§ EARL SPENCER,
in rising to call attention to the decision of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, on a case submitted by the Somersetshire County Council, in relation to the respective powers of the County Council and the Standing Joint Committee, as to the management, control, maintenance, and erection of buildings connected with Assize, Sessions, and Justices' Courts, police stations, &c, and to ask whether Her Majesty's Government intend to introduce any Bill to amend the Local Government Act in respect to Standing Joint Committees, said: My Lords, I have put down on the Notice Paper a question which is of considerable interest to the various County Councils in the country. By the Act of 1888, Clause 29, power was given, when any difference of opinion arises between a County Council and the Standing Joint Committee, for a case to be stated to the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court, in order to obtain the opinion of the Court, on the subject in dispute. 1737 In consequence of this, the County Council of Somerset, having a dispute as to their jurisdiction with the Standing Joint Committee, referred the case to the High Court, and the High Court gave an important judgment on the subject. It refers to the management and control of county buildings, and the question was whether the actual control rested with the Standing Joint Committee, or whether the County Council had jurisdiction over those buildings. In the Report of that case the head note is as follows: —A difference of opinion having arisen between the Somerset County Council and the Standing Joint Committee as to the maintaining and repairing buildings for Assizes and Sessions purposes: Held, that though the property is vested in the County Council, the Joint Committee have complete control over, and can direct the expenditure of funds which it is the duty of the County Council to find the means of supplying. Held, further, that both bodies can issue regulations for managing the buildings so long as these do not conflict.Now, my Lords, that is a very important decision, and a great many of the County Councils in England have read it with considerable surprise. They were quite aware there was some ambiguity in the wording of the Act, and I think I may say here that there is considerable ambiguity as to other clauses of the Act; at the same time, they did not expect that such complete control was to be handed over to the Standing- Joint Committee. The result of it is that in most counties hardly any buildings at all, except the bridges, remain under the control of the County Council. It may happen that the County Council have to erect a Council-room. If the Council-room is to provide accommodation for the Justices or the Judges, then the County Council no longer have control over the Council-room, and the Standing Joint Committee have, by this decision, the complete ordering of the room, without consulting the County Council at all. All police stations, all Magistrates' rooms, and any room which may be used by the Magistrates or the police, are handed over bodily to the Standing Joint Committee, and the County Council are obliged to pay whatever sum the Standing Joint Committee may order. That is very clear from this decision, and Mr. Justice Cave distinctly says: "The only thing which the County Council have got to do is to pay the Bill." My Lords, I think that is a 1738 very serious matter, and it is one on which a very strong feeling exists throughout the country. There is, moreover, one extra important matter in the judgment which, I think, needs elucidation, and which, I think, if not dealt with by Her Majesty's Government, may really create a very serious difficulty indeed. It is with regard to the last part of the inquiry, namely—To which body is transferred the power of making Standing Orders and making regulations as to the general management and control of the said buildings or any of them.Now, with regard to that, Mr. Justice Mathew, who was one of the Judges of the High Court who gave the opinion in this case, says this—Power appears to be conferred on both parties, and they may conflict with each other.That is a very serious matter. I think a very serious conflict of opinion might arise between the Joint Committee and the County Council in a matter of this sort, and it is very poor consolation to read the end of the learned Judge's Judgment, where he says—If a question should arise as to which order should be obeyed, the Courts, I trust, when that question arises, will have no difficulty in saying what the proper decision ought to be.That, I repeat, is a very poor consolation to those who are administering affairs in the County Councils. Thus, there may be distinct orders given, one set of orders being given by the County Council, and another set of orders given by the Standing Joint Committee; and I think it is very important that the Government should state whether they intend to deal with that matter, and should give their opinion, if possible, on the whole question. I am not quite clear whether, under Section 29, there is an appeal. The words of the section are very doubtful, but I think, from an answer that has been given by the President of the Local Government Board in another place, he seemed to imply that an appeal in another important case, the Warminster case, might go forward. If there had been an appeal pending in this Somerset case, of course I should not have troubled your Lordships with it, but as a considerable time has elapsed and no appeal has yet been brought, I think I am entitled to brine this important matter forward, and 1739 ask the opinion of the Government upon it. My Lords, I cannot help saying a word or two upon the general question of Standing Joint Committees, because this has opened the question, and it is one in which, sooner or later, some change must take place. When the Bill of 1888 was passed there was very considerable objection, not only on the side of the House to which I belong but on the other side too, to the establishment of a dual authority in the new County Administration. It was said that there was no reason whatever why, if a Municipal Council, it through their Watch Committee, could manage the police of their boroughs, the new County Councils, either