anachronism and an anomaly. That being so, the whole local administration was prejudiced. County administration had lagged far behind, and the time had come when it was necessary for the purpose of relieving Parliament and getting proper attention to local affairs, that the powers of county government should be extended. There was great objection to entrusting that enlarged jurisdiction to the magistrates, and the magistrates themselves felt that. The noble Earl was a little inconsistent, for, while he pointed out the differences between the towns and counties, he also found fault with the Bill because the large boroughs were taken out of the County administration. He did not share in the objection which he knew had been felt to the change made in the House of Commons. There was a very great distinction between the large towns and the rural districts. With regard to the point of the simplification of areas, he agreed with the noble Earl.


said, he would call the noble Earl's attention to Clause 56, which contained very large powers for consolidating areas.


thought those provisions were not likely to work very satisfactorily, and they related to the future only. What they had to look at was the present state of the Bill, which had not simplified areas, but had introduced very great complications. It provided that where a rural sanitary district ran into more than one county the larger part would go to the administrative county, and the smaller to the non-administrative county. There would be new districts specially constituted for the purposes of election. As the Bill originally stood it went further and constituted District Councils. He believed Her Majesty's Government proposed to introduce next Session a Bill dealing with that matter. He heartily hoped they would, and he hoped in doing so they would simplify the areas. The real object was to avoid multiplicity of elections. It would be a perfect nuisance; it would make people weary of them, and keep the best men from coming forward. They should elect for one area, and let that Body choose committees for the purpose of conducting the business of the smaller areas. The Bill was of very considerable importance, because it placed county government on the basis of direct election by the electors themselves. He was not alarmed at the terrible prospects of caucuses and wire-pullers. The country was full of such bodies already. Were they really to be told at that time of day, after they had trusted the management of the Empire to a House of Commons which was elected by all the people, that they should feel alarm because the affairs of the counties were to be handed over to them? As regarded the actual amount of business transacted by Quarter Sessions, there had been the grossest exaggeration. It was not to be compared in amount with that administered by Boards of Guardians. They must not suppose they were conferring upon the Councils such extraordinary weight and importance. He looked forward to those Bodies obtaining much larger powers than those given by the Bill. He would now refer very shortly to a few provisions of the Bill. In the first place, he greatly rejoiced that it dealt with the Metropolis. There was not anyone, he believed, who was not quite satisfied that the Metropolitan Board of Works had existed long enough. He had himself no prejudice against that Body. In 1855 he had charge of the Bill which was brought into the other House by Sir Benjamin Hall to create the Metropolitan Board of Works. But it was obvious that the Board had existed long enough. The mode of election of the Board was indirect; it was elected by the Vestries, and that did not strengthen the argument for indirect election. The Bill of Her Majesty's Government had this strong recommendation—that it proposed another form of election, which he hoped would be attended with better results. A great many were afraid that a good deal of political feeling would be introduced at these elections. But it had been pointed out, he believed by Mr. Chamberlain, a very good judge, that when political interest was taken in an election there was a great deal more life in it and a great deal more attention was directed to it. It was a considerable safeguard against corruption when everybody had an interest in watching what was going on. He would only say broadly that with such strong political feeling in this country you could not expect to keep politics out of these elections. You must take the rough and the smooth, and he believed the consequences would be not so serious as some people expected. By this Bill we were going to introduce into our counties what from time immemorial had existed in the towns, and why should not the country people be able to conduct their business as well as the people of the towns? With regard to the police, he took exactly the opposite view to that of the noble Earl who had spoken last but one. He did not like the joint committee; he did not like the magistrates acting in conjunction with the County Councils in the matter; he did not understand why the County Councils should not discharge the duty as well as the Watch Committees in the towns. He thought it would be found very soon that these powers could be very safely transferred to the County Councils. It would not interfere with the duty of every Justice of the Peace, by virtue of his office, to see that the peace was preserved and to call upon the police to act for that purpose. As to the finance of the Bill, he could not say that he thought it was in a satisfactory position. None of the original arrangements contained in the Bill had been found satisfactory, and the Government, having no principle of their own on which to proceed, fell back on the proposal that a commission should be appointed practically without any guidance as to the principles on which to act, to apportion between the towns and the counties the sums which they were respectively to receive. All that was said was that an equitable division should be made as between towns and counties. The first proposal was that half the Probate Duty should be divided among them according to the number of indoor paupers in each county or district. He rejoiced that Her Majesty's Government had consented to abandon that proposal, not in the least because he did not think it was a great benefit that we should have a strict administration of the Poor Law, but because there was imminent danger of such a provision being taken advantage of to raise a prejudice against the administration of the Poor Law on the ground that it was harsh. He should regard that as a very great misfortune. He thought it would be far wiser that there should be no connection between the Poor Law administration and the financial provisions of this Bill. All sorts of suggestions had been made as to the principle of distribution, but he must candidly acknowledge that he had never seen a proposition thoroughly worked out which seemed to him to lead to satisfactory results. The only defence for the present proposal appeared to be that, the Government and the House of Commons not being able to satisfy themselves as to any proposed mode of division, the Bill fell back upon the simple plan of giving to each area that amount which it previously received from the Treasury. That had the merit of simplicity, but it was open to the obvious and serious objection that you would give money in proportion to the extravagance of each district. He believed it offered a distinct premium upon increasing the expenditure for the purpose of taking a larger share of the grant. But he freely admitted that he could not suggest anything better. He did not think that this system of distribution could be maintained, and he believed that some more scientific arrangement would hereafter be found necessary. The Bill, however, generally, was a thoroughly good step in the right direction, and he hoped their Lordships would pass it with a few changes.


