§ * LORD BELPER
, in rising to ask the Government whether they had further considered the claim of County Councils for some assistance towards county expenditure during the current financial year, owing to the fact that the last instalment of the Government grant on account of local taxation, licences, and Probate Duty would not be paid to the County Councils within the financial year, said: It will be within the recollection of your Lordships that some two months ago I put a question upon this subject to the noble Lord opposite, in reply to which he distinctly declined to acknowledge any liability in respect of the arrears of payments for main roads; but as I understood the noble Lord intimated that the Government were perfectly willing to consider any suggestion that might be made in consequence of the exceptional position of the County Councils with regard to their finances during their first year. I think that in a very few words I can show that the position is really exceptional, and that the County Councils are entitled to the favourable consideration of the Government in order that they should not be put in a worse position than they will be in future years. In the first place, with regard to the expenditure of the County Councils, it is perfectly clear that their expenditure will be of an abnormal character during this financial year. They will have to pay the half of the expenditure on main roads for the last half year; and although, of course, that is not a point with which the Government can acknowledge that they have anything to do, yet it must be taken into account in considering what the total expenditure of the County Councils will be this year. But beyond that they will undoubtedly have to find money for an expenditure quite as large as, if not larger, than in any preceding year. They will have to pay the whole 1784 of the expenditure on main roads during this year, and I understand they will have to provide for the whole of the-grants to Local Authorities which come within the financial year. Moreover, I understand, from the answer given to a question in the other House, that in counties where there are what are called. Quarter Sessional Boroughs (that is, with a population of about 10,000), they will be bound to pay back to the Quarter Sessional Boroughs the expenditure on police from last September to last March. Therefore, not only will they have' to meet the grants to the Local Authorities during one year from the date on which their term of office began, the 25th March, but their liability so far as Quarter Sessional Boroughs are concerned will begin from Michaelmas of last year. That being the case with respect to their expenditure, I would like to direct your Lordships' attention to their position with regard to receipts. As your Lordships are aware, the Government propose to pay the grants which are to be given for local taxation licenses, and the Probate Duty to the counties according to their respective claims as far as possible during the financial year. I understand that the first payment will be made in November, a payment of considerable amount. I conclude that there will probably be another payment made early in next year and before the end of this financial year; but it is clear that the balance of these payments cannot be made until after the end of the financial year, because the amount to be paid depends upon the amount to be received from the Probate Duty and from the local taxation licenses in these counties; and, although I give credit to the Government for being anxious to make their payments as conveniently as possible to the County Councils, it is clear that they cannot give them that which they do not know will be received, and therefore the last payment, whatever it may be, cannot be paid at all events until some time has elapsed, after the accounts of the year have been made out. There has been one answer—which I have heard to that contention. I hardly feel justified in dignifying it by the name of an argument; hut it has been said—"Oh, it will be all right; you will yet your money; you will certainly get it two or 1785 three months later, but it will he all the same to you." I do not think it requires any very great force of reasoning to point out that if you have your expenditure running on as usual, and if one of your most important receipts is postponed for two or three months it is not precisely the same thing, so far as your accounts go, as if you had received it at the proper time. So far as the County Councils are concerned, this payment will not only be in arrear this year, but in every year to come; therefore it will clearly be impossible for any Finance Committee with proper regard for good financial principles to treat as an asset within the financial year a payment which will always be made two or three months after the close of the financial year. The result is that at all events for this year the County Councils will be docked of that amount of money which will be paid after the end of the financial year. Now, it is said that this will be a very small sum. It may be a very small sum in regard to the gross amount which the County Council receive, but it may be a very considerable sum relatively to the amount which the County Councils will have to dispose of for their own purposes. It is strictly laid down by Act of Parliament that these payments to Local Authorities shall be made in a certain order, and that every payment to the Boards of Guardians and the other Local Authorities shall be made before a single penny can be devoted to the relief of the County Councils. Therefore although this may only be a quarter of the whole amount, it is very probable that that quarter may be really half of the funds which the County Council may have to devote to its own purposes. Your Lordships will therefore see that this is a matter which enormously affects the financial prospects of the County Councils. I think I have shown that their expenditure this year will not be less, but will be really considerably greater than it will be in years to come, and that during this year the amount to be contributed by Government will be considerably less than it will be in future years. Therefore it is clear that the County Councils will be placed in a very unfavourable position, and that the surplus which is necessary to make up the amount required to meet the expenditure will necessitate an increase in 1786 the rates, and make them not only heavier than they will be in the future, but I believe heavier than they have been under the old Quarter Sessions. The County Council of which I have the honour to he Chairman, that of Notts, has already passed a Resolution urging the Government to give the matter consideration, and I believe similar resolutions would have been passed by other County Councils if it were not that many of them have devoted themselves to endeavouring to get from the Government some permanent contribution instead of the proportion of the Van and Wheel Tax which is placed at their disposal. I have not the least intention of going into that matter to-day. I prefer to confine my remarks to what I may call the urgent necessities of the case. I beg to ask the noble Lord the question which I put upon the Paper.