by themselves or through a Committee, should not manage the police of the county, and, with regard to that matter, a strong feeling was expressed. I venture to say that, though happily in the case of my own county no conflict has arisen between the Standing Joint Committee and the County Council, for nothing could have been more conciliatory than the attitude of both the County Council and the Standing Joint Committee, still there have been very serious administrative difficulties to be dealt with, and we have seen how easily very serious difficulties might arise. Take the question of finance. I believe I am not overstating the case when I say that in most counties the Standing Joint Committee have the control of one-third, or more than one-third, of the whole expenditure of the county. The whole of that third of the expenditure is taken out of the control of those who are elected by the ratepayers whose representatives have nothing to do but to carry out the orders of the Standing Joint Committee. Then with regard to the police. The police in most counties, it certainly has been so in mine, have been employed in a great variety of duties. Happily, there has been very little crime, and they can very easily carry out many administrative Acts which, without their assistance and Services, it would have been very difficult for the county to have carried out. Take, for instance, the Weights and Measures Act, a measure which I am sorry to say is going to throw perfectly needlessly an enormous expense upon various counties. That Act has, in most counties, been admirably administered through the 1740 police. Now, the Act which has been brought in makes it impossible, in a great many places, and certainly in my county, for the police to continue administering that Act. At the same time, we have in various places police stations and other facilities connected with the police service, and the County Council, in administering the Weights and Measures Act must have constant recourse to police stations, and in some respects to the police. If the Joint Committee, who have the control of police stations, are in opposition and in conflict on many subjects, as they might well be with the County Council, we, who represent the ratepayers of the county, would be put to an enormously increased expenditure, and there would be constant friction and difficulty in administering this part of the Act. Take another very important matter—we had a Debate on the subject, your Lordships will remember, a short time ago—that is the Contagious Diseases of Animals Act. That Act could not be worked, I venture to say, except at enormous expense, without having recourse to the police. Happily, we have come to terms with our Standing Joint Committee; but if the Standing Joint Committee resisted and refused to give the assistance of the police for the purpose of carrying out this Act, we should have disease among animals spread broadcast all over the country. Those, my Lords, are two instances where I think the dual authority works exceedingly ill. Then I will give another instance. Take the appointment of officers. There is no more important officer than the Clerk to the Council. The gentleman who is Clerk to the Council has generally been Clerk of the Peace. As your Lordships know, Lord Lieutenants of counties formerly had the appointment of Clerks of the Peace. When this new Act came into force those appointments, which have been taken from the Lord Lieutenants, were given to the Standing Joint Committee. Mark what the result of that is. The Standing Joint Committee, half of whom might have been perfectly ignorant of any of this new work connected with the County Council, have the appointment of the most important officer of the Council. The Council have no voice in the matter whatever. That seems to me to be a very gross 1741 scandal, and it might lead to very great difficulty indeed. Then take the question of clerks. The County Council have a great deal more work than Quarter Sessions, and in many cases they have had to increase their staff, but they cannot appoint their clerk if that clerk had had anything to do, say, in collecting fees for the Magistrates; according to the interpretation given to the Act that matter would have to go to the Standing Joint Committee. My Lords, I have given those instances to show how difficult the working of this dual system is, and how important it is that some change should take place with regard to it. Now, I understand that in some counties great difficulties have arisen—in Leicestershire a very serious conflict of opinion has arisen between the County Council and the Standing Joint Committee in regard to a police rate. I am informed that a good many County Councils in England have petitioned for the abolition of Standing Joint Committees. There is one county which has done a very remarkable thing, that is the county of Gloucester. In the opinion of the majority of the County Council of Gloucester the Standing Joint Committee seems to be so much more important than the Council itself that they have established a Standing Joint Committee twice the size of the County Council. I will explain to your Lordships how this is: they have appointed the whole Council to be the representatives of the Council on the Standing Joint Committee, and the Magistrates have to double that number. So that you have this extraordinary anomaly, that you have a Standing Joint Committee twice the size of the Council, and you would have, therefore, to build a room not for the Council but for the Standing Joint Committee. My Lords, I do not know why the wise people of Gloucester did this; but it shows what importance they attach to the Standing Joint Committee, and I confess it rather points to some absurdity existing in this arrangement. I have thought it right to allude to one or two of these points because they are points of great interest in the country, and as this decision in the Somersetshire ease brings up the whole matter it may be desirable, if the Government are going to deal with it, that they should deal with other points as well as this point with regard to the 1742 buildings. It is for that reason that I have troubled the House with these few observations, and I now ask the question of which I have given notice.