My Lords, the speech of my noble Friend behind is, I think, the only one to which I need trouble to reply, and I am bound to say I should not be very careful to reply to him if he had not repeatedly claimed my sympathy in what he said. Now, I am bound to say that as I listened to him I thought that his whole language and tone was strained considerably too high for the very modest propositions contained in this Bill. He seems to be a person who insists in talking in blank verse on very commonplace topics. He summoned up dangers, talked of terrible catastrophes that were to come. He spoke, I think, of our dashing down hill with nobody looking after the reins, which were hanging about the horse's heels, and not knowing to what end we were to come. As to these dangers, not only do I not believe in them, but I do not in the least understand by what process of mind my noble Friend has got at them. I do not see the hill down which we are supposed to be dashing. I see a gentle slope, and it seems to me so gentle a slope that I cannot see whether we are going up or down. The revolutionary dangers of which my noble Friend spoke as attaching to the changes which the Bill will make in all these matters are so small that the whole vocabulary of my noble Friend seems to me utterly out of place. It seemed to me to be as inappropriate as his observations on a former occasion, when he told us we were sweeping away the jurisdiction of 300 years. That sounds very terrible, but, as a matter of fact, I do not think that a single one of the powers we are transferring from the Justices to the new Councils are older than the present century, except, perhaps, the power of dealing with county bridges, which dates as far back as Queen Anne; but that is the extreme of the terrible destruction of antiquity with which my noble Friend charges us. The power over the police dates from the creation of the present Police Force in 1839. The power over lunatics dates from a Statute of George III. in 1808. The power over contagious diseases dates from 1866; and the power of granting music and dancing licences from about 10 years ago. I have here a list which gives all the powers transferred from the Quarter Sessions to the County Councils, and I think I have mentioned them all. The power over reformatory and industrial schools began in 1853. The arrangements for Parliamentary polling districts and the registration of voters were introduced in Mr. Disraeli's Reform Bill of 1867. The Adulteration Acts were enacted in 1873, and the explosive measures only four or five years ago. I literally cannot find, except the power over county bridges, a single one of the powers which we are transferring from Quarter Sessions to County Councils which is older than the present century. In these circumstances, to talk of this measure as a great revolutionary measure, and as upsetting the arrangements of centuries, was as much out of place as was the language of the noble Earl (the Earl of Rosebery) when he said the Bill meant the dethronement of squirearchy. All this was but the height of exaggerated language. I believe this is an important Bill and will do a great deal of good; but it deals with much more prosaic matters than those re- ferred to by my noble Friend. There are two sorts of Bills which we are in the habit of passing through Parliament—one sort for gaining actual advantages—for the actual improvement of the machinery of our Constitution and laws; and there is another sort, and by no means the less important sort, of Bills, which, though they may improve the machinery of the law to a certain extent, are very much more directed to the removal of discontent, and the object of which is to make people more satisfied with the institutions under which they live. Now, the question we had to decide was, has a case arisen in the matter of the counties for applying legislation of this latter kind—legislation of the kind which is meant to make the people better satisfied with the institutions under which they live? Do not let me be represented as saying that we ought to consent to anything we think fundamentally bad. On the contrary, the whole of this measure is designed to do good, and by the nature of the case could not be exposed to that particular objection; and the question is whether we should get rid of the action of the magistrates, which, so far as it goes, is undoubtedly good. I say distinctly we do it in order to make our institutions more acceptable to the people; and, if you consider, you will see that there were elements of public opinion which I believe have only been kept inactive by the belief that the two Parties in the State were pledged to legislation on this subject, and that legislation must come sooner or later, and which, if unheeded, might have hardened discontent of, at all events, a very injurious, if not very dangerous, character. The first point that presented itself for consideration was the fact that municipal institutions had, as a matter of fact, been working in all parts of the country for a great number of years, not only without any dangers or revolutionary consequences, but also with the greatest possible advantage to the towns. I do not imagine anyone is prepared to say that the municipal institutions of the country have worked badly. It is true we have had the case of the Metropolitan Board of Works; but, as the noble Earl opposite has pointed out, that Body was elected under a system which is not that of our municipalities, which was much questioned at the time, and has been proved to have worked badly. The people in the counties had before them this particular form of government, working with great success in the towns, and they must have been conscious, at the same time, that many of the objections to its being applied to the counties were by the progress of events and the process of