In the absence through illness of my noble Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board (Earl Brownlow) it devolves upon me to reply to this question; and I am sorry that the answer I have to give will not be favourable to the noble Lord. I shall endeavour, if the House will permit me, to go somewhat into detail in the matter of figures in order to prove to the best of my ability that the assumption upon which the noble Lord's argument rests—namely, that the County Council has a claim upon the Government—is really without foundation. Supposing the Local Government Bill had not passed, the sum of the grants in aid—taking the case most favourable to the noble Lord—including the extra quarter of a million of a temporary road grant, would have been something less than £3,000,000. But the value of the Licensing Duties handed over to the County Council will, when they are all paid, amount to £4,700,000. The noble Lord said something about the time of payment, and what he said showed that he was not aware that the position of the County Council would be really more favourable than he seems to anticipate. If I understood him rightly, he did not anticipate that there would be any payment during the present financial year until the month of December. I may inform the noble Lord that the first payment will be made during the currency of the present month. If the Local 1787 Government Bill had not passed, nothing would have been paid before the month of September, less than half of the grant would have been paid by the end of this year, and more than half between January 1 and March 31. Now, in the present year, under the conditions I have indicated, the first payment will be made during the currency of the present month and the second instalment before the end of November, making together £2,350,000, or half of the whole sum which is devoted to the purposes of the County Council. The remainder will be paid as early next year as possible. Certainly, enough will be paid to make up the total of £3,000,000 which, under the old system, would have been received before the end of the financial year. Under the former arrangement rather less than £1,500,000 would have been received by December 31, but under the present system £2,350,000 will be received by November 30. The noble Lord argued as if this was a question of the County Council. The real way to look at it is to consider the position of the ratepayers. Undoubtedly the County Councils have to discharge some obligations which were not laid upon the Quarter Sessions, and consequently the rate is not levied by Quarter Sessions. Where that is the case, the burdens are really burdens transferred from one Local Authority to another. They are not increased burdens laid upon the ratepayers. If the County Councils say that they have to pay very heavily for other authorities, the reply is that the burdens on the ratepayers are not new. The noble Lord, having concerned himself with County Government, will know that a very large sum, amounting to £600,000, has been given to the Boards of Guardians for the first time under the 6th sub-section of the 121st section of the Local Government Act. That is a burden taken off the constituents of the Boards of Guardians; and, therefore, if the County Council rate seems to be larger, the rate levied by the Boards of Guardians for their purposes will to that extent be smaller. My Lords, I should like further to add that there is really no ground for the suggestion which seemed to run through the remarks of the noble Lord, both on this occasion and on the former one, that something has been withheld from the 1788 County Councils which would have been paid to the Quarter Sessions if the Local Government Bill had not passed.
§ * LORD BELPER
The noble Lord misapprehends me. I do not think I said anything to indicate that I was under that impression.