§ LORD BASING
My Lords, before my noble Friend replies to the inquiry which has been made of him I should like to say one or two words, because my experience differs somewhat from that of the noble Lord who has brought forward this question. I am far from disputing the justice of the criticisms he has made upon the various anomalous provisions which pervade the Local Government Act in respect of the Standing Joint Committees. We all know that they were introduced into the Bill of 1888 as a sort of compromise, and like many compromises it has entailed many clumsy, awkward, and inconsistent provisions. But I confess, although I greatly deprecate the pushing home of the decision of the Judges in the Somersetshire case, I think County Councils in many quarters have been over frightened by the apparent completeness and fulness of that decision. At all events, in the County Council over which I have tire honour to preside, it has made little, if any, differance in the mode of conducting business as regards buildings, repairs, and the maintenance of works. As regards my own County Council in Hampshire, they certainly consider that as they find the money and find the officers, it is only under their own Committees' care that important public works could be managed, and, therefore, they do not hold that the County Surveyor is at the beck and call of the Standing Joint Committee, nor do they consider that the Standing Joint Committee is competent to put their hands into the till of the County Council. They, therefore, conduct all the business with regard to the police buildings and Courts of Justice; they entrust the Committees who have to do the work with power to do it, but with instructions that they are to observe the requirements of the Standing Joint Committee. In that way the matter has worked very well, and, though difficulties have been raised from time to time, we have found that, with forbearance and good temper, anything like a conflict has been avoided hitherto, and so I think it will be hereafter. Nevertheless, the provisions to 1743 which the noble Earl has alluded may, at any time, provoke hostility and cause dissension where none now exist. It should always be borne in mind that one moiety of the Standing Joint Committee are themselves elected members of the County Council, and their places may be filled by other persons if they fail to represent the interest of the ratepayers in any way. I should be glad if the Government could see their way towards proposing some change. At the same time, if they were to open this question of the Local Government Act of 1888, with the view of making all the alterations which the little experience we have now had during two years has shown to be necessary, I am afraid they could hardly stop at the Standing Joint Committee, but that they would find far more than that enactment requires elucidation if not amendment and change.