time slowly wearing away. It is said there is a great distinction and difference between the towns and the counties; and so there is. But it is one of those differences of which the interval is filled up by an infinite number of gradations. There are constantly growing up all over the counties villages which are becoming more and more approximate to the character of towns, and with the desires and needs and aspirations of towns. Well, then, my noble Friend behind me is quite right in saying that the question of space is a serious difficulty, and constitutes a substantial difference between the conditions of the counties and the towns; but modern science has enormously diminished the applicability of that difference of space, and we know that people can get about in many counties with almost as much facility of speed as they could about our larger towns in times past. Then there was the other consideration that our political conditions had considerably changed. My noble Friend, in his speech, referred to the dead levels we were producing, and said that that was contrary to the essential idea of the Constitution of this country, and spoke of it in very eloquent terms; but when he spoke those words I could not help looking up and seeing before me in the Gallery the well-known figure of a distinguished Statesman who has only just left the House (Viscount Sherbrooke). I remembered that passage in which he dwelt on that same destruction of eminences—the same dead level in the political conflicts of 22 years ago. My Lords, I never differed very much from my noble Friend in his opinion as to those political conflicts; but the thing is done. You have got now, as the result of the political movement of the last 25 years, county constituencies differing in no respect from your urban constituencies; and you expect these people, exercising as they do a voting power on all the most important questions of the Empire, to acquiesce in the doctrine that they are not fit to manage their own affairs. Whatever your opinions may be as to the extension of the suffrage, you have got to admit it as a fact, and one of its most important results is this—that it has made the difference between the municipal institutions of the boroughs and those of the counties more glaring; and, of course, with the spread of the vote comes the spread of political aspirations. Many persons who are now occupying prominent positions in political life used municipal institutions in towns as stepping-stones to Parliament. I can think now of two or three very distinguished men who have owed their eminence to the ability they have displayed in the discharge of a municipal office; and the people in the counties naturally ask why they should be debarred from similar opportunities of advancing to dignity and power. My Lords, all these considerations seem to me to justify the Government in coming to the conclusion that to leave this anomaly as it stands, and to exclude the electors who vote for Members of Parliament from governing their counties, is to run the risk of creating considerable discontent—discontent which, as it goes on, must inevitably take that pernicious and dangerous form of jealousy of the classes that are above them—and we have to ask ourselves, What possible evil have we to fear that should induce us to abstain from a measure by which an end can be put to this discontent? My Lords, I quite agree in the tribute that has been paid to the administration of the magistrates, and I am very sorry for any inconvenience the magistrates may suffer in consequence of the passing of this Bill; but, in considering the subject, it is absolutely impossible to say that that matter is sufficiently important to prevent the passing of the Bill, or that any danger can be conjured up by the greatest pessimist that can be compared to the danger of producing discontent and ill-feeling among the rural population. The evil of leaving things as they are seem to me much greater than any evil that could possibly come from the Bill. I prefer to argue this question on the presumption that there will be a considerable change in the class who are to administer the powers conferred by this Bill. The hope has been frequently expressed in this debate that no such change would take place, and that prac- tically the same class would be found foremost in the discharge of the duties of County Government as at present. I hope it may be so, but I do not look forward to it with absolute confidence. I am quite certain, however, that even if there is a great change in this respect, such are the safeguards which we have provided, and so little material danger is there in the subject which this Bill handles, that, even if you take the most gloomy view, I do not see any prospect of revolutionary change. I do not acknowledge that we are running a vehicle down the hill with the reins hanging about the horse's heels. All these fears appear to me to be exaggerated. I think, and I earnestly hope, that the forces which have given to the gentry of England their pre-eminence in their respective counties will still assert themselves. That pre-eminence is not due to the list of Statutes which I have cited as having been passed during the present century, but it is due to their essential qualities, their circumstances, and their ability. I do not in the slightest degree anticipate any social change or subversion as a consequence of this Bill. There may be more political life; there may be a multiplication of caucuses and wire-pullers. I regard these evils as matters of very slight importance. I believe that at the worst no harm will be done, and that the county populations will be more satisfied with our institutions than they now are; at the best, we have a right to anticipate that a very great improvement will be introduced into the management of our local affairs.