Then I entirely misunderstood what the noble Lord said, and I, of course, accept his disclaimer. I would just like to make this clear—entirely acquitting the noble Lord of having fallen into the error—that it is a necessary consequence of the method upon which grants in aid are calculated that you cannot say what the amount of the grant in aid is until you know what sum it is to be calculated in aid of. Therefore, in former times the grant in aid seemed always to be for one year, when it was really for the previous year. The grant to the County Council cannot be calculated in a different way, and cannot be paid relatively earlier than was the case with the former grants in aid. Now, my Lords, I think I am entitled to make this point. There really has never been any promise on the part of the Government of such a temporary payment as the noble Lord suggests should be made. No promise was held out in the Budget, either of last year or this year; no promise was held out while the Local Government Bill was passing through either House of Parliament, and no such claim was ever made during that time. The present Government have really given a very substantial increase in aid of local burdens from the Imperial Exchequer. In 1887–88 the sum of a quarter of a million was given as a temporary road grant. In 1888–89, as I have already told your Lordships, nearly £600,000 more has been given to the Boards of Guardians. There was a sum of £542,000 paid in the month of March, and a further sum of £46,000 was paid only last week; that is a temporary grant out of the Probate Duties allocated in the financial year 1888-89. This year the Government—that is, outside the Van and Wheel Tax, to which the noble Lord alluded—have given what they estimate to be an increase of £1,700,000 from the Imperial to the Local Revenue. I quite agree that the whole of that sum will not go in aid of the burdens of the County Council; a great part of it—I think not much less 1789 than £12,000, probably a little more—will go in respect of the grant for indoor poor and other purposes; but giving that grant in aid to the County Council is still a very substantial relief to the local ratepayer. There is only one other point to which I wish to refer, and that is as to the question of roads. The noble Lord said that a considerably greater burden had been laid upon the County Council for the maintenance of roads than had been the case formerly. Partly that has been in substitution of the relief of payment from the subordinate Local Authority.
§ * LORD BELPER
I do not wish to interrupt the noble Lord, but I did not in the least make any claim on the ground of roads, because I understood that that question was answered specifically in this House some short time ago; but I did, of course, notice the fact that the County Councils would have to bear not only the whole of the maintenance of main roads for this year, but also the last half of the year which is in arrear.
I perfectly understood that, and that is the point I was coming to. I do not think there is any ground for the assumption that the County Council will have to pay the whole additional expense of the roads during the present financial year. I know there is diversity of practice in some counties. If the County of Notts has taken the course of keeping up the roads without contracting for their maintenance with the parishes, then, no doubt, the County Council will this year be in an unfortunate position. But I am informed that that is a course taken by an extremely small number of counties. The great majority have contracted with the Local Authorities for the maintenance of the roads. My Lords, I have endeavoured to look at this question from the point of view of perfect fairness, and I think I have made out the case that the burden which the ratepayer, on the whole, will have to pay to all the authorities to whom he has to pay will not be greater than it has been in previous years; and I venture to suggest that that would be a wise and prudent line of argument for the County Councils to take up if they are pressed by their constituents on the ground that the rates which they levy are larger than those which have been in 1790 times past levied by the Quarter Sessions.