§ EARL COWPER
My Lords, as the whole subject of County Councils and Standing Joint Committees has been raised by the noble Earl who asked this question, I may be allowed, perhaps, as a Chairman of a County Council, to say that, though in the first instance I was certainly inclined to think it would have been better to have had the Police Committee appointed by the County Council, like all other Committees, and that it would be quite safe to entrust the management of the police to the representatives of the ratepayers, yet I do hope we shall not have any alteration made now, for I think that just as we have begun to get into the performance of our work, and just as every Committee has begun to understand its business, and to know what it has to do, there ought to be some very clear, very decided, and very great proof of positive inconvenience existing, before we begin tinkering once more with this measure, after so short an interval since it was passed. I think, in calling out for change, we should be rather like the gentleman in a famous sporting novel, who was always beginning to alter his stirrups just as the hounds began to run. I can safely say that in my county there has been no friction whatever. The first thing that happened was that a great number of members appointed upon the Standing Joint Committee by the Magistrates were members of the County Council, while, on the other hand, a great many of those 1744 appointed by the County Council were Magistrates, so that many members of the Standing Joint Committee scarcely know whether they were put upon it by one body or the other. I confess I think the instances given by my noble Friend where difficulty might arise were certainly not numerous, and are such as, if you look into them, either do not exist, or could not easily be avoided. For instance, with regard to the appointment of the Clerk of the Peace, would it be fair that the Magistrates, who necessarily trust very much to the Clerk of the Peace, should have no voice in the matter? I think they should have as much to do with the appointment of the Clerk of the Peace as the other body. The appointment must either be a joint one or there must be two offices, which would probably entail a waste of money. Then, as regards the Weights and Measures Act. I certainly should be prepared, if it were necessary, to contend that it would be better not to leave the carrying out of that Act in the hands of the police. I may say that we have discussed the matter completely and fully, and we have ended by deciding that the police should have nothing whatever to do with the matter beyond seeing that in this as in all other matters the law is carried out. My Lords, I only rose to say that I hope we shall not have any tinkering with this County Council Act, at any rate at present, until we have seen a little better how it works, and, at the same time, may have been able to see whether other alterations might not be advantageously made.
§ THE EARL OF HARROWBY
My Lords, I should like, in a few words, to support what my noble Friend opposite has said, having had some experience in County Council work as Chairman. In my own Council, I may say, we have had no difficulty whatever in working this measure. We laid down, and very rightly, I think, that the members of the County Council should be all non-Magistrates. That was a happy arrangement, but the effect of it was this: that half of the Standing Joint Committee was composed of Magistrates, and the Magistrates themselves elected several members who were on the County Council. As a matter of fact, the County Council has a very considerable majority 1745 on the Standing Joint Committee. But no practical difficulty has arisen hitherto, though the County Council did petition to have a change, but only half the County Council was present, and the resolution was carried only by a small majority. I think it would be very unwise to make a change at the present time, without further experience. All the arguments we have heard this evening in favour of a change are just the arguments we heard at the time of the passing of the Bill, and I would add, for myself, the opinion that at present it is not advisable to change the present system. I think in an important matter of this kind we should get all the experience we can before making alterations. Every year we are picking up more experience, and I think it would be very unwise to again unsettle this matter without more practical knowledge of how it works.
§ LORD MONK BRETTON
My Lords, as Chairman of another County Council, I should like to say a few words. I differ from the two noble Lords who have just spoken. I should be very glad to hear the Government declare that they thought the Standing Joint Committees could be dispensed with, and that they were prepared to bring in a Bill to abolish them. I say that without the least personal feeling against the Standing Joint Committees, because, in the case of the County Council to which I had the honour to be elected, we have worked most harmoniously with the Standing Joint Committee, and there has been a fixed determination on both sides to avoid any possible collision or friction. But I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that the existence of a third statutory body, alongside of the Quarter Sessions and County Council, is surplusage, and tends to render the transaction of business cumbersome. Assuming that the Standing Joint Committees are to be continued until we have further experience of the working of the Local? Government Act for some time longer, and for certain purposes, I still hope that the powers given in regard to county buildings, which is the immediate question raised by Lord Spencer, will not be withdrawn from the County Councils; and I use the word "withdrawn" expressly because it was generally supposed that the Local Government Act 1746 intended to make the County Councils really the possessors of the county buildings. It was generally believed that the Act had done so, but then came the decision in the Somersetshire case, and the decision in the Somersetshire case has left the County Council with a dry legal estate. I admit that the Act is not very clear, and the position is rather an embarrassing one. The prevailing opinion, however, was that the County Councils were, to all intents and purposes, the owners of the buildings, subject to the obligation to provide the necessary accommodation for the Justices, to allow the proper use of them for the Justices and for the police; and that the Joint Committee was a sort of tutelary Divinity, to intervene if that obligation was not fulfilled. Now, the effect of the Somersetshire decision is that the Joint Committee are the absolute masters, and that they have power to erect, repair decorate what they please, and as they please, and then, as my noble Friend said, send the bill to the County Council, who have nothing to do but to pay it. Well, that, I think, is a very anomalous and a very unsatisfactory condition of things, and the decision puts the County Council in a very false position. My noble Friend Lord Basing pointed out that the Joint Committee was a body on which the County Council was represented in equal numbers with the Quarter Sessions. That is perfectly true; but there is this peculiarity in the case, that this Joint Committee, on which the two bodies are represented equally, is the master of the one and is not the master of the other. No doubt there are a good many ambiguities and anomalies in the Act, which further experience will show require correction. I am content to wait for those; but as regards this particular point, it appears to me that a short Bill might very well be brought in to prevent the real intention of the Act from being defeated, as it were, by an accident; and that that might be done without waiting for other Amendments or alterations of the Act. As I said at first, I hope that before a very long time the Joint Committees will be dispensed with altogether, but as regards this question of public buildings it does seem to me to be so inconvenient a state of things which we are placed in by this Somersetshire decision, that I trust the 1747 Government will say they are prepared to bring in a short Bill which will restore the position which the Local Government Act intended.