said, that there might be substantial reasons for keeping the County Divisions apart from the Parliamentary Divisions. In his opinion, however, it was desirable to do away with the most mischievous restriction as to the election of one member only for each district, and to provide a larger area for the elections. He also thought that provision ought to be made that those who contributed the rates which were to be raised should have full opportunity of stating their case to the Local Government Board either as ratepayers or as owners of property before any loan was raised, which must he paid for by those who owned property in the county. Considering the tributes which had been paid to the admirable manner in which the Justices had discharged their ad- ministrative functions, he thought their career was brought to an inglorious end by their being kicked downstairs in the manner proposed by the Bill.


said, he hailed with gladness the general principle of this Bill, and supported it with particuar satisfaction, because more than 30 years ago he first publicly advocated entrusting representatives of the ratepayers with a fair share in the management of county business. He thought the noble Marquess had made out a conclusive case for bringing in a measure framed on the general principles embodied in the Bill. He had long been of opinion that the ratepayers should have a voice in the expenditure of county funds. There was, however, one portion of the Bill against which he earnestly protested—namely, the provisions for dealing with the Metropolis. The greatest City in the world, with a population exceeding that of Scotland and two thirds of that of Ireland, concentrated round the seat of the Imperial Legislature and Government, and wealth far exceeding that of either of the two Sister Kingdoms, ought hardly to be dealt with very much in the same manner as an ordinary city. Capitals in many different ages and countries, from Constantinople under Justinian to Washington, by the wise foresight of the founders of the United States, had been exceptionally legislated for. He had hoped that this question, like that of licensing, would be postponed. This hasty legislation was no doubt due to the recent scandalous disclosures about the Metropolitan Board of Works, which had completely verified the predictions he had ventured to make in 1855, when the Metropolis Management Act was before Parliament. The corruption of that Body was, however, not to be hastily attributed to the system of secondary election, for he had long ago exposed the abuses of the St. Pancras and Marylebone Vestries, which were elected under a wide franchise, although, in fact, few voters took part in the elections.


said, that in Committee he would suggest some modifications in the Bill. With regard to the power given to the London Council to petition for a paid Chairman, he was of opinion that similar power should be given to the magistrates, as it would prove very useful in small counties, Indeed, in small Welsh counties it would be a necessary provision.

On Question, agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.