§ * EARL SPENCER
My Lords, I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord rather misconstrued the tone of my noble Friend's question. My noble Friend did not take the view that the Government have not fulfilled their pledge, or that they were in arrear with payments of grants for last year; but the point which he made, and that with great force, was this—that it was of the greatest possible importance to the different County Councils that the Government should advance money on account of the new financial arrangements with regard to county expenditure, and not leave them in a difficult position on account of the new charges put upon them. That is a very important point, and I would remind the noble Lord that there have been a great number of additional charges which the county have to pay, such as those in respect of union officers, and Boards of Guardians will be in great difficulty if the county are not able to meet those charges pretty promptly. Many of these payments, again, can only be made, by the statute, out of the Exchequer Fund, and this fund does not exist at all until the Government makes some contribution to it. Though I agree with what the noble Lord said about the general relief of the taxpayer, and the improved position in which the county taxpayers will be placed, it seems to me that the noble Lord somewhat underrates the importance of prompt payment on the part of Her Majesty's Exchequer. It is satisfactory to hear that the Government propose to make a payment in July as well as in November, and I sincerely trust they will be able to do that, because I feel convinced very considerable difficulty will arise in County Councils if they have not some money from the Exchequer Fund in order to meet their liabilities. It would be a great misfortune if a higher rate had to be imposed this year in counties, because it would disappoint extremely those who expect great benefits will be derived from this Act. There is also the point which was alluded to by the noble Lord as to the change in the financial proposals of Her Majesty's Government. Whether they were too liberal or not is not for me to say; but it will be recollected that a hope 1791 was held out that a very much larger rate of subvention would be made, and that something like £800,000, which it was expected would be realized from the Van and Wheel Tax, would go in relief of local taxation. There is a great feeling on the part of many County Councils that the Government ought to have fulfilled their pledge with regard to that matter, but that is a different point from that which my noble Friend raised.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
I wish to make one observation only with reference to the last sentence of the noble Earl's speech. I have heard that one or two County Councils have passed resolutions in favour of the Van and Wheel Tax; but I think the noble Earl a little exaggerated when be said that was the opinion of a great many of them. My own impression is exactly the other way.
§ * EARL SPENCER
I agree with the noble Marquess in reference to the position taken up by many County Councils as to that particular tax. He was perfectly right that many County Councils would not give an opinion in favour of it. What I meant was that the general opinion is that, in some shape or another, the Government should fulfil their promise of a larger contribution towards the relief of local rates.
* LORD DENMAN
My Lords, the whole complaint in this matter, I think, is that the measure was passed without the advice and almost without the consent of your Lordships' House. The suspension of the Standing Orders in both Houses of Parliament was perfectly in accordance with what has been done on other occasions. I was told that it was not possible to pass and repeal a Bill in the same Session; but that is not the case, because the Jewish Disabilities Bill—one of the best Acts that ever was passed—was passed and repealed in the same Session. In the Bill of Mr. Campbell of 1831 for a general registration there was a clause that the Bill might be repealed at any time in the same Session. That was a most remarkable Session, because it ended on the 17th December, and Parliament was adjourned to the 17th January. My Lords, I voted against the Local Govern- 1792 ment Act and tried to repeal it, and the more I see of it the more I dislike it. If Columbus's egg was unboiled, and like Humpty Dumpty fell from a wall, not all the king's horses and all the king's men could place it on that wall again; but if it had been hard-boiled it might have stood upright, whatever Party or Parties had introduced it. I see that everything will have to be done with one quarter of the number of Magistrates, and the duties of rural Local Government Boards and of attending to the roads will be cast upon the County Councils in addition to their former duties. I believe the Earl of Rosebery himself, whose headache is so described by Punch, would wish to see it repealed, and that everyone would prefer legislation to administration with a smaller staff, and that the observations of the noble Lord were not justified.
§ * LORD BELPER
My Lords, I only wish to say a few words in regard to the remarks of the noble Lord. I did not refer to the position of other Local Authorities. I fully admit that they will receive a larger grant in aid in the future than in the past, and I never questioned that the Government had carried out their pledges in this respect; but the point which I intended to draw your Lordships' attention to was that the County Councils will this year have to ask for a much higher rate if the Government payment is not made within the financial year. What has been said by the noble Lord in answer does not, I think, quite deal satisfactorily with the matter. With regard to the remarks of the noble Lord as to main roads if the Council contracts with the Local Authority for their repair, undoubtedly the whole expense will not fall within this financial year; but it only postpones the evil day, for whenever we do take over the management of the main roads into our own hands entirely, we shall have to pay both the amount due for last year and the sum due for the current year, and, therefore, I do not think the noble Lord's suggestion on that point would put us on any better footing. It is not a question of a larger sum being paid to the Local Authorities than has been paid in the past, but the importance of the point as regards the payment to the County Councils during the financial 1793 year is one which can hardly admit of doubt.