§ LORD WENLOCK
My Lords, if yon are not wearied with the remarks of the various Chairmen of County Councils who have addressed your Lordships, I should like to say a few words with regard to the question which has been asked by my noble Friend Lord Spencer. One point which has not been brought out, I think, is as regards the financial question. As Chairman of the Finance Committee of my own Council, I found there was some danger of their losing the grant made he Government, and that the Finance Committee would find itself mulcted, without any fault at all of its own, to the extent of one-half of the loans of the county. That is an important point, and is a matter to he guarded against. Section 80 of the Local Government Act gives the control to the Finance Committee in all financial matters, but now that control seems to be taken out of its hands. Therefore, I think, in this respect there is a source of great danger to the ratepayers, unless Government finds some satisfactory means of placing the matter on a more satisfactory footing. In my own experience there has been some slight friction, as regards buildings, between the County Council and the Standing Joint Committee. It was only the other day that I received, as Chairman of the Finance Committee, a Report calling my attention to the fact that my own action upon the Standing Joint Committee was unsatisfactory. The matter in question was one in which the Standing Joint Committee recommended that a large sum should be expended on county buildings; and, as Chairman of the Finance Committee, I thought the expenditure ought to be carefully watched. The Council were very much with me in the matter, and against the Standing Joint Committee; and if it had not been for this decision in the Somersetshire case, I believe they would have taken the matter up to the High Court. I hope, after the remarks which have been made by the noble Lords, who have spoken from experience of the working of the Act in their own Councils, Government may see their way to put this question on a more satisfactory footing, 1748 because we have now had experience of the difficulty in working which may arise and which may become more serious in future.
THE EARL OF JERSEY
My Lords, it is evident this is a question which excites considerable interest among County Councillors; and I think it is very fortunate that we should have had the varied opinions and experience of so many Chairmen of County Councils The question of the noble Lord may be divided under two heads, one dealing with the Somersetshire case, and the other dealing with the wider question of Standing Joint Committees. I need not. I think, follow the noble Lord right through what he stated with regard to the Somersetshire case, because the decision was a very simple one, handing over to the Standing Joint Committee the control of all the buildings which have to do with the administration of justice or with the police. By that decision the County Councils are declared not to' have the right of exercising the powers which they originally thought they had^ but it may be that that interpretation of the law by the High Court of Justice; has reference to what the intention of Parliament may have been when the-Act was passed. But I must point out that it does not rest with a Department of the Government to interfere at all with the law. They must accept it as it is laid down by the Courts of Justice. Still I may state that the Government are quite alive to the importance of this point, and that, whenever a Bill is brought in to deal with Amendments generally, which may be found desirable; of the Local Government Act, it will not be left out of consideration. Now, as to the wider point, as to the existence or non-existence of the Standing Joint Committees, I must observe that this system was adopted by Parliament, after careful consideration and discussion, as the best means of meeting what was an acknowledged difficulty. The Joint Standing Committee is, as has been pointed out, composed not of aliens, but half of the County Council and half of Magistrates, and though it is perfectly true there may be opportunities for friction to arise, yet I think the experience of most Chairmen of County Councils is—it certainly is my own—that those opportunities have not been taken, because there has been a 1749 very strong desire on the part of members of County Councils generally to facilitate the working of the Local Government Act, and there has also been shown that strong common-sense which I hope will always be a characteristic of the English people when they are entrusted with the carrying out of any important work. But, my Lords, it does not rest with me to enter into a long defence of the Standing Joint Committees. As has been pointed out, the Bill has only been passed within the last two years, and certainly the experience of the Department so far has been that it has worked well. In the circumstances, I am sure the noble Earl will not be surprised when I tell him that it is not the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill upon the subject. I do not know really that I can say more than that.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
My Lords, I cannot say that I have derived any great comfort from the speech of my noble Friend, who has just sat down, on behalf of the Government. He has been good enough to tell us that the particular question arising out of the decision in the Somersetshire case will be, at some period or other, which is, I am afraid, likely to be somewhat distant, considered by Her Majesty's Government. Therefore, I do not think we can rest with much hope upon the remarks which have been made upon that point. But really, my Lords, the point is a very important one; and I cannot help believing that it was not the intention, either of Her Majesty's Government, or of Parliament, in passing the Bill of 1888, to place the control of a great portion of the county buildings completely in the hands of the Standing Joint Committee, and to take it altogether away from the County Council itself, putting aside lunatic asylums, which, I admit, are buildings of great importance, by far the larger portion of the county buildings are, by this decision, completely taken out of the control of the County Council and handed over to the control of the Standing Joint Committee. That was not at all the view, as the noble Earl has stated, which was taken by the County Councils when they first entered upon their duties. With regard to the County Council of which I have the honour to be the Chairman, we always supposed, and I had the best reason for 1750 believing that we were right in that opinion, because I took some pains to inform myself upon the matter, that though the County Council was bound to supply the buildings required by the Standing Joint Committee for the purposes of police and the administration of justice, it rested with the Council to determine how those buildings were to be erected, to go to contract for their erection, and to control the whole matter. Now, this decision tells us that the County Council has nothing to do with the matter at all, except to vote the money required, and to leave the Standing Joint Committee to go to contract, to direct the surveyor, and to have the whole business carried out altogether under their orders. My Lords, I venture to say that if the Hampshire County Council is acting as the noble Lord, Lord Basing has described, I am afraid they are acting in contravention of the decision in the Somersetshire case, because they are doing exactly what we did before the decision in the Somersetshire case, and what we have been recommended by our legal advisers to abandon. Now, my Lords, if the Government did not intend, and I do not really think they did, that this should be the case, and if it was not the intention of Parliament either, surely there is ground for introducing a short measure to put the matter right, because, although serious difficulties have not yet arisen, serious difficulties may arise at any moment. In the case of my County Council we had actually gone to contract for certain buildings under our original interpretation of the law; the Somersetshire case was decided, in the meantime, before they were erected, and we had to give up the whole matter and refer it to the Standing Joint Committee, for them to deal with as they pleased, and make the contract afresh if they thought fit. Now, I do think a very strong case, at all events, has been made out for restoring the system to that which, I believe, was originally intended, by both Government and Parliament Then, with respect to the general question, I should like to say a few words, and they shall be but few. I do not know whether noble Lords have altogether realised what seems to me to be the fact, that this body, the Standing Joint Committee, is a body altogether 1751 without precedent in this country. It is a body which has now the power of decision in reference to one-third, or more than one-third, of the whole county expenditure. In the case of the West Riding of Yorkshire, with which I am connected, the sum with which the Standing Joint Committee has to deal is upwards of £100,000 a year. It has the power to make requisitions upon the County Councils to levy whatever rate they please for providing that sum, and the Council is bound to obey those requisitions without contest or inquiry. Now, my Lords, let me ask you to consider what this body is. This foody—I take the case with which I am best acquainted, that of the West Riding, which, I may say, presents the matter under a very favourable aspect, because it is comparatively a numerous body—is a body consisting of 38 members, 19 of whom are elected by the County Council and 19 appointed by the Justices, and they have the entire disposal of over £100,000 a year of the ratepayers' money, and absolutely without any appeal whatever! The old Police Committee had to report to Quarter Sessions, and there was, therefore, a power of revising their proceedings in Quarter Sessions. I admit it was very rarely done, but nevertheless the whole body of Justices could revise their proceedings in Quarter Sessions. There is no such power in regard to this body. They decide the matter for themselves; they make the requisitions, and the County Council can be "mandamussed," I am told, if they do not obey. I venture to say, that for a body of that kind so composed, having absolute power without any appeal against their proceedings or any control by anybody, to have power to spend such a sum as I have mentioned, is altogether without precedent in this country, and it is certainly contrary to what I have always understood the President of the Local Government Board to have declared to be the fundamental principle of the Act of 1888, namely, that the representatives of the ratepayers were to have the control over the county expenditure. But, as I have said, the result is that the control of one-third of that expenditure is taken out of the hands of the County Council by this decision, absolutely and entirely. Now, my Lords, with respect 1752 to one other matter I wish only to say a few words—that is, the question of the appointment of the Clerk of the Peace. If there is any officer who ought to be appointed by the County Council I think it is their own clerk, the head of their office. The person who is to manage, under them, all their business, and who has to take their orders, ought to be a person in whom the majority of that Council have absolute confidence. But even such an officer as their clerk is not to be appointed by the County Council, but is to be appointed by the Standing Joint Committee. It is perfectly possible, indeed it is very likely, that the Standing Joint Committee, with the best intentions, would appoint a person who would not be acceptable to the majority of the County Council, and I say that the Clerk of the Council is a person who ought to be altogether acceptable to the majority of those he is intended to serve. I think it was my noble Relative behind me who spoke, I thought, as if he supposed the Clerk of the Peace was appointed by the Justices of the Peace. Of course, if my noble Friend did so, it was a slip, because he is as well aware as I am——
§ EARL COWPER
If the noble Marquess will pardon me, what I said was that I thought it was fair they should have a voice in the appointment of their own clerk, and that I knew it had been done previously by the Lord Lieutenants.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
But they had nothing to do with the appointment of the Clerk of the Peace in old days; he was appointed by the Lord Lieutenant. If it is thought that because the Clerk of the Peace has certain duties to perform connected with Quarter Sessions therefore he ought to be appointed either by the Justices or by the Lord Lieutenants, you had better separate the two offices than perpetrate such an anomaly as to take the appointment of their own clerk out of the hands of the County Council. That, my Lords, seems to be an illustration of the extreme anomaly of investing the Standing Joint Committees with these controlling powers. My noble Friend the Earl of Harrow by has said that he hopes no hasty change will be made in regard to this matter; but he was obliged to admit that his County Council, however he might explain it, had themselves passed a 1753 resolution in favour of a change. My County Council have passed a resolution, not quite, but almost, unanimous, in favour of a change, and one member of that Council, who is well known to some of your Lordships, (Mr. Dent), in that discussion said that whereas he had himself suggested this Joint Committee in Quarter Sessions, when they were considering the Bill, he was now convinced that it was an inconvenient arrangement, and that the powers of control ought to be left with the County Council. My Lords, it has been often said, in the course of this discussion, that no irritation has yet arisen. I am happy to say that I can bear the same testimony in regard to the West Riding; but that being the case, so far, this is exactly the time when the matter can be discussed without raising all the difficulties which would attend bringing up disputed questions between County Councils and these Standing Joint Committees. The question seems to me, I confess, to be a question of principle. The establishment of these bodies is anomalous, and altogether, as I think, inconsistent with the principles upon which the Local Government Act was founded; and I do hope, in spite of the natural caution with which my noble Friend, representing the Government, has spoken, that Her Majesty's Government will, in the course of the Recess, consider the whole question.